Skip to content →

Category: politics

Remembrance and Forgetting

Prometheus bound

This morning MSNBC aired a minimally edited replay of their broadcast from the morning of September 11, 2001. I remember watching those images on that morning. I remember worrying about my colleagues who would be arriving at our New York office in the World Trade Center. I’d visited them a few months before, spending all day in the building– from early morning to early evening.

At the time, on that morning seven years ago, I viewed the images with disbelief, as in a dream. Now as I view them again, the emotions are still strong, but I see them with clear eyes. On the day of the actual event, I didn’t think we lived in a world where such a thing could happen; today I know such a thing has happened.

Prometheus, in eternal punishment, is chained to a rock, where his liver is eaten daily by a vulture, only to be regenerated, due to his immortality, by night.

But my topic is not the possibility of terrorist acts, but rather the replaying of memories and something Nietzsche called ressentiment, or the spirit of revenge. When we act out of the spirit of revenge, filled with the pain of the moment, we act out of weakness. In our digital age, if everything is recorded, can we ever forget the past? Will we be like Prometheus bound to a rock, our wounds forever raw? Will all human motivation be reduced to acting from the spirit of revenge, as no perceived slight or hurt ever fades from memory? The digital doesn’t fade, it’s on or off. The challenge to overcome the spirit of revenge grows larger as memory is displaced into our digital systems and networks. The digital is immortal and can be replayed endlessly at the click of a mouse.

I think perhaps we forget the meaning and power of forgetting. Manu Bazzano in his book “Buddha is Dead” discusses the modes of forgetting:

“There is forgetting and forgetting. We subconsciously remove from our memory unpleasant experiences, and we tend to ‘forget’ by sheer inertia. On a super-conscious level, however, we keep our consciousness fresh and vibrant by actively ‘forgetting.’ The noble person knows how to forget, not solely out of compassion (‘forgive and forget’), but also because there can be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present without forgetfulness. Life would drag on, forever unresolved, a life that ‘cannot have done with anything,’ a life of ressentiment, a sick life.”

In our digital age, with perfect replays, can we learn to digest and properly metabolize events and turn them into experience? When we act and create from experience, we’ve listened, reflected and responded. We’ve created something new to fill the present moment. To truly embrace change, we must not look back in anger, but walk purposefully into the future.


A Fine Madness: Spy vs. Spy

I’m not certain how these things are connected. But watch the whole thing and I’m sure something will occur.

Comments closed

Bootstrapping the Live Web: Declaring Independence from the Selfish Meme

The Williamsburg Alternative

There are some distinctions that need to be made when thinking about the creation of new modes of interaction on the Network. A number of metaphors are currently employed when talking about services like Twitter ( imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). The judgement we seem to be trying to make is whether this new thing will go viral, or will gain broad market acceptance. When we answer questions about the new thing in this way, we’re pretending to be venture capitalists. What we’re asking is: will my investment pay off? And since we have no real skin in the game, we’re really asking, will Fred Wilson’s investment pay off for his investors? There’s an assumption at the base of the question about what’s really important. In a sense, it’s a moral position about what’s most valuable and a definition of the fundamental drivers of innovation. Thus the endless questions about “business model.”

After the money question, we’ll ask what most people will do. Will this new thing be adopted and become common practice? There are a number of binary oppositions we use as sledgehammers to beat the daylights out of any emerging form of life. These tools are a substitute for thought and discovery, they stand between us and what is unfolding before our eyes.

  • Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants
  • Young People vs. Old People
  • Early Adopters vs. Most People
  • The Enterprise vs. The Consumer
  • Geeks vs. Jocks
  • You vs. Your Grandmother

Tools for thought need to be put into question even as we employ them. When we thoughtlessly pick them up and use them as a hammer, we’re just repeating memes. The meme is speaking us and just asserting its evolutionary destiny as a selfish gene. When a meme is repeated to a group in conversation and all heads nod knowingly, no thought has taken place. Rather, this is an example as language as a virus.

So when does thinking begin as we continue our conversation on these new modes of the Network? It starts with a question and the deepening of the question. The Answer puts an end to the dialogue. Think of an answer like a software release; there’s alpha, beta, release candidates, golden masters — but in the end everything launches with bugs and has a version number assigned to it. The only way to move the ball down the field is to return to the question.

We’re starting to see the emergence of the Live Web from the established Static Web. The mistakes we make at this point give us important information about the future landscape. Twitter built a static web application using a content management system metaphor. But by opening pipes to the live web through SMS, XMPP and Track, Twitter enabled a compelling live web experience. Twitter’s ensuing stability problems have taught us that static web architecture can’t support live web usage at scale. The team there now has to start over with a live messaging architecture that can support the experience that was discovered. In this effort, Twitter’s simplicity is its friend. Oddly, the imitators don’t seem to have comprehended this lesson.

The interesting conversation around Twitter isn’t about whether it will make someone money or whether your grandmother will use it. Rather it’s the question about whether it’s a real foundational piece in bootstrapping the coming Live Web. Twitter’s Follow and Track relationship models have uncovered a much larger social space for real time interaction. Where the real-time web as IM is largely point-to-point, allowing two previously connected individuals to trade messages, Twitter enables a space where meeting someone new is a possibility. Our bootstrapping activity is only partially about technology, fundamentally it has to be about how we use the service right now and our ongoing conversation about its possibilities.


Comments closed

The Network’s Continental Congress: Searls, Gillmor, Windley, Arrington

Mark the week of May 11, 2008 as a milestone in the nascent politics of the Network, attending the Internet Identity Workshop, I had the feeling of participating in a kind of Continental Congress. In this regard, Doc Searls and Phil Windley are statesmen of the Network doing the good work of bringing the small and large states to the table to talk about politics, technology, interstate commerce, identity and inalienable rights. Acknowledgement is also due to Kaliya for her critical role in facilitating the dialogue through the unconference format.

Windley described the early meetings of the IIW as “brawling” among major vendors and protocol authors. A form of what Thomas Hobbes called bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all). By the sixth meeting of the IIW it’s become clear that OpenID, Cardspace and SAML are emerging as the dominant forces.

The week was capped by a brawling Gillmor Gang with Robert Scoble and Mike Arrington engaged in heated debate over ownership of identity artifacts. The wall at the back of Marc Canter’s revolutionary garden emerged as an offline visual rough draft of our constitutional articles. Canter also put forward the metaphor of tentacles as the current mode of portability, and this connects directly to my observation of the general transition to rhizomatic power architectures.

Chris Saad injected the data portability meme into the flow and suggested personal Access Control Lists, in the form of a “Sharing OK/Not OK” check box on data you give to individuals or companies. It would be interesting to watch Robert Scoble manually configure a complex ACL on his 20,000+ friends (Scoble rushes in where Angels fear to tread).

The one thread I would contribute to the conversation is the idea of data liquidity. Think of data as a financial asset, as cash it is at its most simple and portable; the other end of the spectrum might be venture capital where it is complex and liquidity events are highly limited. We trade liquidity for potentially higher value when we park our data at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter or Yahoo.

  You can hear for yourself here:

In the general argument about identity and user data, Steve Gillmor has played the role of Alexander Hamilton. He argues that because we own our data, we don’t need to petition for rights not surrendered, or for exceptions to powers which were not granted. Hamilton objected to the Bill of Rights on the following grounds:

Bills of rights are in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was “Magna Charta“, obtained by the Barons, swords in hand, from King John.

Hamilton continued:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?

These are dynamic times akin to the days in 1787 when the Federalist Papers were authored. Hamilton, Madison and Jay (under the pseudonym “Publius“) often published between three and four essays per week. Doc Searls just announced at the Berkman@10 event: The Publius Project is a “compilation of ‘essays and conversations about constitutional moments on the Net’ at the singular moment that happens to be now.” There was a moment in all this when I thought we were laying down cow paths onto paved roads, but Doc has connected the dots at just the right moment.

During the process of thinking and writing about the week that was, a song kept playing in the background of my thoughts. The song is called “Playmate” and was written in 1894 by Philip Wingate. I first heard it in the film Reds, and more recently in The Savages. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about it that expresses the emotional and human center of these constitutional conversations.

I don’t want to play in your yard,
I don’t like you anymore,
You’ll be sorry when you see me,
Sliding down our cellar door,
You can’t holler down our rainbarrel,
You can’t climb our apple tree,
I don’t want to play in your yard,
If you won’t be good to me.


One Comment