[iDC] The Culture of Participation

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Feb 19 23:32:55 EST 2006

Welcome to Hana, Rob, and Christian and thanks for joining in for the
first time with candid perspectives. 

Web 2.0, Internet of Things, RFID hacks, Grid Computing, World of
Things, Internet2, Lambda. Labeling these flavors of the month turns
individuals into trendsetters (.com). We see the world through the
private lens of our fascinations, skills, ambitions, class belonging,
and education. To somebody with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 
The battle over terms...

We can come to terms with this rapidly changing world without squeezing
it all into one term or two: dynamic tag clouds describing our
surroundings do a better job. It is neither all about physical,
ubiquitous/pervasive computing, nor is it exclusively about the WWW (or
the wireless Internet for that matter). And even the combination of the
two only drives us down the dead end of the Internet access road. A Pew
Institute survey claims that "The internet will be more deeply
integrated in our physical environments and high-speed connections will
proliferate ­ with mixed results." The study also projects a major
impact of blogs on culture and politics. 

From the obsession with objects (Benjamin) we now turned to great
enthusiasm for interaction (Nichols). But perhaps more important is the
fact that we live in a culture marked by networked participation. The
syntax of participation is hardly investigated. Cooperation, networking,
and participation are key. Howard Rheingold comprehensively mapped the
media landscape of cooperation-enhancing technologies. Without your
repeated input these web-social tools are nothing. Rather than lobbying
the most fitting terms du jour, we should study the grammar of online

That we can think up ludic sousveillance experiments does not mean that
they will be socially evasive in the refugee camps of the burning
Australian desert or in the polluted skies over Los Angeles. The
temptation (also of media activism) is the 'not-yet-there' thinking of
technological development. 

For former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling ideas were all that mattered. He
did not care if you could actually build the thing or if anybody would
bother with it. The fully networked tomorrow sells so much better than
the buggy today. The actual ability to turn things around even a little
bit is what should count. 


Internet2 is around for a long time but there seems little consensus
about it. One repeated criticism is the limited access. Computerworld
calls I2 the IT equivalent of an ivory tower. In his influential book
"Beyond Modern Sculpture" Jack Burnham writes in 1968 that "if
electronics  continues to assert a primary influence on the course of
avant-garde art, something like a "technology gap" will arise between
subsidized and unsubsidized artists..." This holds true for artistic
practices using Internet2. 

I2 is fast, which makes it useful for data-heavy science projects,
networked VR (i.e. tele-medicine), games (e.g. MMORPGs), real time art
(i.e. VJ-ing), and access to open access repositories. I2 is also
extensively used for huge, long-distance backups. Libraries can offer
more video content.  Real time art projects rely on the remixing and
sampling of data flows in real time. Reception and production coincide
in such distributed creativity projects. 


Internet2 is centrally controlled. The massive investment of the movie
industry, even if they are merely one of many investors, makes it clear
where this is going. The potential to get a tight grip on Digital Rights
Management is hardwired into its routers. Hollywood is keen on I2 as new
delivery system in tandem with a more effective piracy monitoring
system. "The MPAA views this partnership with Internet2 as an important
opportunity for collaboration as we seek to link new delivery models
with content protection," Dan Glickman, president of MPAA said.


I2 is fundamentally different to the public Internet. I2 was designed to
deliver full-motion video content. The Internet as we know it runs on
the TCP/IP protocol with the hardware, the veins, through which the data
packages circulate being privatized. But peer-to-peer traffic that
avoids a central hub within the classic Internet is hard to stop. It is
these "free," unregulated commons (Benkler) that make the public
Internet as rewarding as it is. Central qualities like generosity,
participation and gift giving could be put on a leash under the Digital
Rights Management of Internet2.  

Also Internet neutrality is currently threatened by telecos who favor a
multi-tracked Internet that gives big fat bandwidth to the Yahoos and
Googles who would have to pay extra for it. This would throw startups
out of the running. 

I2, running on the networking protocol IPv6, is entirely private.
Projections are that business can start using it for commerce in 5-10
years. Will artists using I2 become the PR tools of these companies?
And, how will media activism benefit from I2? 


The human uses of these technologies matter most. Do our devices and
networks contribute to a richer, more fulfilled life of social equality? 

Which values run our networks?



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