cryptocuration and its miscontent

The tides appear to be turning. We all need to be aware: the Internet is not the Plain Old Telephone System (as if POTS ever was only merely what it appeared to be), not to mention the Plain Old Postal System (which was vulnerable to if not amenable to intersession by intelligence agents), the Internet is a domain which exists beyond international jurisdiction, beyond governmental jurisdictions in a million shades of grey zones where corporate conduct confers with national and international security and economic concerns, both ad and sub rosa.

The cryptocuratorial agenda is to have the general population become more cognisant of the systemic accessibility issues, the privacy vulnerabilities of our Internet-worked information existences. In other words we all need to know a bit more about how the convenience of email and online shopping and banking and the amazingly global reach of platforms like facebook and twitter actually work, how they connect you and the information you send with the world of services standing between you and the people you would like to interact with.

The Internet is not a mystery, but it is complex. How companies provide the services we have integrated in our daily lives is also not alchemy, it can be completely explained down to the most intricate and subtle tiny switch. The Internet can be imagined as an enormously ingenious and elaborate clockwork which produces all the effects we see and hear on the clockface, but the mechanism is entirely comprehensible, composed of highly specialized parts. Because the Internet is entirely made by human beings, it is entirely understandable, we can access it, or any aspect of it.

Like the POTS and POPS, the Internet was not developed or built by one person, it was a massive undertaking involving government, industry, academics, scientists, intelligence services, the military. In other words it is a victory of human collaboration across disciplines. In this spirit we use these services, as humans, for all the compromises we must acquiesce to as a function of residing in a society, a recompense in the form of far-reaching and reliable services which provide us with an experience of our world we could not imagine without the enormous synergy afforded by societies.

Now the threat is announced, your communications are being watched. Not only this, you are being watched in every way you use your ‘new’ devices. You are being watched, tracked, sensed, correlated, interpreted and analyzed, in general “to serve you better”, even if that means “to serve and to protect”, and to protect means not necessarily for you, but possibly also from you. Whether you are on the happy side of ‘to serve and to protect’ or not, depends, increasingly, on computer records held on you in official databases, and how they are interpreted, if you are lucky, not through algorithms, but through a process involving cognisant human beings, with something more reliable than a notion of ‘due process’.

The cryptocuratorial agenda will encrypt all data, for our own good. People who know how it works, like William Binney, sketch out a scenario where nefarious agents will want to build a case against an innocent person, but will not be able to access personal records because these have been encrypted. Binney’s crypto-utopia relies on the notion of due process, whereby records can be decrypted only through administrative decisions, which means, at least there will be a “paper trail” of decisions and their motivations which led up to the access to personal information, and this only by official bodies.

Binney’s model forces us to trust in the state, in the laws and conventions of government bureaucracy. In his model, the radical transparency of the citizen is a given. The radical transparency is summarily encrypted, so what we have is an ever-building database of inaccessible information. This  scenario is unlikely especially since so many popular web services today rely on general compatibility of data which will be inhibited by pervasive cryptography.

The asymmetry of access to information is not addressed. In Binney’s crypto-utopia the ordinary citizen has even less direct access to information about what the government or business is doing. This is not only sequestered from citizen access, but now also encrypted. Now there are two layers between the people and knowledge of the world they live in. Imagine if this begins to happen in the sciences, and academia. To encrypt or not to encrypt becomes an ethical issue, and we all know what happens to ethical issues in a so-called rational age.

Ethics are easy to understand but difficult to justify, inevitably they are based on values, not merely surplus value, and they are not based on principles, they are based on comprehension. It takes time to comprehend a situation, some of this time must be spent in private reflection, not only on personal advantage, but also on longer-term advantage of the society, on altruistic themes. There must be allowances made for the inevitable gaps in comprehension. Contemplation and discussion on altruistic themes takes time, and it is unreliable, because it is human. Cryptography, once developed, in principle takes less time, and is completely reliable, because automatic.

The danger with light speed apparatus is that actions can be initiated which propagate faster and more intensively than it is humanly possible to act. This is a danger we are somewhat accustomed to, since electricity has been employed, or even, since words have been employed (words propagating at light-speed through our minds), that is to say the danger is endemic to the  technical capacity in everyone. We as citizens of a technocracy need access to information about how the apparatus works, we need access to the design decisions informing the operations of the apparatus.   These decisions affect us not only explicitly, through official declarations, but implicitly encoded into the inner workings of our networked lives.

Since encryption is a service, when the whole world is encrypted, the powerful will still be better served than everyone else. Cryptography, in this case,  will merely interpose other forms of privilege, of asymmetry. We who need to know about decisions being made on the governmental and corporate level which will affect us, rather than capitulating to the privacy discourse, need to address the fundamental illegitimacy of the information asymmetry which unjustly holds us out of the know.

A society needs checks and balances, and these cannot be fully automated. Rather we need to foster, cultivate and build institutions or spaces which will allow public scrutiny of corporate and governmental behaviour and elucidate and elaborate ethical informational practices on the private/citizen level. We may not want or trust institutions or government, but in this ever-transitional period where borders personal and physical seem to become permeable, disrupting ancient classifications and notions of integrity, we need some structures, provisional as they may be, to fortify our engagement with those entities which will take advantage of us. To parry on more equal footing, we need ethics more than we need cryptography, and in an environment hostile to ethics we need spaces wherein ethics can be cultivated.  In the society, which fuses online and offline experience of the world. ideas can communicate faster than data.

What happens after ‘radical transparency’, when ‘nothing to hide’ becomes ‘nowhere to hide’? The problem with absolutist ideals is in the disruption pattern where the hyperbolic definition approaches the maxim. There will always be interpretation necessary, because where principles or laws confront human affairs, the issue is rarely “clear and distinct”. How this interpretation will be generated needs to be understood, examined, explored. Who may interpret judiciously, under what conditions? Who has the free time and leisure to contemplate on complex matters. If they do not have the time, why not? Those who have the time, are they more entitled to judge? Plato seemed to think so 2400 years ago, and this is why he would ban not only slaves, women and poets but also workers and craftspeople, from politics.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that asymmetry of information access is endemic to asymmetry of economic conditions, and these need to be understood and addressed for us to make thoughtful decisions on the future we are already creating right now.  So many brilliant people are dedicating so much philanthropic time and energy to improving cryptography for circumvention of the dominant hegemonic information-industrial regime.    This brief essay is a plea to consider re-assigning a tiny fraction of that time to engaging with the intricately bound problems of asymmetric access to resources, intellectual, informational, and especially economic, which underlies the threat we address with cryptography and circumventionism.

The immediate future, like or not, is social, generated through a miraculous coalescence of human abilities.  Threats to our security, to our livelihoods, cannot be adequately addressed uniquely through algorithms and automated processes, they must be addressed socially, and this takes time.

Last night Jacob Applebaum, amid emotional pleas to his audience to use more secure communications, frequently conceded that the social component to ‘security’  was of fundamental importance. Not only in order to help find the strategies that will sufficiently encourage  one’s parents and other “general users”  to commit to becoming that slight bit more cognizant of how networked computation works and implement crypto  privacy/security procedures, the social component is fundamental to understanding why our privacy is so preyed upon in the first place.

Part of the pleasure of platforms like facebook and twitter is in their imaginably global reach, this appeals to the technicity in all of us, the elaboration of our selves, our intellects, imaginably even the electrical currents of our thoughts and desires fusing with the charges in the circuits and spreading infinitely around the globe.   Otherwise said, these un-transparent and exploitative platforms offer us an unprecedented  experience of our own technical capacity. Thus it is no surprise that populations flock to these platforms despite the well-known compromises entailed.  To confront the popularity and power of these centralized platforms, we need to confront their socio-economic motivations, and those of their users.  Conditions of desperate austerity, and perpetual fear of terrorism, economic collapse, climate change, etc., tend to cow populations, especially in the richer countries, into conservative postures. The fear factory of main stream media is described as having a ‘chilling effect’ on alternative expression.  To paraphrase Birgitta Jónsdottir, our minds are ‘caught up’ in the concerns of the day and have little place time to reflect on how the economy is operated against us.

More cryptography or less (inevitably more), we must struggle for our sovereignty against the ownership elite and their scarcity economics.  Such a struggle requires that we too develop strong theoretical and practical understandings of economics, allowing us to methodically elaborate the kinds of economics we would like to foster, which would thereby necessarily generate different social conditions of information exchange.  We need space and time to consider and work out our program seriously, and we will need to encourage ourselves and the people around us to dedicate a small fraction of their talents and energies to socio-economically-oriented reflection, discussion and action.  As much as we may need cryptography, we need to innovate on the social front. We need to take a little time back from our full time jobs in the fear factory.

We need to see that the call for pervasive cryptography, the cryptocuratorial regime heralds the militarization of the social sphere.  No longer can we in civil society be innocent consumers of technologies honed to protect the state. We must become part and parcel of that formerly discrete realm of society, and accept some of the responsibility and all the ambivalence that the people in that role have traditionally had to shoulder .  No longer can we have the luxury to excise military concerns from our social aspirations.


State Capitalism in the Information Age

On March 27th, 2013,  I published a response to Bruce Schneier’s CNN article which started out by criticising the conflation of Internet and State in its title (“The Internet is a surveillance State”). Bruce Schneier has for several years been one of the most insightful commentators on online security, however we, at telekommunisten, were struck at the despairing tone of this recent high-profile post, and in full appreciation and respect for his work, endeavored to analyse the problem from a materialist/political economist position if only to offer Bruce, and some of his readers who are despairing in the same way, some possible modalities for hopeful engagement with the problem of ever intensifying surveillance.

My article was far from perfect, but, even Bruce Schneier conceded it had some “interesting points.”    (see second update at the bottom of the post). I think it was most successful in elaborating the causal link the interests of capital and the intensification of surveillance whether by private or state entities. Indeed, every state dominated by capitalist interests cannot but begin to treat its citizens as value-producing workers, the logic of value extraction/productivity must eventually prevail and, as I explained in my post, surveillance technologies, honed for the factory and office come to be applied generally to all socially necessary activities. The regime of performance standards, promising to drive down costs in time and resources for the purveyance of essential social practices, whether in the home, in the street, or at a workplace, provides the opening whereby surveillance technologies are permitted to become intimately part of everyone’s life.

Critics might claim that such efficiency is in itself a ‘good thing’ and that the problem is that massive surveillance is abused by unscrupulous ‘bad apple’ companies and governmental elements. Students of capitalism will note, however, that any innovation in techniques of efficiency is inevitably employed to drive down to the bare minimum, the amount the productive sectors of society have at their disposal to sustain their productivity.

In other words, downsizing, outsourcing, precariousness, unemployment and the consequent promotion of industrial surveillance and control industries needed to dissuade and suppress the resulting social upheaval are compelled by implementation of new technologies of productivity under capitalism. Therefore the so-called ‘abuses’ are rather natural outcomes under dominant capitalism, which is why they not only go unpunished but are sustained and promoted by the state.

Instead of despairing at the onslaught of surveillance, I suggest it would be more productive to look at the deep links between the imperatives of capitalism and the contemporary collusion between large web-based communications companies, the security industry and the state. The flood of public funds into the communications and security industries also means the rise of pervasive surveillance technologies in society, under dominant neo-liberal economics (e.g. the public deficit myth)  entails a redistribution of wealth and power.

Bruce Schneier, in his comments (thanks for linking to us Bruce!) somewhat ambivalently attempts to dismiss my notes by setting up what Dmytri correctly terms a straw man argument that I “have no problem with state surveillance”. This point is irrelevant, since I argue that surveillance industries are a necessary outgrowth of dominant capitalism and therefore, jurisdictions dominated by capitalist interests will necessarily come to employ these on a massive scale.  In Europe we see more examples of how capitalist drives can be mitigated by social considerations at the state level, but these are only maintained as a matter of principle against the overweening pressure of capitalist actors.

The state is not homogenous. There are certainly elements of state apparatus which are opposed in various ways to the ascent of security-industry influence on public affairs. I explained in my article why such opinions will be marginalized. It doesn’t matter whether one has a ‘problem with’ state or other surveillance or not.  The massive incursions into our private sphere Bruce bemoans are not the result of overzealous bureaucrats or of “bad apple” industrial actors, they are central to the productivity model of a highly hegemonic state dominated by capitalist concerns.   The only effective opposition possible to today’s ever-intensifying onslaught of so-called security procedures and surveillance industry in civic life will have to fundamentally and radically challenge the legitimacy of the effective dominance of capitalist modes of production.

The Internet is not a Surveillance State…

In his March 16, 2013 opinion column on, Bruce Schneier called the Internet a “surveillance state”. In the piece, Schneier complains that the Internet now serves as a platform which enables massive and pervasive surveillance by the State.  State sponsored and ordained surveillance, however, is not synonymous with the Internet.  Schneier’s use of the word ‘state’ is ill-advised, his goading conclusion thereby misses the mark.

The Internet is not a State.  States can do something to limit the invasiveness of web-based services used in the public and private sectors alike, but they don’t, because any vision of infinite prosperity based on digital-age intellectual property rights and patents relies on the current content-control model of value extraction (of which Internet use, more accurately web use, is the most prominent mass-culture manifestation) not only persisting but becoming ever more prevalent.

Web-based service providers such as Facebook and Google are not the Internet, but rather are web-based platforms built on the Internet.  The superior user-experience of such services accrues a dedicated user base for basic communication functionalities. The design idiosyncrasies of these platforms define popular culture. However just because certain service providers  have become dominant does not mean that the techniques or strategies they employ are fundamentally superior. These have become dominant because they have evolved a business model which ensures a generous ROI. Without exception, the leading platforms ensure value for their investors by trading in user data.

There are myriad ways to use the Internet, there are myriad different paradigms for Internet-enabled communication, collaboration and other social activities which can and are being explored. Whether or not they can “compete” with the Googles and Facebooks, depends today entirely on whether they can produce sufficient “surplus value” to satisfy investors, thereby to attract sufficient funding to produce superior user experience.  In all the world wide web there is not a model for this which is not centered on the harvesting and analysis of user data.

Since much of the world already finds itself on the ‘client’ side of automated services for much of their waking life, the competition is on to deliver the “highest quality” of such service, anticipating client’s predilections and desires. In other words, as everybody knows, the old customer service saw recurs, “please excuse the inconvenience, we are … to serve you better”. The qualms one has about permitting unmitigated and unmonitored access to one’s social life are discounted as a mere inconvenience one must endure so that the machines can “serve us better”.

The state likewise asks us to put up with the invasion of privacy in order to provide us with such things as “security” and “democracy”. If we look closely at those two commodities we are being offered in exchange for our private sphere, we may not be so sure of the fairness of the deal. “Security” for one, may come in myriad forms, but the form of “security” which is offered to us is one determined through lobbying by security companies, which, no surprise, promise to offer us better service the more we open up our lives to data collection.

The Internet is not a ‘state’, it can be ruled over by states, but in principle, it belongs to all humanity. The Internet is not an ephemeral service, it is a network of very real, material computers which are located indisputably in specific real material buildings at specific real material locations, under nominally specific local, regional, national and international jurisdictions, right now. There is nothing fundamentally abstract about the Internet, it is as hard to fathom as the electricity grid on which it is practically dependent.

States can produce and maintain infrastructure like electricity grids and networked computers connected in the Internet. They can, but, today, the tendency is for states to delegate private entities to do this. This is said to be more efficient. Popular dictum is that the price to pay for such services is privacy. States have traditionally been moderate in exacting that price for fear of incurring the wrath of the populace. Private entities which belong to no particular state, when and if they incur such wrath, pretend it is up to the state to moderate their behaviour. Privately, the actors for state are discouraged to regulate for fear of inhibiting “prosperity”.

Therefore, states are increasingly impotent to rule over the Internet. The Internet has become a surveillance system used by private companies and their clients, the states, alike “to serve you better”. Behind this innocuous promise, the knowledge about private citizens is used to hone customized media designed to compel users to purchase anything from clothes to security to ideology. The big-data industries will build the patented processes which transform data mined from users into patented automated services. This is advertised as the keystone of the 21st century economy. In the perpetual panic of austerity finance capitalism, who would dare embolden the state to emperil the perceived slim auspices of escape from financial ruin the surveillance/data-collection industry-driven economy offers us?

But the Internet is not a surveillance state. The Internet, as described in the article, has come to be used as a most efficient technology for pervasive data surveillance. States use surveillance technologies when they are available to the degree that the laws permit. Today’s laws permit private companies to do things with surveillance data the state traditionally cannot without going through lengthy legislative approval processes. It is through the obligation to produce profits that private companies have been permitted to transgress legal limits on invasion of privacy. The private companies have thus played a vanguard role in loosening up legal restrictions protecting individual privacy.

Surveillance at work has long been accepted as integral to taylorist notions of efficiency and productivity. Now that the work place has extended to be almost indistinguishable with daily life, the fact that surveillance has followed along seems unsurprising. While mobile computer were advertised to liberate us from the cubicle, it  has made for an environment where one’s employment is perpetual, again, it is no surprise then that surveillance technologies have followed.

As business rationale and strategies evolve, as the boundaries between work time and leisure time dissolves, enterprise ethics entrench themselves in every aspect of social life, and surveillance has followed, if only so that the instruments on which one coordinate’s one work-leisure hybridity can “serve you better”. So the prevalence of surveillance is a consequence of the interspersal of productive labour time in life time. Ironically the call from the left to integrate and acknowledge so-called affective labour will have as the main notable outcome that these activities will become subject to data-acquisition monetization and surveillance.

Bifo noted in a recent speech that in 1977 he was (radically) militating against the traditional career-work regime, where people spent their entire adult lives working for a particular company.  Now it is not without some bitterness that he notes, bursting the worker out of the workplace has resulted in today’s worker having to work for numerous companies all the time.

The government’s own performance is measured through massive-scale data acquisition. This data-acquisition is indistinguishable from surveillance, the surveillance permits the government to detect, intervene with, and if necessary terminate its own practices which are determined to be inefficient, or counter-productive. Therefore the government, in order to prove to the citizens that it is doing a good job, exploits all the opportunities for surveillance opened up by vanguardist capital.

But the Internet is just a network of computers, which provides functionalities. It is not a state. The state could, in principle, elect not to use the Internet for surveillance, and could restrict the data-collection activities of private service providers. I have outlined above why this is unlikely, but it is possible. Private capital would likely take revenge on such a government, and the citizens would likely come to disdain its decision. Under global capital there really is little alternative for states to “keeping up with the Joneses’” surveillance service industry. Massive pervasive surveillance is understood simply as a precondition to prosperity.

“Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.”-Bruce Schneier

One wonders who Bruce Schneier refers to with the pronoun “we” in his parting shot.  Certainly prominent organisations such as EFF in the USA and Open Rights Group in the UK have been working for years to help web users appreciate and understand the latest online privacy concerns, among other burning issues of the digital age. And there are thousands of initiatives around the world working to criticize and raise concerns about the egregious asymmetries of power on the web. High-profile conferences and actions are organised, excellently researched publications are made available, yet these initiatives get only muted coverage in the mass media.

The problem is not for lack of trying, besides whatever bias the corporate-controlled mass media outlets may exercise, it is also  due to the fact that these critical organizations rely on people to contribute voluntarily, in their spare time. In other words, dissent, alternative viewpoints, proposals and even services cannot compete. The industry or economy which sees its success as contingent on ever more pervasive data-collection from individuals is unlikely to finance critical initiatives to the extent that these might hire more paid staff, and thereby make their contributions more attractive, accessible and appreciated.   The state may step in here and subsidize such critical organizations to some degree, but only under severe admonishment from the dominant web-service industries.

Networked-service and networked-content businesses with their increasingly data-acquisition-oriented profit models have become extremely important and influential in national economies. If Bruce Schneier is sincere about protecting online privacy, he had better look not to the state, but to the capitalist conditions of the production of web services which compel corporations to develop, implement and constantly improve the invasive practices that offend his sensibility.



The Many Tentacles of Octo P7C-1 at @transmediale #BWPWAP

Though Telekommunisten has been a participant in transmediale in some capacity for several years now, this year, as a partner of the festival, was by far our largest involvement to date.

The Octo P7C-1 installation, was not only loud, active and physically huge, occupying the entire building with about a kilometer of tubing, 8 end stations and the P7C-1 central operating station, but the project was also the largest collaboration, both with the number of members of the Telekommunisten network involved, and the number of partners involved.

Kristoffer Gansing and Tatiana Bazzichelli came to us in August of 2012, since R15N was the Official Miscommunication Platform of the previous year’s festival, they wanted to work with us early, as a partner, to plan the Miscommunication Platform for the upcoming transmediale, they shared the #BWPWAP theme with us, and asked us if we could do something with a pneumatic tube theme, since we had discussed our mutual admiration for the technology and interest in Berlin’s system on previous occasions.

None of us knew yet what Octo would become.

As the latest installment in the Miscommunication Technologies series, certain components of the artwork where evident from the beginning. Octo is perhaps the most clear demonstration of a centralized topology possible, and so the idea of Octo as a global domination minded start-up seeking to capture physical delivery by offering a business model based on control of user data and interaction. Once again, Telekommunisten designer-in-chief Jonas Frankki, created the graphic identity of the work, brilliantly using a cartoon octopus with a peculiarly neutral expression to express both the topology and global domination ambitions of the start-up.

However, Octo is more than just a social fiction or electronic telecommunication system, its very physical, and actually engineering a large scale pneumatic post system was the largest undertaking Telekommunisten has attempted to date.

Fortunately, electronic artist Jeff Mann, inventor-in-chief, had some experience with this. Jeff’s work draws out tensions between notions of utopian industrialism, personal theatre, and the evocative enigma of electronic equipment.

Jeff invented what was to become the Octo P7C-1 system, suggesting that we could use plain-old vacuum cleaners and drainage pipe to build the system. We demoed Jeff’s concept at a ReSource Transmedial Culture event and it was clear that this was not only going to work as pneumatic system, but also as a wonderful sculptural and audio installation. It was everyone’s first glimpse of Octo. We where all convinced and excited.

Next, we needed to prove the concept to Raumlaborberlin, the transmediale architects, and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

Using one of the Shop-Vacs that was later to be installed in the central operating station, we propelled a full 500ml can of beer through 50m of drainage pipe stretched across the Podewill courtyard, up into a 3rd story window, and down the hall.

Amazingly, it worked! Not only did it work, but it looked and sounded great.

Over the next next few months, right up to the last minutes before transmediale 2013 opened it’s doors, we worked with the HKW and Raumlabor, who designed the chaotic alignment of the tubes throughout the building, and created the 8 end stations. Jeff, drawing on his research into the nature of technological life and its cultural representation, designed and built the beautiful P7C-1 central operating station, which was almost certainly photographed more that Mount Fuji during the run of the festival.

And though the physicality of the work is on a scale much larger than any previous Telekommunisten work, the performative aspect of Octo was also more prevalent.

Telekommunisten director-in-chief, Baruch Gottlieb directed the many facets of the project towards a coherent whole, bringing new emphasis to the performative fiction aspect of Telekommunisten’s work though the lens of his concept of the biographical chronicle of labour. All the transmediale volunteers that operated the central station and attended to the end-stations, and all building maintenance staff that was constantly adjusting tubes throughout the building extended the work as labour theatre. Baruch worked closely with long time member of the Telekommunisten network, Diani Barreto, to create the character of Octavia Allende Friedman, CEO of Octo Corporation, a character which Diani played to great affect, both in person at Transmediale, and online, as a social media power house, who amassed well over a thousand friends and followers in just a couple of weeks.

It was also our first time working with Julian Gough, who played the role of Octavia’s personal biographer, a role we all hope we he will reprise as the legend of Octavia goes on.

As usual, Telekommmunisten Chief Communication Officer Mike Pearce, helped make our message simple and concise, while Chief Operations Officer Rico Weise handled our administrative work.

Although you kinda had to be there to really get it, we’ve collected some pictures and videos here:

I can’t thank everybody enough for helping us pull this off!

We’re very interested in showing the work again, so we encourage adventurous curators to contact us.

And yup, I’ll be at Stammtisch tonight at 9pm, so come have a drink with us.

Kind Regards,

Dmytri Kleiner

Today: Octo stakeholder debriefing /// stammtisch

Octavia Allende Friedman has left Berlin, jettsetting on, where to? Hong Kong? Milan? Havana? Perhaps only her personal biographer knows for sure.

Meanwhile, members of the Telekommunisten network will be present as usual, at Cafe Buchhandlung, to greet one and all and raise a drink to a successful launch of Octo P7C-1 at transmediale.

Many deserve a cheer for their amazing contributions to Octo.

Jeff Mann, chief inventor and head of pneumatics, creator of the P7C-1 prototype, contributed decades of research into pneumatics and art
machines to his vision for the tubular system, and his master creation, the P7C-1 central operating station.

Jonas Frankki, Chief Designer, head of graphic identity, created the powerful branding and corporate identity that so perfectly expresses the numerous layers of the project.

Baruch Gottlieb, Chief Director, head of labour dramaturgy, for tirelessly directing the many facets of the project towards a coherent whole.

Diani Barreto, Chief Executive Performer, head of social representation, who brought the project persona to life online and at the festival.

And thanks to our Chief Communication Officer, Mike Pearce, who works towards bringing our often complex, perhaps even convoluted message, to the general public by adding simplicity and concision.

Behind the scenes, Rico Weise, Chief Operations Officer, manages the ever expanding administrative flow.

Not to mention our valiant team of ‘yellow-shirts’ the OCTO central and remote station volunteers, taking the smooth running and efficient delivery of OCTO P7C-1 to heart and ensuring we made a great demo for our current and future investors!

Please come and celebrate with us, share, retweet, all are welcome!

Cafe Buchhandlung is at Tucholskystr. 32

Here is a map:

9pm on.

TODAY: Octo Investors Meet & Greet at Cafe Buchhandlung /// Erzatz Stammtisch

This evening we’re having a informal Meet & Greet for Octo Investors and members of the Telekommunisten Network, if you’re an Octo investor or thinking of becoming one, come by and have a drink and chat with us. psychomedia analyst DJ Podinski of XLTerestrials will provide musical entertainment along with a special performance of three Yidish Workers’ Songs by the brother of Octavia Allende Friedman, CEO Of Octo Corp.

The event will take place at

Cafe Buchhandlung
Tucholskystr 32

Starting about 10pm.

Octavia Allende Friedman will be in attendance along with members of the Telekommunisten network.

Please join us and pass this information on. Don’t miss out on the investment opportunity of the epoch!


Octo events at Transmediale

January 29

Opening ceremony for transmediale 2013 BWPWAP 19:00 to 20:30 – Auditorium
With a OCTO P7C-1 Product Demonstration
delivered by OCTO CEO Octavia Allende-Freedman outlining the features of the new P7C-1 system by Telekommunisten

January 30
Mail Art in the GDR
13:00 to 14:30 – K1
Moderator: Dieter Daniels
With Karla Sachse, Lutz Wohlrab

January 31
– OCTO P7C-1 Miscommunication Technologies
17:30 to 18:15 – Central Foyer
With the Telekommunisten collective

February 1
encapsulations/openings @ PNEUMAtic circUS
11:30 to 13:00 – Central Foyer
With Lutz Wohlrab, Karla Sachse

Disrupting the Bureaucracy, Rethinking Social Networks
15:00 to 17:00 – Auditorium
Moderator: Tatiana Bazzichelli
With Stevphen Shukaitis, Craig Saper, Dmytri Kleiner, and a performative intervention by Karla Sachse, Lutz Wohlrab

February 2
OCTO P7C-1 Product Demonstration
15:00 to 15:45 – Central Foyer
With Telekommunisten and the OCTO CEO Octavia Allende-Freedman

Pneumatic Circus Time Schedule:

Tuesday 29 January: whole time during the transmediale opening (doors open at 17.00).
Wednesday, 30 January: 15:00–17:00 & 18:00–20:00
Thursday, 31 January: 15:00–17:00 & 18:00–20:00
Friday, 1 February: 16:00–21:00 with breaks
Saturday, 2 February: 16:00–21:00 with breaks
Sunday, 3 February: 14:00–19:00 with breaks

R15N at Mal au Pixel in Paris

Missed stammtisch last tuesday, I’m in Paris with Baruch Gottlieb to set up R15N is Paris for Mau au Pixel.


This is the 5th R15N exhibition, after Tel Aviv, Berlin, Ljubljana and Johannesburg. Though Baruch and I are in Paris representing the project, it is a project of Telekommunisten, and was created with Jonas Frankki, Jeff Mann and Mike Pearce, along with the organizations that have supported and exhibited the project, including the Israeli Centre for Digital Art, Transmediale, Aksioma, A MAZE and Mal au Pixel.

And, of course, the international network of R15N subscribers! R15N depends on your participation and diligence! So please keep your accounts active and be attentive to messages passing through the system.

Baruch and I will also participate in the “Network Hacks” panel on Saturday, along with our friends and collegues, Alessandro Ludovico, Danja Vasiliev, Julian Oliver and Timo Toots.

There is a sense of “Network Hack” in R15N, in that it was in part inspired by the power asymmetry in the mobile phone network that results from credit avialability. In most parts of the world, including all the location R15N has been presented in, recieving calls on mobile phones is free, but making them requires credit. Thus, for those that don’t have money for phone credit, their mobile is not so much a freedom-enabling communications device that allows them top stay in touch wherever device, but largely a control-tether, that allows parents, schools and employers to keep tabs on them whereever they are.

As R15N initiates all the phone calls as it bridges subscribers together to pass on messages, it is is free to use for all the participants, so it’s a hack in the sense that it can be used without any phone credit.

However, of course, this hack is an illusion, since the calls aren’t really free, but rather paid for by Telekommunisten out of the exhibition budget it recieves from the organizers of R15N exhibitions. It is, like many of the Miscommunications Technologies, a social fiction. Imagining ways communication networks could work if the primary motivation for building them was something other that profit.

So long as investment in communications platforms comes from profit-seeking private financiers, these systems will always be mechanisms for control, and not enablers of freedom.

R15N reveals the volitilaty of information in networks, with every subscriber participating in the passing-on of the data, it becomes clear how vulnerable data is whenever it passes through an intermediary.

As each R15N subscribers knows, whenever a call is not answered, either due to technical failure or lack of diligence on the part of the subscriber, information is lost, and that even when the call is succeeds, the information is subject to the interpretation of the intermediary, who can change or ammend it, record it, and share it outside of the network.

While apparently less drastic, information is just as vulnerable when passed through intermediaries such as social media monopolies as it is when distributed by way of R15N subscribers.

The opening is tomorrow, so please join the community by calling +33 1 81 97 97 11 to sign up, or +33 1 81 97 97 22 to activate/deactivate your account if you are already a subscriber.

I will be back at Stammtisch next tuesday, however the R15N exhibition will continue at La Gaîté Lyrique until the end of the year.

Debt As A Public Good, Berlin #BeautifulTrouble Book Launch w/ @AndrewBoyd & @Info_Activism // Attn @BTroublemakers

This Thursday, Andrew Boyd{1} will be in town for the Berlin launch of Beautiful Trouble{2}, something of an “An encyclopedia for creative activism” as described by Sandra Cuff, of the Vancouver Media Co-op. As a contributor, I will join Andrew for the launch. Please come and join us.

My contributions to the book where on the subject of organizing around debt as a political focus. Beyond the two essays in the book, I have written quite a bit about this already{3}. The event on Thursday is a book launch, not a lecture, so I’ll talk for 15 minutes or so, since tactics are an important focus in the book, and Andrew will certainly cover some of them, I want to try to go a little more theoretical and attempt an macroeconomics of debt in 15 minutes. We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s a bit of primer.

If a modern monetary economy is to have either growth or savings it requires a deficit somewhere.

This is not an opinion, or an ideologically biased point of view. It is an arithmetic fact based on the what money means in actually existing modern economies.

The key identities here are the “Sectoral Balances.” The “sectors” are private, public, and international. And the three balances in question are net private savings, the total amount the private sector, including households, can save, along with the public balance, that is the amount the Government taxes minus what it spends, and the “current account balance,” which the balance between imports and exports.

If you sum these three balances the total is always zero. That is because there is only a limited amount of money in the economy at any time, and therefore any surplus in one balance must inevitably show up as a deficit in another.

If economy needs more money, either because it is growing, or because people or corporations want or need to save more, either the budget deficit needs to increase or the trade imports need to go down relative to exports. If neither of these things happen, then neither economic growth, nor increased saving is possible. This is why if wealth is to grow, either a government deficit or trade surplus is required. Of course, the world as a whole can not have a trade surplus. A trade surplus in any nation, must be offset by a trade deficit in another. Thus, within a modern monetary economy, the only means for an wealth to grow in a balanced trade environment is for the Government to run a budgetary deficit.

In other words, if the private sector is carrying too much debt, this means the public sector is likely taxing too much or spending too little. Government needs to increase it’s deficit.

Government spending, and also government borrowing is essential for the functioning of our economy. Back in the year 2000, when the economy was on over-drive and the US Federal Reserve bank was ratcheting interest rates in an attempt to cool down an economy it felt was in overdrive, Scott F. Grannis, Chief Economist of a US asset management firm, delivered a remarkable paper at the Cato Institute 18th Annual Monetary Conference, a right-wing affair co-sponsored by the Economist. Grannis, like other fund managers was terrified. What terrified him was that the combination of a government budgetary surplus and the fed’s tight monetary policy would result in a scarcity of government treasuries. It’s worth quoting him.

Grannis argues “The world needs Treasuries, and would be worse off without them. They are a public good just like our justice system, our national defense, and our network of interstate highways. […] We would be foolish to pay down the national debt.” Although Grannis interest are ultimately self-serving, the preservation of a risk-free investment, his point holds true. Bill Mitchell reports a similar situation taking place on Australia, during a period of budgetary surplus the government wanted to “pay down it’s debt,” and the financial industry went ballistic, for fear of a scarcity of risk-free Treasuries to hold in their portfolios.

Money, like Treasuries, is simply a form of Public debt. The fact is that Public debt, no matter if it’s in the form of accounts, currency or treasuries, is the basis of the modern monetary economy. We’d all be broke without it. Money enters the economy as government spending, and exits the economy as tax payments. If the government has a balanced budget, no extra money remains in circulation, and there can be no increase in private savings. If the Government has a budgetary surplus, this means that private wealth is decreased.

For this reason, as Grannis says, “Debt is a Public Good,” in the same way the infrastructure such as roads create the capacity for transport, government debt creates the capacity for commerce. Fiscal policy should never be interpreted from the budgetary balance alone, but must always keep the Sectoral Balances in mind. The government must spend enough to ensure that scarcity of its’s debt does not strangle the economy, which almost always means it must spend more than it taxes, if it fails to do so, then the result would either be economic stagnation or global trade imbalances. As we can see from the words of Scott F. Grannis, the bankers know this.

While public debt is a public good, private debt is a burden, often a crippling one. A sensible fiscal policy would be to use government spending to reduce private debt, especially household debt.

Understanding the way the Sectoral Balances function is key to understanding what is going on in the economy today. For instance, austerity measures reduce the government deficit, which in turn reduces private sector savings, or rather, increases private sector debt. Imbalances of political power within the private sector, for example between corporations and household, mean that the burden of this debt mostly born by households. The only way to reduce such household debt is either increase corporate debt or increase public debt, or decrease trade deficits. This not only explains why household debt is exploding, but also explains the Euro crisis. Germany has a large trade surplus, thus other countries, like Greece have a trade deficit. If the Euro is to be stable, Greece can only decrease its trade deficit if Germany increases its budgetary deficit. Somethings got to give.

Organizing around debt means uniting against insane policies that promote the interests of rich corporations and rich countries against common households and poorer countries. Much of the debt born by households and the debt born by peripheral nations is a result of bad government and bad economic policy.

To quote The Debtors’ Song{4}:

If us debtors get together,
all together, every one
we can heal, and house and teach each other
and do the work that must be done.

Them creditors, they don’t help us none,
they just get in the way,
their profits are what drags us down,
we must refuse to pay.

Look forward to discussing this with some of you tonight at Stammtisch{5} and this Thursday at the Beautiful Trouble Booklaunch!


Eternal September // @A_MAZE_Festival

Last month was a long and busy month that started in Canada and ended in South Africa.

Along the way, SecuShare’s {1} Daniel Reusche and I agitated for decentralized social platfors at Berlin’s Campus Party {2}, I presented the first Octo demo {3} at the latest reSource transmedial culture {4} event with Jeff Mann, Jonas Frankki and Baruch Gottlieb, also, Baruch, Jonas and I built the Miscommuniction Station {4} as an online project of the Abandon Normal Devices Festival.

Finally, Baruch and I traveled to the A MAZE / INTERACT festival {5} to present and represent iMine {6} and R15N {7}.

Now I’m back in Berlin and looking forward to tonight’s Stammtisch. And it’s September.

Tuesday, Septemeber 6944, 1993 to be exact {8}.

6944 days, or 19 years and 9 days after the Eternal September began.

A MAZE was fantastic, and the Braamfontein district of Johannesburg where the festival took place was an incredible place, not only to enjoy a great party in a really unbelievable community, but also to reflect on where we are now, nearly twenty years since the commercialization of the internet began to deliver a year-round flow of “newbies” to the Internet 1.0 that nobody yet called “the web”.

The Jargon File defines “The September that never ends” as “All time since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhythms of the Usenet used to be the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking any sense of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves. This coincided with people starting college, getting their first internet accounts, and plunging in without bothering to learn what was acceptable. These relatively small drafts of newbies could be assimilated within a few months. But in September 1993, AOL users became able to post to Usenet, nearly overwhelming the old-timers’ capacity to acculturate them; to those who nostalgically recall the period before, this triggered an inexorable decline in the quality of discussions on newsgroups. Syn. eternal September.”

Once the internet was available to the general public, outside of the research/education/ngo world that had inhabited before September, the large numbers of users arriving on the untamed shores of early cyberspace “nearly overwhelmed the old-timers’ capacity to acculturate them.”

Even in Africa, you’d have to go pretty far out of your way to find a community where it’s not September yet. Internet access is certainly not as ubiquitous, reliable or fast as it is it “the West,” but the African people do use the Internet, and are part of its culture.

The Jargon File mentions “Netiquette,” a quaint term from the innocent times of net.culture, yet Netiquette was not simply a way of fitting in like table manners at an exclusive dinner party. The cultural context of that Internet that made acculturation necessary was it’s relative openness and lack of stratification.

Netiquette was required, because the network had relatively little constraints built into it, the constraints needed to be cultural for the system to work. There was much more to this culture than teaching new users how to not abuse resources or make a “general nuisance of themselves.” Nettiquette was not so much about online manners, it was rather about how to share. Starting from the shared network resources, sharing was the core of the culture, which not only embraced free software and promoted free communications, but generally resented barriers to free exchange, including barriers required to protect property rights and any business models based on controlling information flow.

As dramatic as the influx of new users was to the “old-timers” net.culture, the influx of capital investment and it’s conflicting property interests quickly emerged as an existential threat the basis of the culture. Net.culture required a shared internet, where the network itself and most of the information on it was held in common. Capital required control, constraints and defined property in order to earn returns on investment. Lines in the sand where drawn, the primitive communism of the pre-September Internet was over. The Eternal September began, and along with it, the stratification of the internet began.

Rather than embracing the free, open, platforms where net.culture was born, like Usenet, EMail, IRC, etc, Capital embraced the Web. Not as the interlinked, hypermedia, world-wide-distributed publishing platform it was intended to be, but as a client-server private communications platform where users’ interactions where mediated by the platforms’ operators. The flowering of “Web 2.0″ was Capital’s re-engineering of the web into an internet accessible version of the online services they where building all along, such as the very platforms whose mass user bases where the influx that started the Eternal September. CompuServ and AOL most notable among them.

The Eternal September started when these Online Services allowed their users to access Internet services such as Usenet and EMail, Web 2.0 instead replaced Usenet and EMail with social platforms embedded in private, centralized web-based services that look and work very much like the old Online Services.

Scratch-off the Facebook logo, and you’ll find the AOL logo underneath.

The internet is no longer a open free-for-all where old-timers acculturate new-comers into a community of co-operation and sharing. It is a stratified place where privileged users have preferential access, including broadband at-home, servers online, users who can control there own “domain,” can run their own mail and web services and access the internet as a whole, including the old platforms such as Usenet and IRC. New users, who may have broadband at home, but have no services and need to use online services like facebook or gmail to communicate at all, subject to the terms of use of those companies. Users who have no broadband at home, and rely on internet cafes and libraries. And at the lowest tier, Users who can only access the mobile internet, on locked-down iPhones and other smart phones, where apps stores control the available apps users can us, and the apps tightly control the users that use them. And of course, each bit of data is paid for from the users’ precious mobile airtime.

As the African people finally cross the digital divide, the once-vibrant cyberspace they arrive in has already been colonized, enclosed and captured by the profit motive. The culture of sharing and co-operation destroyed by the terms of service of online platforms, by copyright lobies pushing for greater and greater restrictions and by governments that create legislation to protect the interests of property and “security” against the interests of sharing.

The culture of co-operation and sharing has been replaced by a culture of surveillance and control.

We once believed that perhaps getting the Africans onto our Internet would help them in their struggles, now perhaps we can hope their capacity for struggle will allow us to find ways to make the Internet a transformational force again. Yet, like the urban centers of cities like Johannesburg, once access is finally won, the centers have been abandoned. The common squares and open markets have already been deserted in favour of protected suburbs and gated communities. Access is allowed not to extend freedom and welcome, but to facilitate exploitation.

If the modern Internet can’t be the liberating force early net.culture believed it could be, maybe we can hope that as the African people come online, their experience in working within environments where inequality, repressions and privilege rule will bring a transformational consciousness to us. They might be our last hope.

If you’re in Berlin this evening, join us at Cafe Buchhandling {9}, while we reminisce and reflect on the unforgettable experience we had in Johannesburg at AMAZE / INTERACT. I’ll be there around 9pm.


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