Gender and geography in a “global” debate

April 20th, 2005 by

Tonight, we discussed jurisdiction. The most intriguing question was raised right at the start of the classtime, is the internet truly as “global” as we like to think? The first caveat to the “global” tag is certainly found among barriers to access in many parts of the world. Secondly, how “global” is the internet experience for users in Saudia Arabia or China when we consider government censorship and filtration?

Tying this to the Download Debate I watched this afternoon, let me quote
from the blog of Siva Vaidhyanathan, an NYU Prof and speaker at the Cornell discussion

[Recently,] Yale had a wonderful conference on “global flows of information” yet almost every speaker was from North America (excluding Mexico and Central America, of course). There were a handful of Europeans and Israelis. […]

A year ago a great journalist did a big piece for a national magazine about the public-interest copyright movement. When he interviewed me […] He mentioned the same list of speakers […] Again, all men. […]

I told him about the great work of Rosemarie Coombe, Pam Samuelson, Jessica Litman, Julie Cohen, and of course Ann Bartow. […] Coming up fast: Sonia Katyal, Susan Crawford, Beth Simone Noveck, and Rebecca Tushnet. Among activists, Jenny Toomey, Wendy Selzer, and Carrie McLaren have contributed much. And the list beyond the borders of the United States is long and growing as well.

It is easy to pin “global” on to the internet because architecturally it has the potential to become “global” … but we are not there yet. Unless policy and code decisions are made that allow for equity in participation across the lines of gender, class, and geography, the internet will remain stunted in its democratizing potential.

Gender imbalance in academia is a problem that extends beyond the limits of those interested in digital media debate, in fact, as recent data suggests, it extends to the job market at large. I hope that over the next year, a community that is working to sustain democratic, participatory, enabling technology on a global scale can ensure that those same values persist through its own institutions.

Digital media market self-destruction

April 18th, 2005 by

Today Adobe announces its purchase of Macromedia and I am forced to wonder, how much further consolidation can the digital media market endure? How far from competition can a market stray before it begins to collapse in on itself like some bloatware blackhole? I am very concerned about the future of the products under the new Adobe/Macromedia umbrella. Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, Premier, Dreamweaver, Director, and Flash (in both cracked and legal form) are tools that have enabled the development of an art space online free from credential and geography. How will this community be affected? Also, can we expect even more restrictive anti-piracy measures?

Widespread piracy of these softwares is due largely to their lofty retail prices (even with an educator’s discount.) As such, purchasing them legally is simply foolish for the majority of hobbyists and amateurs with no hope or intention of recouping that expense through revenue or as a tax write-off. With even less competition influencing pricing, will we see more people looking to f/oss solutions such as the Gimp?

Participatory Culture takes on TV

April 14th, 2005 by

If I had to explain my involvement with these affairs in a word it would be this: participation. In the last few years, open forms of digital media have caused access barriers to crumble with startling efficiency. There are bloggers in the white house, NPR is podcasting, a sci-fi author finds success in giving away his books, and a bedroom record called the Grey Album is the most popular download of the day. Now, Downhill Battle comes at us with perhaps the loftiest challenge: TV.

With a new moniker deployed expressly for this project, DHB is redubbed the Participatory Culture Foundation and Wednesday announced, “Anyone can broadcast full-screen video to thousands of people at virtually no cost.” They are presently seeking volunteers to get the DTV client and Broadcast Machine publishing tool up and running by mid-June!

GPL, RSS, XML, HTTP, BitTorrent, cross-platform, community-driven and developed, free as in free beer – TV is Dead, long live DTV.

British hax0rz stocking up on cocoa

April 12th, 2005 by

“More than 70% of people would reveal their computer password in exchange for a bar of chocolate [according to a survey of commuters passing through Liverpool Station last month.]” — Passwords revealed by sweet deal, BBCNews, 20 April 2005

All the more depressing when you consider the underwhelming nature of chocolate in the UK. Of coure for hot chocolate from Burdick Cafe, I might actually be tempted.

Anybody can do that

April 10th, 2005 by

Punctuated equilibrium is a term from evolutionary theory which I borrow here to describe the development of my own thinking. Last Friday marked such punctuation, a burst of change, and a flurry of new thoughts. I spent the day at the Museum of Fine Arts with high school art students and the evening with folks from the Signal/Noise conference.

During both segments of my Friday, I heard the phrase “anyone can do it” in both positively excited and negatively dismissive tone. Students shook their heads at the Minimalism of Sol LeWitt’s massive geometry, One-Two-One with Two Half-Off and Sir Anthony Caro’s painted steel Kasser. “This isn’t art,” they told me, “anyone can do this.”

A few hours later, I sat beneath the carved dragons of Ames Courtroom watching Michael Bell-Smith manipulate a piercing guitar sample into a believable drum pattern. Total production time including making comment was just around the length of the average pop song. It was a startling demonstration of the transformative power of available digital media tools. Anyone can do it.

The students visiting the museum sought sublimity. They were attracted to work demanding the dedication and mastery of a craft. Of the last century, I saw them react most strongly to Carol Cohen‘s three-dimensional glass paintings. With rare exception, conceptual and abstract objects did not capture their attention. They value the production over the product. Marvel at the labor and eclipse the result.

There is a deep desire in many human beings to witness attempts to defy the accepted limits of the species. We cheer on the athletic accomplishments of Olympians and the brilliant innovations of automotive engineers. However, it seems that appreciating works requiring expert craftsmanship rather than those that “anyone can do” is little more than celebration of the freaks; in painting, they are those statistical outliers with the ability to convincingly represent three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional plane with a limited set of pigments. Given enough time and proper instruction, anyone with intact control of the hands and wrists could mimic the seemingly superhuman production of a Caravaggio. (Many already have. Art historians occasionally confuse works of the Masters with works by their students and assistants.)

To warp this analogy to the 21st century, present technology can have many effects on an audience’s commitment to craftsmanship. Creative use of technology is about the quality of the product, rarely the production. I can program a computer to perform Mozart. However, I will likely never receive the accolades of a concert pianist. There are dozens of similarly high quality recordings of Mozart. Audiences support the classical pianist for her production, not her product.

Frequently, folks are disappointed to discover that their favorite pop singer is lip synching. There are numerous pitch-correcting tools that digitally adjust a live vocal recording to ensure it matches a predetermined melody. Country singers opposing this practice now put stickers on their records proudly proclaiming that they are singing “naturally.” Debate raged deep into the night when Kid Kameleon was called out for digitally arranging his Shocking mixtape diptych rather than mixing live on turntables. When the traditional value of production over product is applied to creative uses of digital media, it creates strange dissonances.

In the comments that followed Michael’s presentation, one attendee raised an important question: if we can mutate any gurgle or fart into a tightly wound snare drum, why sample a recording protected by copyright? This led another member of the audience to speculate on the mysterious “swing” and “feel” of a 70’s breakbeat. A later comment pointed to the recently scarce “warmth” of analog recordings. Is this purely nostalgic mythology or can better code provide swing, feel, funkiness, warmth, and soul?

I don’t mind hyperbole: anyone can do anything. If I practiced hard enough, I could sink 100 consecutive free throws. However, I can’t be Lebron James. Perhaps in the world of digital media production, we value the producer over the product.

Slides from Free Beer/ Free Computers online

April 3rd, 2005 by

Slides from my recent talk, Free Beer/ Free Computers are now online. Given during the second Cloud City exhibition at the Massachusetts College of Art, this talk offers a quick’n’dirty history of personal computing, an introduction to the hacker ethos, an attempt to demystify the guts of the beige box, and advice on building a useful PC free of cost. Interested folks can check the PDF at

If you prefer another format, by all means make a written request and I will do my best to support you. Try kevin AT kevindriscoll DOT info. Happy hacking!

Grokster and the SC: hairs raised and split

March 30th, 2005 by

Today, Timothy Armstrong, a teaching assistant for the class that provides impetus for this blog, writes from the exciting Supreme Court argument in MGM v. Grokster. Tim’s comments are encouraging and it seems Grokster is off to a strong start considering my waning optimism.

“…the Justices have a hearteningly clear grasp of what the software does and doesn’t do. MGM also argued that the Ninth Circuit’s decision was itself chilling technological innovation, although they defined “innovation” as innovation authorized by copyright holders. MGM closed with its pity-the-starving-artists line, complaining about the lost revenues from hypothesized sales it says would have occurred absent file-sharing.”

Read the complete account over at Timothy K. Armstrong’s blog.

True love is the mixtape

March 27th, 2005 by

Thurston Moore‘s piece in the latest Wired, The Best 90 Minutes of My Life is an ode to the mixtape. He name-drops obscure hardcore punk bands and even manages a dig at the forgotten lossy compression of mp3 format.

“Trying to control music sharing – by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along – is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it.”

Nothing will stop it.

Christo gates Gates

March 21st, 2005 by

According to the following email requoted from Stay Free blog, Christo’s indulgent ambition extends beyond his beautiful installations to the design of fantastical IP protection schemes.

Christo’s publisher claims a vast new degree of copyright and trademark protection. They claim they will prosecute anyone who sells their own original photos of The Gates; who makes and sells a drawing of The Gates or who even uses the words, The Gates, without their permission….They also claim to have an agreement with the media that media sources may only use news photos of the gates for the period the installation is up. That after that the media will only be allowed to use “official” photos of The Gates.

If this is the case, it seems to upend the assertion on Christo’s website that following the deployment of “the Gates”(tm)(c), “The people of New York used the park as usual.”

Charter schools critized on misleading website

March 20th, 2005 by

In the latest example of intentionally mis-leading domain names, the anti-charter school group Massachusetts Taxpayers for Accountable Spending (MTAS) registered to catch traffic headed for, home of the Massachusetts Charter School Association (MCSA)

. Although the MTAS insists that it seeks accountability and reform, it has hardly provided a mature argument opposing the charter school system. Text on the fake-out website promotes references to charter schools as “gravy sucking pigs” and suggests that the specially-focused public schools
are little more than unscrupulous money-making ventures.

“It’s most unfortunate that presumably responsible people have put this out there,” [said Education Commissioner David Driscoll]. “Our students deserve better than to have adults act this way.”– Charter school foe casts Web: Same-name site angers officials, Kevin
Rothstein, Boston Herald, 18 March 2005

So what next? Does MTAS have a legal right to operate a website that appears to have a clearly misleading domain name? Paul Schlichtman, MTAS site operator and former president of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, cites protection under the First Amendment. “It’s reasonable to put up a Web site about charter schools with a domain
name that talks about charter schools.”

Still I remain unconvinced. Although clearly unethical, I am not sure if it is unlawful. I suppose it depends on whether the MCSA previously sought trademark protection of its domain. In any case, it is disheartening to think that public discourse over the future of our state’s public education should find itself suddenly so deep in the aforementioned “gravy.”