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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The UK Snoopers Charter

So, I wrote to my MP, Sam Gyimah about the new Bill that is trying to be shoved through UK parliament.

Hey Sam,

Haven’t written in a while, but this new ‘Communications Data Bill’ has really got me worried.

While I have absolutely nothing to hide, I believe that too many people having access to too much of my information – personal information – that can be easily accesses and held insecurely, is a terrible idea. I’m also fairly sure that, given the track record of data-loss by organisations in this country, the access will not be properly regulated.

Collecting and having access to this data by law-enforcement, with a warrant, is a good idea, but only in small measures and certainly not the broad strokes the bill lays out and without adequate safeguards.

Why is it the EVERYBODY’S data will be collected and stored – mine, yours, my mothers and not JUST those who are under suspicion? I pretty sure there is no good reason to collect this information about me without my consent and further, there can never be a reason why this data can be accessed so easily and without warrant. Who get’s to decide who accesses this data? Law enforcement. Do they need a reason? Probably not – that’s the meaning of warrantless.

Hiding under a shroud of “maintaining capability”, whatever THAT means, the bill, in it’s current form, is dangerous and alarming. Much of the data the bill makes reference too, held by services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc, is much richer than that of a telephone conversation and, once mined, will probably highlight things about me that I don’t even know. This is invasive and most unwelcome.

This kind of snooping and data storage requires stringent oversight to make sure that people are not put at risk.

I have seen no evidence to support the need for this bill. It undermines the commitment of the coalition (which YOU are a part of Sam), to enhance our civil liberties.

I would like you, on my behalf, to oppose this bill unless it changes significantly. On top of that, I’d like you to make others aware of what dangers this poses and how it could be abused. Control over these kind of powers needs to be tightened, not loosened as this bill requires.

Yours Sincerely,

Mike Pearce

Originally posted on

Radical Openness and #LiWoLi 2012

Tomorrow I head to Linz, Austria to participate in LiWoLi 2012.

LiWoLi: 24-26 May 2012
Location: I/O Stadtwerkstatt, Kirchengasse, Linz, Austria
LiWoLi is a community festival, open lab and annual meeting spot for artists, educators and developers using and creating Free Software (FLOSS), Open Hardware and Open Design in the artistic and cultural context. This event is all about sharing artistic skills, code and knowledge within the public domain and discussing the challenges of an open practice.
This year’s edition will have a special focus on artworks that can be created, performed or exhibited outdoors and in public space. Like every year, numerous activities such as lectures, workshops and audiovisual performances will take place during the course of this three-day festival.

Thinking about “the challenges of a open practice” gets me thinking about what “radical openness” could mean. On the surface, it could just mean really, really, extremely, very open. But that’s a overly colloquial understanding of the word radical, as in “totally rad,” as opposed to “radical critique.”

Extreme or drastic is not necessarily radical. Radical requires a fundamental transformation, change so deep it goes to the root, the “radix”. Radical has the a same linguistic root as “radish,” the edible root vegetable of the Brassicaceae family.

Thus, to be radical, a practice has to get at the root, to work towards a fundamental transformation, no matter how moderate or gradual.

Radical openness would not necessarily mean being as open as one could be, but rather working towards removing the fundamental obstacles to openness that exist, perhaps even in ways that are not open, or less open than we might like.

To be open, we need to be safe and we need to be alive.

To be safely open requires us to have the freedom and privileged to speak our mind, to do as we please. When what you want to say, or do is unwelcome by powerful forces, perhaps because what you are saying
or doing is something they consider threatening to their interests, you can not be safe. So long as inequality and intolerance exists in society, any chance we have to get the freedom to pursue radical openness requires us to have privacy, requires us to be able to chose
when and with whom to be open. Not having privacy means that we will have less openness.

Radical openness requires privacy.

To be alive we require food and shelter and the necessities of life, and in a capitalist society, what we do, our practice, is largely formed by our participation in the labour market, in order to obtain such necessities. As such, not only the practice, but what becomes of the results of our work, is determined not by our own wishes, but by the logic of capitalism. This logic means that in most cases we can not chose either the conditions of our labour nor the terms of distribution of what we create. For the masses, openness in terms of their productive life is simply not a practice they can chose. This means that the degree of openness that we can have is not determined by individual choice, but by collective struggle.

Radical openness requires collective struggle.

In this light, radical openness can only mean the collective struggle for a more open society, which is a society where open practice is not threatened by repression or economic consequence.

Which means that radical openness must be closed to violations of privacy and to economic exploitation.

I’ll be at stammtisch {2} this evening around 9pm as usual.