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Digital Culture


Digital Culture00:49, June 13, 2011

Back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Association, to share with them his views on how to handle new challenges to publishing in a time of the Cold War.

Like with so much on the Internet, old things return for a second or third round, and that’s exactly what has happened to JFK’s address. This time, it’s forces challenging the status quo who invoke John F. Kennedy with the intent to prove that the iconic president would be on their side, had he lived. They latch on to the enormous cultural capital that the assassinated president has, to prove the point that the citizens of the US have lost their freedom of speech.

The videos have been watched more than two million times.

All the viral varieties of the speech focus on JFK’s criticism on aspects on a closed society. JFK implies that there are secret societies that must be exposed; that a democratic government must be completely transparent and that the press should be allowed total freedom.

Cherry-picking
Only problem is that JFK never said what video editors make him say. Not even close. The original speech is almost twenty minutes long. Something has been left on the cutting-room floor.

That “something” is a more nuanced message, and even some very outright controversial views on the relationship between the press and the state. And between self-restraint and censorship. The full text is, of course, available online for those who look.

WikiLeaks tweeted a link to one of these videos a few months ago, and more recently another version has been used when discussing the political uprising in Spain during the last weeks. The increasingly powerful hacker group Anonymous published a link without commentary. None of them have checked the source. If they would have, I doubt they would feel comfortable enough to pass it on. Both videos has about a million views each, yet reading the comments it’s clear that no one have reacted to the blatant falsification. So, there are two million people out there, who think they heard JFK saying something, he very definitely didn’t.

Фото на документы в Ивантеевке http://ivanteevkafoto.nethouse.ru/!

Faking JFK? I Can Do That Too!
To prove my point further, I spent half an hour in an audio editor and made my own version of the very same speech. However, I cherry-picked the parts that were not in favor of anything remotely close to a liberal view on information politics. It’s the very same JFK speech. I did not alter individual words, or even moved sentences in the chronology. I just deleted the parts that didn’t prove my point. Let’s just say, it’s quite another animal in my version. Look at the video below.

Whose Responsibility?
In a world where posting a link to Facebook or forward a link to thousands of Twitter followers is done in a heartbeat, it’s so easy to forget the most important responsibility: checking your facts before passing it on. Relaying and curating information is an important function for the net generation, but the readers rely on you. Your stories must be correct. I thought that was what scientific journalism was all about?

If facts are left unchecked and false information is relayed in an infinite loop, fed by the viral logic of the net, the Internet is just a huge gossip machine. (Not that any of us would be terribly surprised?)

 
Digital Culture and Free Speech12:31, November 18, 2010

Pentagon, with its newly founded US Cyber Command, is going all-in against an undefined enemy, with fear-mongers on the sidelines crying for blood. The state of the world being as it is, the question is if Wikileaks is going to be the first victim of this new offensive force.

Wikileaks, maybe more than anything else in the last decades, has changed the rules of the game. Whilst using the Internet to anonymously disseminate material is nothing new, the systematic release of classified information is. Quite understandably this is a major concern for the American military might.

Our system, based around the existence of sovereign nation-states has been relatively stable since 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia was signed into effect. It might not be a perfect fit, due to its territorial focus, but it’s the best thing we have to define and manage our world.

War on a Changing Arena
The concept of international security has evolved greatly in the twentieth century, changing from issues around the immediate military needs to a much wider and all-encompassing definition. The older definition is a narrow concept of security, where state actors dealing with military issues – for example the Cold War-era military tension between the west and the east.

A wider use of the term, however, also includes other issue as well as other actors, thus making it possible to, as an example, consider the spread of AIDS, or a coming bird-flu pandemic, to be an integral part of international security. However, the use of a wider definition also found critics among the more traditionalist researchers over a fear that the meaning of the term would be diluted.

While the rest of the world abandoned using the word “cyber” sometime back when Clinton was president – at least when not referring something out of a Bruckheimer movie – this is not true for some military theorists. The idea is that there’s a cyberwar on the just beyond the horizon. Some very loud voices are claiming we’re already knee-deep in it.

Without much public debate, the US Cyber Command began its operations in May of 2010, following a sense of urgency in defense circles of a very real and imminent threat. (Or maybe, as some would put it, there is a lot of money in pushing that agenda.)

The USCYBERCOM shoulder the responsibilities from several other branches of the US forces to “conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries”.

The Press as a Pillar of a Free Society
Wikileaks crushed, with a few swift blows, the information monopoly of the military. “Truth”, says Julian Assange, the site’s founder and iconic spokesperson, “is the first casualty of war”, repeating a truism that is rarely backed up with hard evidence. Going through the material, the cliché was proven. Not only did he documents show many things that were never reported, but it also showed outright lies and distortions.

With a very broad definition of security, the free press will be at stake. It goes without saying that exposing certain truths about how we wage wars; on the justifications or actions of troops, is a security problem for the military – and the long run, also for society. But, wait, why if so, do democracies have a free press?

The free press was created, in the liberal western world, as a vent. When the reformists set out to create a new egalitarian society, they deemed it necessary to protect the people from the state. One way to achieve this was by giving the people a way to scrutinize those in power.

Historically, one could blame the press for many wrongs, but at the same time they must be commended for being pivotal in many of the biggest shifts we’ve had every since: from the abolition; universal suffrage; the civil rights movement, to; Watergate. Without overstating the importance of a free press, it’s quite clear that corruption is much more common where the press cannot oversee, comment and criticize people in power. The vent is needed to protect the society from itself.

For the people being scrutinized however, the press can be a real pain in the ass. Consider for a moment the Vietnam War, where journalists had quite good access to the battlefield – and to the soldiers. The stories, images and films are to numerous to mention. It pretty much blew up in the face of the military. It was impossible to keep the general public at home in favor of a war that didn’t portray the solders like heroes, but rather the opposite.

Looking back it’s tempting to say that it seems like it’s impossible to win a war if you are not allowed to commit atrocities. But, the problem is that the people don’t like atrocities. They especially don’t like to see dead children when they’re having breakfast. So, the military came up with a new plan. Starting with the second Gulf War they embedded the journalists systematically.

By doing so, they could control what happened, the journalists were spoon fed information and given selective access. As an added bonus it experiences showed that the embedded journalists became surprisingly favorable to their embedders.

Controlling information and spinning events became paramount to keep be able to maintain support at home. And support at home is a prerequisite to keep fighting. So, the part of the mission is to always make sure the military is in control of the setting, because the context will decide how people perceive events. The war must be justified – and justification can be spun. At least, it could.

War is Peace
Richard Clarke, former advisor to the White House and author of the book Cyberwar, proves my point already in the title of his book. “War” is diluted to the extreme. His book has been widely criticized for being dishonest in many of its descriptions of supposed examples of cyberwar.

Clarke tells a story about a dystrophic future where Chinese hackers take down the Pentagon’s networks, trigger explosions at oil refineries, release chlorine gas from chemical plants, disable air traffic control, cause trains to crash into each other, delete all data held by the federal reserve and major banks, then plunge the country into darkness by taking down the power grid from coast-to-coast. Thousands die immediately. Cities run out of food, ATMs shut down, looters take to the streets. Sound familiar? You’ve probably seen the plot in some bad movie.

Even Clarke descriptions of historic events are flawed. Just five minutes on the Intertubes would have given Clarke better explanations: He claims the Slammer worm was responsible for the blackout in northeast of US of 2003. The Energy Department concluded otherwise. A power outage in Brazil is also attributed to a hacker when, in reality, it was sooty insulators that was to blame.

The danger is to attribute everything from teenage hacking to industrial espionage to “war”. War, at least as most of us perceive it, is a premeditated act from a state-actor, not acts of autonomous people or groups.

Just like the War on Terror before it, the term Cyberwar is not coherent. The objectives are unclear – so the war can never be won. There is no last battle.

There’s a dark side to this new rhetoric. It makes us think of war as a natural state: we’re always at war; war is all around us. It makes us think of peace as an anomaly. It implies a low-intensity war that becomes part of the fabric of our society – and makes us accept fear and suspicion as a part of every day life.

Wikileaks in the Crossfire
The introduction of a new domain for warfare is a premeditated aggressive move. The big question is how it is going to be used, and what doctrine will limit its application. And, how will other countries will react to network attacks by conducted by a nation-state.

Wikileaks is clearly a threat to the military, in their view. Remember the vague scenarios described by Clarke. Wikileaks, even though it is only the messenger – in the same way that newspapers were when it published the Pentagon Papers – has attracted attention from the power structures, and they’re not happy.

Julian Assange has been portrayed as an enemy of the state, responsible for jeopardizing the security of thousands of US servicemen. Of course, the fact that he caught the military with its pants down isn’t helping him. The action could, from the American perspective to be a defensive move, to protect national secrets to be blown out of the water.

One possible scenario is that Wikileaks gets attacked, in order to take it down. Beside it being a practical impossibility to take all the copies of the material down (simply due to the nature of the Internet), what would be the implications if USCYBERCOM attempted to bring the main site offline? At least parts of the site is hosted in Sweden, and to make things even more complex, Wikileaks are possibly even hosted under the protection of a political party with representation in the European parliament.

An attempt to bring the site down would be a clear breach of international law, and of Sweden’s sovereignty. It would also be a carte blanche for a whole new doctrine in international affairs, and essentially undermine the Westphalian system.

The principle of freedom of information is very important to treasure. It dictates that while we can punish the Daniel Ellsbergs and the Bradley Mannings of the world for leaking classified information, we cannot prosecute those who simply distribute, print or discuss the leaked material.

It would also be an all-out War on Journalism. And then we have to ask ourselves: how may people have died in wars defending that very freedom we now wage a war to destroy?

(Thanks to: Copyriot, DN)

 
Digital Culture03:30, November 14, 2010

More than 20 years ago, in Australia, there was a flourishing hacker culture: teenagers with a stick-it-to-the-man attitude roamed the international computer networks. Some for kicks, others driven by ideology. The world was their oyster as time and space morphed at the end of phone lines.

Being something of a mix between Neuromancer, The Art of War and The Cuckoo’s Egg, the book Underground: Tales of hacking, madness, and obsession on the electronic frontier by is quite an interesting read. It tells the stories of a handful of people, all of them involved in challenging the security systems of huge organizations, universities and companies. The book is available in all kinds of electronic formats for your reading pleasure.

As you read it, keep the handle Mendax in mind – and then connect the dots yourself. It just might be key to getting a better understanding of current affairs.

 
Digital Culture21:14, October 5, 2006

Rosemary Bechler, contributing editor to openDemocracy, recently released her book “Unbounded Freedom” that is an excellent overview of the debate on different sorts of intellectual property. Through telling the history of copyright law she is able to explain and paint a vivid image of why the current trends turn are so challenging for the creative industries.

User-led innovation is reshaping cultural production so that it is trans-national, more egalitarian, less deferential, much more diverse and above all, self-authored. […] Bechler argues that Creative Commons thinking enables cultural organisations to embark on mutual relationships of trust with huge new publics. Describing the transformative potential of new attitudes, she offers us a vision of the future in which “unbounded freedom” is not simply a romantic notion.

It’s an interesting read for anyone who’s interested in the current debate on anything from file-sharing to cheap AIDS-vaccines in Africa. She also discusses the possible implications of the Creative Commons for Developing Nations License and how it can allow western content creators to contribute to less fortunate areas, without the risk of losing revenue at home. (An idea that sounds good, but that I’m not sure would work in practice. More on that someday.)

The whole book is, of course, Creative Commons licensed and can be downloaded here.

 
Digital Culture and Technologies08:22, July 17, 2006

China is attempting to gain momentum on the western-dominated Internet, by encouraging a rapid transition to IPv6. And, it’s not only a matter of prestige, as the IPv4-addresses – the phone numbers of the internet – are running out. And they’re not exactly evenly distributed among the world?s nations:

“When 26 Chinese share one Internet protocol address, while each American possesses six IP addresses?this is the quandary facing China in the IPv4 era”, Zhao Houlin, director of the International Telecommunications Union, said in 2005.

Full article here.

 
Digital Culture and Iran12:09, June 7, 2006

In cities all over the world, graffiti have become natural part of the cityscape. Tehran is not different. Most tags and slogans (and the more elaborate paintings) are officially sanctioned, relaying the messages and opinions of the government.

Some are not sanctioned at all.

writing on a wall

This wall (larger image) was photographed in Darakeh just north of Tehran a few weeks ago. I saw the same tag down-town as well, but was never given a good opportunity to take a picture of it.

The Persian text translates to “political disclosing” or “political divulging”. Unfortunately the site no longer exists. I wonder who was so brave as to create an oppositional blog and then draw attention to it by spraying the address all over the capital.

If anything, I think the picture shows how important blogs are for the Iranian public sphere. How desperately people want to be read and listened to, and what length some are willing to go to achieve it.

 
Digital Culture03:52, February 18, 2006

If you buy something – you own it, right? You can repaint your house in any color you like; you can fit eighteen-inch rims on your Fiat Punto; you can use your CD’s as frisbees in the summer and as ice-scrapers during the winter? Well, no, when your stuff is digital, it appears that your stuff is no longer yours.

The right to ownership, access to a secondary commodity market and universal Internet access: they’re all different sides of the same coin. But if the corporations are left to their own devices, all three might not be in our future anytime soon.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act is once again being used to control what people do with stuff that is legally theirs. This is not really news, but has been done lots of times before. This time around, they want to block people from unlocking their cellphones in order to use a different provider. The rationale here is that the phone company need the user to stay within the network to cover the cost of the subsidized handsets.

Let’s investigate why this behavior is a dangerous when seen through the perspective of consumers.

First of all, the right of ownership. If you own it, you must be allowed to do whatever you like with what is yours – if you can’t, its not ownership, but leasing or something else altogether. In the example of the cell phone, this means that you must be free to hack, modify or alter the device, in whatever way you see fit. This includes removing any blocks that are put in there but the operator. Would we accept a fridge that only worked with Nestlé food? Probably not.

Secondly, access to a secondary market. This is really important. If I get bored with my whatever, I must be able to sell it? And the phone, for example, cannot be locked to a particular operator, with no possibility for me to change it. without breaking the law. Also, DRM often limits the right to resale a digital protected file, which is a disaster for many communities, especially in the developing world. For example, libraries can no longer donate used books to other institutions, but will be required to throw them away.

Lately there’s been much discussion about a new threat to cell phone providers – people using open WiFi access points for calling. For example, FON have been getting a whole lot of hype in the last few weeks (mostly because of their recruitment of agenda-setting bloggers, one might argue…). The belief is that handsets will be equipped with dual functionality; use WiFi if its within a hotspot, or fall back to GSM, UMTS, CDMA or whatever low-bandwidth alternative there is when the wireless broadband fail.

The phone companies probably should be scared. A huge source of income is without doubt people in metropolitan cities, exactly those who might get access to WiFi-networks pretty easily.

The problem is that handsets are expensive pieces of equipment, and in order to afford them, most people go for subsidized, branded (and inferior) versions. These are tightly controlled by the operators, who bloat the software with proprietary links and logos to maintain control over the experience. Some phones completely lack the brand name of a traditional manufacturer, such as Sony Ericsson or Nokia, but push only the operators own band. Vodafone is among of the most aggressive operators doing this today. You buy a Vodafone phone – and you get Vodafone service. For life, if they have it their way.

So, consumer behavior has changed, from first finding a cell phone they like and then find a reasonable service for it, to buying everything from the service provider.

Very few people can afford to buy an un-subsidized handset, and considering that it would be outright stupid of operators to subsidize handsets sporting WiFi-capabilities, and thus digging its own grave, I think it is highly unlikely that such offerings will be available anytime soon.

If I, personally, want mobile Internet access through my 3G-phone today, the rate is approximately US$1,20 per megabyte – way too much to do anything useful. In the end, this will lead to a less expansive public Internet, and it will not become a commodity that could serve society.

 
Digital Culture13:34, February 2, 2006

A couple of days ago the BBC reported that a document called the Information Operations Roadmap (PDF) had been declassified and that it contained some pretty interesting stuff.

The American dominance over the Internet, recently manifested by its unwillingness to hand over some of the critical control to UN-organizations, may have another side to it. Usually, the American model of openness is said to be the main reason for the American reluctance. But, reading the Roadmap, it is not very difficult to find some less appealing ulterior motives.

The document blatantly speaks about the Internet as an enemy weapons system, and that US forces should try to gain and maintain control over the entire electro-magnetic spectrum and that the US must be able to “disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum”

This is most definitely the military response of what, a decade ago, as called netwars – a concept, and particular type of information warfare, that the RAND Corporation published a report about, called Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (PDF available).

Also, another RAND report published in collaboration with the National Defense Research Institute U. S. and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in 1999 was entitled The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy. (PDF available) It analyses the soft power potential of the Internet and how it should be used to “get everybody in the world hooked on the dreams made in Hollywood”.

The growth of Noopolitik, they say, is a paradigmatic shift:

While realpolitik tends to empower states, noopolitik will likely empower networks of state and nonstate actors. Realpolitik pits one state against another, but noopolitik encourages states to cooperate in coalitions and other mutual frameworks.

 
Digital Culture17:32, January 18, 2006

In a time when commercial messages and advertisements are allowed to take over the public sphere, large-scale art projects are few and far between.

A few years ago, the German Chaos Computer Club took over a building in Berlin to create the largest computer screen ever. By painting the windows white and putting computer-controlled floodlights behind them, the windows were transformed into pixels. Although this is cool in its own right, the CCC went even further and allowed the public to create messages and animations to display on the screen. It was a huge success.

The group was invited to do it all again a year later, this time in Paris – using the fa?ade of Biblioth?que nationale de France. Second time around, the lights were more advanced and could display more shades. Again, public participation was imperative -the people was not just recipients of messages, they were producers of meaning. (Video documentation from the two projects, really cool!)

In Sweden, I doubt any politician would dare to allow this. Commercial messages however, they seem to have less problem with. Graffiti on the subway trains is fought with vigour, but the transit authorities allow companies to buy entire wagons to be used as billboards. And a few months ago, during the renovation of a Clara Church in central Stockholm, H&M was allowed to hang huge posters right on the church.

Everything is for sale, it seems.

 
Censorship and Digital Culture16:17, January 13, 2006

Yesterday Wikipedia was not true enough for some. Today, it is too true for others.

Via: Information Policy

 
Digital Culture15:42, September 4, 2005

My dear friend and mentor Jonas Söderström (of Blind Höna-fame), noticed that excerpts from a mail conversation I had back in 2000 with the customer support at Boxman, a now dead Swedish e-commerce site, was quoted in the book 404 by Lars Ilshammar and Ola Larsmo Dansen kring guldkalven by Björn Elmbrant.

(Jonas also wrote a piece (in swedish) a while ago, where he included the same mail.)

It was years since I last read the mails, but going back to it now, I still find it highly amusing. And, well, I’m not surprised that Boxman didn’t survive for very long. I decided to release the whole thing unedited here, for it to be archived for future generations.

And sorry all you non-swedish people: it’s in Swedish and too long to translate.
(more…)

 
Digital Culture03:50, August 18, 2005

Artist Nate Harrison use the Amen Break (mp3, 125 kB), a classic drum beat sample, as an example when talking about copyright in relation to the public domain and free culture. In it’s own calm and mellow way, the film is indeed a torch in an already heated debate.

The work attempts to bring into scrutiny the techno-utopian notion that ‘information wants to be free’ […] This as well as other issues are foregrounded through a history of the Amen Break and its peculiar relationship to current copyright law.

This video clip has circulated around the net for a few months now, and by accident I happened to watch it again a few minutes ago. Surely most of you have already seen it, but if you haven’t – check it out.

 
Digital Culture23:42, July 11, 2005

MediaGuardian writes about how ordinary people reported from the bomb-struck city. These eye witness accounts quickly spread thoughout the world, just not on the internet but they were invaluable for the traditional media too.

“Within minutes of the first blast we had received images from the public,” says Boaden [Director of news at BBC]. “We had 50 images within an hour. Now there are thousands. We had a gallery of still photographs from the public online, and they were incredibly powerful.”

 
Digital Culture03:32, June 19, 2005

OECD has written a report about on-line music distribution. The findings are quite interesting, given the heated debate.

Too many incompatible audio and DRM formats and hardware devices could depress the growth of online music. […] DRMs are essential to new content business models, yet they have often failed to prevent unauthorized uses. Concerns over transparency, privacy, and comparatively restrictive terms of usage rights (e.g., denial of fair use) are also flagged.

 
Digital Culture and Free Speech23:45, May 15, 2005

Every once in a while a text comes along that in an oh-so-simple, and just plain elegant, way explain a complicated phenomenon. If you’ve ever tried to tell a friend why you are so fascinated by new media participation (come on – I know you have!), and felt that the look they gave you back was one of complete confusion (come on – I know they did!) you know exactly what I mean.

Lance Knobel of davosnewbies posted a lecture he held a few days ago with the title Nullius in verba: navigating through the new media democracy, that truly is one for the books. Using historical accounts and parallels this is a wonderful introductory text on the subject.

Just print and hand out to all your friends. It will save you time. Believe me.

 
Digital Culture03:57, April 12, 2005

Google intends to digitize millions of documents from American and English university libraries and make them accessible and searchable over the Internet, something that the French will not let go un-noticed, as both The Economist and the New York Times have reported during the last week.

The Economist in particular is deeply sarcastic about the French plan to fund their own digitalization project, calling it anglophobic. I can’t see how this is a bad idea. Isn’t that what everybody should be doing? In Sweden for example, Projekt Runeberg, have been doing the same thing for a decade.

Besides, Google’s PageRank system is not without problems, and the French culture minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres might actually have a point: “I do not believe”, he wrote in Le Monde, “that the only key to access our culture should be the automatic ranking by popularity, which has been behind Google’s success.”

Google is indeed excellent for many of our daily routines, but can we really trust it to be the keeper of all knowledge and does it really have the wisdom to tell good from bad?

Let me give you an example. A few months ago, at the WebCred conference, the participants of a panel discussion talked a structural problem with Google. See, in order to rank importance of pages Google count how many other pages are linking to that particular page. What the WebCred participants discussed was if there could be a way of disqualifying some links from that count. Their worry was that if they linked to a page they didn’t agree with, say a democratic blogger who linked to a republican site, that link would still count – and they end up helping their opponent to achieve a higher ranking, and thus more visitors.

My worries are that if this were to be put in practice Google’s index would be completely and utterly bland. The pages that would show up on top would be whatever idea or view people could agree on, and getting low page ranks would in effect silence any opposition. Keep in mind that plurality is an asset – even though search engines would like us all to be satisfied with the same results, regardless of who we are.

This is also the same problem with smaller languages. Even though English is the lingua franca of the Internet, this does not mean that caring for another language is protectionistic, right? Surly, most people recognize the importance of at least some of the French philosophers, to name just one category of which I’m sure the French will digitize.

“I have nothing in particular against Google,” Jean-No?l Jeanneney, head of France’s Biblioth?que Nationale, told L’Express. “I simply note that this commercial company is the expression of the American system, in which the law of the market is king.”

Keep in mind, that in an historical perspective, the really outstanding artists or great thinkers are rarely appreciated in their own time. (Or by the search engines of their own time, I’m sure.)

 
Digital Culture and ICT4D16:55, March 20, 2005

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has submitted a paper to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), where the organization gives its views on why Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology is damaging for developing nations.

The answer to “Which DRM will spur the most development in my nation?” is “None at all.”

One of the more pressing points, I believe, is how DRM prevents resale, or even donation, of used goods – something that is crucial to many economies in developing countries. Maybe it’s not such a great deal if where talking about the latest Britney Spears album – but way more serious when you consider that Adobe’s eBook-system also incorporates DRM-technology.

Then there is a problem with infrastructure, of rather lack thereof. Some DRM-solutions require the client/consumer to be in contact with a central server from time to time. This is of course not pretty difficult in a rural area with little or no internet connectivity.

However, my only complaint is that the EFF report feels somewhat thin. They argue, with their usual precision, against DRM in the developed countries – but fall a bit short in providing specific examples with regards to the developing world. Their main point seem to be it didn’t work here – and it sure won’t work there, an argument that might not convince the sceptics and be heard over the powerful pro-DRM lobby organizations.

 
Digital Culture04:14, January 28, 2005

Dagens Nyheter (DN) Sweden’s biggest daily newspaper, reported yesterday that the Swedish government have produced two publications on the role of Public Service broadcasting in the future. That’s all fine, but what shocked me, and others before me, was a quote from the chairman of one of the groups.

Bengt K Å Johansson, socialdemocrat and former Member of Parliament, said that people’s use of an increasing number of media sources is a problem:

– It is a problem since we need a common ground in order to be a nation, Johansson said to DN.

Although I can understand what he mean; sure a people with homogenous views are more likely to reach consensus, and thus be more likely to bond. But, I also think his views are those of a dying generation. The nation state of the future will not be what it was 30 years ago.

One of the greatest revolutions spawned by the Internet (and other new digital media) it gives whoever’s connected to it a multitude of views and opinions to read. I’d say that on just about any subject there’s at least a handful of pages of interest, regardless of how small and seemingly insignificant the subject at hand.

When it comes to news reporting, the plethora of information is perhaps even more important. I would, like many others, like to claim that the idea of any objective truth is just plain silly. No one news organization, neither private nor public, can provide the absolute truth. The last ones to seriously consider that was a few decades when a certain state published the aptly named daily Pravda.

Much more interesting are theories on how multi-perspectivism can give a reader so many versions of the truth that he or she can make a somewhat more nuanced assessment of a particular event. (Some even go even further and say that the real revolution comes when those perspective start to talk with one another – in other words: blogs.)

How anyone can say, in public nonetheless, that people’s more extensive use of media is inherently a bad thing is completely beyond me. It is a good thing that we do not have to rely on just a few sources. It is a good thing that the nation is evolving into something else than a homogenous nation state.

I can’t even begin to understand how someone with such apparent lack of vision was put in charge of heading the government’s research. (Well, actually I think I got atleast a clue…)

 
Digital Culture16:31, January 20, 2005

A report from the Digital Media Project at Harvard University was released yesterday. The report is titled Copyright and Digital Media in a Post-Napster World (PDF) and primarily covers questions regarding copyrights and technological development.

The report attempt to answer the following questions: How do we balance the legitimate interests of copyright holders with the legitimate interests of the public in the use and enjoyment of digital media? Should technology developers be accountable to copyright holders? What future strategies might compensate copyright holders while also encouraging innovation?

Parallel to the US-oriented main publication there’s also an international supplement covering the issues more closely related to the rest of the world.

 
Digital Culture14:31, January 6, 2005

CNN’s debate show Crossfire is cancelled, the New York Times report. Apart from some schism between Tucker Carlson (one of the anchors) and CNN, the network’s new CEO (somewhat surprisingly, I must say) agrees with Stewart:

Mr. Klein specifically cited the criticism that the comedian Jon Stewart leveled at “Crossfire” when he was a guest on the program during the presidential campaign. Mr. Stewart said that ranting partisan political shows on cable were “hurting America.” Mr. Klein said last night, “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise.”

Jon Stewards CNN-bashing (transcript) received extreme attention in the days after the show (my post about it). The Internet, and viral distribution of the video clip online, was an enabler for the attention. iFilm reports a whopping 2,5 million (!) downloads of the 13 minute clip, and other sources – such as torrents and other P2P – probably account for even more.

So, using power of the internet – humor can bring down empires.

 
Digital Culture and Free Speech21:42, January 3, 2005

If you, like me, could not attend the Votes, Bits & Bytes conference at Harvard Law School last month, you’ll be pleased to know that Rebecca MacKinnon (blog) and radio producer Benjamen Walker have made a 12 minute radio program covering the event.

The show concentrates on the part of the event called Global Voices, focusing on how Internet have influenced politics around the world.

I was glad to learn that it the conference was indeed trying to be international in scope, not just the same western-oriented yada-yada we usually hear. They also discussed a particular detail I’d like to know more about: an Iraqi organization that offers blogging tools to individuals, but only if they agree with current political developments. What’s up with that?

Download MP3 Stream

 
Digital Culture02:54, December 27, 2004

In a daring move, the anonymous creators of this flash movie follow in the footsteps of writer Jon Katz and his 1994 ten-year-prediction on newspaper death. We’re presented with a possible vision of the future ahead of us, where the news organizations have parished; everyone contributes in the creation of news; where the internet contain all the information ever known to mankind, and the New York Times has gone offline.

What would such a world be like? Dare I say, its not all utopia? Holiday fun for the whole family.

 
Digital Culture and Technologies12:47, December 23, 2004

I’ve previously discussed, with Mark for example, that internet connectivity is so important that it should be treated as a public utility, rather than just a matter for private interests. Apparently, the businesses disagree with me. (Why am I not surprised?)

Besides recently losing an important battle in Philadelphia, where Verizon Communications made sure the state would not subsidize internet access, the legislation has now been converted to a fill-in-the-blanks DIY-kit, complete with dotted lines for the state name.

The legislation, dreamed up by American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is called the Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act (word file).

Read more, and be sure to check out the list of representatives on the Private Enterprise Board of ALEC, and you might get a hint to from where this is coming from.

 
Digital Culture23:58, December 4, 2004

The French newspaper Le Monde has not only launched reader blogs under their own brand, but they’ve also allowed reader and journalist blogs to be presented at the same level, French blogger Lo?c Le Meur reports. After two days of readers voting among the blogs to create a ranking, four reader-blogs are in the top-ten.

This kind of competition is not new within the blogosphere, but appears more or less in every blogroll on the planet, aswell as on Technorati for example – but to my knowledge this is the first time it’s been done under the brand of a traditional newspaper. And that is indeed important news.

Definitely its a bold move from the paper, and I really hope it the outcome is successful for all parties. It could very well be a way for the public sphere to be more inclusive, and open up for amateurs and professionals to work together toward a less hierarchic news production apparatus.

 
Digital Culture and Technologies14:27, December 1, 2004

The guy behind Torrentocracy, Gary Lerhaupt (blog), had an idea. What if you combined RSS, P2P and your television set? It would, they say, be a system that would let you, for the first time, enjoy the true power of television.

While space in traditional media is (by comparison) scarce and controlled by few, the promise of the new technology is that information and ideas will spread freely and that citizens will gain access to a plethora of opinions and voices. Being both a technical platform, combining some hardware and Linux software, the project is also negotiating deals with content owners to release materials to the public sphere under a more permissive licence, such as Creative Commons.

The system enables you to with your remote control select, download and watch material. Of course you need a geek in the house to set the system up, but it sounds simple enough. To quote Gary himself: “If you ever wondered how and when your computer, the internet and your television would merge into one seemless device with access to anything and everything, then at this very moment […] Also Sprach Zarathustra should be resounding through your head.”

The suggested system available today is clearly too complicated for the average user, I believe Gary has a point. The P2P-distribution technologies are a great way of getting content to the masses. (Provided our upload speed in effect is not taken away from us. More on that matter some other time. Watch this space.) Some material has already been released, most notably sequences from the documentary Outfoxed. Torrentocracy also carried the presidential debates, hopefully enabling a few more people to listen to the most powerful man on earth and his “opponent” battling it out.

The point is, even though the MPAA is whining about copyright infringements and reports that Bittorrent alone use 35% of all available bandwidth on the planet; one should remember that there are legit uses for the technology.

So would content owners really be interested in this? Well, clearly what is missing is stream of money back to the studios or TV-channels before the bigger studios would be interested. However, remember that Michael Moore actually encouraged people to download and spread his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 online to maximize the number of people who saw it before the American election. So, while it may not be a preferred system to distribute the latest Star Wars flick, it might well prove to be interesting for idealistic New Documentary directors, for whom money is not necessarily the greatest reward.

 
Digital Culture14:46, November 25, 2004

In an article a month or so ago, I discussed Jon Katz’s prediction that the web would kill print newspapers. I argued that news has been turned into a commodity that people consume in quite a different way than they did just 10 years ago, and that while it has not yet obliterated the newspaper, it has certainly changed they way they’re doing business. (And the newspapers who have not yet changed their model, are up for a big surprise…)

Now, Wired is at it again – and they seem, I’m glad to say, share quite a few of my views. In yesterdays article Newspapers Should Really Worry, reporter Adam L. Penenberg, reports that newspapers, according to one study done by The Washington Post, are having difficulty appealing to the very vital demographic group of 18- to 34-year-olds, and they believe this has got to do with a change in reader habits. In the article, Wired talks to a few people to try to pinpoint the problem:

[John Athayde, a web designer] views news as “packets of distributed information,” and uses NetNewsWire to aggregate about 70 news sources, including several blogs. “I typically will read entire stories within the news aggregator, bypassing all design (and) advertising” to get “to the content”, [he says].

Although their interviewees may not be representative of the broader spectrum of news consumers or newspaper readers in any part of the world, the views are still of uttermost importance. I remember a time when the music industry didn’t think in a hundred years that mp3-downloading could seriously threaten their business model.

The question is also; how long can online news-outlets provide news for free? Considering the growing number of online newspapers that offer RSS-syndication to please users who are tired of intrusive advertising “chimneys”, the papers only source of revenue is also dropping. Advertising in RSS feeds might be controversial right now, but its probably inevitable that users will have to get used to it (and/or invent the feed version of a popup blocker to avoid it from littering their newsreader).

Wired: Newspapers Sould Really Worry

 
Digital Culture16:05, November 20, 2004

In their book De-westernizing Media Studies, James Curran and Myung-Jin Park, have invited a number of media critics from around the world to comment on recent media developments in different countries and regions. The book is indeed an interesting read for anyone who’s interested in the relationship between mass media and society in a globalized world.

This book is part of a growing reaction against the self-absorbtion and parochialism of much Western media theory. […] Whether it be middle-range generalization about, for example, the influence of news sources on reporting […], the same few countries keep recurring as if they are a stand-in for the rest of the world.

I’ve looked at a few chapters dealing with the situation in the Middle East, Egypt and – for comparison – Sweden. A special emphasis is put on developments in satellite-distributed television, and how that technology changed the possibilities for regional governments to maintain control over its citizens’ consumption of media. Why is it that we in the western world tend to dismiss Middle East media, and claim moral superiority of our own?
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Digital Culture20:18, November 4, 2004

Ok, when I first set out to write this weblog a few weeks back, I promised myself that it would not be yet another blog about blogs. I don’t want to say anything bad about people who do so; I daily read a whole bunch of them with great interest, but I wanted my blog not to be a meta-blogblog. However, here’s another post on the subject. Sorry.

Washingon Post published quite an interesting read yesterday about how blogs “let the cat out of the bag” on election night exit polls and the implications of them doing so.

First of all: yes, I believe the blog-owners did wrong and should have known better than to relay dubious information. But that’s really not the issue.

It seems to me that the big media need to realize that blogs are soapboxes from where individuals express opinions, and they’re good at it. The big triumph of this year’s election is the increased participation and plethora of voices and opinions in the month and weeks before the election. This is, I believe, what media scholars will be analysing in a few years time. And this is what those big-media articles really should be about.

I do, however, have my doubts about weblogs as newscasters, in the sense that they report such things as exit polls. And you also seriously have to question the stability of the system if Wall Street reacted strongly to rumours circulating on the Internet, huh? I thought everybody knew that the Internet was nothing but rumours and porn? =)

 
Digital Culture22:41, November 1, 2004

Publicizing opinions online has become dramatically easier with the advent of weblogs, as I’m sure all j-turn readers are aware. What does this mean for a journalists in old-media? Journalists are getting more and more comments on their practices, The New York Times reports, and the comments are not always nice. But, please, you don’t think bloggers get their fair share of bashings too?

NY Times: Web Offers Hefty Voice to Critics of Mainstream Journalists

 
Digital Culture22:29, October 29, 2004

Click for larger image...It’s not often that creators of software get into politics. But, in the case of DC++, a popular P2P file sharing program, this has indeed happened. At startup the program contact the creators server to look for updates, but what it displays is a message about the lock-out fom George W Bush’s website. This is not a first for DC++ however – an entire version of the program was called The Peace Version, in the weeks leading up to the Second Gulf War.

 
Digital Culture22:26, October 28, 2004

From Wired News: “President Bush’s official campaign website has blocked access to foreign surfers since Monday, an internet monitoring company said Wednesday.

Netcraft, based in Bath in western England, said the site ‘appears to be rejecting visitors from most points outside the United States, while allowing access from U.S. locations.’ ”

I wonder if there’s a technical reason for this (unlikely) or if excluding foreigners to read about the most powerful man on earth, was an actual decision from the campaign staff. I’m worried though, that this might backfire among those who are already suspicious about the policies practiced by the United States. Time will tell.

Wired News: Foreigners Blocked From Bush Site

 
Digital Culture and Free Speech22:22, October 26, 2004

The Internet was created to be a synchronous medium, just like Sturken and Cartwright point out. What that means in practice, is that whoever can receive also can transmit, unlike for example television. In effect – anybody with an Internet connection can become a reporter and publish news and articles without the hassle of printing and distributing atoms, or investing hugely in the infrastructure needed to broadcast television.

What’s in a Name
In Sweden, which will serve as my example here, the market for Internet broadband is moving away from empowering the users with the possibility to broadcast. There are two primary ways of getting broadband access today; first, through optical fiber which is a quite expensive solution since quite extensive modifications to the infrastructure is needed, both the building and the apartments; secondly, broadband access can be provided through the ordinary phone lines. The latter is by far the more common method, and most often utilize ADSL-technology to achieve its goal.

The design flaw, and the inconsistency to Sturken’s a Cartwright’s ideal, is actually right there in the name: ADSL is an acronym for Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line. What this mean is that the rate of which users can receive data is much higher than the rate they can send at. The ratio between the two can be as high as 30/1 (28 mbps downstream and 0,8 mbps upstream). However, there are alternative technologies (such as VDSL) that enable true synchronous transfers, but none of the Swedish Internet provides are offering such a service to the market, and those who did are gradually replacing the technology. This is, the providers’ claim, because that too few customers requested the feature.

Consequences
Without being overly conspiratory, I would like to raise the question whether is possible that there is indeed a strategy behind these choices of technology. The phone companies have since a few years stopped being just providers of an information service, to actually wanting to provide and sell content for the networks. Is it really in their best interest as content merchants, to enable others to easily distribute content on the net?

The Swedish market does not (yet) show the same degree of synergetic mergers of companies as in the US, so lets consider the American example for a while (2001:317). Road Runner, one of the world’s biggest broadband providers is owned by the Time Warner Inc., who in turn own dozens of newspaper, radio stations and movie studios.

In the rapidly changing landscape of digitalization, and as more and more services anticipated to be provided through the broadband connection; fixed line telephony, radio, television, pay-per-view movies and music to name but a few, the apparent risk is that the consumers will, one again, be turn in to passive receivers of information without possibility of a feedback-channel. The effects of increased democratization would evaporate in thin air.

References
» Sturken M. & Cartwright L. (2001) Practices of Looking – An Introduction to Visual Cultures, Oxford: Oxford University Press

 
Digital Culture22:12, October 24, 2004

The last decade has brought substantial change in the way newspapers are doing business. Barnhurst and Nerone (2001:283) cite the American journalist Jon Katz who in 1994, made the (now infamous) prediction that newspapers would be dead within ten years. Considering that ten years have passed, and many of us are still in fact starting the day with a cup of coffee and a copy of the local newspaper, one could say that Katz was wrong. Barnhurst et al seem to imply just that. However, let’s look at a couple of examples of what these ten years has brought us, and let us then again consider Katz’s prediction.
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