Regulation is everything, or power abhors a vacuum

Can we really control the Internet? This is question has been around long enough to be deemed a golden oldie. But like a fungal infection it keeps coming back…

The early battle lines were drawn up in 1996. In an age where cyberspace was both a cool and correct term lawyers like Johnson & Post wrote “Law And Borders: The Rise of Law in Cyberspace” and activists like John Perry Barlow wrote his epic “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace“.These were the cool and heady days of the cyberlibertarians vs cyberpaternalists. The libs believed that the web should & could not be regulated while the pats meant that it could and should. (I covered this in my thesis pdf here) Since then the terminology has changed but sentiments remain the same.

I miss the term cyberspace. But more to the point the “could/should” control argument continues. Nicklas has written an interesting point on the could part:

Fast forward twenty years. Bandwidth has doubled once, twice, three times. Devices capable of setting up ad hoc networks – large ones – are everywhere. Encrypted protocols are of state-defying strength and available to everyone. Tech savvy generations have grown up to expect access to the Internet not only as a given, but as unassailable. Networks like Anonymous has iterated, several times, and found topologies, communication practices and collaboration methods that defy tracking. The once expensive bottleneck technologies have become cheaper, the cost of building a network slowly approaching zero. The Internet has become a Internet that can be re-instantiated for a large swath of geography by a single individual.

So far so good. Not one internet but personal portable sharable spaces. The inability to control will lead to a free internet. But something feels wrong. Maybe its a cynical sadness of having heard this all before and seeing it all go wrong? From his text I get images of Johnny Mnemonic and The Matrix basically the hacker hero gunslinger fighting the anonymous faceless oppressive society. Its cool, but is it true?

The technology is (on some level) uncontrollable (without great oppression) but the point is that it does not have to be completely controlled. The control in society via technology is not about having 100% surveillance and pure systems which cannot be hacked. Control is about having reasonable amounts of failure in the system (System failures allow dissidents to believe they are winning).

The issue I have with pinning my hopes on the unregulatable internets is that they are – in social terms – an end to themselves. Who will connect to these nets? Obviously those who are in the know. You will connect when you know where & how to connect. This is a vital goal in itself but presents a problem for using these nets in wider social change. Getting information across to a broader section of the population.

Civil disobedience is a fantastic tool. But if the goal is disobedience in itself it is hardly justifiable in a group. If the goal is to bring about social change: ie. the goal is for a minority to convince a majority then the minority must communicate with the majority. If the nets are going to work we need to find ways for the majority to connect to them. If the majority can connect to them then so can the oppressive forces of regulation.

On the field of pats & libs I think I am what is a cynical libertarian. I am convinced of the power, value, social & individual power of non-regulation of technology but I don’t believe that politicians and lobbyists will leave technology alone. It’s an unfortunate truth: power hates a vacuum.

WIPO speaks of activism

Francis Gurry the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization gave a presentation on The Future of Copyright (Sydney, February 25, 2011) in which he says:

Adaptation in this instance requires, in my view, activism. I am firmly of the view that a passive and reactive approach to copyright and the digital revolution entails the major risk that policy outcomes will be determined by a Darwinian process of the survival of the fittest business model. The fittest business model may turn out to be the one that achieves or respects the right social balances in cultural policy. It may also, however, turn out not to respect those balances. The balances should not, in other words, be left to the chances of technological possibility and business evolution. They should, rather, be established through a conscious policy response.

Interesting perspective for the copyright organization.

Opportunity lost to bells and whistles

At the end of the 1800s most serious communication research was geared towards improving the dominant technology of the day – the telegraph. Then came the telephone.

And despite many others working on similar technology we built the mythology of Bell as the lone inventor.

But what got me thinking was the question of whether the early adoption of the telephone as a technology and its growth wasn’t a “mistake”. The telegraph was a sophisticated binary technology that was being rapidly developed. But most, and eventually all, this development was discontinued when the phone came along.

The telephone is was our dominant communications technology but the Internet has shown – voice is not our preferred mode of communication and today the telephone has taken the back seat to another binary based technology (the telegraph was binary).

If the telephone hadn’t dragged us off on an chase for flashy gadgets with bells and whistles – would we have had the internet much earlier?

What a marketer should know

Right now I am sitting in what is probably one of the most expensive (and therefore inhospitable?) airports in the world. Copenhagen Airport (CPH). Ok so I am sure there are worse airports but Copenhagen seems to be uniquely situated to annoy this traveler. And I have been annoyed here many times before.

Its not their fault the Danish krona is strong and you cannot blame one airport for being expensive – they all take advantage of their monopoly situations.

And I am not really annoyed that they still charge for internet access – only US airports seem to believe that this is something that should be offered at no cost… like bathrooms, toilet paper, heat, air conditioning, lighting and a whole other pile of services.

No, what really begins to annoy me is the pricing. Again with the local monopoly!

Internet Access, 30 minutes (DKK 40)
Internet Access, 1 hour (DKK 60)
Internet Access, 4 hours (DKK 80)

I am naturally averse to paying for Internet connection but when companies charge as much for the hour as these do it is cheaper to buy a month worth of pre-paid mobile Internet. But wait, they don’t sell such things at the airport – it would ruin the monopoly.

But what really gets me pissed off – that which really adds insult to injury is the wonderfully out of touch text about the airport:

“Copenhagen Airport is a living organism that never rests. It is much more than just a traffic hub; it is an excursion spot in itself.”

WTF?? You cannot be serious? Nobody but the feeble-minded make trips to airports as excursions – and none of these are trapped within the monopolistic terminals! So here is a message to Mr & Mrs Marketing: We are here because we have to be. We do not want to be here. Your words show a lack of connection with the real world on par with Egypt’s President Mubarak.

If I am thirsty I will drink your overpriced beer
If I am hungry I will eat your dry overpriced sandwiches
If I am tired I will try to rest on your uncomfortable chairs
If I am bored I will shop in your overpriced stores
But no way in hell will I swallow your crappy marketing.

We don’t believe you,
We cannot be bothered to argue with you
But your monopoly on defining the world does not create the world.
It insults us, it demeans you.

Posted from another country where the Internet is free. In more ways than one.

CFP Internet Research 11.0 – Sustainability, Participation, Action

The 11th Annual International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) October 21-23, 2010 University of Gothenburg/Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

The challenge of this conference is to find multiple avenues for participation and action towards a sustainable future. In a society increasingly aware of social and ecological imbalance, many people now see information and communication technologies as key technologies for solving problems associated with an unsustainable future. However, while information technology may solve some problems, it can magnify others. As pointed out by world forums such as the United Nations and the European Commission, use of ICTs contributes to the unsustainable consumption of energy and resources. Similarly, unequal access and exploitative practices remind us that IT is not a utopian answer to complex social problems. A sustainable future is not only about greening processes and products at any cost, but also entails social responsibility, cultural protection and economic growth. Therefore the conference has a multi-dimensional focus, where the Internet is seen as a possible liberating, empowering and greening tool.

The conference will focus on how the Internet can function as a conduit for the development of greater global equality and understanding, a training ground for participation in debates and cross-cultural projects and a tool for mutual action; in short a technology of empowerment. The flip-side of the internet as a tool for empowerment is the issue of exploitation. Exploitation of resources and people is what has led to the current crisis, and issues of exploitation are highly relevant online, from abuse of the commons to censorship, fraud and loss of privacy and the protection of the rights of the individual.

Sustainability, Participation, Action invites scholars to consider issues concerning empowerment and/or exploitation in relation to the Internet. We ask scholars to specifically consider issues concerning integrity, knowledge production, and ethics in relation to the Internet and sustainable development. How do we, as Internet researchers, regard our work in relation to the unsustainable current situation and the possibilities of a sustainable future? How far can we take the Internet, and with it, people, individuals, groups and societies in order to create an arena for participation and action, all key elements in imagining a sustainable future? How can we apply previous knowledge to serve future solutions?

To this end, we call for papers, panel proposals, and presentations from any discipline, methodology, and community, and from conjunctions of multiple disciplines, methodologies and academic communities that address the conference themes, including papers that intersect and/or interconnect the following:

* Internet and an equal and balanced society
* Internet as an arena for participation
* Internet as a tool and arena for action
* Internet and an informed knowledge society
* Internet and a green society
* Internet and e?commerce, dematerialization and transportation
* Internet and security, integrity and surveillance
* Internet and a healthy society
* Internet as an arena for cultural expressions, and source of a culture of its own.

Sessions at the conference will be established that specifically address the conference themes, and we welcome innovative, exciting, and unexpected takes on those themes. We also welcome submissions on topics that address social, cultural, political, legal, aesthetic, economic, and/or philosophical aspects of the Internet beyond the conference themes. In all cases, we welcome disciplinary and interdisciplinary submissions as well as international collaborations from both AoIR and non?AoIR members.

We seek proposals for several different kinds of contributions. We welcome proposals for traditional academic conference PAPERS and we also welcome proposals for ROUNDTABLE SESSIONS that will focus on discussion and interaction among conference delegates, as well as organized PANEL PROPOSALS that present a coherent group of papers on a single theme.

Call for Papers Released: 24 November 2009
Submissions Due: 21 February 2010 (Details here)
Notification: 21 April 2010
Full papers due: 21 August 2010

All papers and presentations in this session will be evaluated in a standard blind peer review.

PAPERS (individual or multi-author) – submit abstract of 600-800 words
FULL PAPERS (OPTIONAL): For submitters requiring peer review of full papers, manuscripts of up to 8,000 words will be accepted for review. These will be reviewed and judged separately from abstract submissions
PANEL PROPOSALS – submit a 600-800 word description of the panel theme, plus 250-500 word abstract for each paper or presentation
ROUNDTABLE PROPOSALS – submit a statement indicating the nature of the roundtable discussion and interaction
Papers, presentations and panels will be selected from the submitted proposals on the basis of multiple blind peer review, coordinated and overseen by the Program Chair. Each individual is invited to submit a proposal for 1 paper or 1 presentation. A person may also propose a panel session, which may include a second paper that they are presenting. An individual may also submit a roundtable proposal. You may be listed as co-author on additional papers as long as you are not presenting them.

Selected papers from the conference will be published in a special issue of the journal Information, Communication & Society, edited by Caroline Haythornthwaite and Lori Kendall. Authors selected for consideration for submission to this issue will be contacted prior to the conference.

All papers submitted to the conference system will be available to AoIR members after the conference.

On October 20, 2010, there will be a limited number of pre-conference workshops which will provide participants with in-depth, hands-on and/or creative opportunities. We invite proposals for these pre-conference workshops. Local presenters are encouraged to propose workshops that will invite visiting researchers into their labs or studios or locales. Proposals should be no more than 1000 words, and should clearly outline the purpose, methodology, structure, costs, equipment and minimal attendance required, as well as explaining relevance to the conference as a whole. Proposals will be accepted if they demonstrate that the workshop will add significantly to the overall program in terms of thematic depth, hands on experience, or local opportunities for scholarly or artistic connections. These proposals and all inquiries regarding pre-conference proposals should be submitted as soon as possible to both the Conference Chair and Program Chair and no later than March 31, 2010.

In order to increase the diversity of participation in the AoIR annual Internet Research (IR) conferences, the Association of Internet Researchers will make available up to three conference fee waivers per year. The number of fee waivers will depend first of all upon the ability of the conference budget to sustain such waivers (a judgment to be made by the AoIR Executive Committee upon the advice of the AoIR Treasurer and the local organizing committee) as well as upon the quality of the applications for fee waivers.

Applications for fee waivers are invited from student or faculty authors whose paper or panel proposals have already been accepted via the AoIR IR conference reviewing process. All applications should be directed to the Vice-President of AoIR, and must be received by June 30 of the conference year. Late applications cannot be considered. More information and submission guidelines will be published in a separate announcement.

Program Chair: Torill Elvira Mortensen, Volda University College, Norway.
Conference Co-Chairs and Coordinators: Ann-Sofie Axelsson, Chalmers University of Technology and Ylva Hård af Segerstad, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Important Dates

Submissions Due 21 February 2010

Notifications of Acceptance 21 Apr 2010

Abstract Revisions Due7 May 2010

Full Papers Due 21 August 2010

Pre-Conference Workshops 20 Oct 2010

Main Conference 21-23 Oct 2010

Things I shall miss

Saudade is a wonderful concept, its difficult to translate from Portugese but here is Aubrey Bell’s explanation from the book In Portugal (1912).

Vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.

So lets start with the obvious. I am a web person, my work, research and many of my interests would not have been relevant, or even possible, prior to the internet. Despite this I reserve the right to miss things that are slowly fading away – in a large part due to this technology we crave, admire and rely on.

Bookstores with more than bestsellers. The bookstore was dying for a time. It was hit hard from its monopolistic stance by the webstores and has transformed itself into a pop experience. Unfortunately with less knowledge and stock. Now for those of you lucky enough to live in cities in English speaking nations there is the mega store that gives the illusion of width (and they are gorgeous). But seen from the perspective of a small language state like Sweden it is easy to see first hand the decline of the book & store.

Some of the naive believe that if the market wants a book it will be published. The problem with this is that the large market required wants bestsellers. And historical works will be lost, they have been before but not on this scale. I used to think that second-hand stores would pick up the slack but they will eventually end up with what the market produces.

Languages are dying out at an alarming rate. They are small odd languages which most of us will never hear and now never get a chance to. With them dies there cultural significance and potential impact on the world. So this is sad, in the same way as the death of any culture. It’s sad, but that’s life. Obviously the smaller languages are doomed. Eventually Swedish will be a thing of the past. Swedish, Danish & Norwegian can almost be seen as dialects of each other but even then we are talking about a population of less than 20 million. But the question I have not seen posed is how many languages can a globalized world support?

Newspapers! Eventually the concept of sitting at breakfast with a thick, well written, argumentative, educational, cultural artifact of sheets of paper filled with the world will be gone the way of family dinners and the dodo. Can’t help it, I am a dead tree junky. The news I can get elsewhere but, ah, the format, the format.

Real old fashioned unnecessarily large, tackily decorated movie theaters. What am I saying? These are long gone.

Being able to read the collected letter of someone dead is a form of voyeurism which will be gone forever. In its place is the text message or tweet novel. Who wants that crap? Help me? Seriously it must be novelty value? Or is this just an unappreciated art form that I am too dumb to get?

Dead time This is straight from the Telegraph’s list of 50 things the Internet will kill. “When was the last time you spent an hour mulling the world out a window, or rereading a favourite book? The internet’s draw on our attention is relentless and increasingly difficult to resist.”

Traveling to Local culture even before the web major stores were everywhere. The same stores appear all over and create an ubiquitous sense of style and culture. This is an old complaint but it ain’t getting any better. Mind you the “local” items I miss are probably made in China anyway.

Pens, pencils & notebooks. Sure these are still around. Quality notebooks were almost killed by the moleskine but a whole new generation of cool stuff is appearing. Unfortunately the good stuff will not survive. They will become unfashionable quality gifts given on serious occasions and never used. They will be back for short revivals as fashion accessories.

Snail mail. I am old enough to have sent and received actual letters. Hand written content about people I had actually met. Now its only marketing, bills and magazines that come through the letterbox.

For those of you with a theoretical slant. The inevitable I speak of is not a technological determinism in the sense that we are slaves to technology and cannot make human choices. But I adhere to the thoughts of Langford Winner (Autonomous Technology) that the thousands/millions of individual human decisions are all in the power of humans but together like a shoal of fish we move inevitably forward together. Only rarely can an individual alone change the course of technology and therefore we may seen technology as a whole as deterministic.

Social Norms & Intellectual Property

(via Cybernormer) Måns Svensson & Stefan Larsson have released a report Social Norms & Intellectual Property – Online norms and the European legal development here is some information about what it’s about:

Research report in Sociology of Law (Nov 2009):
Social Norms and Intellectual Property – Online norms and the European legal development.
By Måns Svensson and Stefan Larsson

The study empirically examined, or rather examined the lack of, social norms opposing illegal file sharing. A total of over 1,000 respondents have answered the questionnaire. Along with the social norm indicators, the study maps out relevant questions regarding internet behaviour in this field, such as the will to use anonymity services and the will to pay for copyrighted content. These results are compared and contrasted with the legal development trend in European law in internet and file sharing related matters, as well as the Swedish implementation of this development, as a member of the European Union. This includes the Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive (IPRED), the Directive on Data retention as well as the implementation of INFOSOC.

The report consequently portrays the social norms on the one hand and the legal development on the other, and the overarching question of the report therefore addresses the correlation of these two. Do the social norms amongst 15-25 year olds match the legal regulation, as well as the regulatory trend on this field? If not, how can this be understood or explained? The study shows that the cybernorms differ, both in inherent structures and origin, from current legal constructions.

Three-strikes law is misguided

The three strikes approach to internet-regulation is a misguided approach to the problem. Read David Canton‘s arguments on the topic:

The three-strikes law is misguided, even if you believe such activity should be controlled.

Whether someone has violated copyright is often not a black-or-white issue. Copyright law is complex, and knowing in any given instance whether an infringement happened isn’t easy.

To implement these policies on a mass basis, in a similar manner to handing out parking tickets, ignores this complexity. And the penalty is more than paying a few dollars in parking fines.

Cat & Mouse of internet regulation

Regulating technology is (almost) hopeless. When giving a speech to the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre Symposium on ‘Meeting Privacy Challenges’ in 2008 Senator John Faulkner  said

Trying to legislate to control technological development or the ways people use technology is not perhaps ordering the tide to not come in, but it is certainly like trying to empty a bathtub with a teaspoon.

And yet we keep digging away with the teaspoon. Take for example the latest developments on The Pirate Bay site (via Slashdot)

“The Pirate Bay has shut down their BitTorrent tracker. Instead TPB is now using Distributed Hash Table to distribute the torrents. The Pirate Bay Blog states that DHT along with PEX (Peer Exchange) Technology is just as effective if not better for finding peers than a centralized service. The Local reports that shutting down the tracker and implementing DHT & PEX could be due to the latest court rulings in Sweden against 2 of TPB’s owners, and may decide the outcome of the case.”

Check out warsystems for a better and more thoughtful analysis of tpb’s latest move.

And thats just it. No matter what the single state may attempt to do, technical individuals will find a way to evade the problem for a little while longer. It is doubtful whether this can go on forever, the individuals will still lose but the problems will remain and grow. At best any victory will be a Pyrrhic one.

Researchers in Web2.0

In the recent issue of Research Information: October/November 2009 David Stuart writes an article entitled Web 2.0 fails to excite today’s researchers. The basic premise of the article is that researchers within academia are not interesting in adopting web2.0 technologies.

It is hard to imagine a group more suited to the opportunities of Web 2.0 technologies than academics, especially when it comes to conducting and publishing research…

…Scholarly publishing 2.0 offers much more to the research process than the simple content management system of blogs and wikis. It does not just give the opportunity to help find collaborators for a project, and possibility of easing the communication process within a research group. It also offers the opportunity to publish new forms of data and can blur the barriers of the research group.

While reading the article I found myself disagreeing more and more with Stuart. The level of academics participating actively by sharing their time and knowledge freely is very high.

There are two reasons why this high level of activity is surprising. One is based on the fact that only a small part of science is about communication and second the academic’s employers do not appreciate the value of web2.0 activities.

Science is more than communication: Most of science work is outwardly boring. Observing, reading, thinking, writing and deep discussions in seminars are not particularly for suitable for short messages and headline based communication. A wonderful example can be found in the words of Donald Knuth in a text entitled Knuth versus Email:

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime.

Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.

The same ideas can be applied to web2.0.

Few academic employers appreciate the value of web2.0 activities: In the final paragraph Stuart writes “Much of the blame for the slow adoption of the Web 2.0 technologies seemingly lies with an over-emphasis on the traditional research paper.” Well this is understandable since despite the whole focus and popularity of web-based communication the academic system does not put any real priority on these activities. True, they are not looked down upon as much as they once were but web2.0 communication is definitely not an activity which counts as a merit.

What Stuart seems to be missing is that web2.0 activity use is high in academia, but, for the reasons discussed above, it is not particularly visible to the general observer. Academic blogs, wikis, twitterers etc. abound but they are used as intended – for communication, sharing and discussion. The problem is that the discussions of academics are rarely interesting enough to be noticeable to the outside world.

Disclaimer: My web2.0 activity is very high (2 blogs (this one and techrisk), facebook, twitter, flickr, librarything etc And I follow tons of people via web2.0) and is very rewarding for me personally and professionally. But I also know that six years of blogging is worth less than one paper. This is mainly because it is easier for a university to count papers and citations.