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The Social Life Of Information 98

Posted by timothy
from the what-a-swell-party-this-is dept.
If information wants to be free, where does it go when it's out? A string of Os and 1s, no matter how carefully modulated, means nothing unless it is eventually channeled, observed and understood by a recipient -- a person. As a reminder that those bits are there so that people can actually benefit from them, Cliff Lampe contributed this review of The Social Life of Information. It may make you rethink everything from your own program designs to evaluating the quality of the information (and information systems) around you.

The Social Life of Information
author John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid
pages 336
publisher Harvard Business School Press
rating 10
reviewer Cliff Lampe
ISBN 0-87584-762-5
summary Information makes a great blind date.

*

The Scenario

Hemos keeps handing me these books about how information technology is shaping our lives, how the digital is leaving an indelible stamp on the analog. What Brown and Duguid have done is write a refreshing reminder that no matter how it seems, it's the analog that shapes the digital, and social systems that are steering the way we use computers. I know, it sounds like talking-head crap, but the authors are from PARC, which is not really a place where people go to sit on their hands or be flighty.

Here are some of the pithy issues raised in The Social Life of Information:

  • Agents -- the technology for artifical intelligence agents keeps improving, but the social structure for them is staying put. Who controls these agents? Do we really expect Amazon to have our best interests at heart? There are already agents that go through and reap information on you for nefarious purposes; who is going to develop protection agents?
  • Telecommuting -- why hasn't telecommuting taken off like we thought it would? Where are the hordes of people working happily at home? Despite the myth of the lone hacker working away, we all know that our best tricks are usually gleaned from some keyboarding compatriot who shows us a thing or two. This is true in almost every other field as well. Even given two people of equal skill, their output is usually more than the sum of their efforts. There is something to be said for working in meatspace.
  • Process vs. practice -- why is it that when we try encapsulate something in documentation, it always falls short? We've all had someone hand us a manual outlining some practice that ends up propping up an uneven table. It's also common wisdom that the best way to learn how to code is to actually start writing some code. Do you think this is unique to the computer profession?
  • Newspaper -- why is it that newspaper still persists when there are a host of other, more interactive ways we can absorb the news? Newspaper has resisted the attacks of televison news, but will it be able to do the same with news provided by computer? This is a great example of how social systems colliding with technological systems at the point where information is disseminated. Newspaper is a great technology in many ways (yes, newspaper is a technology), but there is a constant pressure to come up with an alternative to it.
  • Education -- why does the university continue to exist? Will information technology put the final nail in the coffin of the ol' university? Not damned likely. I get my share of ribbing from the Slashdot crew about being an academic, and I think there is rightfully some skepticism in the tech sector about the value of higher education. The university system has been around for more than a thousand years, and the authors of this book put their fingers right on why it is still a successful organism, one that is growing rather than dying out. Here's the secret: You don't go to a place of higher education for the courses, you go in order to hang out with like-minded people. That is hard to replicate on the Web, and "community" has become the buzzword that "portal" was 15 minutes ago. Who cares what classes I take as a graduate student? What's important is working with people who are interested in the same questions.

The central theme of this book, never overtly spelled out by the authors, for better or worse, is that Human interaction revolves around issues of trust, and trust in the anonymous computer realm is hard (but not impossible) to come by. Reputation systems are an important components of that, but in reality we judge the trustworthiness of a person on a million different factors, and it is hard to code that many different variables. A firm handshake, a shared joke, social capital, and a legion more of these nearly imperceptible cues allows us to work together. We're an overblown troop of monkeys in some ways, and would be foolish to deny that we're hardwired for these kinds of judgments.

What Duguid and Brown point out is that we ignore our monkey-ness when designing systems that are intended to replace face to face, human interaction. As my Uncle Bob once told me, "Embrace that monkey!" Keep in mind when designing your systems what invisible threads you are missing.

What's Bad?

Like in most books of this kind, I really had hoped for more hard statistics. Sometimes the authors make some statement about the shape of the universe that seems plausible enough, but I wonder would it hold up to the cold light of descriptive statistics. Still, it's not really the job of this book to provide information like this, and I'm just being a cranky pseudo-scientist. The only other thing that rubbed me the sandpaper way was a little repetition of the theme. A couple of chapters could have been reduced into one.

What's Good?

Technically speaking, the writing is efficient and readable, with lots of fine examples and an easy progression that makes this a quick and enjoyable read. This is something that would go very quickly as a free time read, and since the chapters are fairly autonomous, you can make it one of those books you just crank a few pages through before you fall asleep and absorb the meaning.

On the content side, this book is fantastic. I would like to buy a few dozen copies and pass them out in airports while I wear saffron robes. Or leave them in hotel rooms Gideon style. It's a vindication for a small, yet vocal, community of people who have addressed these issues is the past, while not blaming or talking down to the people who have refused to include the human in their design. It also gives some practical advice for people who would like to examine information from a more holistic point of view, including how to introduce a new technology into an already existing social system (Alexander Graham Bell did this). The Social Life of Information is one of those rare books that informs without preaching, advocates without subjecting, and entertains without pandering. It is a smart attempt at stepping away from the technological roller coaster (without getting out of line) and seeing how the social systems enveloping the technology batter it about. This is an important read for any person involved in information technology to read.

So What's In It For Me?

Hopefull, some humility. It is one thing to create brilliant technological systems, it is another to get people to use them. Despite the crap we usually give marketing guys, they instinctively understand some of these points. It also has a message for the Open Source movement. Often, an open source project fails because it does not adequately account for the social factors surrounding it. What are the social bits and pieces that surround a project that is trying to produce open source software?

I'm a little giddy from my tech high these days. Think of this book as intellectual and creative caffeine. A hundred ideas for projects must be outlined in my margin notes on this book. This book at the same time will reaffirm what you do, and debunk it. If you can take the cold dash of reflection, you'll be better off for it.

Other important links ...

Buy this fine text at ThinkGeek. Also, check out the Web site dedicated to this book. There's always a site for a book like this these days. You may also want to read an earlier John Seeley Brown deal called The Social Life of a Document.

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The Social Life of Information

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  • Hemos better be off for a while on his honeymoon, so you don't have to worry about him giving you any more books containing weak memes that induce "Oops! Brain Panic!"

    And if he isn't: Shame on you! Working when you should be rolling in the sand on some carribean island! For shame!
  • And learn to get your own food, do your laundry,
    find a companion, and be about 80%-100% responsible for yourself.

  • Actually, the first colleges were just ways to get you to RTFM. Yup, just to read the books and writings.

    Then they found out that talking about the ideas in a group helped people learn. Kind of like hanging out with friends and going over the material.

    The main thing is to get you to focus and to think about it, as well as hear other viewpoints on it.

    Plus, if you get free bheer, you might have free code ...

  • I felt that if I were to understand my own position, I should understand the other side of the coin (kind of like reading Marx and Rand when you consider yourself an Anarchist, or the Bible when you consider yourself to be an atheist).

    I have to disagree - to understand your own position, you should only speak to like-minded people, collectively branding anyone who disagrees with you an idiot and a heretic.

    The great thing about this is that while your philosophy demands that you try to see my point of view, my philisophy makes no such demands, leaving me free to give you the finger. And while you're standing with your face screwed up trying to work out the recursive paradoxical implications of opposing your own opinion, I can steal your wallet.

  • Never let your schooling interfere with your education!!!!
  • Credit is possibly the worst way you could possibly "survive". Just live within your means, and you will be much happier. Even if you can't get that forest green Explorer like 10 of the neighbors have.

    "the things you own, end up owning you..." -quote from the Pro-Fascism hit of the year; Fight Club. Pretty awkward and kludgy movie, pretty damn hypocrytical too, what with Brad Pitt being the voice of anarchy, rebellion, anti-pop culture and anti-commercialism. Good quote fodder though.
  • "Look, dumbass, college is four years of unlimited sex and alcohol paid for by your parents. Are you really stupid enough to NOT go?"

    These, of course, must have obviously been rich gringo kids, in the good old U. S. of A., where undergrad education is bafflingly bad, yet even more bafflingly expensive. It is easy to say crap like this when you don't have to work for a living, 40 hours a week in 2 crappy part-time jobs while doing 16 units a semester, all the while accumulating debt and, worse, having to stand a few jackass rich frat boys having a 4-year paid vacation, courtesy of Poppy CEO.

    I'm genuinely sorry for the couple of guys who posted that they are in debt for going to college. Nobody should have to be in that situation to study.

    In most industrialized nations, college education is either very cheap or free, and the education is actually better for undergrad degrees. (Grad degrees are a different matter; here the US is better, but then at an even higher price.)

    Even in many 3rd world countries (Mexico comes to mind), the state universities have a mandate to keep study costs low, so people from the whole social spectrum can go to college.

  • You should read Tor Norretranders' The User Illusion [amazon.com] , an excellent book which discusses consciousness and social interaction in terms of information theory. Norretranders argues that the bandwidth of consciousness is several orders of magnitude lower than the bandwidth of sensory experience, so when we take the subconscious elements away from a conversation (for example, when we have the same conversation on IRC instead of on the telephone, or face to face) we leave the brain starved of information and unable to feel empathy for the person we are conversing with.
  • These have been my favorites so far. Deep discussion and broad questions that take a critical look at our relationship to technology.
    • The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?, David Brin
    • Trapped in the Net : The Unanticipated Consequences of Computerization , Gene Rochlin
    • Building a Bridge to the 18th Century : How the Past Can Improve Our Future, by Neil Postman
    • Technopoly : The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman
    • America Calling : A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 by Claude S. Fischer
  • Well, first off, do you learn anything by simply reading?

    So now I feel compelled to get this book and read it over the summer... Thanks, /.

    Hope you learn something.

  • Transhumanism: Sitting around waiting for AI and technology to magically come to life to solve everyone's problems.

    Luddite: Sitting around bitching that AI and technology hasn't solved everyone's problems.

    I hate to rain on the exremists' parade, but tech is a tool and can be controlled by legislation. The problem as usual is the wants of the powerless compared to the wants of the powerful.
  • I still haven't found a keyboard that can clean up after my neighbor's puppy the way stale news can, or can be used in the worm bin, or can be shredded to make cool balloon-headed fish to hang from the ceiling.
  • Information doesn't just want to be free.

    Information wants to be free to serve.
  • I would recommend a few more; Gordon Graham's "Internet:// A Philosophical Inquiry" and David Haekken's "Cyborgs@Cyberspace?".

    Jouni
    --
    Jouni Mannonen : 3D Evangelist @ SurRender3D.com [surrender3d.com]

  • It's absolutely true: the unofficial goal of places of higher education is to get drunk at least four times a week with like-minded people. No trolling in that!

    Not everyone probably condones drinking, but it's a fact: getting drunk out of your minds with others creates social bonds (not to mention the off-chance of getting laid.) If you put a bunch of drunk physicists together, they'll ramble about physics. It's actually a great way to produce off-the-walls ideas.

    My favorite drunken memory was arguing vehemently about whether or not addition was metaphysically inductive or deductive, while being hit on by a beauty from the Liberal Arts dept.

    Plus, seeing one of the rising stars of mathematical physics so drunk he was playing Spiderman on the wall makes for vivid memories and a welcomed dose of humility.

  • by volsung (378)
    I'm not the only one who did this? :) Back in the BBS days, I was able to get my scanning speed up to the speed that my 2400 baud modem would spit out text. No 100% comprehension, but good enough that I can now spot important information on a screen faster than most people I run into.

  • it means about as much as `information wants to be free`.
  • Newspapers:
    • cost money
    • are bulky and an inefficient use of trees
    • get stolen by cheap neighbors
    • shed ink and bits of paper
    • fill up landfills
    • out-of-date when they are delivered
    • poorly written and edited in many cities
  • Leaving aside the question of the actual definition of "information" (which has technical meaning, btw), let's look at "meaning".

    Why does "meaning" require observation and analysis? For instance, consider genetics. In particular, let's think about a strand of DNA that encodes for, say blue hair. It can be translated (in fact, it IS translated in the making of the blue hair), it can be interpreted (again, it IS interpreted), etc--all without any observer or analyst. The DNA strand means "blue hair". The strand has "meaning".
    --
  • And it really loves you, it'll come back.

  • While I support technology, I have come to the conclusion that oppressive technology and information (credit card debt, tracking information, prison histories, etc) must be destroyed, blocked, or circumvented in order for any real social progress to occur.

    O-kay. Not to dump on specifically you or anything, but anytime anyone starts talking about "bettering humanity", "making social progress", or "reviving the moral majority" or other vague garbage just gets my dander up.

    Mao thought the Cultural Revolution was social progress; he'd definitely agree with your anti-technology stand.

    Ted Kaczynski sound familiar to anyone? Please tell me you're not working on a Manifesto...

    I could go on with other examples, but they all share a common trait: they all got to a self-righteous point where "progress" called for extreme measures.

    Or as Kissinger succinctly put it, It's not the selfish people in the world that scare me, it's the righteous ones.
  • Schridonger's cat will be mightily relieved to hear that information does not require an observer. However, quantum physics (up to this point) would seem to differ.

    As for the DNA strand "meaning" blue hair - sorry, but DNA is just a bunch of nucleic acids on a base. The DNA strand "becomes" blue hair because the messenger RNA creates a negative template and then creates the protein which signals the body to turn on the mechanism for making hair blue.

    That mnakes 3 observers, by my count. The reader, the protein processor, and the blue hair generator.

    =SOME= information is dependent on context, and DNA is one such piece of information. Other pieces are truly independent. The Mandelbrot Set, for example, does not depend on who looks at it, to be a fractal. THAT information is truly independent.

    What, then, is the difference? IMHO, if it's implementation-specific, the chances are that there is a part of the implementation which involves an "observer". If it's NOT, then an observer is not required.

  • IMHO, this book is saying that our artificial systems are currently limited in their ability to mimic real systems. Apart from a chemical bias, as in "carbon is better than silicon", the other explanation is we haven't reached the technological endpoint (nor can we even see it yet.) Bell didn't seem to believe that the telephone would replace face to face communication only supplement it and possibly enhance it's possibilities. I never would have courted (by visiting and talking to ) my ex-wife if I hadn't talked to her on the phone first (okay bad example). I can now correspond with many more people via email than even a few years ago. I think all this technology is great. Have we reached the end yet, no. Can we still revel in getting there, you bet!!!
  • by Gondola (189182) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @06:56AM (#973413)
    Some of these ideas and thoughts are really great, but it's really quite simple how and why societies adopt methods of doing things.

    The point was raised about telecommuting. Telecommuting is not extremely popular for several reasons.
    1 - It's new.
    2 - Companies can't keep an eye on their employees to make sure they're actually working
    3 - Many niggling things crop up. Even as a network engineer and system administrator, doing my job would have been more difficult from home. Sometimes you have to be at a machine physically if there's a problem. Sometimes hard copies go around that you need to see - and who wants to scan or fax everything to you when they can just hand it to the rest of the employees? Plus there are the legal aspects -- can I claim my PC and 1/3rd of my home and bills as work expenses?

    These things contribute to the fact that telecommuting is in most implementations, at the very least, a hassle. But what really counts is perception. If your Boss perceives that telecommuting is a viable solution, you will be able to telecommute. The more people perceive telecommuting as a viable solution, the more people actually implement it. Seeing other companies implement telecommuting is one way to spread the perception of its viability

    Newspapers. There are many reasons people still read them.

    1. It's old, it's been done, it works (contrary to New things; see above). People perceive it as a proven technology and as a proven business model.
    2. Screens suck for comfortable reading. If you work at a computer all day, you probably get sore eyes. Even with my 21" monitor and the brains to put my monitor at the correct angle, right refresh, etc etc., my eyes still get fatigued by staring at a computer screen for extended lengths of time. Newspapers are easy on the eyes.
    3. Portability. Can't beat a newspaper.
    4. Cheap. Disposable. 1001 uses for a dead newspaper; lining the birdcage, wrapping stuff for shipping, art projects, etc etc.
    Newspapers are a part of most people's life because they grew up with them, and they're comfortable getting that newspaper.
    As more people 'defect' to online news sources, or to television, the perception of newspapers will change. As online news sources become more reliable and accurate, more visible, and perceived as 'trustworthy', a shift will occur. Newspapers may never die totally, but the cost of producing them as subscribers decline will severely hamper them. You maintain a complete staff to put out x pages of quality newsprint, regardless of how many copies you print.

    The internet is still in its infancy. When 99% of the U.S. is broadband-connected and have a PC at home for every person, really radical changes will occur.

    Until then, word of mouth and eyewitness testimony contribute mostly to what people 'perceive' as what they think is normal and comfortable. Why do most people in the States eat with silverware? Because they perceive it's correct and normal. Many things are deep-rooted in our social conscious, and we bank on precedent because it's comfortable.

    Comfort -- with what we want and what we perceive as 'normal' based on what other people do. New things come about because some people are willing to go through the discomfort of being first adopters.

    Everything we do is about and for people. Whether it's ourselves, our neighbors, or our descendants. Information without people is just a pattern without an observer. Whatever changes happen to our society because we digest, process, and produce information more quickly -- just because we use a different machine to do it -- will happen at its own pace and in its own way because of the early adopters who suffer and champion, and the secondary adopters who proselytize and spread the perception to others.
  • While I support technology, I have come to the conclusion that oppressive technology and information (credit card debt, tracking information, prison histories, etc) must be destroyed, blocked, or circumvented in order for any real social progress to occur.

    OK, maybe I'm reading this too simplistically, but what I get from this sentence is that you think consequences for a person's actions are the real culprit here.

    Tracking information? OK, I'll give you that one. I'm not too fond of having my web history (not that it'd be all that interesting... you could sum it up with slashdot.org, espn.com, cnn.com and hokiecentral.com) passed around like a left-over newspaper on the morning train.

    But destroying "oppressive information" like credit-card debt, prison histories, etc.? That's simply a record of consequences for an individual's actions. If you were dumb enough to spend yourself into a hole (and I have plenty of friends who are), you need to either pay it off or accept the consequences of a bankruptcy filing. Prison history? Commit a crime, do the time, and then an employer still should be able to know before s/he hires a shoplifter as cashier at a store.

    Banning "oppressive information" is just calling for mandated happytalk, not anarchy. If you think anarchy would be a good thing, then you ought to be fighting against rules like this.

    And banning consequences for people's actions? Guarantee of societal decay. Plain and simple. It's a peculiar commonality between anarchists and old-time Communists: their vision that people would act for the common good if allowed to do so, rather than their own personal good. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way in the real world.
  • uh cellphone screens are TINY. What we really need is compact, portable web pads. If I could actually access the web while on the bus from my web pad, I would have no need for a newspaper. But until then, a newspaper provides the most convient source of news when im on the go.
  • Ha! I didn't get laid until I was nearly 29, didn't drink that much in college, and paid for it with grants and student loans, which I now have to pay back.

    You obviously went to the wrong school!

    I was in the college of engineering at the University of Illinois (in Champaign-Urbana), not an environment that one would think of as "sex, drugs, rock and roll and no consiquences for four years." Nevertheless, I and many people I know had far more than our share of those, and many other, pleasurable vices.

    It is a lifestyle I miss sorely now that I'm in the real world, despite enjoying a lifestyle I could never have afforded on a college budget.

    Of course, I too paid for school with grants and student loans which I am still paying back.

    :-)
  • do you learn anything by simply reading?

    ISTR Richard Feynman on the BBC interview he did many years ago telling a story about his father, Melvil (sp?)

    Basically, Melvil couldn't swim. But one day he read a book on swimming, and then went down to the sea and swam about 20 yards. The point, which was not lost on his children, was that you could learn to do stuff by reading a book.

    Paul.

  • I'm with you on this one. The poster I responded to was calling for the "destruction" of "oppressive information" like CC debt. My point was that if you do the deed, you've gotta pay the piper. Don't credit-card yourself into oblivion and then say "oh, we've got to destroy oppressive information like credit-card debt." That's just abdicating personal responsibility for your own actions.
  • Depends on what subject you take. If you're just doing a degree to say "I've got a degree, so I'm obviously at a certain level of intelligence", as required to be a lawyer/accountant, etc., then your degree has no value. So long as you scrape through the exams, it doesn't matter if none of it sunk in and you spent all your time pissing up the wall.

    But if you went to college/uni to study engineering/science, where you have to _learn_ stuff so that you can use it later on - if you got rid of them then you'd be in a world of hurt. You think you'd have your PCs without the skill of the designers? And d'you think chip and mobo designers "just happen"? They've spent years at uni doing courses in electronics to learn how to design this gear. Mind you, it's only the start - you can never stop learning - but it's a prerequisite to work in the industry. If you didn't have that, each company would have to train its employees from scratch, and if you're doing that then where do you stop? Do you have to start by teaching them to read?! Sci/tech degrees ensure that folks working in the industry have certain key skills.

    The software community under the blissful illusion that anyone can do it without any training, and to a certain extent that's right. But this is only true for the 'easy' area of PC applications, user interfaces, etc. When you get into embedded systems where one mistake could mean someone dying, you'd better hope to god that the guys involved know what they're doing. An enthusiastic amateur is fine if all you're doing is a file system - if the shit hits the fan, you can always release a patch. But if it's a life-support system, the last think you want is J. Random Hacker working on it - if it goes wrong, PEOPLE DIE, and you can't release a patch for that!

    So if anyone says that colleges could be done away with, I'd agree with them for a lot of courses like art, philosophy, literature, history, women's studies, sport, etc, etc. But when it comes to engineering, I'd say they've got their head up their arse.

    Grab.
  • I tend to believe that the only reason that it is so much simpler to go up and talk to someone is because most people are more used to it.

    I don't agree; I think it's a latency issue. It's more difficult to have a telephone conversation with an antipodean than with your next-door neighbour. You can't exchange sentences as you normally do because the same pauses in conversation occur at different times for each of you. You compensate for this, and the exchange becomes laboured. With email, you compensate even more (grouping points of discussion together in a batch).

    You wouldn't paint a picture by closing your eyes, painting a few strokes, opening your eyes and examining what you've done, closing them again and making a few more strokes, etc. Why would you want to brainstorm this way?

    Hamish

  • I agree. I'm much more comfortable spilling McDonald's Sweet & Sour Sauce all over the front page of a newspaper than on the keyboard of my Vaio. Also, I've had concepts that I simply could not grasp after reading hours of documentation, explained to me in literally two sentences.

    It's nice to read this kind of article. It isn't written from any doomsday perspective, doesn't hate technology, and manages to show us pretty convincingly that we're still the masters of our technology, rather than the other way around.

    In conclusion, although we're certain to devolve into some hideous borg-like species whose survival is intrinsicly tied with its technology, that hasn't happened yet, except to Signal 11.
  • I too like what the Extropians have to say, which is why I have studied the arguments in the Unabomber's Manifesto -- one of the most solidly argumented attacks on the idea of Progress I have ever seen. (However, no need to remind me that he goes off on tangents. I know.)

    I put the Extropian Principles and the Unabomber's Manifesto right here. [sixgirls.org]

  • You didn't mention alcohole :-)

    - Steeltoe
  • The DNA does not mean blue hair.

    The DNA infers blue hair

    DNA -> Blue Hair
    not
    DNA = Blue Hair

    Meaning: noun, Recursive Quantifier; See Meaning
  • "If you don't like a technology, then simply don't get involved with it."

    It's also a good idea to say what you think is wrong about that technology to others. People will think for themselves, and the power-structures will crumble.

    It's just too sad you have to replace power with power, since people are too insecure in themselves and others to live without being controlled.

    - Steeltoe
  • Leaving aside the question of the actual definition of "information" (which has technical meaning, btw), let's look at "meaning".

    Let's not leave info behind just yet. Information has been defined variously by cybernetics, communications theory, and philosophy. One of the explanations I like best is Brenda Dervin's; she looks at info as what human beings use to overcome gaps in their perception and knowledge of the world. She calls this "sense making". One of the reasons I like this approach is it edges away from hard-etched definitions, math- and sci-derived definitions, which can tend to confuse the issue. I think sometimes we expect the term information to encompass too much, from census data to DNA to the contents of a library; by reserving the term for human beings' perceptual and social activities, we might be able to understand it a bit better.

    That said, there is also the issue of information versus knowledge. Which would you rather have?

    Back to the original question. Meaning is what you or I grant to the information. That's how I understand Brown and Duguid's title, anyway: meaning is the social context of info. The DNA "means" blue hair to you; on its own, it's just a bunch of proteins.
    --
  • John Seely Brown is the chief scientist of the Xerox Corporation, and until recently was the Director (head honcho) of PARC. (The Director is now Michael Paige). The other author is not a PARC researcher.

    Duguid was a PARC consultant at the time that he and Brown started working together. There are author's notes on their preliminary essay at: http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue1/documents/ index.html
    --
  • That's short-sighted thinking. The technical degrees teach a lot of information that is based on recent developments. But philosophy students still study Plato*. What this means is that the skills taught in humanities are timeless. Therefore they should be better at adapting to massive paradigm shifts that send all the engineers back to school.

    Also, law schools don't just want the undergraduate degrees to weed their applicant pool -- they could do that to a more satisfying degree in a single year of school. They require their applicants (and they must demonstrate this on the LSAT) to have some minimum level of critical thinking skills. The theory is that this is taught by every undergraduate course, no matter what subject you're critically thinking about.

    And before you flame, I might note I'm currently pursuing a Computer Science & Philosophy joint-BSc. I urge everyone to do something similar whether fitting them both into an undergraduate degree, getting a college diploma, or just doing some in-depth reading on their own. I'm pretty confident that I could teach myself the content of my programming courses, but the mathematics and philosophy is what I'm in school for.

    * Mind you, I'd love to study Babbage, but I'm forced to do it on my own time. :(

  • Now I'm a big fan of the "university experience" myself; so much so that I went to a school (Trent) that was modeled on the Cambridge and Oxford system. But lots of students arrive every year that simply don't belong there. Perhaps everyone should be entitled to a post-secondary education, but that shouldn't be limited to the university atmosphere.

    Colleges are always complaining that guidance counselors try and send everyone to university. Some of these people would get more satisfaction out of a concrete diploma rather than an abstract degree (while saving money, of course). High schools should be teaching critical thinking so that people shouldn't have to spend 4 specialised years getting it. On the other hand, there's many positions that would benefit from people with more abstract skills.

    As much fun as the drinking and sex is, the actual lectures can be pretty damn interesting, from time to time.

  • by Yaruar (125933) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @05:35AM (#973430)
    I think this author appears to miss a point. Computer interation and transaction fulfills a role. They try to postulate why other forms of interaction exist but miss the mark. Why do newspapers continue, why do classrooms remain. I think one of the reasons is because humans work with a number of sensory imputs and computer based information only appeals to a couple of them. I like newspapers because I can hold them (not to mention read them on the train...) I like leacture theatres because I can hear and see other people.

    I dunno, maybe it's jsut me...

  • by djKing (1970) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @05:35AM (#973431) Homepage Journal
    <QUOTE>
    A string of Os and 1s, no matter how carefully
    modulated, means nothing unless it is eventually channeled, observed and understood by a recipient
    &lt/QUOTE>

    So if a stream fails in the forest and no one hears, there is no sound. Wow, I've been wondering about that for some time now I know.

    -Peace
    Dave
  • Here's the secret: You don't go to a place of higher education for the courses, you go in order to hang out with like-minded people.

    And to drink beer with them.
    ---
  • by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @05:44AM (#973433) Homepage
    Some people take some forms of input better than others. Some people prefer multiple input streams.

    But us geeks, especially the old timers who started with 110buad, then to 300, then 1200, up to 56k have higher reading speeds from keeping up with increasing modem speed. We can read at over 1k words/minute, but most people speak

  • Speaking as an Old Fart, it's always been interesting to read Meta - type views of the info-sphere. Case in point Dream Machines back in the 70's.

    Also funny to look back on everything they all get wrong.....

    I'm gonna check this out.

  • I would like to see more books about social ramifications... ya know? I mean it has to be inherently bad that I wait for my gf to get on IRC... and it has to be bad that 10% of the conversation is trying to figure out if the last comment was sarcastic or not... my $.02

    ----

  • by benenglish (107150) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @05:46AM (#973436)
    Of course the analog shapes the digital! The silly talk occasionally bandied about concerning the death of universities in favor of some digital alternative illustrates this perfectly.

    How so? I learned as a youngster that universities will always be with us. Growing up in an age of (to paraphrase Austin Powers) sex, drugs, and a consequence-free environment gives me a more basic view of the social role of college. And there's no way that role can be supplanted by anything online.

    Let me make the point another way. When I was a senior in high school, there was a drama teacher who would counsel students who were sharp enough for college but considering not going because they seemed to have some sort of short-term employment opportunities that were drawing them. If the guidance counselor failed to persuade them to go to college, this drama teacher would call them aside for "the talk." "The talk" went, roughly: "Look, dumbass, college is four years of unlimited sex and alcohol paid for by your parents. Are you really stupid enough to NOT go?"

    Every single student he counseled, IIRC, decided to go to college.

    Now, show me the online university that can match that sales pitch!

    I reiterate: The analog shapes, controls, and provides the sole justification for the existence of the digital.
  • by SandsOfTime (156312) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @05:47AM (#973437)

    The book sounds worth reading. I'll have to look for it.

    Telecommuting -- why hasn't telecommuting taken off like we thought it would? Where are the hordes of people working happily at home? Despite the myth of the lone hacker working away, we all know that our best tricks are usually gleaned from some keyboarding compatriot who shows us a thing or two.

    Mainly because one of the biggest challenges on any team is communication: making sure everyone understands what they are supposed to do. Communication is somewhat easier in person that over the phone or through email, and it has a more dynamic quality: I can wander by someone's desk, glance at what's going on and either say "wow, show me how you did that!" or "wait a minute, are you sure that's a good idea?" When people work off site, you tend to get less frequent interactions: they go off and work for a long while then send something in.


  • Mao was a dictator, Kaczynski a murderer and a coward.

    I'm not talking about destroying people, I'm talking about destroying power and the information used to maintain that power. I don't want to lead any revolution, because any sincere revolution has no leaders (thus, anarchism).

    If you'd like to discuss those viewpoints, I suggest you bring up valid arguments, as opposed to making uninformed assumptions.

    Michael Chisari
    mchisari@usa.net
  • I think the author fails to see that the reason computers and the Internet have become what they are is the ease with which they facilitate human interaction. It's similar to chicken and egg: the internet evolved and now we need to look at the human interaction with it, or was it that human need to interact facilitated the Internet. The author needs to look at the human drive to be social.
  • but last I checked, we human's tend to use 0's and 1's, instead of O's and 1's to represent binary. :-)

    Go on, moderate me down. It's pretty bad, though, when I can't read one paragraph in SlashDot without finding several quite careless mistakes. If you think this is no big deal, try using Netscape, and see if the programmers found some bugs to be "no big deal" as well!

    Alright, I'm offtopic now. Go on, take the karma...
  • by jd (1658)
    You'd think on /., of all places, we could dispense with inflamatory and churlish remarks.

    You'd also think that most readers were enlightened enough to offer contrary viewpoints WITHOUT feeling a need to put down the views of others.

    Lastly, you'd also think that readers could dispense with the absolutes. Absolutes generally aren't, and there are more exceptions than rules.

    As for information existing in a vaccuum, some does and some doesn't. If you want to claim that ALL information exists in a vaccuum, you might want to tell me how long the coastline of America is. Absolutely. If you can, you'll have disproved Mandelbrot's claim that it depends on the observer's ruler, and have falsified the entire basis of fractals and chaos theory.

    You might also want to tell me the speed and direction of a sub-atomic particle of your choice. Again, if information exists in a vaccuum, and is in no way affected by an observer, this should be easy.

    But these kinds of information AREN'T easy to seperate from observers, are they? It's easy to make absolute statements, as though everything in the Universe would obey them as Divine Laws.

    Unfortunately, for human egos, the Universe has a tendancy to give the Agincourt Salute to such pretensions of grandeour, and exist in whatever mishmash of ways it damn well feels like.

    Last, but not least, is your computer a solid object? To you, sure! But to the billions of neutrinos, that blithely ignore the repulsion of the electron shell, maybe not.

    On another level, matter is energy. It's not merely equal to it (E=MC^2), but is a condensed form. What, then, distinguishes an observer from the observed? They're just different configurations of energy, after all.

    Before you tell someone their view is wrong, stop to ask if there -is- any validity to what they are saying. After all, if there isn't, flamers and trolls would never have the incentive to behave as they do. Trolls are, because they're too cowardly to accept that others might have something right.

  • "However, quantum physics (up to this point) would seem to differ."

    Only if you subscribe to the Copenhagen interpretation--which I don't. In fact, this is one of the reasons.

    "That mnakes 3 observers, by my count. The reader, the protein processor, and the blue hair generator."

    OK, yes. "Observers" in the sense of "entities that have data input into them". But I was refuting someone who was claiming that sentient observers were necessary--of which there are none in your list.
    --
  • Okay, I actually work at a newspaper [canoe.ca] (and, yes, I get the irony of providing an url for it...)

    Why are we so intent on replacing newspapers when they are the most effective medium for news?

    I disconcurr that they are the most effective medium. Here's my rant: Like all media, newspapers need to be profitable. No surprise, this is accomplished by having more revenue than expenditures. For newspapers this formula causes a variety of problems:

    1. Percent of non-content expenditure is high. Every day my newspaper spends x dollars... and x is a very big number indeed. Most of that x goes to paying for non-content stuff. If you add up how much is spent on journalists (plus their support expenses) and wire service and photographers and then compare that to how much is spent on production personnnel, consumables (ink, paper, film etc), sales and support staff, distribution (moving 250,000 newspapers in vans!), promo, marketing, exec yatta yatta... you find out that less than 10% of expenditures is spent on developing content! This is not an effective way to get the news out.

    2. Revenue requirements demand a mass market. Any newspaper with less than 100,000 sales is doomed. There just won't be enough readers to support ad revenue. So how does a newspaper maintain readership levels? By stampedeing to the Lowest Common Denominator. The content is kept easy (grade 8 reading level), short (those gen X-ers hate to read more than 200 words... witness the fact you've given up on this post already) and only cover topics perceived as having the widest appeal. That, my friend, is low-quality content.

    3. It's plain just not efficient. Our paper runs three Sun E300s, a 220R and a small boatload of sparc 10s as servers. We have 250ish clients (65 of which are yosemite-or-better macs. Not cheap). More than enough computing power to put up a hefty news www site. If that were done, we would eliminate the cost of production and distro (there are more people designing ads than writing news, btw) allowing for either a) more news or b) more profit.

    With one glance at the Washington Post while I'm buying coffee at 7-11

    7-11 coffee? DC is a tough town! It's true that consumer convenience is the primary reason for the continuance of the newspaper... a point succinctly made by our former publisher "If we weren't a tabloid, we'd be out of business"... in reference to being easy to read on the bus. The biggest thing keeping papers around is that it is portable, cheap and universally accessible. A computer weighs 10kg, costs $1000+ and sits on your desk. But with the recent "day-trade-on-your-cellphone" tech front opening up, it's only a matter of time before the electronic media catch up in that dept.... and a cellphone is even easier to read on the bus than a tabloid!

  • Don't stop with this review, go read the book! It contains some critically important ideas both for the technologists who are creating the systems people later attempt to use in the work place, as well as for the managers who must get people to perform something like a useful task with the technology.

    Technology often doesn't work the way it is expected to because the technologists often make fatally flawed assumptions about the end user or about the way end users will interact with the technology. This is even true of most of the software that, at least in the advertising hype, is designed with the user in mind. A lot of sweet technology is sweet, but of little or no interest or use to non-techies. We can all name any number of heavily hyped, truly cool tech products that failed because they were cool but not much use or sometimes were just useless to anyone but techies.

    Perhaps the key point in the book is that people working together is a fundamentally social activity and that technology must be designed with that in mind. Technology that seeks to limit or control the social aspects of work will fail or prove to be counter-productive. This insight runs counter to almost all 20th century management guru thinking, especially the sort found on the best seller list. A second point that the book drives home again, and we (or certainly the media) do seem to need constant reminding of, hype isn't reality and anything that everyone agrees is the next thing, probably itsn't and even if it is, it probably won't turn out to be all its cracked up to be.

    Closing thought: one of the things that makes the internet generally different from many commerical tech system implementations is that it actually promotes or facilitates communication in a very open and robust way. It does so because of design decisions made in the earliest days of arpanet, many of which run directly counter to the closed/proprietary models of most technology vendors. (A point I don't recall Brown and Selig making.)

  • Just a quickie - I don't agree with the Copenhagen interpretation, I go in for the transactional interpretation instead, and I wasn't talking about sentient observers, although I suppose it could be taken that way. Gotta go home now though.


    ---
    Jon E. Erikson
  • Schridonger's cat will be mightily relieved to hear that information does not require an observer. However, quantum physics (up to this point) would seem to differ.
    The Copenhagen interpretation seems to differ, Other interpretations do not e.g. the Transactional interpretation [washington.edu]. Everett-Wheeler was also an attempt to do away with such silliness.
    That makes 3 observers, by my count. The reader, the protein processor, and the blue hair generator.
    This begs the question of what is an observer. Blue is a social construct. To say that a piece of RNA "observes" the blueness of the result seems dubious to me. One can make a machine to classify colours, but we made the machine and told it what blue means to us. And as I recall, colour classifications are culturally bound.
    The Mandelbrot Set, for example, does not depend on who looks at it, to be a fractal. THAT information is truly independent.
    No, fractal is a definition that we use. The Mandelbrot Set just is.

    Despite my quibbles, I actually do agree that information is a social construct and requires observers. Without us to classify things, they just are.

    Now, where we get our ability to assign meaning is one of the Big Questions. Maybe we are just part of the whole mess, but even then I suspect that we are missing a big piece of the picture. Issues like causality and the current moment are intimately caught up with who and what we are, and physics has done little with them except assume them as axioms. One might even argue that the experimental method depends on them, so to attack them some other epistomology is required.
  • This feature of the universe "information" is one of the things that is still puzzling physics folk about black holes.

    > The Mandelbrot Set just is.

    Indeed, and so is any odd hydrogen atom until it falls across an event horizon. Then it is not, and that is the problem. According to current theory, the information about what fell in is lost. IF we watch a BH from its creation onward we can say X atoms of hydrogen, Y atoms of helium, etc. fell in - sooooo this BH is made up of those items. OTOH, if we watch one evaporate, we cannot determine what fell in. The features, composition, all the information about the matter and energy that was, no longer is.

    All that is conserved by a BH is mass, charge, and angular momentum. Wouldn't it be odd if those "informational" items are all that really "matter"?
  • I think the argument for any technology is that it enhances or aids an individual in their interaction with the rest of reality. That is what justifies artificial channels. And what it sounds like you are saying is that the means of communication do not change as a child grows. I must remind you that humans are quite capable of development that is not based on genetic predisposition. That is why I think that it is good that we explore ways to enhance our abilities to percieve and interact.
  • This is a Good Book (TM), and well worth reading, and timothy [monkey.org] 's writeup is solid. However, I was turned off initially by what I still consider to be an inexcusable failing of the book.

    Per my standard practice, after cracking the spine, I went to first the ToC, then the back of the book -- the index. Entries for Microsoft, Apple, Xerox, PARC, IBM, Intel, Sun, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc., etc., etc.

    Entries for: Linux, Free Software Foundation, GNU, Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Eric S. Raymond, Open Source, Apache -- nil. Ponder this: how many pages are printed worldwide by Xerox copiers in a week? How many pages are served worldwide by Apache webservers in an hour? "The document company" is completely dissing the Internet -- the largest, most accessible, and most efficient document distribution system ever invented?

    The fact that a book could be published in the year 2000 with no references to the largest sea-change to sweep computing and IT in two decades, well into its mainstream adoption curve, is mind boggling. I'm not sure whether it's a failing of the indexers (though I don't recall specific mentions of any free software technologies, though the 'Web is referenced once or twice), the authors, or simply an example of failed vision at PARC. I remain simply stunned.

    That said, where the book does go, it's good. By and large, it's an argument for many of the dynamics which make free software work. FS is a social invention as much as a technical one, and as much as our interfacing occurs over the web, email, and (sometimes) phone, I've also met some good friends FTF at local LUGs, regional meetings, and on occasions when paths crossed, even when oceans were bounded in the process.

    Read this book, but read it critically.

    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    Scope out Kuro5hin [kuro5hin.org]

  • unlimited sex and alcohol paid for by your parents

    You bastard! My loan is now $25K+, and I'm still looking for all that unlimited sex I've heard about - and I'm talking about the kind involving other people



    "Oh, I got me a helmet - I got a beauty!"

  • Another excellent analysis of this issue (why documentation can't begin to teach as well as hands-on instruction) can be found in Virginia Postrel's book The Future and Its Enemies. A great deal of the most relevant knowledge (about anything involving people, at least) is local and extremely difficult to discover and express (for example, knowing an org. chart will never tell you that the department head's cranky in the morning, so you'll do much better by going through her administrative assistant before that first cuppa joe). Manuals can't cover everything, and are usually only a first approximation of the most explicit and static information about the process or system or what-have-you at hand.
    Hands-on information exchange provides feedback and the opportunity for discovery of those essential but not relevant-seeming details that are part of the practice of life. The application to universities (and the real-life tendency for researchers to have to visit labs that're trying to replicate their results) are obvious.
    BTW, the book's a lively read.
  • Let's not forget the momentum and juggernautish tendencies of human institutions once they are put in place. Until business decides that they don't need to see that college degree for admission to the interview club, then people will continue to head on out the door to Drink Tech.
  • Why are we so intent on replacing newspapers when they are the most effective medium for news?

    Because newspapers aren't a medium for news. They're a medium for a lot of other things, and in the small amount of their square-footage they give to current events, they're normally a medium for distortion and propaganda.

    And they're filtered down until so much information is removed that the "common man" can understand what's left - whether it's true or not, whether or not selective ommission amounts to a subtle lie. This makes them totally useless to the "uncommon man" - a tag which, on one subject or another, can be applied to nearly anyone.

    Newspapers are being replaced by internet-based reporting because the internet lowers the barriers to entry. This means that current events reportage can be made with a variety of slants, not solely from those that appeal to the people with the money to own and operate the monopoly that is a chain of big-city newspapers, or a piece of the oligopoly that is the set of broadcast networks.

    Though each reporter may use different colored filters as he views current events, combining enough colored images can give a clear picture.
    And you can't enforce selective ommission when anybody can play - because SOMEBODY will find "the other side" interesting enough to report.

    News reporting has been in decline for about a half century, as a combination of economic forces, government intervention, and social activism has limited both the number of viewpoints and the amount of coverage. The internet has now changed the game.

    Newspapers can drastically remake themselves - along the line of their claimed ideals - to stay in the game. Or they can survive by filling some other need than delivering news.
  • While I'm sure there are many good reasons to be against personal information storage, I would really like an explanation as to what's wrong with credit histories and prison records. IMHO, those serve a useful purpose: it means that the company who lets you borrow money knows they aren't going to get ripped off, and it means that prospective employers know they aren't going to be hiring someone who is a risk to their organization. (If you're a bank, would you really want to hire someone convicted of embezzlement?)

    Of course these information facilities can be grossly abused, but I don't think it's necessarily that great a solution to simply abolish them. Am I misunderstanding your point of view here? Please explain.
    ---

  • The point was raised about telecommuting. Telecommuting is not extremely popular for several reasons.
    ... 3 - Many niggling things crop up. Even as a network engineer and system administrator, doing my job would have been more difficult from home.

    Some jobs lend themselves better to being offsite than others. I think pretty much everyone agrees that you can't work outside the office 100% of the time. However, a true "systems administrator" would nearly never need to be in the office -- The stuff that brings you into the office most is the MIS-type crap.

    Newspapers. There are many reasons people still read them.
    1. It's old, it's been done, it works (contrary to New things; see above). People perceive it as a proven technology and as a proven business model.

    "New Things" do work. Perhaps you should mention which specific new thing you mean -- I take it to mean the rant on telecommuting, which I don't agree with; So I don't agree with this, necessarily, until the second half. It is a proven technology and a proven buisness model. We've had movable type (And litho) and subscriptions for a long, long time.

    2. Screens suck for comfortable reading. If you work at a computer all day, you probably get sore eyes. Even with my 21" monitor and the brains to put my monitor at the correct angle, right refresh, etc etc., my eyes still get fatigued by staring at a computer screen for extended lengths of time. Newspapers are easy on the eyes.

    I don't know what newspapers you've been reading, but they pretty much all share some common problems visually. One of them is the lack of contrast; You have a shiny black on a matte grey, basically, which is not the highest level of contrast possible. Due to the lousy paper one is forced to use (because it's cheap and folds easily) the print resolution can only be so high, so text is always soft at the edges. This is true on a monitor too, but my point is that the newspaper really isn't that much more pleasant to look at. Also, due to LCDs and Flat Paperwhite displays with a good black level, monitors can offer good contrast these days.

    3. Portability. Can't beat a newspaper.

    My palmpilot is one hell of a lot more convenient, form-factor wise, than a newspaper. I do in fact dump news to it in the morning sometimes (Via AvantGo) and read that. It fits in my pocket. A newspaper has to be folded and unfolded repeatedly if you want it to be of a size where it's not in your neighbor's nostril. This is convenience? Not to mention that it leaves ink all over your hands and doesn't really fit in any pocket.

    4. Cheap. Disposable. 1001 uses for a dead newspaper; lining the birdcage, wrapping stuff for shipping, art projects, etc etc.

    Okay, now you're just reaching so you can include a fourth point. While that's convenient at times, one is still more likely to have more trash paper than they can use. You sound like someone who sells newspaper ad space or something... I've been expecting a "5. Gigantic Readership" for some time now.

    Newspapers are a part of most people's life because they grew up with them, and they're comfortable getting that newspaper.

    This is exactly true. Your parents read newspapers, you read newspapers, people in films read newspapers, and so on. This may account for why people who read/watch sci-fi are more tolerant of advances in everyday technology - because their literature displays it in everyday life.

    The internet is still in its infancy. When 99% of the U.S. is broadband-connected and have a PC at home for every person, really radical changes will occur.

    I wouldn't say "infancy" exactly, though it's still experiencing growing pains, and likely always will be. It's not like the need for bandwidth is likely to stop increasing -- As we get more available bandwidth, we find ways to use it.

    If you're talking about the web, I can remember like five years ago when someone stated in my presence that the web was the big underground thing, which was laughable even then because of the amount of internet-related commerce. The first time a big corporation gets involved with it, it's no longer underground. It gets tied up in annual reports and the world hears of it.

    Until then, word of mouth and eyewitness testimony contribute mostly to what people 'perceive' as what they think is normal and comfortable. Why do most people in the States eat with silverware? Because they perceive it's correct and normal. Many things are deep-rooted in our social conscious, and we bank on precedent because it's comfortable.

    What should we be using? Do you really think chopsticks are more effective? It's not really the same kind of thing unless it's actually an upgrade.

    Anyway, what I do agree with in your post is that people tend to do what they've been doing. An object in motion tends to stay in motion until stopped by some external force, and people and their habits are the same way.

  • You're presuming online communication necessarily involves email, which is not necessarily so. Email is great for communicating in a specific situation, where the person you are communicating with is not actually available. You write when it's convenient for you, they respond when it's convenient for them.

    But there's also chat - which is a much more useful method of online communication in some instance. IMHO, more useful than face-to-face meetings even.

    There are things you can do in chat that you cannot do in any other mdoe of communication. When I first got online about 10 years ago, I called a local BBS that had around 70 lines. Often there were 30 or 40 folks in the main chat channel.

    Advantage 1: I learned to read at 2400 baud. ;)

    Advantage 2: You can join 2 or 3 rooms at once and participate in all of them. Therefore you can actually attend several meetings at once.

    Advantage 3: You can also conduct private conversations at the same time. So you can make smart-ass comments to a friend on the side, or discuss a technical issue with a co-worker before answering a question in the main discussion.

    There is no way to do multiple conversations like this IRL.

    Course, there's disadvantages too... like when you accidentally type the wrong thing in the wrong covnersation. On the bright side, you get to be amused when other folks do the same. ;)

  • I think this point is true in principle, but not in practice. There still is a lot of lip service to how the internet gives everyone a voice and everyone can be an editor and how wonderful this is. Unfortunately this doesn't end up to be the case as most people will get their on-line news from the same portals (CNN.com, Yahoo, etc). You are free to set up your own news page and report on items with your own slant on the issues, but it won't be easy to get people to come visit your page. Although one may feel that certain newspapers distort the truth or push their own political agenda, you end up in the same situation on the net.

    You might find somebody on the net who will cover the "other" side of the story, but in the same manner you can go to most large cities and find alternative views being printed up on small mom-and-pop newspapers out of someone's garage. For every Drudge out there who is lucky enough to find success in their web site, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of the others are just ignored.


  • The point of doing so would be to do so in a revolutionary sense, not so much to make the current social system a little better, but to open up the possibility of completely changing to a new social system (specifically, anarchism).

    During the Paris Commune of 1868, when the people of Paris declared independance from France, and created a city based (loosely) on anarchist-communist principles, one thing that people did was to break into government buildings and destroy public records.

    This is how they got the support of the middle class (petit bourgois, or small business owners). Most small business owners are heavily in debt to the banks and landlords. By destroying that debt, they were given control over their business. Because this was anarchist-communism, the only stipulation was that they shared control with their workers.

    That's basically my "inspiration" for putting forth this viewpoint.

    Michael Chisari
    mchisari@usa.net
  • The nature of data, or information I will attempt to describe from my POV -

    Localisation of the probability of a particular state within a dimension or dimensions.

    The "meaning" of things to us homo sapiens is just the localising of probability within billions of neurons. However I do not yet know any way of describing the localisation in a way that is helpful in analysing such systems so any help would be greatly appreciated.
  • Also I recommend these two books,

    The Rise Of The Network Society - Manuel Castells

    Collective Intelligence : Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace - Pierre Levy
  • I reiterate: The analog shapes, controls, and provides the sole justification for the existence of the digital.
    There is no digital.. (appols to Neo)
  • Not that I'm an expert on the claims of anarchism (I've read through some of the FAQ) or on your claims, but...

    ...it seems to me that, instead of focusing on founding a society on the destruction of certain forms of information (which is all you seem to be talking about, e.g. eliminating credit-card debt records but not the memories of people who remember those who've borrowed and then not paid back -- or does this hint at your real goal?), you should consider focusing on founding a society based on the ability to treat people with kindness and compassion even in the face of mountains of negative information about those people.

    More to the point, you seem to be substituting technical solutions ("let's delete all the files!!") for societal solutions ("let's ignore all the files!"). The former is typical of communism, anarchism, and a plethora of other political (often atheistic) models for society; the latter is typical of Christianity (by which I mean the primitive, or original, kind) and other religions that stress the importance of humans accepting each other despite past sins (and in some cases because they suggest the "reward" for those sins are inherent in the universe, God, whatever, therefore humans need not take vengeance upon themselves).

    Given the choice between living in a society where all information has been deleted (and where it'll inevitably grow back, as "The State", the self-appointed rulers of the anarchic revolution, collects new information on its political enemies) and in a society where information is consider property, property is valued, but the people continue to progress in their education whereby they learn that a given person's past behavior is not so useful as a strong indicator of how they will behave, I'll choose the latter every time.

    Why? Mainly, because if that thesis -- that past behavior is only a weak indicator of future behavior -- turns out to be wrong, the former society will undergo huge dislocations as part of finding that out, while the latter society will have more opportunity to progress in some other direction -- one that accommodates new views regarding "reality", and probably differing views of it among its populace.

    But that's because I'm generally more inclined to support societal structures that allow for the possibility that our "pet views" turn out to be wrong, thereby granting those structures the ability to survive, perhaps flourish, as they realize exactly how wrong my views were, even in my own absence.

    (I tend to view communism, and what I know of anarchism, as having that fundamental flaw: the inability to cope with its founding views turning out to be not entirely correct, if not entirely wrong, over time, without the entire social structure they impose being overturned. And I do mean to use the word "imposed" -- having read both Marx and the anarchy FAQ, it's 100% clear to me that these systems are impositions on societies, just like most any other systems.)

    Oh, and the wonderful thing about the system I suggest you consider is that, unlike the system you propose (of destroying information belonging to others), you can go and implement it now, thereby better peoples' lives and society right away, without imposing at all on those who are unwilling to participate.

    For example, you can preach forgiveness of those who've trespassed, loving one's enemies, and so on, and every heart you change will better the world, because you'll have convinced someone to ignore all those files you currently think you have to destroy.

    And hardly anybody will really be bothered that you've changed those hearts...except maybe some people in power who might try to kill you, but you're already prepared for that, I assume. (You are talkin' revolution, right? ;-)

    E.g. look at Nelson Mandela. Do you think he would have done more good in better society worldwide if, instead of being a stellar example of loving and forgiving his enemies while and after in prison, he'd continued resenting them and took revenge on them afterwards by destroying all records on crimes in South Africa?

    I don't. The latter might have temporarily relieved many prisoners there moreso than he did as an outgrowth of the former. But he would not have inspired so many to seriously consider, and perhaps put into practice, ignoring claims of past sins when it comes to treating others as their brothers and sisters.

    And remember: The Internet interprets destruction of records of past behavior and routes around it. ;-)


  • I see your point, and I don't think I made myself clear enough in regards to the fact that destroying oppressive data is really only a single tactic amongst many to move towards an anarchist society.

    Destroying data alone will only cause some major headaches for the system, but it won't really change anything. However, destroying data at the same time that general strikes are occurring, political prisoners are being liberated, workers are taking over factories, farmers are redistributing land, mass protests are occurring, creating mutual aid organizations (like creating free software) and workers cooperatives, etc., would do a *lot* to aid revolution.

    Done within this context, targetted data destruction can be a nuclear weapon. Done outside of this context, it's more like a good strong louisville slugger.

    "The urge to destroy is a creative urge." - Mikhail Bakunin. Yet, I'm not a nihilist, so I don't think destruction is the only part of revolution.

    Michael Chisari
    mchisari@usa.net
  • political prisoners are being liberated, workers are taking over factories, farmers are redistributing land

    Ah, yes, given that you're essentially advocating mass murder (after all, what are those revolutionaries expected to do if they meet serious resistance, when they know they're to perform key aspects of the revolution at a specific time?), destroying data on peoples' past behavior is a mere trifle.

    But I won't argue anarchy with you, since I haven't researched it sufficiently.

    I do, however, thank you -- for making your agenda, which I gather is the agenda of most anarchists, crystal clear in a public forum where many might otherwise have deluded themselves into believing it is "non-violent".

    (In a USENET discussion years ago, someone, perhaps replying to my post, called themselves a "non-violent communist". In private email, I asked them why that isn't a self-contradiction. After some discussion, he ended up explaining just why he approved of various extremely violent actions committed against vast numbers of people by the former Soviet Union. By which time I suspect even he realized he should fairly drop the "non-violent" from his self-identification.)

    IMO, a truly robust, well-engineered system for human society need not start by locating an existing one, then violently overthrowing and replacing it, attempting to impose itself on the others, but can simply grow up "from scratch" and prove itself out so that it can be adopted voluntarily by independent, thoughtful observers.

    That proponents of both communism and anarchy rarely attempt to do the latter, and instead tend to scheme as to how to accomplish the former, not only reveals their real agenda -- not that of building a lasting society, but of dominating others under whatever guise they choose -- but strongly suggests the system they impose won't work over the long haul. Not that systems based primarily on respect for the law, for individual property rights, and democracy-based governance have never overthrown existing systems, but they seem to flourish in proportion that they start out from scratch, and they also seem to produce populaces less prone to rioting when the governing system breaks down, as a result of natural or artificial disaster.

    If you're thinking of overthrowing the USA, you should take that into account -- your might be underestimating the resiliency of the people. If you wish to pick a weaker target -- a populace less willing and able to protect against imposition of a new regime -- while taking control of significant resources, you might want to target those populaces most recently, and for longer times, under systems like communism.

    Generally, I believe, despite many problems, the USA is full of people like myself who believe your cure is far worse than the disease you claim to see. So you're likely to encounter resistance not only in the form of people protecting their own property, but each other's.

    That is, should I detect that your "revolution" has begun, even if it doesn't threaten me personally, it is not out of the question that I'll track you down and kill you, to defend my nation's Constitution as well as my neighbor's property rights.

    That shouldn't surprise or alarm you, since you're clearly ready to die for your "cause". (Or, at least, ready to murder for it.)

    But the odds of your dying a failure might be much, much greater than you currently believe.

    Given that, you might reconsider your goals. Take a careful look at exactly what you consider wrong with the current system, and rather than jumping immediately to the conclusion that it's so "inhumane" or whatever that you're justified in proposing mass murder to "repair" it to a "humane" state, formulate a plan of action that allows people to voluntarily convert to your system, even if starting out in small increments, and further that is designed (in as impersonal fashion as possible) to accommodate the likelihood that your views, upon which your system's success depends, might turn out to be wrong.

    For myself, I'm hardly likely to kill you, because, as a property-rights-supporting, pro-freedom, individual-initiative-appreciating American, I make such violence my last resort.

    Given the record of success of anarchy (as well as communism), though, I can see why people like you make it your first resort, and thus devote your energies towards convincing enough people to join you in violence that your personal, short-term success will be more greatly assured.

    (After all, if your system was so successful and wonderful, wouldn't people be clamoring to get into one? In which case, you wouldn't be advocating violence, and instead choosing education and non-violent political action.)


  • The difference is that anarchy can be achieved non-violently, whereas communism can't, since anarchism is meant to eliminate positions of power, whereas communism is simply a changing of the guard.

    I'll remind you that Gandhi was an anarchist.

    I'll also remind you that positions of power and government in general commits mass murder on a daily basis. I don't condone revolutionary anarchist actions, but they can be achieved non-violently, whereas capitalism can't (or is violently unwilling).

    You're right, you haven't researched anarchism enough. I would recommend you do.

    Michael Chisari
    mchisari@usa.net
  • "The talk" went, roughly: "Look, dumbass, college is four years of unlimited sex and alcohol paid for by your parents. Are you really stupid enough to NOT go?"

    Ha! I didn't get laid until I was nearly 29, didn't drink that much in college, and paid for it with grants and student loans, which I now have to pay back. What were those benefits again? :)

  • Process vs. practice -- why is it that when we try encapsulate something in documentation, it always falls short? We've all had someone hand us a manual outlining some practice that ends up propping up an uneven table. It's also common wisdom that the best way to learn how to code is to actually start writing some code. Do you think this is unique to the computer profession?

    Anyone who has taken any kind of creative writing class knows that the only way you get better at writing is to write. The only way you get better at running is to run, the only way you get good at X is to do X, it's a universal truth. Yeah, you can read all the books you want on something, but you are just a layman until you get out and write that first line of code, or that first line of verse, or run that first race.

  • I think there's a zen to it or something. After a while, I would know exactly what everyone (who I knew) meant by anything they said...

    ---
    script-fu: hash bang slash bin bash
  • This shouldn't be marked "funny", it should be marked "insightful". I was going to post nearly the same thing (although not so succintly).

    Information can and DOES exist "in a vacuum". Yes, it has a social impact. That doesn't mean it is a purely social phenomenon. You'd think that, on /. of all places, we could dispense with the "there is no objective reality except what culture teaches us" type crap.
    --
  • by dominion (3153) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @05:59AM (#973470) Homepage

    I urge everybody out there (especially those of you who are transhumanists) to read the criticisms of technology and society put forth by John Zerzan, especially "Future Primitive and Other Essays".

    His books will definitely make you think (sometimes at a price, a good chunk of his work has a tendency to really piss me off), and make you question the role of technology in current society.

    I began reading his work because I am writing a series of essays on technology and it's role in revolutionary movements, specificially left anarchist and anti-authoritarian ones. I felt that if I were to understand my own position, I should understand the other side of the coin (kind of like reading Marx and Rand when you consider yourself an Anarchist, or the Bible when you consider yourself to be an atheist).

    I can't say he made a convert of me (at least not yet), but I can say that he's brought up some very interesting points about technology and how it is used to control society. It's because of these viewpoints that my own viewpoints have been further radicalized. While I support technology, I have come to the conclusion that oppressive technology and information (credit card debt, tracking information, prison histories, etc) must be destroyed, blocked, or circumvented in order for any real social progress to occur.

    I'll elaborate more in the next few months, but I have to reiterate that Zerzan's writings, while sometimes infuriating, and not always perfectly coherent, are definitely worth reading.

    Yes, you can get them at Amazon.com, but I would recommend that you, instead, support your local bookstore or anarchist infoshop.

    Michael Chisari
    mchisari@usa.net
  • Even given two people of equal skill, their output is usually more than the sum of their efforts. There is something to be said for working in meatspace.

    This is the exception, not the rule. In my experience, their output is usually much less than each of them working more-or-less individually, with a solid set of rules and guidelines.

    --
    blue
  • The original poster said nothing about the observer being "sentient". You're just looking for an opportunity to act like a snot.

    If a troll flames on slashdot, and no one reads it, is his post information or noise?
  • And to download MP3's with their big pipe.
  • I tend to believe that the only reason that it is so much simpler to go up and talk to someone is because most people are more used to it. The reason more technologically advanced means of communication are considered inferior to direct physical interaction is because the new technology was built trying to emulate the old forms of communication. However, in a scenario where the ease of technologically-aided communication considerably outweighs any advantages of physical communication, I think we will find (and already have) that new methods communicating develop that though not necissarily better in all aspects than conventional communication in some ways allow for greater understanding between individuals.

    I think that the form of communication arises from the necessity for it, and as of yet, we have no real nead for the sort of dreamy-eyed concept of "telecommuting" that some people desire or expect. But if the need arises, and "telecommuting" becomes commonplace, a new sort of communication adapted to this medium will become prevalent, and the same sort of productivity gain (the whole is greater than the sum) will occur. I think my point is, communication is as adaptive as humanity itself, and that any idea or concept of how this will fit into a greater scheme will inevitibly crumble to the chaotic and self-serving nature of biological life.

    ... or something like that. If I could only show it to you... =)

    --nath
  • Why do newspapers continue, why do classrooms remain.

    Newspapers win because I can read one at lunch without carrying around an expensive appliance. For $.50, I can read Dilbert and Peanuts, check out the headlines, see how the Timberwolves are doing, and just leave the paper on the lunch-counter for the next guy to read. Getting all that out of a palm-pilot with wireless Internet is expensive, inconvenient and unpleasent... and will remain so for the immediate future.

    Classrooms win because teaching is a much more subjective craft than we like to admit. For the last Century, we have been trying to regement our schools with standardized testing and procedures, which would seem to lend itself to having computers take over, but it still takes a human being to spot (as and example) the difference between dyslexia, slow learning, late development, or simple laziness when a kid does not learn to write as quickly as other students.

    IANAJ, IWAT (I Am Not A Journalist, I Was A Teacher)

  • The internet is still in its infancy. When 99% of the U.S. is broadband-connected and have a PC at home for every person, really radical changes will occur.

    Right now, not even 99% of US homes have telephone service. This is a problem I seem to find in most musings on technology's place in the future. The tech-class seems to forget that not everyone can afford their toys, and that people really don't care about a 'digital revolution' or 'freedom of information' when they can't even afford the things that would make those freedoms relevent to them.

    Until we have a proper social saftey net in place, and people in this nation don't have to worry about how they're going to pay for their next meal, or what will happen if they get sick, we will never have these utopian technological situations that seem to matter so much to the /.ers out there.

    (-1, realizes that not everyone had a computer.)
  • Okay, instead of vague goals, let's talk about vague causalities.

    How are "credit card debt, tracking information, prison histories, etc" leading to an oppressive order of technology and information? AFAICT, they're all avoidable. Don't use credit cards, turn off cookies and scripts, and don't go to prison.

    I don't think you're getting the cost/benefit tradeoff inherent in all technology - most people accept the fact that if they don't pay their credit card bills, no one will lend them more money, to use your example. Communities (and the individuals that make up those communities) have a right to know if a convicted murderer is released in their area. If you don't like a technology, then simply don't get involved with it.

    My previous posting was directed to the fact that your writings had a definite leaning towards putting goals over people. My "uninformed assumptions" is due to your lack of any kind of specific goal other than "societal progress", which has been used as an excuse to do harm more times than any other. Revolutions have a way of forgetting that people are an ends, and not a means - I think a good portion of history can support me here. And don't delude yourself; every revolution has a leader. The Czar of Russia wasn't overthrown without Lenin. India didn't win its independence without Ghandi. Iran didn't overthrow the Shah without the Ayatollah Khomeini. People have been predicting the rise of anarchism since the 1970s - and they had better arguments back then, too.
  • by GypC (7592) on Tuesday June 27, 2000 @08:03AM (#973478) Homepage Journal

    Think about this though.

    You are on a team that has been assigned a rather complex project to be coded in C. Would you rather have someone on your team that knows C really well and has written some nifty utilities, or someone who has never even used C (or any language except MIX on a virtual machine :) but has studied design patterns and algorithm analysis.

    Personally, I'd rather have the academic, because the guys who just know C really well are a dime a dozen.

    Well, actually they are a lot more expensive than that, but they are common :)

    "Free your mind and your ass will follow"


  • Er, that should be "I don't condone all revolutionary anarchist actions."

    Here's a few things I want to point to. You say I condone mass murder, which is interesting. Why do you think mass murder would be necessary for the following to occur?

    General strikes - The workers simply stop working. If the people in power insist on forcing them to work, that is fascism and slavery. Who has the moral high ground, then?

    Liberating political prisoners - Simple. All you need is enough guards who sympathise with the situation.

    Workers taking over factories - They work there already, no? This happens pretty often all over the world. Sometimes it works, usually the workers get violently attacked by hired thugs or the police (is there a difference?). Once again, who has the moral high ground?

    Farmers redistributing land - Destroy records of ownership, and this can be done very non-violently. Does the CEO of Maxxam corporation really know exactly what lands he owns?

    Mass protests are occurring - Protests are, by nature, non-violent. It's only the government response that is violent.

    Creating mutual aid organizations - It's very obvious that doing this is not violent.

    I think your problem is that you've grown up in a culture of violence, one that insists that every problem be solved with a violent response. Think outside the box, the best way to topple the system is with a population that refuses to passively be a part of it.

    And another thing, as global capitalism increases it's stranglehold on the planet, you'll see a large backlash. The hope of anarchists is that this means liberation and freedom, as opposed to a series of fascist dictatorships.
    Michael Chisari
    mchisari@usa.net
  • Why do you think mass murder would be necessary for the following to occur?

    I didn't say it would be necessary, just that it'd be so likely that it'd be nearly inevitable.

    If you claim you're going to do this without violence, then that's very nice, but I don't see why you don't just take the route I explained in my original response to your post, which advocated a non-violent response -- to which you responded with a more full, clearly violent, agenda to explain why your approach was better!

    Let's take your claims one by one, which I note exclude the idea of destroying other people's files (which is almost certainly impossible to do without at least planning on committing violence):

    General strikes - The workers simply stop working. If the people in power insist on forcing them to work, that is fascism and slavery. Who has the moral high ground, then?

    This ("workers simply stop working") has already happened, of course. As long as there are people willing to replace them in their jobs, it isn't a big problem, except when (e.g. union thugs) commit violence to prevent those people free access to such jobs. How does your plan for "general strikes" account for this possibility? If you claim "everyone will participate", then there's nothing to overthrow anyway, really. More than likely, you'll have a minority striking, in situations where enough people are willing to replace them. Then, like the UPS strike, there'll be places where violence against those people will be committed.

    Given the inevitability of this scenario in the USA, since it happens pretty much every time, how is it you're not advocating violence when you're advocating bringing about a situation that would inevitably result in violence against innocent people by people who support your cause?

    (BTW, I agree corporations used to use violence to deal with the striking workers. And, for some government-controlled jobs, which the workers voluntarily agreed to take, that still happens by proxy. But this doesn't generally involve committing violence against innocent people -- rather threatening it against people who agreed to work under certain circumstances, then broke that agreement. I'm not fond of such agreements, when they hold the threat of violence, but at least they agreed to it. Workers seeking new employment where others have left are comparatively innocent, yet they are the targets of the strikers. Targeting ranges from calling them "scabs" to beating them up with baseball bats to outright murder.)

    Liberating political prisoners - Simple. All you need is enough guards who sympathise with the situation.

    We already have that. It's called the Clinton/Reno Justice Department. It's not part of a revolution per se, more like political patronage.

    Again, though, if the guards sympathise and release prisoners, those prisoners will have to deal with the populace, which, in the USA (at least mostly), is armed, and might not agree they're "political" prisoners.

    Remember, the purpose of a justice system isn't so much to keep criminals locked up. It's to provide a means whereby those seeking revenge will be otherwise accommodated to allow the State to impose some kind of punishment. The ultimate arbiters of justice on earth are the people, as well as nature itself.

    Convince the justice system to break its promise with the populace, and the agreement ends -- revenge could rear its ugly head, and not after jury trials, appeals, or even indictments.

    But you still have the problem with the 3 or 4 guards who actually insist on doing their jobs, which have fed their families, because they promised to do those jobs. When they stand in the way of the other guards, what is to be done with them? In some cases, the answer will be "kill them -- they're standing in the way of the revolution".

    Workers taking over factories - They work there already, no? This happens pretty often all over the world. Sometimes it works, usually the workers get violently attacked by hired thugs or the police (is there a difference?). Once again, who has the moral high ground?

    In a country where the workers could easily band together and buy the factory, the owners of that property -- the stockholders, including your grandparents, the neighbors down the street, etc. -- have the moral high ground. They committed no offense by owning a piece of that factory per se. If the workers don't like the conditions, they can buy the factory (from the company), buy the company, leave and work somewhere else, etc. It's called "choice", and it's a staple of the US economy, despite being under constant attack (often by those who consider themselves "pro-choice").

    And, have you carefully reviewed the track record of those other examples you mention? How much better have conditions, production, etc. been since the workers took those factories by force?

    If they're not doing as well, then some workers could easily be lured into working for some other factory not yet taken over for more money. Out of the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.

    If they're doing better, then why don't the workers help the owners of their factories learn from the lessons of the taken-over factories that have been successful?

    Farmers redistributing land - Destroy records of ownership, and this can be done very non-violently. Does the CEO of Maxxam corporation really know exactly what lands he owns?

    Yes, I can assure you, he can and will track it down. Again, you're assuming you have the moral high ground when you use violence or even theft to steal someone else's property, even though you have the means to simply buy that property in an up-front transaction, especially given that you're assuming you have legions of comrades-in-arms agreeing with you.

    If they're so willing to do this by violence, why not demonstrate the validity of their collectivist tendencies, pool their resources, buy what they need, and take the next few decades to build something so much better with that property than the previous capitalist owners could have?

    That'll do so much more for your "cause" than any amount of violence. After all, it's what's sold millions of people on the advantages of property rights, rule of law, individual liberties, etc., despite all the flaws evident in such systems.

    Mass protests are occurring - Protests are, by nature, non-violent. It's only the government response that is violent.

    A laughable comment, given the violence committed by masked people (called -- incorrectly? -- "anarchists" by the media) in the Seattle protests. You really don't know much about history, do you, if you think only government response to protest is violent, and all else is non-violent? (O course, I agree government response often is violent; it's the proposition that it's 100% responsible for that violence with which I disagree. Exactly which part of the government response to the recent LA "celebrations" of the Lakers victory caused those cars to burn?)

    Creating mutual aid organizations - It's very obvious that doing this is not violent.

    Agreed.

    I think your problem is that you've grown up in a culture of violence, one that insists that every problem be solved with a violent response.

    Perhaps it's just that I've grown up in a culture in which violence on the part of communists, socialists, and anarchists is generally praised by the cultural elite. I think I know what to expect, and I'm aware of a variety of responses, with varying degrees of effectiveness and appropriateness. And I am reasonably aware of the extent to which innocents get caught up in the violence -- I don't consider four innocent students to be killed at Kent State to be both the numerical and moral equivalent of the tens of millions of innocents killed by communist regimes in this century, but I'm in the minority in that view, I suppose.

    Think outside the box,

    Oh, I can quite assure you I do!

    ...the best way to topple the system is with a population that refuses to passively be a part of it.

    We're in agreement here, since the most important requirement for the US government, as envisioned by its Founding Fathers, is that a significant portion (if not a majority) insist on being actively a part of that system.

    In fact, I'll go so far as to say the most opportunity you have for success in toppling the US system -- which is vastly more than the Federal and State governments combined -- is to increase the sort of apathy among the populace that has been increasingly evident over the past decade or so.

    So, will the widespread taking of property across the USA increase, or decrease, apathy on the part of US citizens loyal to its founding precepts? You tell me what you think. For myself, I'll just say that my only reason to suggest you consider another course of action is your own value as a living human being; I don't really fear what you claim will happen, because if it did start happening, the apathy I see as an enemy of freedom would dissolve pretty quickly IMO.

    And another thing, as global capitalism increases it's stranglehold on the planet, you'll see a large backlash.

    It is not capitalism per se of which I'm speaking favorably. Capitalism is, in the sense I mean, the "default" state of humankind pretty much since it discovered agriculture, as far as I can guess. (Hunting and gathering surely involved some degree of ownership, of personal hunting tools by people, and of groves during gathering by a tribe. But I am guessing it was the huge investment agriculture required for "payoff" that really made it important to define and protect one's "property", to give seeds and shoots, which might have been very appetizing to hungry hunter-gatherers, time to come to full fruition.)

    If you're really refering to "corporatism", then I suggest the "backlash" you see coming will be more a hodgepodge of changing lifestyles, consumer choices, and so on, rather than a complete, utter revolution, of the sort you seem to speak.

    After all, it's the very adaptability of the "modern" society that protects it. The more a populace is able and willing to participate actively in the system (compare Taiwan and South Korea, versus other Southeast Asia nations, in how they coped with the recent economic downturn in that area), the more it's able to make non-violent, non-dislocative adjustments in its course as problems (ranging from communist threats to "corporatism run amok") come to light.

    So I don't know whether by "global capitalism strangling the planet" you mean "fascist governments enlaving the population", which is more like Marxism, or "more and more people having a wider array of choices as to how and where to work, what to buy, how to live", which is more like the USA. Maybe the answer is somewhere in between?

    The hope of anarchists is that this means liberation and freedom, as opposed to a series of fascist dictatorships.

    Amen to that.

    Oh, I do remember one strong impression I gained during my reading of the initial parts of the Anarchist FAQ.

    It was that while I didn't agree with anarchy as a system, I did find myself thinking more people should be anarchists.

    That is, I agreed with the idea that we shouldn't bow and scrape to those in power, worship heirarchies, etc.

    But not necessarily with the idea that we should seek to impose the abolition of such heirarchies on others.

    And I believe the best way to accomplish that is through education and the feedback of success and failure that the US economy general allows to flourish. (No, I don't particularly care for government propping up corporations by doing their dirty work, and, yes, sometimes I fantasize about some kind of revolution to eliminate that sort of thing quickly and "easily". But I know the difference between fantasy and reality; between killing one's enemy, and loving one's enemy; and which is more successful in practice.)

    Having worked in or near a variety of corporate environments, as well as one or two institutional ones, directly or second-hand, I've observed that "anarchic people", or, more precisely, those who have limited usefulness for heirarchy, seem to rise to higher positions of power as time marches on. They're less aware of heirarchy, position, etc., more alert to good ideas coming from anywhere, anyone, anytime.

    Further, the fleet-of-foot organizations (NPOs, corporations, even governments) seem to flourish to the degree they throw off the shackles of artificial heirarchy. (I won't go into what that is vs. natural heirarchy. As a simple example, having a corporate spokesman is more like a natural heirarchy, having a reserved parking space for each VP is more like an artificial one.)

    I also would agree that much progress is to be made.

    Where we disagree, apparently, is that you believe the system is fundamentally flawed and must be violently overthrown, even if the violence can be limited to the taking of property (and, again, that's tricky in a country like the US where the response to such taking is likely to be violent).

    I believe the system is about as well designed for self-correction as any that has been proposed, and much better than most, and that it is already "correcting" itself regarding the worship of heirarchy, power, money, position, etc.

    Globalism presumably introduces more risks, because though the US culture might be heading in a positive direction, as other cultures become increasingly part of the underlying structure often called "capitalism" (erroneous or not), they can, in my experience, tend to worship the kind of heirarchical, or vertical, view of "worth" that we're presently throwing off.

    (Compare "Japan, Inc." in the '80s, and the threat it supposedly represented to the non-government-directed US economy. Which "won"? Who is most quickly trying to copy the other? As a more humorous example, in the US, we're long since tired of super-hero characters in general, from Superman to Schwarzenegger, local adjustments notwithstanding, but they're still big in some cultures.)

    But that isn't true for all cultures. In some cultures, "bigness" isn't worshipped as much as it was in the USA in the '50s.

    In any case, it's the variety ("diversity") of all those cultures that offers the most promise of globalization, of the ability to more freely trade ideas and products with people across national boundaries.

    There are dangers (in globalism, but also in isolationism, etc.) too. But I won't be easily persuaded to throw away that freedom to trade just to gain a sense of security, and it'll be very hard to persuade me to eliminate that freedom for others even if I'll be praised as a "hero" for doing so.

  • don't call it violence, unless you want to denounce the boston tea party.

    Exactly whose property was being destroyed in the Boston Tea Party?

    If it was the property of those who were doing the destroying, then it wasn't violence at all.

    If it wasn't their property, then it was destruction of someone else's property. That's certainly not non-violence.

    But my point isn't that a modest destruction of a bit of someone else's property is equivalent to murder.

    It's that the wholesale revolution advocated by the poster, involving the taking of other peoples' property (factories, farms, etc.) by force, will inevitably involve the use of violence, and he knows that, counter-claims notwithstanding.

    the cops in seattle were beating people, tear gassing, and pepper spraying them a full two hours before any windows were broken.

    Think about it.

    I have thought about it, and that situation illustrates my point perfectly.

    As far as I know, there is no evidence that the Seattle police were ordered to commit violent acts wholesale against the protesters.

    No, what happened there is what often happens when people (in this case the protesters) willingly choose to stress the "system" to drive their point home.

    In that case, the Seattle police force was widely recognized as having been poorly prepared for such a test. (Maybe not as poorly prepared as the LA police force during the 1990s, though.)

    And if you're right about the police-force violence occurring before any protester violence, doesn't that suggest what is likely to happen across the USA if the widespread revolution, including the wholesale taking of property, occurs -- that it is going to trigger a response that make the Seattle police force look like muppets in repose?

    So you must decide whether the anarchists were responding to the behavior of the police (who were criticized by those who considered them too slow and unforceful in their response, in terms of truly "securing" the area -- maybe Seattle residents wouldn't deal with this concern by taking up arms, especially seeing as they didn't perceive the protests as a direct threat, but I can promise you much of the mid and south west USA populace will)...

    ...or that those anarchists would have committed that violent destruction of property regardless of the behavior of the Seattle police (which strikes me as more likely, based on sketchy knowledge, such as the impression that the anarchists were well-organized).

    The former interpretation shows that the anarchic revolution described in this thread will trigger vastly more violent response and then counter-response by the anarchists.

    The latter shows that its the anarchists who were intent on initiating some level of violence (in this case, force in the destruction of private property, collectively owned by innocent citizens here and worldwide).

    There's no question in my mind that the level of violence anarchists would initiate in the kind of revolution proposed in this thread would greatly exceed that displayed in Seattle.

    Indeed, when the "revolution" happens, the response of US citizens is going to involve a great deal of defense of property via the use of force, and the anarchists who are plotting that revolution know that full well, and they certainly aren't planning to become "martyrs" for their cause.

    Therefore, it's a reasonable conclusion that they intend to commit widespread violence themselves, if necessary, to achieve their tactical goals of seizing factories, farms, files, and so on.

    Even if the "leadership" (and there really can't be any such thing in a genuine anarchic revolution, can there? ;-) totally foreswears violence in the planning and execution stages...

    ...it's almost 100% guaranteed that they'll have less control over their revolutionary minions than Bill Clinton had over those Seattle police officers who panicked and started throwing tear gas everywhere.

    As far as I know, the closest thing to a truly peaceful revolution by masses of people was the one that brought down the Berlin Wall.

    And I'm pretty sure that was accomplished not with threats of violence or counter-violence, but with prayer, candles, and the experience of enduring violence and threats thereof coming from a communist regime.

    In these discussions of how anarchists will overthrow the system, I see no mention whatsoever of prayer and candles, though I haven't researched the pertinent literature.

    And as this thread shows, the tactical goal of the revolution is the seizing of other peoples' property, mainly, not the peaceful overthrow of a violent regime.

    So there's no question in my mind -- the anarchic revolution will be bloody, as every revolution the poster identified as a positive indicator of the potential success (he left out the Berlin Wall) was bloody, AFAIK. Innocent people will die at the hands of anarchists, just as innocent people died at the hands of the Clinton/Reno Justice Department at Waco (at the behest of a gun-control-crazy US citizenry, which willingly allows such a level of anti-gun hysteria to exist in law enforcement that when it is stressed, innocent people do die, which apparently Americans consider acceptable when it comes to restricting the Second Amendment), and innocent people have died at the hands of often-poorly-trained, panicky police officers who mistook wallets and the like for guns. Under stress, people make mistakes, and people wielding force make mistakes often involving the deaths of innocents. Training them better is part of the solution; not creating those stressful situations (e.g. not fomenting property-seizing revolution) is another.

    The anarchic revolution is not designed to change hearts -- as I said in the very beginning, it's a technology-based revolution, one designed to use technical means to change a system that is fundamentally rooted in human nature, in the apparent belief that those elements of human nature will not re-assert themselves post-revolution. (I don't mean only modern technology, of course; maybe I should say "material means".)

    That distinguishes it from the Berlin Wall protests, as I understand them to have been.

    Instead of changing hearts, you're planning on breaking things. Just as thugs and armies have done for millenia. And no matter how carefully you try to restrict the behavior of your cohorts, the scope and breadth of the operation you're planning will definitely result in innocent victims, due to the inevitability of the system you've put together acting in extreme ways when it is stressed.

    Just like with a well-engineered aircraft, where the quality is not evident just in the smooth ride experienced in good weather, but in how well the craft stands up to the stresses of bad weather, revolutions, systems of governance, and so on are not best judged by how they cope when the populace largely agrees with them, but when the populace is in "violent disagreement" with them.

    The fact that the Seattle police chief wasn't assassinated, ditto so many other political and corporate chiefs wielding power and control over people in the USA over the past several decades, despite "ruling" over a highly diverse culture including substantially independence-minded subcultures (willing to take up arms in various situations), suggests that, on the whole, this "system", despite its many flaws, is reasonably able to respond and adjust to disagreements between those in power and those who feel out of it.

    (Not that there isn't lots of stress and anger out there, I realize, just that this system offers a variety of ways for people to improve their lot, and the lot of others, independent of approval from the government/corporate axis. So it's rather silly to attack either government or corporations, when it's so easy to fix whatever actual problems you think you see on your own.)

    That's also a big reason why the defense against the anarchic revolution will be so much more vigorous than you imagine -- all those Muslims and Jews and Protestant Christians and Catholics and Atheists and Buddhists and Hindu across the USA, who you might think are ready to attack each other at the moment they see the "police state" crumbling, are instead much more likely to defend this land that has given them the common, free ability to make their way in life, raise their children (largely, if they can afford home schooling anyway ;-) as they see fit, etc., and they'll defend that not only for themselves, but for others, who might be their mortal enemies back in their ancestral lands.

    Trust me, if you're going to count on taking their property, you're going to plan on committing mass murder. (With some 50% or more of Americans owning stock, you'll have a hard time limiting your revolution to the taking of only privately-owned corporate property.)

    And we, the citizens of the USA, however disgusted we might be with the White House, Congress, or the Supreme Court, or even the tedious blandness of McDonald's hamburgers, are prepared for the mass murder planned by the anarchists, in more areas of the USA than you imagine, Seattle notwithstanding.

  • Although, practice alone doesn't make you a expert. In fact, just sitting down and writing code without consulting the designs/patterns/conventions of people who have more experience will usually result in hard to maintain code. It usally takes practice *corrected* by peers. (even luke skywalker had to be trained by obi-wan :) ) And a few other qualities: (see the camel book by larry wall ("Programming Perl")): laziness, hubris, and impatience.

    laziness: "...write labor-saving programs other people will find useful and document what you write so you don't have to answer so many questions about it..."

    impatience: "The anger you feel when the computer is being lazy. This makes you write programs that don't just react to your needs, but actually anticipate them. Or at least pretend to..."

    hubris: "the quality that makes you write (and maintain) programs that other people won't want to say bad things about."
  • A string of Os and 1s, no matter how carefully modulated, means nothing unless it is eventually channeled, observed and understood by a recipient
    This is true, but...what does it mean?
  • "To find the IQ of a committee, take the IQ of the lowest member and divide by the number of members."

    Or to quote Dilbert (Alice to stupid co-worker): "*We* aren't better off when *you* work late."
    --
  • Data can exist in a vacuum, information is meaningful data and without some kind of observation and analysis it remains as data.


    ---
    Jon E. Erikson
  • Process vs. practice: It's also common wisdom that the best way to learn how to code is to actually start writing some code. Do you think this is unique to the computer profession?

    This question is borderline silly. Sheesh, where to begin? Well, first off, do you learn anything by simply reading? Let me guess, you drove to work today. And you didn't learn to drive by sitting around reading Driving for Dummies or Teach Yourself Automobiles. You got in the car in the parking lot and used the machine. Same goes for cooking: a cookbook does you no good if you can't have a kitchen in which to experiment. But, sure, the book will help. And would Strunk and White's Elements of Style be useful, unless you planned on actually implementing them, and trying to write on your own? Of course not.

    So now I feel compelled to get this book and read it over the summer... Thanks, /.

  • Why are we so intent on replacing newspapers when they are the most effective medium for news? With one glance at the Washington Post while I'm buying coffee at 7-11 and see 6 headlines and comprehend them with a speed and accuracy I could never get with radio, TV, and 'push' content. Newspapers are a perfect example of top-down design: I can then descend into the first paragraph of each article, getting the gist, then down into the nitty-gritty details. This is also ignoring the reprehensible quality of television 'news'....

Do not simplify the design of a program if a way can be found to make it complex and wonderful.

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