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Re: <nettime> Institutionalization of computer protocols (draftchapter)
Philip Galanter on Thu, 16 Jan 2003 11:13:18 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Institutionalization of computer protocols (draftchapter)



NOTE: I originally wrote this as a direct response to Alexander, but 
then decided that the issues are general enough that others may be 
interested...so I've sent it to the list...



Hi Alexander.  Just a short note to say that while the historical 
narrative you provide in this chapter is quite nice and accurate so 
far as I can tell, it is almost entirely orthogonal to the argument 
you are trying to make.

Of course computer protocols are ultimately homogeneous and rigidly 
standardized.  If they were not the internet simply wouldn't 
work...just as cars wouldn't work unless there were standards as to 
the sizing of threads on machine  screws and the like.

But to view this as somehow "anti-diversity" in an implied social 
sense is a slight of hand hiding a logical fallacy.  The network 
mechanism is rigid but that allows the potential for wildly free 
expression.  The two shouldn't be  conflated or confused.  This isn't 
a subtle postmodern contradiction...it is as easily understood as, 
say, the rigid design of a printing press and moveable type allowing 
one to publish the thoughts of Marx or Hitler with equal ease.

The one area where the technology may start to coerce meaning and 
expression is in the realm of semantic webs or other metadata systems 
based on XML or other similar schemes.  At that point a line is 
crossed and one is trying to standardize how ideas are organized 
rather than how intrinsically meaningless bits are moved about.

The realm of metadata has its own history, and *that* I think is a 
realm ripe for deconstruction.  But it is also an old story.  For 
example, in a vaguely similar way how might library cataloging 
systems, and indeed our modern taxonomy of academic disciplines, skew 
thinking, discussion, and power relations?

Note that the XML standard itself is, so far as I can tell, quite 
neutral as well.  But any particular implementation of a system using 
XML, any semantic web as it were, is a particular interpretative 
system of meanings.

There are technologies on the horizon that will compete with 
(against?) the heavy hand of predetermined semantic schemas.  These 
will involve systems based on a complexity based view of information 
and language, and which allow associations to be formed as a dynamic 
emergent phenomenon.  Google is a simple, albeit naive, example of 
such an alternative.

Anyway, I understand (I think) where you are coming from, but I'd 
have to predict that your argument will turn out to be the sort that 
critical studies folks find compelling and others quickly discard. 
Traditional networking protocols are not a good target for this kind 
of analysis, but the nascent attempt to standardize semantics in the 
name of information technology is begging for this kind of critique.

cheers, Philip


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Philip Galanter         New York University     phone:     212-998-3041
Associate Director      251 Mercer                fax:     212-995-4120
Arts Technology Group   New York, NY 10012   internet: galanter {AT} nyu.edu

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