Punctuated Equilibria

The first chapter of The Wealth of Networks (How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom) by Yochai Benkler was very interesting reading. I am looking forward to reading more.

In an earlier post, I talked about how mass collaboration is only possible for those with a computer and an internet connection. It does not include many in the developing world and those that do have it in most of those countries are not girls. It is hardly inclusive at this stage of the game. Benkler too points out that the “declining price of computation, communication, and storage have, as a practical matter, placed the material means of information and cultural production in the hands of a significant fraction of the world’s population – on the order of a billion people around the globe. (3)” This still leaves over 5 billion people without that means. My guess is that it is primarily those who live at a subsistence level. Why guess? Check the Number of computers per 100 inhabitants by Country. The top five are Switzerland, United States, Sweden, Canada and Australia, while the bottom five are Cambodia, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Chad.

Benkler also says that the marks of what a society’s freedom looks like is based on “how we make information, how we get it, how we speak to others, and how others speak to us. (7)” If we were to look at women as a segment of any society I wonder if we could use Benkler’s analysis as a reliable test. Let’s look at Switzerland then. Hmmm, women won the right to vote in 1971. 59% of Swiss women are employed while 75% of men are, but that does not tell us if they are seeking employment. Would the numbers be similar for who is making the information? What about Chad then? Women in Chad could vote in 1958. Well before Switzerland. Women in the workforce in Chad? About 44%. I don’t think this is going to work as a test without some heavy duty analysis. Just because women are given the right to vote doesn’t mean they take advantage of it or even have the ability to exercise that right. That is what is so incredibly embarrassing about the latest vote I participated in. Under 60%! Shameful.

What is also touched on in previous posts, as well as posts by classmates, is the idea that these technologies can bring about social change. Benkler says, “The technology will not overcome their resistance through an insurmountable progressive impulse.” It won’t just happen. “The reorganization of production and the advances it can bring in freedom and justice will emerge, therefore, only as a result of social and political action aimed at protecting the new social patterns from incumbents’ assaults. (23)” It is fragile and it requires those who are willing to fight for it in order to preserve it. Benkler also adds to that discussion by pointing out that the tension between economics, institutions, laws and technology is dynamic, yet it is never in tension for too long a period and usually finds a kind of equilibrium. I suppose then that we can and should look forward to the change that is coming as a result of the economic “shock” we are now experiencing.

What will we renegotiate? What will we fight for?

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On Closed Systems & Freedom

I have been a busy, busy little bee. Ok I am not that little, but I have been busy.

Part One
Catching up on this past week’s reading in Wikinomics (by Tapscott and Williams), I took note of anything that struck me as I read. On page 238 I made a notation, “Unlimited Growth?” I am not sure in re-reading that page why I wrote that, but it does raise an interesting question, but first an illustration from life.

When I was in grade nine and introduced to the wonders of Biology (by a teacher who reminded us that we should not hold hands because eventually that could lead us to do things we would be sorry about later) and the Pond Experiment. We were required to get a jar and fill it with pond water. We were to make sure we got some plant life in there and a bit of pond muck too. Punching a few holes in the lid top ensured that the only thing in or out was air. Essentially a closed system (I know technically not, but for a bunch of grade niners it was close enough). On a bi-weekly basis we began to make a log of the organism count. At first, there were a nice number of floaty things under the slides. A couple of weeks later the number was skyrocketing, then suddenly a drop off to nill. Nothing. Nada. All gone. No life at all.

Economic systems are like that. I remember hearing an Amway presentation once. What happens if all the people in the world sign up, I asked. It just does not make sense to me. We cannot grow forever. Our economies cannot grow forever. (Unless we can start mining the moon) But, this new openness, peering, sharing and acting globally (is the rest of the globe on board?) has new possibilites. I know there are all kinds of people out there ready to make their bucks, but I think it also has the potential for all kinds of social change. I fear for it though. I think it is pretty fragile yet.

Part Two
Another thing I noted was the use of all the adjectives used to tell the Geek Squad story, beginning on page 241. As a former employee at a small tech company, I was one of three females (one web site designer, two programmers) among 15 males, I have the feeling that there are not too many female Geek Squaders.

With descriptions like, “Global domination,” “special agent badge,” “black clip-on tie,” “black ops,” “James Bond,” “all play Battlefield 2 online,” and “simultaneously fighting each other,” what do you think?

Part Three
Email at the workplace sucks. On page 252 Tapscott and Willimas quote Mayfield as saying that the average Fortune 500 employee spends 4 hours in their Inbox! Wow! The upside is that apparently many employees are using wikis to communicate without approval coming from up on high first. This is a good thing and I think it is also something that some of us have achieved in this course. Hey, how about a Ning, sounds good let’s do it, and poof there it is!

Part Four
Another section where I made copious notes was in the section titled “War on the open internet.” Again I am reminded that freedom is always bought at a cost. It never comes without a fight. I don’t mean a guns and blood fight (although that is sometimes necessary…my parents were freed from dictatorial occupation by people who used guns and spilled blood to do it), but one must be ever vigilant. If we want freedom, we will have to fight for it.

Re: Return of the blog

This is an open message to my instructor. (I would have left a comment on your blog, but alas, it did not allow me to…) Anyway, I think this class is great! In talking with another student they confessed that if it was not for this class they might never have started a blog and now they are so happy that they did. They, as will I, will continue blogging after the course is finished. As a matter of fact, I even have some ideas on how to make the blog into a work.

Here is my mashup to cheer you up:

Don’t worry about the F’s…I mean I don’t sleep at night anyway…

Youtube & Mashups

One of my assignments required me to make a mashup of sorts. Windows Movie Maker turned out to provide just enough functionality to put something together.

But, the most fun of all was remembering that someone I know has been doing animation and posting to Youtube. Doing a search revealed this little gem.

Wonder how I can use that in my next mashup?

What Would Walter Benjamin Do?

Being a total amateur, I had to look up Walter Benjamin after the question was posed in relation to this week’s reading of Tapscott and Williams, Wikinomics.

So, Benjamin (naturally I looked him up at Wikipedia) was a “German-Jewish Marxist literary critic.” His main contribution to studies in Humanities is reputed to be his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility. Once I researched a little further, I realized that I had indeed been exposed to his ideas during some of my studies. Benjamin talked about the “aura” to refer to the charisma, a work of art might have, and the feeling one would experience in the objects presence. For Benjamin this did not mean that the “aura” was present because of the actual object, but was felt because of the association the work has with the artist (their status), its perceived cultural value, and its authenticity. It is also present because of restricted opportunities to see or access the work. Take for example the Mona Lisa. When it was stolen from the Louvre in August 1911, the Louvre experienced a surge in visitors to view the salon and place the painting was stolen from (Leader, 3). Patrons could not see the actual painting, but they could see the place it had be taken from; the spot that might still have its “aura.” Benjamin argues that this “aura” is removed in the age of mechanical reproduction, which he viewed as a step in the right direction as art (i.e. cultural objects) was now accessible to anyone. Ironically the police distributed 6,500 photographic reproductions of the Mona Lisa in an effort to find the painting (Leader, 172).

Well, I suppose that Benjamin would be welcoming the changes. Benjamin might concur with Lessig when he says, “You have got to make the clueless politicians aware of what nineteenth-century law is doing to the twenty first century…They don’t get it. They think they’re stopping ‘pirates’ when they stop all sorts of creativity. (124)” Benjamin may well start his own blog to publish his ideas, give his support to those who are fighting for ‘copyleft,’ and join people like Doctorow on the boards of Participatory Culture Foundation, or the Open Rights Group.

Tapscott and Williams point out that there is a new surge of creativity, which might give the Renaissance a run for its money. What with all those prosumers out there, just waiting to get their hands on the next thing they can reconfigure…

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Darian Leader, Stealing the Mona Lisa, 2002