Telegraph Road

April 4, 2007

…the development of the telegraph and the telephone, which shrunk space and time, blew apart the gentle pace of colonial times.

-Derrick de Kerckhove


Quote of the Day

February 18, 2007

“…watching interior designers compete is a little bit like listening to comparative literature grad students debate the relative merits of Hegel vs. Deleuze. We hate them a little bit more with each word.”


Cultures of Authority and Presumed Guilt

December 5, 2006

Fred notes some further disturbing developments in the case of a young man suspected of stealing a PlayStation 3:

The unfortunate death of Durham teenager Peyton Strickland took an incredible turn as police revealed they used Facebook pictures to justify their paramilitary-style entry of the residence. An image provided to the media, allegedly sourced from the Facebook, shows Strickland accomplice David Ryan Mills and friends holding an array of firearms, including a shotgun and AR-15 assault rifle.

Because of this image, UNCW police requested backup from the New Hanover county SWAT team in serving the warrant. It was the SWAT team that killed Strickland, unarmed and holding a wireless game controller.

Because of an online picture, which Strickland wasn’t even in, the cops went in like they were raiding a drug supply house.

A few points:

  • In a way that I don’t think anyone could have predicted at the time, this incident goes toward proving right the conspiracy theorizing of gun-rights libertarians from the 1990s. As it turns out, paramilitary-outfitted police – as the NRA would have it, jack-booted thugsdid come in blasting, not to take away the residents’ guns but on suspicion of video game system theft.
  • I don’t want to become a one-trick “authoritarianism” pony here, but the earlier digg users’ reactions to this shooting and the actions that police apparently undertook leading to the shooting are really two sides of the same authoritarian coin. Suspicion of guilt for one crime plus legal possession of guns (entirely unrelated to the crime) added up to killing an unarmed man.

These are substantial issues, and are part of the same problem apparent in a wide range of current and recent incidents. The central issue is that cops feel empowered to use deadly and highly violent force at very early points in their confrontations with suspects. This isn’t a mistake and it’s not “bad apples” – it’s the product of a culture where suspicion of criminality is enough to negate any and all human rights. Just off the top of the newsfeed, we also have:

And the list goes on and on, and will continue to do so unless and until there emerges a political consensus – from the ground up, among Americans outraged by these behaviors who realise that there’s little to nothing keeping them from being on the receiving end of such treatment – that this is not the culture we want to be prevalent among our nation’s law enforcement officers and institutions.

The CW

November 8, 2006

No, not the new WB-UPN merged television network – I’m talking about conventional wisdom. Particularly – where does it come from? With so many other exciting things to think about this morning, what got me thinking about this? This:

“YouTube is so last month. Sure, this Web sensation became synonymous with online video less than a year after it started and then took our breath away when its twenty-something founders sold out to Google four weeks ago for $1.65 billion.

But other Internet video entrepreneurs are already looking ahead and some of what they see makes them anxious.

Already, users are finding the sheer of volume of videos available on the Internet too difficult to digest and are looking for new ways to pick through them.”

Squeeze me? Baking powder? Says who, that users are finding the volume “too difficult to digest”? Says Alan Sipress, apparently. And why would he say that?

Josh Felser, president of Grouper Networks, recently acquired by Sony, said online video sites will soon specialize. “When you go to YouTube, you’re not sure what you’re going to find,” he said. “Each site is going to have to choose a focus.”

I’m not sure why this isn’t mentioned here, but it’s entirely possible that not being sure what you’re going to find is one of the reasons people like YouTube. Because it’s different.

According to Mike Folgner, chief executive of Jumpcut, users will take matters into their own hands. They will make sense of the online anarchy by creating playlists of their favorite videos and then sharing them with their friends.

Which YouTube already does.

The challenge is only going to get more daunting. As Web sites learn how to make money off videos through advertising, there will be a push to make more and more of them available. And these won’t be limited to video sites. All across the Web, entrepreneurs will want to tap into the growing revenue stream by including video on their sites. [emphasis added]

The flood could become overwhelming unless the Internet figures out how to help users discover what they really want to watch.

Who’s overwhelmed? And as to the responsibility of “the Internet” [?] – last I checked, YouTube was something like the most popular website in the world, so they’re doing something right, presumably not involving overwhelming their users.

I’m not saying YouTube is perfect – the quality of clips is pretty low, for one – but this article to me seems like a perfect example of a phony “trend” piece, based on no actual data but with supporting quotes…that just happen to come from businessmen with a vested interest in the “trend” being promoted somehow taking root in the popular imagination.

Problem is – writing about how some hypothetical “user” is “overwhelmed” by the flood of choices on YouTube doesn’t make it so, no more than calling YouTube “so last month” actually takes a chunk out of their traffic.

The key here is in the “growing revenue stream” that Sipress cites, and also in an earlier postulate that he offers, that “[Users will] want to be given the five or 10 videos each day that best fit their interests.”

There’s absolutely no evidence for that, of course, but what he’s doing is setting up as inevitable a model where users are tied into a fee-subscription video-delivery service with some (but not too much!) control over content. Amazingly, such a model already exists – it’s called cable television, and I hear that it’s already pretty popular.

Do users want the Internet to become cable television? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it – and I certainly haven’t seen any data that would support such a proposition. The purpose of articles like this, however, is to establish a false consensus  around ideas like this; to build conventional wisdom and establish inevitability around ideas that users would not find attractive without the media’s “help.”


July 28, 2006

This li’l blog is an attempt to define and examine the terms of our discourse.

Let me define some terms right up front.

“our” means, most immediately, anyone who’s reading this blog but, more broadly it means anyone who’s a member of a cohort that might be reading this blog. So – that mostly includes people with identity/ies coincident with mine: Americans; information-addicts and theorists; digitally-connected internationalists. Anyone interested in the changing notions of place, selfhood, and identity.

“discourse” means the conversations that we have here; the conversations that we have, in our daily lives; the conversations of which we are passive consumers (i.e., “the media”). These are of course several different things, though they overlap at times.

I hope to keep discussions here focussed on the “why” and “how” of our contemporary and emerging discourse and identities. There are plenty of places to find the “who” and “what,” and they will be linked to extensively, but I don’t fool myself that I can provide better (or even equal) first- or second-stage news or commentary. Not to get too awfully meta- or pretentious about it; just a bit. Also a longer way of saying this will be an ideas and discussion-based blog, not a “whatever’s happening” or “whatever’s on my mind” blog – there are, again, plenty of the former and even I’m not interested enough in what I’m thinking most of the time to justify the latter. Just some of the time, so this’ll be for that.

And as to the lead title of this blog: “Post-realism” is the name that I’ve been tossing around for our emerging moment. God I use that damn word emerging a lot. Anyways. See this post by Charles Stross – “What is the sensory bandwidth of Scotland?” for some of the implications of tehnology for the creation of a post-realist experience. Key thought of the post: “If you can control someone’s senses completely, you can present them with stimuli and watch them respond — voluntary cooperation is optional.” So how does this naturally (to my mind, anyhow) pair with my interest in identities? A few points.

For one: I just needed to invent a snappy term. Post-modernism is obnoxious but also useful but also, I think, not really able to engage with many of the more important facts of our world today. For one: I don’t find that post-modernism is that useful in a world in high degrees of armed conflict. Brutal warfare is a pretty pre-modern idea, but it’s still here. I will argue in greater detail later as to why and how I think that post-realism is an accurate framework for understanding many contemporary armed conflicts.

One more first thing – in two, four, six months when I or anyone else look back on this and following posts, it’s entirely possible that it’ll look like I had no idea what I was talking about. S’okay. I’m not seeking to be an authority (er, at least not yet), I’m seeking to figure out what it is that’s going on, and what it is I think about that. So change, and being wrong in the long- or medium- or even short-term can be good things.