Transcript of Panel 2:
T E C H N O R E A L I S M
A P P L I E D
Bowe: --until about a week or so ago. ...(laughter) I was the Editor-in-Chief of Word.
Nesson: Say all that again.
Bowe: I was the Editor-and-Chief of Word, which shut down about a week and a half ago, so I'm no longer the Editor-in-Chief of Word. I'm still Marisa Bowe, though.
Johnson: I'm Steven Johnson, Editor-in-Chief of FEED Magazine, and author of "Interface Culture."
Syman: Stefanie Syman, Executive Editor of FEED.
Bennahum: David Bennahum, contributing editor at Wired and Spin.
Silberman: Steve Silberman, Senior Culture Writer of Wired News.
Biggs: Brooke Biggs, media writer for the Bay Guardian, and Net Insider.
Nesson: And Jonathan Zittrain, it's all yours.
Zittrain: Thank you. Now that we understand exactly what technorealism is, we have a great opportunity to apply it. We've seen the roots. Now we need a phenomenal example of technorealism. So I was thinking, "What's the best example?" Well we know that technorealism is about technology. We know it's about technology because it has the word "techno" in it, which stands for "confusing."
And we also know that it happens to be about writing in some way. Writing is very much a piece of this. I take this to be the case because virtually all the people here on this panel are writers. So with technology and writing as our touchstones, I thought, what's the great example to bring up to figure out what this is all about? And the great example to my mind, is Drudge. Now I don't know if Drudge means anything to anyone, but we actually had the Net up, which-- of course, we don't have the Net up.
Nesson: No, I took it down, Jon.
Zittrain: My colleague has just disconnected the Net. If we were to have the Net up, I would go to www.drudgereport.com, and you would see and artfully decorated page, with lots of links, and big letters that say, "Drudge Report," and at the top, sometimes with an animated icon of a screaming siren, sometimes with a large, kind of character picture of Newt Gingrich or Monica Lewinsky, there will be the hottest news.
Today, it seemed to be that there are salacious details to be had from Ken Starr, and the House Committee cannot wait to get its hands on them.
Jonathan Zittrain, Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society
So instead of me explaining what Drudge is, I'd like one of you to. And maybe the first way to start out would be to describe it the way you think the mainstream media does it. I know you're not against anything. But I did detect a thread of dissatisfaction with the mainstream media, as we know it. So if somebody could play a role for me, and give me, what's the story that the mainstream reporter would write if the editor came in and said "I have no idea what Drudge is, but it needs to be on page one tomorrow; write the article." Steven Johnson?
Johnson: Yeah, I'm against Drudge. I think that this is actually a great question because it gets to some of the limitations of the way that these issues are--
Zittrain: So that's the lead of your article: "Drudge is a great question because it gets at some of the limitations."
Johnson: I didn't realize there would be a pop quiz here. I just thought-- ...(laughter)
Zittrain: There will be a pop quiz later. This is not the pop quiz yet.
Johnson: I think that Drudge, the way that Drudge has been covered thus far--
Zittrain: So you won't write the article.
Johnson: I'm not going to do the lead.
Zittrain: Well somebody write the article. (pause) Come on, you're journalists. You want to be paid to write the article?
Bennahum: "Out of control renegade Internet addict peddles yellow journalism and filth without any editorial control, and the world believes him!" ...(laughter) (applause)
Zittrain: Tonight at ten on Fox. You would write the teaser and that would be, then, the show.
Syman: But the subtitle is, "Mainstream media senses a turf issue and freaks out."
Bennahum: That's the Web 'zine.
Zittrain: So it's one thing if they just cover a general story: "Pet rocks, friend or foe. Tonight at eleven." It's another if they're covering journalism.
Silberman: Well the interesting thing is that the Drudge story, I was interviewed about Drudge several times because I wrote a column about the incident. And many journalists said to me, "This really made the Internet, didn't it? This was the first big scoop that had been broken on the Internet."
And I told them two things: It was not Matt Drudge's scoop; it was a scoop that belonged to good, old media reporters--
Silberman: Right. And what Matt Drudge did is what he's very good at doing, which is finding people in the office who want to blab. And so he found leaks, which is his job.
But the story didn't "make" the Internet; on Wired News, and many other news services, many scoops have broken; granted they weren't about oral sex in the Oval Office. But Internet news services have been breaking the scoops for a couple years now. This story was not about the Internet coming of age; it was about Matt Drudge doing his thing, which was increasing the public anxiety about a story that was basically not as substantial as some of the other stories.
|"Drudge represents the overlap between an older broadcast model and a newer more bottom-up organized many-to-many model."|
Zittrain: Okay, so this is a technorealist talking about Matt Drudge, as compared to the Fox Evening News teaser, basically, as I was trying to think, eight principles are probably too many, right? Now, of course technorealism says, "We need complication," right?
Panelist: Writers say that--
Zittrain: Right. But if we were being mainstream media, we'd say, "We have to pull it down to three principles. So maybe principle number one would be, "Be calm." Some reporter comes in, frothing at the mouth, is this a trend? That's what the reporter says. "Are there millions of Drudges out there, all of a sudden?" And your general answer is, "Be calm, this is not the first time the Internet has broken a news story." In fact, it's the zeroeth time. I mean, this isn't even the Internet, is what you're saying.
Syman: I think another word for that is context, though. It takes being calm to recognize it and understand content.
Johnson: And also the danger of really substituting a part for a whole here. I mean I think the biggest problem with this on both side of the debate is you have one side saying, "Matt Drudge stands for Web journalism and that's horrible, and that's a completely regrettable thing."
And then another side saying, "He stands for Web journalism, and it's great, he's wonderful. He's the plucky entrepreneur, working out of is one-room office."
Steven Johnson, Editor-in-Chief, FEED
To me, in fact, he doesn't represent, really, the Web, that much. What he really represents is the overlap between an older broadcast model and a newer more bottom-up organized many-to-many model. Drudge is really a creature of broadcast media. I mean he wouldn't have the audience he has now if he hadn't been amplified by the incredible kind of amplifying forces of broadcast media. So it's that clash that creates the kind of monstrosities that we see now. It's the overlap between two technological regimes kind of co-habituating at the same moment in time. And that's the kind of things that we rarely hear, because we spend so much time talking about these binary oppositions between Web thinking and television thinking or old media thinking and new media thinking.
Zittrain: So, the mainstream media might say, "Drudge is something new. This is something different. In fact, this is a threat to us." And you would say, "No, be calm."
Johnson: I would say that mainstream media is part of the threat. I mean mainstream media creates the incredible amplified feedback groups that we all get so obsessed with. I mean, Drudge left alone on America Online, it just doesn't have the audience to create the kind of magnitude of the sorties that he's created, thus far. It's the people who pick up those stories and re-print them that are creating the problem, as much as Drudge is.
Silberman: And Drudge is as celebrity-driven as any tabloid magazine. Which is a model that really comes from old media and broadcast media.
Zittrain: So in that sense, would you consider Drudge to be a colleague of yours? Is Drudge a fellow writer? Would you be comfortable saying, that there's a category of people called Net journalists, and he's one of them and so are you?
Silberman: He's a tabloid journalist who used the Net in his work. So like me, he uses the Net in his work; unlike me, he's a tabloid journalist.
Zittrain: So this is illustrating the technorealist principle that says, kind of, "Nothing to see here. It's the Net, that's true, but it's just pretty much like the real world, except it's electronic, and there are tabloid people in the real world and there are tabloid people on the Net. There's Dan Rather in the real world-- well maybe. ...(laughter) There's traditional journalists in the real world, and there are traditional journalists on the Net." And to say Net and non-Net--
Silberman: Right, there is responsible on the Net, there is irresponsible journalism, and I wouldn't type cast Drudge as either one, although he has acted irresponsibly many times. I mean, he doesn't have the checks and balances that an irresponsible reporter in the off-line world generally has.
Zittrain: Okay, now you guys--
Johnson: That is a difference. I mean that is the difference on the Web is that you have to earn your audiences in a sense by showing either a willingness to make up stories or publish anything, and you attract a certain type of audience there. Or you earn them by running reliable journalism.
Zittrain: So the two ways to get an audience are either highly quality reporting or highly unreliable reporting.
Bowe: No, I think it just has to be entertaining or interesting in some way. You know, and he has managed to do that.
Syman: Yeah, but at this stage, I think you have to have access to some major distribution routes. I think there are limits to growth now, given where we are. And Drudge could pierce through them because he was salacious enough, and he peaked the interest of mainstream media enough to sort of initiate that amplification affect. Plus, you know, in a way, you always have media feeding on media. You have magazines promoting film stars to sell issues. So we have nothing new here. It's just his delivery mechanism is the Internet.
Bowe: I think other media framed him as a character. It was like he was "Swamp thing, he came from the Net." If he'd come from a newspaper, there wouldn't be a story. ...(laughter)
Panelist: That's true, that was the hook.
Zittrain: Something you said earlier was that there was a lack of checks and balances on the Net. That might be a generalization that you could make about the Net that's easier to make about the non-Net.
Steve Silberman, writer, Wired News
Silberman: I didn't say that. I said that Matt Drudge does not, in his job, have many checks and balances. Because he's his own editor and his own publisher. Which, I don't think, is always a bad thing. However, in Wired News, I can't just say, "You know, I really want to write this story, I think those guys are bad, here it is," and deliver it. My stories get read by editors and they say, "Well did you fact-check this?" And I say, "Yes."
Zittrain: So who among you is the least institutional of the Net journalists? David, you have that honor.
Bennahum: I have a newsletter that I have, that I do, through e-mail called Meme--
Zittrain: Yes, I've read it.
Bennahum: -- ...A meme is a contagious virus, okay. So there's no editor, I'm the publisher, I run it through St. John's University, I've nearly 5,000 people who subscribe, and then they pass it onto other lists, so the total readership could be 20, 30, 40,000 people for each issue. I can't even tell.
Zittrain: And you build your audience one member at a time, and you do it--
Bennahum: It's word of mouth, by word of mouth. And what happens is that over time, accountability comes into the system in the sense that there are 5,000 human beings, real human beings actually reading that thing. And they can vote, in a sense, by signing off the list, by no longer passing it on. And in a sense, the accountability becomes whether or not you develop a relationship with an audience, and let me tell you, when you start to have a real audience that made the effort to be your audience, there is a relationship there.
Zittrain: So the checks and balances on you are the checks and balances of the market. If you get out of control, if you don't do a very good job, if what you write is incoherent, eventually, people won't read it anymore.
Bennahum: And the checks and balances of attention.
I mean, to some degree, people will stop paying attention.
And of course, then, there's the ultimate check and balance, if you want to be even more specific, and it happened to Drudge, it's the law. I mean, obviously, libel or something.
|"How do we define the libel law in an era of small publishers like me?"|
Zittrain: Well, so let's go with that. Let's go with the libel. Because I want to ask you what is dangerously bordering on a policy question, and see if technorealism offers insight into it. Let's say that, for some reason, a random person in the world, named Cindy Grumenthal, doesn't like something you put into Meme. And what you put into Meme was perfectly reasonable stuff, the technorealists' principles, I mean, you know, nothing, moderate things, and, for some reason, thought, Cindy Grumenthal doesn't like it. She files a suit against you, listing a number of claims that you have to deal with. Now would that bother you? Would that be bad?
Bennahum: It would. And the problem is, sure that with the current libel law, it's set up with the assumption that the person doing the libeling is going to be a celebrity or a large, financed institution like a magazine. So that when someone says they libeled me, that institution has the wherewithal to actually defend itself, in court, go through that whole process. Now, in cyberspace, we have this new question, which is how do we define the libel law in an era of small publishers like me?
Zittrain: Now, let me offer you a hypothesis answer, and you can tell me if you agree with it or not. And elaborate, so it doesn't have to be just yes or no. On the Net, the balance of the rights of people who are talked about and the people who talk or write about them, ought to be roughly the same as the balance of rights that exist in the real world. And, therefore, we should see that existing libel laws are basically updated to carry over onto the Net without any great change, one way or the other.
Bennahum: It should be almost like a small claims court. There ought to be a way where, if someone sues me for libel, we can go to court and deal with this, it's going to cost me $500. Because if it's going to cost me $50,000 or a million dollars to represent myself, because, yeah, somebody on the Net with a deep pocket decides to sue me, that's chilling the speech.
The thing that's exciting about the Net, which is the self publishing, the Web pages, the e-mail, all that stuff, starts getting squelched if we get to a situation where there isn't an equivalent of small claims court.
David Bennahum, Editor, Meme
Zittrain: Now, was that policy answer informed by technorealism? Did technorealism help us with that answer? For instance, all of you, as technorealists, does that sound--
Panelist: It's common sense.
Zittrain: It's common sense. Technorealism is common sense. Be calm, be reasonable--
Panelist: Be sensible.
Zittrain: --be sensible.
Syman: Well, and it also acknowledges the nature of the media, which is creating a lot of small, more targeted audiences, a whole different scale of publishing,
which is basically what we've been talking about. FEED, as a magazine, has a pretty big reputation. Our operations are a tenth of the size, if that, of any significant print publication. And our readership is actually more substantial than you might have, if we had just started a print publication, but still a smaller scale audience.
|"Technorealism is common sense. Be calm, be reasonable, be sensible."|
Zittrain: You don't have libel counsel on-call 24 hours a day.
Syman: Yeah, we don't have general counsel.
Johnson: We're just trying to get a masseuse. ...(laughter) We'll start with that.
Silberman: I have to go meta for just a moment.
Zittrain: Please, go meta.
Silberman: Okay, something that was happening in the first panel, and might happen now, is that technorealism is being approached as a product. Which is just fine. It's a buzz word, it sounds like a buzz word, it must be a product. As if this document was the final result of the technorealism process, you ask if technorealism will give us answer on a policy question. I will speak very personally, here. The reason why I signed this document is because it was the beginning of a series of dialogues, not because it was the end of a series of dialogues.
We have a little mailing list amongst ourselves, we talk. The dialogues that have unfolded since we published this document on the Web have been at least as interesting, if not more interesting, to me, than this document.
So the point is that what we were hoping to do, what I was hoping to do was to assist in the opening up of public dialogue about many of these questions. So we did not come down from the mountain and say, "We are the technorealists; this is what we've come up with." We are saying that we're all people who work in new media. So we have a lot of daily experience in dealing with the difficult moral questions and gray areas that come up in that field. And one of the things that we're here to do is to invite discourse about these questions, rather than to deliver the final answer.
|"We're here to invite discourse about these questions, rather than to deliver the final answer."|
Zittrain: But now technorealism could be an umbrella. It could be a tent where once you enter into the tent, certain rules of discourse apply. The rules tend to be, "No yelling, no shouting, no ad hominems, be calm, be reasonable, be smart." Now, if that's the case, okay, I understand. I don't mean to commodify technorealism into anything other than that.
But my hope in actually exploring the policy issue of what should happen to somebody like David if they're sued, is, okay, I understand you're not going to have a pat answer, but let's see technorealism at work. Let's see those base principles drive into policy recommendations that we wouldn't get if we weren't technorealists, if we didn't have the illumination.
Johnson: Let me say something, slightly on the same meta level here, we're trying to push it towards the policy issues. I think it's wonderful that we do have this sense of consensus and the "feel good" quality of going to some kind of common ground. It's an important part of this. But I think it's also important to make it clear that defining that center is also a way of excluding certain things from that center, and excluding certain types of arguments. So in the most basic sense--
Johnson: Not just unreasonable, but saying, it's shifting the argument from the older argument we were having of should government have any role in cyberspace at all, to, okay, we've all agreed on that. What should the role be? That's the difference between an argument of, you know, should there be an income tax to what should the income tax be? That's a major shift, if you can change the basic terms of the debate.
And in doing that it means actively trying to stop wasting time on these older arguments on should there be any role in cyberspace, because we feel that that should be a given. So in that sense, there is something that is exclusionary here. I mean, something that is saying, that is not really where the argument should be.
Zittrain: And we're not exactly capturing it, you say, to just say what we are excluding is the extreme. That's not fully capturing what you mean to say you're excluding, is that right?
Johnson: Well, I think we're indirectly defining certain arguments as being extreme by saying the principles, we've weighed out.
Zittrain: Okay, but you don't want it to just regress to, "We exclude that which we exclude."
|"To be skeptical does not mean to be contrary. It just means to be critical, to think about things, to research things, to really dig to the meat of the story."|
Zittrain: We want to know what you exclude. So far, you exclude extreme stuff. There is no role for government here. Or, "Government needs to come in and, your kids are in danger." I could imagine the technorealists' reaction to the Time Magazine article saying, "Your kids, whenever they use a computer, could be shocked by a virus."
Silberman: Well, actually the technorealist answer was to look at the qualifications of the study that that article was based on, and discovered that it was BS. And that was before technorealism, but it's really a group of people on the Well, looked at who Marty Rimm was and looked at where he was getting his data.
Panelist: This was the fellow at CMU who got a bunch of data together to say that porn was everywhere on the Net. Which we know it not to be.
Silberman: What those people did was, I would say, very much in the spirit of technorealism, which was to actually look at the data, rather than either running towards the generalization or running away from it.
Biggs: Which I should say, is also the absolute rule of media, and what media, I think, has failed to do when addressing these kinds of issues, is to be skeptical.
And to be skeptical does not mean to be contrary. It just means to be critical, to think about things, to research things, to really dig to the meat of the story. I mean quoting a Luddite, and quoting a techno-utopian, does not create a balanced story on an issue. The point is that we need to return to the hard work of journalism, which is really founding our arguments and founding our articles in critical thought, and analyzing all of the related data. Which, I don't think happens enough.
Brooke Shelby Biggs, writer
Zittrain: So it then sounds like technorealism has a lot to offer journalists. And I guess, indirectly, the people who read the journalism, telling them what--
Bennahum: In the sense that journalism shapes so much about how people perceive cyberspace, because at this point, a minority of Americans are online. And of those, the number who are actually online a lot, really actively, is even smaller. And those who actually understand the history of the technology and where it came from is even more minute. So we're educated by these kind of glossy magazines. And many on the staffs of those magazines, they're sure to come upon people who literally don't even know what they're writing about. It's a constant problem we're dealing with.
Zittrain: And this is what's getting at the reason why it's not just technorealism. Because technology is a particularly delicate subject, you say.
Bennahum: It's really hard to write about. Because it's complicated.
Zittrain: Unlike most of the rest of the world.
Bennahum: It's not like writing about the Titanic, okay? ...(laughter)
Zittrain: Something about the Titanic?
Bennahum: No, a huge amount of journalism is Pamela Lee and the porn tape, and "Titanic," breaking all block buster things. Let me call up the public relations agency and they'll set up the meeting with the CEO. We'll sit at the table and have a chat about the new product. And that's like 80 percent of what you read in the magazines. It's easy. A lot of what you're reading is this sort of spoon-fed very market-driven, a new product is being launched, you know, some CEO finally is granted access. It's totally controlled by--
Biggs: Which is why the extremists are quoted so often, because it's sexy. The things they say are sexy. They're exciting. They're absolute. It's simple.
|"Quoting a Luddite, and quoting a techno-utopian, does not create a balanced story on an issue."|
Silberman: It writes the story for you. In the last week, probably everybody, at least out of the corner of their eyes, in the last couple weeks has seen a little news item that was filler in most places, about something called a Cyber Tip Line, which was a Web site to report online abuse of children and pedophiles and predators, etc. It was announced at a meeting or at a press conference, Louis Freeh was there and Steve Case, it was a very high profile press conference in Washington.
I spoke to Larry Magid, who wrote the document that was also announced at that press conference, and he told me, kind of off the record, that he thought that the real instance where children were actually taken from their homes or lured away, were so few that, as he said, "most children are more in danger from the marketing techniques on the Ben and Jerry's Web site than they are from pedophiles.
Zittrain: ..(inaudible) --the marketing practice on the Ben and Jerry's Web site.
Silberman: Exactly. And yet that story ended up being uncritically spat out about this Cyber Tip Line and a detective at the press conference said, "Sixty cases--" he didn't talk about which cases, "Sixty 'traveler cases,' children who had actually been convinced to leave their homes"; I'd be willing to bet that if you actually looked at those sixty cases, you would see people who were unsatisfied at home, young people who left, etc., But there were all kinds of--
Zittrain: Be calm, be reasonable. Nothing to see here. It's just cyberspace.
Silberman: --and yet, a couple of days after that press conference, Louis Freeh is using online predators and pedophiles as an argument against strong cryptography.
And so one of the things that we're doing is looking at the threats that are used to muscle in restrictive legislation and censor ware, an analyze the cases that are behind them. So, as if you could look at things that were used as threats to public liberty in the past and really analyze them, so that 20 years later, we don't have to say, "You know, maybe there wasn't really a laundry list of red agents. Maybe it was just screen writers in Hollywood who went to a meeting." We want to look at that now.
|"The last thing we want to do is add another cartoon.... We want to de-construct the cartoons."|
Zittrain: So technorealism, as applied to the media, starts with the basic idea that we all know, basically the media to be idiots, minus, of course, the people here and the people covering this event. ...(laughter) And the fact that they like to exaggerate things, or they like to go for the extreme because that's what sells papers, that's a time-honored tradition. And it says there's a compounding factor here: cyberspace. Because you take their general idea of wanting to distort and twist and make things interesting, when they're not, and they also don't know what they're talking about because in cyberspace, they're unfamiliar with the technology, and you put the two together, and you have a cataclysmic, well I guess I shouldn't be extreme. You put the two together an you have an unfortunate situation. ...(laughter)
Silberman: No, you have a lot of stuff to talk about, based on people's real experience, rather than cartoons, as Barlow said earlier. I'm in as much sympathy with John being cartooned as, the last thing we want to do is add another cartoon to John's resume; we want to de-construct the cartoons. ...(laughter)
Zittrain: De-construct the cartoon is another principle of technorealism.
Syman: But I would pick up on a point that Steve had, in terms of the timing of this sort of reflectiveness. Because this is, the Web, if you take that as a major component of what we're talking about, and the Internet, they're sort of, very young, infantile media. And we still have the opportunity to, you know, legislate wisely and, sort of, grow them up without, if we sort of resist the urge to be very reflective about how we treat these emerging technologies and communications vehicles, and as they grow, and intermingling new ways, then we won't have to go back and undo things, because once something is done, in terms of the architecture of anything like a network, it is extremely hard to undo, as we all know with the 2000 problem, that's kind of a related--
Stefanie Syman, Executive Editor, FEED
Zittrain: The 2000 problem is a disaster!
Syman: Which is, again, likely, over-rated, to a certain extent, but I mean, we don't want to get ourselves into that problem, on the level of policy, or you know, technical standards, or--
Zittrain: So this actually, and maybe, it's okay for you to tell me this is an unfair question. Because I understand there are no ready answers to these problems. They're very complicated. They require study and discourse and talk. But what sorts of legislation might you suggest to protect this nascent medium? Is that a fair question to ask?
Syman: Well, it may not be that we need legislation to project it; it's more that we need to launch efforts to block legislation that suggest, I mean, CDA is a great example. That legislation was based on a total misconception of cyberspace, essentially.
Zittrain: So there's no affirmative legislation that comes to mind. And, again, I understand that it might be an unfair question.
Panelist: The First Amendment is pretty good.
Zittrain: We should legislate the First Amendment. ...(laughter) Congress: be resolved, we really mean it.
Marisa Bowe, writer
Bowe: Even if you go back to the earlier topic of libel, you know, people who are really familiar with the way that the Net works know that on the one hand, you have these huge media companies that are putting out these sites and maybe they should have the old fashion type of laws applied to them. But in a lot of ways, the Internet is more like the telephone. It's a method of personal communication between individuals, and should they be held to the same multi-million dollar lawsuit?
|"In a lot of ways, the Internet is like the telephone. It's a method of personal communication between individuals."|
Zittrain: These are troubling questions, I agree. I hate to admit this does keep me up at night, sometimes. ...(laughter) It really does. So what's the answer or what's the path? How does technorealism help us answer this problem.
Biggs: What's the question again?
Zittrain: Well, you want to re-state the problem?
Biggs: I think that there isn't necessarily a specific problem or a specific answer. The point is, let's not make any assumptions while we're moving into designing policy.
Zittrain: Well, let me take one quick crack at a specific problem: This is getting back to Drudge. You had the real world, and in the real world, there were media. And they're big fat cats and they've got counsel and they can call up people when there's problems. And they can factor it all in because, after all, they've got lots of ads in circulation. And that's the way the real world works. So that when somebody brings a nuisance suit against CBS, General Westmoreland, for example, ...(laughter) CBS can say, "Stuff it. We'll fight you right down the line. And it will end up helping us in the end because we'll be remembered as the network that sufficiently spent enough money to put you out of business." And that's fine for traditional media.
But now, we have new media. We have people like David, who don't have corporate counsel, and who could be sued somewhere, for which they could not afford to defend themselves. That's a problem, possibly. Because if nothing new is done, then it might be that the new journalists here end up only being big, fat cats, just like the real world, because those are the only ones that can suffer the legal regime that will be imposed.
Johnson: But let's say David had been incredibly successful as a kind of traditional print 'zine editor and had 5,000 readers, and then got sued by someone who was offended by something that he wrote.
Zittrain: I suppose it's not necessarily different.
Bennahum: It's not necessarily different, but for me to run a 'zine with a 5,000 circulation, that's 5,000 times 32 cents per mailing--
Panelist: Yeah, there you go, that's how it's different.
Bennahum: I mean the point is it costs me nothing to do this, that's the difference. So we're going to see a proliferation of self-publishing.
Zittrain: The operative barrier, then, becomes not how much it costs to crank the printing press, but, perhaps, the threat of a law suit for saying something that might offend someone.
Bennahum: It's really early to start talking about this, but there's no question that it was more money, it becomes more and more of a medium of financial transaction and trademark and brand and property. And the issue of libel and trademark infringement, all this stuff is going to be increased in resonance, online. And a lot of the people who'll be the most irritated about it will be the large corporations.
Zittrain: And does technorealism come down one way or the other? Or could we use its principles to figure out how to resolve this problem, this clash of the big institutions discovering cyberspace, wanting to re-work as if it's the real world, squeeze people like you out. Does technorealism answer who should win there? Does it give us a normative answer?
Bowe: To me, the whole point of it is just to actually look at things and see how they really are. That's the realism part of it, and examine each thing on a case-by-case basis, without just jumping and saying, "Oh, it's this way, it's that way."
Zittrain: So the answer is be calm, be reasonable. ...(laughter)
Johnson: No we can do it a little bit more precisely. I mean you can say, "Does it really matter that the lower barriers to entry, I mean, does that really affect David's potentially libeling someone? I mean does that make any difference to whomever he was libeling that David could put it out without having to pay the postage? Does that make any difference?" If you ask that question and if you answer that it somehow does, then you take it to the next level, and you say, "Well, okay, well, let's see, is there something in this medium that enables us to resolve this dispute in a way that we couldn't do in the older medium?" And there may well be, because it's an incredibly response-driven format.
And it's not true for David, but for FEED, for something that's published on the Web, and David, of course, has a Web version, as well, linking offers a tremendous new set of possibilities for people who feel that they've been wronged in some way.
I mean, there's no reason why you couldn't set up some kind of system where, if someone actually demands some kind of retraction or change, that there isn't a link that is kind of mandated to some kind of formal response.
|"The operative barrier becomes not how much it costs to crank the printing press, but, perhaps, the threat of a law suit for saying something that might offend someone."|
So what you're saying is that because, thanks to technorealism, we can look at how things are, we can stop and not jump to conclusions, and one thing you might do, as a technorealist, is say, "The Net has a new feature that the real world doesn't easily have. He cranks out a bunch of lies about me; I don't want to have to go to my printing press in the real world. But on the Net, I can spend a few hours at night sending off answers back to him and they'll get replicated too, and therefore, that changes the dynamics of--
It certainly changes the balance of it.
And that's a technorealist's way of thinking.
Again, it sounds like soap, when you say it that way. ...(laughter) Thanks to the general kind of sensibility of thinking that technorealism is the umbrella term for, we can have conversations, like that, yes, I would say that's true.
Okay, at this point, somebody actually asked for a pop quiz, is that right? Steve?
I think my colleague, Charlie, do you have a pop quiz?
I do have a pop quiz. What a coincidence. ...(laughter)
Just as a matter of background, I should say that Charlie and I taught together. And a number of people here are actually students from that course. I'm delighted to see them still here.
Can we see question number two?
Now everyone has a blank sheet of paper. I'd like to provide the same to the panel. Could each of you just pass that down?
I feel like I'm at a birthday party. Was this planned?
It's a birthday party without the favors. ...(laughter)
Here's a pop quiz. First question: Does Bill Gates "want it all"? (pause) Does Bill Gates want everything. Does he want to keep playing the techno game until he takes over every place on the board? Now no conferring; the idea is that you write the answers down separately.
There are going to be six "maybes" I predict, right now.
Well, I want a technorealist answer. It's like yes is one extreme, and no is the other extreme. And the middle is right in the middle, right?
Say it again?
Next question: Will anything stop him [Bill Gates]?
Stop him from what? ...(laughter) Isn't that predicated on the previous answer?
Yes it is. You're very good at this.
So I'll skip the question. ...(laughter)
Next question: Should the government try?
Oh, I've got nothing to write about.
What, "Should the government try?" is rhetorical?
You don't just mean, "Should the government try?" as "should it try"? ...(laughter) You mean should the government try to stop Bill Gates?
That's what I had in mind.
I thought the audience was taking this test, also.
Yes, I hope so. Everybody should be taking this test. Here's a serious question for the technorealist: Will the Net inevitably drive a deeper wedge between rich and poor? (pause)
Did you say, "inevitably"?
Yes, inevitably. Are we on a road that we can do nothing about, that will lead to a widening gap between rich and poor, as technology proliferates throughout the world?
Well that's a very different question from the first way that you said it. ...(laughter) It's very different from "Are we on a road that we can do nothing about?" (pause)
Last question: What is your passion? ...(laughter) It's a fun question. (pause) So I've listened. And I have to say, I've been impressed.
There's real feeling in this. There's a real sense that there's something that's been wrong that you feel you have a handle to correct. I'm a little confused still. Is technorealism just a school of journalism? Is it a style of writing? Is that what your describing? It's not extremist. It's "a little of this, a little of that." What we teach our law students. You have to take the problem and you have to turn it from every point of view. Is that what it is?
|" 'Technorealism' is like the phrase 'the Montreaux Jazz Festival.' Technorealism is not the songs that will be played there, but it's an excuse for them to be played."|
It's a lifestyle. ...(laughter) (applause)
That sounds like an ad, though.
Well, you know, we've got the marketing campaign rolling out next week. ...(laughter)
For me, the word, "technorealism" is like the phrase, the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Technorealism is not the songs that will be played there, but it's an excuse for them to be played. So technorealism brings together a group of journalists with people who wish to talk to us online and here, and the truths that we arrive at together justifies the occasion.
I think, implicit, there are some other ideologies imbedded more deeply within technorealism. Which one might be the principle that one should look at technology within the social context of its creation and design and understand from where it comes from, how it developed. So that when it comes time to think about what direction it might be going in, we can do so with some form of context, rather than the alternative which is to see it with a kind of evolutionary process that springs forth from something. Which could be a shift from the Industrial Revolution to the Information Age.
Is it driven by passion? Is there a passion?
Yeah, I think so. The passion is for trying to distinguish and clarify the choices that we have in front of us, as human beings, to have a hand and a design in our future, rather than the idea that he future will just happen. And that we have no choice. So the passion comes out inside of the desire to design, look at and investigate, and the belief that we have some choice in our future.
And let me tell you something. There's a lot of people out there who take issue with that simple idea, who believe that we should get the hell out of the way, and that these forces out there in nature or in the market or wherever, they're a damn lot better than human beings, in terms of making these choices.
I would just add to one other thing, which is that it's not also completely future-driven. I mean I think that that the one thing that we can learn a lot from our kind of Luddite critics is that there is a tremendous sense of history and a sense of what the past was like and the richness.
And earlier kind of technological waves of change that people went through, being as powerful as the ones that we're going through now. So to have that sense of kind of, trying to wrest control of the future, but also, with some sense of the past kind of tempering it, I think, is an important part of, at least my passion on this.
|"There's a distinction between design and destiny... Technorealism is about the idea of design, that we have choice."|
And I would also say, just picking up on what David and Steven had said, it's kind of an attempt to drive a wedge, which, for now, is simply words, between, this sort of, this sense of inevitability, and the point at which you are just a consumer of these now inevitable technologies. So that you can help direct the development of technology before our choice is simply to buy Windows '95 or not to buy it.
It's a distinction between design and destiny. You know, are we destined to have something? Like it's going to happen because that's our destiny? Or do we have a design in the matter? Can we design it? And that's sort of a basic distinction. And I think technorealism is about the idea of design, that we have choice, we can design.
Well, now the reason that I asked the first set of questions about Gates is, I got the fact that you're into people having choice, you know, you want to have arguments so people can make choice and choice is a good thing. But I was curious whether it's driven by some particular idea of what kinds of choices people should make, whether there's something specific to it. And the specific spur for my first questions was a pamphlet that came in the mail this last week that said that Microsoft and Simon and Schuster are doing a tour of 23 United States cities in the next month, going to universities, saying to the university administrators, "Hey, Harvard is way up in front. If you want to get up online, we can put you up in 60 days." ...(laughter)
I was on a plane yesterday, reading United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine, and the first page had, it was an ad for Windows CE, which is an operating system for palm-sized computer devices. And it was a picture of a woman in an airport who was running, there were blurs around her so one had the sense that she was completely busy, yet she was computing. And the slogan was, "How much more productive could you be?" ...(laughter) And the other slogan was, "Windows CE turns downtime into up time, anytime." Imagine if all of your downtime was turned into up time, and you were using Windows. ...(laughter) Bill Gates wants that all.
Tell us your name.
I'm David Cox, I'm a writer and film maker from Australia. I write a piece on ...(inaudible) As an Australian, I'm curious to come to America and see a meeting like this. But it's uplifting too.
I mean you really did get the sense that you guys have a republic, and the republic is healthy and, although the empire is kind of raggedy around the sides, but the republic is in good shape. So that's an uplifting thing. In Australia, we're gradually moving towards a republic, with a bit of luck, but just a reminder that the Net is global, and that it is an international thing. And that the debates needs to extend beyond the borders of the USA. And it's not only an English speaking culture, either. These issues, I think, often get lost in the fog.
|"The technorealist angle seems to me to be a little bit techno-conservative, if you ask me."|
The other point being that the technorealist angle seems to me to be a little bit techno-conservative, if you ask me.
A little sense of status quo in it, is that what it is?
A little bit, yeah. I mean, I can remember the early days of the Net, the early '90s, where it was just a handful of people who were hobbyists. It was a little bit like the early days of radio, before advertising took over. There's a sense of a crossover now between radio, pre-amateur and post-amateur. And the sort of gradual introduction of conservative ideas into what were previously issue primarily around public access. That's why I first subscribed to Wired, because I thought it was about public access, you know, putting Newt Gingrich--
[end of side A]
-- I'll start my subscription after that, thanks.
One thing that occurs to me, in response to that is, well, first off, I think that the criticism of the document being too US-centric, is one of the, I think, most valid criticisms, at least, from my point of view, that's been leveled against it. And there's just this certain level of specificity to the document that we built, that we hope that will people will build extensions onto it. The question about the conservative nature of it is, I think it's important here to distinguish all of our kind of individual thinking and work in these field, from the document itself. And this is what we could come together to agree on, all twelve, very opinionated people. We do a lot of work, individually, but it's much more open-ended and radical in some of its assumptions and its expectations about what is really revolutionary about this technology. So I encourage you to check out some of that.
If you go to the site, there's a link to reading material generated by all of us and by others whom we respect, which will give you a fuller picture of the work that we actually do, so you can judge for yourself.
I'm Stephen Calcote, I'm a technology writer and consultant. I think that we've seen two different versions of technorealism today. One is about method, and one is almost a party-like platform. And the more powerful argument for technorealism seems to me to be method, and that there's a real danger in heading towards party platform.
For instance, when we have a position that government has an important role to play in the electronic frontier, if we go with the method, technorealists should really be saying that that question should be considered very rationally. But to come to an actual position of whether something has a role or to come to an actual position, as technorealists, on if Bill Gates wants "it all," or should the government try to step in, technorealism shouldn't really have answers to those questions. It should have strict guidelines on how to critically answer those questions.
|"Technorealism is a process; it's a means. It's not a goal."|
It's a process; it's a means. It's not, like, a goal.
If it is a process, this list should be far shorter. There should be--
Writers don't like editors, you know. ...(laughter)
It should be far shorter, not for reasons of brevity, but for reason of saying away from actually coming to an answer on anything in particular.
Biggs: I would agree that some of the points are getting into specifics and they reflect some of the individual opinions and positions that exist among us, because we're so different, that the way I approach it really is a way of thinking about things, and I may come to my own conclusion, and that may be very different than the conclusion that David comes to; in fact, I've heard some things I wouldn't necessarily agree with but I understand that they're coming from the same means of thinking, so I would actually say that the way I envision technorealism really is more, instead of a specific party line about how to approach an issue, and how to come to a resolution, so that we can all come to the same resolution, it shouldn't exist at all. It's simply that the way we come to our conclusion should be far more rational than it is right now.
Pass it back to Mitch.
It seems to me that the process level contribution of technorealism is one that is possible but difficult to have a serious disagreement with. People can disagree with anything, as anyone who's been on the Net knows.
I think what you raise is an interesting issue, and we've dealt with this for years at EFF, which is when an how do you take substantive stands? And I don't think that there's a kind of denial answer to that; but it does seem to me that one of the points one of the panel was making that really bears repetition, which is, at a certain point in time, the arguments about whether there should be an income tax or not, and how, the arguments in general, although there are people who want to abolish it still, but on the whole, the arguments are about how to make it fair and equitable.
And I think that speaks to the issue of what other kind of framing constructs, the axioms or starting points for discourse? And I think that's where, I think I'm hearing technorealism, take a stab at making a contribution to that, which is let's get beyond an earlier set of overly simple ideas, either Luddite or techno-utopian, and just say the Net is here, it has good sides and it has bad sides to it, and let us try to begin our discourse from that point.
That's a substantive point of view that is, to say that firmly and to say that that is one of the most important things to say is a new contribution. That has not been front row center, in general, in the discourse, about the Net. And that's where the originality is. And that, indeed, is substantive.
|"Fundamental to the technorealist stance is, 'Hey, there's more than one way to go about our mutual search for truth and meaning.'"|
And since I'm only going to speak once, I just want to add one more thing. I just find it ironic, almost beyond belief, that the interrogational methodology in both panels, kind of embodies, in a way, the very things that technorealism is in critique of. And I watched the kind of well mannered and well studied and highly evolved methodology, trying to pin the sucker down: "Is it this? What is it?" And trying to reduce it to something, I think in an effort to get at the deeper truth. And I think very well intentioned.
But what seems to me to be fundamental to the technorealist stance is, "Hey, there's more than one way to go about our mutual search for truth and meaning, and we really think we ought to lighten up on the kind of reductionist sort of stuff. And so I think it poses, therefore, a challenge, not just to people on the Net, and to people who are thoughtful, but to all of the professional communities, including the legal community, who are big participants and stake-holders in this. What kind of process are you going to use, as we go about all confronting these kind of questions?
It's not just about how journalism is conducted, but also, how the law is conducted. And so I would hold the hosts here to a high standard of expectation to, now that this has been put out there, how they take that into their worlds.
To comment on one thing you said, I think, sort of implicit, underneath technorealism, as well, is almost a generational shift. I think when the Net first appeared, the people who really talked about it and championed it were the people who were for whom it was like this fissure, this change, right? And then suddenly humanity was going like this, and now the Net appears and we're going to be on that way. There's a sort of bifurcation in the world, okay.
And now, I think three or four years down the line, a couple of things have happened. One is that people are accustomed to the Net now. And two, there's another generation of people who have grown up with computers who are coming of age now, for whom it's not a bifurcation. This is a natural extension of life. And once you start looking at this as a natural extension of life, then analyzing these problems, I think what we're tying to do are technorealism. It's this continuation from real life, rather than this dramatic fissure, and all the rules are different. And we have to completely re-think everything.
No, it's a continuation. And that, I think, is the valuable contribution that's implicit in here, that is a shift in the debate. And part of something that is fundamental and changing the way we look at technology.
One other thing, expanding on what Mitch was saying, too, is that, and a lot of the response to this, the sense of it being kind of centrist in its positions is that I think it's wrong to mistake the battle for the framing constructs, at the center of public debate over these issues, as a kind of centrism. Just because you're concerned about those framing constructs, and because you want to get involved in kind of setting them, doesn't necessarily make the position itself centrist. It makes the position pragmatic.
My name is Zudlow Rhea and I've worked in software for many years. I think we do need good criticism of technology and I'd like to suggest where to focus that criticism.
I think the torrent of needless complexities, which is pouring into the school rooms around the country, is perhaps one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of technology. It's disgraceful because it's the result of decades of policy, policy which you probably don't know very much about, but if you criticize, I think you should take a good look at it.
|"Just because you're concerned about those framing constructs...doesn't necessarily make the position itself centrist. It makes the position pragmatic."|
To illustrate how the policy has affected you, you might think, "How effectively could you criticize architecture, if you didn't know what was reasonable structure for a brick? How well could you criticize cars if you didn't know that wheels should be round?" Ask yourself, do you know what's a reasonable structure for a data object? I don't think you do. And the reason is or of the policy, which has been creating a great deal of ignorance and confusion for many years.
So, wait a minute, I didn't really get point. What's the point?
That there are some things that really need to be criticized, mainly corporate policies, but with the help from lots of university faculties also, everybody has a vested interest in complexity, as of the basic problems, I think. And as a result, a torrent of complexity is being dumped on the school kids right now.
It's absolutely true. I completely agree with you. I mean, we've created this opaque technologies that are increasingly opaque. And the problem with schools and wiring the schools, to some degree, is the fact that we are not teaching them to be computer literate, in the sense of understanding how computers work and how technology works; we're teaching them to use computers to get other kinds of tasks done.
So, you know, you go to the computer room and it's all about using the CD ROM to look at a dinosaur, to write the paper and this and that. But at the end of the day, they don't understand how the technology works. And they're not educated in this very important part of our world. And the continuing opacity of the technology, keeps people out. It raises the bar higher and higher, so that the thirteen-year-old can't understand, let alone, the twenty-five- or the forty-five-year-old.
And part of that, I think, comes out of some of the early marketing language that was used to market Wired magazine, played up the "way new" aspects of it. Louis wrote that the Digital Revolution was a "Bengali typhoon, sweeping away everything that we know." And actually that was very astute marketing language, because what it communicated was, "This is new, it's so new it's slightly frightening. We have the secret, come read our magazine." And it worked very well to position Wired.
However, it contributed to the notion that the Net is something that can't really be understood, that it's so new that only, maybe your weird kids can understand it. And that it's not an extension of the efforts to communicate and understand other people's lives and share information that anyone can understand. And one of the things I think that we're trying to do is build bridges to the past, ...(laughter) from the future, and from the present. So that we understand what impulses that are very deep in human nature, the Net expresses.
If you go back and look at that original Vannevar Bush memex essay that started so much of the Information Age, it is so different from Wired's tone. I mean that essay is so connected to the kind of history of human knowledge and understanding, and the continuity that's expressed there is incredibly moving and absolutely unthinkable in so many contexts now, in which technology is discussed and create.
Another one here.
My name is Laura Slapikoff and I work in the ITS Department here at the Law School. I just, addressing the question of looking at technorealism, as a platform, versus a method, I just wanted to say that one of the most interesting points that I heard made here today was the question of developing a word, "technorealism," to express someone who's enthusiastic about technology, but also is skeptical. I think that a lot of the arguments being made here today, as a part of the evolution of thinking about technology and the Web, will become more and more a part of public discourse.
I think that that's natural, that things start off being talked about as extremes, and then, as more people become informed and aware, the discussion moves more towards a level of reasonability that isn't initially there. It seems to me that the credit to all of you, a lot of that goes for just making up the word that can now become a part of the vocabulary of English, because this is where it originated; whether it gets translated or whatever, is another question. But I think that's a wonderful thing and that is evolutionary, in and of itself.
And we're going to waive the fee for using the word for the first five years. So feel free to use it all you want, ...(laughter)
Hi, my name is David Marglin and I'm a fellow here at the Center. And to sort of "piggy back" on that point, what's interesting to me is the aspirational characteristics and not the process part of it. Sure process has to be part of the discussion, but if you were just reactive, then I don't think it's any better than being utopian, which is, cyber utopians are reacting to something that they see, as are Luddites. Those are both reactive.
And what I was hoping is that, just like the action of making up a word, that you were going to be active, that the real part was doing things and seeing how they work. So to pick up what you said earlier, David, there are choices. And it's not just about saying to people, "Hey, wake up, you have choices." But it's actually making come of those choices.
It's actually figuring out things that you can do. So much of the law, unfortunately, is what we think of at this point, is reactive. There's a problem, there's a CDA, and then we fight it.
A pensive moment in the audience
But really, what you guys are about is thinking about what should the laws be? Or what should positions be? And helping people to get there. Not necessarily concluding; you're just starting. But what I'm hoping is that you'll come out of this with a sense of what are the actions that we want to take, as a group? And you're all well positioned, you're all articulate. You all have platforms from which you can speak, not only together, but alone. So I hope that you'll find things to do with technorealism. Like making up a word, making up other things.
I think the point of this panel is that we already are doing that. We are all very involved with the Net and doing things in practice that exemplify what we think about it.
Go to FEEDmag.com. ...(laughter) I think FEED is one of, and I don't work for FEED; I happen to read it, but I think that FEED and FEEDmag.com is one of the most clear embodiments of the technorealist process that I've ever seen, from the level of inventing new kinds of hyper links to inventing software to allow annotation and discussion of documents. I think FEED is one of the most important things that the Web has ever produced. And it's very much in keeping with what I think the Web should be.
I think it's important, also, to say that we're not the only technorealists. I mean, we thought of this, maybe we put the spotlight, with some of the celebrity we have among us, to put the spotlight on it, but really, like Andrew had said, it's a silent majority, and there's a lot of people out there who have the same kinds of things to say, and the same thoughts that just haven't been articulated in public before. So it's not simply us going out and being activists for this point of view. It's just saying, "You're not alone out there, if you think you don't belong in either camp, in either extreme."
My name is Jim Harper and I'm a psychologist and I've found that there's a lot things in my field that are misunderstood and that's what led me to publish on the Web, actually. And I think this issue of process versus aspirations is really important, to "piggy back" what other people are saying. And I think an important thing is that these aren't just frameworks that you're talking about, but they're moral frameworks.
You're talking about decisions, and values, and I think part of technorealism needs to be not just helping educate people about what is this technology, but clearly articulating the values that inform corporate decisions, government decisions, so being very clear that, maybe a libertarian position has its own values and maybe it's colluding with corporate values in certain ways that haven't been acknowledged, for example, and that it's very, very important to articulate the moral frameworks that we have to choose from in our policy choices and the values, not just the data and not just, there is not disengaged reason. You have to help articulate the value choices we have as a society and I think you're doing that. I just wanted to state that explicitly, and if anybody has any comments about that.
Two more questions: One here.
I'm just an innocent first year law student, so don't bother with me but-- ...(laughter)
I'm just a country lawyer. ...(laughter)
The thing I see with technorealism, it starts in the word, is that it proposes to set itself in opposition to all these other things, not because it has a different set of ideas, or because it has a different philosophy, but because it is the one that claims to be a science, that claims as Professor Zittrain was saying, the whole rationale, "be careful, be sensible" philosophy. And it seems like it's doing that by shrinking the available mode of discourse.
The whole world has been compacted into Luddites, utopians and technorealism. And by doing that, it seems to exclude a whole lot of ideas. As one example of this whole process, I'd have to say my favorite one is number one on this little list, the idea information is not knowledge, which seems to easily be excluding concepts like, "You can learn from things that don't qualify as knowledge."
Just the idea that because technorealism has a grounding in what you call the actual, the real, the thing that's going to happen, somehow sets its perspective beyond that, of the other ideas, the other cultures, as the Australian gentleman across the aisle was speaking about, that what is the idea of information not being knowledge, or even better yet, intellectual property, to an American Indian, or to somebody in Japan or to somebody in China, who isn't really considered on this Internet.
Pass it right down to Andrew, right in front there.
My name is Andrew Ehrlich and I'm a student at the Law School. I'm left feeling unsatisfied by a question that Mr. Zittrain asked earlier, which was, "What is a proposal or a piece of legislation that you'd offer?" I understand technorealism as a platform, as a way of thinking of the world, so I guess I'd be interested, understanding there's not a monolithic, technorealism response, to some of your reactions to the question that was posed up above about issues of equity, issues of will technology, particularly, in the direction that it's developed now, somewhat uncoordinated, in something of a haphazard fashion, drive a wedge in American society, what would a technorealist, or you as a individual technorealist, say to that? And how would you process that question?
I think there's two areas that, in terms of actual legislation, and again, I'm just going to speak for myself right now, because we haven't had a pow-wow about this whole thing, but there's two basic principles about service space in the Internet that seem incredibly crucial, and right now, these exist and right now, market forces have continued to allow them to exist, thank God, because they're terrific, and one of them is the two-way nature of the medium, that essentially, for a very low cost, we can all be broadcasters. Right now, you can get HotMail or Juno, Majordomo, you can get free home pages. There's a pressure in the marketplace right now, to give people this ability to broadcast, and I think that is crucial, because that is what makes the Internet an interesting medium. Without that, it's just TV with hypertext or something like that equivalent.
|"Will the Net inevitably drive a deeper wedge between rich and poor?"|
Now, if we saw a situation where the marketplace was no longer able to guarantee, for whatever reason, that two-way process, I could be very interested in seeing legislation that would somehow guarantee that that two-way channel stay open. And the second area is the whole idea of an open computer network. At this point, the Internet is fundamentally an open network, in that things in inter- community at that underlying structure, TCP/IP and the stuff that comes with that is fundamentally open in that, okay, it doesn't really belong to anyone.
Now if we see a movement toward this balkanization of the whole things being fractured along these kind of toll roads and so forth, at some point, that might be worth stepping into, and the principle being that, no, the network should be almost like public property, like there should be this basic level of commodity which is owned by no one, which is the simple network infrastructure at the core level. So those are two examples that I think of.
I would say that you'd have to be really careful about thinking of the Internet as not being a toll road, and we haven't gotten into this and this is sort of my own pet issue, is access. The majority of people actually don't have Internet access. And, therefore, when we're talking about a public discourse, talking about public airwaves and so forth, we're talking about a very small portion of the public. If you asked me personally what kind of legislation I'd like to see, I'd probably like to see some kind of subsidy supplying public Internet access to the disenfranchised. I think before you can even talk about it being a democratic medium, it has to be inclusive and, at this point, it isn't.
Well, perhaps money for public libraries ...(inaudible) public schools, as a way of achieving some sort of public access for the disenfranchised ...(inaudible).
I'd prefer not to have to make that choice.
...(inaudible) I mean, wouldn't you picture it as a ways of achieving that?
Well, I'm not a legislator; I'm just saying that's how I'm approaching it.
...(inaudible) --that was a ridiculous suggestion. I'm trying to think of a more realistic way of achieving some form of offering access to the disenfranchised.
I'll tell you what. Last comment here from Barlow, and then we'll wrap it up.
Barlow: I just wanted to say something. You know, Mark Twain said that history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme a lot. And as Mitch here was talking about his recollection of the beginnings of EFF and I was continuously having this sense of déjà vu, both reading your document and attending these proceedings, I decided to go back to the thing that Mitch and I wrote when we started the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1991, which is quite a while ago in the Internet years, I guess.
And just an excerpt from it, which I think you will find sort of familiar, on the strength of today's discourse: Modern economies are increasingly divided between those who are comfortable and proficient with digital technology, and those who neither understand nor trust it. In essence, this development disenfranchises the later group, denying them the possibility of citizenship and participation in the future. Until a successful effort is made to render the harsh and mysterious terrain suitable for ordinary inhabitants, friction between these two worlds will worse. Constitutional protections, indeed, that perceive legitimacy of representative government itself may gradually disappear. We can not allow this to happen unchallenged, and so arise the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
In addition to our legal interventions on behalf of those whose rights are threatened, we will: A, engage in and support efforts to educate both the general public and policy makers about the opportunities and challenges posed by developments in computing and telecommunications; B, encourage communication between the developers of technology, government, corporate officials, and the general public, in which we might define the appropriate metaphors and legal concepts for life in cyberspace; and C, foster the development of new tools, which will endow non-technical users full and easy access to computer-based telecommunications. That was July of 1991.
All right, two other orders of business here: First I'd like to ask Jonathan if you would offer your closing remarks.
There's definitely a few ironies. There are ironies that, indeed, the mode of discourse today, given the limited time period, I mean, three hours is a long time, you can sink a ship in that time, but of course things boil down to sound bites. I saw during the break, reporters mobbing you guys, scribbling down notes, as you would say, sound bites. I mean it's unavoidable. And it's true, also, that companion to that is the desire to want to take information and make it into knowledge, to take all the data that's out there, the bombarding of words and things and try go boil it down to, "Okay, let's be realists. What are you talking about? What does this mean?"
Now the question can be asked in a snide way. and actually, many of you may not have seen it. There's a place on the technorealist site, where people can be giving comments and talking back and forth, and I must say, it really has, engendered, as Larry said, a lot of reaction. There's a lot of people out there that, somehow are just gravely offended by this. And I must admit, I don't know why.
You might be exaggerating that, really. I mean, there are some people, The Well's job is to be skeptical, and I've heard some ill winds blowing from the well. But you know. Feel free, I don't care, I mean go for it.
I sent it out to, what, 5,000 people; I got fifteen people saying, "Cool, it's great." and one saying, "Ugh."
Okay, I guess I had just seen, just before I came over, a particularly loud rant from Declan McCullaugh, who you may know.
thought that was a very valuable statement, a wonderful statement, and partly a justification for this, that kind of statement.
Indeed. So I guess what I want to offer is, first a recognition of the irony that in order to figure out where the boundaries are, one has to poke; one has to push at it. And one would do well not to object to the fact that one is being pushed and prodded a little bit, even as some of the prodders are quite insistent.
And the second irony, of course, is as technorealists, as people who don't want to give sound bites. You want to tell the whole story. You want to provide content, yet as creatures of the media, even the new media, you know, it's really hard to do. That's why you coin a phrase, "technorealism." It's snappy. It's also why you end up coining other phrases: neo-Luddites, technorealists, techno-utopians, etc., etc.
So I think, maybe the proper way to round out it to briefly give you all an opportunity to say, mindful of the time, whatever you want to inject, to say, "I guess, how would you want technorealism to be covered?" How can we prevent technorealism from the true irony of becoming, itself, merely a blurb, a sound bite, just a thing that says, "Be real, be curious, be smart."
Listen, I think that's a thing to talk about at cocktail parties. If we start down that road, we're going to be here for longer than we ought to be here.
You said something about a cocktail party?
I did. This is the second order of business. Immediately following this event, there is a party at my house, to which I invite you all. Now, I'm not quite sure whether it's so easy to get to my house, in the rain; it's a walk. Sarah has a map for anyone who'd like to come. And I'd be delighted to have you. It's about a five minute walk from here, a seven minute walk. Following the map, you can get lost and it can take much longer.
|"I think the most important thing...that we teach at law school, is the question, 'Who are you and what are you doing?' And so I love this event."|
Second from me, I'd love to have all of these sheets that you've done, and if you want to use the sheet to put a comment, just whatever you want to say to us on the sheet, I'd be delighted to have that. And if you want to sign the sheet, that's up to you, but if it's left unsigned, that's also fine. And it may be that the more interesting of these will find their way to the Web site, so if you are unwilling to share it, then don't bother to hand it in.
And last, let me just close on a note that I would like to be personally clear on. I think the most important thing, in a sense, that we teach at law school, is the question, "Who are you and what are you doing?" And so I love this event. This event to me was just a great event. It's just what you all said. You came up with a wonderful name and it just was a hook. And it suddenly focused people on asking the question, "Who are we and what are we doing?" To me, that's an enormously valuable undertaking. So I want to thank Andrew; I want to thank all the people who came up for this event, all of the technorealists, all of the techno-surrealists.
And I hope to see you very shortly at our party. Can we thank Sarah Hancur for doing a lot of work on this too? (applause) I declare the meeting adjourned. (applause)
[end of tape]
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