1. Ghettoes of the mind

    They say the wealth of volumes it contains

    Outnumbers the stars or the grains

    Of sand in the desert. The man

    Who tried to read them all would lose

    His mind and the use of his reckless eyes.

    … said Caliph Omar, describing the Great Library of Alexandria before commanding his soldiers to destroy it, in Jorge Luis Borges poem ‘Alexandria, AD 641′

    Over a thousand years later, modern man finds himself, much like the legend of the book-burning Caliph, face to face with all the world’s knowledge – the manuscripts and parchment now replaced by signal bits flowing through the electronic veins of the World Wide Web into which the globe has become intricately interwoven.

    The volume of information generated every 48 hours now exceeds the sum of all the words uttered by mankind since the beginning of time until the 21st century, according to Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google – an Internet behemoth consumed by the idea of indexing “all the world’s knowledge”, having taken up the challenge of painstakingly scanning every book ever printed, capturing every image, collecting every video, and recording every musical note.

    If informed debate is the catalyst that strengthens democracy, and communication the antidote to war, then the Internet has provided an inexhaustible source of illumination, and an unprecedented platform for billions of people to engage with each other.

    And yet, a curious thing has happened. The avalanche of papers, viewpoints, analyses and thoughts has left in its wake a society that appears to be increasingly unreceptive to fresh ideas.

    Reality distortion field

    The discerning Caliph’s observation that “The man who tried to read them all would lose his mind” is especially true of the Internet.

    Recently, Google rolled out a feature by which a person’s search results would return content recommended by friends and family who are likely to share his opinions. Unknown to the user, his search results are already being tailored based on a number of other factors, including his reading habits, location and previous search terms.

    Perceptive users of social networks like Facebook would notice algorithms carefully designed to weed out content posted by non-like-minded ‘friends’ from appearing on their activity feeds – resulting in their ‘Wall’ being plastered with views they largely agree with.

    In other words, the web is increasingly becoming a deceptive mirror, telling one exactly what he wants to hear.

    This collateral censorship due to skewed results tends to create a bubble around users, steeping them in a confirmation bias that results in highly polarized views, which is evident from volatile, emotionally charged comments on the Internet, often over trivial matters.

    As with real life, polarised extremities can rarely engage in healthy, democratic debate.

    It is easy to observe the balkanisation of the web simply by identifying the cartels of blogs and personal websites. Liberal bloggers link to one another. Islamist websites feed off each other’s content. Christian blogs share gossip in their own closed loops. Creationist networks cite each other as sources. Atheist campaigners pat each other on the back. Environmentalists. Conservatives. Anarchists. Nationalists.

    Not only are people becoming increasingly isolated in self imposed online ghettoes, but the gated communities are becoming mutually hostile and blindly dogmatic than ever before.

    The scepticism of climate change deniers towards easily verifiable statistics demonstrates this phenomenon, as does the fanatic’s contempt towards established science.

    The Internet has made it incredibly easy to find out and learn about other peoples and cultures, other religions and perspectives, other views and opinions. And yet, the Internet is also where racists, bigots and supremacists have found refuge.

    Despite thousands of scholarly articles, research papers, scientific publications and public archives available freely online, the Internet is also a place where conspiracy theorists continue to thrive, carefully avoiding the zones of enlightenment.

    In other words, users intimidated by the bewildering expansiveness of available information can become ensconced in a comfortable, personally tailored reality that the Internet is happy to provide.

    Thought Control Protocol

    Cult leaders, dictators and fanatics are known to confiscate and burn books by dissidents and ‘heretics’, in order to ensure their followers’ unwavering adherence to ideology.

    The combined knowledge of antiquity went up in flames in Alexandria, and plunged civilization into darkness and wasted centuries. While the modern-day Caliphs cannot quite burn down the intangible web – they have figured out that it can be regulated or, even better, replaced.

    The People’s Republic of China effectively hides one-fifths of humanity behind their Great Firewall, blacking out entire concepts, ideas, and incidents from history.

    The famous satellite photograph of the Korean Peninsula taken at night, that shows an isolated North Korea plunged in darkness, in stark contrast to the brightly lit South illuminated from coast to coast, also accurately illustrates the North Korean regime’s absolute black out of information from its citizens, cloaking them in a terrible darkness.

    In the aftermath of the ‘Twitter revolutions” across the Middle East, Iran is reportedly pressing ahead with plans to move its entire online population to a “private, regulated Internet” within two years, cutting them off from the rest of the world.

    As with political mullahs elsewhere, the Iranian clergy deny they have any political motives (perish the thought!) Instead, they have put forward the honourable, time-tested justifications of “protecting Islamic values” and “preventing corruption of the youth from evil, Western influence”.

    Myanmar and Cuba also have private nation-wide networks, designed similarly with noble intentions of preventing their innocent citizens from eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge.

    The unrestricted, untamed power that the Internet bestows into the hands of ordinary people has made it the bane of theocracies and other dictatorships seeking rigid control.

    The collapse of a brutal, 30 year old dictatorship in two weeks bears testament to its immense capabilities – and the reason why politicians are increasingly clamping down the Internet, including in the West.

    Even young democracies like the Maldives have shown symptoms of this malady, with the present government banning several websites deemed to be critical of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the political party that controls it.

    The desire to control and censor information in the Internet age is the surest sign of authoritarianism, and should rightfully alarm proponents of democracy.

    Even when the censorship is self-imposed and cultivated by a desire to live in a tailored reality, then also, democracy is equally threatened.

    Democracy thrives on free flow of information. To achieve this, it is not sufficient to just bring down authoritarian regimes, but one also must break down mental barriers that form the walls of the Internet ghettoes and reach out to the other side.

    For democracy to survive, one must boldly confront views that are often unpleasant, patiently hear out ideas that are uncomfortable, and acknowledge voices that disagree with oneself – because, as it turns out, it is exceedingly easy to be wilfully ignorant, despite having the world’s knowledge at your fingertips.

    http://minivannews.com/society/comment-ghettoes-of-the-mind-21540

     
  2. America’s foremost anti-surveillance camera group documents its scripts, performances, maps and walking tours, and offers analyses of the right to privacy, the militarization of the police, the ideology of transparency, the mass psychology of fascism, the society of the spectacle, the PATRIOT Act, Rudy Giuliani, September 11th, face recognition software, reality TV, webcams and wireless systems, among other topics.

     
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  4. Digital sustainability

    Digital sustainability encompasses a range of issues and concerns that contribute to the longevity of digital information.Unlike traditional, temporary strategies and more permanent solutions, digital sustainability implies a more active and continuous process. Digital sustainability concentrates less on the solution and technology and more on building an infrastructure and approach that is flexible with an emphasis on interoperability, continued maintenance and continuous development.Digital sustainability incorporates activities in the present that will facilitate access and availability in the future.

    (Source: jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk)

     
  5. The Institute of Network Cultures analyses and shapes the terrain of network cultures from the inside. No innocent bystander, it actively contributes to the field through events, publications and online dialogue. The sphere of new media has huge potential for socio-technological change – the mission of the Institute of Network Cultures, the INC, is to explore, document and feed this potential.

     
  6. Black Boxes- the “hiding” of aspects of an artifact- should be understood as both literal (in the case of most computers, including the NeXT Step), as well as metaphorical in regards to the artifact’s history, possible uses, and technical considerations decided during its development. Media artifacts typically present themselves as black boxes- regardless of how much of their “guts” are visible, they are taken as cohesive, finished wholes to be used for a set purpose. Using the technology in a way not intended or against its design, the Hack, requires to a certain extent the opening of the black box surrounding the technology.

    A prime example of this is the “obvious,” i.e. those aspects of the technology that are used due to the particular historical context of the development of the artifact. These aspects, however, were not always obvious, and in most cases of dead media, no longer seem all that obvious anymore.

    Following Bruno Latour, scientific and technological progress includes both the opening and closing of “black boxes”. The opening of black boxes involves the questioning or destabilizing of settled knowledge- even if this knowledge is of the lack of knowledge- and proposing alternative solutions/explanations to the problematic at hand. For example, the Hollerith Punch Card opened the black box of knowledge regarding the tabulating of census data. The closing of black boxes entails the settling of knowledge into fact- the inclusion of the arbitrary into a technology was a conscious, debatable (and in most instances, probably debated) decision during development, but once settled these choices are taken for granted. QWERTY is an example of a black boxed aspect of computers, although multiple attempts from its inception have tried to pry open this box.

    At its core, inquiries into dead media involves the opening of black boxes- it is the questioning not only of the material object, but also the socio-historical circumstances of its development and use. “Black box” is also the term used for the instrument that records flight information that can be collected and analyzed after a plane crash. In many ways, this may be a particularly striking metaphor for the inquiries pursued in the Dead Media Archive project.A prime example of this is the “obvious,” i.e. those aspects of the technology that are used due to the particular historical context of the development of the artifact. These aspects, however, were not always obvious, and in most cases of dead media, no longer seem all that obvious anymore.

    Following Bruno Latour, scientific and technological progress includes both the opening and closing of “black boxes”. The opening of black boxes involves the questioning or destabilizing of settled knowledge- even if this knowledge is of the lack of knowledge- and proposing alternative solutions/explanations to the problematic at hand. For example, the Hollerith Punch Card opened the black box of knowledge regarding the tabulating of census data. The closing of black boxes entails the settling of knowledge into fact- the inclusion of the arbitrary into a technology was a conscious, debatable (and in most instances, probably debated) decision during development, but once settled these choices are taken for granted. QWERTY is an example of a black boxed aspect of computers, although multiple attempts from its inception have tried to pry open this box.

    At its core, inquiries into dead media involves the opening of black boxes- it is the questioning not only of the material object, but also the socio-historical circumstances of its development and use. “Black box” is also the term used for the instrument that records flight information that can be collected and analyzed after a plane crash. In many ways, this may be a particularly striking metaphor for the inquiries pursued in the Dead Media Archive project.