John Perry Barlow on Tue, 15 Jul 1997 05:37:10 +0200 (MET DST)

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Re: <nettime> Bandwidth and Content

At 10:11 AM -0400 7/14/97, Eric Kluitenberg wrote:

>Bandwidth and Content
>In the context of the 'We Want Bandwidth!' workshop
>@ Hybrid Workspace, documenta x - Kassel, July 12, 1997.

Thank you for a very thoughtful and concise statement, with which I agree
in nearly every particular. (I hope this doesn't tarnish your reputation
with other Nettimers...)

I do take small issue with a couple of points.

First, I have yet to see much evidence that

>Within those regions of the earth where
>bandwidth is expanding rapidly the big players in the media and
>entertainment industry are much better equipped to seize the larger part of
>the audience, with well designed, engaging programs and services.

While this is certainly true in theory, it fails to take into account the
cultural difficulties that large "industrial" media organizations encounter
with the culture of the Net - and, though it comes in many local flavors, I
believe that Cyberspace has a discernible culture and will continue to.

In any event, I can't think of a single Web initiative by an existing media
giant that isn't massively hemorrhaging investment capital. I think
companies like Time Warner and Disney are about as likely to control
webcasting as the steamship and railroad companies were to seize the infant
air transport industry.

Secondly, while there is a rough correlation between bandwidth and
attention, they are not the same. As Nicholas Negroponte pointed out, a
wink is only one bit. This is why e-mail continues to be overwhelmingly
text based despite the ability of many systems to easily carry voice and
video messages. (I have a NeXTcube that could easily incorporate voice into
a message clear back in 1989. Most NeXT users never sent more than about
five voice messages, even though we generally had plenty of bandwidth and
storage at our disposal.)

In other words, I would reckon that e-mail, by far the largest component of
Net traffic, will remain largely text-based for the rest of my life.
Indeed, one of the most prolific and visible Net posters and e-mailists I
know is a former CIA analyst who still uses the same IBM XT and 2400 baud
modem he bought back in 1985. He could afford far more, but he likes the
discipline required by these limitations. And indeed, they are not so
limiting. Would Das Kapital have been more influential had it contained a
gig or so of QuickTime clips?

That said, I do believe that although the currency of the future is
attention, and it will often be expressed and traded as bandwidth. People
will fight over bandwidth as they have fought over money, sex, power,
water, drugs, or any of the other things of which it could be said that
"the more you have, the shorter it feels."

Social inequity, except in the most desperate conditions, is often more a
matter of perceived unfairness of distribution than a survival need for the
goods being distributed. In the places I've been where *everybody* is poor
and where there are no televisions to taunt the natives with the "good
life" in "Dallas" or "Santa Barbara," the general level of contentment
seems higher than anywhere I go in America. But the moment they become
aware of how much "more" other humans have, the riots begin.

Perhaps the greatest favor we could grant the unwired world would be to
encourage them not to chain themselves to the never-ending desire for more.

John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Home(stead) Page:

MegaPhone: 800/654-4322

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Coming soon to: Philadelphia 7/14-16, New York City 7/17-18, Cambridge, MA
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When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.

                                       --John Ruskin

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