The Open Society : Myth or Catastrophic Novelty?
Saturday December 31st 2005, 4:06 am
Filed under: metrics
Earlier today, Jay-Zed pointed out the humor in juxtaposing fears of a Closed Web and resulting closed society, with the dramatic changes in openness, penetration, and reusability of information and tools over the past decade. He posited that the existence of certain types of platforms
– for instance, inverted-hourglass networks and PC architectures –
was a specially enabling design decision, which was somewhat arbitrary
and potentially outmoded. The implication was that without these
platforms, said dramatic changes would have been far less dramatic.
I also enjoy the juxtaposition of the recent explosive openness
with current fears about open channels of communication being closed
off; and do at times find myself laughing at over-pessimistic
statements about the world today. On the other hand, I don’t
think that focusing on architectures, or on historical platform
choices, is very relevant to the changes we have seen. A firmer
association can be found between penetration and reuse, and the
availability of ever-better toolchains and factories for mass
A methodical Gutenberg was not the unilateral harbinger of
the modern newspaper; that took many revolutions in pulp-processing and
printing-press design. Today’s cheap, colorful paper production
is the result of tens of thousands of excellent, focused
innovations. Likewise, ENIAC was not the harbinger of Ruby on
Rails (or any other modern library that allows someone with basic
programming skills to leverage 10 hours of familiarization into
a fully-customized and appealing application) — that took many
revolutions in software abstraction and philosophy… nor were
DARPANet and IBM and Microsoft the natural father, mother, and holy concubine
of the modern “all-purpose computer”; this too was many scores of
years, and thousands of mathematical, engineering, and social
innovations in the making.
It is certainly charming that I can now find out what the Ohio
newspapers and tv stations are printing and showing, by looking online
or flipping through my satellite service. But all the same, we hardly
live in the ‘most open’ environment our modern world has ever
known. In many ways, we remain less open and networked than, say,
a cozy, classed Greek city-state, with a shared educational, social, and financial gossip network; shared religious, historical, and cultural anecdotes; and shared metrics
for success, civilization-wide goals, and honour; all far more intimate
than parallels in my country today. Even the most all-telling of
tell-all [auto]biographies is diluted by this lack of openness.
Let us end on a positive note. What further expansions in
openness may be expected or hoped for in the coming decades?
- An improvement in open sharing and classification of ideas,
so that a good idea in one place is recognized and taken up in many
others. Great window-hinge, washing-machine, hobbyist and diaper
designs should traverse the oceans; great experimental designs the
- A new consciousness of making information public;
people actively choosing every day to free and share their
observations, discoveries, thoughts, and analyses — rather than only
on special occasions. This consciousness filtered out into
processes, organizations, and governments.
- A renaissance in the libraries of methods
available to access information — one’s own, that of one’s family,
that of one’s community and office, that of the world at large.
This is not dependent on a simple ‘application layer’ provided by a few
organizations; any more than the question of “where can I find a copy of Anna Karenina” depends on the ‘layer’ of friends’ shelves, bookstores, libraries and online book-sellers I have access to.
- … add your own! good comments will be added to this list.
Forces of nature : entertainment (fun and vice)
Saturday December 31st 2005, 3:06 am
Filed under: %a la mod
Food Force, the recent release from the blockbuster UN Games Division (not its real name), is a ~200MB download (PC/Mac), but it rocks.
Which brings us to the first of a set of forces of nature : entertainment
– just good, clean fun. There are many real voids in the
entertainment world; there is precious little in the way of pure Fun.
If you compare today’s parched digital / isolated-family-unit
microcosms with the networked social environments of Rio, Barcelona,
Suriname, or Tel Aviv, you’ll understand what I mean.
There is also the ever smirk-inducing world of entertainment via vice.
It tickles a related but quite different set of longings; and while
play was surely the first hobby, back when all forms of entertainment
were the same, vice supposedly gave rise to the first ‘professions’,
once it acquired its own concept and niche. But that is a force of nature for another post, another time…
Forces of nature : entertainment (fun and vice) …
On Peering, P2P food privacy, and shatnes testing
Ira G. : Shatnes tester – when
mixed fabrics infest your favorite clothing… who you gonna call? –
and on the lookout for P-E-E-R-E-Rs, who can ruin a plate of food with
a simple glance. He’s lived his whole life in New York, but [almost] never eaten in any sort of restaurant.
”It was never discussed in the family,” he said. ”No one spoke
about it. But it was an obvious thing not to do… Let’s say you walked in
one end and you had to eat on the other end and there were people at
every single table… What
do you do along the way? Are you only going to look at the floor, the
ceiling, the wall, or people’s faces? Obviously you would peer into
other people’s plates. Just a quick glance. But if someone sets his
eyes on my plate, I can’t eat it anymore. Therefore I’m going to stay
out of public eating.”
He goes on to describe a peer who, well, peers into other people’s food choices. And nobody wants that.
”I went into this place
that has take-home food. And who walks in but my buddy the peerer. I
did an about-face and walked right out. Because I know he’s going to
look into what I get. And I just went home hungry. But I felt
comfortable with that hunger, because the peerer is not going to peer.”
More power to this kind of willpower.
On Peering, P2P food privacy, and shatnes testing …
The blurring of “official record” lines
The traditional lines of ‘official records‘
which are available for public perusal and archived forever, as
distinct from events that are observed in person and passed on by word
of mouth, have become much blurred
with recent improvements in recording devices, distribution/storage
methods, and penetration of same. It is among other things a
testament to increasingly effective archiving that the decision to
strike from the record Representative Jean Schmidt(R-Ohio)‘s words [Directed at Rep. Murtha], at the end of this C-SPAN video segment from November 18, is largely moot.
“Without objection, the gentlelady’s words will be withdrawn“…
but withdrawn from what? from the public record that is
thoroughly and reliably archived, but hard to find online; not from the
unofficial, widely-distributed public record, less consistent but much
easier to find.
The blurring of “official record” lines …
Expression and censorship : evolutionary theory
Tuesday December 27th 2005, 1:14 pm
Filed under: %a la mod
Evolution. A word with
simple origins, narrowed by specific use over time through association
with genes, reproduction, random processes, fitness. Selection,
even “natural selection“,
likewise. Research into, or writing about, certain related
‘evolutionary’ theories (for loose definitions of the term) has become
systematically stigmatized — the most insidious form of censorship –
since Morgan’s work in the 1920s.
It fascinates me that the successful description and study of one
mechanism for key observations about the world often pushes out
supplementary theories, without being fully aware of doing so, like
newborn chicks pushing their siblings out of the nest. This post
is a brief meditation on how this has happened with evolution; with
links to a few related resources. I have found myself having
related conversations a few times over the past weeks, thanks to the
often-reductionist debates in the US over
whether to teach the religious doctrine of “creationism“
in public schools;
I have no strong feelings about creationism or intelligent design; I am no more or less
bothered by its teaching that by the teaching of any other religious
doctrine in schools. However, in two conversations recently, I
found that well-read friends of mine,
with some talent and experience in biology, had no idea (and indeed,
were momentarily shocked) that scientists still investigate trait
transmissions other than natural selection. This bothers me
a great deal. Both
discussions quickly turned heated at the suggestion that one
might study anything but selection as a mechanism for biological or
genetic change. [For an interesting an neutral view of that argument, predating modern preconceptions, see JBS Haldane's book below, or any writing from the 1880s to the 1920s.]
Back to free expression of ideas
– Stigmatization is a common, unconscious way for groups to settle on
a single set of principles and limit fundamental argument; in science,
evolution may be the subfield in which this has had the most profound
and widely-felt effect. Unlike, say, Church-sponsored
stigmatization of novel astronomical theories
during the Renaissance, the modern stigmatization of novel evolutionary
theories is happily unconscoius; so research proceeds along other
lines, and finds funding and interest… but it tends to change its
terminology often to avoid being discarded out of hand.
Conrad Waddington was one of
the more prominent researchers pursuing such other lines of
research in the later 20th century. His 1975 book “The Evolution of an Evolutionist“
says much — in the title he has already begun defending himself from expected attacks on his
position. In it he describes his changing thoughts about
evolution over time. Among other things, Waddington studied ‘canalization‘
- a term for the inclination of different members of a given species
with sidely different genes (often sharing no more than 50% of their
specific genes with one another, according to one quote) to develop
into very similar organisms.
Since the 1930s, when it was still possible
to investigate “Lamarckian” transmission of traits without being deeply
scorned, researchers have regularly changed the terminology used for
such studies. While the definition of evolution became ever more
specific, the terms used for related concepts were in flux…
currently, “epigenetic” and “neo-evolutionary” are two terms one might serach for to unearth ongoing research into alternatives to canonical evolutionary theory.
Some brief examples :
Cosmic thread convergence
Monday December 26th 2005, 7:13 pm
Filed under: %a la mod
After Googling for one or two name variations on Wilson Rodri[g|q]ue[s|z], a (pseudonymous?) name made famous by a footnote to Fernando Meirelles‘s remarkable City of God
(3 riveting hours with no moments wasted), I had one of those joyful
black moments one presumably encounters near the Convergence of All
Things. I stumbled across a number of posts in various fora
asking for more information about him or his photographs, and then in a
deja-vu sequence discovered “CantFinditonGoogle.com“. A note about my present search was the latest post on the site.
So remember, children : “Live your life with a gentle hand, and be ready to leave it at any time“.
Cosmic thread convergence …
Marvel stoves and tears
Wednesday December 21st 2005, 1:48 pm
Filed under: %a la mod
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Marvel stoves and tears …
Alchemy: mix Berkeley, Berkman, and Ber^B^BGillmor…
This Spring, a nonprofit Center for Citizen Media will be formed
by Dan Gillmor, with support from Berkeley’s school of journalism,
Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for internet and society, and the
karma gods, “to study, encourage and help enable the emergent grassroots media sphere, with a major focus on citizen journalism.“
Looking forward to more news on this front.
Alchemy: mix Berkeley, Berkman, and Ber^B^BGillmor… …
A painfully wonderful flash short: Touchtone Genius
You must also visit the composer’s website, where he tackles
interesting requests with a genius that extends far beyond
touchtones (Aaron Mandel, call your office) : songs to wear pants to.
But the greatest short I saw last year: “What can be changed“. I want to see the original, without subtitles…
And finally, for doomsday preparations, you can’t do better than Martyr.net.
Monthly pick-you-up …
Amazing WTO blog
An amazing week-old blog with pages of content and links to some fabulous photo galleries, covering the Hong Kong WTO gathering, the public response, and the many facets of their repercussions.
Amazing WTO blog …
Metatranslation and meat translation
Sunday December 18th 2005, 5:15 pm
Filed under: %a la mod
There are some fine references – in semiotics (meta-analysis), translation research (metadata about translation), and translation practice (rolling up all the content of a body of work into some new original [translated] piece) – to metatranslation. It is the last definition that I prefer, but all are important and related.
The new Global Voices drive to have parallel content generated in many languages suggests a partnership between meta, meat and silicon translation…
Metatranslation and meat translation …
Area woman eschews web presence
A friend I made just recently was trying to explain a fear of public exposure
– not precisely a passionate sense of privacy, as certain breaches
thereof were acceptable (being published in one’s own field, being
known for good work one had done, being a backup dancer on stage); but
a strong aversion to specific kinds of exposure (being published for a
lay audience, having comments published in a local paper, being a
singer on stage, having a web page, being written about publicly by
friends). It made me think of what a luxury this is; of all the people in the world who have no access to exposure, nor any notion of what it might mean to be ‘overexposed‘.
Reverends Mandell and Pierce gave sermons recently about survival in the modern world; specifically for children,
whose capacities to choose are frequently limited. Global Voices should
start including those of children — not yet old enough to have their
own sites, perhaps, but surely old enough
to think, react, journal, and speak. I know some people who would
like this idea; for instance, I would love to hear thoughts on the
matter from Rebecca. Mandell spoke of reaching out to children; Pierce published a sermon from his church in Lawrence, on sinning by omission, which I find significantly less compelling [how many omissions would I unmake, if I could? and how to prioritize among them?].
But reaching out, taking their voices seriously as we do those of adults, is a major step. Let us take it.
Area woman eschews web presence …
Friday December 16th 2005, 3:33 pm
Filed under: %a la mod
Feel like writing a research monograph? Want a muse to inspire you? Here are Wikipedia article requests gone unfilled for over a year.
Long-term requisitions …
authority : an idea
Friday December 16th 2005, 2:35 pm
Filed under: metrics
Joho wrote a while ago about distributed authority, providing trusted
views of Wikipedia content. An excerpt from my reply follows; more relevant now that Wikipedia 0.5 takes form.
Distributed authority — in the ‘stamp and seal’
sense — is not my idea. And what I would like to see happen with research groups has
been suggested by others before me; there is simply growing interest in
it now. I want to make it easy for people who already work on and
review content in a field to do so in a way that directly improves
At the moment, individual authors ‘adopt’ certain articles and try
to keep them fresh and free of errors. And various organizations
maintain their own internal knowledge-bases with content that overlaps
a good deal with relevant Wikipedia articles
Rather than trying to hack an authority system into MediaWiki, you
can do something simpler to encourage both of the above : have groups
that maintain their own small clusters of articles — 10 or 20 or 100
– on a local wiki, with its own portal page. Give them an easy way to
offer their work for merging with WP, without requiring them to all
join the site. The edits they make are implicitly ‘approved’ by them.
This is not a good verification method within WP, however
software changes are required for that (and Seth’s suggestion is one
specific path one might take). At the moment, Nature can link to
revisions of 100 articles that they approve. But once you follow a link
through to a Nature-edited revision of [[DNA]], and follow a link to
another WP article, you’ve already returned to the realm of public
The motivation for this is a few professors and talented writers who
began editing on WP, but commented that editing Wikipedia directly can
be offensive and off-putting (they are readily offended by trolling,
and have no patience for even trivial wiki-lawyering).
We’re making progress towards Wikipedia 1.0, slowly but surely; I
think along the way we will improve both the default view of content
and the selection of optional views suggested above. Suggestions and improvements are welcome, as always.
authority : an idea …
Fascinating : WP slambook online
Friday December 16th 2005, 12:06 am
Filed under: chain-gang
An online complaint forum about all things Wikipedia, called the Wikipedia Review, has recently gone live.
It has a thriving community, and is about real experiences more than
rants or insults, which makes it fascinating to read. I’ve
learned interesting things from one or two honest contributors there;
though there is a lot of ranting that must be waded through.
There’s something refreshing about seeing a variety of complaints in
one place, somewhat organized. And in most complaints, a kernel
of truth. Now if only that forum would morph into what its name
suggests, and become an ambivalent review of all parts of the spectrum of WP experiences…
Fascinating : WP slambook online …