Today, I’m leaving Cambridge, England for Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s only a short trip – 4 days or so, Vulcan permitting – but I’m very excited, as it will give me an opportunity to visit the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a Mecca of scholarship on information policy which I’ve been wanting to make a pilgrimage to for at least the last five years.
The weather forecast looks confusing in terms of packing, although not too dissimilar to home:
Last month, as the nation went to the polls, I went to the Resonance 104.4 FM studios to record an hour’s worth of live, unscripted chat with the marvelous Ken Hollings. Each week, Hollings gathers ne’er-do-wells like myself to discuss the future viewed from the past, analysing the techno-dreams of our ancestors from the safety of a lost pavilion in “Hollingsville” – his putative abandoned and overgrown World Fair.
The show can be streamed or downloaded, and it includes musical interludes from Richard H. Kirk.
The week I went in the topic was Networks. We talked about Norbert Wiener, about Skinnerism, about labyrinths, and about the balls of string that guide us through them. We discussed utopias and dystopias, and wondered whether Facebook made us “compete as slaves” as Wiener warned we must if we entered into the wrong relationship with our machines. We talked about “Homesteading the Noosphere”, about Stewart Brand and John Perry Barlow’s Wild West fantasies, and about the FBI, 9/11 and the Saudi Arabian telephone network the day the first Gulf War started.
All in all, it was as far away from my appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme as a piece of radio could ever get, and although I was nervous when I went into the studio (not least because our fellow interlocutor, Alfie Dennen, had been laid low at the last minute by a ravaging tooth complaint), I ended up truly loving it.
And if you listen carefully, you should be able to guess the details of the project I’m working on at the moment. Of which more anon…
I’ll be at The Foundry in London on Saturday the 19th, taking part in Resonance FM’s Media Playground event:
At 2pm: discussion for broadcast – Pathological Over-Sharing. Featuring Becky Hogge (New Statesman, Open Knowledge Foundation), Ken Hollings (Destroy All Monsters), Mark Rock (Audioboo, Best Before Media) and Paul May (The Whale in the Room). As social networks proliferate, newspapers retreat and self-exposure goes global, a panel of culturally savvy thinkers gather to address such questions as, Is the internet a tool for democratic change or economic repression? What is the individual’s impact on media? And what is the impact of the media on social space?
More details here.
I have had Carol Ann Duffy’s first poem as laureate – Politics – stuck up on my fridge since it was published in June. Tucked somewhere within it is the reason I decided I’d had enough of lobbying in Westminster and Brussels and handed in my notice at the Open Rights Group.
Today, Lord Mandelson has occasioned a re-reading of this excellent verse. His Department for Business has released a statement detailing an “evolution in their thinking” on the issue of how to tackle illicit sharing of copyrighted files across peer to peer networks. The aspect of this evolution that has caught the attention of the popular press is that disconnecting internet connections (the “three-strikes and you’re out” model recently ruled unconstitutional in France) is now back on the table. Given this, I’m not sure the word “evolution” or even, for that matter, “thinking” applies.
Shall we pretend this matters? Shall we again list the reasons why excluding – punitively, yet without due process – British citizens from the most transformative communications medium of the last several hundred years is a poor policy response to the failure of an over-consolidated and outmoded industry to adapt their business practices to consumer demand?
Mandelson is not the first Minister at BIS/BERR/DTI to believe, no doubt after a few visits from some sexy people in the record / movie industries, that the illicit filesharing issue needs nothing more than his personal political touch for it all to be solved. Not politics, then, so much as vanity. On the bright side, as the complexities of this issue reveal themselves once more, and Mandy’s self-belief fades as quickly as his suntan, at least the resulting public failure to deliver on this “evolution” might prove humiliating enough to permanently mark the “three strikes” model with Whitehall’s “Here Be Dragons” stamp, ensuring that even the most cloth-eared Tory successor would be unlikely to go near it come next year. Although of course, to ensure this happens, we should all continue supporting the work of my less jaded and remarkably patient former colleagues at the Open Rights Group.
In the meantime, the civil servants at BIS tasked with delivering actual workable policies on this issue must be sighing heavily and mentally postponing their retirement again today.