It took six centuries to complete the incredible Duomo in Milan. In the past fifteen years, we’ve built some amazing things on the Net by using the Net’s ability to scale laterally: Lots of people collaborating for a short period of time.
(cc) xiquinho @ flickr.com
So, imagine we set out to do something with a longer time frame. What could we build together if we gave ourselves say 100 years?
I’ve posed this at Reddit.
Tagged with: internet
Date: May 31st, 2013 dw
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.
It’s clear that we don’t know how to explain the Internet. Is it a medium? Is it a culture, a subworld, or a parallel world? Is it a communication system? We bounce around, and we disagree.
Nevertheless, I am not as worried about our lacking the right framing for the Net as are some of my friends and colleagues.
For one thing, the same refusal to be pinned down characterizes everything. What something _is_ depends on what we’re trying to do with it, even within a culturally/linguistically homogeneous group. You can try this exercise with anything from terrorism to television to candy bars. (To pin myself down about why I think we can’t pin things down: I am sort of a phenomenological pragmatist. I also think that everything is miscellaneous, but that’s just me.)
So, we assimilate the Internet to existing concepts. There is nothing slovenly or cowardly about this. It’s how we understand things.
So, why does the Net seem special to us? Why does it seem to bust our frames ‘n’ paradigms? After all, we could assimilate the Net into older paradigms, because it is a series of tubes, and it is a communications medium, and it is a way of delivering content. Not only could we assimilate it, there are tremendous pressures to do so.
But for pragmatic (and Pragmatic) reasons, some of us (me included) don’t want to let that happen. It would foreclose cultural and political consequences we yearn for — the “we” that has flocked to the Net and that loves it for what it is and could be. The Net busts frames because it serves our purposes to have it do so.
This is why I find myself continuing to push Internet Exceptionalism, even though it does at times make me look foolish. Internet Exceptionalism is not an irrational exuberance. It is a political position. More exactly, it is a political yearning.
That’s why I’m not much bothered by the fact that we don’t have a new frame for the Net: frames are always inadequate, and the frame-busting nature of the Net serves our purposes.
In that sense, the way to frame the Internet is to keep insisting that the Net does not fit well into the old frame. Those of us who love the Net need to keep hammering on the fact that the old frames are inadequate, that the Net is exceptional, not yet assimilated to understanding, still to be invented, open to possibility, liberating of human and social potential, a framework for hope.
Eventually we’ll have the new frame for the Internet. It will be, I will boldly predict, the Internet :) In fact, open networks already are the new frame, and are sweeping aside old ways of thinking. Everything is a network.
The Internet will transition quickly from un-frameable to becoming the new frame. Until then, we should (imo) embrace the un-frameability of the Net as its framing.
Three new reports have come out of the Berkman Center:
The Evolving Landscape of Internet Control
by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, Rob Faris, Jillian York, and John Palfrey
This paper summarizes the results of the studies we have undertaken in order to better understand the control of the Internet in less open societies. It provides an overview of our research in the context recent changes in the methods used to control online speech, and some thoughts on the challenges to online speech in the immediate future.
International Bloggers and Internet Control
by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, Jillian York, Rob Faris, and John Palfrey
Infringements on Internet freedom, particularly through Internet filtering and surveillance, have inspired activists and technologists to develop technological counter-measures, most notably circumvention tools to defeat Internet filters and anonymity tools to help protect user privacy and avoid online surveillance efforts. However, despite the perceived importance of this field, relatively little is known about the demand for and usage patterns of these tools. In December 2010, we surveyed a sample of international bloggers to better understand how, where, why, and by whom these tools are being used.
Circumvention Tool Evaluation
by Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, and John Palfrey
This paper evaluates 19 circumvention tools tested in five countries. In this report, we focus on questions of utility—the ability for a tool to be installed and used in a particular location, and the accuracy and speed of the tool. Additionally, we address concerns about security, usability and openness when appropriate.
Drawing on background research, meetings with tool developers, consultations with experts, interviews with users, structured surveys, and technical evaluations, these publications help improve our overall understanding of the role of circumvention tools in promoting greater Internet openness.
We are grateful for the participation of Global Voices Online and for the work of those who translated our blogger survey into more than a dozen languages. We offer our special thanks to the bloggers that participated in the survey.
For more information about the Berkman Center’s research on circumvention, including links to these and other reports, please visit: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/circumvention
, open access
Tagged with: circumvention
Date: August 18th, 2011 dw
Scott Bradner and Steve Crocker are two of the tech geniuses who built the Internet in an open way and built it to be open. Now they have both published instructive columns recounting the thinking behind the Net that has been responsible for its success . I highly recommend both.
The IETF has interpreted the “End to End” paper to basically say that
the network should not be application aware. Unless told otherwise by
an application, the network should treat all Internet traffic the
…this design philosophy has led the IETF to create
technologies that can be deployed without having to get permission
from network operators or having to modify the networks.
…Last year I was worried about what rules regulators and politicians
were going to impose on the Internet. This year, my pessimism is
focused at a lower level in the protocol stack: I’m worried about what
kind of network the network operators will provide for the IETF to
build on, for me and you to use, and for tomorrow’s enterprises to
…we always tried to design each new protocol to be
both useful in its own right and a building block available to others.
We did not think of protocols as finished products, and we
deliberately exposed the internal architecture to make it easy for
others to gain a foothold. This was the antithesis of the attitude of
the old telephone networks, which actively discouraged any additions
or uses they had not sanctioned.
As we rebuild our economy, I do hope we keep in mind the value of
openness, especially in industries that have rarely had it. Whether
it’s in health care reform or energy innovation, the largest payoffs
will come not from what the stimulus package pays for directly, but
from the huge vistas we open up for others to explore.
Categories: net neutrality
Tagged with: internet
• net neutrality
Date: January 21st, 2011 dw
From a press release:
Harvard will share its access to the super high-speed Internet2 Network connection with Boston and Cambridge schools, granting all 148 public schools in the two cities use of the most advanced networking consortium in the world.
In addition, Cisco is contributing Cisco TelePresence equipment to the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School enabling the students and teachers to connect with people around the globe. This interactive collaboration tool will put them at the forefront of teaching and learning. Raytheon BBN Technologies, an advanced networking research company, has donated the networking equipment that provides connectivity to Cambridge.
Yay. And not just for the immediate benefits. Get the kids hooked on what the Net can be, and they’ll grow up thinking that that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Tagged with: harvard
Date: October 3rd, 2010 dw
Herman Wagter blogs about Elinor Ostrom on the commons and what this means about the Internet.
Categories: net neutrality
, open access
Tagged with: commons
Date: September 8th, 2010 dw
In a press release that is barely comprehensible (or, quite possible, totally incomprehensible) to one such as I, GE has announced a new generation of components that can be used for, among other things, software-defined radios. It is unclear to me whether this technology is designed for anything except military use, but …
Software-defined radios (SDRs) are not the next generation of transistor radios or boomboxes (ask your parents, kids). They are radios in the more primordial sense of being devices that can receive radio-wave signals. The radios you and I are used to are hard-wired to do one thing: Tune into specific frequencies and translate the radio signals into toe-tapping tunes or the blather of infuriating talk show hosts. SDRs can be programmed to do anything they want with any type of signal they can receive. For example, they might treat messages as, say, maps, or signals to turn on the porch light … or as Internet packets.
SDRs matter a lot if only because they promise an alternative to the current broadcast medium. The way it works now, the FCC divvies up spectrum (i.e., frequencies) for particular uses and sells much of it to particular broadcasters. So, your hard-wired radio responds to particular frequencies as carriers of acoustic information sent by known, assigned providers: 106.7 on your radio dial, or whatever. This is a highly inefficient use of spectrum, like dedicating particular lanes of a multi-lane highway to a specific trucking companies. It’d be far more efficient if transmitters and receivers could intelligently negotiate, in real time, which frequencies they’re communicating on, switching to frequencies that are under-trafficked when a particular “lane” is jammed. If our radio receivers â€” not just our in-dash radios, but all devices that receive radio wave transmissions â€” were smart devices (SDRs), we could minimize the amount of spectrum we assign to a handful of highly-capitalized broadcasters. We would have more bandwidth than we could eat.
So, I think it’s good news that GE is pushing ahead with this and is commercializing it … unless I’m misunderstanding their announcement, the technology’s uses, and GE’s intentions to commercialize it.
Tagged with: broadband
Date: July 29th, 2010 dw
Tagged with: internet
Date: July 7th, 2010 dw
I came back yesterday from a two-day trip to Saudi Arabia. I didn’t blog about it beforehand because I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the chances of my getting a visa, which arrived on the morning of the day I left.
Now I’m back and I’m suffering from a type of cognitive dissonance — something more like cultural dissonance. I’m having so much difficulty making sense of it that I’ve found myself anxious about trying to describe the two days to my family. Blogging about it is yet more difficult.
First, there are so many reasons I distrust my own impressions: I was there for two days. I hung out with Saudis studying the Internet and with Netty foreigners. I saw only the inside of the Marriott, King Saud University, and a coffee shop. I was one of two Americans (as far as I could tell) at the event I went for. I was the sole Jew (as far as I could tell). I am a Jew with deeply mixed feelings about Israel. (No, I won’t elaborate.) I’ve never been to the Middle East before. I speak no Arabic. I am liberal democrat (small “d”). I am a vegetarian who keeps incidentally kosher. I am male. In short, Saudi Arabia — The Kingdom — not only is so foreign to me that I have no reliable framework for understanding it, it challenges more aspects of my identity than anywhere I’ve been.
And yet, while the dissonance can be jarring, I know yet more of dissonance is hidden behind the normalcy of the Saudi world. The fact that the entire audience of the conference at which I spoke was male is simply normal for the Saudis. When the voice of a woman is piped in over a loudspeaker — the women students were watching over a fiber optic connection — to ask a question, the Saudis think they’re being progressive by allowing women to be heard, but the Westerner wants to walk out and enter a different century. Then there are the dissonances that are invisible to the tourist’s experience: death for homosexuals, an economy built on carbon, an all-powerful monarchy.
I went because I understood the day was intended to advance the cause of integrating Saudi Arabia into the rest of the world through a (relatively) open Internet. I’m in favor of that. The Internet track was part of the traditional Al Janadriyah festival; the festival’s theme this year was “One World — Multiple cultures,” which shows admirable intent. I was part of a morning panel, and gave a 10-minute talk that summarized a 10-page article I’d written for the event. Having given it, I now think that the talk wasn’t particularly useful, but I think and hope my being there helped in some tiny way to reinforce the belief that the Net is an opportunity for Saudis to engage with the rest of the world. (Disclosure: In addition to paying all expenses, the festival has promised to pay me a relatively modest speakers fee. [Update: They reneged on the promise to pay me.])
I was treated very hospitably by every man I met, no matter what his station. Every man was generous, seemed delighted to be talking with an American, was open-minded or at least willing to have a frank conversation. I did not talk with a single woman. I would have loved to have talked with one of the women’s classes, but in fact I didn’t meet with any classes, and I would not have been allowed to be in the same room as women students. The Saudis I did talk with (a non-representative sample) think that this segregation respects women and simultaneously were slightly apologetic, pointing to the progress women have made: The woman’s campus is being moved to be a mere half kilometer from the men’s, women “participate” on campus via fiber optic cable, more women have been sent abroad for study this year than men (which I found quite surprising), the King says women will eventually have full rights.
Of course this is outrageously unacceptable. And yet, you fly out of The Kingdom, stop at Frankfort, and are confronted by a newspaper that has a fully naked woman on the front page for no reason except to excite men, and the truth of your own culture’s outrageousness hits you right where your cultural dissonance lives. The structural oppression of women, the whipping of women for being the female participant in adultery, the removal of women’s voice from the public sphere, the systematic deprivation of power over their own fates, all of this goes far beyond whether the culture strips women naked or clothes them in sacks with eyeholes. Nevertheless, seeing that naked woman on the front page of a Western newspaper extended the cultural dissonance into my own culture.
I am going to continue my act of ridiculous generalization by telling you about the state of the Internet in Saudi Arabia. Please re-read the part above where I go through all the reasons I am not qualified to have an opinion about such things. It is especially important to remember that I only spoke with educated, Netty men, mainly people studying new media as faculty and students. I’m leaving them anonymous because I don’t want to get them in trouble, especially by misrepresenting them because of the language differences.
So, we know from the Open Net Initiative that the Saudi government filters porn, Jihadist sites, and some Israeli sites. I encountered little desire to undo that: Why would a devout Moslem want to see such sites? They are not looking for more liberty. Far more at the forefront of the
concerns of the men I met was the opposite issue: How can the Saudis not only maintain their traditional values on the Net but present themselves as they are so the world will understand them?
I asked one of my interlocutors whether the Saudis see the Net as transformative or as way of further accomplishing traditional goals. The answer: Mainly the latter. Saudis have traditionally taken new media as a way to route around traditional taboos, he said. When phones were first introduced, men would hold up signs with their numbers on them when stopped at lights so that women could call them if they wanted; phones were for forbidden flirting. Likewise, the Net is providing a new medium for flirting, and for meeting with women within the same (virtual) space. He said the Net is also for expressing risky political ideas, although that seemed secondary in his explanation.
The same man drew an appropriate distinction between the Net as an extension of old media — e.g., news organizations send out mass SMS news alerts — and as a transformative medium that allows new uses and new social forms. But just as I asked whether he thought the bottom-up nature of the Net might allow for a new configuration of power in The Kingdom, we got interrupted. Probably just as well. My guess is that he would have said no; Saudi Arabia works pretty well, if you’re a man.
I saw four places and stretches of road in between them. In order:
1. The Riyadh airport is large and modern, but empty of shops aside from some coffee-and-pastry stands, at least as far as I saw. While I was waiting for Customs clearance, I was taken to a hall in which I was served a small cup of cardamon-scented tea. Because of the total power of the government, the airport remains a somewhat scary experience, even while you are being served from a gold tray.
2. The Marriott is a fine hotel with friendly service and excellent buffet meals, slightly run down by US standards. The lobby, which circles around the central elevators, is a more social place than American lobbies. People hung out there — mainly men, but occasionally local women, as well as women from outside Riyadh in various stages of modest not-entirely-coveredness. (Riyadh is the most conservative city in Saudi Arabia.) Security is heavy at the hotel.
3. King Saud University is large and modern. It’s home to 70,000 male students. 75% of the faculty got their degrees abroad. (It might actually be that 75% got degrees in the U.S.) The Mass Media Department, which was the host of the Internet Day of the festival, is well-equipped. They are building more new media facilities. The head of the department seems to have warm and friendly relations with his staff, the students, and the service staff of the university.
The Kingdom is engaged in a massive school building program, creating new universities at an impressive pace. I don’t know the mix of male and female schools, although the NYT reported that at least one of the universities was going to have gender-mixed classes. As it is, only female teachers can be in the classroom with women students; the classrooms are connected by fiber optic cable so male teachers can beam in. For the first time, more women are being sent to study abroad than men. The government picks up all expenses for foreign study, as well as paying all students a stipend for attending university; university is free. (A couple of Saudis I spoke with complained about the grade schools, which, they say, are fine facilities but very weak on the elements of education other than Koranic studies.)
4. Three of us got taken through Riyadh by a graduate student, who drove us to a coffee shop about 20km from the Marriott (see #5). So, this was far from a comprehensive tour of the city, but the student said that what we saw was typical. And what we saw was a vast city, almost entirely newly built, with few buildings higher than four or five stories. The streets were straight, flat, wide, and choked with traffic. But, there were virtually no pedestrians, perhaps because the distances between places to go is so vast, and certainly because for months of the year, the sidewalks would melt your sandals. The sidewalks are so empty that when we passed a couple of blocks bordering a park, our host pointed out that there were people walking.
By the way, when I asked at the hotel desk for a pamphlet with tourist attractions, the clerk said that they didn’t have any such list. He sent me to the gift shop, which also did not. I’m not saying there aren’t interesting places to visit (e.g., there’s an old part of the city, a museum, a market); I’m saying that this is not a town geared up for the tourist trade. For example, there is no such thing as a tourist visa.
5. The coffee shop the student took us to was nothing like a coffee shop. Forget I even called it that. It was a walled area with some grassy spots and some covered areas for smoking hookahs and drinking tea or coffee. (As the entry form you get on the airplane tells you, drug dealers are executed, so you need not doubt me when I tell you it was tobacco in the hookahs. Given the Saudis’ barbaric penal system, you don’t f*ck around in The Kingdom.) We sat in one of the semi-enclosed areas. It consisted of eight stalls separated by low walls. You sit on cushions on the floor. The attendant brings a TV unasked and puts it on your front wall. Everyone else has his TV blaring. You order a flavor of tobacco — I mimicked our host and chose orange — and tea or coffee. You smoke and talk about the Internet. I don’t smoke, so I didn’t inhale (insofar as I could avoid it). Our host tells us that this is where his classmates and friends hang out at night. Later, when we were telling another Festival speaker about the oddness of the TV, he pointed out that in English pubs, there’s always a TV on. Good point.
Of course the coffee shop is for men only.
So, I am deep in cultural dissonance. The men I met were warm, hospitable, eager to connect to the rest of the world. Once I was identified as an American, several of them volunteered to me how upset they were by 9/11, how much they hate the Jihadists, and how they have squashed the terrorists within their own country. (There was news today about an additional assault on terrorists within The Kingdom.) When I identified myself as a Jew, they would offer that Islam is not the only path and that Judaism is among the great religions; more than once, this included a passing denunciation of Israel, by way of separating Judaism and Zionism. The hospitality they offered to a Western Jew would have put to shame the reception they would have received, dressed in their traditional clothes, in most places in America. I had conversations that were warm and frank. I only had conversations with men. I made genuine friendships. The Kingdom is brutal to offenders. People were open to differing ideas. The Kingdom represses half its population. German tabloids have naked women on their covers. The Kingdom executes homosexuals. The Kingdom pays its young people to go to college.
Cultural dissonance is, I am afraid, a type of truth.
Tagged with: internet
• saudi arabia
Date: March 25th, 2010 dw
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