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The Curse of Being Blessed August 9, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.
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For a technophile, it’s probably more than a little odd that I tend to willfully ignore so much new technology. I like the idea of technology, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I like adopting it.  It’s usually expensive, time consuming, and generally just not worth while.

 I was downright hostile to getting a cell phone, but when I was living in Toronto, I finally broke down and got one. Now that I have one… I’m even more hostile towards the idea. I’ve even become ambivalent towards the Internet (which I used to love) as well.  At the time though, I felt coerced to get one for my job (and because people I worked with kept on bugging me to get one). I managed to hold out a bit longer on getting the Internet, but eventually I caved here too. And no, I wasn’t going for some kind of asceticism by “denying” myself these things. I was simply trying to protect the last of my eroding freedom and autonomy.

The problem with technologies like cell phones and the Internet is that they are double edged swords. In fact, the sharper edge is usually pointed towards you and not away from you… Even though these technologies can extend your freedom and capabilities in some ways, they aren’t always worth the freedom and autonomy you lose in the bargain. For example, the “opportunity” to work from home (typically before you leave for work, as soon as you get home from work, and on weekends too). Having a cell phone also gives you the “opportunity” to become aware of when something from work needs taking care of, so you don’t have to wait until the next day.

When you look at them in this light, it becomes less clear why these things are desirable… They all have strings attached; the problem is when the strings are attached to you. You become a puppet, whether you know it or not. So as someone who has been pulled around by these strings, I like to keep them where I can see them at all times. Other than just sheer contrariness, I suppose this is probably part of the reason why I haven’t joined facebook. Other than that, I simply can’t stand the inherent contradiction of putting your personal information in a public place, and then getting upset about people invading your privacy… What are these people on? Do you know what someone can do with something as simple as a name or an email address (any part of an email header is relatively easy to forge…)?

As with all blessings, they can just as easily be a curse. It’s all in your point of view.

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Hackers, Crackers, Script Kiddies and Testing August 4, 2007

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In the media, hackers for a long time have been cast in a negative light. The problem is that the term doesn’t even refer to what it’s being applied to here. What most people are actualy talking about when they talk about “hackers” is crackers and script kiddies. Script kiddies are the ones who don’t realy know what they are doing, typicaly high school kids who download all of thier tools from the internet, and would be helpless without them. The term comes from the practice of copying and pasting small code snippets from some online code bank, typicaly in an interpreted or scripting langage. The script kiddie may then modify one or two lines (typicaly the comment indicating the author). The thing that realy irks me is that this has evolved to becoming accepted as a legitimate software development practice! How can these people take themselves seriously?

Anyways, crackers are typicaly more advanced than script kiddies, but not as broad ranging as hackers. Crackers are typicaly crypto-bufs, who are in it for the love of making and breaking codes (not all that much different from cross word puzzle or sudoku addicts), although there are alot who are simply vandals, or more akin to virtual graphiti artists. The reason for wanting to B & E a computer system is to leave your tag there (there are of course other reasons, this is simply my take on crackers who B & E). Of course, since many computer users (including computer administrators! – did you know it was, and still is a common practice to simply leave the default password in place on corporate routers? anyone who is familiar with Cisco routers could take advantage of this to perpetrate man in the middle or massive DOS attacks without too much difficulty. The default user/password on almost all enterprise Cisco gear is Administrator/cisco in case you were interested…) are not aware of what goes on on thier system, so if you actualy want a hack to be notieced (as a cracker grafiti artist would), you have to go overboard and do alot of damage.

The same is true for the media. With our love of doom and gloom, death and despair, what the media is going to notice and sell is… doom and gloom, death and despair. One thing I find kind of odd about our society, is that it’s practicaly become anti-social not to gawk. If there is a car crash or a train wreak you have to stop and watch. If you’re there to offer help fine, but when it gets to the point of the gawkers being in the way of help, it’s too much. This reduces you (almost literaly!) to a flesh eating zombie looking for brrraaaiiinnnsss (and it’s already been pointed out to me that this is actualy a ghoul…). Anyways, it shouldn’t be any wonder that Hackers have been painted negative by the media… since this is the way almost everything else is in the media…

Alright, with that out of the way, asside from say creating the internet and personal  computers, there is another very valuable function that hackers (and crackers, but not script kiddies…) could be performing. That function is testing. The good news is that many software companies are actualy starting to wise up about this. What hacking primarily does is expose bugs and security vulnerabilities that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. If a company were to hire an independant firm (which usualy hires hackers) to do this work, it would cost them huge sums of money, but yet there are people who are performing this service FOR FREE! Those who are willing to share thier results with those they hack (typicaly known as “white hat” hackers) should be given awards, not prison sentences. And the good news is, that some companies are open minded enough to do just that… now anyways.

When I was working as an intern at IBM, I had the privilidge of seeing James Whittaker speak. He is someone who breaks software for a living. Otherwise known as a security expert, tester, and hacker (of the white hat persuasion).  Incidentaly, he is working for Microsoft now, which I hope should say something to dispell the myths about Microsofts commitment to quality, stability, and security…. (http://blogs.msdn.com/michael_howard/archive/2006/05/05/590906.aspx). In his talk he gave instructions on how to perform basic hacks such as SQL injection on web sites (try inserting sql statements into a web query box sometime, typicaly after a delimiter such as & or ?, or imagine how the contents of the box might be used in an sql query. this is the basic technique…), and buffer overflow exceptions. Many applications are vulnerable to this exception in surprising ways… long filenames can sometimes be exploited for example. He also talked about some of his teaching, and and even that there were jokes emebedded in some of the Microsoft windows system dlls (stuff like “why did the server decide to crash? – becuase it was tired of it’s life and wanting to end it’s misery…”. I forget the actual joke, but it was something like that)! Apparently he also embedded a virus in a word document he sent to one of the IBM execs, but it didn’t work becuase he opened it with Lotus 123… (and no, It’s probably more likely to be because Lotus sucks, not because it’s good…. I managed to uncover an infinite loop in Lotus Notes that could easily be entered by a simple search and replace….).

Anyways, the next time you use shoddy software that doesn’t work properly, is awkward to use, crashes, and is insecure, know that it’s because of a severe lack of hacking… In the software industy there is a euphamism for this. They call it “user testing” or “field testing” if it’s an enterprise product. The idea is that this is completely untested (or mostly untested) code, and any bugs are exposed by the end user or in the field…. And some of this software is used by banks and government….

I ask you what the greater evil is: hacking software, or creating software that’s so easy to hack…

Dropped Frames August 4, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.
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What happens when an irresistable force meets an unmovable object? Implosion, explosion, or possibly some other kind of ‘plosion perpendicular to either two (perpenplosion?). The problem with the accelleration of change is that it vastly exceeds our capacity to cope with it. Individual human capability is (currently?) linear whereas collective human capability is exponential, due to positive feedback loops present between human-human and human-technological relations.

The reason I say that individual human capability is linear becomes obvious when we consider what happens at potential branch points. As an individual, you can only do one thing, so you have to choose what branch of activity to follow. However for the human collective, different branches of a task can simply be forked off to different individuals (typicaly refered to as “co-operation”). While mob mentality is typicaly not known for enhanced capability, this is not what is at work when I speak of human collective operation here.

The problem with the mob is that it is a tightly coupled system, and where positive feedback pathways exist, they will become the dominant force. So the mob is simply a harmonic resonance that reverberates back through all of its members. Again, this is simply becuase the coupling of the mob is too tight. Unity is not actualy a good thing, becuase the propagation delays across the network are large, only the most common messages are fully propagated, because the frame buffers of individual nodes are overloaded, and you get dropped frames. This is what produces the positive feedback squeal that is the mob mentality.

 So as the rate of change accelerates, and individual human capability to absorb change stays the same, we get dropped frames, and so bizare as it sounds, the acceleration of change threatens to reduce us to a single simple harmonic resonance. In this way, modern information society is like a massive DOS attack against humanity. Under McLuhan’s terms, this shock causes us to amputate and extend ourselves to remove the source of the irritation, and replace the lost capability. McLuhan has also gone so far as to suggest that we have already amputated the entire cereberal cortex and produced its prosthetic extension outside of ourselves. Metaphoricaly, perhaps, but I don’t know that I put as much faith in this human creation as McLuhan seems to. The interface between man and the extended cereberal cortex of media is simply to low bandwidth, which makes it highly vulnerable to DOS attacks. The part of it that operates more or less independantly from individual humans is maybe less subject to this limitation, but I don’t think that open source mediational technologies existed when McLuhan wrote “Understanding Media: The extensions of man”.

Anyways, I’m probably getting off topic here. The point is that individual humans can only absorb so much information, and so much difference at once. Anything more, and you start getting dropped frames. These frames can be thought of in both conceptual and narative terms. If you drop enough frames of film, you compromise the narative unity of the story. When a router, switch of frame relay drops a frame, a message isn’t communicated. In both cases, the result is a cognitive disconnect with the environment. Either it isn’t understood, or the message simply doesn’t register.

The internet is interesting because it both excacerbates the problem and provides a solution at the same time. The combinatoric proliferation of information that the internet allows for through fine grain massively scaled collaboration (look at wikipedia or sourceforge for good examples.) amplifies the accereration of change (not sure what the amplification factor is, or where it’s applied, but it seems likely that it is either an additive or multiplicative factor of the base of the exponential). This of course produces more information at a faster rate than humans can possibly deal with it. However, at the same time, I think that humans are using the internet as a frame buffer, like an external hipocampus for the integration of long term memories stored outside of ourselves (And it’s possible that this is what McLuhan was talking about in my reference to him above). Asynchronous comunication provides a frame buffer, and if human cognitive capacities are being stretched in the way that I think they are, then this only makes sense. The alternatives are a kind of solopsism or mind death (as you become reduced to a single resonant frequency).

In his novel “Accelerando”, Charles Stross developes an idea he calls the “exocortex” which is a swarm of distributed (artificialy intelligent) agents which the user interacts with through a wearable apparatus (which isn’t actualy all that far off. voice interfaces still need some work, as well as some of the software, but mostly, no one has realy bothered to put something like this together. Steve Mann  has probably gone the farthest with wearables, but from what I understand, his are largely passive. Also check this out. Not sure if he’s behind it, but he has a glog there). Personaly, I think that people are using the internet something like an exocortex. With a simple google search you can recall things from the long term memory and collective unconciousness embodied by the internet. The problem is that there is still plenty of room for dropped frames across the low bandwidth interface of user and machine.

For myself, I find that I think and forget far more thoughts than I ever get written down. By choosing to write one, I’m forced to drop the other, usualy on the floor. When you get tired, the problem is worse. Never mind writing a coherent thought, it’s possible to drop so many frames that no thought has sufficient narative unity to be understood…. which is odd because you generated them….

Anyways, there are two solutions to this problem. Either we find some way to increase the bandwidth of interfaces/channels that we drop frames across, or we can simply decrease the bandwidth requirements. Personaly, I’m in favor of pursuing solution 2 over solution 1 (although these are not mutualy exclusive, so there is no reason we can’t do both so long as we are able), since will provide a solution that will be even more relevant if we were to increase the bandwitdth of these bottlneck interfaces. Simply throwing bandwidth and computational power at a problem is no subtitute for a good algorithm. In fact, believe it or not, having good algorithms (and design in general… simply focusing on algoritms is too linear an approach for my tastes) becomes even more important as computational capacity, bandwidth, memory etc increase.

Intuitively it seems like the opposite should be true, since you can brute force more and more. However, this approach runs hard up against the law of diminishing returns. I suppose what I’m basicaly arguing for is quality over quantity. I’m not saying we can’t have both, but where we have a choice… quality should be prefered. Otherwise, we start dropping frames in unexpected places. Like the environment for example… Did you know that most landfill sites are filled mostly with dropped frames? Or maybe I’m just getting carried away with the metaphor. Even I’m starting to drop frames in the connection to the analogy…

Disbandment of the Tribes? August 3, 2007

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In his book, “Eastern Standard Tribe”, Cory Doctorow builds a story around the obsessive culture of time tribes. In a society that is remnicient of Castells “network society” (the main character is a “user experience designer” who was practicaly written from a template for Castells networker), where globalization has rendered physical geography irrelevant, people define thier personal identities by affiliation with a time zone. Each time zone is seen as embodying a different ethos, and tribe members are intensely loyal to each other, and often antagonistic towards each other.

Not all people identify themselves with a time tribe, or even have any association with one, but for those with no physical roots or geographic attachment, they offer ideological stability. The main character is of course, a member of the “eastern standard tribe”, whose ethose involves workaholism, careerism, and other things that are commonly associated with the stereotype of people working in business or IT in the Toronto area. Generaly the characters spend thier time sabotaging companies in other time zones, in the same way that a flame war might be perpetuated online.

Thier lives also have a heavy online comonent, and of course, not matter what time zone the characters might find themselves in, they are obsessive to make sure that they are online during the time when other members of thier time tribe would be online. This novel was written before Facebook, but not that much before. Doctorow’s idea of the time tribes was predicated on the idea of real time interaction. If you were a member of a time tribe, you lived in the circadian rythems of that time zone, and used whatever stimulants and sedatives (typicaly melatonin) that were necesary to keep you (just barely) functioning within your geographical time zone. This was because you would interact with people from your time tribe using instant messaging or phone SMS texing, or possibly in some other way.

But if the dominant paradigm of online communication is becoming asynchronous, as with social networks, as opposed to instant messaging, does this signify the disbandment of the tribes? After all, you would have no reason to live the circadian rythems of your time tribe if you don’t interact with them in real time. At the same time, I suppose it’s also possible that social networks might never become a truly significant forum of interaction for tribals anyway. Or perhaps they will simply be marginalized, if this is possible. Doctorow was being somewhat sarcastic when he wrote “Eastern Standard Tribe” book (I think anyway), so I’m not sure how pervasive he actualy meant his idea of the tribes to be. The time tribes were a subculture to be sure, but in the book they were portrayed as a kind of shadowy underworld with vast networks of connections. The main character got all of his jobs through his connections with the eastern standard tribe, even though he was never qualified for any of them, and had little official education.

Schrödinger Semantics August 3, 2007

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Erwin Schrödinger, is perhaps best known inside and outside of physics for the “Schrödinger’s cat” thought experiment. In a paper on parser construction, Aycock and Horspool develop a lexing technique that allows for the superposition of token types, to allow the deferal of token type determination. A single token which is considered to have a superposition of token types is here termed as a “Scrhödinger Token “.

In Haraway’s work, with it’s metaphorical density, I would say that she has gone on to develop Schrodinger Semantics (as juxtiposed with syntactic entities such as Schrodinger Tokens).  By encoding (or at least allowing for the decoding of) multiple readings into her work, it exists as a superposition of multiple meanings, densely encoded, and expansive unpacked. Until the wave function of her work is collapsed by interpretation of it, it’s meaning is indeterminate. I think it’s somewhat ironic (probably intentionaly) that in attempting to reify the bipolarity that she sees as built into our conceptions of the world, her own work is subject to a combinatorial explosion of interpretation as readers attempt to reinsert the divisions between her antagonistic and contradictory concept pairings. The cyborg itself is an epitomization of this tendancy.

I admire her for being able to exploit ambiguity like this as a coding mechanism. I remember trying to do the same thing myself when I was younger, but I could never manage to convince people that I actualy meant an ambiguity to be read as “all possible meanings”. People would typicaly pick just one possible meaning for an ambiguity, and then of course, the whole idea would fail to be communicated. Of course I will also admit, that I was probably doing this very badly at the time, so it isn’t much of a wonder that the results turned out badly for me. At the same time though, I also wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that she compresses dual meanings into her work using antagonistic and contradictory pairings. More and more I find myself coming to see contradiction as a very usefull retorical device, whereas before I would avoid contradiction for fear of undermining myself. Although again, I suppose this is different in her case, as she uses contradiction to undermine the ideas that she sees as entrenched in our ways of seeing the world.

 I also realy appreciate her use of metaphorical technology. Language itself is the oldest information processing technology, but I don’t think we have come close to exhausting the potential of this technology. For some reason, we have been using language in basicaly the same way, and believe it or not, this is also aparent in the aplication of linguistic technologies in computing as well. Pretty much all language processing tools that I would put under the umbrella of “compiler technology” have only been used in one way. And that is to make other languages that have the same format as ones that already exist. We are too used to seeing language as inhabiting certain specific images and not others (i.e. spoken word, type and hand written text, etc). Meanwhile everything inside a computer is symbolic, and inherently linguistic anyway (this is what formal automata theory is all about after all).

Only in thinkers such as Donna Haraway, with her idea of the material-semiotic, have I seen even an inkling that there might be other ways to apply our linguistic technology. Thinkers such as Freeman Dyson and Norbert Wiener have gone some distance towards realizing the importance of metaphor and analogy, but not nearly as far as Haraway. Dyson chooses to use analogy to frame his writing and speaking, but this is still a traditional use of linguistic technology, even if he does pull this off better than many scientists. Wiener goes a bit further in agreeing that all of mathematics is nothing more than analogy, but again, I don’t think he goes as far as Haraway. I’ve read his book “Cybernetics”, and a rather brilliant, if somewhat Freudian, critique of his life by Katherine Hayles (“How we became posthuman”), but nothing more. Wiener was generaly fairly insightfull, and he was somewhat interested in these things, so it’s possible he might have gone further than I’m giving him credit for here.

The high and low pressure regions of technological determinism August 2, 2007

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The idea of technological determinism has largely been dismissed, since the production of a tool does not completely prescribe its use. Simply becuase someone makes a hammer, that doesn’t mean you have to use it to pound nails. You can use it to take out nails, open boxes, fix sensetive electronic equipment, and even kill people. However, a given tool or tool set is bound to be more conducive to some use patterns than others. Otherwise, one tool would be perfect for every job. Even though the hammer as described above may seem like the perfect everytool, the fact is that there are some things it is not good for, such as precision surgery, beauty treatments, or even inserting and removing bolts and screws.

There are also some tools that are more easily produced and developed than others. This will depend on the paradigm the tool is associated with. For example, we could say that the hammer is part of an “impact paradigm”, which would include modern metalurgical techniques such as drop forging, rubber stamping, type-writing, martial arts, baseball, hockey, tennis, etc. However, there is no way that something such as a “wheel” would be developed as part of this paradigm. But anyways, back to hammers. As the saying goes, “if all you have is a hammer, all the world looks like a nail”.   

 So while a given technology may not force us to use it in a specific way, the paradigm associated with it largely dictates our patterns of thoughts (although even this is not completely determined. otherwise, it would be impossible to ever develop new paradigms) through paradigmatic closure. One of the things I am interested in is the effects of the degree of saturation of a paradigm, or paradigmatic niche.

 Imagine, when the hammer is first invented and the impact paradigm is born (just for the sake of argument pretend the hammer was the first invention in this paradigm, even though it probably wasn’t). It takes a while for this technology to filter out through the general population. Perhaps impact reactionaries or anti-hammer activists slow the dispersion of this technology. No matter. Eventualy, everyone has a hammer. Even if you have no need for a hammer, you still have to keep up with the Jones’s.  At this point we enter into a period of post-hammerism where we have a proliferation of different types of hammers, and other impact technologies such as tennis raquets, rubber stamps, drop forges, and typewriters are being invented. But after this, then what? As more and more impact technologies are invented, it becomes harder and harder to invent new ones, and technological growth slows (assuming this to be the only active paradigm). At this point, a paradigm shift is required to ensure continued technological growth and advancement.

At first, the paradigm is unsaturated, and I would say, creates a region of low pressure. Once the paradigm becomes more saturated, you have a region of high pressure. In some abstract sense (not that this isn’t abstract already), we can also think of  each paradigm having a (probably elastic) size or volume. It might even make sense to think of a paradigm as having a shape or topology as well, but I’ll admit that I’m not exactly sure what this would mean. I’m just running with the analogy. Once we start adding more paradigms, things get more complicated, since different paradigms can be combined to produce different technological artifacts. The ways in which these different paradigms can be combined defines a topology, and just as each paradigm itself has a size, so will the links between them. Again the links might have a shape, but I’m not sure what this would mean.

The point is that becuase we can think of paradigms and thier connections as some kind of structure to house flows, with regions of high and low pressure, the growth and effects of technology could possibly be modeled using fluid dynamics, or the max flow problem from graph theory, where technology itself (differentiated by paradigm set) is the fluid. Now because the adoption of technology is associated with the, eventual if not immediate, adoption of it’s associated paradigm, adopters of a technology become hosts for the meme expressed by that paradigm (and btw, “meme” does not mean virus as is suggested by the Bell book. see the journal of memetics for details – now reopened!). So adoption of a technology, and hence paradigm, can heavily determine patterns of thought (in the same way that the Sapir-Worf hypothesis suggests that language heavily determines culture and thought).

 Now in and of itself, this does not suggest that technology is always something that “happens to people”, but some technologies (or perhaps all technologies?) just happen to have paradigm-memes that encourage passivity through thier use patterns. Broadcast media are perhaps some of the best examples. The passive meme associated with being on the recieving end of broadcast media encourages passivity in other contexts as well. Not only is it possible then for technology to “happen to people”, but under this meme it becomes “desireable” as well. Seeing as how any media can be used to piggyback other memes on it’s content, it is also possible for “active” memes to be transmitted over broadcast media. However, any “active” meme could serve to undermine the inherently passive meme associated with being on the recieving end of such media. If the undermining were successfull, and the passive meme either nullified or rejected, it does not seem as though there would be much to keep this technology in currency (because users would no longer be satisfied with simply being consumers).

Asside from the regions of low and high pressure I have talked about with relation to paradigmatic saturation, there are also such regions of pressure associated with memetic saturation (aka. peer pressure… sort of), as the meme is transmitted to more and more hosts. Since social networks have a topology and size, memetic dispersion may be amenable to some form of analysis using fluid dynamics as well. While fluid dynamics are somewhat probabalistic (I think?) they are not random. Basicaly, the constraints of the fluid dynamics of both systems (paradigmatic saturation and memetic dispersion) serve to define the limits of determinism vs agency.

However, if as the saying goes “shift happens”,

then it’s possible that memetic dispersion will not be able to keep up with the rate of paradigmatic saturation. Ultimately human cognitive capacity becomes the limiting factor, since the relationship between technological dispersion, and technological adoption is ultimately many to 1. This is because new technologies and paradigms can be developed and dispersed relatively independantly. However, one person can only adopt them so fast (and only maintain so many at a time). This means that beyond a certain point, it is impossible for memetic dispersion to be homogeneous, since different people will have to pick and choose what technologies (and memes) to adopt. With limited memetic dispersion, selections governed by a particular meme are less certain (since the meme hasn’t been transmitted across a large body of hosts yet). This means that asymptoticaly, the effect of memetic dispersion will be negligable, and will generate a region of constant low pressure. But at the same time, this is because each (meme) host is already rate saturated! I’m not sure exactly how this would affect paradigmatic/technological dispersion pressures, but I’m sure it would.  

damn but it’s late…

 More posthumanist techno-optimism:

The new power politics of Informationalism August 2, 2007

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In the original conception of Castells “space of flows”,  nodes in the network were valuable simply in virtue of the connections between them. Personaly, I think this is a better more orthogonal model than what was developed later. By introducing the dualism between the space of flows, and the space of places, I think his idea was weakened by introducing unnecesary elements. What makes a place a place is simply it’s relation(s) to other places, and the network of relations within that place; nothing more. In my own personal metaphysics, I prefer to give relations primacy as well (although I think I’m a bit more extreme in this than Castells), becuase if you do this, you don’t need “objects” (in the sense of things that can be decontextualized and have existence independant of any relation to anything else).  The relational network can be viewed as terminating at some set of medadic, 0-arity relations, or extending forever. If you suppose objects to exist however, you need relations AND objects. By occhams razor, the simplest theory should be prefered.

Imagine it this way; if you have two different places that have largely the same internal organization, then they both should function the same if they were to occupy the same nodal place in the overall network. This would mean that the organization of a place is what makes it that place, not that it ocupies a certain location in physical space (and positions in physical space are simply defined in terms of relations to other positions in the same physical space, which brings us full circle). Organization is simply another word for “set of relations”, so I believe he could have reduced his “space of places” concept to “space of flows” since, as I have shown, a place IS it’s set of flows. 

However, simply because you might have two “places” with the same (or sufficiently similar) internal  organization, this does not mean that they will stay the same, or even occupy the same position (which is impossible) in the overall network of flows. This is because the containing network may not have a large enough “niche” to allow similar connections to develop to both. This of course depends on the topology of the network, which I find it surprising that Castells didn’t discuss (or maybe he did, but Bell did not see fit to mention this… which in my mind would be a huge oversite). The only mentions given to the topology of “networked society” (or other networks such as the “space of flows”) simply indicated that the network was “non-heirarchical” and “horizontal”. Maybe this is simply because the main focus of the network metaphor here is that of power relations.

In my mind power relations as a binary division between controller/controled is too simple. Especialy when talking about networks! If this were the true picture, we would only have a set of disjoint networks containing only a single hop… which is clearly false… Even saying that  a network is “heirarchical” gives you more information. In this case you at least know that you are dealing with a DAG (directed acyclic graph. aka “tree”), and all dags have the same operational characteristics (in asymptotic complexity at least).

However, saying that the graph is “non-heirarchical” and “horizontal” only tells you that you are dealing with a non-tree, that is not directed (I’m interpreting horizontal as meaning bi-lateral/bi-directional here). There are several kinds of topology that could fit this characterization. You could have a line, a bus, a ring, a star,  a complete graph, or some kind of a mesh topology. A mesh topology could be irregular or have regularity such as a hypercube. All of these topologies have very different operational charachteristics, which would be handy to know if we are to truly understand “networked society”.

Getting back to power relations. Even in a heirarchical power structure, we do not have a strict ordering of the set. There are some members that would be at the same level of power, so it is unclear what power relation, if any, would operate between them. Although I suppose if you are simply talking about class relations, this does not matter. This does however, become a true problem if we allow cycles in the network topology. In this case you would have something similar to “rock paper siscors”. If we reduce all power relations down to economic relations, we might not ever have to worry about cycles, since economic relations don’t have cycles and are strictly ordered. That is, if A is more economicaly powerfull than B, and B is more economicaly powerfull than C, it is impossible for C to be more economicaly powerfull than A.

If the shift to “informationalism” represents a paradigm shift as Castells suggests, then I don’t see as much reason to believe that the same basis of power is relevant (otherwise, how would it be a paradigm shift?). Loosely translated, a paradigm shift is when different things become important, which can be the outcome of a simple change in viewpoint. If different things become important, then there is  the possibility for not only different orderings, but different types of orderings.

 If, as the term suggests, information is more important under the paradigm of “informationalism”, then we would expect that orderings of social power networks would be based on the ordering properties of information. However, information, I will argue is different from economics, since quantity isn’t necesarily what matters. With information, importance is defined in terms of “what you know”, “who you know”, and of course “how much you know”. To my limited understanding, this seems very different from economics, which is focused mainly on “how much”. So if information were to become the new basis of power, then network topologies of power relations at least should be much more complex, since there are 3 different ordering criteria, which probably only define partial orderings at best.  

Well, I’m hungry, so that’s all I’m writing for now.

bloglines opml import July 31, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.
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bloglines import right click and choose ‘save as’. In bloglines choose import subscriptions under ‘additional features’ in the left pannel, and upload the file there.