#R15N, The Official Miscommunication Platform of @transmediale 2012


The Revolutionization of Communication


A delegation from Transmediale 2012 [1] came over to my place last night to discuss the latest Telekommunisten artwork, R15N [2].  In addition to various organizational and technical details that we need to work out in preparation for the not-to-be-missed upcoming Transmediale, we talked about the artistic qualities of R15N and the Miscommunication Technologies series in general, which includes works such as deadSwap [3] and Thimbl [4].

R15N in some ways represents the purest example of a miscommunication technology so far in the series, not only is it a broadcast model, thus fulfilling the Telekomunisten slogan “The Revolution is Calling,” but it really combines many of the core characteristics common to the work of Telekommunisten.

Like Thimbl, it is an economic fiction [5], a platform that for the most part is free to use, yet does not in anyway monetize user data or interaction. Like deadSwap, the system depends on the diligence and competency of the users [6] and their willingness to co-operate with random people, who are likely to be completely unknown to each other. Without such diligence and co-operation of the users, the system breaks down into nothing more than a telephonic game of broken telephone.

R15N will be the Official Miscommunication Platform of Transmediale 2012.

Our hope is that the system will serve to create engagement and a greater sense of community at this years Transmediale. The installation side of R15N is minimal. Some signage and two retro phones under desk lamps, along with a phone booth in which to access the website will represent the work in the physical space of the festivals, but the main purpose of these is to get visitors to register to the system.

Only once the user is registered is the artwork really experienced.

The system is extremely miscommunicative, failed calls and missed calls and occasional poor call quality seem bewildering at first, and the R15N experience begins quite mysteriously and somewhat awkwardly, as users get dropped into the network and begin to be connected with strangers, with whom they are ment to interact. But very quickly the experience starts to feel normal as users acclimatize to it’s quirks and begin to lose inhibitions.

Very quickly, the system becomes a highly efficient way to broadcast information, as despite the somewhat unmanageable communication flow happening on the system, the very cooperation and engagement such a miscommunicative platform requires amplifies the message on channels outside the system, as users share their experience with the people around them and people connected to them on other mediums. By building community though the shared experience of the system, R15N becomes a catalyst for the exogenous propagation of information as well.

Technically, this style of broadcast is similar to what is known as the “Random Phone Call” broadcast model [7], a theoretical model which proves that a given message can saturate a network very quickly by simply connecting random nodes together.

Historically, it works like a randomized, ad-hoc version of the old “phone tree” method of pushing information out to a large community. Phone trees where used by many communities, from schools to church groups to the military [8], when they needed to notify a large number of people quickly. Setting up and maintaining a phone tree was one of the essential tasks of activist groups and political campaigns.

Artistically, we have given the system a retro identity, harkening back to the early days of computer networks and telecommunication platforms and the utopian visions of a new society these new platforms inspired. Both playing on the related nostalgia, but also as a parody of  modern corporate web platforms today, who peddle centralized and captured implementations of use cases that have been around for decades as somehow revolutionary and innovative because they have managed to squeeze out more powerful open alternatives by way of exclusive access to finance capital.

Economically, such a system is extremely accessible, since all calls are initiated by the system and incoming calls are free in most countries, the system is free to use for most people, even for people who have no calling credit on their mobile phones. Nothing more than a working telephone is required to participate.

The system is currently in beta stage, and thus usually inactive, however registration is open and everyone is free to sign up now. Be a part of the R15N community. Don’t miss out on important information! Register Today!

I’ll be at Cafe Buchhandlung [9] tonight at 9pm as usual, please come by.

[1] http://transmediale.de
[2] http://r15n.net
[3] http://deadswap.net
[4] http://thimbl.net
[5] http://wp.me/p24fqL-Z
[6] http://deadswap.net/HandBook
[7] http://www.mpi-inf.mpg.de/~tfried/paper/2011STOC.pdf
[8] http://www.state.nj.us/military//familysupport/family_readiness/telephone_tree.html
[9] http://bit.ly/buchhandlung

How I accidentally became a blogger and blogged the #28c3

Robin Upton #28c3

TL;DR:  I’ll probably show up at stammtisch a little early today, say 8pm or so. People still in town after the CCC are encouraged to come by! Hope to see you all for another drink before you sail off to your various hacker lairs. http://bit.ly/buchhandlung

Well, #28c3 has come and gone.

I’m not sure how it happened, but after all these years on the internet, It looks like I’ve somehow become a blogger.

I never really wanted to be a blogger, after all the most exciting thing about the Internet has always been the ability for users to interact on neutral turf. Yet, the web, even when it has social features, is always home-court for somebody or another.


#28c3 Susa Balateo, Robin Upton, Class Struggle Among Cyborgs.

Peer networks, such as the internet, and all the material and immaterial inputs that keep them running, serve as a common stock that is used independently by many people. Free software, whose production and distribution frequently depends on peer networks,is a common stock available to all. Free software is produced by diverse and distributed producers who contribute to it because they gain greater value in using the software in their own production, than the value of their individual contributions to the software. Popular attacks on the royalties and fees (rents) captured by the recording and movie industries by users of file sharing technologies show us the difficulties faced by those whose incomes depend on controlling reproduction. Mass transportation and international migration have created distributed communities who maintain ongoing interpersonal and often informal economic relationships across national borders.

All of these are examples of new productive relationships that transcend current property-based relations and point to a potential way forward. Developments in telecommunications, notably the emergence of peer networks such as the internet, along with international transportation and migration, create broad revolutionary possibilities as dispersed communities become able to interact instantly on a global scale. Our lives and relationships no longer need to be confined to territorially bounded nation states. Though coercive elements in the political and corporate hierarchy impose ever more draconian controls in an attempt to prevent our resistance to, and evasion of, such confinement, we can place our revolutionary hopes in the possibility that the scale of change is simply so large that they can never fully succeed.

In The Telekommunist Manifesto, quoted above, our revolutionary hopes are placed in the idea that the emergence of  communities unbound by territory can be a radically transformative development.

This hope is also expressed by Susa Baleato in his 28c3 talk “Towards A Single Secure European Cyberspace?” In his talk, Baleato gives a timeline of NATO and European Parliamentary initiatives towards the militarization of cyberspace against cybercrime. Opening up what Baleato calls the 5th theatre of war, after land, air, sea and space.

Drawing on Donna Haraway’s concept of the cyborg, Susa Baleato develops a concept of deterritorialized contest among geographically distributed communities, that are closely socially clustered on the global network. Referring to these clusters as Cyborgs, Baleato looks at data from the european fight against software patents. Susa looks at data visualization, inferring that the outcome is determined by the size and density of the contesting communities.

Surprisingly, Susa Baleato describes this as a process of social deliberation, and emphatically states that he is against thinking of this process as a conflict, or even using the language of conflict and struggle. This is especially inexplicable, as not only does Baleato introduce several dialectic tensions with regard to the relations between nation states and networked communities, but the early part of his talk expressly chronicles online militarization, and preparation for general cyberwar against civilian net users.

It is not clear what the point is of imagining we are not in a conflict, but part of deliberation, when the other side of the deliberation is openly antagonistic, and ready to push through the processes and instruments to further lock-down internet users by any means necessary.

On 28c3 day 2, Robin Upton gave a talk on the development of Plutocracy. Upton’s talk began with a fairly uncontroversial anthropology of wealth. Egalitarian nomadic communities developed class and hierarchy when they became settled and developed agriculture, a professional class of soldiers leads to power, conflict and, of course taxes and money. So far, so good. Then, Bang! Central Banks appeared and society was forevermore shackled by the pernicious entangling schemes of evil, evil bankers. Hello Plutocracy! The End. What’s the solution? Don’t Use Money! Huzzah!

Sadly, this simplistic and ultimately unhelpful analysis creeps into Baleato’s talk as well. Using data showing the relationships around wealth management, Susa shows the financial industry “cyborg.” A powerful social cluster on the network, dominated by a few major nodes, having familiar names like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, etc. Hello Plutocracy! What’s the solution? Become Cyborg! Baleato’s thesis is that this financial industry “Cyborg” is being opposed (in a “deliberation” not a “conflict,” of course), by the “democracy” Cyborg, illustrated by phenomena surrounding the occupy movement and hacker movement.

Without even Upton’s somewhat quaint, but at least prescriptive, directive to not use money, Baleato’s call is to  join with the democracy cyborg and deliberate as hard as you can and go cyborg on their ass. Just dont call it conflict. I guess.

Yet both Upton’s and Balateo views are ultimately unconvincing. Upton’s direct identification of Banker’s control over the money supply as being a source of plutocracy seems a bit conspiratorial. Simply eliminating the banking system, or even the powers of the central bank would not put an end to plutocracy. The roots of accumulation and class stratification in a capitalist economy derive from the profit motive, which directs investment towards preventing competition. The Money supply is not nearly as important as Capital formation. Even if one is to take up Upton’s call to stop using money, where would investment come from? How would factories and housing and train tracks and hospitals be built?

Money, in the end, is only able to buy that which is available on the market for sale.

To bring goods and services for sale requires the application of  real labour and real material wealth, and that is not something central bankers can create byway of lending. As always, real power in the economy comes from control of productive assets. Simply “not using money” will not give us control over the productive assets we need to live and produce, such as our residences and places of work and, our schools and our hospitals.

Yet, it is exactly the ability to control the things other people need to live that creates inequality, the root of plutocracy is the institution of property, and concentration of wealth is an inevitable consequence of wage labour and private productive property, regardless of how or by whom the money supply is managed. History has show that workers can be enslaved by whips as well as notes, and productive assets can be commanded by guns as well as deeds, thus an overfocus on money can easily cause one to mistake symptom and cause. Especially when, in the end, the notes and assets are ultimately underwritten with guns.

As Upton’s analysis seems to suggest that we can exit plutocracy and enter some kind of neutral, egalitarian society by not using the plutocrat’s money, Balateo’s pacifist concept of Cyborgian contestation on a networked deliberative field assumes that there is some sort of neutral process of deliberation, where if, somehow, the Democracy Cyborg can out-mass the Plutocracy Cyborg, some kind of deliberation engine will produce a victory for democracy and a defeat for plutocracy. As if the net created some kind of defacto condercet voting platform and all world parliaments would instantly enact it’s computed collective decisions. Yet, that is obviously not the case.

There should be no doubt that the kind of distributed communities that Balateo calls Cyborgs do represent an emerging transnational dimension of class struggle that has not exactly existed before, and this new form has tremendous potential to make social gains against plutocracy. Yet, it’s tremendously unhelpful to characterize this as some sort of collective deliberation instead of a real conflict.

In the end the war between these two “cyborgs” is a real war, as is being waged as one. Clearly on by the plutocratic side, which has no qualms of using violence, legal repression and technical suppression to promote its side, as Balateo’s own slides illustrate.

Equally as dangerous, as Becky Hogge pointed out during the questions, is the idea that being an active cell of the democracy cyborg may draw energy and focus into the online deliberation and away from critical social issues such as local rights of assembly and material concerns such as wages, housing, etc and yet these issues are clearly strongly joined.

It is not the size or mesh density of these “cyborgs” that will ultimately determine the outcome of these “deliberations,” but the capacity of the resources they can mobilize towards achieving their goals, the level of this capacity for most people is very much determined by people’s existing social conditions; Wages, housing, education, levels of  precarity, civic rights, etc.

Ultimately, the struggle for democracy online is connected with the struggle for social justice in general. The struggle against copyrights and patents is the same struggle as the one against rents and profits and the exploitation of labour and the exploitation of the environment too.

So long as we have an economic system that allows an owner/lender class to exploit a worker/borrower class, we will have communications systems and social institutions that are controlled of the owner/lender classes and structured in their interests, and against the interestes of the worker/borrower class, for the simply reason that since the owner/lender classe will aways be able to retain earnings and accumulate while the worker/borrower class can only earn enough to service their bills and debt.

If we are to create a society where we produce and share as peers, where direct unmediated communications and commerce allows peer producers in informal, translocal communities to throw off the chains of Monopolist and Rentier, then we must resurrect the language of resistance, of class struggle, and acknowledge the fact that no privileged class will give up it’s advantage gladly, that bottom up revolution will always face top-down repression.

We are not engaged in a polite discussions about how society should be best managed. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Now, as much as ever before. Don’t be afraid to call a fight a fight.


There Is No A List. #28c3, Tor talk from Dingledine & @ioerror, Net Freedom and Market Failure.

Yesterday at #28c3 Roger Dingledine and Jacob Applebaum gave an entertaining and informative overview of how Governements have tried to suppress use of the Tor system in their countries.

Tor is a system intended to improve privacy and security on the Internet, giving it’s users greater anonymity online. World governments increasingly implement censorship and monitoring systems to control their citizens use of the Internet. Tor helps users circumvent such control. In response, Governments try to block, monitor or otherwise suppress usage of Tor.

Simular to what was discussed in Evgeny Morozov’s talk, often the technology being used to suppress Tor is made by Western states, driven by demand from western markets. Smartfilter by Blue Coat being a popular choice of net censors world wide.

In a particularly poignant moment Roger Dingledine told a story of a recommendation he received on how to combat or somehow punish western states who manufacture and promote technology for censorship and surveillance of online activity. The idea was you make two lists, list B, which contains all the technology companies complicit with censorship and surveillance, list A, all the companies that are not. Then, publicize the lists!

Certainly the freedom-loving free markets will punish peddlers of tyranny and domination! No doubt ethically minded investors will move their investments to the virtuous firms of list A, leaving the B listers starved of Capital. Justice conscious consumers will immediately dump B’s products and take up the A list! Politicians, eager to please their constituents,  will kick the B listers to the curb and shower the A listers with all the lucrative governments lucre. The sinister B-list companies will collapse and the bold and brave A listers will take their market share and refuse to implement censorious or freedom-denying features into their products, and certainly not enable sinister foreign powers to oppresses their people. Cackling foreign despots and their bumbling mad scientists are now foiled for good by the freedom loving actors on the glorious free market system!

Now, regardless of how you feel about such a prognosis, Dingledine killed this idea dead in its tracks with one simple fact: There is no A list.

As it turns out, all the significant  manufacturers of communications technology are on list B. Every single one.

I guess if you subscribe to the free market fable entertained above, you might say this was a market failure. If there are freedom loving consumers, then certainly the market must make freedom loving corporations and politicians available to them?

Is that the case? Is this simply a matter of information symmetry or a lack of competition preventing freedom enabling communications technology companies from existing on any significant scale? No doubt, partially. However there is a more fundamental problem here, giving freedom is less profitable than restricting freedom. The logic of capitalism is the logic of capture.

Capitalist investors do no look at consumer demand alone when choosing investments, they look at the potential for return on their investments, and this most often attracts them to investments that attempt to create captured markets and captured consumers. In other words capitalist investment will always have a bias towards control, and not freedom. That is why there is no shortage of investment in surveillance and monitoring technology, no shortage of investment to help web2.0 era centralized and proprietary social platforms replace free and peer to peer classic internet platforms, and no shortage of investment for the war against general computing that Cory Doctorow talked about, pushing users to centrally controlled locked down platforms.

Yet, investment for freedom enabling technology is immeasurably minuscule by comparison. While their arch-rivals Blue Coat have been acquired by a deep-pocketed Private Equity Firm able to provide millions, if not billions in funding. Projects like Tor get by on small grants and the help of volunteers.




#28c3, @doctorow, In order to stop the net from being squared, we need change the way we produce and share.

On July 17, 2009, Amazon remotely deleted Orwell’s classic 1984 from the personal kindle ereader devices of purchasers after discovering that the publisher lacked rights to publish the book. Truly an Orwellian moment.

Yesterday, at his 28c3 talk Cory Doctorow imagined a future where copying is easy, where everyone has tiny portable storage devices capable of storing the entire history of recorded and text media, and transferring it to other such devices in fractions of a second.

Yet, this future assumes that we are allowed to have such devices, as opposed to remotely manageable devices like that that Amazon is engineering, where the data you store locally is accessible and deletable remotely, or highly locked-down thin-client devices where you data is stored “in the cloud” and subject to control, including rights management, by storage providers working in cosy relationships with rights holders.

Cory’s talk was titled “The Coming War on General Computing.” driven by market forces and the interests of law enforcement, general purpose computers and general purpose networks will give way to specialized ”appliances” and crippled networks, both designed to enable approved uses, but disable uses disapproved of by corporate interests and government policy makers.

Doctorow lampooned the instincts of law enforcement to cripple the Internet in order to prevent crime by comparing it to banning wheels because bank robbers use wheels on their get-away cars. Since a car, either operated by a bank robber or a anybody else, can’t drive without wheels, banning wheels to prevent bank robberies prevents a car from doing what it is meant to do. Because a car is a specialized device, meant for driving, it is useless if it can’t drive, thus legislators would never consider such measures.

Yet, a computer is a general purpose device, not being able to use bitTorrent or Tor doesn’t mean that you can’t play computer games or visit the cheezburger network. Thus, legislators don’t perceive passing laws that limit certain usage makes the computer useless, just as having less features. Cory gave the example of the banning the hands-free telephone feature from cars, which would not make them useless as cars, since they could still drive, just with one less feature. Since legislators don’t generally understand how computers work, passing laws aimed to eliminate child pornography or piracy seems to them to be more like banning a feature, like the hands-free telephone, than banning  a critical component, like the wheel.

Yet, in order to prevent computers from running certain software, or from allowing software to perform certain operations something much more invasive than removing a feature must be done. Cory points out that a crippled appliance made to do only certain approved things is not a specialized computer with certain features removed, but a fully functional general purpose computer who’s user is prevented from using it in certain ways by software, akin to root-kits and spyware, that is designed to lock the user out and prevent certain operations from being possible.

In some ways, this is even worse that removing the wheels, it’s hand-cuffing the driver.

In Cory’s view, this is largely ineffective since such attempts to cripple general purpose devices is often easily circumventable, so legislatures pass legislation making such circumvention illegal.

Doctorow praises the efforts of groups like our close friends, La Quadrature du Net, that fight against freedom denying legislation, and issues a call to arms in the coming war against general computing.

“La Quadrature du Net” means “Squaring of the Net” a play on the old “Squaring the Circle,” an impossible problem that obsessed ancient geometers. The war on general computing and general networking is boxing up the net.

Cory is probably right that many of the legislators who pass laws that try to square the net don’t fully understand how networks or computers work, or the implications of how enforcing such laws necessities violating the privacy and autonomy of all users of computers and networks. It would be mistaken to conclude that such laws are passed in ignorance.

It is not ignorance, nor even genuinely the needs of law enforcement that is driving the war against general computing and a general network. It’s too simple to understand this war as simply tyrannical law enforcers and paranoid music execs duping clueless legislatures into locking-down cyberspace to save Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Rather this war is simply a consequence of the fact that our technology industry is funded by finance capital, and finance capital requires profit as a return.

As such, the industry requires the control of user interaction and data in order to make profit. If capitalist funded firms can’t control the way people use computers they can’t make money from them, and thus they wont fund the development of software, networks or devices that do not provide such control. And without capitalist funding, no alternatives can be built on any significant scale.

The implications of this is that while we should certainly support La Quadrature and other groups fighting for our online freedoms and the freedom to use our personal computers as well like, we need to understand that our fight is much deeper than convincing some misguided legislators, our fight is against Capitalism.

We can’t realistically demand that freedom enabling computers, software and networks be funded by rent-seeking capitalists, we must find alternatives to finance capital. Otherwise, rather than progressing towards Doctorow’s utopia of instant and unlimited copying, we will get the Orwellian Amazon.com distopia of asymmetric, filtered and monitored networks, cloud storage and locked-down and crippled thin clients.

In order to stop the net from being squared, we need change the way we produce and share.