Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Linksplunge: YouTube to TheirTube, techno-teens, $100 zooming

Some links via unmediated...

1. NYT reports that the rot is setting in... YouTube Adds a Layer of Filtering to Be a Little Nicer (via lost remote). According to the article, comments for (some?) CBS videos are now not only moderated, but also displayed on a different page - although the example given in the Lost Remote post doesn't seem to display that way for me. Maybe this behaviour is different for those signed into YouTube? Or have they changed it back following the press coverage?

Either way, the dichotomy of corporate and anarchy is underway. The old question is, will people start to flock away from YouTube as a result? If one partner have started the trend, it can't be too long until others start setting similar agendas with Google, and before you know it, all the interesting stuff is underground. Again.

2. Interesting - although not too surprising - figures on the technologisation of teenagers, with some insightful observation of where all this networked technology can actually lead us:

"So much technology makes teens feel they are playing a starring role in their own reality TV show ... Teen life has become a theatrical, self-directed media production."

3. And finally a link to a Nooface article on the $100 laptop interface, which will apparently have a zoom metaphor to leap between an application, the desktop, the user's social group, and the neighbourhood social group. I haven't seen this approach before, but I'm sure it must have been used elsewhere. The idea is, I think, a nice way to separate it out, although I'd also be interested to see how the different layers are re-integrated, too. I can certainly imagine some nice desktop apps that might use the metaphor in a side-window for IM contacts/general networks, etc.

Code v2.0 released

Code version 2.0, the revision of the book by Lawrence Lessig, was launched yesterday under a Attribution-ShareAlike license, which means you can copy it and use it in derivative works freely (with credit/same license). The book's revision was conducted through a wiki, so it'll be interesting to see how it differs. One to add to the Christmas list, methinks. (Yes, you can download it for free, but there's nothing like a real tome from real tree...)

The first book is highly recommended, and does a great job of establishing some context and the relationships between all the various factors (technical, political, social) that influence what shapes our networks take. Lessig starts out, IIRC, by making the point that there is nothing inherent in the technology that makes it decentralised, uncontrolled, and that we really shouldn't assume that there is. Worth a read.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Distributed Deliberation vs Distributed Surveillance

Networked technology does not operate in a discursive vacuum. The structures in place that make it possible for people to communicate globally, and for communities to integrate locally, are the same structures that also permit more stringent hierarchies, and greater tracking. As Lessig pointed out, there is nothing inherently "communitarian" or, if you like, "anarchist" in our network infrastructure; code can be changed, and routers can be controlled, such that it's perfectly possible to have a "distributed" network of tough hierarchies - in effect, everyone can sit at the top of their "domain".

This is worth bearing in mind for matters of civil discussion. Arguments over the best way to implement, and to encourage people into these debates is of limited value if the alternative, and often encapsulating contexts are ignored. Seeking to bridge some of the (intentional) divide with the Into the Machine blog, I think the interplay between what we often call "democracy" and, in this case, surveillance - monitoring - needs to be explored further.

This USA Today article (via SmartMobs) points out how issues of injustice are brought to a global attention, through the ubiquity not of networked discussion and basic awareness, but of video devices. The article calls it "cell-veillance", but the idea of "sousveillance" (viewing from below) has been around for years.

What strikes me, though, is the association made between this sousveillance and "justice". Jeffrey Cole, in the article, states that:
"Video empowers the individual against big brother"
This is, apparently, the "era of citizen journalism".

The language of "empowerment", "citizens" and "bottom-up" (as in grass-roots, not christmas drinks...) is one familiar to practitioners of more participative, deliberative democracy. At the heart of both (and revealing the source of the overlap in lingo) is a desire to hold those with power to account, to avoid mis-use of resources and misrepresentation. The difference, then, lies in the extent to which we, as individuals, relate not just to each other, but to ourselves. There is a difference between being merely a publisher - being in the right place at the right time, and pushing information out - and being a participant.

In participation there is feedback. There is understanding through debate, agreement and, most of all, disagreement. But furthermore from a policy perspective, there is also often a result. Not only (one hopes) do people come to a mutual decision or viewpoint, but also there is opportunity for a more reflective, more reflexive process wherein the nature of the debate itself can be extended and transformed.

I am, unfortunately, a cynic however. There is far less evidence of this participation being taken up than there is of surveillance - in all of its forms - being implemented, in the UK at least. For many reasons, our fixation with CCTV and other modes of panopticism is rapidly becoming embedded as a cultural value, a symbol of our isolation and dependency on technology as a solution rather than a facilitator. From a "grass-roots" perspective, this is very much "fire to fight fire".

This is not to say that electronic deliberation and distributed surveillance are, necessarily, mutually exclusive, by any means. However, the modern human is a fickle and busy creature, and the issue of personal responsibility to society (in contrast to Blair's re-definition of the "social contract") is one in which many people now seem content to avoid. Much, if not all, of the ideas surrounding the on-line reconstruction of society are centred on how to attract and keep people's attention.

Video's are being used more and more in matters of discussion - although generally for either attention grabbing or for structured input. But how should the "divide" between video as "content" and video as "surveillance" be addressed? Should there be greater integration between our surveillance systems and our debate systems (hmm, can't find a link to the town showing CCTV footage on a local public TV channel now...), such that we have the chance to discuss events with some context? Or does this risk establishing more surveillance as a "legitimate" mode of self-governance? There are, after all, still many places that rely on CCTV as only a disuasive tool rather than as "evidence". Or, indeed, that don't rely on it at all.

This post is getting quite long now, so I'll wrap it up and maybe continue some thoughts in another post. The main point, from this blog's perspective, is that while there are many efforts to engage with ordinary people in the political sphere, we should also recognise that this is not an isolated effort, and that "openness" and engagement can at the same time come from quite different (and, in many minds, more "cost-effective") tools. Rolling the more "voyeuristic" tendencies of people into discussions may not be so "ethically" grounded, but can it offer a path to increased interest in discussion?

Comments and criticism welcomed, indeed encouraged...