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Being-in-the-World Digitally Posts

Network Topology and Conflict

fightovernetworktypes

 

Popular technologies, particularly those technologies that facilitate the production of culture, have often been limited by spatial constraints. In the world of sound, musical instruments, recording devices, and radio are local phenomena to the extent that amplification, venue, and transmission can be funded and networked. In the world of vision, presentation on stages, in galleries, of architecture and interior design, through light projection in theatres, or through attire are local phenomena limited by similar constraints. The spatial limits of such technologies and the public’s mass consumption and uses of them found the basic circumstances of our mediascape today. Whether it is the history of printing, recording, cinema, television, or the internet, distribution is the result of only so many organizational models. Within each industry, considerably political decisions about the basic questions of public good, utility, management, privatization, and profit have shaped the ways that we relate to each other and technologies …the ways that we produce and reproduce our own cultures. Overall, there has consistently been a conflict between those who prefer to retain locally-sourced, decentralized, and networked models and those who (for whatever reasons) prefer the centralization of the mediascape into one form of conglomeration or another.

Those who have favored centralization have often organized into governmental or corporate groups. The ubiquity of the internet, of the world-wide-web, and of social media may sometimes appear to offer alternative forms of massive distribution, but this is usually more of an illusion than a reality. Among other things, the internet depends on servers, energy to power those servers, laborers to produce those servers, and people to own and manage those servers. Those servers may be owned cooperative or personally, but they are usually centralized into enormous data centers, which is especially true for the most popular social media entities. This isn’t the case because the technology itself tends towards centralization, but because throughout the history of cultural production, those who have sought locally-sourced, decentralized, and networked models have lost in battles for the favor of the majority …and many times by physical force of their opposition.

In the United States, we have seen little of a serious movement towards decentralization since the popularization of the internet. In music, there have been various periods of sincere resistance to centralization (hippie, punk, hip-hop), periods where DIY ethics and a comprehension of centralization’s authoritarian capacities (and tendencies) lead to locally-sourced, yet broadly networked subcultures. This is even more true for print, especially in regions governed by monarchies. For cinema and video, this sort of resistance has been less pronounced -likely in part because the costs of production and distribution are higher- but nevertheless it has existed. Unfortunately, this sort of organizational impulse is in crisis and those on the production end of culture seem to suffer from a poverty of imagination preventing even the comprehension of alternative models.

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Minimalism

/sbin/init
/usr/lib/systemd/systemd-journald
/usr/lib/systemd/systemd-udevd
/usr/lib/systemd/systemd-timesyncd
/usr/lib/systemd/systemd-logind
/usr/bin/dbus-daemon --system --address=systemd: --nofork --nopidfile --systemd-activation
login -- squee
\_ -bash
\_ /bin/sh /usr/bin/startx
\_ xinit /home/squee/.xinitrc -- /etc/X11/xinit/xserverrc :0 vt1
\_ /usr/lib/xorg-server/Xorg -nolisten tcp :0 vt1 -auth
| \_ xf86-video-intel-backlight-helper acpi_video0
\_ /usr/bin/openbox --startup /usr/lib/openbox/openbox-autostart OPENBOX
/usr/lib/systemd/systemd --user
\_ (sd-pam)
\_ /usr/bin/dbus-daemon --session --address=systemd: --nofork --nopidfile --systemd-activation
\_ /usr/bin/pulseaudio --daemonize=no
\_ /usr/lib/at-spi2-core/at-spi-bus-launcher
tint2
/usr/bin/python2 /usr/bin/terminator
\_ /bin/bash
\_ ps faux
\_ awk {print $11, $12, $13, $14,
firefox
conky -c /home/squee/.config/conky/conky.conf
/usr/lib/rtkit/rtkit-daemon
/usr/lib/polkit-1/polkitd --no-debug
wpa_supplicant -q -B -P /run/wpa_supplicant_wlp2s0.pid -i wlp2s0
dhcpcd -4 -q -t 30 -L wlp2s0

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Augmented Capital

pokemon-debord-grave

 

The Augmented Reality of Pokemon Go couldn’t more clearly express the mediation of everyday life by powerful institutions (Nintendo, Niantic), taking capitalism into the virtual, where the relationships of commodity production and consumption are disguised by entire worlds of manufactured imagery. Thank heavens that the virtual market of game apps can extend its manifestations onto the landscapes of our living spaces.

With Ingress, user-input was required to build virtual towers. With Pokemon Go, the consumer role is total. What will the next game or the next version of this one offer? AR advertisements in your bedroom to keep the game free-to-play? Virtual objects to purchase right outside your door? Players creating content and kids promoting the products without getting paid, certainly. The guided mobilization of bodies through space like so many drones, of course.

I understand, it is fun …and I wouldn’t want to make-believe that I wouldn’t participate as well, and will not when some other theme becomes an AR game. I will not without critique, at the very least. Not without describing what I see, as though I ought to be ashamed to tarnish the latest sacred cow’s silver plating by touching it. However, I also recognize the applicability of this quote from Slavoj Zizek in this situation:

“The fundamental level of ideology is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itself. And at this level, we are of course far from being a post-ideological society. Cynical distance is just one way – one of many ways – to blind ourselves to the structuring power of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironic distance, we are still doing them”

And as a nod to him, I will point out that the explosion of Pokemon Go onto the social scene feels like society doing this, but antithetically:

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Snitch App USA

Snitch App USA – A History and Status Update

Vivek Kundra - the first chief information officer of the United States from March, 2009 to August, 2011 under President Barack Obama.
Vivek Kundra – the first chief information officer of the United States from March, 2009 to August, 2011 under President Barack Obama.

Way back in the 90’s, reporting something to the City was more difficult, and idiots would call 9-1-1 to do it. For most young Americans, 311 was a band that you’d hear when you were buying weed from some random dude you met at the skate park. If you were an elite phone phreak from Alberta, Canada,  it was the number you’d call after connecting your beige box (DIY lineman’s handset) ….that way you’d know what the phone number was you were dialing out from and your elite friends could call you back. If you were a movie buff, it was one of the fake area codes you’d see in movies like War Games. Mostly – it was a number for nerds.

Between the mid-90’s and the mid-00’s, cities slowly began to assign 3-1-1 as a non-emergency line for city issues… the upright citizen’s bread and butter: dead animal removal, debris in roadway, illegal burning, non-working streetlamps, noise complaints, parking enforcement, potholes, sinkholes, utility holes, all other holes. It was the best way for jerks without an HOA to fuck with their neighbors; and, it’s retained that high purpose.

Eventually in 2010, a man named Vivek Kundra (pictured above) saw the future of 3-1-1: mobile phone applications. Kundra, a psychology/IT-dweeb (*cough* like me) that graduated from the University of Maryland, launched his unforgettable career on 9/11 as Arlington, VA’s Director of Information Technology. After that, he worked his way into the Washington D.C. infrastructure where President Obama would eventually pluck him up. Before leaving the Obama administration, Kundra focused on making sure that the United States had a participatory and democratic information society. It’s from out of this idealistic phase of his career that the birth of Snitch App USA begins.

Open311

In March, 2010, Vivek Kundra announced the launch of a unified platform for mobile software that would improve on the formally telephone-centric 3-1-1: Open311. Kundra wasn’t announcing the creation of any piece of software specifically, he was announcing a standard model for how 311 software everywhere ought to be created. In other words, the head-hancho of the US information sector handed the states a constitution to comply with for the 311 software they were being encouraged to use.

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Before Kundra gave word to the Nation, Dave Mitchell founded a company called ConnectedBits with something of a similar vision. However, Mitchell isn’t an “open” software kinda guy. His company (and some others) went on to take the Open311 platform to the most vibrancy-looking cities in the U$A. They released a product called SpotReporters, to “Let citizens be your eyes and ears.” And with that kind of cheesy sales pitch, connectedbits started branding their shitty app for the locals.

onecalltocityhall

And Now …TEMPE

In September of 2013, sweet-talking police pricks announced the launch of Tempe, AZ’s version of this stuff at G.A.I.N. meetings. Already back then, local rabble-rousers at Down and Droughtwere predicting where this would lead. On June 5th and 6th, MAFW saw its first big 311-related attacks. Even more recently, some real true neighbs and crims have had their personal lives and information blasted to the public. While those are some of the extreme examples so far, every day our neighbors are being reported to the city government (who then sends their lackeys to investigate IRL) …facing fines as home owners and eviction as renters. There is no need, nor is there any good reason to make official reports to the city over petty bullshit so easily accessible.

In the end…

What we can say is that every attempt has been made to mystify this process that began in the highest ranks of government, guided every step of the way by officials, down to the boring neighborhood meetings pre-packaged by cops for the sneering suburbanites that hate us. This is the digital age. When the most authoritarian mechanisms are disguised as participatory and democratic. When experts in “open” data collection and bureaucracy are able to make us feel like we’re being personally addressed in our neighborhoods.

How participatory, local, and democratic can this (and anything like it) be when a company from the other side of the country created it? When the groundwork had been laid autocratically? When the city’s politicians and police are needed to promote it? When it was never an issue up for debate? When its only purpose is to mechanize the harassment of residents on a city-wide basis? Fines, or the threat of fines, or just knowing that in yet another way you’re being spied on by spineless fucks willing to pass anything you do onto the government.

Mafwuckers are up against a lot! But we are a lot more than was bargained for.

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The Cyber Wizards

natal-chart

Thinking – like the sort that I’m doing to write this – is a process of testing analogies. Please watch Douglas Hofstadter’s lecture at Stanford to get a sense of what I mean by this:

Thinking digitally is a matter of its own…

Since we’re dealing with analogy, let’s take a trip back in time to the ancient world; a time when expert consultants provided guidance for civilization using a variety of tools, often related to astrology. While most of us are familiar with astrology to some degree, I need to elaborate a bit to make my point. The cosmos are the basis of astrology: a belief that each moment of the universe is governed by the relationships between stars, planets, and living creatures. Constellations of stars are understood as signs, entities such as Leo, Capricorn, Sagittarius… each sign with its own characteristic traits. The traits of such signs are analogous to the elemental category that they are related to (Air, Fire, Water, Earth) and a variety of other factors, including seasonal changes and cosmic events that happen in the region of the given constellation. So, you will have a sign like Cancer, which is a water sign and so it has analogously watery characteristics (emotionality and imagination), but unlike the other water signs (Scorpio and Pisces), Cancer is located in its special quadrant of the Zodiac so it is unique. So, when something happens on Earth while Cancer is the predominant constellation the Earth is beneath, that event – whether it’s a birth or a battle – can be expected to inherit something of Cancer’s traits.

The planets in our solar system are also characterized by specific traits: Mercury is intelligence, Saturn is death, etc. As the next largest and oldest entities of the cosmos, the planets are also thought to have a great deal of influence on events that take place. And not only is it important to know what sign each planet falls under at any given moment in time, it is also important for an astrologer to interpret how the signs are influencing the planets and how the planets are influencing each other …thus, influencing events here at home. This is why today, most of us are still aware of our astrological signs, especially the sign that is analogous to the Sun at the time of our births. Fewer of us have been exposed to our complete natal chart, which is a chart of the signs and planets (and houses) at the time of our nativity. Regardless, everything was interpreted by astrologers in a similar manner, based on these analogies, in a universe governed by cosmic relationships.

Anyway, being an astrologer in ancient times was a big deal. But, not only were astrologers practiced in astrology, they were often well-studied in systems of knowledge that derived from astrology. For instance, the relationships between plants and the cosmos (what seasons the plants grew and other such things) spawned systems of knowledge that governed both agriculture and medicine. Even more-so, those who were extra well-studied in astrology were thought to understand the forces of the universe so well that they could divine the future, or synthesize items with magical properties, or act with such precision that their success was guaranteed above others. These were the Wizards of the ancient worlds. Their ways of comprehending cause and effect took centuries to break. And through those centuries, human beings have put themselves at the center of the cosmos: not the signs, nor the planets, nor the religious entities that every-so-often replaced astrological ones.

 

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Who has replaced the Wizards of olde?

The short answer is scientists, and especially technologists …and especially technologists with an expertise in cybernetic infrastructure: Cyber Wizards. Though as I mentioned in Intro to a Phenomenology of Being-in-the-World Digitally, the systems of knowledge that these wizards are working with are distinct from other systems from the past, like astrological systems. If you hadn’t guessed, that difference is the difference that has come from the production of scientific knowledge: those taxonomic systems based on documenting the relationships between observable and testable phenomena. Like the ancient wizard, a good cyber wizard is well studied in contemporary systems of knowledge, systems we call The Sciences. Their “natal chart” -instead of being based on a picture of the sky- is based on a picture of various biological conditions: levels of oxygen, weight, reflexes, etc. They can predict some things about the future with this chart and they can use the science of biology as a basis for other systems of knowledge dealing with plants for the purposes of agriculture and medicine.

What is fundamentally different between these systems of knowledge born of ancient astrology and those born of scientific research is that after a few hundred years of scientific research, we have identified the basic building blocks and our systems of knowledge distinguish themselves from one another to the extent that the “basic building blocks” are of a different class of phenomena. Nothing of the ancient world (or even much of the modern world) can really be held analogous to the complexities such particularity is contingent upon. The complexity of biological taxonomies is directly related to the particularity of DNA and the Gene. The complexity of information systems involved in contemporary computing is directly related to the particularity of a digital entity identified with a cryptographic key, all of which is ultimately binary. However, in the same way that the Philosopher’s Stone had been sought after in the past, a Theory of Everything is sought after today. The formulas that can connect the most distinct systems of knowledge together. And in the same way that the old wizards were concerned with the geometric relationships between cosmic entities, cyber wizards are also concerned with geometric relationships… work-flows, tree structures, hierarchies, fractals, networks.

But wee arn’t wizards, us punks…

dalux4

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Intro

digital_world_2-1024x768

One of the key debates in philosophy is the debate about the nature of Being (the ontological question), the study of which is called “ontology”. Traditionally, Western philosophers focused on other fields of study first before attempting to answer the ontological question: metaphysics and epistemology. Eventually, Edmund Husserl decided that our experiences of reality were so fundamental that experience itself must be taken into account first, before any proceeding inquiry. He called this accounting of experience, “phenomenology” …a term that had been used before, but not in precisely the same way it would be used after Husserl. Long story short, Husserl attracted many later philosophers that would emphasize the centrality of ontology to phenomenology, articulating rich schools of thought that included Existentialism (one of my main influences).

Some of the basic insights of the Existentialists are that our experiences aren’t some abstract reflection upon a world of things in-themselves, a world that is “out there” ready to be known, indexed, and put into encyclopedic volumes of knowledge. Nor is our experience the result of a divine substance that is separate from objective reality and governed by a cosmic world wholly distinct from the material world. The Existentialists believed that first of all, our experiences are always embodied; that is, high-level logical operations performed on conceptual entities derive (but aren’t separate from) the sensual impressions we experience when touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, feeling, and seeing stuff. Second of all, they believed that our experiences are heavily tied-up with meaning, that the significance of an experience adds a dimension of value and that this value plays a role in shaping our overall experience of everything. In other words, people aren’t merely biased in their decisions because of accepted dogma, or social norms, or whatever else; rather, experience is itself determined by the complicated ways we individually and collectively interact with a world that we are situated within as “subjects”. Therefor, in attempting to comprehend things as they are, in-themselves, it is important to first recognize that whatever techniques or methods we use to do that are a reduction of our experiences …a narrowing of our subjective experience to specific points of focus that are important in some system or another. That there can never be an objective point-of-view (one that can access the objects of reality as they are directly, in-themselves), only various refinements in our attempts to understand the rules of our own experiences.

This sort of thinking has more-or-less informed post-industrial societies for the past century. Whereas an ancient Greek philosopher might debate how it is possible for a universe that is just one thing to transform itself into so many distinct things (metaphysics), then move on to develop an ethics from their conclusions …we moderns and post-moderns tend to debate the relative usefulness of each other’s biases in a universe that we are at the center of, each with our own more-or-less conflicting world(s) that we’re responding to. Sometimes we may say that these are versions of a single universe or world, that we are subjects of various paradigm, or governed in our thoughts by recognizable ideologies …but nevertheless, we’re highly aware of this relationship between our own experiences, what we think is important, and the opacity of an objective universe we try to model through scientific investigations. Very few of us will believe that if we depict the objects of our desire (like a buffet of meats and fruits and vegetables), then intensely worship that depiction, the natural response of the universe is to make those objects appear for us by whatever means necessary. We experience networks of objects with cause-effect relationships that require an account of their chain reactions to produce desired results. We are systematic in this way of being-in-the-world.

Now that I’ve written a bit about what phenomenology is (and more specifically, existential phenomenology), how it prioritizes fields of inquiry, distinctions it makes, insights it gleans …now I will get to the topic of the paper: Being-in-the-World Digitally. Michael Foucault puts an estimate on when we began to think in this modern, network-of-objects way at the Enlightenment, turn of the 18-19th Century. It’s when Western history begins to display attempts to create taxonomies in just about all fields of knowledge with distinctly modern notions of how to use those taxonomies: cause-effect relations, evolutionary transformations, representational models (rather than analogous, nor metaphorical models), etc. Between the hard and the soft sciences that emerged from this sort of thinking, there was an explosion of “knowledge” that didn’t merely come from the advantages of printing technologies and democratic political systems. This explosion of knowledge reinforced the methods that produced it, as well as the institutions that regulated those methods of production. However, we are now moving towards a different sort of thinking that although it is contingent upon the former, is itself characteristically its own. This has been called post-modern by some philosophers, but it has also been called digital, or genetic, or neuronal. It isn’t so much focused on producing taxonomic systems of knowledge, it is interested in dealing with taxonomic systems effectively (procedurally) …seeing that the past epoch has granted to us such a mess of them.

To clarify the distinctions with some at-hand examples (before moving on to the digital component), this focus on effectively dealing with taxonomies can be related to cooking and cook books, pharmacology and prescribing drugs, warfare and using targeted drone strikes based on intelligence analysis. The most valuable, meaningful, useful aspect that we’re paying each other top dollar for is the expertise …or rather, the form of knowledge that this particular sort of expertise produces: intellectual property -the patent-the method. In the hard sciences, teaching the systems of chemistry and biology aren’t nearly as lucrative as patenting a new drug, a gene sequence, or a therapeutic technique. It certainly isn’t admirable to live as though God will just reward and punish us as He sees fit, and it isn’t quite enough to simply be an educated study of scientific systems; we want results, inventions, products, recipes. In the digital age, what we want is: the Algorithms -the best ones.

One thing ought to be obvious to anyone reading this about what I said; and that is that there isn’t anything particularly new about algorithmic thinking …about cooking, medicine, patented inventions, and the rest. Humanity has long-since relied on ordered rules to do things; and, who can even say that human beings are original in that?  The reason why I am using the term digital and not the term algorithmic is because there is something particular about the relationship between algorithms and digital information. There is a breadth produced by post-Enlightenment taxonomic systems and a depth produced by isolating digital components in those systems: atomic particles, genetic proteins, binary code, consumer taste profiles, early adopters of culture, etc. When these systems are able to encode particular differences down to the digit (or, the quantum or primitive level), a form of computational thinking becomes not only advantageous …but sometimes necessary.

To live in a digital world is to live in a modular world that can be reduced to its fundamental components. A world where it is not only possible to graft one thing onto another (like different species of citrus tree) to produce a new thing, but to comprehend how new arrangements of the most fundamental units can more efficiently and effectively produce something similar …such as how coding a tree’s genes can create a new species of trees, producing a variety of citrus fruits, and each fruit producing seeds that can be used to reproduce that new species of tree. There are countless other examples that I could use to highlight the difference between synthesizing higher-level parts and synthesizing fundamentals, but I hope they are unnecessary. The main point I want to emphasize about this concerns the complexity of synthesizing fundamentals. And further, the extent to which that complexity makes something like a sophisticated computer program such a valuable entity.

There are many other things that ought to be said about digital worlds. Discussions about the meaning of these bodies that our experiences are embodied by and how technology that can manipulate organic fundamentals should raise a brow. Discussions about the level of abstraction one reaches in moving from sense perception to conception of entities to systematic taxonomies of entities to the comprehension of taxonomized entities as compositions of digital building blocks …what it means to move through that spiral of thinking and then think about oneself in the world. What I want to focus on now is the value of good recipes, of computer code, of complex data analysis algorithms, and designed gene sequences. The reason why is because the value of such things implies that while on the one hand, most of us can access computers and languages to program them; on the other hand, this access tends to confront us as an enormity of abstract complexity. An abstract complexity that some of us make six-figures a year manipulating it, but all of us are manipulated by it and left to adapt in whatever worlds are created for us. Where some can create algorithms to compute variables necessary for drone navigation, and all of us are potential victims of drone warfare. Where some of us can hack, but all of us are always potentially hacked.

To Be Cont…

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