Joho the BlogNovember 2011 - Page 2 of 4 - Joho the Blog

November 18, 2011

[avignon] afternoon session

Notes on the first afternoon session. I was in the first half of this, which I am not blogging. It was ably moderated by Eric Scherer of France TV. (He looks ahead for them.)

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Eric asks Cynthia Fleury (philosopher): What would the Net be like without curating? We would never find out. There is no walk in the woods without a path. The idea is that this puts innovation on the periphery. But it should be in the center. 45% of Net users speak English. The typical user is male, under 35, a graduate. The network architecture revolves around the US. Only 2% [of what] is accounted for by African countries. Cultural diversity is limited, affecting curation. There are positives: A more open public space. We are all our own media, as Castells has said. Chomsky’s logic is still there, however. Friedman’s statement that the world is flat is wrong; the Internet creates more concentration and relief through curation because these aren’t open systems. FB brings you into contact with people you already knew. At the same time there is no culture without cultural co-creation. There is a utilitarian approach here; people go through three pages of Google and stop. Also you’re under pressure of breaking news, rumors, low-quality voice. So curation is important. So use different search engines, go beyond the 50th page of results. But, as PAscal says, the ground has to be prepared — you have to be open and ready to discovery. I am interested in our ability to destructure mediation — go straight to a source, bypassing the authorities. Demediation. Then you remediate: you check what you have against what the mainstream media say about it.

The former head of Google France gets asked if someday we’ll know more about the Google ranking algorithms? He says the algorithm will enter the public domain in 2014. They’ll try to keep it secret as long as possible. There’s so much at stake that it is a strategic choice by Google to say as little as possible.

Can there be neutral listing? Cynthia: No. Maybe there are good reasons to become transparent.

Gilles Babinet (Pres. opf French National Council of Digital and Eyeka). Google is a Western thing. But emerging cultures have lots and lots of mobiles. Also: I find fascinating the polarization of Net and the art. When you create a new web site, you are close to artistic creation. You have to avoid this idea that art and the Net are partitioned. It’s like the Salon that didn’t want the Impressionists; that what we have to avoid.

Gilles: I don’t know if any other country has as rich a cultural heritage as France. The French National Council ought to be making the most of it. As Pres. Sarkozy said, trying to control things is reactive and will cost more energy than it’s worth.

Cynthia: What’s most interesting about Internet: The balance between expertise and transmission. If you have successful curating, it means money to some, and learning and power to others. That’s the history of transmission. We need to have a certain amount of lack of understanding because that’s what keeps us interested and pulls us forward. The Internet is calling expertise, intellectualism, and commitment into question.

Gilles: The Americans tells us they need to find a way to protect cultural goods just as they protect technical goods.

Cynthia: Obviously I agree with that. Indigenous knowledge must enjoy IP protection. It’s crucial to know who the author of a work of art is. And it has to be passed over into the public domain.

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[avignon] President Sarkozy

They move us into the grand hall — vaulted ceilings — for a talk by Pres. Nikolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has not exactly been a friend of the Internet. The last time I heard him talk was at LeWeb when he was a candidate. Among the three candidates who spoke there, Sarkozy’s talk was clearly the most hostile to the Internet, viewing it primarily as a site of gossip and slander.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing A SIMULTANEOUS TRANSLATION badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

President Sarkozy: I was going to give a prepared speech but instead will speak off the cuff. Never before have cultural protagonists — politicians, heads of gov’t — had to make so many efforts to come up with imaginative, new responses to the challenges that humans have never had to face before. I know my presence here surprised some observers. Why talk about culture in such a crisis? Because culture is the bedrock, and the bedrock of our response. The French response to the crisis is to invest massively in culture and anything having to do with culture. That is the French way of doing things. France believes that cultural goods are essential goods. That is the basis of the choices we have made. To live, man needs to feed himself, be healthy, and needs culture. France is the only developed country that has not cut into its cultural budgets — and around in Europe cultural budgets are being cut 20, 30, 50% — but we have increased those budgets.

I’m an optimist. The world has never needed cultural protagonists the way we do now. You give life sense, you build links, you create collective sense. The offshoot of globalization is that citizens need a sense of belonging to their country. What better way than through the adhesion to one’s culture.

Why have we had to show such boldness? Because all cultural protagonists are facing a crisis of distribution. This is a matter of extreme seriousness, if we consider — as I consider — it is no service to culture to say that it is free for all. The disappearance of traditional distribution methods threatens traditional culture itself. You used to go to a record store or a DVD store. That is shattered. So, we have to reengineer a viable economic model from A to Z. This is not simply a matter of imaging. You have to be courageous. I will be blunt. I have always believed that there would be no form of creation if there were no longer to be respect for upholding and respect for copyright and author’s rights. This is of the essence and shapes all the rest.

Bon Marche invented the very concept of author’s rights. A musician has ownership over the music he writes. An author has ownership over the book he publishes. To deny the ownership of artists on their work amounts to negating all forms of creation. What was the status of creators before they had ownership? They were simply court jesters. Those were the lucky ones. Your predecessors long ago might find a benefactor who fell in love with a particular musician’s works and would protect him. What enabled artists to break out of that yoke? What give musicians and writers independence and freedom? What enabled them to recovery their ownership. Copyright. The idea that you could live on the benefits of what you created. There is no independence when you rely exclusively on the genersoity of benefactors.

I am determined not to accept that a tech revolution, even as positive as the Net in other respects, should call into question the ownership rights of a creator over his or her works. To challenge that is to acknowledge anuy economy of culture.

Why is it so complex? I remember the 2005-6 debate where people on my side said you shouldn’t defend these ideas even if they’re right because youth will rise up against you. But one should not renounce one’s beliefs simply because you have to explain things to people before you persuade them. I even had people say I would lose this election if I did not understand this extraordinary revolution that has turned all on its head. We imposed, against much resistance, legislation (HADOPI) against piracy and to protect author’s rights.

I don’t want there to be any ambiguity, so I want to respond to those who ultimately believed what I believe, but decided not to defend a just idea for political reasons.

First, I was indeed elected as president. One can uphold copyright without alienating the majority of people. People are down to earth and can understand if you explain it.

Second, I was told I lost that war. Piracy is part of people’s lives, I was told. When I saw certain sites where daily newspapers were offering their articles free and people weren’t buying the paper any more. How little respect you have for what you do! And how stupid to think that people would pay for what they would get for free. Within a few months of HADOPI, there was a 35% drop in privacy, so the battle wasn’t lost. The internet society has to be guided by rules, just as real society is. The great USA went about it our way. NZ, S Korea likewise. The battle is not lost.

Now we have to tackle the streaming web sites and there is no reason not to do so. What was ambiguous was that p2p pirating was based on an ideology that was based on an initially positive ideology: sharing. The approach wasn’t in and of itself negative. On streaming sites the ideology of sharing has gone out the window; they’re about making money.

They claimed I’m a fanatic. But HADOPI is just a means to an end. Tech is evolving, so the law must too. All we want to do is protect author’s rights. Once the principle of protecting author’s rights is enshrined, why not?

And at the Digital E8, I said lets invite the Net giants to talk with us. I was told that they’d think we’re trying to gag them. When you invite people to talk, you’re not gagging them. So, we sat down and talked, and there was no tension. The idea is not to protect our backyard but to pull these worlds together. The Net revolution is a phenomenally positive development, but we need to talk. And to utter the forbidden word: Taxation. [Google pays no taxes in France.] I cannot accept that these companies pay no taxes in France. You can’t have all your clients in one customer and your team in another customer, and pay taxes ina third country where the taxes are the lowest.

We can support this Net revolution while still talking with Google, Zuckerberg, Microsoft, and talk about author’s rights, taxations, the fact that the latest Marakesh bombing was done by someone who discovered how to make a home-made bomb on the Internet.

In our mind, there isn’t an opposition between the Net world and cultural world. There is a need to get together, speak the same language, lay the foundations for an economy that is viable for Net giants and creators and that doesn’t ruin what the creators create. Culture is an investment that will get us out of this crisis, not a mere expenditure that one can cut back on. Culture is not a luxury. So, I felt it my duty to be here you in this beautiful city, even though there are heavier burdens to shoulder.

Q: I’m a Bollywood actress and writer. I am French. I am also Indian. Completely both. For me culture means the ability to choose among our own passions, and not the ideas that are fashionable. For this we need cultural diversity. So: What is culture?
A: For me, culture is meaning. “Culture is the response one gets when one wonders what one is doing on Earth?” [He’s quoting someone I couldn’t get.] What gives our life meaning. There is a spiritual and cultural answer to this. Culture is the only area in which there is no notion of progress because culture is the only way man has found to better his condition. When you go to L’escaux Caves you realize it’s the Sistine Chapel of the time — the same sense of transcendence, getting man out of the Kantian chains that bind us. If I take off my head of state cap, I would simply say that culture is an investment. France welcomes 20M tourists a year. What would France be without its culture? If I look at it as a politician, culture is what binds a society. It is the lifeblood. It is why men and women do not know one another share common emotions. Without culture there is no sense of nationhood. If I were to speak as a reader or listener, culture is emotion. A special sort of emotion experience by the composer or writer, but that has universal value. The more personal the feelings expressed, the more unique, the more universal. And, to come around full circle, how can you define culture as what it is not. It is not that extra bit of soul — I hate that expression — for the well-fed society that can afford it. It is not part of the whole. It is the whole. From culture you achieve cohesiveness. You don’t have life and then the spangle of culture. Culture is our identity. Finally, what is culture not? It is the very opposite of sectarianism, of the accepted dogma, of conservativism, of the sheep mentality, of the Pavlovian reflex, of the automatic geographical alignment, of the concern for image at whatever cost.

Q: I am an American anthropologist from India. It is music to my ears to hear that music is a necessity. If there were no investment in culture, my discipline would disappear, which would not be a sorry for the world, but would be for us anthropologists. When you make it clear that culture is a non-negotiable priority even or especially in this time of fiscal crisis, how can make this argument in other countries? Can you draw on your experience with other locations?

A: Need only look at what has happened throughout the world. When the Spanish steel industry was swept around, the city of Bilbao was ruined because its economy rested on it. They made a tremendous wager, betting on architectural quality (Frank Gehry) and culture (Guggenheim Museum). Bilbao generates 220 million euros because of this. Bilbao was saved by cultural investment. When Germany reunited, they decided that the capital would be in Berlin, and built an exceptional capital. Culture is what Berlin has to offer. They’ve had a time attracting companies to Berlin, so real estate prices have stayed low, attracting artists. But 13% of the jobs in Berlin are in the arts and culture. Liverpool’s response in the crisis was to invest massively in cultural terms, and it worked. The cities of the Ruhr are another example. I have had to make painful decisions in Moselle [?] and Metz [spelling!] where 30% of jobs were military. We had to redeploy bases and barracks once my predecessor, Chirac, abolished compulsory military service. So, we abolished military jobs. The implications were colossal. So, we decided to build the Bourbon [?] Center in Metz. It received more than one million visitors. We’re going to dig our heels on this. We’re going to build a Louvre in Lens [?], which has suffered two brutal revolutions: the collapse of the mining industry and the textile crisis. That will project will be a success. We’ll have the museum of the Mediterranean in Marseilles. The Impressionists housed in the ___ museum, the dream I have is of a magnificent museum in Normandy. When the crisis befell us, we came up with a plan to relaunch the economy which included 400B euros worth of additional money for culture. I think there were 83 cathedrals needed to be restored, of hwihc 50 have been restored. And the living arts! Art is always living art — people go on stage and perform. We have not touched one penny of that money. It is our certainty that the best way to respond to the crisis is to invest in culture, just as in aerospace. And if you look at the history of art, creation has never been better than in countries that feel good about themselves. The two phenomena are intimately interconnected. When I look at French cinema, I think Thank heavens our predecessors set up systems that I have done everything to protect. That’s why the French film industry is not in the situation of some of our neighbors that have seen their film industries go down the drain. I may be bold but I have a sense of risk.

Q: [A film maker – Vanya [?]] Barbara Hendricks this morning said that art is as important as air and water, and you said the same. I am a member of Culture and Diversity. Our goal is create cultural opportunities for poor kids. We want to bring them toward art and art schools, but often the importance of art is often quite removed from their lives. They receive art passively through tv, internet and films. But they have little opportunity to be active. What can we do?

A: Look at the extraordinary way the US puts films, music, etc., at service of their economic interests. The brands take root. I’m not saying it’s deliberate, but it works. There’s a steamrolling effect. The generosity of French artists and film directors is equaled elsewhere. We are very happy to screen American films and show American artworks. We do want our American friends to remember that there are other countries. That’s another debate. Reciprocity has to exist in the cultural industry. Beyond exchange. We have to be able to defend this principle. It’s not just the under-privileged. The privileged don’t always appreciate culture. We want to use this extraordinary instrument — the 5,000 colleges in France — to create the new audiences for opera, theater, film, etc. We have started a program where we by the rights to 200 films and make them available to all these colleges. This was not a way of competing with the film industry, but the idea was that if you start watching films in college, you will continue as an adult. We have 264 national theaters, 600 theater troupes, a huge reservoir of plays. But where are the audiences? I’d like to see these plays, once they have toured, to go to the colleges and schools, to shape and form the audiences of tomorrow. Take opera. The cost of a seat is pretty prohibitive, yet the operas are full. I’d like to buy up the rights to these operas and enable these shows to play in schools and colleges. Then there are underprivileged. We’re taking an initiative bringing exhibitions…going out to meet the people. In one case only 19% had ever been in a museum. We’re trying to decentralize, e.g., the Mobile Pompidou exhibition. It’s a simple stage under a tent so people aren’t intimidated. Suddenly they lay their eyes on a Picasso. Can you imagine the effect? That work of art now is not foreign. It’s part of one’s village. Culture is too often sensed as foreign. Whatever you background, when you set your eyes on a work of art, you appreciate it. There is no pre-determinism. Art’s value should be self-evident. You walk down the street and see something beautiful. You don’t need to be told or have it explained. The more you know the more you need to be told. When it’s simply about emotion, nothing needs to be explained to you. [Wow is that false. And it’s inconsistent with his Net views. If we respond to art without training, then why hasn’t the Net clustered around works of art?]

Q: How about free access to museums?

A: I don’t think that’s the ultimate response because you don’t respect what is free. Everything has a price. Everything has a value. There has to be a bit of an effort for there to be pleasure. But we have for 18-25 and teachers access to museums should be free. The number of visits as a result of this decision: 2.7M youths have gone in. Teachers: 500K. Culture is an amazing, fantastic domain that holds true. You have to be pragmatic, generous, open-minded. I am against access to museums being free because they need to sustain themselves. But for young people and teachers this was a good move. If teachers don’t get into the habit of going to museums, how can their pupils learn.

Q: [a Swedish student] Ever since I was a child, I wanted to make a difference. First as a poet. Then wanting to become the Sect’y General of the UN. My generation was born into the Internet. We invented Facebook, Skype, and Spotify. This has changed how we communicate and interact, across borders. From my point of view, these are great developments. Culture is beautiful and is in all that we do and are. Everything that isn’t developing is degenerating. Values are changing. Why is the defense of IP fundamental in your policy? Isn’t it in opposition to access to culture you’ve stood up for? Isn’t the fight against piracy a hopeless case.

A: I see haven’t persuaded all of you. An artist who wants music to be disseminated free of charge always has that option. I am challenging the pirating of works who do not want that. Who would buy the film or music if you can access it free of charge. There is now a quite cheap offering on the market. It’s right that you should pay less for a record or CD you buy on the Internet. For music we’re going to set up a system comparable to the CNC system we set up for film. I want providers to contribute musical creation just as a certain number of actors contribute to creation in the film industry. Just as there’s a national film center (CNC) there should be a national music one, which should be partially funded by the providers. When there are no writers or music, what is your generation going to get? For music there has to be composers, for films etc. If they don’t have ownership, what will they become of them? The famous will remain in the catalog until their rights fall into the public domain. If your first film or record is not enough to live on, how will you do the second? I asked Zuckerberg — who is remarkable and I admire — if he’d like his work pinched, and he said “Of course not.” Explain to me why a famous author or film maker should have fewer rights than those who are not famous. Go ask Google or Microsoft. Don’t tell me I’m not in favor of the free market! We should fight harder for author’s rights! I think it’s beginning to sink in. I know in Sweden, regulation is a dirty word. We defend our rights, but we’re not refusing the Internet. France is where the Net has developed the fastest and the most. Let us not ask the wrong questions. Illegal streaming sites are doing untold damage and I fully intend to fight them. I do not want to see profit made from the simple theft of other people’s work, just as in the national bond issue, I have earmarked a lot of money so Frederic Mitterand can digitize what are in the French national libraries. Big companies wanted to do it, but we said no. Freedom needs laws. Not too many regulations, but when there is no regulation, it is those who have the most clout and fewest scruples win.

Q: When we try to understand the current revolution, we should look back to the Printing Revolution. Technological rev is not only a change in tools, but influences all levels of culture.: distribution, production, communication, and sharing of culture. We have to rethink all aspects concurrently. We need mediation and explanation. With my students we explore other economic models, or a global license. Shouldn’t we try to reconcile technology and our culture in a period of massive piracy?

A: Yes, it’s a massive revolution, but that shouldn’t lead us to turn our backs on our democratic traditions. We have to find the right balance. On a global license: I am completely against this completely crazy idea. I believe that the identification between the author and his work is of the essence. If we all into some kind of melting pot, we are denying everything that is individual and specific. No one is defending this crazy idea. We are indeed facing challenges. E.g., digital TV that puts on the same screen the traditional, regulated services and the Internet world, which is not regulated and that does not contribute to the film industry the way the traditional services do. The latter will be stealing audience share. So we are going to have to work on how to regulate digital, connected TV era. Or, cloud computing: There again, what happens to your private copy that no longer needs to be uploaded? The battle against illegal downloading will become a matter of the past because in cloud computing there won’t be any need to download anything. But as I said initially, we’re ready to have a third or fourth version of our anti-piracy laws. We believe in protecting author’s rights and them getting individual remuneration for their work. The ways and means of doing this will change, and no one could not say that the Net is not a major step in social connection. But we don’t want our democratic principles thrown out the window. Of course we have to regulate and do it within a framework. It takes 3 mins to download a film. We want to be flexible but stick to our fundamental principles.

Q: [economist] I work on the economics of art and culture. You’ve today demonstrated how clearly you understand the connection. You’ve made the tax system a priority in your own cultural policy. The VAT on some cultural goods has risen in France. Is this consistent with your support of culture.

A: For France, the VAT on the same goods should be the same, whether hardcopy of digital versions. I understand the problems that may arise out of this for the European Commission. But as of Jan 1 2012 we’ll apply reduced VAT for hardcopy goods. Why should it be 7% on the Net and 19.6% for hardcopy. The globalization caused by the Net leads to major distortions in competition, which we cannot accept. So, I’m requesting that VAT on digital and ebooks be the same, at a reduced rate. It will be implement on Jan 1., and I hope that the European Commissioner will not come down to us too hard. This is a personal message to her. I do not understand that there should be a VAT differential to books, films, records, music, because in my mind cultural goods are the same and should have equal standing. In France cultural goods are considered to be essential goods, like food. Now, why we have increased VAT from 5.7 to 7% on cultural goods, is a way of protecting that sector; VAT in France is 19%. I cannot ask the French to tighten their belts and hear one sector complain about a rise from 5.7 to 7%. We have maintained VAT at 2.2% for living arts and press. So let no one say we’re being unfair to culture. We have protected the cultural area ferociously. We have smoothed the burden across the board. I hope the EC lets me work calmly on the record industry. I take this very seriously. Your memories are of smell and music. The systematic destruction of the music industry I cannot simply shrug off. That’s why I’m thinking about reduced VAT for music, as I’ve done for films.

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[avignon] Forum d’Avignon intro, and second session

The Forum d’Avignon is an annual meeting of invited guests, heavily from the French culture industries, with a handful of Internet people sprinkled in, and interesting international representation. It is a high end conference for sure: beautiful hotels in beautiful Avignon, a welcome reception in the historic and ornate Town Hall, dinner in the Palais de Papes — the Palace of Popes, a visit from Pres. Sarkozy in a couple of hours. The sessions themselves are held in a long hall lined with seats facing one another. The overall topic this year — the 4th annual Forum — is “investing in culture.” The sessions consist of group interviews in the middle.

James “Jamie” Boyle is here, I’m very happy to say. He speaks tomorrow. They sat me next to him at dinner last night (yay!) and among other wise things, said that conferences always have narratives. It’s not yet clear to me what the narrative for this Forum is, although I have apparently been asked to play the role this afternoon of The Bringer of Discomfort, or possibly, He Who Should Be Heard Once and then Ignored.

I am very appreciative to have been brought here (expenses paid). And I am double appreciative to be one of the relative few people who are given a chance to speak. But I have to say that this conference cries out to be an unconference.

 


Antoine Gosset Grainville makes a case for investing in culture.

Urbanist Charles Landry says that culture needs to move into the center again because of the rapid pace of development and globalization. The right question is: What is the cost of not thinking about culture, art, design, green, etc.? So, of course we want a lot of artists. But we also want interesting and provocative art.

Vincent Frosty (investor) has looked at who is investable and at 50 cultural projects. They’ve found that cultural and non-cultural investments are treated roughly the same.

Charles: Urban engineers think of city-making in terms of creating infrastructure, vs. the sensory experience of cities. Hardware is not the totality of life. The engineering approach can sometimes be insensitive, although engineering is a wonderful discipline. E.g., Chicago Millennial Park that transformed a parking lot. A city is a place of meeting, transacting, exchange, etc. Cities are aiming at reinventing the art of conviviality. That’s how culture is reinvigorated. This is intangible, confounding accountants. Creative city-making is a paradigm shift. The best cultural policy: 1. Link us to enlightenment. 2. Life our spirits; empowers us. 3. Entertains us. 4. Employability. 5. Economic impact.

[Why is it not clear here that when it comes to culture, the Internet is the new city? It is where culture is happening and accelerating, even though from the outside it looks like a warren of pickpockets, drunks, and prostitutes.]

Vincent: My policy guidelines: Open to partnerships. Sustainable beyond the creators.

Charles: I looked at 6 European cities. All have used culture in one way or another. Often they use old buildings. Culture is increasingly embedded into the economy in subtle ways, and new forms of working that are less hierarchical.

Vincent: Demand is strong for culture. But culture alone is not going to get us out of the economic crisis.

Charles: We want to create conditions in which ordinary people make the extraordinary happen.

Vincent: Viviendi has made cultural enrichment a target by which executives are measured.

Now new people come to the panel. David Throsby is an Australian economist. Jochen Gerze is an artist. Syhem Belkhodja is a Tunisian choreographer.

David: How do economists regard culture? “Cultural capital” has economic and cultural value. Expenditure on culture is an investment in culture. Now we can use the methods of economic analysis. Five examples: 1. Bengarra Dance Company in Australia turns aboriginal people’s stories into contemporary dance. It’s a risky investment, but the payoff is that it contributes to the viability of the dance company, plus the obvious cultural payoff. 2. A new museum (“M9”) in the city of Maestra next to Venice, with cultural benefit plus economic payoff in increased tourism, etc. 3. Skopje in Macaedonia is investing in the old bazaar in its historic center. Local businesses benefit, with an important social payoff because before the investment there was a lot of inter-ethnic conflict there. Now it’s a social space. 4. In Papua New Guinea, basket weavers using traditional methods are making products sellable on the international market, especially empowering women. 5. The National Theatre Live project in the UK transmits live performances to cinemas all over Europe. Finally, we need a model of the cultural economy that puts the core creative artists at the center. [Liked this until that last point. I would have preferred a networked model, rather than the concentric circles David displayed.]

Jochen: Much of what we’ve heard this morning is true and useful. But we’re making a mistake by basing ourselves on the Renaissance view of art in which you bid people to stand in admiration of a work and keep their mouths shut. Democracy informs our cultural practices. E.g., I did a year-long project called “Two Three Streets,” an artistic project in the public space. Today’s art always raises the question of whether it is art. So, we invited people to spend a year rent-free in exchange for contributing to a common text to be written, and to change a street in three cities in the Ruhr area [?]. 1,500 people applied from all over the world. 78 [?] participants were accepted, between ages 17 and 90. Changing a street in a disadvantaged part of town…that is not an art project. For a year, 800 people participated in writing a shared text. The Net brought them together, 16 languages, 3,000 pages. It sold out. An ebook is being prepared, and instead of being sold for 80 euros it will cost around 8 euros. In 1837 Novalis said: “Perhaps one day we shall write, think and act in common. Someday perhaps an entire nation will create a work of art.” Some have stayed on to continue the community work of this project, not as art but as an economic, social, and cultural project. Art can affect an entire culture, but not necessarily by artists. It is like aspirin that dissolves into the entire system.

Syhem: The elections in Tunisia have made it harder than ever to talk about culture. Women had some freedom under the old dictator. 28 yrs ago when I started dancing, women could not participate in politics, but we could have our own cultural spaces. It was hard because it is an Islamic culture, but you just had to cheat a little, and talk about entertainment or majorettes rather than dance. To my dismay, after the revolution I realized that perhaps we’d been naive and they’d exploited us. In 2002 I organized a contemporary dance festival, working with Martha Graham and others, and I called the whole dancing clan and …[translator fails]. I’m a moderate, modern Muslim and think that women are free. [Sorry, but the translator is incomprehensible.] In 2006, I said we have to make it free of charge. 24 Koranic channels today. I respect the decision of the voters, but out of 4M voting, only 1.6% voted for the Islamicists. It’s not a lost cause. [The French speaking audience applauds. But the translator pretty much gave up. [Afterwards my friend and moderator Eric Scherer vouched that she was fantastic. I wish I could have understood it.]]

Moderator: Jochen, what do you think the potential role of art is in learning democracy?

Jochen: Whatever happens has an impact on art. Art cannot survive unchanged in a changing world. Art is not there to accompany life. It has to be part of an honest dialogue; we have to get away from the tiresome culture of privilege.

Syhem: New tech is great, but what about the ethics for someone who speaks out? Thanks to the new tech, the Tunisians are holding their heads high. We were pioneers without any foreign help. It’s important that we not break the link [not clear to me which link]. You have to understand influence. If there’s a move away from your values in Egypt, or Libya, but you have to remember there are values out there. It’s not through oil and petrodollars that you can convince people of your values.

Moderator: Today we have the Greater Paris plan. [He introduces someone without naming him, and he’s not listed in the program.]

Person: Greater Paris is a paradigm shift. It is a fruitful encounter bringing together an economic side — clusters of businesses and universities — and then the transport cluster. We have links between suburbs and habitat. Housing has to be intelligent. Culture is going to be like the blood feeding the different organs.

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November 16, 2011

Stop the next bad “We fear the Internet” bill from the Senate

Rebecca MacKinnon has an excellent op-ed in the NY Times about the latest bill from the Senate that would censor the Internet.

 


For a 5,000 word post on a topic I didn’t even know was a topic, there’s Harold Feld’s piece about “Will Cisco‚Äôs war against the TV white spaces tank incentive auctions? “

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November 14, 2011

Revolution, politics, and the Internet

On November 11, I had the privilege of being on a panel with Slim Amamou (one of the leaders of the Tunisian revolution) and Rick Falkvinge (the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party). The panel was organized by Luca de Biase at the Italian Internet Governance Forum in Trento.

Here are my notes, taken while up on dais:

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

SLIM AMAMOU

“I will tell you the story,” Slim Amamou begins in Italian, switching to English after about ten minutes. Slim begins his story in 2010. “At the time there was a wave of censorship in Tunisia. Hundreds of bloggers who criticized the government were censored.” All the critical web sites were censored. That was retaliation “because we had waged a campaign against Ben Ali in the 2009 election.” Blogs that had nothing to do with politics were censored. “We waged a campaign that was very successful. There was a group at the time that decided to take to the streets for freedom on the Internet. That was in 2010.”

“Now, we were organizing that protest publicly, in a public way, but we were under a dictatorship. The government tortured opponents and harassed opponents, and what we were doing was perceived as a night of courage. We had to apply for the permit to have this demonstration at the Ministry of the Interior,” which was called the Ministry of Fear “because it’s where people were tortured. We decided to submit the application and filmed the whole process.” That little video went viral on the Internet “and we got very famous.” “So we started making a serial. We removed the fear little bit by little. People were afraid to talk about Internet freedom. The regime was so tough that you could be harassed or beaten just for saying that Internet censorship exists in Tunisia.” “Eventually I got arrested, but we got released, which removed a little bit of fear at the time.”

These protests were aimed at change, but not revolution. Our diagnosis was that “even if we take Ben Ali out, people don’t know who would become president.” “The mainstream media were so corrupt” that people had no idea who could manage the country. It was not possible to reform the mainstream media “because it was the people themselves who were corrupt.” “But the Internet seemed easier.” It was a technical thing, so you could press a single button and remove the entire censorship. “So we were committed to making a change in Tunisia, but we never planned for revolution.” “The revolution happened in a moment we didn’t expect.” The protests were almost solely organized using the Internet, social networks. “We were not a hierarchy. We were loosely coupled and constantly connected, and that’s how it worked.” So when the demonstrations started in Sidi Bouzid, the media didn’t cover what was happening. So a friend filmed what was happening and blogged about it. Another guy had a network over there…We organized a lot of things to get the information out.” A “snowball effect” happened, “and in the end it was the whole Tunisia that rose up.”

“You could interpret it as an effect of fighting for a free Internet. Ironically, at that time the Internet was not free in Tunisia. We had very strong censorship. In the long run we learned to circumvent it.” If you wanted to watch YouTube, you had to know how to circumvent censorship. [cf. Ethan Zuckerman’s Cute Cats theory!] “We had to change our circumvention tools constantly, and even build our own technology. We adapted to the system, and eventually, at the peak of the revolution, we overcame censorship. I met with the guy who was responsible for the infrastructure and censorship at the time, and he told me that during the last weeks of the revolution, the list of censored web sites doubled. That meant that the government could not cope with the amount of data that was shared. We also adopted techniques and processes so that if someone finds a video on YouTube or Facbook or whatever, before sharing it, it downloads it in case it gets censored so it can be uploaded again. The whole system was organized in that way.”

“I got arrested again on Jan 6 and got out of jail on Jan 13. and on Jan 17 I was Secretary of State for Youth and Sports.”

In response to a comment later on by Rick Falkvinge, Slim said: “The day I was arrested on Jan 6, in the morning I got SMS’s and news about people getting arrested — a rapper, a blogger — so I knew I’d be arrested, so I tweeted: ‘I’m raising my threat level to orange.’ So I get a tweet back saying ‘Why don’t you activate Google Latitude on your phone so we can track you.’ It saved my life. At the time, you don’t get arrested, you get kidnapped: Nobody knows where you are and don’t get news of you for a long time. So for a humanitarian organization to certify you, you need to be gone for 48 hours to prove you didn’t just sleep over. But the guys who arrested me took my phone like a weapon but kept it open, so my position was known, and the news got out quickly, which is part of why I didn’t get tortured physically. The trick is to give the power to the people. We don;t ask to remove those technologies; we just want the people to use them, not the government.”

After the event, I asked Slim whether he thought the Net functioned as more than an organizational tool during the revolution. Did the use of the Net itself encourage political activism and give an experience of liberty that altered political consciousness? Yes, he replied emphatically. he disaagrees.

RICK FALKVINGE

Rick says that when he speaks to sociologists about the Net, they divide in two. 1. Net is greatest invention since the printing press. 2. The Net is greatest invention since written language. The Net changes society that much, by giving everybody a voice. The Net is the greatest equalizer mankind has ever invented. It puts us all on equal footing.

The Swedish Pirate Party came on line Jan 1, 2006. “What sort of idiot thinks he can change the world by starting a political party.” But he figured they only need a few hundred thousand people to make a difference in Sweden. “If people had known just how dystopic a world we’re heading into, they’d be horrified.” E.g., German placing of computer activity recorders in personal computing devices. They can know all about your life. The only difference from the dystopic projections of the 1950s is that we’re buying the surveillance cameras ourselves. “Sharing is not a problem. People having a voice is not a problem. It’s the next generation of industries, of societies, of citizens.” So I took this web site on line. I went into file sharing mode and just typed two lines: Hey look, the Pirate PArty is online. I thought it’d grow gradually I got 3 million hits in the first two days. After three days there were sister parties in four countries. Now in 50 countries. There was a huge success in Berlin; the German Pirate Party is polling at 8-10%. The Italian Pirate Party is holding a meeting in Trento tomorrow.”

“We’re at a crossroads. The price of storing info has gone to zero. The Stassi were using typewriters and carbon paper. Imagine they had today’s tools…The potential for abuse is enormous.”

“At our core, we’re a civil liberties organization. We’re demanding that our children have the same civil liberties that our parents had. We’re demanding that when everyone has a voice, they get to use that voice without being forced to conform to the gov’t. Diversity is enormously positive…We have an example of this with Anonymous in which people have de-named themselves to let the best ideas work. It’s a meritocracy.”

We don’t have an office. People can organize at almost no cost. New tools give us the ability to by-pass governments, to make sure that we a utopic future.

ANDREA CAIROLA

[Because of some difficulties with the translation, and because I was thinking about how to reformulate my own remarks, I have done a terrible job capturing Andrea’s comments. Sorry! ]

Just a few years ago, Arab countries were classified as enemies of the Internet. E.g., Tunisia didn’t give a visa to representatives of Internet freedom. But despite the censorship, the Internet became widespread. Even as the Internet was being subjected to more controls, the ballot movement and the Italian five star movement (started by a blogger) began. We are the country where a national newspaper was financed thanks to an online subscriptions. There are tv programs that are financed totally by the people. In this schizophrenic context, some antibodies were developed that now belong to our DNA as citizens and as readers.

Civil rights cannot be prioritized. They are interconnected. We need to defend these continuously. We are at the beginning of a great revolution. We are lagging behind other European countries, and society is divided into the digital and non-digital classes, but. We are at the beginning of a new change in which we can perhaps use what we’ve learned as citizens.

Q&A

Q: I read when someone was describing freenet: If society generally has a positive attitude, then joining people will bring about something even beter. But if humanity is negative, then nothing better will emerge. So my idea is that that could be a way of understanding the Net, hoping it can raise the best of feelings.

Q: Slim, you told us how you used technology during the revolution. How will you use the technology to build the new Tunisia? Same tools?

A: [slim] I’m very disappointed because the Islamists won the election, but they were fair elections and the majority is probably very happy that the won. But we can probably change the mind of the Islamists because we can make opinions on the Internet. If you want to really use the Net for democracy, you have to have direct democracy: people voting on the issues themselves. But in a representative democracy, the Net is not usable like the media. It’s of course very important as a tool for databases and campaigning, but not for making people choose one candidate over another. It can be used to build a community of volunteers. It is powerful for opinion-making.

A: [rick] There was a scientific report from Sweden finding a generational gap in how we use the Web. Above 35-40, if you have a problem, you identify one or two people who can help you, and you contact only them and expect a response. This is how we’ve cooperated as social creatures since we emerged as species. People below this age work entirely differently. When they identify a problem, they broadcast it to their entire circle of friends and friends of friends They don’t know who will respond, but they know they will be helped. The Net has changed how we cooperated a species. It has flipped a turbo switch we didn’t know we had. There’s a famous quote in Sweden: When I am cooperating on the Net, I am literally not aware where my own thoughts end and others’ start. The single genius has ceased to exist. I think that’s a phenomenon worth defending.

A: [slim] This is known as the hive, the collective mind. On the last day of the revolution, people were screaming “Ben Ali get out!” [in French]. Journalists asked me who created this buzz word. I said no one or everyone. Overnight, all the FB profiles changed their photos to “Ben Ali get out!”

A: [slim] The Internet is closest thing to connecting our brains together.

A: [me] I understand why we talk about the hive mind, and it captures something true about the Net. But in a hive, all bees think the same thing. The real power of the Net comes when those connected minds are thinking differently, and are in disagreement. Also, for me one of the most interesting things is not the direct connection of minds, but the connection of minds through rhetorical forms, new ways of talking to one another and thinking together.

A: [slim] My blog is about the relationship between society and the technology, and how to build society out of technology. I wrote a blog post called Y”et another article about why google should buy twitter.” Google and Twitter are very different because in Gogle you have to ask for the info. On Twitter you say “I’m doing that”; it’s very close to having your thoughts being realized. If you’re in a bus station saying you’re waiting for a bus, you’ll probably get a tweet from a taxi driver. This is like having your ideas realized. You say your state and you get options. Also: Social networks are very basic infrastructure for humanity, so we have to have better technology, tech that is not bent to private companies and are not localized on a server; it should be distributed, because it’s really important infrastructure.

A: [luca] For IGF that’s very important.

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November 12, 2011

Italian Pirate Party to launch today?

While the Pirate Party already has an association in Italy, it seems likely that this afternoon it is going to register as an official party. That’s an exciting and encouraging step.

I of course don’t know what its platform will be, but if it’s similar to that of the other Pirate Parties, then I won’t agree with all of it, but will still welcome its presence as a voice not only for an open Internet — far wider than copyright reform — but for the set of values an open Internet permits: new forms of collaboration, lowering the hurdles to expression, bold experimentation and its concurrent willingness to fail, transparency, and joy in the new possibilities.

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Trento Tunnel

I posted a couple of days ago about the Italian Internet Governance Forum meeting held inside an old highway tunnel in Trento. I have since learned from my friend Luca de Biase that the tunnel was turned into an exhibition space by my friend and colleague Jeffrey Schnapp! So let me tell you a little more about it.

The It’s at the base of a remarkable geologic protuberance. The space is a semi-circular tube that goes straight back for hundreds of feet. The walls — one continuous, extruded arch — are painted white, and the floor is as black as asphalt. The halls each take up an entire segment of the tunnel, with a wall on the right side creating a passageway between them. The front part of the tunnel was exhibiting photos of the devastation to Trento during WWI; so sad, so pointless. Meanwhile I’m told that the tunnel stays at a steady, cool temperature. The overall effect is that you are constantly aware that it is space that has been reclaimed and repurposed, yet its simplicity simultaneously makes it feel aesthetically bold and purposeful. It is, as I said in my first post, a weird venue. Very Schapp!

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November 11, 2011

Founder of the Swedish Pirate Party on copyright and more

At the Italian Internet Governance Forum, I met Rick Falkvinge:

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Italian Internet is stirring?

I’m at the Italian Internet Governance Forum, which, despite its name, is filled with people who favor an open Internet. (It’s also in the oddest venue ever: an abandoned highway tunnel going through a small mountain in Trento. It’s as close to a literal echo chamber as anything I’ve seen.*) The two people I had lunch with gave a more positive view of the Italian Internet than I’ve heard in years.

My lunchtime companions pointed to an increase in Internet uptake in a country that has lagged the rest of Europe. It’s still only at about 50%, but they say the growth line is steep. Social networking has become hugely popular, with 19M Italians on Facebook (about a third of the population). “The Italians have discovered Twitter,” said one of my companions, pointing to its importance in recent political controversies…mainly as a tool of satire and humor.

Just a few years ago, my Italian Internet activist friends were close to despair, so this was very good to hear. Of course the “sample” is tiny and totally non-typical. Still, it should perhaps give us some hope.

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*The next day: I learned from my friend Luca de Biase that the tunnel was turned into an exhibition space by my friend and colleague Jeffrey Schnapp! I’m posted separately about it today here.

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November 10, 2011

[2b2k] Peer reviewing the Net

From hypothes.is:

Hypothes.is will be a distributed, open-source platform for the collaborative evaluation of information. It will enable sentence-level critique of written words combined with a sophisticated yet easy-to-use model of community peer-review. It will work as an overlay on top of any stable content, including news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and regulations, software code and more-without requiring participation of the underlying site.

It is based on a new draft standard for annotating digital documents currently being developed by the Open Annotation Collaboration, a consortium that includes the Internet Archive, NISO (National Information Standards Organization), O’Reilly Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a number of academic institutions.

Interesting!

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