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I’m yet to be convinced that the internet can’t look after itself. We may need some forms of organisation to help make sure we’ve thought through the risks and continue to do the next right thing but that organisation isn’t anything that should be modelled on governments or corporations. It needs to be native to the net and it will emerge in the same way that organisations have emerged on the net before. That’s how the net looks after itself, it adapts.
In 1997 or so, I remember talking to my then boss about what an intranet might look like for our team and how it differed from the internet and how it might be useful to us. If you were around in those days, you’ll be familiar with that conversation with someone who kind of got some elements of what the web was about it but wasn’t rooted in the culture like us. It’s pretty much the same one that people have been having about social media for the last few years.
We then drifted onto the idea of .com and what commerical entities on the web (we were part of government and so could sit and theorize about such things) might do with this new thing and how they might behave. I was very bullish about this. I’d just come from the Computing Department of the University of Surrey where I’d been immersed (probably to the detriment of my degree class, but hugely to my personal benefit) in usenet and the nascent web-culture.
I was quite sure that there’d be a fight. A fight between the cold commercial forces of capitalism and the warm, fuzzy, hippy-dippy types committed to openness and co-operation and collaboration for the greater good. And naturally “we” would win.
And how did it turn out? What actually happened? Well I don’t think there was a big battle – both sides lost something, both won something – we all adapted and the web became something that had a more commercial heart, but wasn’t just another channel for business as usual.
Is the web now full of people wanting to make a quick buck, pushing advertisements and 20th Century mass production business models in our faces? Well yes and no. Is the web full of anarcho-hippies, knitting their own yoghurt and urging us all to wear sandals? Well yes and no. Both extremes exist but can be ignored if you wish. Where the really interesting stuff is, is in the middle where social entrepreneurs are creating new value in many forms, giving stuff away, being open about their processes, sharing but still making enough money to enjoy a comfortable standard of living. More than that we’re finding new ways of working together, organising and making stuff happens that benefits us and the whole community.
My personal experience with Tuttle has been that the network is much stronger and more robust than we imagine. Whenever it get’s a push against it, it either repels invaders or morphs into something similar enough to still be Tuttle, but different enough to survive.
So yes, I remain to be convinced that the accelarant properties of the cloud are any more of a risk to the cultural effects that we value than any other infrastructure changes we’ve seen.
Counterpoint will publish Charles Leadbeater’s report Cloud Culture on 8th February with a debate and conversations at the ICA featuring Catherine Fieschi, Charles Leadbeater, Ekow Eshun, Paul Hilder and me. If you haven’t booked a ticket yet, there are still some left here
Next Monday I’ll be taking part in an event hosted by Counterpoint at the ICA to discuss Charlie Leadbeater’s pamphlet on Cloud Culture which is being published on that day, but has already been trailed here and here. In that pre-publication writing Charlie has focused on ownership and control of the cloud as the big issues. While I agree that these are important questions, I’m more interested in the effects of cloud computing on the things we make and do and how we use them to understand each other and our world.
Something came clearer for me before Christmas when I was watching archive film from the British Council as part of our work with Counterpoint.
It was that in tandem with the abstraction of work away from the personal creation of physical objects, through mass production to stuff that’s all about thinking and using our brains, there has been a parallel abstraction of our cultural artefacts away from intimate cultural exchanges, through analogue representations and now digital representations.
The film archive work we did (and, I hope, we’ll continue to do) centres, for me, on how to deal with these analogue artefacts in a digital age. Yes, we can translate some of the experience – we can digitise the film and make it available on the web. The British Council has tried sharing stuff like that. Many other institutions are making their collections available online too. But it’s not the same as sitting in a little screening room at the BFI, handling the film, watching the soundtrack oscillate, seeing the richness of the monochrome. And watching these things on a computer screen on your own can’t compare to sitting in a cinema, watching them projected at the scale they were designed to be watched and with friends with whom you can chat about them immediately afterwards.
Are these experiences really important or are they just romantic nostalgia pieces for those born in the middle of the 20th Century? Can the web and a cloud-powered internet replicate these experiences? Should we be asking it to?
Counterpoint will publish Charles Leadbeater’s report Cloud Culture on 8th February with a debate and conversations at the ICA featuring Catherine Fieschi, Charles Leadbeater, Ekow Eshun, Paul Hilder and me. If you haven’t received an invitation but you think you should be there, please let me know.