It was Aron Michalski who turned me on to David Byrne’s thoughts on the effect of architecture on music. The gist of the idea is that popular music is composed to be performed in certain kinds of venues. When rock music moved from clubs and theaters to arenas and stadiums the music had to change to accommodate the space.
My first real experience of this phenomenon was hearing The Who perform at one of Bill Graham’s Day on the Green concerts at the stadium in Oakland. Pete Townsend’s windmill electric guitar chords rang out filling and shaking the stadium. It was shock and awe, a form of the Burkean sublime. In my memory, the figures on the stage seemed like giants.
At the same time there was a withdrawal of music from physical space exemplified by The Beatles retreating to the studio to create music they would never perform in an arena, stadium or any where else for that matter. This direction was solidified by Brian Eno in his writings about the recording studio as compositional tool. Eno compares the advent of purely recorded music to the split between theater and film into separate art forms. Film, like constructed and recorded music, can create an experience in playback that can’t be produced in live performance. The medium shifts from the room to the playback of music in some domestic space or perhaps even in the mental space of headphones. The new medium for music becomes its transmission over wires and broadcast to an endpoint.
And just as with popular music’s adaptation to the vast open spaces of the sports stadium, music changes to accommodate the contours of the Network. A higher percentage of music becomes music for playback. The number of bands that can fill a stadium with both music and fans—always a small number, shrinks even further. And among the new acts climbing the charts, fewer set their sites on the stadium as the ultimate venue.
When I saw the headline about Best Buy slowing going out of business, I didn’t immediately make the connection to arena rock. But there’s a sense in which the progress of retail mirrors that of popular music; moving to larger and larger venues—packing in both the people and the product. And just as with music, there’s a virtual channel that has been able to treat the retail space as an endlessly plastic medium that can be mixed and remixed into a seemingly infinite variety of shopping experiences. Here also the medium changed from a physical space to bits coming over a wire and broadcast on to a screen. And just as with arena and stadium rock, the number of acts who can fill those big boxes is shrinking in number.
The movie “You’ve Got Mail” is a interesting artifact of the rise of the big box bookstore. The film lifts its love story from Ernst Lubitch’s “The Shop Around the Corner.” In the zeitgeist of the time, it was all too clear that the small independent bookstore was doomed and would be driven out of existence by the book superstore with its huge inventory, low prices, cozy chairs and access to legal stimulants in the form of hot beverages. It wasn’t something to get mad about, it was just the way of the world—not personal, just business. So Meg Ryan’s carefully curated children’s bookstore ‘The Shop Around The Corner (named in tribute to its predecessor) is put out of business by Tom Hanks’s giant Fox Books. Now if we look at the landscape of booksellers today, we see a much different picture. The arena rock bookstores can’t sell enough tickets and are shutting down—their role is being filled by the plastic virtual bookseller. We’re sort of in the era of the headphone retailer.
I’ve always loved browsing in used book stores. The combination of lower price and serendipity is wonderfully entertaining. I don’t expect to find a complete set of books in print, instead the experience is more like a performance in a small space. I take in and appreciate the set of books that are here in the space right now. I know that next week, or the week after, I’ll see a largely new set of books. The used book store is an incredibly efficient filter for discovering what might be worth reading and what people in general are reading. These books have already experienced ‘use.’ It’s an interesting example of how a small space can provide much more value than a large space.
This rehabilitation of the small space is a trend that seems to working its way through music, retailing and even social networks. It may signal a return to intimacy. Kinda makes you wonder what it’d be like to shop at “The Shop Around the Corner’s” Matuschek and Company.
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.
The technical systems we build have perfect memories. They keep account of everything. The ones are the ones, and the zeros are the zeros. We network the systems together and even account for things across multiple domains. While on the one hand we talk about economies of abundance and prices of many things converging on free—we know the score.
When Jacques Derrida talks about forgiveness, he cuts to the chase. To forgive is to forgive what is unforgivable. It’s an act of transformation, and by definition impossible. Forgiveness without cost isn’t forgiveness. Forgiveness costs everything. A forgiveness that translates the debt from one domain to another isn’t forgiveness. To forgive is to break all the rules of the system.
David Graeber, in discussing his work “5,000 Years of Debt” talks about how morality and monetary debt have always been intertwined.
In Sanskrit, Hebrew, Aramaic, ‘debt,’ ‘guilt,’ and ‘sin’ are actually the same word. Much of the language of the great religious movements – reckoning, redemption, karmic accounting and the like – are drawn from the language of ancient finance. But that language is always found wanting and inadequate and twisted around into something completely different. It’s as if the great prophets and religious teachers had no choice but to start with that kind of language because it’s the language that existed at the time, but they only adopted it so as to turn it into its opposite: as a way of saying debts are not sacred, but forgiveness of debt, or the ability to wipe out debt, or to realize that debts aren’t real – these are the acts that are truly sacred.
We’ve become very sophisticated in creating instruments of debt and even derivatives on those instruments. Our systems of forgiveness, however, have been left behind. Debt and forgiveness of debt historically were linked. Forgiveness allows a system reset, the negative numbers are zeroed out. The moral judgement that comes along with monetary debt is wiped away. What by definition shouldn’t be forgiven is forgiven.
As the economies of the world are gripped by a debt crisis, the call for austerity measures come down from on high. From within the system, there’s only one kind of solution that’s rational. Austerity is the proper solution on both an economic and a moral level. Only moral weakness and foolishness would cause a person or a country to borrow more than they could repay. A good dose of austerity will put them back on the straight and narrow.
Of course, as Graeber points out, there’s a certain rationality for breaking the rules of the system at particular moments in time:
The first markets form on the fringes of these complexes and appear to operate largely on credit, using the temples’ units of account. But this gave the merchants and temple administrators and other well-off types the opportunity to make consumer loans to farmers, and then, if say the harvest was bad, everybody would start falling into debt-traps.
This was the great social evil of antiquity – families would have to start pawning off their flocks, fields and before long, their wives and children would be taken off into debt peonage. Often people would start abandoning the cities entirely, joining semi-nomadic bands, threatening to come back in force and overturn the existing order entirely. Rulers would regularly conclude the only way to prevent complete social breakdown was to declare a clean slate or ‘washing of the tablets,’ they’d cancel all consumer debt and just start over. In fact, the first recorded word for ‘freedom’ in any human language is the Sumerian amargi, a word for debt-freedom, and by extension freedom more generally, which literally means ‘return to mother,’ since when they declared a clean slate, all the debt peons would get to go home.
As our societies become more rational, secular and technical we become less able to do the impossible, to forgive what is unforgivable. It just doesn’t make sense, it’s not a part of the algorithm. Something like a Jubilee seems like the superstition of a primitive people. In the systems that we’re building, is there a set of events that will cause the system to reset itself? Or do we think we’ve somehow evolved into a system of systems that never needs to be rebooted?
Well shake it up now Sugaree, I’ll meet you at the jubilee
And if that jubilee don’t come maybe I’ll meet you on the run
Just one thing I ask of you, just one thing for me
Please forget you know my name, my darling Sugaree
It’s not really a question of life or death. Perhaps it’s time to look for a metaphor that sheds a little more light. The frame that’s been most productive for me is one created by Clayton Christensen and put to work in his book, The Innovator’s Solution.
Specifically, customers—people and companies— have “jobs” that arise regularly and need to get done. When customers become aware of a job that they need to get done in their lives, they look around for a product or service that they can “hire” to get the job done. This is how customers experience life. Their thought processes originate with an awareness of needing to get something done, and then they set out to hire something or someone to do the job as effectively, conveniently and inexpensively as possible. The functional, emotional and social dimensions of the jobs that customers need to get done constitute the circumstances in which they buy. In other words, the jobs that customers are trying to get done or the outcomes that they are trying to achieve constitute a circumstance-based categorization of markets. Companies that target their products at the circumstances in which customers find themselves, rather than at the customers themselves, are those that can launch predictably successful products.
At a very basic level, people are hiring Twitter to do jobs that RSS used to get. The change in usage patterns is probably more akin to getting laid off. Of course, RSS hasn’t been just sitting around. It’s getting job training and has acquired some new skills like RSS Cloud and JSON. This may lead to some new jobs, but it’s unlikely that it’ll get its old job back.
By reviewing some of the issues with RSS, you can find a path to what is making Twitter (and Facebook) successful. While it’s relatively easy to subscribe to a particular RSS feed through an RSS reader— discovery and serendipity are problematic. You only get what you specifically subscribe to. The ping server was a solution to this problem. If, on publication of a new item, a message is sent to a central ping server, an index of new items could be built. This allows discovery to be done on the corpus of feeds to which you don’t subscribe. The highest area of value is in discovering known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. To get to real-time tracking of a high volume of new items as they occur, you need a central index. As Jeff Jonas points out, federated systems are not up to the task:
Whether the data is the query (generated by systems likely at high volumes) or the user invokes a query (by comparison likely lower volumes), there is nodifference. In both cases, this is simply a need for — discoverability — the ability to discover if the enterprise has any related information. If discoverability across a federation of disparate systems is the goal, federated search does not scale, in any practical way, for any amount of money. Period. It is so essential that folks understand this before they run off wasting millions of dollars on fairytale stories backed up by a few math guys with a new vision who have never done it before.
Twitter works as a central index, as a ping server. Because of this, it can provide discovery services on to segments of the Network to which a user is not directly connected. Twitter also operates as a switchboard, it’s capable of opening a real-time messaging channel between any two users in its index. In addition, once a user joins Twitter (or Facebook), the division between publisher and subscriber is dissolved. In RSS, the two roles are distinct. Google also has a central index, once again, here’s Jonas:
Discovery at scale is best solved with some form of central directories or indexes. That is how Google does it (queries hit the Google indexes which return pointers). That is how the DNS works (queries hit a hierarchical set of directories which return pointers). And this is how people locate books at the library (the card catalog is used to reveal pointers to books).
A central index can be built and updated in at least two ways. With Twitter, the participants write directly into the index or send an automated ping to register publication of a new item. Updates are in real time. For Google, the web is like a vast subscription space. Google is like a big RSS reader that polls the web every so often to find out whether there are any new items. They subscribe to everything and then optimize it, so you just have to subscribe to Google.
However, as the speed of publication to the Network increases, the quantity of items sitting in the gap between the times the poll runs continues to grow. A recent TPS Report showed that a record number, 6,939 Tweets Per Second, were published at 4 seconds past midnight on January 1, 2011. If what you’re looking for falls into that gap, you’re out of luck with the polling model. Stock exchanges are another example of a real-time central index. Wall Street has lead the way in developing systems for interpreting streaming data in real time. In high-frequency trading, time is counted in milliseconds and the only way to get an edge is to colocate servers into the same physical space as the exchange.
The exchanges themselves also are profiting from the demand for server space in physical proximity to the markets. Even on the fastest networks, it takes 7 milliseconds for data to travel between the New York markets and Chicago-based servers, and 35 milliseconds between the West and East coasts. Many broker-dealers and execution-services firms are paying premiums to place their servers inside the data centers of Nasdaq and the NYSE.
About 100 firms now colocate their servers with Nasdaq’s, says Brian Hyndman, Nasdaq’s SVP of transaction services, at a going rate of about $3,500 per rack per month. Nasdaq has seen 25 percent annual increases in colocation the past two years, according to Hyndman. Physical colocation eliminates the unavoidable time lags inherent in even the fastest wide area networks. Servers in shared data centers typically are connected via Gigabit Ethernet, with the ultrahigh-speed switching fabric called InfiniBand increasingly used for the same purpose, relates Yaron Haviv, CTO at Voltaire, a supplier of systems that Haviv contends can achieve latencies of less than 1 millionth of a second.
The model of colocation with a real-time central index is one we’ll see more of in a variety of contexts. The relationship between Facebook and Zynga has this general character. StockTwits and Twitter are another example. The real-time central index becomes a platform on which other businesses build a value-added product. We’re now seeing a push to build these kinds of indexes within specific verticals, the enterprise, the military, the government.
The web is not real time. Publishing events on the Network occur in real time, but there is no vantage point from which we can see and handle— in real time— ‘what is new’ on the web. In effect, the only place that real time exists on the web is within these hubs like Twitter and Facebook. The call to create a federated Twitter seems to ignore the laws of physics in favor of the laws of politics.
As we look around the Network, we see a small number of real-time hubs that have established any significant value (liquidity). But as we follow the trend lines radiating from these ideas, it’s clear we’ll see the attempt to create more hubs that produce valuable data streams. Connecting, blending, filtering, mixing and adding to the streams flowing through these hubs is another area that will quickly emerge. And eventually, we’ll see a Network of real-time hubs with a set of complex possibilities for connection. Contracts and treaties between the hubs will form the basis of a new politics and commerce. For those who thought the world wide web marked the end, a final state of the Network, this new landscape will appear alien. But in many ways, that future is already here.
Two sides of an equation, or perhaps mirror images. Narcissus bent over the glimmering pool of water trying to catch a glimpse. CRM and VRM attempt hyperrealist representations of humanity. There’s a reduced set of data about a person that describes their propensity to transact in a certain way. The vendor keeps this record in their own private, secure space; constantly sifting through the corpus of data looking for patterns that might change the probabilities. The vendor expends a measured amount of energy nudging the humans represented by each data record toward a configuration of traits that tumble over into a transaction.
Lanier is interested in the ways in which people ‘reduce themselves’ in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate. ‘Information systems,’ he writes, ‘need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality (Zadie’s italics).’ In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for what we call a ‘person.’ In life, we all profess to know this, but when we get online it becomes easy to forget.
Doc Searls’s Vendor Relationship Management project is to some extent a reaction to the phenomena and dominance of Customer Relationship Management. We look at the picture of ourselves coming out of the CRM process and find it unrecognizable. That’s not me, I don’t look like that. The vendor has a secured, private data picture of you with probabilities assigned to the possibility that you’ll become or remain a customer. The vendor’s data picture also outputs a list of nudges that can be deployed against you to move you over into the normalized happy customer data picture.
VRM attempts to reclaim the data picture and house it in the customer’s own private, secure data space. When the desire for a transaction emerges in the customer, she can choose to share some minimal amount of personal data with the vendors who might bid on her services. The result is a rational and efficient collaboration on a transaction.
The rational argument says that the nudges used by vendors, in the form of advertising, are off target. They’re out of context, they miss the mark. They think they know something about me, but constantly make inappropriate offers. This new rational approach does away with the inefficiency of advertising and limits the communication surrounding the transaction to willing partners and consenting adults.
But negotiating the terms of the transaction has always been a rational process. The exchange of capital for goods has been finely honed through the years in the marketplaces of the world. Advertising has both a rational and an irrational component. An exceptional advertisement produces the desire to own a product because of the image, dream or story it draws you into. Irrational desires may outnumber rational desires as a motive for commercial transactions. In the VRM model, you’ve already sold yourself based on some rational criteria you’ve set forth. The vendor, through its advertising, wants in to the conversation taking place before the decision is made, perhaps even before you know whether a desire is present.
This irrational element that draws desire from the shadows of the unconscious is difficult to encode in a customer database profile. We attempt to capture this with demographics, psychographics and behavior tracking. Correlating other personal/public data streams, geographic data in particular, with private vendor data pictures is the new method generating a groundswell of excitement. As Jeff Jonas puts it, the more pieces of the picture you have the less compute time it’ll take to create a legible image. Social CRM is another way of talking about this, Facebook becomes an extension of the vendor’s CRM record.
So, when we want to reclaim the data picture of ourselves from the CRM machines and move them from the vendor’s part of the cloud to our personal cloud data store, what is it that we have? Do the little shards of data (both present and represented through indirection) that we’ve collected, and release to the chosen few, really represent us any better? Don’t we simply become the CRM vendor who doesn’t understand how to properly represent ourselves. Are we mirror images, VRM and CRM, building representations out of the same materials? And what would it mean if we were actually able to ‘hit the mark?’
Once again here’s Zadie Smith, with an assist from Jaron Lanier:
For most users over 35, Facebook represents only their email accounts turned outward to face the world. A simple tool, not an avatar. We are not embedded in this software in the same way. 1.0 people still instinctively believe, as Lanier has it, that ‘what makes something fully real is that it is impossible to represent it to completion.’ But what if 2.0 people feel their socially networked selves genuinely represent them to completion?
I sense in VRM a desire to get right what is missing from CRM. There’s an idea that by combining the two systems in collaboration, the picture will be completed. We boldly use the Pareto Principle to bridge the gap to completion, 80% becomes 100%; and close to zero becomes zero. We spin up a world without shadows, complete and self contained.
Planes of Silence and Interruption Across The Network
A brief note on two planes of the Network landscape that have recently caught my attention. They are the terrains of interruption and silence. Each of these areas is going through a transition. Each signals changes that are starting to bubble up in other areas of the Network.
The terrain of silence, for the purposes of this discussion, will be defined as unvisited web page locations. Web servers are not purposefully asked to send these pages to waiting browsers, their activity is indistinguishable from background noise. An unvisited page published by an individual is a perfectly acceptable event; here I’m more specially addressing the corporate CMS (content management system) driven behemoth web sites. The enterprise CMS brings the cost of brochure-ware publication down to almost zero. Marketing departments, assembled and calcified in the Web 1.0 era, churn out copy that is sent out to occupy the hard-won turf of their little section of the company’s web site. The products battle for shelf space in a self-defined, self-limited topography of web 1.0 information architecture— home page, tabs, pages, categories, sub-catagories. The navigation scheme based on the hyperlink and the outline implies an almost infinite number of potential pages that can occupy the space below the tip of the iceberg.
Many are learning that if you build it, it doesn’t mean they will come. More often than not this multitude of pages is met with silence. The analytics show that there just aren’t any clicks there. Generally companies retool to get clicks to those pages, because clearly “they” should be coming, there’s simply some adjustment that needs to be made. “User-centeredness” is bolted on so that users will understand that the pages they don’t want to look at are “needs based.” All kinds of lipstick is applied, but in the end, it might just be that the user just isn’t that in to you. The conversation is one-sided in an empty room, the analytics show it. It turns out that automated publishing of linked hypertext documents isn’t the same thing as interactive marketing. The growing silence will eventually change the character of the interaction. The old 1% response rate for junk mail is transferred to the web when direct marketing model is employed without alteration on the Network. The web is just a way of lowering production costs, it’s a notch above the economics of spam. Think of it as the negative space of the page view model.
At the other end of this candle that burns at both ends, is the terrain of the interruption. For the purposes of this discussion, the this terrain will be defined as the the set of Network-attached devices you’ve given permission to ping you when something important occurs. The classic examples are the doorbell and the telephone. Each was originally anchored to a specific location and would signal you with a bell when they required your attention. The telephone went mobile, and then was subsumed into the iPhone as a function of a personal computing device. The bell that signals a telephone call is still there, so is the alert that tells you a text message has arrived. But now there are a whole series of applications that will send you an interruption signal when something has occurred. A stock hits a certain price, a baseball team scores a run, you’re near a store with a sale on an item on your wishlist, or someone just commented on an item in your Facebook newsfeed.
The terrain of interruption used to be limited to a few applications that signaled a request for a real-time communication from another person. The interruption is still event-driven and unfolds in real time, but it’s no longer only an individual signaling for your attention. Now it might just be a state of the world that you’d like to keep tabs on. If any of these things happen, feel free to interrupt me. If I really don’t want to be interrupted, I’ll turn off that channel— so ping me, I’ll pick it up in real time, or as soon as I’m able. What was a sparse and barren landscape is quickly filling with apps that want the privilege of interruption. Multi-tasking becomes simply waiting for the next interruption: interruption interrupting the last interruption— or as T.S. Eliot put it in his poem Burnt Norton, “distracted from distraction by distraction.” The economics and equilibrium of the interruption have yet to find their balance. These interruptions threaten to become an always-on real-time backchannel to daily life. Constant interruption is no interruption at all.
It’s interesting to think of banks as walled gardens. For example, on the Network, we might call Facebook, or aspects of Apple or Microsoft, a walled garden. The original America Online was the classic example. While most of us prefer to have walls, of some sort, around our gardens; the term is generally used to criticize a company for denying users open access, a lack of data portability and for censorship (pulling weeds). However when we consider our finances, we prefer there be a secure wall and a strong hand in the cultivation and tending of the garden. Context is everything.
More generally, a walled garden refers to a closed or exclusive set of information services provided for users. This is in contrast to providing consumers open access to the applications and content.
The recent financial crisis has presented what appears to be an opportunity to attack the market share of the big banks. Trust in these institutions is lower than normal and the very thing that made them appealing, their size, is now a questionable asset. The bigness of a bank in some ways describes the size of their private Network. On the consumer side, it’s their physical footprint with branches, or stores as some like to call them, and the extension of that footprint through their proprietary ATM network plus affiliated ATM networks. On the institutional side, there’s a matching infrastructure that represents the arteries, veins and capillaries that circulate money and abstractions of money around the country. Network is the medium of distribution. Once the platform of a big bank’s private network is in place, they endeavor to deliver the widest possible variety of product and services through these pipes. Citibank led the way in the financial supermarket space, now all the major players describe themselves as diversified financial services firms.
Every so often, in the life of the Network, the question of centralized versus distributed financial services comes up. Rather than buying a bundle of services from a single financial services supermarket, we wonder whether it’s possible to assemble best of breed services through a single online front-end. This envisions financial services firms providing complete APIs to aggregators so they can provide more friendly user interfaces and better analytics. Intuit/Mint has been the most successful with this model. It’s interesting to note that since the financial supermarkets are generally built through acquisition, under the covers, their infrastructures and systems of record are completely incompatible. So while the sales materials tout synergy, the funds to actually integrate systems go begging. The financial services supermarket in practice is aggregated, not integrated.
We’re starting to see the community banks and credit unions get more aggressive in their advertising— using a variation on the “small is beautiful” theme. For consumers, the difference in products, services and reach has started to narrow. By leveraging the Network, the small financial institution can be both small and big at the same time. In pre-Network history, being simultaneously small and big violated the laws of physics. In the era of the Network, any two points on the planet can be connected in near real time as long as Network infrastructure is present. An individual can have an international footprint. Of course, being both big and big allows a financial institution to take larger risks because, theoretically at least, it can absorb larger loses. We may see legislation from Congress that collars risk and puts limitations on the unlimited relationship between size and risk.
The Network seems to continually present opportunities for disintermediation of the dominant players in the financial services industry. Ten years ago, account aggregation via the Network seemed to be on the verge. But the model was never able to overcome its usability problems, which at bottom are really internet identity problems. We’re beginning to see a new wave of companies sprouting up to test whether a virtual distribution network through the internet can supplant the private physical networks of the established players. SmartyPig, Square and BankSimple present different takes on disintermediating the standard way we route and hold the bits that represent our money.
Once any Network endpoint can be transformed into a secure transaction environment, the advantage of the private network will have been largely neutralized. And while it hasn’t solved account aggregation’s internet identity problem yet, the mobile network device (some call it a telephone) has significantly changed the identity and network landscape. The walls around the garden represent security and engender trust. The traditional architecture of bank buildings reflect this concept. But the walled garden metaphor is built on top of the idea of carving out a private enclave from physical space. The latest round of disintermediation posits the idea that there’s a business in creating ad hoc secure transaction connections between any two Network endpoints. In this model, security and trust are earned by guaranteeing the transaction wherever it occurs.
There have always been alternative economies, transactions that occur outside of the walled gardens. In the world of leading-edge technology, we tend to look for disruption to break out in the rarefied enclaves of the early adopter. But when the margins of the urban environment grow larger than the traditional center, there’s a good chance that it’s in the improvisational economies of the favelas, shanty towns and slums that these new disruptive financial services will take root.
Real-Time Networks, Man-In-The-Middle, And The Misappropriation Of ‘Hot News’
Google and Twitter have filed a amicus brief with the appeals court on TheFlyOnTheWall.com case. Briefly, at issue is FlyOnTheWall’s near real-time redistribution of investment bank research ratings. Investment bank research departments spend time, money and resources creating stock ratings and price targets. The purpose of this effort is to create an information asymmetry in the market to the advantage of the i-bank’s clients. FlyOnTheWall does not employ analysts and has no research capability, it discovers stock ratings, aggregates and redistributes them in near real time. Since their cost of production only includes real-time redistribution infrastructure, and therefore they can offer their high-value information feeds at a lower cost than investment banks. Subscribers to FlyOnTheWall pay for these aggregated news feeds, they aren’t free. In their testimony, FlyOnTheWall claimed they only gathered information from publicly available sources and only published tweet-sized snippets summarizing the reports.
Google and Twitter make the following argument in their brief:
News reporting always has been a complex ecosystem, where what is ‘news’ is often driven by certain influential news organizations, with others republishing or broadcasting those facts — all to the benefit of the public,
How, for example, would a court pick a time period during which facts about the recent Times Square bombing attempt would be non-reportable by others?”
At issue is the re-emergence of the hot news doctrine, which was originally put in place in 1918 to stop William Randolf Hearst’s International News Service from taking Associated Press wire news stories and redistributing them as their own. The court set forth five criteria to determine whether ‘hot news’ has been misappropriated:
(i) a plaintiff generates or gathers information at a cost;
(ii) the information is time-sensitive;
(iii) a defendant’s use of the information constitutes free riding on the plaintiff’s efforts;
(iv) the defendant is in direct competition with a product or service offered by the plaintiffs;
(v) the ability of other parties to free-ride on the efforts of the plaintiff or others would so reduce the incentive to produce the product or service that its existence or quality would be substantially threatened.
In the case of TheFlyOnTheWall.com the court ruled for the plaintiffs, Barclays, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, and decided that a 2 hour embargo was a reasonable amount of latency to build into the Network. In the fast-paced world of equity trading, two hours is an eternity. These days trades are often executed in a matter of milliseconds. The enforcement of this kind of rule, however, is problematic. In the brave new world of social media, both individuals and news organizations have interconnected real-time distribution networks. Once bits of information touch this public social network they can spread with breathtaking speed. Twitter, Google and Facebook are currently the media through which this information is dispersed. And each of them can be said to profit by the circulation of high-value information through their networks.
Over the last few days we’ve seen the drama of General Stanley A. McChrystal play out. The events were put into play by a story written by Michael Hastings, a freelancer for Rolling Stone Magazine. The story about McChrystal’s comments began leaking out Monday night. Both Politico and Time magazine posted a PDF of the Rolling Stone article to their web sites before Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone asked the sites to remove the PDF. The New York Times reports:
Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, said that the magazine did not always post articles online because it could make more money at the newsstand and that when it did, the articles were typically not posted until Wednesday. But other news organizations made that decision for him.
The McChrystal story is an interesting example of the ‘hot news’ doctrine. Rolling Stone magazine puts out 26 issues of its print magazine per year. Even before the issue hit the newsstands, it dominated cable news, has been fully reported in the New York Times and resulted in McChrystal’s resignation and replacement by General David Petraeus. One could argue that Rolling Stone should have a business model that allows them to benefit from these kind of real-time events. And it’s quite possible that the broad dissemination of this story will lead to a significant increase in newsstand sales and web site traffic.
In this case the ‘hot news’ was so hot that the story itself became a story. Major government policies regarding the conduct of the war in Afghanistan had to be decided in real time. There was no hesitation, no waiting for Rolling Stone’s newsstand business model to play out. By the time we finally see the printed magazine it will have become an artifact of history. With the advantage of hindsight, we may even wonder why the headline writer put McChrystal’s story third after Lady Gaga’s tell all and the final days of Dennis Hopper.
The question about the ‘hot news’ doctrine isn’t going away; and the decision of the appeals court will be closely watched. In the meanwhile, the marketplace is searching for a solution to the fact of real-time aggregation and relay of digitally-copied work product. The return of the pay wall is an attempt by producers of stories about the news to create a firewall around their work product. Most corporations employ a firewall to keep their valuable internal discussion from reaching the public networks. Limiting access of your product to paying customers isn’t a new idea. However, when your work product is a story about news events or ideas encoded in digital media, creating reliable access controls is problematic. Where in the early days of the Network the focus was on direct access and disintermediation of the middle man; now the economics favor the man-in-the-middle. Meta-data can be sold at a fraction of the price of the data to which it points. The complex ecosystem of ‘the news’ is looking for a new equilibrium in which both data and meta-data can flourish.
The Network has been infused with humanity, with every aspect of human character— the bright possibilities and the tragic flaws.
On May 29, 1919, Arthur Stanley Eddington took some photographs of a total eclipse of the sun. Eddington had gone to Africa to conduct an experiment that might determine whether Newton’s or Einstein’s model was closer to physical reality.
During the eclipse, he took pictures of the stars in the region around the Sun. According to the theory of general relativity, stars with light rays that passed near the Sun would appear to have been slightly shifted because their light had been curved by its gravitational field. This effect is noticeable only during eclipses, since otherwise the Sun’s brightness obscures the affected stars. Eddington showed that Newtonian gravitation could be interpreted to predict half the shift predicted by Einstein.
My understanding of the physics is rather shallow, my interest is more in the metaphorics— in how the word-pictures we use to describe and think about the universe changed based on a photograph. Where the universe lined up nicely on a grid before the photograph, afterwards, space became curvaceous. Mass and gravity bent the space that light passed through. Assumed constants moved into the category of relativity.
The Network also appears to be composed of a neutral grid, its name space, through which passes what we generically call payloads of “content.” Each location has a unique identifier; the only requirement for adding a location is that its name not already be in use. You can’t stand where someone is already standing unless you displace them. No central authority examines the suitability of the node’s payload prior to its addition to the Network.
The universe of these location names is expanding at an accelerating rate. The number of addresses on the Network quickly outstripped our ability to both put them into a curated index and use, or even understand, that index. Search engines put as much of the Network as they can spider into the index and then use software algorithms to a determine a priority order of the contents of the index based on keyword queries. The search engine itself attempts to be a neutral medium through with the nodes of the Network are prioritized based on user query input.
Regardless of the query asked, the method of deriving the list of prioritized results is the same. The method and production cost for each query is identical. This kind of equal handling of Network nodes with regard to user queries is the search engine equivalent of freedom, opportunity and meritocracy for those adding and updating nodes on the Network. The algorithms operate without prejudice.
The differential value of the queries and prioritized link lists is derived through an auction process. The cost of producing each query/result set is the same—it is a commodity—but the price of buying advertising is determined by the intensity of the advertiser’s desire. The economics of the Network requires that we develop strategies for versioning digital commodities and enable pricing systems linked to desire rather than cost of production. Our discussions about “Free” have to do with cost-based pricing for digital information goods. However, it’s by overlaying a map of our desires on to the digital commodity that we start to see the contours, the curvaceousness of this space, the segments where versioning can occur.
We’ve posited that the search algorithm treats all nodes on the Network equally. And more and more, we take the Network to be a medium that can fully represent human life. In fact, through various augmented reality applications, human reality and the Network are sometimes combined into a synthetic blend (medium and message). Implicitly we also seem to be asserting a kind of isomorphism between human life and the Network. For instance, sometimes we’ll say that on the Network, we “publish everything, and filter later.” The gist of this aphorism is that where there are economics of low-or-no-cost production, there’s no need to filter for quality in advance of production and transfer to the Network. Everything can be re-produced on the Network and then sorted out later. But when we use the word “everything,” do we really mean everything?
The neutral medium of the Network allows us to disregard the payload of contents. Everything is equivalent. A comparison could be made to the medium of language— anything can be expressed. But as the Network becomes more social, we begin to see the shape of our society emerge within the graph of nodes. Sigmund Freud, in his 1913 book entitled Totem and Taboo, looks at the markers that we place on the border of what is considered socially acceptable behavior. Ostensibly, the book examines the resemblances between the mental life of savages and neurotics. (You’ll need to disregard the archaic attitudes regarding non-European cultures)
We should certainly not expect that the sexual life of these poor, naked cannibals would be moral in our sense or that their sexual instincts would be subjected to any great degree of restriction. Yet we find that they set before themselves with the most scrupulous care and the most painful severity the aim of avoiding incestuous sexual relations. Indeed, their whole social organization seems to serve that purpose or to have been brought into relation with its attainment.
Freud is pointing to the idea that social organization, while certainly containing positive gestures, reserves its use of laws, restrictions and mores for the negative gesture. The structure of societal organization to a large extent rests on what is excluded, what is not allowed. He finds this common characteristic in otherwise very diverse socio-cultural groups. Totems and taboos bend and structure the space that our culture passes through.
In the safesearch filters employed by search engines we can see the ego, id and superego play out their roles. When we search for transgressive content, we remove all filtering. But presumably, we do, as a member of a society, filter everything before we re-produce it on the Network. Our “unfiltered” content payloads are pre-filtered through our social contract. Part of the uncomfortableness we have with the Network is that once transgressive material is embodied in the Network, the algorithms disregard any difference between the social and the anti-social. A boundary that is plainly visible to the human— and is in fact a structural component of its identity and society, is invisible to the machine. Every node on the Network is processed identically through the algorithm.
This issue has also been raised in discussions about the possibility of artificial intelligence. In his book Mirror Worlds, David Gelernter discusses a key difference between human memory and machine memory:
Well for one thing, certain memories make you feel good. The original experience included a “feeling good” sensation, and so the tape has “feel good” recorded on it, and when you recall the memory— you feel good. And likewise, one reason you choose (or unconsciously decide) not to recall certain memories is that they have “feel bad” recorded on them, and so remembering them makes you feel bad.
But obviously, the software version of remembering has no emotional compass. To some extent, that’s good: Software won’t suppress, repress or forget some illuminating case because (say) it made a complete fool of itself when the case was first presented. Objectivity is powerful.
Objectivity is very powerful. Part of that power lies in not being subject to personal foibles and follies with regard to the handling, sorting, connecting and prioritizing of data. The dark side of that power is that the objectivity of the algorithm is not subject to social prohibitions either. They simply don’t register. To some extent technology views society and culture as a form of exception processing, a hack grafted on to the system. As the Network is enculturated, we are faced with the stark visibility of terrorism, perversity, criminality, and prejudice. On the Network, everything is just one click away. Transgression isn’t hidden in the darkness. On the Network, the light has not yet been divided from the darkness. In its neutrality there is a sort of flatness, a lack of dimensionality and perspective. There’s no chiaroscuro to provide a sense of volume, emotion, limit and mystery.
And finally here’s the link back to the starting point of this exploration. A kind of libertarian connection has been made between the neutral quality of the medium of the Network and our experience of freedom in a democratic republic. The machine-like disregard for human mores and cultural practices is held up as virtue and example for human behavior. No limits can be imposed on the payloads attached to any node of the Network. The libertarian view might be stated that the fewest number of limitations should be applied to payloads while still maintaining some semblance of society. Freud is instructive here: our society is fundamentally defined by what we exclude, by what we leave out, and by what we push out. While our society is more and more inclusive, everything is not included. Mass and gravity bend the space that light passes through.
The major debates on the Network seem to line up with the contours of this pattern. China excludes Google and Google excludes China. Pornographic applications are banished from Apple’s AppStore. Android excludes nothing. Closed is excluded by Open, Open is included by Closed. Spam wants to be included, users want to exclude spam. Anonymous commenters and trolls should be excluded. Facebook must decide what the limits of speech are within the confines of its domain. The open internet excludes nothing. Facebook has excluded the wrong thing. The open internet has a right to make your trade secrets visible. As any node on the Network becomes a potential node in Facebook’s social/semantic graph, are there nodes that should be taboo? How do we build a civil society within the neutral medium of the Network? Can a society exist in which nothing is excluded?
In the early days of the Network, it was owned and occupied by technologists and scientists. The rest of humanity was excluded. As the Network absorbs new tribes and a broader array of participants, its character and its social contract has changed. It’s a signal of a power shift, a dramatic change in the landscape. And if you happen to be standing at the crossroads of technology and the humanities, you might have a pretty good view of where we’re going.