Category Archives: hacker

why are screens square?

More from the archive, I’m afraid; but I’ve quoted this so often in the last year that it merits repeating.
A video of Jo Walsh, a simultaneously near-invisible and near-legendary hacker I met through the University of Openess in London, talking about FOAF, Web3.0, geospatial data, the ‘One Ring To Rule Them All’ tendency of so-called ‘social media’ and the philosophies of making tech tools.
“Why are screens square?”, she asks. What follows is less a set of theories as a meditation on what happens when you start trying to think back through the layers of toolmaking that go into a piece of paper, a pen, a screen, a keyboard – the media we use to represent ourselves, and that we agree to pretend are transparent. This then becomes the starting-point for another meditation on who owns, or might own, our digital future.
(High-quality video so takes a little while to load)

GAM3R 7H30RY: a work in progress… in progress

McKenzie Wark

I’m pleased to report that the institute is gearing up for another book-blog experiment to run alongside Mitchell Stephens’ ongoing endeavor at Without Gods — this one a collaboration with McKenzie Wark, professor of cultural and media studies at the New School and author most recently of A Hacker Manifesto. Ken’s next book, Gamer Theory, is an examination of single-player video games that comes out of the analytic tradition of the Frankfurt School (among other influences). Unlike Mitch’s project (a history of atheism), Ken’s book is already written — or a draft of it anyway — so in putting together a public portal, we are faced with a very different set of challenges.
As with Hacker Manifesto, Ken has written Gamer Theory in numbered paragraphs, a modular structure that makes the text highly adaptable to different formats and distribution schemes — be it RSS syndication, ebook, or print copy. We thought the obvious thing to do, then, would be to release the book serially, chunk by chunk, and to gather commentary and feedback from readers as it progressed. The trouble is that if you do only this — that is, syndicate the book and gather feedback — you forfeit the possibility of a more free-flowing discussion, which could end up being just as valuable (or more) as the direct critique of the book. After all, the point of this experiment is to expose the book to the collective knowledge, experience and multiple viewpoints of the network. If new ideas are to be brought to light, then there ought to be ways for readers to contribute, not just in direct response to material the author has put forth, but in their own terms (this returns us to the tricky proprietary nature of blogs that Dan discussed on Monday).
So for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hashing out a fairly ambitious design for a web site — a blog, but a little more complicated — that attempts to solve (or at least begin to solve) some of the problems outlined above. Our first aim was to infuse the single-author book/blog with the democratic, free-fire discussion of list servers — a feat, of course, that is far easier said than done. Another concern, simply from an interface standpoint, was to find ways of organizing the real estate of the screen that are more intuitive for reading.
Another thing we’ve lamented about blogs, and web sites in general, is their overwhelming verticality. Vertical scrolling fields — an artifact of supercomputer terminals and the long spools of code they spit out — are taken for granted as the standard way to read online. But nowhere was this ordained as the ideal interface — in fact it is designed more for machines than for humans, yet humans are the users on the front end. Text does admittedly flow down, but we read left to right, and its easier to move your eye across a text that is fixed than one that is constantly moving. A site we’ve often admired is The International Herald Tribune, which arranges its articles in elegant, fixed plates that flip horizontally from one to the next. With these things in mind, we set it as a challenge for ourselves to try for some kind of horizontally oriented design for Ken’s blog.
There’s been a fairly rigorous back and forth on email over the past two weeks in which we’ve wrestled with these questions, and in the interest of working in the open, we’ve posted the exchange below (most of it anyway) with the thought that it might actually shed some light on what happens — from design and conceptual standpoints — when you try to mash up two inherently different forms, the blog and the book. Jesse has been the main creative force behind the design, and he’s put together a lovely annotated page explaining the various mockups we’ve developed over the past week. If you read the emails (which are can be found directly below this paragraph) you will see that we are still very much in the midst of figuring this out. Feedback would be much appreciated. (See also GAM3R 7H30RY: part 2).

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copyright lawyers remain richest professionals

Or so is the case in Korea, where the custodians of intellectual property law ranked first (apparently for the sixth straight year) in a recent personal income survey. An interesting nugget blown down the pipeline from Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, in an article barely longer than its headline. Though I am only able to explore the English-language edition, it seems to be a newspaper with no end of information, but little in the way of analysis. One has the feeling of reading oil, a lubricant for the economic wheels that have delivered a war-torn and psychologically divided nation into material prosperity. Korea is now a major regional power of the so-called global information economy.
The Chosun trifle nicely animates the highly abstract, but fascinating “A Hacker Manifesto” by McKenzie Wark, which I recently began reading. The manifesto is a Marxist tract for the information age, redefining the eternal class struggle in terms of intellectual property – the post-capital form of property – which is controlled by a new ruling class, the “vectoralists.” The vectoralists – Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, or the big pharmaceutical companies would be the most obvious examples – control the vectors, or channels, of communication, and seek to subjugate the “hackers,” who Wark defines as a newly coherent class of idea makers – programmers, inventors, artists and philosophers. It’s an important book, and convincingly argues why the intellectual property debate is central in the struggle for liberty.

That the vectoralist class has replaced capital as the dominant exploiting class can be seen in the form that the leading corporations take. These firms divest themselves of their productive capacity, as this is no longer a source of power. They rely on a competing mass of capitalist contractors for the manufacture of their products. Their power lies in monopolizing intellectual property — patents, copyrights and trademarks — and the means of reproducing their value — the vectors of communication. The privatization of information becomes the dominant, rather than a subsidiary, aspect of commodified life.

He goes on to quote from Naomi Klein:

“There is a certain logic to this progression: first, a select group of manufacturers transcend their connection to earthbound products, then, with marketing elevated as the pinnacle of their business, they attempt to alter marketing’s social status as a commercial interruption and replace it with seamless integration.”