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nettime: Some very basic questions
t byfield on Tue, 26 Mar 96 02:24 MET


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nettime: Some very basic questions



The traffic on nettime seems to be becoming more random, and much of it is becoming more ranting (and some of it downright paranoiac). Here are a few questions:

        (1) Some time back, the denizens of alt.current-events.net-abuse decided that their domain of concern was abuse _of_ the net (e.g., spamming), not abuse _on_ the net (e.g., flaming). Is this "net discourse"--what ZK is supposed to be about--a discourse _of_ the net or a discourse _on_ the net? In other words, is its logic and form substantially determined by the physical and practical structures and operations that constitute the net, or is it just so much extrinsic blather transplanted onto the net?

        (2) We've seen a lot of criticism on this list of Barlow, the EFF, and the "Californian Ideology," etc. Much of this criticism seems valid in its aims but bogus in its procedures: the fact that Jefferson owned slaves (or Nebuchadnezzard was a prick, or Charlemagne's taste was too ornate) has no bearing on the question that Barlow addressed, however awkwardly--namely, to what extent should people who in some sense function, exist, or communicate on an international network that modulates worldly identities willingly accept laws passed by nation-states and applying to those normative identities? If the net merits its own "discourse," then that would suggest that it is fundamentally unique; alternatively, if it isn't unique, then what's the point of this "discourse"?

        (3) Scoff as some might at the "Californian ideology" and its spoor, there _are_ a number of metatechnological developments that _will_ determine the future shape and function of the net (and much else), regardless of how it is or isn't controlled: the blurring boundaries of trojan horses under the pressures of Java-like lnaguages, zero-knowledge proofs and double-blind anonmymity (whether merely "communicative" or economic), the dialectics of "intelligent agents," and so on. These seem more likely to form the foundations of a "net discourse" than do familiar claims that the net is the reification of labor, etc. This isn't to say that we should lose sight of the labor involved in maintaining and developing the net and all it presupposes; but appeals to labor seem like "a nineteenth-century solution to a twenty-first-century problem." Why does the trend of this "net discourse" seem to consist more of importing forms of criticism with which the left is comfortable than of a humanistic and/or ethical elaboration of these metatechnological developments? Why dwell on symbolic and ineffectual proclamations like Barlow's declaration? Wouldn't it make more sense to learn to "read" the poetic and cultural structures of UNIX security and protocols of payer/payee anonymity?

Ted



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