Joho the Blog » Dec. 1 discussion at the Berkman

Dec. 1 discussion at the Berkman

Here’s the topic for the next discussion I’m leading at the Berkman Center:

What’s ours on the Net?

Put aside for the moment question of what’s legally ours on the Net. Instead, consider what’s ours in a less explicit and less rigorous sense. Google feels like ours (even though it legally belongs to its shareholders) while Microsoft’s new search site feels like theirs. Weblogs feel like their ours while online columns do not. The Mac feels like it’s ours while Dell computers do not. Craigslist feels like it’s ours while newspaper classified ads and Monster.com feel like theirs. In fact, many of us feel and act as if downloaded mp3s were ours. Is this sense of “ours” an illusion? Is it a temporary artifact that will vanish in months or years? What makes something that’s not legally ours still feel that way, on the Web or off? And does this provide a way of figuring out why many of us feel so passionately about the load of bits we call the Net?

It’s 6-7:15 on Wednesday, December 1, at the Berkman Center on Mass. Ave in Cambridge. Pizza shall be served.

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11 Responses to “Dec. 1 discussion at the Berkman”

  1. Maybe sometimes it’s where the value comes from. If it comes from the contributions of all of us it’s “ours,” if it comes from one person or one vendor it’s “theirs.” Google is “ours” because it’s just indexing all our stuff, right? The value came from everyone. Other search sites can become “theirs” only if the site is too transparently geared toward their own business partners and purposes. CNN is “theirs” largely because we can’t contribute to it and they don’t ever provide links to anyone else’s stuff. Slashdot is “ours” for the exact opposite reasons. A big p2p network full of mp3s is “ours” because it is we who build it with our favorite music collections.

    The genius of companies like Amazon is that they are allowing us to contribute some of the value. They’re not viewing their site as their “property” (as you have put it before, David) but rather as a place to have a dialogue with their customers.

  2. i think it goes with the question – “are you open source?” google isn’t open source, but it does feel open… in other words i guess i agree with scott feldstein.

  3. Things that appear to be made for us and our purposes are ours. Throw on too much flash, too much advertising, too much hollow soulless glitz, and it’s no longer ours. Something is made for our puposes if we have enough control over it to do what we want with it (e.g., mp3). Something is “theirs” when it’s obvious that they’ve put into it just enough of what we want to draw our attention, and turned the rest into things we wouldn’t otherwise want to look at.

  4. There’s also the issue of intentionality. Many who put stuff out for public inspection on the web have no intention of sharing their control over it, and they’re not just corporations. By now we have all heard artists and musicians who can work themselves into a fury at people who would (in their view) appropriate their creativity and labor, and abuse it.
    Most of us may find that view slightly perverse — something like “Look (or listen) but don’t make it part of your life” — but it is obvious that there are powerful currents running in its favor.

  5. johne, When “making it part of your life” involves sharing it with 20 million of your best friends, yeah, a lot of creative people start getting upset. If DRM and other technical measures were about profits at the margins, I think you’d have a strong objective point. In reality though, people need prodding to pay for the digital goods they use. In my own software business, various levels of DRM and prodding easily account for 95% of my revenue. Even moving from untethered unlock codes to server enforced unlock codes is growing revenue sunstantially. If I go the “please send me a check for my shareware” route (a) I don’t make enough money to do what I do, (b) I have to get a day-job, (c) I don’t have time to put into the products my customers like, (d) we all lose and it doesn’t matter how much I try to give customers a feeling of ownership.

    David’s example of the Mac “being ours” is a great one though. A lot of that comes from the buyer being able to recognize good design and good overall quality (i.e. being able to appreciate a nice thing) and then being willing to pay a premium for it. The same could be said of a BMW or Patek Philippe watch. I think it would be very nice if popular content (songs, art, software) could be licensed from a clearinghouse like Corbis to do what you like with it AND people were honest in intention and deed in doing so — whether that be for personal use, creating a compilation or derivative product, whatever. When it is so easy to make digital copies, people tend to not be honest in deed, and that’s why there is such conflict!!

  6. You put your point well Brad, but I was trying to pose another argument, referring to work becoming part of artistic currents, rather than appearing in exact copies. So a composer might be anxious to present his work, even over the Internet, but object to it appearing later in a jazz rendition, part of a hip-hop collage, or as a theme in a symphonic movement. In the same way an artist might be angered by something of his becoming appropriated as a cultural icon like Wood’s “American Gothic,” or Munch’s “The Scream.” For a more intelligent discussion of the whole matter, especially the prickly question of plagiarism, see Malcolm Gladwell’s “Something Borrowed” at the “New Yorker” site, soon to move to his own site, according to Cosma Shalizi.

  7. Somehow, some links in my previous post disappeared:
    New Yorker: http://newyorker.com/fact/content/?041122fa_fact
    Cosma Shalizi:
    http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/

  8. Thanks for the pointer to Gladwell’s article. In the TV and movie world, there is the oft-plagiarized (wink) standard disclaimer about events and characters being fictitious and any resemblance to actual events or people is purely coincidental. As Broadway plays have become a part of the wide cultural landscape on par with TV and movies and books, perhaps these issues ought to be vetted before people invest in the play or it’s up for a Tony. Similarly, if your goal is to be a reknowned media whore, er, Presidential scholar, like Doris Kearns Goodwin, maybe ensure that your writing process doesn’t inadvertantly use Copy / Paste from other historians’ writing. Being blonde is not an ethical defense. The legal ramifications have a way of sorting themselves out at great expense to all involved.

  9. Cluetrain Ours, LoveMarks Theirs

    Cluetrain feels like ours.

  10. I’m afraid I don’t know much about net etiquette and I feel like this must be terribly bad form.. to write such a long response.. but this is more or less my reaction.. of what I think are the underlying mechanics governing what makes one thing seem like ours and another thing like there’s.. LOL, I just hope I understood the question right?

    Speaking as an artist.. it should be mentioned that an artists relationship to issues of people trading MP3s, or whatever.. does have a relationship to how said artist is interfacing with the marketplace… I can put out a CD for a couple grand.. plus the cost of studio tools… and I can make $5+ per CD.. doing it myself.. versus the business model for the major label where… ridiculous amounts get spent.. at every stage.. and they have to sell a zillion CDs in order get out of the red.. the artist is lucky if he or she makes $1.50 a disk… consequently the majors complain about P2P a lot more then indies… With an indie artist getting your MP3s traded can be a plus.. a part of getting the word out… and of course the ramifications of how you interface with the market place have multidimensional effects.. just wanted to point that much out for the benefit of artists..

    But all this seems besides the point.. if the point is the discussion topic…

    My instant reaction.. without really thinking about it.. as to why one thing feels like its ‘ours’ versus ‘there’s’ I think you have to take new science field theory. .combine it with good old fashion Jungian Psychology and good old American Pragmatism.. and eventually mix it with like.. I don’t know, conversations with Theodor Ardono and like “Marketers Are Us,” or something?

    I don’t get the field theory thing.. accept I read this book called Leadership and the new Science : discovering order in a chaotic universe… that talked about this kind of thing in relationship to leadership principles… And what its like is.. well take somebody like Crazy Horse.. famous Indian bad ass who got strip joins named after him.. well at one point he had this tittle that was something like ‘a shirt warer’ the value of this was that shirt warers where people who where sorta like put up as roll models… a kind of leader ship model.. right? But you know.. good old Crazy Horse had the problem of being in love with another Indian’s wife.. and he ran off with said wife.. and caused quite a.. controversy.. apparently this isn’t how shirt warers are supposed to act? Well I guess that’s Crazy Horse for you.. not exactly the indian equivalent of a good republican right? So they asked Crazy Horse to give up the shirt.. which he did.. but you know? People still followed him.. he was still a leader.. Now juxtapose that to the modern conception of the benevolent dictator for business leadership….

    Another way of looking at it is evolution.. You’ve heard of that Mazlo psychologist guy? Talked about hierarchy of needs.. like needing food before you need shelter? Well you know.. he was no Nietzsche, right? Nietzsche says there is no free will, when you say you will something what you’ve got is a situation of two opposing wills coming together and you’re identifying your will with the dominant will.. (everybody likes a winner right?) In this sort of thing you can get a wif of eastern philosophies.. zen or tao or hindu and what have you.. in the sense of holistic versus compartmental / postmodern picasso esk fragmentation… And then Nietzsche goes on to say that morality is a hierarchical ordering of wills. So you’re catching how Nietzsche’s a lil more sophisticated then our Mazlo friend.. (at least in the context of this unreliable narrator’s version of events) Ok.. but you know.. As Carl Jung would say the human psyche (collective or personal) is always striving for equilibrium ( What would John Nash say? ) And in a sense you can look at this hierarchy.. this interrelationship of virtues and vices… and this has a lot to do with how the individual interfaces with the society.. as well as an ecology.. in fact.. you can kind of talk about the moral order of inanimate objects, if you really think about it.. I mean what Mazzlo’s really talking about is the morality of our biology.. which is just one set of forces in a larger ecology of the human specimen.. but my point is.. well imagine we talk about a business.. and talk about there hierarchy of values.. that’s obviously going to be expressed in there web presence right? Ok.. and then we could talk about our hierarchy of needs…. in a sense nature has such a hierarchy…

    Well how about a little web design 101 right? A business goes ‘well we want to get the demographics, psychographics, geographics, and technographics of our target audience.. and based off that information we’ll create user profiles.. and then we’ll try to imagine scenarios of how these users would interface with our web presence, based off those profiles… and we’ll use this as a tool for evaluating design decisions..’ now… if your smart… you’d say.. ‘making the user feel like they own the site is our ideal.’

    Ok.. so back to the Jungian thing.. Jung created a nifty association test experiment where he’d give you a word, record the word you associated with the word he gave, and he’d write down your reaction word along with the reaction time.. and he would do this for like a zillion words… and via the magic that is statistical analysis… he’d map out the complexes of one’s consciousness.. as he said.. it didn’t matter if there was a God or not we can study the behavior of the concept of the God via empirical means.. It appears that these complexes had a behavior independent of self.. and if that where not enough.. in some cases it seems one could see one’s destiny by looking at some of these complexes of one’s consciousness… while that might sound like hocus pocus to some.. alcoholism, and various forms of abuse are examples of complex behavior patterns that where said to be passing through families from one generation to the next… and this is without getting deeply into the subject of archetypes… or applying ideas like pattern recognition or game theory…

    The point of bringing up the subject of Jungian psychology is to assert that there are these behaviors that ideas can have in a way that’s independent of the self.. and who’s behavior follows various patterns.. In a sense this is extremely similar to Nietzsche’s idea of a moral order… and in a certain way it looks a bit like the market modeling data stuff..

    The following is a link to a Frontline web page for a show called The Persuaders.. where you can watching the program online.. And talks about some of the stuff that I’m talking about..

    The Persuaders

    One of the things in this programs is someone doing something you could call ‘Jungian reverse engineering’ where he takes a focus group and maps out the associative organization’s surround a work like ‘Luxury’ and using the resultant map as a blue print to which x companies corporate branding should then adhere to.

    I confess to having not spent a lot of time studying linguistics but I’d propose a theory.. language, an organically ever evolving thing.. is driven by conflict.. which is to say language exists to resolve conflict.. so whatever the main issues are of a generation.. thats going to be what’s driving the language of that generation.. And the same for a given group.. or an area of study.. when we talk about the division of labor.. each division will have its own language.. its own organization of reality… etc.. The western tradition is one of compartmentalized reason.. Like Dewey’s Decimal system.. But as the famous Zen philosopher Daisetz Suzuki has said.. . when you talk about the frog and the pond.. you have to remember that your talking about three things.. your talking about the frog, the pond, and the and. Its like if you look at those Chuck Close paintings in the MFA… where half the art.. in his process.. is making it so the grid structure that he overlaps the face of his subject with.. has an interesting relationship to the subjects face… That grid structure is analogous to the organizations underlying how the division of labor is divided, or how the language is…

    Anyway.. to attempt to cut this short… we could do a map for the concept of “ours” and “there’s.” And I sorta think this might reveal something… but I also think that in someways the something that is revealed is something that will in some way vary along the lines of demographic, psychographic, technographic, and geographic lines… because I think the nature of the words “ours,” and “there’s” is inherently relational.. In a sense I think that these concepts have an organization like those complexes.. and its reasonable to say that those complexes have a relationship to.. well to something like Platonic ultimate ideas.. Jung would talk about them having there own behavior.. and perhaps he might tell you that in the ancient myths and religions the gods where personification’s of the forces of the universe and so there demons and angels are these complexes.. that are now floating through our collective consciousness.. and in our computers.. and are the underlying mechanics driving the evolution of the net…

    Before I started this I said I was going to try to tie into American Pragmatism.. In American pragmatism it was believed that the value of a belief was not the measure of its proximity to truth or reality… but the pragmatic cash value of the idea… And basically American pragmatism is like the application of statistics and probability to philosophy.. and is also what’s underlying Darwin.. so if you take all these things together.. I think I sorta get at something…

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