[iDC] lambda lambda lamda

Brian Holmes 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 
specific interests.

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.

best, Brian

More information about the iDC mailing list