[iDC] lambda lambda lamda
brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Mon Feb 20 05:44:43 EST 2006
Ryan Griffis wrote:
What does decentralization really mean
> in a proprietary ecology? maybe i'm taking this somewhere way out in
> left field, but i guess i think this is important in relation to
> potential crises (not unlike recent earthquakes and hurricanes, but in
> a more mundane way, economic problems as well).
I wish I understood the excursion into left field, because
the question itself is great.
The idea provoking the question - Christian Sandvig's claim
that the Internet is centrally controlled because each major
piece of it represents an investment in routers and
backbones - is partly true, and I think, partly a
The true side has to do with the specific agendas that have
led to each piece of the hardware being built and maintained
by its specific owner. This has been done partially on
university research mandates (with complex calculations
about the benefits of national and international
cooperation), and partly on projections of commercial
benefit (with equally complex questions of speculative
investment for tomorrows that may not come). Of course all
the parties involved expected specific payoffs, and they
still run their systems for the benefits derived.
Which of course means that the cables go to certain places,
for certain people, and all you have to do is look at a map
of undersea cables or a map showing the intensity of
Internet connections between the different areas of the
globe, and you will see the geographical expression of these
The ruse of history, however, seems to be that the
university came before the market and bequeathed a basic set
of protocols which don't involve control functions on what
can be transmitted, accentuating the possibilities of
cooperation and resource-sharing instead. Then the
speculative boom meant that lots of hardware got installed
very fast, for use with these initial protocols.
Now it seems that just technically blocking certain kinds of
transmission (eg. mp3, torrent, etc.) isn't possible, indeed
just turning off a website by remote control isn't possible
either, and yet the Internet has proved so useful for so
many things that just shutting the whole system down is out
of the question. So the only recourse is to go after the
authors of the contested transmissions using legal means.
Which is a more interesting situation, because it at least
requires a public debate about what knowledge, cooperation,
sharing, use-value and freedom of expression are good for.
In fact that public debate has been one of the more
interesting aspects of life in neoliberal society in recent
That would be the way I understand the paradox of
"decentralization in a proprietary ecology."
Now it is clear, with Digital Rights Management and many
related initiatives, but also with Total Information
Awareness, MATRIX and probably many other spy-programs we
don't know about, that this element of partial
decentralization is considered a big big problem by some
very powerful forces, particularly but not only in American
society. What will they do next?
The perennial interest of the content-producing industries
in cables that can bring products right into peoples' homes,
while also conveniently providing a payment system directly
attached to the mode of delivery, was one of major
commercial dreams initially driving speculation on the
Internet, and of course it explains the interest these
industries now show in "lambda lambda lambda," which sounds
like the real open sesame of video-on-demand. But you can
bet they want more control over transmission this time!
Could that not be the magic formula of Internet2?
I'm afraid the ecology will get left in the dust by the
proprietary. But maybe I never made it to left field where
the really interesting part of the question lies.
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