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<nettime> critical delusion of the condition of digitisation

The critical delusion of the condition of digitisation

or the prosecution of sharing and seduction

:: Version 0.99 ::

George N. Dafermos


December 26, 2004.



This essay analyses how digital media prosthetics, institutionalisation
(in particular the manifestations of copyright and patent law which lurk
behind vested interests in controlling the transition to a vastly more
powerful new world), and the imperatives of corporate planning have come
into a conflict so fierce that shared lived experience, increasingly, is
forced to undergo a rapid process of commodification. This struggle,
which can no longer be defined through the lens of geography or class
alone, in turn, points to a not too distant future in which
commons-based peer production/consumption is exploited within the
context of intense social taylorism and digital fordism with the
ultimate goal to turn culture into a paid-for experience, and hence
moving the terrain of struggle away from the surplus value of labour to
the legitimacy of knowledge sharing and pervasive networking, and how
the latter can be monetised and controlled in accordance with
anarcho-capitalist agendas. Obviously, the question which we ought to
pose to ourselves is how the revolutionary demands of hacking can be
guided, assembled, and reproduced, so that this process of
commodification is consciously resisted by technology developers and
users alike, artists, and all those whose creativity and desire for
socially conscious technological innovation and emergent social
co-operation have been enhanced by the digital condition we're
increasingly in the centre of.


Digital condition, the. [def]

Copy and paste. Peer-to-peer. Free Software. Open Source. Questioning
and re-drawing the boundaries of the real and the authentic. Promethean
extension of global consciousness. Redefinition of communication,
community, group dynamics, class consciousness. Capacity to tear down
the consumption -- production dichotomy, replacing it with plastic
affluence and endogenous social relations premised on community
involvement. Where societism can be decoupled from its economic facet.
Arbitrary claim of the industrial-cultural complex; apotheosis of The
Spectacle, of the Image, of the Sign, of Representation, of the Avatar,
of the Automaton, of Narcisus. Embodiment of the revolutionary force of
the reversal of perspective, ultimate justification of the radical
subjectivity of those opposing property and law. Where pre-history is -
presumably but wrongly - thought to give way to history. Where sterile
hope is boycotted but also reproduced. Copy and paste.

We have entered a new world of struggles. Struggles that, whilst had
been epidermically experienced by the generations before ours, are now
coming into full force, threatening to imprison a world of radical
opportunities. Our struggle is not about higher wages, though a good
many people -- myself included - would argue that the working masses are
still deprived from a decent wage. Yet, this is a task I shall leave to
others to discuss. The conflict I shall focus on derives from the
interplay between digital media prosthetics, institutionalisation, and
the imperatives of corporate planning.

This conflict is omnipresent. For the sake of brevity, I shall refer to
only a few of the most blatant cases that have been brought to my
attention. The first case is concerned with the forces at work in the
realm of P2P distribution. P2P is, of course, a digital prosthetic to
ourselves, or an extension to ourselves if you prefer, because it allows
us to do things that before the advent of P2P were not possible: share
our files as many times as we want, at no (or negligible) cost, without
decreasing the value of our files. This new possibility has prompted
many of us to reconceptualise and re-invent our attitude towards sharing
and property, at least insofar as digital property is concerned. And
this extension of ourselves has, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
revolutionalised the music industry. How do the industry and the
entrenched players respond to this change? Have they embraced it? Or
have they set themselves to destroying it? Suffice to say that the
Recording Industry's Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA), who have consolidated the rights
of most music and movie authors, are lobbying the US government and the
EU to pass legislation according to which the free, uninhibited
distribution of cultural artefacts will be illegal, thus criminalising
the use of P2P networks and marginalising its users, effectively forcing
such networks, and the socio-cultural arrangements that stem from their
use, into the computer underground. Specifically, let us recall that
Niklas Zennstr=F6m, the CEO of Skype, -- a major player in the rapidly
expanding and highly competitive Voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony business
arena - is not allowed to set foot upon US soil.[1] Why would the US,
with its long history of encouraging and rewarding new capitalist
innovations, prevent the CEO of such an innovative and profit-making
enterprise from entering its premises? The answer lies in the fact that
Niklas Zennstr=F6m is also the developer of Kazaa -- one of the P2P
networks that further led the 'napsterisation' of the music industry.
Or, alternatively, remember that the developer of the Winnie P2P
technology -- has been put behind bars in Japan.[2] Or, furthermore,
remember, for just one fleeting moment, all those unfortunate users of
P2P networks whose files have been seized by the police, and such cases
are not rare to encounter in the US. As a result, many have been
imprisoned or have been forced to pay extortionate amounts of money to
those mad dogs who call themselves representatives of the rights of
cultural producers because some mp3s were found in the formers' hard
drives.[3] And they call this practice 'outcourt settlement'. What has
been settled (in oblivion), would I ask, except perhaps for this
long-lost notion of the right to freely disseminate cultural heritage
and memory? Or the right to democratise culture?

As every user of P2P file-sharing networks has learnt the hard way,
mainstream P2P networks like eMule and eDonkey are swarmed by spies
[spyware], ice, and all kinds of crap that is designed to cause all
kinds of shite to one's computer. Although I can't prove it, I strongly
believe those malicious lines of code originate in the offices of the
old world, written by clean-cut professional programmers, rather than
being the late night endeavour of a disgrunted juvenile delinquent, as
so many ignorant people fantasise. The people who write these exploits
are the people we greet on the streets, who we work with, the people
whose salary radiates a certain professional status well above that of
the much romantised figure of the volunteering saboteur. Why do they do
it? Well, some companies cash in on anti-virus programs: they employ
programmers to write software that detects and neutralises viruses, but
to draw the market's attention to their offerings they also develop the
viruses themselves that will, in turn, create market demand for their
products. As J.K. Galbraith pointed out in The New Industrial State, the
myth of consumer sovereignty that has been endlessly perpetuated by
neoclassical economists is premised on the fallacy that production
commences with the realisation of a need by the consumer, which is then
communicated to companies in the form of market demand. Despite its
understandable attractiveness to economists, the idea that the consumer
is sovereign and that demand for a commodity is enacted by the consumer
is empty rhetoric, with no applicability to the contemporary world of
commerce. Demand as well as supply are things deemed far too important
to be left up to consumers to tinker with. The companies who supply
anti-virus products and services are, to a large extent, the same
entities that create the demand for those products. The situation with
viruses being hidden in all kinds of otherwise harmless formats, such as
=2Ejpg, is close to ludicrous.[4] Not that long ago, a trojan horse
masqueraded as an .mp3, that when played with Winamp ushered chaos,
terrorised a good many user of P2P networks.[5] One way or another,
companies capitalising on cultural production have declared war on P2P:
in P2P networks war is rampant.

And patents. A discussion that is better not to ignite, as Reto
Bachmann-Gmuer told me once, for the unintended consequences (such as
reducing the motivation of developers to cut their teeth on anything
technological) that the sudden awareness of the irrationality of the
patent system could trigger, much like a boomerang. Yet, while I much
understand and share Reto's view, I also find it important to briefly
refer to the patent system as it is a perfect illustration of the hell
that has broken loose. Indicatively, IBM has a patent on how to employ
and retain FS/OSS developers, which means that in an insane world anyone
who has ever written a single line of HTML would have to get IBM's
permission to work at any company other than IBM.[6] In a similar vein,
Amazon has a patent on '1-click' [7], BT has a patent on hypertext [8],
and a good many company is being sued for infringing on a patent on "A
Method and Apparatus for Spherical Planning", filled in 1988. [9]. The
list is dramatically long and keeps getting longer by the day. But
whether one looks at patents and wonders if the collapse(?) of the
patent system will herald the collapse of the entire property rights
system, as Johan S=F6derberg very convincingly argues [10], or one sees
the evolution of the patent system as a metastasis counterproductive to
the motors of capitalism, and, thus, as a parasite that ought to be
rehabilitated and reformed, one thing remains the same nonetheless: the
patent system, as it stands right now, is simultaneously decadent and
all-encompassing, having stretched in scope and logic (or irrationality)
beyond the threshold of intelligibility.

The entire spectrum of mechanisms devised by the ones in power to
control and criminalise the free sharing of culture, such as the
perpetual character of copyright law, or the imminent expansion of the
patent space in the EU in line with the US and Japan, is what I refer to
as mounting institutionalisation -- which is the second thread that
links my argument together (the core of the argument, essentially, is
that the whole of culture is in the process of being commodified, and
that this process should be resisted. This course of events may not seem
like the worst thing in the world to some people, but beware: "What
happens to ideas, that while important, may not be commercially
attractive? Is there any room left for noncommercial views in a
civilisation where people rely on the commercial sphere for ideas by
which to live their lives?").[11] Many before us have glimpsed this
conflict, and pondered the thought of what it means. Cornelius
Castoriadis had warned us against the collapse of The Real and the
Authentic, which is the loss of meaning and relevance in a society which
allows irrelevant mechanisms and insane institutions to restrict and
control the flow of positive subjectivity.[12] Copyright law is again a
perfect example to illustrate this tension. Whereas its raison d'etre
has been (or, should have been) rendered obsolete by the pragmatics of
digitisation (and hence of P2P distribution), its effect is nonetheless
very real in terms of its actual impact upon society, ie. locking people
in prison, and indoctrinating consumer society to regard sharing of
files via P2P networks as an activity that correctly should be
criminalised.[13] It should be mentioned that when this mounting
institutionalisation is examined through the prism of the economic
interpretation of history, it leads to interesting conclusions. In
Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph Schumpeter, an ardent
supporter of the economic interpretation of history, argues that
capitalism, as a social system, constantly enlarges the space within
which rational decision-making applies, and it is this
characteristic-dynamic which will eventually replace the innovator -
entrepreneur with institutions that will carry out the functions
previously carried out by the innovator -- entrepreneur, including that
of social leadership. This process of institutionalisation, for
Schumpeter, marks the beginning of the end of capitalism. However, is
the mere possibility of this theory coming true an anesthetic relaxing
enough for us to sit back and watch in apathy to see what will
capitalism be replaced by? Under no circumstances would I advocate such
a disengaged position. Besides, as Schumpeter himself is quick to point
out, static capitalism is an oxymoron. Capitalism is continuous change
occurring through time, and thus not only never is but never could be in
a state of delirious equilibrium.[14] Sure enough, the organisation of
the society and the economy has changed in the past and it keeps
changing, but why would we have to interpret that as a pointer, or worse
as a sign of a forthcoming socialist utopia in the making, where nothing
is scarce and anything can be replicated infinitely at the whims of a
nanotek-powered multitude? The end of history has been announced quite a
few times over the past years, but this means hardly anything: the
future is malleable -- nothing is certain, yet anything is possible.
Nevertheless, there are choices: the act of using, developing or
extending a technology, may that be a mobile phone, the Internet, or a
bicycle, constitutes a conscious or unconscious choice over the path our
societies will progress or regress upon.[15] It is not hard to imagine
the arrival of the day when (neo)luddite reactions to technology at
large will become more common and more effectively organised,
challenging the logic of capital-induced teknolust and obscuring the
capitalist development of telematic technologies.[16] It is precisely
this choice, scattered around the full fabric of media, that radicalises
technology users. By choosing not to use a 3G mobile phone, one chooses
-- explicitly - to conceal his geographical whereabouts from the
constant surveillance offered by GPS. Choosing not to jack-into
cyberspace expresses the refusal to acknowledge that a human being may
be(come) indistinguishable from a screen. Choosing to destroy a CCTV, a
computer network, a DNA databank, or the digitised archives of the
global financial services complex translates into a concrete political
project, if done consciously. In much the same way that 19th century
luddites used their sledgehammers to demolish a specific machinic
technological sphere, and the relations of production, that the latter
was reckoned to set in motion[17], we're now witnessing the rebirth of
luddism, whose political project can be summarised as follows: start
using technology -- stop being used by technology. Said otherwise: Use
technology the way you want to use it - Stop using technology the way
those manufacturing and selling it would like you to use it. It is here
worth recalling the words of a black worker to his white boss: "When we
first saw your trucks and planes we thought that you were gods. Then,
after a few years we learned how to drive your trucks, as we shall soon
learn how to fly your planes, and we understood that what interested you
most was manufacturing trucks and planes and making money. For our part,
what we are interested in is using them. Now, you are just our
metal-workers".[18] The emancipatory force of the reversal of
perspective is upon us. Now it's time we put it to use before it all
fades away into spectacular success stories of ingenious
hacker-entrepreneurs and nonsensical information societies.

The criminalisation of P2P is not merely an attack aimed at technology.
Rather, it is geared toward abolishing a whole set of socio-cultural
arrangements that have sprung to life due to the advances in technology.
Users of P2P networks are not only sharing their files -- increasingly,
they also indulge in a sharing of their individual cyber facade, which
consists of the assemblage of digital artefacts they have been storing
in their hard drives, which, in turn, through the cross-fertilisation of
diverse tastes and socio-political extensions casts a radical shadow
upon hacking as sharing (and vice versa). Users of file sharing networks
also cement relationships, which, in effect, give rise to online
communities of interest, formed outside the reach of corporate-fed
pseudo-cultural priesthoods. Doc Searls nails it when he says that
Napster and similarly functioning software are "the market's correction
for the failure of mainstream radio not just to adapt to the Net, but
even to fulfill the missions it established for itself over the
decades".[19] In P2P networks, production and consumption overlap:
those networks of shared meaning exemplify that people want to redefine
music and cultural consumption as an essentially peer-activity. And by
doing so, they deliver a strong blow to the consumer society. However,
informational -- cognitive capitalism seems well equipped to absorb this
shock and reinvent it as crucial input. Although users of P2P networks
cannot be classified as waged labour, their contribution to cultural
production goes nonetheless appropriated by organisations operating on a
proprietary business logic. It was imagined that the hierarchical
organisation of society could only sustain itself to the extent that
consumption and production were divided and fragmented in specialised
activities, so that society could be equally divided along the lines of
the ones who produce (a specific something) and the ones who consume (a
specific something). However, as Johan S=F6derberg argues, the fact that
production and consumption do overlap does not mean that the networks
where this socio-economic relation finds fertile ground to grow are not
amenable to capitalist appropriation.[20] As it is made evident in the
sphere of Free Software/Open Source Software (FS/OSS) development (which
serves as another succinct example of the convergence between production
and consumption as the producers of FS/OSS are, in most part, the users
of FS/OSS too) the contribution of volunteer labour is fundamental to
the new face of commerce. Only by incorporating the unpaid-for
contributions of volunteers into their core operating processes could
profit-driven organisations meet the demands forced upon them by a
global consumer market addicted to ever faster upgrades, improvements,
and (supposedly) massively customised services and products.

In more abstract terms, law, apart from being the quintessential
institutionalised mechanism, is always, with no exception, a reflection
of the prevalent stand toward ethics that a given society in a given
time and space has adopted. Law and ethics are just different forms of
the same thing. The latter is encoded in everyday social practices and
gestures, whereas the former is encoded in juridical practices and
legally-binding artefacts. Said otherwise, a citizen should abide to the
law because the law itself simulates the views of society on what ought
to be permitted and what ought not. On these premises, the moment law
and ethics collide is when irrationality kicks in, operationalising and
establishing the institution of the imaginary. And this is the situation
we are confronted with today: one the one hand, we have developed a new
ethics as we have grown accustomed to the continuous sharing of digital
cultural artefacts, clumsily developing a novel reconceptualisation of
the public sphere, according to which culture is freed from old-world
constraints, and, on the other hand, law still struggles to enforce the
old ethics, removed from the emerging form of social consciousness.

Where does this all leave us now? And what does it really mean? How is
culture subjugated under transcendent capitalism? Is it because mounting
institutionalisation, manifested in legal devices such as the perpetual
character of copyright law and the expansion of the patent system,
threatens to enchain innovative forces, and ultimately create a world in
which the freedom to own what you think is being taken away by the ones
who pay your salary on the pretext of harnessing corporate-owned
intellectual property? Or is it because unscrupulous corporations have
resorted to underhand games, such as developing and unleashing into P2P
networks Trojan horses that are detrimental to our computers, and
rethinking their proprietary operating logic so that even unwaged
labour, including that of volunteers, is essentially a hot property to
be defended against the very same people who have contributed it in the
first place...? Yes, this is where we stand now. And this is the world
we live in. Fact of the matter is cyberspace exacerbates this conflict,
allowing us a glimpse into the brave new world. In The Age of Access,
which, in my opinion, remains the most apocalyptic expose of that shift
toward a fully commodified civic space and realm of ideas, Jeremy Rifkin
postulates that the transition to this dystopia has been well underway
for many years. By reading between the lines, from the rise of
commercial-interest developments (CID) as the housing model of choice
for increasingly more people in the Western world, so-called one-to-one
marketer-customer relationships, the restructuring of business as play
and the redesign of work as a performing act to the hollywoodisation of
network production and the displacement of the public agora by the
shopping mall, what we witness is the contraction of any room that might
have been once left unexploited by commodification. Increasingly, all
aspects of private and social life are being subsumed under commercial
agendas. What we think when we work is the property of those who employ
us. Even play, once seen as dialectically antithetical to work and
productivity, now defines the essence of both consumption and
production. Writes Marcuse: "The play is non-productive and useless
exactly because it abolishes the repressive and exploitative elements of
work and idleness".[21] The dialectic of play - work that Marcuse
portrayed has been turned on its head by the penetrating logic of late
capitalism to apprehend all kinds of business as show business, as Tom
Peters is oft-quoted for exclaiming during his highly-regarded
management development training courses for senior corporate executives.
And increasingly more corporations wake up to the potential of grasping
the productive element of play and incorporating it into their
organisational model. Kodak, in Rochester, New York, for example, has a
room packed with all sorts of toys for its employees to fuck around with
during long days at the office.[22] In line with Kodak, other mega-corps
run spaces and environments, like gyms, video gaming saloons, and
recreation areas inside their premises so that the working day extends
to as much of the day as is humanly possible. Then again, from where I
now stand, I'd easily fall for such a pleasant work environment. I am a
sucker for video games. [It should be mentioned though that its
dialectical antithesis, those long lines and mazes of cubicles and desks
where people hunkered down on their chairs are doing the phones and
providing 'precious' customer support at call centres while being
constantly watched by a camera facing them, still abounds if one cares
to look around, in much the same countries that play is reconceptualised
as crucial input, such as England].

But all this aside, it is a fact that the once anti-productive and
anti-business elements of play have eclipsed altogether. In the context
of our discussion, and having as our aim to show how cyberspace
accelerates the tendency toward the complete commodification of culture,
let us recall what ensued in the virtual universe of Dark Age of Camelot
when Warsinger - one of the players - passed away (physically). They
[the other players organised in tribes and clans] called it a day and
organised a funeral to honour the apparently well-liked player. They
stood in the shape of a heart, with the dead bloke's girlfriend and his
sister located in the centre of the heart. The game, which hundreds of
people play over the Internet on a daily basis -- and not for free - ,
is just one of those garganduan virtual universes that increasingly more
people identify with as their homeland.

Unsurprisingly, those virtual universes are developed and owned by
commercial entities, but oddly enough, on a different level of analysis,
it can be argued that real economic activity (that is, it can be
measured and expressed in standard economic terms, ie. GDP, and it is
convertible to currencies accepted in the physical world, as all those
avatars selling for shitloads of $$$ at ebay demonstrate beyond doubt)
takes place within their ecosystems.[23] Upon first glance, it is very
encouraging to observe that cyberspace offers the ability to forge real
social bonds with real people, mediated by the flexibility of immaterial
avatars, and regardless of spatial parameters. However, on the other
hand, the space/place within which those relationships and cultures
exist is not public. And that is very unsettling. When a critical part
of shared lived experience has migrated in the simulated universes
inhabited by digital communities, and our last hope for inner meaning
lies in the non-spatial dimensions of cyberspace, then we're no longer
humans...we've become something else, and whether we like it or not,
commercial entities are ahead of us in homesteading the noosphere. We
should bear in mind that communication [and play] is inextricably linked
to culture. When the ability to communicate can only be rented with hard
cash, not much of free culture is to be expected. This problematic has
been documented extensively, with Electric Minds and the Digital City of
Amsterdam (DDS) being perhaps the most widely referenced communities
whose aspiration to eke out a profit -- directly or indirectly (coupled
with mismanagement) -- led to their demise.[24] The point in concern
here is not, however, how to design, implement, and maintain online
communities that will prove a good profit-making enterprise. What I'm
concerned with, is, primarily, to show that the free universes in
cyberspace that so many envisioned in the early days of the Internet,
and which fueled so much (unfounded?) optimism during the early 90s tend
to be substituted by private spheres, which, for one way or another,
mainstream users demonstrably aggregate around. In the gaming alleys of
cyberspace, as well as in the market cornucopias of friction-less
hyper-capitalism and in the repugnant servers where the twisted and
repulsive logic of spam finds economic justification and social
legitimacy, the commodification of human relationships reigns. Is this
what we dreamt of the Internet? Is all that we dreamt of nothing beyond
shooting monsters in proprietary servers, buying books at Amazon,
exposing ourselves to wicked advertisements, and colonising (by
invitation only) the closed universes of AOL and Orkut where we submit
to the marketlords of cyber-Cockaigne? Where has the sexual
attractiveness of cyberspace been hiding? Where is lust held hostage?
Where is that tainted hope that all those great people and their droogs
who indulge in sharing images of porn, knowledge encoded in software,
and cultural experiences encoded in mp3s and mp4s will reclaim the
Internet for the limitless, free universe it could be? From a radical
vantage point, sprawling cyberspace for porn, music, and horny IRC
channels is a rebirth of the revolutionary desire for seduction,
fulfilment, and transcendence. The idea, or the fear to be exact, that
cyberspace is flooded with all sorts of erotic creatures and
illegitimate sexual fancies has been proven a deterrent well suited to
scandalise puritans concerned about the welfare of their offsprings in a
largely plastic environment. But this very same idea, no matter how
deviant from the truth it might have been, afforded a sexual scent and
invested the new frontier overwhelmingly with a compulsion to
experiment, traverse, and communicate openly one's feelings, desires,
and frustrations. For some groups, this capacity to undress (both
literally and metaphorically) and open themselves up to others, with no
fear of being ridiculed by narrow-minded social cliques, provided a
much-coveted opportunity to re-discover their identities. It addressed a
tangible human need; it satisfied a deeply repressed desire, unleashing
it free from the confines of the tyrannical - symbolical impotence that
is political correctness. Gays, and all kinds of people that were the
receivers of a nasty interface by clones fabricated in the image of the
canonical conformist archetype in the material world due to their sexual
preferences discovered (or built anew) their Ithaca in cyberspace.
Unfortunately, with the exception of IRC channels that are frequented
mainly by lonely youngsters, only bits and pieces of that vision remain
visible online, with Suicidegirls (and Minitel in the early 1980s
pioneering this business model in Paris, France) serving as perhaps a
great example of how the contemporary Internet can be sexy, enticing,
and at the same time a good business. Suicidegirls, needless to say, is
commodifying and capitalising on human relationships. But insofar as
Suicidegirls is honest about its goals and commercial aspirations and
manages to communicate that clearly to its community, then I see nothing
wrong with it. Nothing other perhaps than the near complete absence of
similar spaces catering for the ones who want the same thing, more or
less, but who are turned off by the idea that they have to pay for sex,
obliged to enter a contractual agreement in order to play the game of
seduction. A critique of sexuality, if it wishes to be substantiated,
should also consist in catapulting a critique against the entire
spectrum of power relations that define our society, as Foucault
did,[25] or, additionally, setting out to define the boundaries of such
a critique (ie. who classifies for a cyberian? And are there any
different classes or generations of cyberians? And why would someone
seek sexual satisfaction online?) neither of which I have done here.
Drifting away consciously from psychoanalysis and anthropology alike, my
analysis is empirical and subjective: it aims at showing that cyberspace
need not be a specific given; cyberspace need not be solely a business
platform for converting paedophiles and sadists/masochists to loyal
customers -- it could be something else; in fact, it could be anything
else provided that the people who jack-in cyberspace are striving to
create and establish their own spheres of governance, belief systems,
and mental models. And since we live in a world where nearly everyone
faces a sexual problem, which stems from communicational castration, or
the pseudo-communication offered by social codes (ie. I walk down the
street and I see a woman I'm attracted to, but unless I conform to the
prevalent social code for approaching would-be sexual partners, I am
unable to communicate my real desires -- asking directly for sexual
satisfaction, or even expressing oneself openly about one's desires is,
more often than not, frowned upon) cyberspace could provide a rhizomatic
channel for co-ordinating those creative energies that liberate the flow
of positive subjectivity, which, in turn, could deliver a strong blow to
the dominant power relations in meatspace too.[26]

Returning back to our discussion of ethics and sustainable development,
we can see that there is a plethora of very interesting efforts underway
to catalyse new structures and bring about new models of cooperation and
creativity. One way to enforce ethics in the digital sphere is through
licensing mechanisms, of which the most well known is the GNU General
Public License (GNU GPL), designed to help establish a free universe in
cyberspace. What the GNU GPL does, and it does so beautifully, is to
effectively and logically reverse the function of copyright law so that
technology artefacts licensed under the GNU GPL remain unpropertied
forever. In other words, the GNU GPL caters for digital freedom, though
it is a kind of freedom defined objectively by the Free Software
Foundation (FSF). Other licensing mechanisms, such as the
Hacktivismo-Enhanced Software Source License Agreement (HESSLA) and the
CGPL (Common Good Public License) try to build on the GNU GPL, extending
it to encompass a wider array of political goals like respect for human
rights and environmental sustainability. However, there are setbacks
with this approach toward incubating an ethical technological sphere:
first, the greatest problem with licensing as an ethical device consists
in its inability to be enforceable in its complete totality, that is, to
be enforced consistently, universally and globally. Second, all
contemporary approaches toward ethical licensing fall prey to the
delusion that one can foretell with a certain degree of precision and
certainty how the technology under concern will evolve when in the hands
of mainstream users. This is not a logical paradox. Even if one is
certain of what constitutes ethical and unethical, one still can't
police the ways technology will co-evolve with, and be shaped by
individual end-users. So, if we take this argument to its logical
extreme, what is the point of licenses such as the CGPL, the HESSLA, and
the CGPL? Satisfaction of pure egoism and megalomania? Or demonstration
of shocking ignorance and vulgar arrogance? And if there are so many
setbacks with technology licensing, why do it then? Using a license to
enforce ethics can be a critiqued on the level that it is, at best,
nothing more than an imaginary desiring-machine combating an imaginary
institution. But this very same vulnerability constitutes its
invinsibility, the well hidden underlying hope that the simulacrum
produced will neutralise the simulation that is the law -- but that one
only time can tell. For one thing, the fix we should be aiming at need
be social rather than technological or legal alone. In that regard, and
insofar as the GNU GPL, the HESSLA, the CGPL, and other licenses manage
to raise community awareness, stimulate dialogue, and rally support
around the issues inherent in dynamic technologies, their raison d'etre
has been fulfilled.[27]

Yet, the greatest hope for bringing about an ethical technological
future and for materialising a radical transcendence of cyberspace
beyond cyberspace consists in the undergoing process of radicalisation
of both technology users and developers, as well as artists. From the
explosive growth of community Wi-Fi networks worldwide and the rapidly
expanding adoption of free software by the very institutions that
free/open source software, as an organisational paradigm, logically
undermines and challenges to new genres of art like flashmobs that were
spawned by the Net, and, which instead of coding and decoding space like
most performance acts did in the days before the rise of cyberspace,
they are territorialising and deterritorialising it [space], thus
consolidating that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent
territory - deterritorialising the enemy by shattering his territory
=66rom within.[28] Let's start from the end of this list (which though it
is in no way exhaustive, it includes a few examples that, in my opinion,
get the point across) with flashmobs, and proceed in reverse order.[29]

What is a flahmob, and what is that that consitutes the radicality of
flashmobbing, if such a verb can be indeed constructed? Personally, I
reckon it is futile trying to define what a flashmob (and flashmobbing)
is. It is many things and then some. It is a new form of art enabled by
ubiquitous desktop networking capabilities and portable -- wearable
technology. It is a form of political protest, whether designed to be a
conscious and forced entry into someone else's imaginary perception of
space and time or a blunt statement. Nowadays, we are very likely to be
witnessing just a somewhat primitive, embryonic manifestation of the
inevitable power of flashmobs that is yet to be unleashed to the world.
Hence, in order to understand what a flashmob is we should contemplate
what a flashmob could be. Arguably, since 2003 when the first flashmob
was recorded -- and flashmobs have been mushrooming ever since,
flashmobs are mostly appearing to be an art project resembling an
interactive installation. They are organised in an ad-hoc fashion, with
most people taking part not having a clue who is the one who initiated
(the idea for) the specific flashmob. Aside from the fact that mobile
phones and the Internet are the media commonly used for the purpose of
co-ordination, flashmobs incorporate no (other) significant electronic
element. Their raison d'etre is fulfiled in meatspace; their goal is to
overwhelm a specific physical space with material energies beyond the
level that space can absorb so that the activites that take place in
that space are brought to a halt; the most useful working definition I
could up with is that a flashmob is the whole process (or project) of
dis-organisation that aims at resulting in the temporary paralysis of a
given space in a given time. Closely related to flashmobs are smartmobs,
which, actually, are a re-definition of flashmobs that reflects their
effectiveness in catalysing new massively decentralised organisation
models and coordination structures for spontaneous action. But in spite
of which terminology one is inclined to adopt, both smartmobs and
flashmobs envisage the potential to turn into a vehicle for the
realisation of concrete political projects. This is where their real
political promise hinges upon: to become something far bigger than a
fancy art project; to become a political project in itself by
appropriating the spatial dimensions of reality upon which the
institution of the imaginary is so persistently welded on, and without
which, it is reckoned, it cannot not operationalise its logic. Flashmobs
solve one of the two greatest problems of the revolutionary project
today; they satisfy one of the two most important conditions that need
to be present for the revolutionary project to manifest itself: the
condition and the problem of decentralised, and leaderless, yet,
spontaneous co-ordination and concerted action. ""Former Philippine
president Joseph Estrada, accused of massive corruption, was driven out
of power two years ago by smart mobs who swarmed to demonstrations,
alerted by their cell phones, gathering in no time. "It's like pizza
delivery," Alex Magno, a political science professor at the University
of the Philippines, told The Post at the time. "You can get a rally in
30 minutes -- delivered to you.""[30] No more delusions of
revolutionary art: art now more than ever should be cross-pollinating
the boundaries between the cyber and the material.

The radicalisation of the average user is here to stay. The industry
ensured that consumers are being alienated and radicalised with its
obsessive fixation upon consumer-unfriendly intiatives and draconian
measures, of which the most despised is perhaps what has come to be
known as Digital Rights Management (DRM), or Digital Restrictions
Management, as some of its critics prefer to call it in acknowledgement
of its restrictive role. DRM, in a nutshell, is about forcing one's
hardware and software to act in a manner that is incompatible with the
consumer's actual desires, such as preventing an 'original' music CD
=66rom being copied more than twice (in accordance with the mandates of
the fair use doctrine). Yet, what the industry and its cybernetics
brains fail to realise is that the avegare consumer has no interest in
what the law mandates, and that they will not put up with anything that
interferes with their consumption desires. In the society of
consumption, forcing consumers to adapt to usage patterns that reflect a
non-endorsed state of artificial scarcity is as close to a suicide on
behalf of the industry as it gets. Say my father, who, in his early
seventies, is compeletely ignorant of what the law says about the
limitations of copying and distributing, buys a CD burner and a CD and
he starts copying it for all his ten-plus friends to listen to and enjoy
as well. He copies it once, he copies it twice allright, then his device
refuses to copy it for the third time. My father would interpret this to
mean that there is something wrong with the CD burner (or with the CD)
that he bought with his hard-earned cash. He would take this as a sign
of a disfunctional burner (or CD), and would immediately go back to the
store where from he bought the burner and ask for his device to be
either fixed properly or have it replaced. And refusal to comply with
his claim would result in his asking for his money back. Trust me: it is
not going to be easy to convince him and any other average consumer that
their device works allright when they cannot make it work as they would
like (or as they think the device would allow them to). This is where
the radicalisation of the average user begins: the moment consumers will
not be able to use the industry's products they way they see fit is when
they will constitute the most fierce threat the industry has ever faced.
"There is nothing more melancholic than the unsatisfied desire of the
consumer".[31] And this axiom has never been more true than today. With
DRM the industry has signed its death wish.

In addition, both the development and adoption of free software/open
source software and hardware and free community Wi-Fi networks animate
the ongoing radicalisation of the computer user and developer. Foucault
said that some day the people will discover the tools they need. But
Foucault was wrong. The people never discovered the tools - they had to
build them themselves. That is one reason why free software is truly
subversive. Not because hackers, due to their mass media portayal,
encapsulate the image of the lone revolutionary better than other
subcultural icons or comic book heroes much like Batman. And not only
because free software is, contrary to what some people would like us to
believe, indeed, 'free beer'. But because free software, above and
beyond all other things, is free people collaborating to build tools not
in order to eke out a profit, but to use them. "Let us imagine, for a
change, an association of free men, working with the means of production
held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power
in full self-awareness as one single social labour force".[32] The
radical implications of the shift in collective subjectivity arising
=66rom people, who, en masse, use the tools they need to create new
situations they individually desire is compelling enough to tremble the
earth. And, obviously, those very tools (through their collaborative use
and development) give rise to social relations of production that
further undermine the irrelevance of the hierarchical organisation of
society. The bourgeisie due to its need to constantly and continuously
revolutionalise the means of production has reached a point of no
return: the spectre of P2P, as an organisational paradigm, haunts
informational-cognitive capitalism.[33]

Moreover, the entire Internet-critical infrastructure consists of free
software/open source software: from TCP/IP, Sendmail, and BIND to the
Apache Web Server, HTML, and XML. The meaning of which is that people do
not have to accept for granted what corporates have to offer: they can
develop their own networks and form the next network of the networks by
appropriating the ether (and, of course, the development tools, the
already existent code and the tested protocols, as well as the technical
ingenuity, etc.) that the soon-to-be(?) compromised network of the
networks is premised upon. The roofs all over the Western world are on
fire with Wi-Fi antennas and hotspots. The time has come for a radical
response, rather than a mere critique, to the development and use of
technology-mediated networking. In The Augmented Social Network, Ken
Jordan, Jan Hauser, and Steven Foster lay out a vision for a condition
of networking that is no longer capitulated by incombatibility, echo
chambers, closed standards, virtual gatekeepers, and lack of
interoperability. The elements of the Augmented Social Network (ASN)
are: persistent online identity, interoperability between communities,
brokered relationships, and public interest matching technologies. But
the sheer brilliance of what they propose boils down to the fact that
"the ASN is not a piece of software or a Web site. Rather, it is a
model for a next-generation online community that could be implemented
in a number of ways, using technology that largely exists today"
"strengthen civil society by better connecting people to others with
whom they share affinities, so that they can more effectively exchange
information and self-organise".[34] But how would that Augmented Social
Network be built in concrete and practical terms, a good many critic
seems to ask? Forward Track [35] is one of those many little pieces that
when assembled together will help unveil the Augmented Social Network.
Forward Track helps activists connect to other like-minded individuals
by monitoring and mapping their social networks and helping them enlarge
them. And myriads of other pertinent projects such as MudLondon[36],
Mapping Contemporary Capitalism[37], Indyvoter[38], and Informal[39], to
name but a few, are underway to help activists network, share knowledge
and tools, and act in a decentralised manner. The time has come for the
development of the Internet to be, and all the rethinking that goes hand
in hand with such a gargantuan undertaking. It is up to us to choose
whether we want to be involved or not. The technologies that will power
Internet 2.0 could well be proprietary or free, if none of us can be
bothered to be involved in creating what that next-generation Internet
will be. But if we choose to be mere spectators, then we have no excuse
-- the cyberspace will be shaped according to profit making
organisations' agendas because those organisations are indeed bothered
about the Internet. It is a simple matter of choice: choose what they
have to offer or choose to be able to make your choices forever.

-- epilogue

Share. Then share some more. Copy. Then paste. Then copy and paste and
share again. In the process, something will have changed: that will be
you. Do not accept cultural impotence and economic phantasmagoria for
they are nothing but short-lived claims for stardom. Claim technology.
Claim culture. Claim cyberspace for one day cyberspace may become
meatspace. Break technology if technology is about to break you. Or stop
using it -- exodus, they say, is a powerful and very effective form of
revolt. But what I would say is to explore if technology could be used
in ways that you desire, rather than in ways desired by those who
manufacture and sell it. Make technology work for you. And extend it for
you and allow others to extend it as well. And stop holding on to this
delusion of customer/citizen sovereignty. You're not alone. Whether we
like it or not, we 're together in this. Network with others who share
your interests and act. Right now, we are all actors in the theatre of
discontinuity. Some of us will naturally favour representation over
experimentation. But remember that what we play in that theatre could be
the real thing. We only have to imagine it hard enough to make it come
true. Indian poet Toulsie Dass composed the opus of Anoumann and his
army of monkies. After years, a king imprisoned him in a stony tower.
Stranded in a cell with room barely enough for his body, he focused very
hard and recreated in his mind Anoumann and his army of monkies until
Anoumann and his army of monkies sprung alive, conquered the city,
invaded the tower and set him free.[40] The dream can be real, if enough
people share the same dream. The differential factor lies in how we
dream and how seriously we take our dreams. As T.E. Lawrence wrote in
Seven Pillars of Wisdom: "All men dream: but not equally. Those who
dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to
find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
for they may act out their dream with open eyes, to make it possible".


[1] See

[2] On May 10, 2004, Slashdot posted the following: "The author of
Winny, the Japanese P2P software with encrypted networking capability,
similar to Freenet, has been today officially arrested for abetment of
copyright violation, after the raid in the last December. He started its
development in May 2002 and occasionally appeared on the web forum 2ch
with his anonymous codename "47", but today turned out to be an
assistant professor of computer science at the University of Tokyo in
his 30s. Winny was so efficient and popular that it generated problems
even at the Japanese police and the GSDF. As the Japanese police is the
most advanced among the world in pulling P2P into criminal cases, outcry
of users in Japan is expected." Prior to his arrest, on December 3,
2003, according to a CNET Asia report, two users of Winnie were also
arrested for copyright violations.

(,39037064,39159923,00.htm )

[3] The criminalisation of P2P is very vividly captured in a swathe of news=
 stories and court cases. For some of the more recent cases, I cite the fol=
lowing: On December 15, 2004, Slashdot reported that "Police in Finland rai=
ded the operation of a popular Bit Torrent site and arrested 34 people, 30 =
of which were volunteers who helped moderate the site. This comes right aft=
er the MPAA reported that it would start suing tracker servers". See Drew C=
ullen, "Finnish police raid BitTorrent site", The Register, December 14, 20=
04, at
nt_site/ . On August 25, 2004, Slashdot posted a pointer to a Reuters repor=
t according to which the US State Dept. raided the homes of five people in =
several states for trading music on P2P networks.

tid=3D95&tid=3D1 ) . On August 21, 2004, Slashdot posted a pointer to an As=
sociated Press report "which reviewed many of the copyright infringement la=
wsuits that the RIAA filed against individuals charged with illegally shari=
ng songs on P2P networks. According to the article over 800 of the targeted=
 individuals have settled for approx. $3000 in fines. One man in California=
 had to refinance his house to pay his $11,000 settlement. Many of the defe=
ndants are unwilling to face the possibility of even higher fines by fighti=
ng the suits in court despite the fact that it could resolve important ques=
tions about copyrights and the industry's methods for tracing illegal downl=
oads. It seems that even some of the judges presiding over these cases ques=
tion the RIAA's tactics. 'I 've never had a situation like this before, whe=
re there are powerful plaintiffs and powerful lawyers on one side and then =
a whole slew of ordinary folks on the other side,' said U.S. District Judge=
 Nancy Gertner, who blocked the movement of a number of these cases in her =
courtroom for months. She wanted 'to make sure that no one, frankly, is bei=
ng ground up". See
3&tid=3D123&tid=3D141 and Ted Bridis, "Slow-moving lawsuits over music down=
loads producing court twists", Associated Press, August 20, 2004 at http://=
_downloads_producing_court_twists/ On May 27, 2004, Slashdot posted a point=
er to a The Register report according to which "Italy has made transferring=
 content via the Internet without the permission of the copyright holder a =
criminal offence.Those found guilty of the unauthorised distribution of cop=
yright material now face a fine of between 154 and 1032 ($185-1240), a jail=
 sentence of between six months and three years, the confiscation of their =
hardware and software, and the revelation of their misdeeds in Italy's two =
national newspapers, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera". See Tony Smith=
, "Italy approves 'jail for P2P users' law", The Register, May 20, 2004 at =

[4] See Jay Munro, "Security Watch Letter: Inside the JPEG Virus", PC
Magazine, September 29, 2004, at,2533,a=3D136159,00.asp

[5] For the record, Nullsoft, the company which develops Winamp released
an updated version of its software which fixed that vulnerability
shortly after news of the elusive 'virus' had broken loose on the

[6] See See Johan S=F6derberg, Reluctant Revolutionaries -- the false
modesty of reformist critics of copyright, Journal of
Hyper(+)drome.Manifestation, Issue 1, September 2004, at

[7] See

[8] See Michelle Delio, "BT Linking Suit Dealt a Blow", Wired, March
14, 2002, at,1283,51056,00.html?tw=3Dwn_story_relat=

[9] See GameDaily, "Spherical Planning: Exclusive: Multi-Publisher
Legal War Looms Over 3-D Patent", October 29, 2004, at
Apparently, all video games developed from the late 1990s onwards (and
similarly, all "war/flight simulators") are using this allegedly owned
idea since they're emulating a three-dimensional space. Is that fair for
the people involved in the gaming industry? And, say, you have a good
idea for a 3D game, would you like the idea to have to pay some
"3D-patent-owner" for the permission to develop in 3-dimensions?
Wouldn't that be a blatant rip-off?

[10] See Johan S=F6derberg, Reluctant Revolutionaries -- the false modesty
of reformist critics of copyright, Journal of
Hyper(+)drome.Manifestation, Issue 1, September 2004, at

[11] Jeremy Rifkin, The Age of Access: How the Shift from Ownership to
Access Is Transforming Modern Life, Penguin Books, 2001, pp.55, italics

[12] Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, MIT
Press, 1998.

[13] Following the launch of the British Department for Education and
Skills' Music Manifesto ( campaign,
children in UK schools are now being indoctrinated about the illegality
of downloading music. See John Lettice, "'Stealing songs is wrong'
lessons head for UK schools", The Register, August 5, 2004, at .
Also see Lee Braiden, "Open Letter Against British Copyright
Indoctrination in Schools", Kuro5hin, August 6, 2004, at

[14] Joseph A. Schumpeter. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Harper &
Brothers, 1942.

[15] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media - The Extensions of Man, MIT
Press, 1964, at .

[16] It should be noted that luddite action usually refers to the
conscious act of detroying a given technogy in order to destroy the
social relations of production that that technology is reckoned to bring
about. However, I have here adapted this terminology so as to come to
mean the act of using, developing, and extending a given technology,
rather than destroying it. For those who wish to delve more deeply into
the controversial subject of neoluddism, the classic text is The
Unabomber's Manifesto (originally titled Industrial Society and its
Future), written by Theodore Kaczynski, which was published jointly,
under duress, by The New York Times and The Washington Post (1995) in an
attempt to bring his campaign of terror to an end, accessible online at
=2E Also, for a different take on the social response that should be
pursued in the face of ultra-hazardous dynamic technology, see Bill Joy,
Why the Future Desn't Need Us, Wired, Issue 8.04, April 2000, at ; also worth seeing is
"An anarchist in the Hudson Valley. In conversation: Peter Lamborn
Wilson with Jennifer Bleyer", The Brooklyn Rail, July 2004, at

[17] The classic text on the history of luddism is E.P. Thompson. The
Making of the English Working Class, Vintage Books USA, 1966.

[18] Quoted in Raoul Veneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life (Trait=E9
de savoir-vivre =E0 l'usage des jeunes g=E9n=E9rations), 1972, Ch.9, at

[19] Doc Searls, 2003, "The New Tradition", December 6, at

[20] Johan S=F6derberg, Reluctant Revolutionaries -- the false modesty of
reformist critics of copyright, Journal of Hyper(+)drome.Manifestation,
Issue 1, September 2004, at

[21] Herbert Marcuse. Eros and Civilisation, pp.198, translated from
Greek by the author.

[22] John Kao. Jamming: the Art and Discipline of Business Creativity.
NY: Harper-Collins, 1996, pp.66-67.

[23] For a breathtaking analysis of the economy of EverQuest, see Edward
Castronova's seminal Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and
Society on the Cyberian Frontier, December 2001, CESifo Working Paper
Series No. 618, at and its
follow-up On Virtual Economies, July 2002, CESifo Working Paper Series
No. 752, at

[24] For an extensive discussion of the Digital City of Amsterdam (DDS),
see ReindeR Rustema's doctoral thesis The Rise and Fall of DDS (November
2001, University of Amsterdam) and the very elaborate list of
DDS-related dosuments, essays, etc., that he has collected at ; also see Geert Lovink's The Digital
City -- Metaphor and Community in G. Lovink. Dark Fiber - Tracking
Critical Internet Culture, Cambridge / London: The MIT Press, 2002, pp.
42-67. Regarding Electric Minds, see its founder's, Howard Rheingold's,
reflections entitled "My experience with Electric Minds", Nettime,
February 1, 1998, at

[25] Michel Foucault. The History of Sexuality.

[26] See Arthur Kroker and Marilouise Kroker (Eds.) The Last Sex,
Feminism and Outlaw Bodies, Montreal: New World Perspectives,
CultureTexts Series,1993, at

[27] This section on ethical licensing (or, on the enforcement of ethics
in the digital realm through law) and F/OSS licensing, as well as its
limitations, draws heavily on a document in progress I've been writing
over the past twelve months. For the unfinished version of the document,
see G. Dafermos. Openness and Digital Ethics: F/OSS Licensing Under the
Miscoscope, (Version 0.9, February 2004), at

[28] See Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateus, Continuum
International Publishing Group -- Mansell, 2001. pp.353.

[29] For an insightful vision into the current state, as well as future
of flashmobs/smartmobs, see Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The Next
Social Revolution, Perseus Books, 2002. The book is also accompanied by
a weblog where the same issues are being explored, at ; also, see .

[30] Joel Garreau, "Cell Biology - Like the Bee, This Evolving Species
Buzzes and Swarms", Washington Post, July 31, 2002; Page C01, at

[31] Bernard-Marie Koltes. In the Solitute of the Cotton Fields,
translated from Greek by the author.

[32] Karl Marx. Capital, Vol.1, p.171.

[33] Michel Bauwens. Peer-to-Peer: from technology to politics to a new
civilization? (document in progress), 2001, at

[34] Ken Jordan, Jan Hauser, and Steven Foster. The Augmented Social
Network: Building identity and trust into the next-generation Internet,
First Monday, Volume 8, Number 8, August, 2003, emphasis mine, at

[35] ForwardTrack Website:

[36] MudLondon Website:

[37] Mapping Contemporary Capitalism Website:

[38] Indyvoter Website:

[39] Informal Website:

[40] I am here paraphrasing slightly the story of R.F. Burton, Indica
(1887), In A.B. Borhes, Cuentos Breves Y Extraordinarios, 1953.


-- Dedicated to E.

I would like to thank Louis and Dimitra Stacey for proofreading this
essay and for providing me with their unique insight. I am also indebted
to M.P. for comments on several sections of the essay. Of course, any
omissions and errors remain my own. This essay was prepared for the
proceedings of the 21st Chaos Communication Congress (21C3), taking
place in Berlin on December 27-29, 2004, and organised by the Chaos
Computer Club. The Proceedings of 21C3 are also available online at . In
addition, the essay serves as a complement to my presentation at 21C3 on
December 27, 2004, entitled Digital Prosthetics: Numbness,
Institutionalisation, and the Revolutionary Demands of Hacking. However,
a previous version (0.92) of this essay made it into that documentation
-- this version (0.99) is more extensive, particularly regarding the
concluding paragraphs.


HTML version accessible at

PDF version accessible at


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