Of course television isn’t what it used to be. Nothing is, that’s how it goes with “time” and its “it was”. The number of channels has expanded from three to infinity. With weekly magazines Life, Look, Time, Newsweek no longer consolidate a view for the entire country. There were some very bad things about such a narrow window. A lot of voices couldn’t find a national platform or any platform. But when something strange happened, everyone knew about it.
There was a very interesting moment in the late 60s and early 70s when rock music started to break through on national television. It started showing up in our living rooms pretty much full strength. Not the pre-fabricated kind, the stuff that was constructed as a simulation of rock — music but without the rebellion, sex and drugs. The simulation had to be revolutionary and at the same time not threaten consumers. They needed to feel hip when they made their next purchase. But this was the real stuff coming through the tube; the stuff that seemed to actually threaten the status quo. It’s hard to imagine a popular music that could do that these days.
Rock music was a mode of communication among the youth culture. Coded messages, visions and entire ways of life were transmitted through short pop songs. The disruption was starting to take hold when the whole thing was shut down. Any number of events could serve as the signal of the backlash, the one that struck me was the firing of the Smother’s Brothers and the cancellation of their television show by CBS in 1969.
Some technologists like to think the torch was passed from the rock generation of the 60s to the computerists of recent days. They point to technology as a force for radical disruption. When we use the word ‘disruption’ to describe a new monopoly taking over for an old monopoly, we really miss the ‘rupture’ in disruption. In the technology business some like to talk about disrupting things and changing the world. But really they’re just talking about market share, revenue and stock price. It’s disruption that doesn’t overturn the apple cart. It just moves some apples from the bottom to the top. The world isn’t really changed at all.
In a television interview with Dick Cavett, Janis Joplin talks about getting to the bottom of the music. It’s the same shock that Elvis generated with his first television appearance. The bottom of the music was suddenly being broadcast directly into the living rooms of middle class families — and without filters into the minds and dreams of the children watching those shows.
These days those moments are rare. But I had a small shiver of recognition watching Brittany Howard play electric guitar on television the other night. Even if you were to turn the sound off, you could see that she was getting to the bottom of the music. In that image, worlds of possibility were transmitted.
The Internet is, after all, an Outernet. The “Inter” refers to the interconnection of external networks by way of a common protocol. But there’s also a sense in which we imagine it as an external expression of our vast interior mental space. Sometimes this is called cyberspace, and it used to be described as the mental space we enter when talking on the telephone. Like our internal space, the Internet is mostly invisible to us, waiting to be uncovered through the focus of our attention. We commonly make sense of the Internet as an internal, private place. It’s a social space we project our thoughts into while in total isolation. The external digital artifacts that we produce in the course of our online activity have begun to function as an emulation of our internal space.
Recently emulation has gone meta. Starting long ago with the steam engine and continuing with the computer we have a set of tools capable of emulating the functionality of a whole range of other tools. The meta-level of emulation is emulating an operating system within a different operating system—emulating a platform in which emulated tools run. Internally we also emulate when we have an ambition to equal or surpass another and attempt to do so through a form of imitation. We internalize a platform on which to run the programs we admire.
There are two figures recently in the news who are engaged in forms of emulation. Just two guys you might see on public transit on the way to work.
The first is Sergey Brin. With his Google Glass project he begins to emulate Robert Downey Jr. In the film Iron Man.
The second is Jorge Mario Bergoglio. By taking the name Francis, as Pope he begins to emulate Saint Francis.
Each man is attempting to change the world. Brin with a wearable network computing device to augment human capability. Pope Francis by creating a poor church that is for the poor. Brin’s activities are well known, if not very well understood. Pope Francis’s project is perhaps more obscure—but it is also a technical response to the state of the world. It’s a strategy that could be viewed as the opposite of augmentation.
One way into understanding this idea of a “poor church for the poor” is to take a trip back to the 1960s and the poor theater of Jerzy Grotowski. Faced with the competition of television, the movies and broadway shows of increasing levels of technical sophistication, Grotowski attempted to isolate what was uniquely powerful in the theater. By stripping away everything, he arrived at a Poor Theater that focused on the actor-spectator relationship. He was a Saint Francis of the avant-garde theater.
What is theater? What is unique about it? What can it do that film and television cannot? Two concrete conceptualization crystallized: the poor theater, and performance as an act of transgression.
By gradually eliminating whatever proved superfluous, we found that theater can exist without make-up, without autonomic costume and scenography, without a separate performance area (stage), without lighting and sound effects, etc. It cannot exist without the actor-spectator relationship of perceptual, direct, “live” communion. This is an ancient theoretical truth, of course, but when rigorously tested in practice it undermines most of our usual ideas about theatre. It challenges the notion of theatre as a synthesis of disparate creative disciplines — literature, sculpture, painting, architecture, lighting, acting (under the direction of a metteur-en-scene). This “synthetic theatre” is a contemporary theatre, which we readily call the “Rich Theater” — rich in flaws.
The Rich Theatre depends on artistic kleptomania, drawing from other disciplines, constructing hybrid-spectacles, conglomerates without backbone or integrity, yet presented as an organic artwork. By multiplying assimilated elements, the Rich Theatre tries to escape the impasse presented by movies and television. Since film and TV excel in the area of mechanical functions (montage, instantaneous change of place, etc.), the Rich Theatre countered with a blatantly compensatory call of “total theatre.” The integration of borrowed mechanism (movie screens onstage, for example) means a sophisticated technical plant, permitting great mobility and dynamism. And if the stage and/or auditorium were mobile, constantly changing perspective would be possible. This is all nonsense.
No matter how much theatre expands and exploits its mechanical resources, it will remain technologically inferior to film and television. Consequently, I propose poverty in theatre.
Pope Francis employs a similar strategy when he envisions a poor church that is for the poor. Ever escalating levels of finery, technology, capital and broadcast platforms don’t get him closer to his goal. It’s only through emulating the poverty of Saint Francis that he can reach the connection he’s after. Even in an era of streaming high-definition 3D video with 5.1 six channel surround sound to any screen anywhere, for the message he’s sending, the signal is stronger from a poor church.
For Brin, the Google Glasses he wears wirelessly connect to a network of industrial cloud computing installations around the world. These external data sources are able to feed information as multiple media types into the local context to provide a highest level of personal augmentation. For the moment, Brin is one of the few who can take advantage of this new technology. The connection he’s after requires strong wireless broadband coverage and connection to a series of algorithms that send him information based on his particular personal, social and location data.
If we assume that every moment of life can be optimized when we are fed the appropriate sets of contextual information on which to base our moment-to-moment decisions, then the Google Glass will deliver us to a life lead to its fullest. Confronted with a shelf in a supermarket aisle filled with hundreds of brands and formulations of shampoo, we will finally be able to select just the right brand given our hair type. At last we will be able to make the right decision when choosing between Coke, Pepsi and some fancy new gourmet cola-flavored soda. The fit between Sergey’s consumption of the world and what is available to be consumed will be perfectly optimized given the existing data set. In fact, were it to reach perfection, his participation would hardly be required at all–achieving frictionless consumption.
Both Sergey and Francis have taken steps to become jacked in to the present moment. Each set of steps has an ethical underpinning—much in the way Schumacher discusses the operation of “value” in his essay on Buddhist Economics. What we accept as valuable sets the terms of the economy we live within. The same thing is true of a path to the now.
It was a quote that rolled by on Twitter the other day:
“Don’t skate to where the puck is going to be, skate to where hockey is going to be invented.”
While the speaker probably intended this to be a sign of energy and a singular commitment to disrupt the status quo with a completely new technology, I took it as a signal of a bubble that was about to burst. In the previous dot com era, there was the joke:
“If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday.”
The fiction was created that one’s work is one’s life and that the two never need be in balance because they are one and the same. The current saying about hockey implies that if you are smart enough and work hard enough you can create a paradigm shift in the way technology is used and the way people live. You can create a new kind of game.
“Things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do. These waves of technology, you can see them way before they happen, and you just have to choose wisely which ones you’re going to surf. If you choose unwisely, then you can waste a lot of energy, but if you choose wisely it actually unfolds fairly slowly. It takes years.”
In 1848, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Northern California unleashed the largest migration of people in the history of the United States. What no one told those would-be gold diggers was that by 1850 all of the surface gold was gone. Only the large mining companies using hydraulic water cannons were still able to extract gold from the hills.
Today’s version of the large mining company is what Bruce Sterling calls a Stack. These are the ecosystems that have staked out large sections of the Internet from which they can extract gold.
A Stack doesn’t have to “break the Internet” to do this; it just has to set up the digital equivalent of a comprehensive family farm, so that the free-range cowboys of the Electronic Frontier are left with crickets chirping and nothing much to do. A modern Stack will leverage stuff that has never been “Internet,” such as mobile devices, cell coverage and operating systems.
In order to become a “Stack,” or one of the “Big Five” — Amazon Facebook Google Apple Microsoft — you need an “ecosystem,” or rather a factory farm of comprehensive services that surround the “user” with fences he doesn’t see. Basically, you corral Stack livestock by luring them with free services, then watching them in ways they can’t become aware of, and won’t object to. So you can’t just baldly sell them a commodity service in a box; you have to inveigle them into an organized Stack that features most, if not all, of the following:
An operating system, a dedicated way to sell cultural material (music, movies, books, apps), tools for productivity, an advertising business, some popular post-Internet device that isn’t an old-school desktop computer (tablets, phones, phablets, Surfaces, whatever’s next), a search engine, a dedicated social network, a “payment solution” or private bank, and maybe a Cloud, a private high-speed backbone, or a voice-activated AI service if you are looking ahead. Stack cars, Stack goggles, Stack private rocketships optional.
The goal of a Stack is to eliminate the outside. Once inside the Stack, there should be no outside of the Stack. The horizon of possibility is defined by the Stack. With the twist that the horizon should appear unlimited. The Stack is a place where you should believe that you could skate to where hockey is going to be invented.
The digital, they say, has a cost that approaches zero. Once the digital copying mechanism becomes a sunk cost, the cost per copy asymptotically swoops toward zero. This does a strange thing to value and price. The ink-on-paper media has had to come to terms with the fact that the Network is a vastly less expensive surface on which to inscribe their messages. The digital, in its short history, has yet to find its own level. It’s largely been priced as a discount to its analog counterpart. The news media is starting to understand that its identity lies in the ink rather than the paper.
The digital media can only feed on the corpse of the analog media for so long. We seem to have finally arrived at the point where digital media is beginning to establish its value, and therefore its price. Paywalls are starting to work, some digital editions are starting generate significant advertising revenue, and independent blogs are able to survive by subscription. We pay, not for more, but for less. Fewer things, better quality.
The banks of the river of news have overflowed, the medium has overheated and begun a McLuhanesque reversal. No one wants ‘all the news’. At a certain level of quantity the news can no longer be consumed and processed, it just flows through at the level of headlines. Marshal McLuhan noticed that information overload forces the information consumer into mode of pattern recognition. We now try to employ machines to process the torrent and pick out the patterns for us. But now even this pattern recognition mode has overheated. This happens the moment we aren’t satisfied by knowing something ‘like’ the news, but have no familiarity with the actual news itself. We’ve arrived at the uncanny valley of news.
In the era of so-called ‘Big Data’ even your Network identity is a pattern. You aren’t you, you’re someone ‘like’ you. The formula breaks when the pattern no longer predicts the future. The non-conformist breaks into the conversation and says just doing what the pattern predicts is behaving like a machine—and that’s boring. Take a look at this instead…
Woody Allen once observed that “ninety percent of life is just showing up.” But in 1948, Bing Crosby convinced the ABC radio network that “showing up” wasn’t actually necessary. That was the year he launched the first pre-recorded weekly radio broadcast. The previous year he’d made the same request of NBC, but they’d refused. For NBC, by definition radio programming was live with the exception of a few commercials.
The new ABC network, formed out of the sale of the old NBC Blue network in 1943 to Edward Noble, the “Lifesaver King,” was willing to break the tradition. It would pay Crosby $30,000 per week to produce a recorded show every Wednesday sponsored by Philco. He would also get $40,000 from 400 independent stations for the rights to broadcast the 60-minute show that was sent to them every Monday on three 16-inch aluminum discs that played 10 minutes per side at 33-1/3 rpm.
Eventually Crosby buys the first two Ampex 200A tape recorders, serial #1 and #2, to record his show. This allows him to control microphone placement and do multiple takes to get the best performance possible. As a film actor, Crosby had been used to this kind of production process. After hearing the tape of Crosby’s demo, ABC ordered 12 of the Ampex recorders and that was the beginning of the end of the broadcast of live radio programming.
By not showing up and instead creating the first pre-recorded radio broadcast, Bing Crosby set the pattern for all modern “broadcast” media. (He also pioneered microphone technique for vocalists.) Perhaps it never occurred to anyone that the audience would one day assert the same privilege that Crosby did in 1948. We are all Bing Crosby now, and there’s very little that we need to actually show up for in the world of broadcast media.
Now there’s only sports and news programming enveloping the earth in a new real-time synchronization of time that knows neither day nor night. As Richard Nixon sings in John Adams’s opera Nixon in China: “News has a kind of mystery.”
The heads of programming at the Networks used to decide when a particular recording would be played over their syndicate of local stations. Now that power rests with the audience. What’s “new” is what’s new to you; and the quality of material in the vast library of pre-recorded media far outstrips whatever is being presented live in real time right now. Like Crosby, we the audience, don’t bother showing up for the broadcast. We’ll choose the time and place for the performance to occur.
Time present is the sequencing of the recordings of time past. Time future is what is yet to be recorded, an appointment for our DVRs. If all time is pre-recorded, all time is unredeemable. Nothing need be missed, there is no possibility of that. Everything is just a matter of priority in the great queue of items awaiting our future consumption.
When we mortals are presented with seemingly infinite banquets aimed at our appetites, the discussion quickly turns to the seven deadly sins; and in particular, gluttony. While we can now consume anything at anytime and practically any place— what is it that we should be consuming? What asserts control over our potentially infinite appetites? Is it the rational “I” who decides while basking in the luxury of its individual freedom? Does our access to the infinite buffet transform us into a mature adult who can keep, not only its ego, but its id in check? Or do we end up joining the rest of the gluttons in Dante’s third circle of the inferno?
And as we more fully become Bing Crosby, do we engage over our real-time social networks by playing pre-recorded snippets for the purpose of constructing an ideal projection of ourselves as the narrator of our lives? Walter Benjamin regrets our loss of the “aura” in a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Are these new networks we’ve constructed even capable of transmitting “aura” across their tangle of wires? And if they are, are we capable of telling the difference? Through the recording arts, Crosby was able to create a technically better performance. He accomplished this through deferring the moment of transmission. The message is worked and re-worked at a distance from the performance date. The medium itself has deferral and distance built into it. As an audience we now re-wire broadcasting to take advantage of these qualities.
What Crosby removes from the encounter is the element of chance, the possibility that something unexpected could happen. Crosby pre-rolls the dice and presents the best outcomes for your enjoyment. There’s a presupposition in this approach that enjoyment is increased when all error is absent and the moments of spontaneity are pre-auditioned and arrives with the appropriate imprimatur. What we miss is the moment when the wrong note suddenly becomes right. Herbie Hancock describes such a moment while playing with Miles Davis:
“And just as Miles was about to start his solo for ‘So What,’ at the peak of the concert, I hit a note that was so wrong I thought I had crumbled the show down like a falling tent,” he recalled.
“And Miles took a breath, and played some notes that made my note right. It took me years to understand that Miles didn’t judge what I played. He worked with it. That lesson wasn’t just about music. It was about life.”
Bing changed our relationship with time. And while it may seem like we’ll manage to avoid error and present a photoshopped version of ourselves to the world, we simply encode our errors at another level. The unexpected unexpected emerges despite the best laid plans.
Tales of the Network: A Moment of Privacy; A Moment of Sharing
As early adopters of technology, we like to quote William Gibson and say the “future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed yet.” We position ourselves to preview the next good thing. And from the height of our vantage point, we look out over the crowd and smile knowingly. This next new thing will eventually be much more evenly distributed. The crowd, minding its own business, seems unaware of what’s about to happen to it. In the movement of that wider distribution, some small number of people will be made very wealthy. Soon just about everyone will be using this new thing, and we’ll be on to the next thing.
Reading through the front page of the Saturday New York Times, a couple of stories struck me as auguries of coming ways of life. Neither of these stories had the sweet taste of a fruit yet unknown to the wider populace. Instead they’re bitter moments that speak to an accommodation to our environment.
In the first article, titled “Traveling Light in a Time of Digital Thievery“, Nicole Perlroth writes about the travel routine of Kenneth G. Liberthal of the Brookings Institute. When he travels to China he makes very strong assumptions about the agency of the Network in that locality. Here’s Perlroth’s description of his protocol:
He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings “loaner” devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, “the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop.”
When we think about the texture of the Network, we tend to think of it as a passive medium–something we can turn on or off. We access it, it doesn’t access us. It’s only in paranoid fantasy that invisible forces invade our minds and steal our thoughts. However, as we augment our minds with hard drives, memory sticks and cloud-based storage, we create an external readable repository of our internal mental space. Our use of common wire protocols allows for broadcast over heterogeneous networks of networks. Entities large and small have the same potential to reach a mass audience.
The two-way web is described as a democratizing feature of the Network. No longer are we the passive recipients of centralized broadcasts. Each node on the Network has both receiving and broadcast capability. But once that two-way channel has been established, the Network also has access to you. A common response to this kind of environment is to say, “well, I don’t have any secrets. I don’t have anything of real value; what’s there only has meaning to me.” If we take this attitude and overlay it onto the whole of society, we conclude that it’s okay if the Network accesses our personal data because no one keeps anything of value in these repositories. And this says something very interesting about where we think value is located.
Today, we look at Liberthal’s seemingly paranoid behavior with his connected devices as an oddity. But as we look at this story, what if we apply Gibson’s maxim? The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed yet.
The second article is by Michael Wilson and is called “In a Mailbox: A Shared Gun, Just for the Asking.” Police forensics labs are finding more and more ballistics matches for “community guns.” A single gun is used by many different criminals in many different crimes. Here’s Wilson’s description of a shared gun used in a recent murder.
Waka Flocka is the name of a rapper. But to these men, the phrase described something else.
The community gun.
Hidden and shared by a small group of people who use them when needed, and are always sure to return them, such guns appear to be rising in number in New York, according to the police. It is unclear why. The economy? Times are tough — not everyone can afford a gun. “The gangs are younger, and their resources are less,” said Ed Talty, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx.
The example of the “community gun” brings to mind John Thackara’s discussion of real-time dynamic resource allocation in his book: “In The Bubble: Designing in a Complex World.” The average power tool (a drill, circular saw, etc.) is used for ten minutes in its entire life. But to manufacture that tool takes a tremendous amount of resources. Yet, we all need our own power drill because we never know when we’ll need it.
We can imagine a world where people don’t buy individual power drills, but instead make use of a community drill. The obstacle that stands between that world and this one is generally described as a failure of moral will. We know the right thing to do, but somehow, we aren’t ready. We find ourselves in the position of St. Augustine when he prays, “God, make me good. But not yet.”
Sharing and community seem to be attributes of a positive morality. When we see the commercialization of these qualities, we believe their moral quality suffers. We react to the commercialization of Christmas by attempting to retrieve what we imagine is an historical original experience. We react to the automation of sharing and community by Facebook by turning off our connected devices and attempting a direct connection without digital mediation.
Bad people are greedy, they aren’t willing to share. They don’t form cooperative communities where resources are shared to the benefit of the whole group. To some extent, this is how we determine who is bad and who is good. What would it mean if “sharing and community” were detached from our ideas about positive morality. Both movies and murder are better with community and sharing. Perhaps we should stop for a moment and ask: what’s the meaning of the word “better” in the previous sentence?
Both of these stories made the front page of the Saturday New York Times. The story about paranoid connected device behavior was just above the fold. The community gun story was below the fold. Neither story will receive broad coverage from other media outlets. It’s unlikely that either story will achieve viral distribution over the real-time Network. Both provide a vision of a future that’s not broadly distributed yet. They’re morality tales of the Network. They tell us something about the world we’re creating for ourselves. Or instead, maybe we should say, this is the new world that is manufacturing new varieties of humans.
A Sweetwater Stream: Evolution of the Aesthetic Container
It might be a signal of the end of the industrial age. Of course, industrial-style production in factories will continue, but just as powerful efficiencies were created that radically changed the economics of manufactured goods, digital production is continuing its rampage of creative destruction. The politics and economics of the copying and sharing of digital files should be the subject of deep thinking and dialogue. But instead, on the one hand we have an industrial argument that mechanically reproduces itself; and on the other we have a digital argument that copies and pastes itself into a seemingly infinite number of online fora.
To start this exploration, we must trace the evolution of the product of industrial output. However, the focus here is specifically on the container used to deliver aesthetic product. For a certain generation there’s a well-known complaint. It seems like I’m buying the same music over and over again. Every time the music industry changes the standard format, I have to replace my collection. I had the vinyl, the cassette, the CD, the remastered CD and now the digital file. I’ve got the MP3, but what I really want is the high quality FLAC. It turns out that I’m not buying the music after all. I buy the container, the delivery method, and I buy one container after another. Each new standard container format makes some improvement in the audio quality and more importantly lowers production costs and increases margins. All manufactured aesthetic (and rhetorical) containers are moving along this path in an attempt to increase productivity and efficiency. All of these container formats are converging on the digital file as the lowest possible cost delivery mechanism.
Prior to the widespread distribution of the Network, the digital file seemed to be an innovation of the same kind as its predecessors. Slavoj Zizek, in his essay “The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie” exposes the mechanics of the incredibly high margins made possible by the combination of digital production and worker compensation through stock options (prior to 2005, stock options did not need to be recognized as an expense on a corporate income statement).
How did Bill Gates become the richest man in America? His wealth has nothing to do with Microsoft producing good software at lower prices than its competitors, or ‘exploiting’ its workers more successfully (Microsoft pays its intellectual workers a relatively high salary). Millions of people still buy Microsoft software because Microsoft has imposed itself as an almost universal standard, practically monopolizing the field, as one embodiment of what Marx called the ‘general intellect’, by which he meant collective knowledge in all its forms, from science to practical knowhow. Gates effectively privatized part of the general intellect and became rich by appropriating the rent that followed.
The possibility of the privatization of the general intellect was something Marx never envisaged in his writings about capitalism (largely because he overlooked its social dimension). Yet this is at the core of today’s struggles over intellectual property: as the role of the general intellect – based on collective knowledge and social co-operation – increases in post-industrial capitalism, so wealth accumulates out of all proportion to the labour expended in its production. The result is not, as Marx seems to have expected, the self-dissolution of capitalism, but the gradual transformation of the profit generated by the exploitation of labour into rent appropriated through the privatization of knowledge.
The digitally-produced object is different than its industrially-produced predecessors in an fundamental way—the container is now a digital text. Owning a vinyl record did allow me the ability to create mix tapes, but it didn’t contain a method of spawning more vinyl records from the one I’d purchased. In the digital format, the aesthetic product is transformed into a quoted text written in an alphabet of 1s and 0s. Every personal computer has the capability to read, quote and re-quote digital texts—and this is the crux of the digital container crisis. If you can sell a digital file as though it were the analog output of an industrial process, outsized rents can be generated when large scales are achieved.
The problem is that when the digital file player is also capable of reading and re-quoting the text (code) and then sending a copy to any other node on the Network, the commercial distribution network is quickly dwarfed by the potential social sharing Network. What was a physical container produced through industrial manufacturing has become speech / text / code. The free circulation of speech and the protection of intellectual property rights collide in what Zizek calls the “privatization of knowledge.”
The Network utopians take the view that the free circulation of texts is essential to the nature of the Network. Attempting to impose limits on sharing is striking at the very heart of the Network. And while this approach easily solves the free speech issue, it doesn’t do much for the intellectual property side of the equation. Some say that intellectual property should be eliminated. Some industries, like fashion, for instance, operates without those kind of restrictions. Copying is part of the culture. Top designers even copy themselves, producing low-cost knock offs for the discount stores. But here we’re still dealing with analog manufacturing. If fashion were to become digital and buying new clothes simply involved selecting a style and printing out an outfit. There would be no difference between haut couture and pirate couture.
Other approaches to the problem depend on the good-heartedness, or laziness, of the consumer. Gabe Newell, co-founder of videogame company ‘Valve,’ is quoted as saying:
“One thing we have learned is that piracy is not a pricing issue. It’s a service issue. The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting anti-piracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from pirates.”
To some extent this is what happened with Apple’s iTunes store and the P2P file sharing network Napster. This approach works until your service technology is also primarily constructed of code. Once that’s true, what’s to stop a pirate from simply copying and pasting your service technology onto their servers. Each improvement you make is replicated to the pirate server as fast as bits can travel over wires. Is this the point that you put “anti-piracy technology to work”?
Moving back to the evolution of the container, there are some who say the “file” has had its day. Once you’ve got all those files locally stored and backed up on a series of hard disks, you look at the mess of hardware you’ve accumulated and cry out for a better solution. Here’s where the cloud (remote storage lockers) comes into the picture. All those files can be moved to a service that remotely stores them for a small fee. Alternatively you have the Netflix / Spotify model of charging the consumer rent for access to the company’s collection of digital files via an authorized stream.
Instead of moving big digital files over the Network, a stream sends just enough of the file to create a local cache which facilitates smooth playback on your viewing device. The stream attempts to recapture the qualities of the analog container—you can’t copy and share your stream. The stream is a part of a file, the streaming service never intentionally exposes the complete file. With some added pirating technology, you can convert the full set of streamed bits into a file and share that file. Potentially, you could even set up a server to stream the copied file to someone else.
Generally, streaming services attempt to control both ends of the transmission. If the streaming transmitter owns and operates the receiver sitting on the audience’s local device, the odds of preventing unauthorized copying and sharing are higher. The talk about “Apps” vs. the “Web” boils down to the control of data (text) streamed from centralized APIs. The cable television companies with their “cable boxes” were the first to employ this architecture. Netflix, Spotify, Pandora, Kindle, iPad, iCloud, HBOgo, CNN, the New York Times and many others have extended the strategy.
The record and the record player are becoming a single unit. They’re an updated form of the jukebox with a very large central digital catalog. All the big players are employing the same technical and architectural approach; the competitive difference is the size and quality of the library. As Zizek observes about Microsoft, the goal is to become a universal standard; a de facto monopoly. If any of these services can achieve that size, they manage to eliminate the “outside.” There’s no longer a need to copy and share through the greater external Network, because there is no outside of Netflix or Spotify. Sharing within the private network is both good for business and means that you’ve converted the people you want to share with into members of the private network. The large scale of the custom infrastructure required for a universal jukebox sets a very high barrier to entry for potential competitors. Facebook has been masterful at this.
Going universal is a zero-sum game. In order for you to win, somebody else has to lose. But there is another approach to the problem of intellectual/artistic property and the Network and it looks very promising. The universal jukebox strategy treats aesthetic product as a commodity. It’s unconcerned with artists or the actual aesthetic content of a work of art. It’s the quality of the delivery system, the player, that matters. Finding stuff, getting good suggestions for stuff and an easy “play” mechanism are the keys. A big catalog with a long tail allows the universal jukebox to punt on issues of aesthetic judgement.
There are two examples of artist-centered streams that offer some hope outside of the industrial streaming complex. The first example is a stream produced by New York’s Metropolitan Opera. They’ve created a national audience for their live HD opera broadcasts. The “player” is the network of movie theaters around the country set up to receive live HD streams and project them on to big screens with state-of-the-art sound systems. I attended a recent performance of the Baroque pastiche “The Enchanted Island” at a local movie theater. Here there’s no option to capture the stream with local computing power and store it in a file. And because you’re watching a live performance, not a replay of a file, there’s a very attractive element of danger. The technology serves the art, and the artistry is of a very high level. This delivery system has been expanded to include live symphony and theater performances and has the potential to establish a new art form where film evolves by retrieving something from the performing arts.
The second example is a little company in the north bay called the Tamalpais Research Institute. Here’s the mission statement from the About Us page:
Tamalpais Research Institute is the vision of Bob Weir, a founding member of the Grateful Dead. Weir and his team have built a state-of-the-art performance studio for broadcasting live HD video and audio streams directly to the Internet.
TRI is a virtual venue where fans can gather and enjoy the performances in the comfort of their own homes, or anywhere they have Internet access.
The main performance space at TRI houses a Meyer Sound Constellation System – a revolutionary acoustic modeling technology which has the ability to dramatically change the acoustical properties of the room. With the touch of a button, an artist can instantly change the sonic environment from that of a small intimate club to sounding like a theater, an arena or even a cathedral.
Each show will be directed, filmed, and mixed live in real time. Every care will be taken to provide the highest possible upstream bandwidth to transmit high quality HD video and audio to the end user. The live stream will be accessible by and tailored to a variety of viewing equipment such as mobile devices, streaming players, game consoles, computers, Internet ready HDTV’s as well as home theaters.
All of this will take place in a small intimate setting in front of a live studio audience. The musicians may be playing in the domain of Mount Tamalpais, but their music will be beaming out to the entire free world.
Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead have had a very different relationship with pirates over the years. There’s a sense in which they harnessed the power of the pirates to create a marketing network for their live performance business. And despite the fact that you can find a large number of free bootleg recordings of Grateful Dead shows on Archive.org, the band has a thriving business with their Dick’s Picks series. They continue to mine their catalog of live performance recording with a new series of limited edition releases called Dave’s Picks.
But that was then. This is now. In addition to establishing the TRI studio, Weir has reopened Sweetwater, the historic Mill Valley nightclub. And Sweetwater streams too:
Sweetwater’s new location in the Masonic Hall allowed for the complete renovation of a space that has hosted live music and events for more than a century. The remodeled interior is modern sleek, boasting state-of-the-art sound and streaming video technology, with clean sight lines and cozy hangout spots. It also features a gourmet cafe offering locally-sourced, organic fare.
There are a couple of directions you can explore if you’re interested in the future of the stream. You can look toward the battle of the giants attempting to establish a network-powered universal jukebox; or, you can look at what the artists are doing and check out the little nightclub that Bob Weir is building on his node of the Network.
Cory Doctorow’s talk has the feel of science fiction. This coming war on general computing seems like a movie we’ve already seen. We imagine killer robots, explosions in space and the rest of the typical fare of a science fiction epic. But that’s just a teaser—a feint, something to get us to pay attention. Doctorow’s talk is really about making laws and the possibility of creating zones of safety. How can we create zones on the Network that free us from immorality, from surveillance, from pirates who take our work product without paying?
Here’s Doctorow’s summary of the desire that drives the creation of so many new laws intended to govern and limit the Network:
Regardless of whether you think these are real problems or hysterical fears, they are, nevertheless, the political currency of lobbies and interest groups far more influential than Hollywood and big content. Every one of them will arrive at the same place: “Can’t you just make us a general-purpose computer that runs all the programs, except the ones that scare and anger us? Can’t you just make us an Internet that transmits any message over any protocol between any two points, unless it upsets us?”
Ostensively, the talk is about a certain class of computing machines and whether these machines will be deemed too dangerous to be at large. The general purpose computer in this instance might be compared to general purpose pen and paper. When we try to restrict the uses of pen and paper, we run into the same sort of problems that Doctorow outlines discussing imposed limitations to networked digital computers.
Doctorow’s technically savvy audience seems to believe this is a case of the technically illiterate interfering with something they don’t understand. One often hears the statement that it’s not okay for Washington politicians to not understand the Internet. As though, once their understanding was upgraded to the latest version of the Network they would naturally understand the impossibility of placing absolute technical limits on a general computing machine. At which point they would turn to their constituents and campaign donors and patiently explain that what they want isn’t possible. And further that he’ll be sending someone around to their house to make sure they’ve been upgraded to the latest version of the pre-approved software.
Of course, once we peel away the top layer, it’s easy to see that the computer in this parable is a stand-in for human being. There are a number of ways into this connection. For instance, if we subscribe to the idea of the extended phenotype, the computer is an expression of human DNA. Augmentation is not separate from that which it augments, the web is not separate from the spider. Limitation of the spider web is a limitation of the the spider.
Or we can return to the moment of the general computer’s conception. In Ian Bogost’s book “Unit Operations” he provides a summary of von Neumann’s revolutionary change to the architecture of computing systems. From its inception, the universal computation machine’s inspiration was the human brain. Human turned into a machine through biological understanding of the thinking organ—copied over to the machine such that the machine might become human in its approach to computation.
Here’s Bogost on the significance of this change:
The conditional control transfer allowed individual computational functions to be preserved across programs, just as the film camera allowed individual photographic functions like exposure to be preserved across images. The von Neumann architecture marked the beginning of computation’s status as unit operational, rather than system operational.
The universal computer that would mimic the structure of the human brain was a vision of both von Neumann and Alan Turing, who separately developed his own computational architecture called ACE (automating computing engine). Both von Neumann and Turing obsessively equated their universal computing projects with attempts to model the human brain; the famous Turing test serves as an illustration of such a goal. The von Neumann architecture, as the consolidated control transfer has become known, is the basis for all modern computing. The key to von Neumann’s success was not the specifics of his solution so much as his approach to the problem of computation. Rather than treating universal computation as an engineering problem, he recognized it as a logical one, antecedent to any specific instantiation.
Doctorow’s complaint is in essence that we’re attempting to employ engineering solutions to a problem of logic. Because universal computing is antecedent to any specific instantiation, a solution engineered to enforce limits in a specific instantiation will find itself obsolete in the next instantiation. Which sets off another round of engineering solutions.
If these clusters of limitations are going to be deployed into our “local” computing environment, Doctorow is asking for Admin privileges. For the computers embedded into his extended phenotype, he’d like permission to view and terminate processes working against his interests. Crafting one’s own soul, rather than being crafted by an unknown and unperceived external system with its own agenda. In a sense, what he’s asking for here is the equivalent of a computational immune system.
Imagine an object, a ball for example. You look at it and see the side that faces you. In this new scheme, if you turn the ball to see the other side, you see the same side with which you started. There is no other side.
But there’s something left unspoken in setting the frame for the discussion. Doctorow hints at it here:
There will be programs that run on general-purpose computers, and peripherals, that will freak even me out. So I can believe that people who advocate for limiting general-purpose computers will find a receptive audience.
The necessary feature of the open systems and networks that Doctorow advocates is that they must preserve the possibility of evil. The systematic exclusion of evil breaks the open (unit operational) nature of the system. From a political perspective, you won’t score too many points campaigning for the preservation of the possibility of evil. The most successful argument of this kind is the theological argument around why God has given humans free will. Being good without choosing good means that goodness isn’t a virtue. The possibility of choosing evil makes the choice of good meaningful. Pre-deleting evil processes from the operating environment pre-empts the possibility of choosing to run good processes and the act of terminating the evil ones.
Doctorow trots out the crowd-pleasing quip: “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” This is the logic of the dictatorship; but Doctorow fails to see the subtle passing of the baton to hegemony. Here I give you the baton and train you to beat yourself until morale (morality) improves. You do know which processes should be terminated and which should not. Don’t you?
Once you dig below the surface, this war on general computing seems to have been going on for quite a long time. As Bogost notes of von Neumann’s architecture, it’s “antecedent to any specific instantiation.”
A few year-end thoughts about the Network have been rattling around my skull. This is probably a continuation of the exploration of the ‘finite shapes of growth.’ The real-time social messaging space seems to have reached a saturation point, and therefore the upper end of the sigmoidal growth curve. The big single-index real-time systems have exerted their dominance and are largely engaged in enabling features that increase the density of connections within the territory they’ve already marked out. The second-tier systems will struggle and many will fall to the wayside. A few will stand waiting in the wings for the possible moment when a first-tier player stumbles.
After walking around the block several times, pulling on all the doors, trying to find a way into this exploration, I ended up with the word: “medium.” Medium, as in the physical channel through which messages are passed; and medium as in a culture medium used to grow micro-organisms or cells. Medium can also be understood as the time/space aspect of an object, its identity/variability. When we consider ‘big data’ on the Network, we seem to be talking about creating and maintaining a medium where higher-level statistical objects can be grown. These meta-patterns are made visible through feats of data collection and statistical computation. It’s analogous to cataloging weather events and other data to model climate change. “Climate” as a dynamic entity only becomes visible through the deployment of a large network of sensors hooked up to computers updating a model in real time. Weather is visible as the raindrops that keep falling on your head, climate is visible only through a complex computational sensing system to which only a few people have access.
The business model of harvesting these higher-level patterns has generally involved slicing up the data into the groups of people who create these patterns. Lists of these target audiences are rented to commercial interests, and recently so is the messaging apparatus and the communications medium. A well-targeted message should show increased effectiveness in confirmed delivery and lead to net positive transactions. If you think about it, all of these new real-time social media companies are in the television business. Television is transformed into a container that holds a message stream of condensed multiple media types on the Network. This medium is designed to grow various audiences (meta-patterns) to harvest and take to market. Once a certain scale is achieved this set up becomes a cash machine. The energy to grow the crop is largely supplied by the participants using the system. The users of the system gain access to a simple real-time content management system along with a flat view of a subscription stream. The valuable patterns are reserved for exploitation by the owners of the system.
When you look at the imposition of the real-time social media model on to the corporate enterprise, you’ll see the same model. The valuable patterns are reserved for management. The corporate enterprise will spend a lot of money attempting to absorb this new model of television in the coming year. It will allow each corporation to become its own media company. It should be noted that a person is not ‘social’ when using corporate social media behind a firewall. An employee is a human resource to be profitably deployed, not a person. The idea isn’t to empower people, it’s to provide data to management. The pattern data belongs to the central management structure and it will be used to create and refine the workings of a well-oiled machine–of which the employee will be a replaceable part. The entire benefit accrues to the survival, growth and sustainability of the corporation, not to the individual person. Can you imagine a social media revolution within a corporation that drives the current C-level executives from power? The power structure within the corporate enterprise will use the system to maintain and refine their power, all the while, selling the use of the system as a democratization. For instance, it’s unlikely that unions would be allowed to use a real-time corporate social media system to organize workers and collect violations of work rules.
If the single central-index model has reached a saturation point, does that mean the Network has reached maturity and an end to its growth phase? The Network can accommodate other models and I expect we’ll see some rapid experimentation over the next few years. The key to these new models will involve pushing valuable meta-data patterns to the endpoints of the Network. Simple examples include mobile applications that function as commuter traffic data collectives. Members contribute reports of their own traffic data to a pool and in exchange they received a general picture of traffic conditions. This is similar to the dynamic of reporting weather data and receiving compiled climate reports in return. The key difference is that when data is contributed, access to meta-data patterns is guaranteed.
Clay Shirky uncovered a vast resource when he wrote about cognitive surplus. We can easily ask what might be accomplished should all those hours of passive television viewing be turned into two-way networked interactions. In a sense, this is the rediscovery of the Network as a commons. Not as a common natural resource for each to exploit, but as a common resource built by all the participants. Another untapped resource was uncovered by John Thackara in his book “In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World.” In our consumer society it’s a point of honor to keep up with the Jones’s. We each buy our own industrially-produced copy of the latest prescribed set of consumer objects. We accumulate and store them as quickly as we can. But as Thackara notes, we purchase and store, accumulating social capital. We are known as the kind of person who can, and did, buy that particular thing. We rarely use what we buy, its use-value remains untapped—it sits passively in the garage or the hall closet. eBay and Craigslist have emerged as the markets where this passive value is converted back into capital. Here’s Thackara on the eco-economics of the power tool:
Power tools are another example. The average consumer power tool is used for ten minutes in its entire life—but it takes hundreds of times its own weight to manufacture such an object. Why own one, if I can get ahold of one when I need it? A ‘product-service system’ provides me with access to the products, tools, opportunities, and capabilities I need to get the job done—namely, power tools for to use, but not own.
Service design is about arranging things so that people who need things done are connected to other people and equipment that get things done—on an as- and when-needed basis. The technical term, which comes from the logistics industry, is “dynamic resource allocation in real time.” Agricultural cooperatives that purchase tractors and sell their use-time to associates are well-known examples, but once one starts looking, examples spring up everywhere: a home delivery service for detergents in Italy, a mobile laboratory for industrial users of lubricants in Germany, dozens of car-sharing schemes, an organic vegetable subscription system in Holland. Industrial ecologists Francois Jegou and Ezio Manzini found enough examples to fill a book, ‘Sustainable Everyday: A Catalogue of Promising Solutions’, which is filled with novel daily life services that they discovered around the world. These are ‘planning activities whose objective is a system,’ Manzini told me. Hundreds of services suitable for a resource-limited, complex, and fluid world are being developed by grassroots innovators: those that enable people to take care of other people, work, study, move around, find food, eat, and share equipment.
Local systems that enable dynamic resource allocation in real time of local resources, which includes both data patterns and physical resources, would allow a kind of optimization of value by ordinary people that has previously been reserved for the corporation. Some nascent examples of this include, Phil Windley’sKynetx network scripting platform. Windley talks about a Kynetx script that runs on his browser while looking at the Amazon site. The script instantly tells him whether the book he’s looking at is available in his local library. One can easily imagine a similar scenario involving power tools or other kinds of durable resources. Mobile computing expands the purview of this kind of scripting from web pages on the Network to objects in the real world. This is sometimes called the internet of things. It’s not the point of connection, but rather the advent of scriptability that makes these things creatures of the Network.
Another example is Jon Udell’sElm City Project — a project to create networked data hubs and librarians of announcements of local community events. Solving the problem of translating and integrating the various methods in which calendar data is recorded is transformed into the production of a meta-data object that provides a wide view of the public events occurring in a locality. We don’t yet know the effect increased visibility of public events will have on a citizenry, but providing a higher-level view of the event life of a community feels like an entirely democratic endeavor. In times of peace and prosperity, an effort like this is non-controversial. In times of political strife, it attains the status of a public square and its commitment to openness will be tested.
While the shared resource of a power tool seems like a simple thing, it implies some very complex social group dynamics. It’s only with the rise of the sociality of the Network along with the politics of the 99% that we may have the ground for learning how to share a larger set of resources with more diverse groups. David Graeber, in his book, “Debt“, describes what he calls baseline communism. By this he means the understanding that unless people consider themselves to be enemies, if the need is considered great enough, or the cost considered reasonable enough, the principle of ‘from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” will be assumed to apply. Here’s Graeber:
Baseline communism might be considered the raw material of sociality, a recognition of our ultimate interdependence that is the ultimate substance of social peace. Still, in most circumstances, that minimal baseline is not enough. One always behaves in a spirit of solidarity more with some people than with others, and certain institutions are specifically based on principles of solidarity and mutual aid. First among these are those we love, with mothers being the paradigm of selfless love. Others include close relatives, wives and husbands, lovers, one’s closest friends. These are the people with whom we share everything, or at least to whom we know we can turn in need, which is the definition of a true friend everywhere. Such friendships may be formalized by a ritual as “bond-friends” or “blood brothers” who cannot refuse each other anything. As a result, any community could be seen as criss-crossed with relations of “individualistic communism,” one-to-one relations that operate, to varying intensities and degrees, on the basis of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.”
This same logic can be, and is, extended within groups: not only cooperative work groups, but almost any in-group will define itself by creating its own sort of baseline communism. There will be certain things shared or made freely available within the group, others that anyone will be expected to provide for other members on request, that one would never share with or provide to outsiders: help in repairing one’s nets in an association of fisherman, stationery supplies in an office, certain sorts of information among commodity traders, and so forth. Also, certain categories of people we can always call on in certain situations, such as harvesting or moving house. Once could go on from here to various forms of sharing, pooling, who gets to call on whom for help with certain tasks: moving, or harvesting, or even, if one is in trouble, providing an interest-free loan. Finally, there are the different sorts of “commons,” the collective administration of common resource.
The sociology of everyday communism is a potentially enormous field, but one which, owing to our peculiar ideological blinkers, we have been unable to write about because we have been largely unable to see it.
While networked computational tools can assist us in expanding the scope and breadth of the sharing we do with groups and individuals, it’s our ability to navigate the new social customs and ceremonies of the Network that will determine how far all this spreads. It’s a counter-cultural idea, instead of placing the highest value on independence and individuality, it takes us down the path of interdependence and coexistence. And this brings us back to this idea of a growth medium. As the old year ends, and the new one begins, I’m imagining an as yet unpublished Whole Earth Catalog filled with tools and perspectives on how we might grow this new crop in the fields of the Network. It’s a thing that “is” what it describes.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Shop Windows And Tablets: Through The Looking Glass
In looking for lost house keys under the light of the street lamp, we put aside the fact that we lost them in the ditch at the other side of the road. It’s odd how we can move so swiftly in a particular direction without really knowing where we’re going. An incredible amount of ingenuity, resources and coordination has been applied to building tablet computers. There’s an unstated assumption that the post-pc era is defined by an evolution of the computer to a new human-computer interface model with a new form factor. And at a technical level, there’s some truth there; however at the level of the market for devices, there’s not enough truth.
To make sense of all this, let’s go back to a 1996 interview by Gary Wolf with Steve Jobs. Jobs was at NeXt and was gazing ahead at the future:
Wolf: What other opportunities are out there?
Jobs: Who do you think will be the main beneficiary of the Web? Who wins the most?
Wolf: People who have something -
Jobs: To sell!
Wolf: To share.
Jobs: To sell!
Wolf: You mean publishing?
Jobs: It’s more than publishing. It’s commerce. People are going to stop going to a lot of stores. And they’re going to buy stuff over the Web!
e-Commerce’s path to the Network was from the paper catalog to the electronic catalog. The Sears Catalog was one of the early prototypes for distance retailing. But what was the paper catalog? Why was it successful? The catalog was an evolution of the shop window in the arcade. And it was the shop window that enabled the romantic imagination of the consumer. Heather Marcelle Crickenberger talks about Walter Benjamin’s idea of the flâneur:
“Flâneur” is a word understood intuitively by the French to mean “stroller, idler, walker.” He has been portrayed in the past as a well-dressed man, strolling leisurely through the Parisian arcades of the nineteenth century–a shopper with no intention to buy, an intellectual parasite of the arcade. Traditionally the traits that mark the flâneur are wealth, education, and idleness. He strolls to pass the time that his wealth affords him, treating the people who pass and the objects he sees as texts for his own pleasure. An anonymous face in the multitude, the flâneur is free to probe his surroundings for clues and hints that may go unnoticed by the others.
Today we call it window shopping. It’s an exercise of the imagination in the role of the consumer. What might I look like in that outfit, listening to that music, with those kitchen appliances? A large plate of glass opened a window on to the possibilities contained within the shop. The flâneur could stroll the arcade moving from this window to that, searching for something that might catch his fancy.
Timothy Morton discusses this performance of the consumer imagination in his essay on “The Beautiful Soul.”
These performative styles are outlined by myself (Morton) and Colin Campbell. One style stands out, and that is a kind of meta-style that Campbell calls bohemianism and I call Romantic consumerism. This kind of consumerism is at one remove from regular consumerism. It is “consumerism-ism” as it were, that has realized that the true object of desire is desire as such. In brief, Romantic consumerism is window- shopping, which is hugely enabled by plate glass, or as we now do, browsing on the internet, not consuming anything but wondering what we would be like if we did. Now in the Romantic period this kind of reflexive consumerism was limited to a few avant-garde types: the Romantics themselves. To this extent Wordsworth and De Quincey are only superficially different. Wordsworth figured out that he could stroll forever in the mountains; De Quincey figured out that you didn’t need mountains, if you could consume a drug that gave you the feeling of strolling in the mountains (sublime contemplative calm, and so on). Nowadays we are all De Quinceys, all flaneurs in the shopping mall of life. This performative role, this attitude, is all the more pervasive, leading me to believe that we haven’t really exited from the Romantic period—another sense in which “prehistory” isn’t quite right for what I’m describing, but extremely right in another sense, namely that we’re still caught in an attitude that we don’t fully understand or become aware of.
When we talk about what’s assumed to be a tablet computer, we’re actually talking about a plate of glass, a shop window. In a discussion with Nick Bilton of the New York Times about why all these tablets look similar, Ryan Block hit on the key, although he may not have realized it:
“We are talking about a screen, where the screen is the entire experience and it can only really look and act one way, and that is to look similar to the iPad,” Mr. Block explained in a phone interview Thursday. “At the end of the day, they are all going to look similar, because a tablet is just a piece of glass.”
The innovations of the post-pc era aren’t to the computing device, they’re to the shop window. The ability to transact as part of the performance and the transformation of the goods from material to digital such that they can be played within the same window are the key additions to the “piece of glass.”
If you view the recent crop of tablet computers through this lens, you’ll see what separates the Apple and Amazon products from the rest. We pass the empty shop window of the deserted store as we move on down the block to see what we might find next. Of course, it’s simple to see how a technologist might confuse a shop window with a flat computing device.