That was Bill Swindaman on the last day I saw him: June 2nd of this year, at a gathering of friends from the best community I’ve ever known: a real one, of friends living in a place. The place was called Oxbow, and it was a collection of mismatched houses on a short dirt road that skirted a pond off Mt. Sinai Road, north of Chapel Hill, in North Carolina. I lived or hung out there, and with friends who called themselves Oxbovines, from 1974 until I moved to Silicon Valley in 1985. After that, we got together once a year at a beach house until the early ’90s. One thing that kept me coming back was a letter Bill wrote called “Where the hell is Searls?”

Since then we’ve all stayed good friends and in touch. And sometimes rogue planets in our little solar system, such as I, would come through town and we’d get together. That’s what happened in June. It was great to see everybody, but there was bummage in the house, because we all knew Bill had ALS: an awful and fatal disease, diagnosed six months earlier. It was a disease that had claimed David Hodskins, my business partner and a friend for nearly as long, just three months earlier. (I remember David, and some of our business adventures, here.)

At Oxbow, Bill and I would often play one-on-one basketball (he was bigger and better), and shoot the shit about everything. I remember one story he told about his dad, a family doctor in Toledo, Ohio. When his car caught fire on the road for no obvious reason, Doctor Swindaman calmly pulled over to the side, got out, lit a cigarette, and calmly watched the thing burn down. Bill too was known for his calm and love of irony. On one of his long cross-country trips alone, Bill sent me a postcard from Tijuana. All he wrote was “Where the liquor flowed, and the dice were hot.” (Those less elderly that Bill and I might not know the reference.)

As I recall, Bill was pre-med as an undergrad at Muhlenberg College but got his masters in urban planning at UNC Chapel Hill. After that, he had a series of jobs he used to accumulate savings he’d spend on long trips. His last job, as I recall, was working for UNC doing something or other that doesn’t matter as much as the other vocation he took up in recent decades: nature photography. You can see his work at BillSwindamanPhotography.com. Here he is at work:

I recognize so many places when I look through his photographs—Death Valley, Comb Ridge, Monument Valley, Arches, Canyonlands—less because I’ve been there than because I’ve shot them from commercial flights zooming by overhead. I envied Bill’s ability to get out and explore these places, while I was too committed to other things. I also respected the quality of Bill’s work. It was, and remains, primo.

We did talk for a while about his maybe coming up to New York, from which we could go out to tidelands and photograph wildlife and other outdoor scenes. I lacked gear and skills to equal Bill’s, but it would have been fun. Alas, as John Lennon said, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.

When I saw Bill in June, I asked if he was still in shape to keep shooting. He said no, and that he had already sold off all his gear. Yet he was still in good humor, considering the obvious fact that he was done with pretty much everything other than persisting at being his good self.

This morning came an email I hadn’t expected this soon. It was from Jackie Strouble, the wild dear with whom he hooked up back in our Oxbow days. With her permission, I’ll later add here what she wrote. Meantime I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing the photo above, which came with her letter.

And I just hope Bill’s memory for us Oxbovines will be a blessing to the rest of the world.

On Twitter 2.0

So far the experience of using Twitter under Musk is pretty much unchanged. Same goes for Facebook.

Yes, there is a lot of hand-wringing, and the stock market hates Meta (the corporate parent to which Facebook gave birth); but so far the experience of using both is pretty much unchanged.

This is aside from the fact that the two services are run by feudal overlords with crazy obsessions and not much feel for roads they both pave and ride.

As for Meta (and its Reality Labs division), virtual and augmented realities (VR and AR) via headgear are today where “Ginger” was before she became the Segway: promising a vast horizontal market that won’t materialize because its utilities are too narrow.

VR/AR will, like the Segway, will find some niche uses. For Segway, it was warehouses, cops, and tourism. For VR/AR headgear it will be gaming, medicine, and hookups in meta-space. The porn possibilities are beyond immense.

As for business, both Twitter and Facebook will continue to be hit by a decline in personalized advertising and possibly a return to the old-fashioned non-tracking-based kind, which the industry has mostly forgotten how to do. But it will press on.

Not much discussed, but a real possibility is that advertising overall will at least partially collapse. This has been coming for a long time. (I’ve been predicting it at least since 2008.) First, there is near-zero (and widespread negative) demand for advertising on the receiving end. Second, Apple is doing a good job of working for its customers by providing ways to turn off or thwart the tracking that aims most ads online. And Apple, while not a monopoly, is pretty damn huge.

It may also help to remember that trees don’t grow to the sky. There is a life cycle for companies just as there is for living things.

I wrote this more than a quarter century ago when Linux Journal was the only publication that would have me, and I posted unsold essays and wannabe columns at searls.com. These postings accumulated in this subdirectory for several years before Dave Winer got me to blog for real, starting here.

Interesting how much has changed since I wrote this, and how much hasn’t. Everything I said about metaphor applies no less than ever, even as all the warring parties mentioned have died or moved on to other activities, if not battles. (Note that there was no Google at this time, and the search engines mentioned exist only as fossils in posts such as this one.)

Perhaps most interesting is the paragraph about MARKETS ARE CONVERSATIONS. While that one-liner had no effect at the time, it became a genie that would not return to its bottle after Chris Locke, David Weinberger, Rick Levine and I put it in The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999. In fact, I had been saying “markets are conversations” to no effect at least since the 1980s. Now join the conversation” is bullshit almost everywhere it’s uttered, but you can’t stop hearing it. Strange how that goes.

MAKE MONEY, NOT WAR
TIME TO MOVE PAST THE WAR METAPHORS OF THE INDUSTRIAL AGE

By Doc Searls
19 March 1997

“War isn’t an instinct. It’s an invention.”

“The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man.”

“Conversation is the socializing instrument par excellence.”

-José Ortega y Gasset


Patton lives

In the movie “Patton,” the general says, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” In a moment of self-admonition, he adds, “God help me, I love it so.”

And so do we. For proof, all we have to do is pick up a trade magazine. Or better yet, fire up a search engine.

Altavista says more than one million documents on the Web contain the words MicrosoftNetscape, and war. Hotbot lists hundreds of documents titled “Microsoft vs. Netscape,” and twice as many titled “Netscape vs. Microsoft.”

It’s hard to find an article about the two companies that does not cast them as opponents battling over “turf,” “territory,” “sectors” and other geographies.

It’s also hard to start a conversation without using the same metaphorical premise. Intranet Design Magazine recently hosted a thread titled “Who’s winning?? Netscape vs. Microsoft.” Dave Shafer starts the thread with “Wondering what your informed opinion is on who is winning the internet war and what affects this will have on inter/intranet development.” The first respondent says, “sorry, i’m from a french country,” and “I’m searching for economical informations about the war between Microsoft and Netscape for the control of the WEB industrie.” Just as telling is a post by a guy named Michael, who says “Personaly I have both on my PC.”

So do I. Hey, I’ve got 80 megs of RAM and a 2 gig hard drive, so why not? I also have five ISPs, four word processors, three drawing programs, and two presentation packages. I own competing products from Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Netscape, Adobe, Yamaha, Sony, Panasonic, Aiwa, Subaru, Fisher Price and the University of Chicago — to name just a few I can see from where I sit. I don’t sense that buying and using any of these is a territorial act, a victory for one company, or a defeat for another.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have those perceptions when we write and talk about companies and the markets where they compete. Clearly, we do, because we understand business — as we understand just about everything — in metaphorical terms. As it happens, our understanding of companies and markets is largely structured by the metaphors BUSINESS IS WAR and MARKETS ARE BATTLEFIELDS.

By those metaphors we share an understanding that companies fight battles over market territories that they attack, defend, dominate, yield or abandon. Their battlefields contain beachheads, bunkers, foxholes, sectors, streams, hills, mountains, swamps, streams, rivers, landslides, quagmires, mud, passages, roadblocks, and high ground. In fact, the metaphor BUSINESS IS WAR is such a functional conceptual system that it unconsciously pumps out clichés like a machine. And since sports is a sublimated and formalized kind of war, the distances between sports and war metaphors in business are so small that the vocabularies mix without clashing.

Here, I’ll pick up the nearest Business Week… it’s the January 13 issue. Let’s look at the High Technology section that starts on page 104. The topic is Software and the headline reads, “Battle stations! This industry is up for grabs as never before…” Here’s the first paragraph, with war and sports references capitalized: “Software was once an orderly affair in which a few PLAYERS called most of the shots. The industry had almost gotten used to letting Microsoft Corp. set the agenda in personal computing. But as the Internet ballooned into a $1 billion software business in 1996, HUGE NEW TERRITORIES came up for grabs. Microsoft enters the new year in a STRONG POSITION TO REASSERT CONTROL. But it will have to FIGHT OFF Netscape, IBM, Oracle and dozens of startups that are DESPERATELY STAKING OUT TURF on the Net. ‘Everyone is RACING TO FIND MARKET SPACE and get established…'”

Is this a good thing? Does it matter? The vocabularies of war and sports may be the most commonly used sources of metaphors, for everything from academic essays to fashion stories. Everybody knows war involves death and destruction, yet we experience little if any of that in the ordinary conduct of business, or even of violent activities such as sports.

So why should we concern ourselves with war metaphors, when we all know we don’t take them literally?

Two reasons. First, we do take them literally. Maybe we don’t kill each other, but the sentiments are there, and they do have influences. Second, war rarely yields positive sums, except for one side or another. The economy the Internet induces is an explosion of positive sums that accrue to many if not all participants. Doesn’t it deserve a more accurate metaphor?

For answers, let’s turn to George Lakoff.

The matter of Metaphor

“Answer true or false,” Firesign Theater says. “Dogs flew spaceships. The Aztecs invented the vacation… If you answered ‘false’ to any of these questions, then everything you know is wrong.”

This is the feeling you begin to get when you read George Lakoff, the foremost authority on the matter of metaphor. Lakoff is Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at UC-Berkeley, the author of Women, Fire and Dangerous Things and Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know that Liberals Don’t. He is also co-author of Metaphors We Live By and More than Cool Reason. All are published by the University of Chicago Press.


Maybe that’s why they didn’t give us the real story in school. It would have been like pulling the pins out of a bunch of little hand grenades.

If Lakoff is right, the most important class you ignored in school was English — not because you need to know all those rules you forgot or books you never read, but because there’s something else behind everything you know (or think you know) and talk about. That something is a metaphor. (And if you think otherwise, you’re wrong.)

In English class — usually when the subject was poetry — they told us that meaning often arises out of comparison, and that three comparative devices are metaphorsimile, and analogy. Each compares one thing to another thing that is similar in some way:

  • Metaphors say one thing is another thing, such as “time is money,” “a computer screen is a desktop,” or (my favorite Burt Lancaster line) “your mind is a cookie of arsenic.”
  • Similes say one thing is like another thing, such as “gone like snow on the water” or “dumb as a bucket of rocks.”
  • Analogies suggest partial similarities between unalike things, as with “licorice is the liver of candy.”

But metaphor is the device that matters, because, as Lakoff says, “We may not always know it, but we think in metaphor.” And, more to the point, “Metaphors can kill.” Maybe that’s why they didn’t give us the real story in school. It would have been like pulling the pins out of a bunch of little hand grenades.

But now we’re adults, and you’d think we should know how safely to arm and operate a language device. But it’s not easy. Cognitive science is relatively new and only beginning to make sense of the metaphorical structures that give shape and meaning to our world. Some of these metaphors are obvious but many others are hidden. In fact, some are hidden so well that even a guru like Lakoff can overlook them for years.

Lakoff’s latest book, “Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know and Liberals Don’t,” was inspired by his realization that the reason he didn’t know what many conservatives were talking about was that, as a Liberal, he didn’t comprehend conservative metaphors. Dan Quayle’s applause lines went right past him.

After much investigation, Lakoff found that central to the conservative worldview was a metaphor of the state as a strict father and that the “family values” conservatives espouse are those of a strict father’s household: self-reliance, rewards and punishments, responsibility, respect for authority — and finally, independence. Conservatives under Ronald Reagan began to understand the deep connection between family and politics, while Liberals remained clueless about their own family metaphor — the “nurturant parent” model. Under Reagan, Lakoff says, conservatives drove the language of strict father morality into the media and the body politic. It won hearts and minds, and it won elections.

So metaphors matter, big time. They structure our perceptions, the way we make sense of the world, and the language we use to talk about things that happen in the world. They are also far more literal than poetry class would lead us to believe. Take the metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR —

“It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attach kis decisions and defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies… Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.” (From Metaphors We Live By)

In our culture argument is understood and structured by the war metaphor. But in other cultures it is not. Lakoff invites us to imagine a culture where argument is viewed as dance, participants as performers and the goal to create an aesthetically pleasing performance.

Right now we understand that “Netscape is losing ground in the browser battle,” because we see the browser business a territory over which Netscape and Microsoft are fighting a war. In fact, we are so deeply committed to this metaphor that the vocabularies of business and war reporting are nearly indistinguishable.

Yet the Internet “battlefield” didn’t exist a decade ago, and the software battlefield didn’t exist a decade before that. These territories were created out of nothingness. Countless achievements have been made on them. Victories have been won over absent or equally victorious opponents.

In fact, Netscape and Microsoft are creating whole new markets together, and both succeed mostly at nobody’s expense. Netscape’s success also owes much to the robust nature of the Windows NT Server platform.


The war stories we’re telling about the Internet are turning into epic lies.

At the same time Microsoft has moved forward in browsers, directory services, languages, object models and other product categories — mostly because it’s chasing Netscape in each of them.

Growing markets are positive-sum creations, while wars are zero-sum at best. But BUSINESS IS WAR is an massive metaphorical machine that works so well that business war stories almost write themselves. This wouldn’t be a problem if business was the same now as it was twenty or fifty years ago. But business is changing fast, especially where the Internet is involved. The old war metaphor just isn’t doing the job.

Throughout the Industrial Age, both BUSINESS IS WAR and MARKETS ARE BATTLEFIELDS made good structure, because most industries and markets were grounded in physical reality. Railroads, shipping, construction, automobiles, apparel and retail were all located in physical reality. Even the phone system was easily understood in terms of phones, wires and switches. And every industrial market contained finite labor pools, capital, real estate, opportunities and natural resources. Business really was war, and markets really were battlefields.

But the Internet is hardly physical and most of its businesses have few physical limitations. The Web doesn’t look, feel or behave like anything in the analog world, even though we are eager to describe it as a “highway” or as a kind of “space.” Internet-related businesses appear and grow at phenomenal rates. The year 1995 saw more than $100 billion in new wealth created by the Internet, most of it invested in companies that were new to the world, or close to it. Now new markets emerge almost every day, while existing markets fragment, divide and expand faster than any media can track them.

For these reasons, describing Internet business in physical terms is like standing at the Dawn of Life and describing new species in terms of geology. But that’s what we’re doing, and every day the facts of business and technology life drift farther away from the metaphors we employ to support them. We arrive at pure myth, and the old metaphors stand out like bones from a dry corpse.

Of course myths are often full of truth. Fr. Seán Olaoire says “there are some truths so profound only a story can tell them.” But the war stories we’re telling about the Internet are turning into epic lies.


Describing Internet business in physical terms is like standing at the Dawn of Life and describing new species in terms of geology.

What can we do about it?

First, there’s nothing we can do to break the war metaphor machine. It’s just too damn big and old and good at what it does. But we can introduce some new metaphors that make equally good story-telling machines, and tell more accurately what’s going on in this new business world.

One possibility is MARKETS ARE CONVERSATIONS. These days we often hear conversations used as synonyms for markets. We hear about “the privacy conversation” or “the network conversation.” We “talk up” a subject and say it has a lot of “street cred.” This may not be much, but it does accurately structure an understanding of what business is and how markets work in the world we are creating with the Internet.

Another is the CONDUIT metaphor. Lakoff credits Michael Reddy with discovering hidden in our discussions of language the implication of conduit structure:

Your thinking comes through loud and clear.
It’s hard to put my ideas into words
You can’t stuff ideas into a sentence
His words carry little meaning

The Net facilitates communication, and our language about communication implies contuits through which what we say is conveyed. The language of push media suggests the Net is less a centerless network — a Web — than a set of channels through which stuff is sent. Note the preposition. I suggest that we might look more closely at how much the conduit metaphor is implicit in what we say about push, channels and related subjects. There’s something to it, I think.

My problem with both CONDUIT and CHANNEL is that they don’t clearly imply positive sums, and don’t suggest the living nature of the Net. Businesses have always been like living beings, but in the Net environment they enjoy unprecedented fecundity. What’s a good metaphor for that? A jungle?

Whatever, it’s clearly not just a battlefield, regardless of the hostilities involved. It’s time to lay down our arms and and start building new conceptual machines. George Lakoff will speak at PC Forum next week. I hope he helps impart some mass to one or more new metaphorical flywheels. Because we need to start telling sane and accurate stories about our businesses and our markets.

If we don’t, we’ll go on shooting at each other for no good reason.


Links

Here are a few links into the worlds of metaphor and cognitive science. Some of this stuff is dense and heavy; but hey, it’s not an easy subject. Just an important one..

I also explored the issue of push media in Shoveling Push and When Push Becomes Shove. And I visited the Microsoft vs. Netscape “war” in Microsoft + Netscape: The Real Story. All three are in Reality 2.0.

Let’s say you want to improve the Wikipedia page for Clayton Indiana with an aerial photograph. Feel free to use the one above. That’s why I shot it, posted it, and licensed it permissively. It’s also why I put a helpful caption under it, and some call-outs in mouse-overs.

It’s also why I did the same with Danville, Indiana:

Also Brownsville, Indiana, featuring the Brickyard VORTAC station (a navigational beacon used by aircraft):

Eagle Creek Park, the largest in Indianapolis, and its Reservoir:

The district of Indianapolis charmlessly called Park 100:

The White River, winding through Indianapolis:

Where the White River joins and the Wabash, which divides Southern Indiana from Southern Illinois (which is on the far side here, along with Mt. Carmel):

Among other places.

These were shot on the second leg of a United flight from Seattle to Indianapolis by way of Houston. I do this kind of thing on every flight I take. Partly it’s because I’m obsessed with geography, geology, weather, culture, industry, infrastructure, and other natural things. And partly it’s to provide a useful service.

I don’t do it for the art, though sometimes art happens. For example, with this shot of salt ponds at the south end of San Francisco Bay:

Airplane windows are not optically ideal for photography. On the contrary, they tend to be scratched, smudged, distorted, dirty, and worse. Most of the photos above were shot through a window that got frosty and gray at altitude and didn’t clear until we were close to landing. The air was also hazy. For cutting through that I can credit the dehaze slider in Adobe Photoshop 2021. I can also thank Photoshop for pulling out color and doing other things that make bad photos useful, if not good in the artsy sense. They fit my purpose, which is other people’s purposes.

In addition to Adobe, I also want to tip my hat toward Sony, for making the outstanding a7iv mirrorless camera and the 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens I used on this flight. Also Flickr, which makes it easy to upload, organize, caption, tag, and annotate boundless quantities of full- (and other-) size photos—and to give them Creative Commons licenses. I’ve been using Flickr since it started in 2005, and remain a happy customer with two accounts: my main one, and another focused on infrastructure.

While they are no longer in a position to care, I also want to thank the makers of iView MediaPro, Microsoft Expressions and PhaseOne MediaPro for providing the best workflow software in the world, at least for me. Alas, all are now abandonware, and I don’t expect any of them to work on a 64-bit operating system, which is why, for photographic purposes, I’m still sitting on MacOS Mojave 10.14.6.

I’m hoping that I can find some kind of substitute when I get a new laptop, which will inevitably come with an OS that won’t run the oldware I depend on. But I’ll save that challenge for a future post.

Tags: , , ,


In July 2008, when I posted the photo above on this blog, some readers thought Santa Barbara Mission was on fire. It didn’t matter that I explained in that post how I got the shot, or that news reports made clear that the Gap Fire was miles away. The photo was a good one, but it also collapsed three dimensions into just two. Hence the confusion. If you didn’t know better, it looked like the building was on fire. The photo removed distance.

So does the Internet, at least when we are there. Let’s look at what there means.

Pre-digital media were limited by distance, and to a high degree defined by it. Radio and television signals degrade across distances from transmitters, and are limited as well by buildings, terrain, weather, and (on some frequency bands), ionospheric conditions. Even a good radio won’t get an absent signal. Nor will a good TV. Worse, if you live more than a few dozen miles from a TV station’s transmitter, you need a good antenna mounted on your roof, a chimney, or a tall pole. For signals coming from different locations, you need a rotator as well. Even on cable, there is still a distinction between local channels and cable-only ones. You pay more to get “bundles” of the latter, so there is a distance in cost between local and distant channel sources. If you get your TV by satellite, your there needs to be in the satellite’s coverage footprint.

But with the Internet, here and there are the same. Distance is gone, on purpose. Its design presumes that all physical and wireless connections are one, no matter who owns them or how they get paid to move chunks of Internet data. It is a world of ends meant to show nothing of its middles, which are countless paths the ends ignore. (Let’s also ignore, for the moment, that some countries and providers censor or filter the Internet, in some cases blocking access from the physical locations their systems detect. Those all essentially violate the Internet’s simple assumption of openness and connectivity for everybody and everything at every end.)

For people on the Internet, distance is collapsed to the height and width of a window. There is also no gravity because space implies three dimensions and your screen has only two, and the picture is always upright. When persons in Scotland and Australia talk, neither is upside down to the other. But they are present with each other and that’s what matters. (This may change in the metaverse, whatever that becomes, but will likely require headgear not everyone will wear. And it will still happen over the Internet.)

Digital life, almost all of which now happens on the Internet, is new to human experience, and our means of coping are limited. For example, by language. And I don’t mean different ones. I mean all of them, because they are made for making sense of a three-dimensional physical world, which the Internet is not.

Take prepositions. English, like most languages, has a few dozen prepositions, most of which describe placement in three-dimensional space. Over, around, under, through, beside, within, off, on, over, aboard… all presume three dimensions. That’s also where our bodies are, and it is through our bodies that we make sense of the world. We say good is light and bad is dark because we are diurnal hunters and gatherers, with eyes optimized for daylight. We say good is up and bad is down because we walk and run upright. We “grasp” or “hold on” to an idea because we have opposable thumbs on hands built to grab. We say birth is “arrival,” death is “departure” and careers are “paths,” because we experience life as travel.

But there are no prepositions yet that do justice to the Internet’s absence of distance. Of course, we say we are “on” the Internet like we say we are “on” the phone. And it works well enough, as does saying we are on” fire or drugs. We just frame our understanding of the Internet in metaphorical terms that require a preposition, and “on” makes the most sense. But can we do better than that? Not sure.

Have you noticed that how we present ourselves in the digital world also differs from how we do the same in the physical one? On social media, for example, we perform roles, as if on a stage. We talk to an audience straight through a kind of fourth wall, like an actor, a lecturer, a comedian, musician, or politician. My point here is that the arts and methods of performing in the physical world are old, familiar, and reliant on physical surroundings. How we behave with others in our offices, our bedrooms, our kitchens, our clubs, and our cars are all well-practiced and understood. In social media, the sense of setting is much different and more limited.

In the physical world, much of our knowledge is tacit rather than explicit, yet digital technology is entirely explicit: ones and zeroes, packets and pixels. The tacit is there, but living in an on/off present/absent two-dimensional world is still new and lacking much of what makes life in the three-dimensional natural world so rich and subtle.

Marshall McLuhan says all media, all technologies, extend us. When we drive a car we wear it like a carapace or a suit of armor. We also speak of it in the first person possessive: my engine, my fenders, my wheels, much as we would say my fingers and my hair. There is distance here too, and it involves performance. A person who would never yell at another person standing in line at a theater might do exactly that at another car. That kind of distance is gone, or very different, in the digital world.

In a way we are naked in the digital world, and vulnerable. By that I mean we lack the rudimentary privacy tech we call clothing and shelter, which protect our private parts and spaces from observation and intrusion while also signaling the forms of observation and contact that we permit or welcome. The absence of this kind of privacy tech is why it is so easy for websites and apps to fill our browsers with cookies and other forms of tracking tech. In this early stage of life on the Internet, what’s called privacy is just the “choices” sites and services give us, none of which are recorded where we can easily find, audit or dispute them.

Can we get new forms of personal tech that truly extend and project our agency in the digital world? I think so, but it’s a good question because we don’t yet have an answer.

 


Beyond the Web salon with Nathan Schneider

It’s one thing to move off centralized online spaces run by corporate giants, and another to settle the decentralized frontiers where we create new communities. As those communities get organized, forms of governance emerge. Or are deliberately chosen. Either way, the subject could hardly matter more, if those communities wish to persist and thrive.

At this Beyond the Web salon, Nathan Schneider (@ntnsndr), a professor in media studies at the University of Colorado and a leading authority on cooperative governance, will present two prototypes that address what and how questions about governance, both online and off. In the manner of all our salons, a productive discussion will follow. So please come and participate. Register here.

agree not to track

It’s P7012: Standard for Machine Readable Personal Privacy Terms, which “identifies/addresses the manner in which personal privacy terms are proffered and how they can be read and agreed to by machines.”

P7012 is being developed by a working group of the IEEE. Founded in 1963, the IEEE is the largest association of technical professionals in the world and is serious in the extreme.

This standard will guide the way the companies of the world agree to your terms. Not how you agree to theirs. We have the latter “system” right now and it is failing utterly, massively, and universally. Let me explain.

First, company privacy policies aren’t worth the pixels they’re printed on. They can change on a whim, and there is nothing binding about them anyway.

Second, the system of “agreements” we have today do nothing more than put fig leaves over the hard-ons companies have for information about you: information you give up when you agree to a consent notice.

Consent notices are those banners or pop-overs that site owners use to halt your experience and shake down consent to violations of your privacy. There’s usually a big button that says ACCEPT, and some smaller print with a link going to “settings.” Those urge you to switch on or off the “necessary,” “functional,” “performance,” and “targeting” or “marketing” cookies that the site would like to jam into your browser.

Regardless of what you “choose,” there are no simple or easy ways to discover or dispute violations of your “agreement” to anything. Worse, you have to do this with nearly every freaking website you encounter, universalizing the meaninglessness of the whole thing.

But what if sites and services agreed to your terms, soon as you show up?

We have that in the natural world, where it is impolite in the extreme to look under the personal privacy protections called clothing. Or to penetrate other personal privacy protections, such as shelter, doors, shades, and locks. Or to plant tracking beacons on people to follow them like marked animals. There are social contracts forbidding all of those. We expect that contract to be respected, and for the most part it is.

But we have no such social contracts on the Net. In fact, we have the opposite: a feeding frenzy on private information about us, made possible by our powerlessness to stop it, plus boundless corporate rationalization.

We do have laws meant to reduce that frenzy by making some of it illegal. Others are in the works, most notably in Europe. What they have done to stop it so far rounds to zero. In his latest book, ADSCAM: How Online Advertising Gave Birth to One of History’s Greatest Frauds, and Became a Threat to Democracy, Bob Hoffman has a much more sensible and effective policy suggestion than any others we’ve seen: simply ban tracking.

While we wait for that, we can use the same kind of tool that companies are using: a simple contract. Sign here. Electronically. That’s what P7012 will standardize.

There is nothing in the architecture of the Net or the Web to prevent a company from agreeing to personal terms.

In fact, at its base—in the protocol called TCP/IP—the Internet is a peer-to-peer system. It does not consign us to subordinate status as mere “users,” “consumers,” “eyeballs,” or whatever else marketers like to call us.

To perform as full peers in today’s online world, we need easy ways for company machines to agree to the same kind of personal terms we express informally in the natural world. That’s what P7012 will make possible.

I’m in that working group, and we’ve been at it for more than two years. We expect to have it done in the next few months. If you want to know more about it, or to help, talk to me.

And start thinking about what kind of standard-form and simple terms a person might proffer: ones that are agreeable to everyone. Because we will need them. And when we get them, surveillance capitalism can finally be replaced by a much larger and friendlier economy: one based on actual customer intentions rather than manipulations based on guesswork and horrible manners.

One candidate is #NoStalking, aka P2B1beta. #NoStalking was developed with help from the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School and the Berkman Klein Center, and says “Just give me ads not based on tracking me.” In other words, it does permit advertising and welcomes sites and services making money that way. (This is how the advertising business worked for many decades before it started driving drunk on personal data.)

Constructive and friendly agreements such as #NoStalking will help businesses withdraw from their addiction to tracking, and make it easier for businesses to hear what people actually want.

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Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack is gone. In its place is SoFi Stadium, the 77,000-seat home of Los Angeles’ two pro football teams and much else, including the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater. There’s also more to come in the surrounding vastness of Hollywood Park, named after the racetrack. Wikipedia says the park—

consists of over 8.5 million square feet (790,000 m2) that will be used for office space and condominiums, a 12-screen Cinepolis movie theaterballrooms, outdoor spaces for community programming, retail, a fitness center, a luxury hotel, a brewery, up-scale restaurants and an open-air shopping and entertainment complex.

The picture above (via this Martin Turnbull story) is an aerial view of the racetrack in 1938, shortly after it opened. Note the parking lot: immense and almost completely filled with cars. Perhaps this was the day Seabiscuit won his inaugural Gold Cup. Whether or not, few alive today remember when only baseball was more popular than horse racing in the U.S.

What interests me about this change is that I’ve enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of it, while approaching Los Angeles International Airport on commercial passenger planes. I’ve also photographed that change over the course of seventeen years, through those same windows. Between 2005 and 2022, I shot many dozens of photos of the racetrack site (along with the adjacent Hollywood Park Casino) from its last working days as a racetrack to the completion of SoFi Stadium (with the casino’s relocation to a corner of what had been the Racetrack’s parking lot).

In this album on Flickr are 91 photos of that change. Here I tell the story on one page. We’ll start in January 2005:

At this time the racetrack was long past its prime but still functioning along with the casino. (Look closely and you’ll see the word CASINO in red on the roof of the nearest grandstand. The casino itself is the gray building to its left.) In the distance, you can see the skyline of the West Wilshire region and the Hollywood Hills, topped by the HOLLYWOOD sign. (Hollywood Park is actually in Inglewood.)

This same year, Churchill Downs Incorporated sold the track to the Bay Meadows Land Company, owned by Stockbridge Capital Group, for $260 million in cash. This was good for the private capital business, but doom for the track. Bay Meadows, an equally famous racetrack just south of San Francisco, was also doomed.

This shot was taken seven months later, this time looking south:

Note the fountains in the ponds and the pavilion for members and special guests. Also, notice the separate grandstand for the Casino. The cars in the lots are almost certainly extras for LAX’s car rental companies, leasing unused parking spaces. But you can still see in the racetrack what (it says here) was “once described as too beautiful for words.”

The next photo is from April 2007:

Everything still appears operative. You can even see horses practicing on the dirt track. Also note The Forum across the street on the north side. Now the Kia Forum, its roof at various times also bore Great Western and Chase brand images. It was built in 1966 and is still going strong. During its prime, the Lakers in their Showtime era played there. (The team moved downtown to Staples Center in 1999.)

Next is this view, three months later in July 2007, looking south from the north side:

Note the stables between the racetrack and the practice track on the left. Also, note how the inner track, which had turned from dark brown to blue in prior photos, is now a light brown. It will later be green as well.

(Studying this a bit, I’ve learned that good horse race tracks are very deep flat-topped trenches filled with layers of special dirt that require constant grooming, much of which is devoted to making sure the surface is to some degree wet. In arid Los Angeles, this is a steep requirement. For more on how this works, this Wired story will help.)

Two months later, in September 2007, this view looking north takes in most of the Hollywood Park property, plus The Forum, Inglewood Cemetery, Baldwin Hills (beyond the cemetery and to the left or west):

The Hollywood Hills, with its white sign, is below the clouds, in the top middle, and the downtown Los Angeles skyline is in the top right.

Here on the Hollywood Park property, the casino will be rebuilt on the near edge of the property, along South Stadium Drive.

Here, a few months later, in February 2008, the inner track is once again blue:

This time take note of the empty areas of the parking lot, and how some regions are partitioned off. Ahead we’ll see these spaces variously occupied.

A few seconds after the shot above, I took this shot of the casino and club grounds:

The next shot comes a year and a half later, in September 2009:

Here the inner track has returned to green grass. In the far corner of the parking lot, across from The Forum, a partitioned section has activity involving at least six tents, plus other structures.

Almost three years passed before I got another view, in May 2102, this time looking south from the north side:

Here we get a nice view of the stables and the practice track. On the far side of both is a shopping center anchored by Home Depot and Target. (The white roofs are left and right.) Look in the coming shots at how those will change. Also, note the keystone-shaped fencing inside the practice track.

Here is the same scene one month later, in June 2012:

The keystone shape in the practice track is oddly green now, watered while the rest of the ground inside the track is not. A few seconds later I shot this:

Here the main change is the black-on-orange Belfair logo on the roof of the main grandstand. The paint job is new, but in fact, the racetrack became the Betfair Hollywood Park back in March, of this year.

In December begins California’s short rainy season, which we see here in my last view of the racetrack in 2012:

It’s a bit hard to see that the main track is the outer one in dark brown. We also see that the inner track, which had been blue and then green, is now brown: dirt instead of grass. This is my last view before the racetrack got its death sentence. Wikipedia:

On May 9, 2013 in a letter to employees, Hollywood Park president F. Jack Liebau announced that the track would be closing at the end of their fall racing season in 2013. In the letter, Liebau stated that the 260 acres on which the track sits “now simply has a higher and better use”, and that “in the absence of a favorable change in racing’s business model, the ultimate development of the Hollywood property was inevitable”. It was expected that the track would be demolished and replaced by housing units, park land and an entertainment complex, while the casino would be renovated.

My next pass over the property was on June 16, 2013:

The racetrack here is still verdant and irrigated, as you can see from the sprays onto the inner track, which is grass again. The last race here would come six months later, and demolition would begin shortly after that.

One year later, in June 2014, we can see the practice track and the stables absent of any use or care, condemned:

Farther west we see the casino is still operative, with cars in the parking lot:

Racing is done, but some of the ponds are still filled.

Three months later, in September 2014, demolition has begun:

Half the stables are gone, and the whole racetrack area has been bulldozed flat. Two things to note here. First is the row of red trees on the slope at the near end of the track. I believe these are red maples, which turn color in Fall even this far away from their native range. They were a nice touch. Second is the pond at the far end of the track. This is where they will start to dig a vast bowl—a crater—that will become the playing field inside the new SoFi Stadium.

Two months later, in November 2014, all the stables are completely gone, and there is a road across a dirt pile that bridges the old outer track:

This shot looks northeast toward the downtown Los Angeles skyline, and you can see the Hollywood sign on the dark ridge at the left edge of the frame, below a bit of the plane’s wing. The blur at the bottom, across the parking lot, is from the plane’s engine exhaust. (One reason I prefer my windows forward of the wing.)

This next shot is another two months later, in January 2015:

The casino is still happening, but the grandstand is ready for demolition and the racetrack area is getting prepared for SoFi.

One month after that, in February 2015, we see how winter rains have turned some untouched areas green:

Only two of the red trees remain (or so it appears), and the grandstands are still there, along with an operative casino.

This next shot is eight months later, in October, 2015:

Now the grandstand is gone. It was demolished in May. Here is a KNBC/4 report on that, with a video. And here is a longer hand-held amateur video that also gets the whole thing with stereo sound. New construction is also happening on the left, next to the old casino. This is for the new casino and its parking garage.

The next shot is almost a year later, in September, 2016:

It was a gloomy and overcast day, but you can see the biggest changes starting to take shape. The new casino and its parking garage are all but done, digging of the crater that will become the SoFi stadium has started, and landscaping is also starting to take shape, with hills of dirt in the middle of what had been the racetrack.

Ten months later, in July 2017, the SoFi crater is dug, structural pieces are starting to stand up, the new casino is operating and the old casino is gone:

Here is a close-up of work in and around the SoFi crater, shot a few seconds earlier:

The cranes in the pale gray area stand where a pond will go in. It will be called Rivers Lake.

This shot a few seconds later shows the whole west end of what will become the Hollywood Park complex:

The area in the foreground will become a retail center. The buildings on the left (west) side of the site are temporary ones for the construction project. On the right is the one completed permanent structure: the casino and its parking garage. Buildings on the left or west edge are temporary ones for the construction project.

Three months later, in January 2018, I flew over the site at night and got this one good shot (at 1/40th of a second moving at 200+mph):

Now they’re working day and night raising the SoFi structure in the crater. I share this to show how fast this work is going. You can see progress in this photo taken one month later, in February 2018, again at night:

More than a year went by before I passed over again. That was in August 2019. Here is my first shot on that pass:

Here you SoFi’s superstructure is mostly framed up, and some of the seating is put in place. Here is a wider view shot two seconds later, after I zoomed out a bit:

In both photos you see the word FORUM on The Forum’s roof. (It had previously said “Great Western” and “Chase.” It is now the Kia Forum.) You can also see the two ponds in full shape. The left one will be called Rivers Lake. The right one will pour into it over a waterfall. Cranes on the left stand in the outline of what will become an eight-story office building.

Three months later, in November 2019, the outside surfaces of the stadium are about halfway up:

We also see Rivers Lake lined, with its gray slopes and white bottom.

After this the Covid pandemic hit. I didn’t travel by air (or much at all) for almost two years, and most sporting events were canceled or delayed. So the next time I passed over the site in a position to shoot it was April 2022, when SoFi Stadium was fully operational, and the area around it mostly complete:

Here we see the shopping center in the foreground, now with the Target store showing its logo to the sky. The old practice track and stables have been replaced by parking. A few seconds later I zoomed in on the completed stadium:

We see Rivers Lake, the office building, and its parking structure are also done, as are the parking lots around the stadium. You can also see “SoFi Stadium” in raised lettering on the roof.

And that completes the series, for now.

There are a total of thirty-one photos above. All the links in the photos above will take you to a larger collection. Those in turn are a fraction among the hundreds I shot of the site. And those hundreds are among many thousands I’ve shot of ground and sky from passenger planes. So far I’ve posted over 42,000 photos tagged aerial or windowseat in my two Flickr accounts:

Hundreds of those photos have also found their ways into Wikipedia, because I license nearly all my photos online to encourage cost-free re-use. So, when people with an interest in a topic search for usable pictures they’d like to see in Wikipedia, they often find some of mine and park them at Wikimedia Commons, which is Wikipedia’s library of available images. Of the hundreds you’ll find there in a search for “aerial” plus my name, one is the top photo in the Wikipedia article on Hollywood Park Racetrack. I didn’t put it there or in Wikimedia Commons. Randos did.

My purpose in putting up this post is to encourage documentation of many things: infrastructure changes, geological formations, and any other subject that tends to get overlooked. In other words, to be useful.

A friend yesterday said, “as soon as something becomes infrastructure, it becomes uninteresting.” But not unimportant. That’s one reason I hope readers will amplify or correct what I’ve written here. Blogging is good for that.

For the curious, the cameras I used (which Flickr will tell you if you go there), were:

  1. Nikon Coolpix E5700 with a built-in zoom (2005)
  2. Canon 30D with an 18-200 Tamron zoom (2005-2009)
  3. Canon 5D with Canon 24-70mm, 24-85mm, and EF24-105mm f/4L zooms (2012-2015)
  4. Canon 5D Mark III with the same EF24-105mm f/4L zoom (2016-2019)
  5. Sony a7R with a Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS zoom (2022)

I’m not a big spender, and photography is a sideline for me, so I tend to buy used gear and rent the good stuff. On that list, the only items I bought new were the Nikon Coolpix and the two 24-105 zooms. The Canon 5D cameras were workhorses, and so was the 24-105 f4L Canon zoom. The Sony a7R was an outgrown but loved gift from a friend, a fine art photographer who had moved on to newer (and also loved) Sony gear. Experience with that camera (which has since died) led me this June to buy a new Sony a7iv, which is a marvel. Though it has a few fewer pixels than the a7R, it still has 33 million of them, which is enough for most purposes. Like the a7R, it’s mirrorless, so what you see in the viewfinder or the display on the back is what you get. It also has a fully articulated rear display, which is great for shooting out the plane windows I can’t put my face in (and there are many of those). It’s like a periscope. So expect to see more and better shots from planes soon.

And, again, give me corrections and improvements on anything I’ve posted here.

 

In one of his typically trenchant posts, titled Attentive, Scott Galloway (@profgalloway) compares human attention to oil, meaning an extractive commodity:

We used to refer to an information economy. But economies are defined by scarcity, not abundance (scarcity = value), and in an age of information abundance, what’s scarce? A: Attention. The scale of the world’s largest companies, the wealth of its richest people, and the power of governments are all rooted in the extraction, monetization, and custody of attention.

I have no argument with where Scott goes in the post. He’s right about all of it. My problem is with framing it inside the ad-supported platform and services industry. Outside of that industry is actual human attention, which is not a commodity at all.

There is nothing extractive in what I’m writing now, nor in your reading of it. Even the ads you see and hear in the world are not extractive. They are many things for sure: informative, distracting, annoying, interrupting, and more. But you do not experience some kind of fungible good being withdrawn from your life, even if that’s how the ad business thinks about it.

My point here is that reducing humans to beings who are only attentive—and passively so—is radically dehumanizing, and it is important to call that out. It’s the same reductionism we get with the word “consumers,” which Jerry Michalski calls “gullets with wallets and eyeballs”: creatures with infinite appetites for everything, constantly swimming upstream through a sea of “content.” (That’s another word that insults the infinite variety of goods it represents.)

None of us want our attention extracted, processed, monetized, captured, managed, controlled, held in custody, locked in, or subjected to any of the other verb forms that the advertising world uses without cringing. That the “attention economy” produces $trillions does not mean we want to be part of it, that we like it, or that we wish for it to persist, even though we participate in it.

Like the economies of slavery, farming, and ranching, the advertising economy relies on mute, passive, and choice-less participation by the sources of the commodities it sells. Scott is right when he says “You’d never say (much of) this shit to people in person.” Because shit it is.

Scott’s focus, however, is on what the big companies do, not on what people can do on their own, as free and independent participants in networked whatever—or as human beings who don’t need platforms to be social.

At this point in history it is almost impossible to think outside of platformed living. But the Internet is still as free and open as gravity, and does not require platforms to operate. And it’s still young: at most only decades old. In how we experience it today, with ubiquitous connectivity everywhere there’s a cellular data connection, it’s a few years old, tops.

The biggest part of that economy extracts personal data as a first step toward grabbing personal attention. That is the actual extractive part of the business. Tracking follows it. Extracting data and tracking people for ad purposes is the work of what we call adtech. (And it is very different from old-fashioned brand advertising, which does want attention, but doesn’t track or target you personally. I explain the difference in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.)

In How the Personal Data Extraction Industry Ends, which I wrote in August 2017, I documented how adtech had grown in just a few years, and how I expected it would end when Europe’s GDPR became enforceable starting the next May.

As we now know, GDPR enforcement has done nothing to stop what has become a far more massive, and still growing, economy. At most, the GDPR and California’s CCPA have merely inconvenienced that economy, while also creating a second economy in compliance, one feature of which is the value-subtract of websites worsened by insincere and misleading consent notices.

So, what can we do?

The simple and difficult answer is to start making tools for individuals, and services leveraging those tools. These are tools empowering individuals with better ways to engage the world’s organizations, especially businesses. You’ll find a list of fourteen different kinds of such tools and services here. Build some of those and we’ll have an intention economy that will do far more for business than what it’s getting now from the attention economy, regardless of how much money that economy is making today.


That’s the flyer for the first salon in our Beyond the Web Series at the Ostrom Workshop, here at Indiana University. You can attend in person or on Zoom. Register here for that. It’s at 2 PM Eastern on Monday, September 19.

And yes, all those links are on the Web. What’s not on the Web—yet—are all the things listed here. These are things the Internet can support, because, as a World of Ends (defined and maintained by TCP/IP), it is far deeper and broader than the Web alone, no matter what version number we append to the Web.

The salon will open with an interview of yours truly by Dr. Angie Raymond, Program Director of Data Management and Information Governance at the Ostrom Workshop, and Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics in the Kelley School of Business (among too much else to list here), and quickly move forward into a discussion. Our purpose is to introduce and talk about these ideas:

  1. That free customers are more valuable—to themselves, to businesses, and to the marketplace—than captive ones.
  2. That the Internet’s original promises of personal empowerment, peer-to-peer communication, free and open markets, and other utopian ideals, can actually happen without surveillance, algorithmic nudging, and capture by giants, all of which have all become norms in these early years of our digital world.
  3. That, since the admittedly utopian ambitions behind 1 and 2 require boiling oceans, it’s a good idea to try first proving them locally, in one community, guided by Ostrom’s principles for governing a commons. Which we are doing with a new project called the Byway.

This is our second Beyond the Web Salon series. The first featured David P. Reed, Ethan Zuckerman, Robin Chase, and Shoshana Zuboff. Upcoming in this series are:

Mark your calendars for those.

And, if you’d like homework to do before Monday, here you go:

See you there!

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