Unsafe is safer. (18).

It sounds like Orwellian doublespeak but in this case its not.

Zittrain shows that drivers in the Netherlands behave more responsibly on the street when they have an incentive to preserve other people’s safety as well as their own in the absence of signs and the presence of generalized rules, such as yielding to cars on your right at an intersection.

Signs and complex rules dehumanize our interaction. When we have to rely on our own minds for public safety (out of a commonly shared self interest), then we re-humanize our roads. We “see other drivers rather than other cars.”

Zittrain ties this analogy to the Internet. On one extreme, corporations are using every legal tool they can to reign in copyright abuses, and on the other, hackers do their best to defeat copyright and spread “illegal” files as much as possible. In the middle are all the things academics love. Fair use, cultural creation, personal expression, and community building.

How can a place where both extremes operate settle more towards the middle ground and allow the Internet to survive?

The secret, like in the Netherlands, is to make a depersonalized space human again. So, Zittrain asks, “What are the online tools and social structures that inspire people to act humanely online?”

Zittrain uses Wikipedia to show that standards, instead of rules, can reach a consensus through online discussion and democratic voting.


All we need now is a centralized giant forum which guides Internet standards. By the people for the people. Holla!

a humane death

a humane death

Published in: on March 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Little brothers. Life casters. Advanced State/Corporate Surveillance of your Vision (and possibly, Mind or Private Thoughts). (17)

Rob Spence claims to be educating us on how society is sleepwalking into a new era of invasive state and corporate surviellance.

camera for an eye
camera for an eye

By installing a prosthetic eye with a miniature camera into his unused eye socket (his eye was damaged in a shotgun accident as a kid) Spence will be able to record his life unbeknownst to those around him and broadcast it to the web. See: EYEBORG– The Two Week Trial.

But when Spence says he is trying to educate the public on the dangers of surveillance, he is leaving out the dangerous effects an invention like this can have on the very same public. He, and others attempting similar projects, are creating a new method to introduce invasive state and corporate surveillance into people’s public and private lives.

What happens when you marry Jon Zittrain’s nightmare of tethered appliances (see my previous post) with Spence’s new contraption and advanced software which can recognize faces and read the images in a person’s mind?

Nothing too horrible you say. But that’s here in the western world where we have constitutional rights (which can always be illegally broken through secret warrants – also addressed in my previous post).

What about in special states like North Korea, China, or Russia where trouncing citizens’ rights is a societal norm. An advanced and much scarier version of 1984 is the short answer.

Imagine a world where children are born genetically coded to be missing one eye. A bionic eye is installed and can be accessed by the corporate / state hegemony at anytime, and is always recording video. The implant can also scan the brain for recognizable thought patterns to foresee dissent before it takes root in the mind. Private space will collapse and our ability to defy public social norms will evaporate.

Of course the danger of these doom and gloom theories is always their overstatement. Spence’s prototype still isn’t functional yet and I’ve already predicted the downfall of free private thought. The technology is a ways off but it doesn’t mean its impossible.

All I’m saying is Spence should be more cognizant of the future he is altering and the potentially dangerous effects his invention will have for the freedom of private thought and life.


Rob Spence. Little Brother. http://www.eyeborgblog.com/.

Rob Spence. Documentaries. http://robspence.tv/main.html

Eyeborg. http://tanyavlach.wordpress.com/

Life Caster. http://www.justin.tv/justin

Bionic eye gives man sight. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7919645.stm

Mind-reading software. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16267-mindreading-software-could-record-your-dreams.html

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Your cell phone is also a homing device. (16).

While I laid out in my last post why I do not believe there is much legitimate evidence to suggest that we are approaching an en masse shift from PCs to tethered appliances, Zittrain’s analysis of the heretofore abuses of tethered appliances is worthy of attention.

When control over a technology resides in the engineer or corporation, Zittrain shows that this control can be abused by the state or corporation by taking remote control of the device, altering its functionality, or listening in on unsuspecting people.

Connected technologies like cell phones, OnStar, satellite TVs or Digital Video Recorders, or any internet or satellite connected system are especially vulnerable to remote control by the corporate controller.

Zittrain shows that in the U.S. the police have obtained secret warrants to spy on people without their knowledge via cell phones and car GPS systems like OnStar.

Connected technologies can be turned on remotely without you being aware and used as a microphone and GPS tracker to listen in and follow you.

Perhaps in the future, higher quality video cameras on cell phones will be exploited in the same manner – allowing privacy invaders to further exploit facial recognition software to track down and identify those they seek.

What this leads to is a reduction in the balance between public generated resistance of corporate and state surveillance. To resist unfair and invasive surveillance we must be aware of it. That cell phones and other connected technologies can be used as a surveillance device is not well known in the public mind.

By making surveillance secret the state is infringing on the public’s right to know when and how they are being watched, followed, or listened to.

cell phones can also be programmed to watch people remotely
cell phones can also be programmed to watch people remotely

~ Surveillance Links ~

Cell Phone Video Surveillance Monitoring. http://www.security-int.com/categories/video-surveillance/cell-phone-video-surveillance.asp

Halcon Surveillance software – facial recognition. http://www.halcon.de/halcon/applications/application.pl?name=surveillance

Only 13 States have Laws against cameras in dressing rooms. http://delsonic.wordpress.com/2008/03/15/americans-caught-on-surveillance-video-200-times-per-day-only-13-states-have-laws-against-cameras-in-dressing-rooms-and-bathrooms-look-feature-film-to-open-nationally-on-march-21/

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  

Hey Jon, I’m not convinced. (15)

I do not share Jonathan Zittrain’s fear about the precarious future of a generative Internet, because as far as I can tell there is no mass paranoia about viruses driving a switch from PCs to tethered appliances. That is not to say that a watershed virus affecting international security or combined with a terrorist attack couldn’t change the current apathy towards computer security.

But sometimes when I’m reading his book, the number of times he repeats the problem – that the Internet’s generative design is also its downfall – makes me wonder why he chose the topic he did. It takes 127 PAGES and SIX CHAPTERS to even get around the TOPIC of solutions. And I haven’t even heard any definite ones yet!

Perhaps I am patently unaware of the impending doom. If not, then book sales seems to trump relevance or the possibility that the Internet will change significantly in the near future. An imaginary fear which can be sold in a way to sound legitimate is always a great way to sell a book. But Zittrain hasn’t even legitimated the fears.

Quoting one anti-virus insider and a bunch of virus statistics does not a convincing argument make. Due to automatic virus definition updates, a dangerous virus can usually be quashed rather quickly as long as users have anti-virus software installed.

If he had shown a trend from PCs to tethered appliances rather than solely arguing that people will be tempted to move to safer platforms then I would be more inclined to share his fear.

I do know of a trend in the gaming community away from PCs towards gaming consoles like the PS3 and the XBOX 360. But this trend was accelerated by cheaper prices rather than fears about the generative PC. As the processing power of PCs outperform consoles and their prices stabilize, it is logical to expect a trend back towards the PC.

All of that being said, my next post will tackle some of the reasons we should be afraid of tethered appliances, had Zittrain made a more convincing and statistically backed appeal.

more lame ... but just as plausible

more lame ... but just as plausible

Published in: on March 24, 2009 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Jonathan Zittrain and The Generative Dilemma (14).

Given that the bulk of PCs are windows based and Microsoft’s horrible security track record, Zittrain finds it shocking how little “truly disruptive security incidents” have arisen since 1988.

But what Zittrain tries to paint a picture of is that times are changing rapidly for the worse. A new era of malware and parasitic computer viruses have begun their attacks.

While the previous viruses of the 1990s did cause “billions of dollars” in lost productivity, they were fairly innocuous in that they did not destroy data or interfere in international politics or security.

But now botnets are threatening to break that trend:

  • 1997 – 100 to 150 million computers infected
  • 2007 – 10 million computers infected according to Message Labs, 30 million according to Damballa
  • Zombie computers produce 80 % of the world’s spam
  • Botnets attack online gambling sites to extort money, $50,000 / day
  • 2003 – Sobig.f virus – 70% of all the world’s email in 2 days
  • 2004 – Sasser worm – 500,000 computers in 3 days
  • 2006 – U.S. Department of State infected weeks before North Korea’s missile tests

A botnet is a virus which infects a computer and uses it in a network of others (usually by email) to solicit other computers to join in the infected network. They spread with incredible speed and eat up internet bandwidth and slow down computers.

Due to the fact that incidents double each year, Zittrain predicts that anti-virus companies will not be able to keep up with the spread. He is trying to foreshadow an impending watershed virus attack the likes of Live Free or Die Hard whose fear will cause people to turn from the generative Internet and PC to tethered appliances controlled by corporations.

All it takes is one bad-ass virus and Bruce Willis and some kid will have to save us. That and iPhones will replace the PC.

All it takes is one bad-ass virus and Bruce Willis and some smart alec kid will have to save us. That and iPhones will replace the PC.

Published in: on March 23, 2009 at 8:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Accounting for Active Reception Theory versus a re-engagement with Manipulation. (13).

The work of Stuart Hall advocates a continuum between three possible readings of a text:

1. Domination – the reader takes in the meaning of the sender exactly as it was intended and does not change it in his mind in anyway.

2. Negotiation – the reader takes in the meaning and changes it to match his own internal “radar” map he has generated on account of his experiences and beliefs.

3. Refutation – the reader rejects or drastically alters the meaning of the text to be used against the sender or posited as a contradiction to the sender’s text.

Now you might have noticed that I have reinterpreted Hall’s three modes of reading as a good negotiating reader should and stated them in my own words. And in keeping with Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety they aren’t exactly what Hall meant to say but they don’t stray too far. I’m not arguing with him but at the same time I don’t completely agree with this simplified continuum model.

I would argue that the plethora of possible reading modes along and outside of this continuum are so vast that it would be un-blog like to list them all here. But I do want to make a few things clearer.

What is important to question active reception theory on is the actual amount of active reception presently occurring in our society.

Is popular culture really being taken into the minds of citizens and reinterpreted and reused to their benefit? Who is really winning in the corporation versus consumer trade?

To make it easier lets make a (by no means complete) list.

Large organizations like corporations and governments have on their side:

  • The judicial system
  • Advertising system
  • Oligopolistic media system
  • Ownership of private property
  • Accumulation of capital
  • Dominant (market) ideology

Consumers have:

  • Time to work and money to spend
  • Their own versions of cultural production
  • Rent or mortgage payments
  • Limited spaces for dissent
  • Coercive and seductive “coerseductive” intra-personal networks
  • Active reception (manipulation, negotiation, or rejection)

What active reception theory doesn’t account for is the power of the cooperation between the systems listed for large organizations to agree on preferred meanings and the homogeneous results we see in consumption pattern’s and uses and interpretations of popular culture.

Neither does it account for the social pre-conditioning that capitalism’s market ideology accomplishes in the infant mind that reduces the ability of future adults to negotiate or reject preferred meanings into different spaces of thought.

Even a recognition of the impressive power of coer-seductive intra-personal networks over corporate speech does not account for the possibility that the large majority of Western society’s intra-personal networks already believe in and actively support the dominant market ideology.

There is evidence for both sides, but the weight of evidence seems to tip the scales in Strangelove’s favour. A re-engagement with the theory of mass manipulation is depressing and unpopular. But if we are going to be honest with ourselves, it is at the very least necessary.

Published in: on March 23, 2009 at 7:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Notion of Authenticity: Internet Sex Video, Cyber blackmail, and Privacy. Part 2. (12) (video 5)

~ Part 1Part 2 ~

What we have here is a multi-textual event which can be experienced and read by the Youtube viewer in several different ways.

Especially relevant to this event is Michel Foucault’s idea that “It is no longer a question simply of saying what was done—the sexual act—and how it was done; but of reconstructing, in and around the act, the thoughts that recapitulated it, the obsessions that accompanied it, the images, desires, modulations, and quality of the pleasure that animated it” (p. 63).

Some aspects of this multi-textual event:

  • The majority of videos which have emerged from users condemn Cap’n for his publication of the sex video against a woman’s will.
  • Many users have commented on Fakesagan’s and Oshunavani’s channels expressing their sorrow for Oshunavani’s embarrassment and public shaming.
  • Other users have requested the web address of the pornographic images of Oshunavani, openly signaling a lack of compassion for the victim.
  • Still other users have made the point that Oshunavani was foolish to record a digital sex video.
  • Yet still others have made the point that the whole event has been over-dramatized and claim that they see nothing interesting about being involved in such a drama.
  • A user can experience the drama played out on Youtube by seeing the videos and images associated with the dramatic event. It is more authentic and dare I say more entertaining than any reality TV show could ever dream of being.
  • At the same time, the “realness” of it means there are real victims and real psychological and physical consequences to actions in the virtual community.
  • Fakesagan, usually a promoter of rational thinking and free speech, has found himself at odds with an abusive act of free speech, and has promised legal consequences and has both requested and hinted at physical retribution.
  • At the same time, TheAmazingAtheist has claimed that Fakesagan cannot truly express himself on Youtube without crossing some legal boundaries by threatening Kevin’s life. He also points out that while it is possible to be entertained by the drama, that is is not just a “Youtube drama” but a real event played out in video.
  • Most importantly, a human being has been the victim of public humiliation, and, according to her boyfriend, is in a depressed state and has not left her bed since the release of the images.

What is interesting about this event is the dynamics of confession and the pre-formed discourse which states that private sexual acts are seen as shameful when they are made public. Even though most of those who see the video do not know Oshunavani and those who she does know will most likely express compassion towards her, the trauma was immediate and a victimized position was assumed.

What is intensely ironic about this event is that the primary popularization of the pornographic images came through one of the victim’s (Fakesagan’s) account of the drama and the audience’s reaction. As Capnoawesome’s Youtube profile has been closed, there is little other publicity associated with the porn images. Fakesagan’s decision to break his Youtube blackout was perhaps shortsighted. Although, Cap’n might not have closed his account if Fakesagan had not made threatening video replies.

If Fakesagan and the audience which has largely condemned Capnoawesome deleted their videos, perhaps Oshunavani would be spared some publicity.

My apologies go out to Oshunavani for any additional humiliation the publication of this blog may cause. I do not mean to popularize the drama associated with this event, merely to analyze its functioning in relation to the powerful discursive forces all of us face during our every day lives.



Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction. Retrieved from: http://web.missouri.edu/~materert/434/Foucault.html

My first Youtube video

How to fake your death online through the eyes of Zizek

Higher quality version available on Vimeo.

An analysis of how suicide, amateur online video production, and the notion of the ‘reality of the virtual’ can come together with the help of such intellectuals as Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Albert Camus, and Slavoj Zizek.


Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles of The Metaphysic of Morals. Chapter 2 retrieved from: http://www.bartleby.com/32/603.html

Mill, John Stuart. (1859). On Liberty. Chapter 5 retrieved from: http://www.bartleby.com/130/5.html

Camus, Albert. (1942). The Myth of Sisyphus. Chapter 4 retrieved from: http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/hell/camus.html

Zizek, Slavoj. Lecture: The Reality of the Virtual. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5b_Q_KOGqE

Video Footage retrieved from Youtube in Order of Appearance

“Mrnick1990 commits suicide live on camera!!!!” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciWP-zjeRdQ

“Suicide on Webcam” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE-aBIaUSVg

“Sad Real Suicide” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jlsk19DdYgs

“Faris Suicide!” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uA2Rd1hBYg

Fla. Teen Commits Suicide With Live Web Audience” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhCH9mt0Pow

Published in: on February 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Notion of Authenticity: Internet Sex Video, Cyber blackmail, and Privacy. Part 1. (11) (video 4)

A recent drama which unfolded in the virtual Youtube community is at the same time part cautionary fable and part illustration of the dynamics of Internet rule breaking and making – the exercise of ethics and the discourses of confession, truth, shame, and vengeance.

If what Fakesagan claims is true, the drama went something like this…

Some time ago a user named Capnoawesome (Kevin) and Oshunavani hooked up, and recorded their sexual adventures on digital video.

Then along came a user named Fakesagan, who stole away Oshunavani with his niceness and principled openness versus Capnoawesome’s apparent neurotic behaviour and abusive control.

Cap’n and Fakesagan began an online spat the details of which I know little, suffice to say a spat which culminated in Cap’n calling for a boxing match.

Later, frightened by Fakesagan’s superior intellect and physical size, Cap’n blackmailed Oshunavani into silencing Fakesagan’s attacks and calls for a physical confrontation. If Fakesagan did not stop his online effrontery then Cap’n would release the digital video and images of Oshunavani having sex to his sizeable Youtube audience of 20,000 subscribers.

Oshunavani convinced her boyfriend Fakesagan to halt his campaign against Cap’n and the videos and images were not released at the time.

But Oshunavani’s immense fear of being publicly humiliated was not put to rest as Cap’n arbitrarily decided to release the images on Feb. 9/09 (not a link to the images, but a cache of his video diary) on Encyclopedia Dramatica, making it unlikely that they will ever be removed.

Previously unaware of the blackmail or the sex video, Fakesagan reacted to Cap’n in an emotional and authentic manner on his Youtube account:

“If I really believed you could make that shit go away I would do whatever the fuck you wanted. I would leave Youtube … I would say I’m a bitch … and Kevin is a big man. But you can’t make that shit go away. A million people have fucking downloaded it so if you take it down its going to be up again in five minutes. You have no power to reverse this and you have nothing left to blackmail me with. My videos are the only fucking revenge I am going to get.”

In one particularly emotional and authentic moment, Fakesagan says “I’ll wear gloves, I’ll tie a fucking arm behind my back… I will walk into an ambush. I don’t give a shit if I get my ass kicked. I just want to feel my fucking fist connect with your face one God damn time! … You said you didn’t put that shit on the Internet to hurt Oshun. Bullshit! You fucking humiliated her!”

In a later video, Fakesagan swears that Kevin will face consequences. If not criminal or civil charges, then he says the matter will “be settled” otherwise. Presumably in a physical confrontation.

~ Analysis Continued in Part 2 ~

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 9:22 pm  Comments (4)  

Scamming the internet. Ethically and economically bankrupt. (10)

Its tempting to think of the Internet in idealistic terms. The lack of censorship and the ability to create content without advanced knowledge or training has created a system fundamentally different from corporatist television.

But have these underlying values resulted in a system that democracy advocates dream of at night after heavy doses of tvo and davos debates?

A relatively old post by viral marketeer Dan Greenberg should lead some people to say … probably not.

One of the main complaints of Marxists and cultural critics of corporate programming is that the content of a TV program, news story, or music video has all but ceased to matter. As long as it doesn’t offend sponsors and generates revenue, objective and balanced information falls by the wayside.

But the ranking systems popular to Internet video sites like Youtube aren’t much better, and have led net-savvy marketers like Greenberg to declare that “Content is NOT King.”

In place of content stereotypical titles, tags and thumbnails attached to videos are the greatest predictors of popularity. Add in some paid-for fake commenting, blogging and e-mail forwarding to take advantage of the system and you have yourself a contagious hit.

But the ethical and economic consequences of this are saddening. Of the 500,000 to 2 million user generated videos uploaded everyday only a few might get lucky enough to be featured on Youtube’s front page and receive mainstream exposure. The fake videos with a team of viral marketers behind them have the advantage of a high exposure to budget/talent/political relevance ratio.

Economically speaking a system which profits those who can generate fake attention shows just how low advertisers have to go. It may be easy to trick consumers but they probably won’t enjoy it in the long term. The corporations who employ this type of marketing, if caught, could stand to lose reputation, and rightly so.

From a media ethics point of view the stereotypes employed are of the lowest caliber. They contribute to a stereotypical view of gender, race, sexual orientation, and often reduce human nature and experiences to an objectified status. Giving them more attention through viral marketing just aggravates the problem.


Youtube's most viewed videos of all time are a good example of the stereotypically offensive images and titles that lead to viral "success."

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 8:41 pm  Comments (1)