Seems to be a project out of @CHI2014, going on now in Toronto.
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Back in the early ’90s I was waiting for an elevator one night at a high rise hotel when I was joined by a group of Miami heat basketball players and Jack Ramsay, who was then most famously the former coach of the Portland Trailblazers, a team he led to an NBA championship in 1977. But he had coached a number of other teams, including the Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers) during my former schoolmate Bob Kauffman‘s time there. So I thought, “Oh. Jack Ramsay is coaching the Heat now.” Back in those days Miami was not a great team, and even as a fan I was paying no attention to them. But the team was paying attention to Dr. Ramsay. That much was clear.
We got on the elevator together. The tallest players, 7-foot Matt Geiger among them, had to cock their heads toward one shoulder to avoid bumping the ceiling. I was crowded into a corner like a piece of luggage. The team had just lost a game. For the whole trip up to the Nth floor, Jack talked to the guys about what you can learn by losing that you can’t by winning — in useful detail. It was obvious that the old guy was still a great coach, and that the players had great respect for him. By that I mean, they weren’t just being nice. They were listening, carefully.
It was only later that I learned that Jack was not the coach, officially. His job was color commentary on Heat broadcasts.
All basketball fans by now have learned something from Doctor Jack, who went on to share his wisdom and experience over ESPN and other outlets. The man always had something interesting to add to the time-filling blather that comprises most of sports commentary.
So I just learned that the good doctor passed this morning, at age 89. I also learned that he enlisted for service in the U.S. Navy at age 19 during World War II, and shortly thereafter became the platoon leader of an underwater demolitions team — the forerunner of today’s Navy Seals. I suppose he was younger during his service than most or all of the players he taught in that elevator. Tougher too, I’m sure.
Ghandi said we should learn as if we’ll live forever and live as if we’ll die tomorrow. Jack Ramsey was clearly one of those guys who did both, for all his life.
Meaning the one on the right. The one on the left was common in those days and the one in the middle was considered inevitable. But the one on the right was radical. First, it reduced to one the “attack surface” of the network. Take out one node or one link and the rest stayed up. Second, it also served as the handy design spec for the protocols that now define the Internet. Aral, the Indie Phone and the IndieManifesto are all about the one on the right: Distributed. So, for that matter, is The Cluetrain Manifesto. For example:
That was Chris Locke’s line. “Markets are conversations” (one of my lines) and “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy” (one of David Weinberger’s) also come from the same spot.
Marketing comes from A and B. Never C. Thus, as Jakob Nielsen told me after Cluetrain came out, “You guys defected from marketing. You sided with markets, against marketing.” Meaning we sided with individual human beings, as well as society in general. But certainly not with marketing — even though all three of us made a living in marketing. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cluetrain became, and remains, a favorite of marketers, many of which continue to defect. (Bonus link.)
Independent, sovereign, autonomous, personal and heterarchical are all adjectives for what one gets from a distributed network. (This may call forth an acronym, or at least an initialism.) By whatever name it is an essential camp, because each of us is all six of those things (including distributed). We need tech that enables those things and gives us full agency.
We won’t get them from the centralizers of the world. Or decentralizers that don’t go all the way from B to C. We need new stuff that comes from the truly personal side: from C. It helps that C — distributed — is also central to the mentality, ethos and methodologies of hacking (in the positive senses of the word).
Ever since the Net went viral in the mid-’90s, we’ve built out “solutions” mostly on the models of A and B: of centralized and decentralized. But too rarely all the way to C: the fully personal. This is understandable, given the flywheels of industry, which have the heft of Jupiter and have been spinning ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.
But one fully personal exception stands out: the browser. It was born to be the best instrument of individuality we could have, even though it has lately become more of a shopping cart than a car. (That was one point of Earth to Mozilla: Come back home.) If we want the browser to be fully personal (e.g. private) again — as it was in the first place, before commercial imperatives were laid upon it, and the Web looked like a library (which one would browse) rather than a shopping mall — Mozilla is our best hope for making that happen. There are no other candidates. And it’s clear to me that they do want to work toward that goal.
We won’t get rid of centralization and hierarchy. Nor should we, because there are many things centralization and hierarchy do best, and we need them to operate civilization. Our personal tools also need to engage with many of them. But we also can’t expect either centralization or decentralization to give us distributed solutions, any more than we can get government or business to give us individuality, or for hierarchy to give us heterarchy. The best we’ll get from them is respect: for us, and for the new tools we bring to the market’s table.
Aral is right when he tweets that Mozilla’s dependence on Google is an elephant in the room. It’s an obvious issue. But the distributed mentality and ethos is alive and well inside Mozilla — and, for that matter, Google. I suspect it even resides in some corner of Mark Zuckerberg’s cerebrum. (He’s too much of a hacker for it not to be there.) Dismissing Mozilla as a tool of Google throws out babies with bathwater — important and essential ones, I believe.
Meanwhile we need a name for the movement that’s happening here, and I think Aral’s right that “Indie” might be it. “Distributed” sounds like what happens at the end of a supply chain. “Heterarchical” is good, but has five syllables and sounds too academic. “Sovereign” is only three syllables (or two, depending) and is gaining some currency, but it more commonly applies to countries than to people. “Personal” is good, but maybe too common. And the Indie Web is already catching on in tech circles. And indie itself is already established as a nickname for “independent.” So I like it.
I would also like to see the whole topic come up at VRM Day and IIW, which run from 5 to 8 May in Mountain View. The links for those:
- : a pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted
- : a difficult test or challenge
- : a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions
This is what cars will become.
The difficult decision is where to draw the line between what the owner/driver controls and what the maker/seller controls.
On one side is the owner/driver’s sovereignty over his or her own vehicle (more about this below). This includes the right to hack or customize that vehicle, to obtain and manage data that vehicle throws off, and to relate to other drivers with other vehicles (see Robin Chase), outside the control of the manufacturer or any other commercial “provider.” This is what we get, Cory Doctorow says, from general purpose computers.
On the other side is the manufacturer’s urge to provide that vehicle as a kind of IT service, like Tesla does, and to manage that vehicle much as, say, an iPhone is managed by Apple. This is also what we get from cable company set top boxes.
In the industrial Matrix we have built so far, the latter prevails increasingly, and that is limiting the ability of the former to flourish. For more on why this is a problem, visit the Lessig Library (notably Remix, Code, Code 2.0, The Future of Ideas and Free Culture), Cory Doctorow, Eben Moglen, the EFF and other fighters for personal freedom.
Cars will be crucibles because they have been, for more than a century, instruments of personal freedom and independence. (Not to mention the biggest-ticket retail item any of us will ever buy.) It is not for nothing that we speak of our car and its parts in the first person possessive: my tires, my dashboard, my fender, my seats. We even do this with rental cars, because, as drivers, our senses extend outward through the whole vehicle. In expert use our tools and machines become extensions — enlargements — of ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with having help in this from the Apples, Googles and Teslas of the world, provided our sense of where we end and where those companies begin is maintained, along with our full sense of autonomy and independence as individual human beings who can be social in our own ways, and not just in the controlling ways provided by commercial entities.
But today that line is very blurred, and may not be a line at all. As long as that blur persists, and superior power lies on the corporate side, we will have problems with compromised autonomy for individuals and their things. Those problems will only get worse as cars get “better” the (current) Tesla way. (Tesla can change, of course, and I hope they do.) And the entire market greenfield that grows naturally on personal independence and autonomy will fail to materialize. We can drive all we want around walled gardens.
Cory calls this crucible a “civil war”. I don’t think he overstates the case.
An early shot fired in that war is Fuse, which plugs into the ODB2 port under your dashboard and gives you data your car throws off, and ways to use that data any way you please. Can’t wait to get mine.
By the way, I believe one reason Mozilla is in its current fix is that browsers and email — its founding apps — were born as instruments of personal autonomy. That’s what Mosaic and Netscape Navigator were: cars on the “information superhighway.” Now, too much of the time, they are just shopping carts. More about that in the next post.
(HT to Hugh McLeod for the car-toon.)
- Mattresses, Brooms, and Art in Bulk, Tahtakale, Istanbul: Commerce Direct and Unadorned. By Stephen Lewis in Bubkes. I may have posted this already, but I like it a lot, so I’m pointing again.
- Scouting a New York City neighborhood where the sidewalk endsSlate. Originally in Scouting New York.
- Some of my own sets:
- 1947+ archive of shots with me in them
- Panos of Parliament in Canberra
- Canberra from above
- Lights on an apartment deck in New York
- Madrid in late December
- Kiglapait Mountains of coastal Labrador
- New York’s skyline on approach to Newark
- WMCA/WNYC transmitter, from above, in the New Jersey meadowlands
- Scotland’s Islay, from above
- Tibidabo, in Barcelona
- London to Newark, an incomplete and growing collection
- Approaching New York, a subset of the above
- Downtown Albany, another subset
- Some more fun with panos
- Broadcast Towers in Canberra, in Nfrastructure.
- Frontline.in: Trade Secrets Revealed. It begins, “The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership on intellectual property rights being negotiated secretly, as exposed by WikiLeaks recently, is breathtaking in its overweening ambition to cement the corporate takeover of as much knowledge as possible.”
- Why are American Health Care Costs So High? A video explanation by the VlogBrothers. Here’s more about those guys.
- Lululemon: If you can’t beat your customers, ban your customers. By Timothy Geigner in TechDirt.
- Dave being Dave. Essential reading.
- Likewise, Phil being Phil. In particular: On Names and Heterarchy.
- Mars Needs Women. My column in the December issue of Linux Journal. In it I grab the third rail of gender. Nearly 100% of the magazine’s subscribers are men, while most of its executives and owners are women. Interesting, no? Susan Sons replied with her own guest column in place of mine, two months later, with Girls and Software.
- Also in Linux Journal: Life on the Forked Road.
- A generic brand video, covered by Jeff Beer: “To illustrate this marketing strategy equivalent of paint-by-numbers, stock video footage firm Dissolve took its goods and created a masterpiece with the words of Kendra Eash‘s brilliant McSweeney’s piece.”
- Dear Google; Next Time You Invade My Home, Could You At Least Knock? (updated), by Steve Kamman in Strong Views, Lightly Held
- Site of the Week: Broadcast Peak, Santa Barbara, by Scott Fybush. Includes a kind mention of yours truly.
- Editor Describes Pressure After Leaks by Snowden.
- Brands, explained by a Vlog brother.
- L.P.D.: Libertarian Police Department, by Tom O’Donnell in The New Yorker.
- Landmark Supreme Court Decision Lets Americans Cram Cash Directly Into Politicians’ Mouths, in The Onion.