Archive for April, 2008

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Identity, Privacy, Society: The Laws of the Tribe

The Tribe

As we become both individuals and members of a group on the network, we become more tribal. Social graph is often discussed in terms of the linkages between the members of a set. But there’s a quality to the links that doesn’t seem to come through in the conversation. We argue that the word “friend” doesn’t properly signify in the context of social network websites because it merely describes a raw physical link of data sets. We need to take the thoughts further. When networks become social, it’s not the fact of a connection that makes the society, it’s the quality and intention of individual acts. How do the members of the group treat each other?

Anyone who has followed the formation of groups on the network from BBS and ListServs to NewsGroups to IRC and Chat Rooms, knows that primitive impulses surface regularly and threaten the structure of the tribe. The designation “anonymous coward” was created to encourage members to claim and assert their identity within the group, and to signal that no value or reputation accrued to the speech of the anonymous. Godwin’s Law is evidence that a conversation in a  frictionless environment veers into common patterns of primative gesture.

Identity, privacy and society have a different meaning within a tribe. We’re used to thinking of identity on an individual basis, but identity claims have to be validated by our society. Some day our tribes will have developed to the point where identity theft will be a crime against the tribe, rather than just the individual. The idea of privacy will have to take tribal membership into account.

We have a lot to learn from the power dynamics and organizational structures among members of tribes in non-western countries around the world. The word “tribe” itself is filled with a thousand stories and histories; some very dark, others powerfully progressive. The new gathering of tribes will be an extension of our ongoing experiments with decentralized democracy.

The Thinking Reed: David Sanborn on @NewsGang

The passion of David Sanborn as a player is acknowledged even by god. In the video above, watch Clapton’s face as Sanborn goes way outside and passionate on Hendrix’s Little Wing. It’s not a question of technique, but rather something deeper that is expressed through music. Standing on the stage next to the player, or from a distance through the lens of a video, you recognize that passion when you see it.

On the April 23, 2008 edition of NewsGang, that passion surfaced again. Sanborn picked up the riff and took some long solos on the current state of the American soul. It was blues writ large. Listening to the MP3 a few days later walking the streets of downtown San Francisco, his words blended with some stanzas from Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.

and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in
the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the
suffering of America’s naked mind for love into
an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone
cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio…

  The way the Ginsberg talks about the breath line of the poem relates directly to saxophone and the music of expression:

Ideally each line of Howl is a single breath unit. My breath is long–
that’s the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath.

The breath line poem was handed down from William Blake, through folk music, through Walt Whitman, all the way to Ginsberg and the saxophone solo. We use it to bring bodily into the world our fear of the dark potentialities of the human soul. But for Whitman and Ginsberg, America’s potential was much greater than the darkness at the edge of town. Sanborn’s solo veers into the darkness and dissonance of our possible futures, but keeps returning to the promise of the American experiment.

We live in interesting times and as Ginsberg once said, “The universe is a new flower. America will be discovered.”

Conversations by means other than language

There’s something so perfect about this video that I’ve returned to it several times. It’s been featured in lots of main stream media, but it’s a kind of exemplar. It’s a perfect conversation between a song written by Jonathan Coulton and a dance by an actress named Emily. I’m not sure how many times the song has been heard, but Emily’s performance has been seen more than 300,000 times. It’s a conversation between two artists on a single theme. Each performance is at a very high level, each performance brings something out of the other. When the cost of the technology falls away, it’s the art, the talent and the people that shine through.

Identity is the Key to the Mesh


The cloud is only politically viable if it is a market auctioning services to users. To the extent that it consolidates to a single player, it will suffer from the paranoia and madness of the prisoner held for too long in solitary confinement. Our society creates our civility. It’s not the mesh, it’s the identity that uses the mesh that is key.

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