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<nettime> Time Machines and the Constitution of the Globe.
martin hardie on Thu, 23 Jun 2005 12:42:09 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Time Machines and the Constitution of the Globe.

Fellow Nettimers

A draft of a paper I intend to give in a few weeks.  A text version is below
without footnotes. With footnotes you can find it in pdf here:

Comments, critics and flames welcome here or offlist



European Ways of Law, First European Socio-Legal Conference,
July 6-8, 2005,
Instituto Internacional de Sociolog?a Jur?dica,
Antigua Universidad, O?ati, Gipuzkoa, Euskadi.

Time Machines and the Constitution of the Globe.
Martin Hardie.i


This is a presentation of some preliminary work I have been undertaking on an
excavation of the development of the Unix computer operating system. This research
forms a part of my quest to come to grips with the logic and rhetoric of free
(libre) and open source software or linux machines, (hereafter Floss) which is the
stated field of my research ? as such it can be seen as partly a prehistory of

One thing that has arisen as I progress in these investigations, is how American
notions of freedom, innovation and law feed into the global machine of sovereignty.
This is the hinge or link between my work and the theme of this conference -
European Ways of Law. The conference title assumes special European characteristics
not only of law on the books but also of law in action. The conference accepts that
these characteristics may differ considerably from the American way of law. What my
research suggests is that the telling of the story of Floss and law carries with it
peculiarly American overtones.

These American notions of innovation and intellectual property (IP) extend
globally. This logic of IP pilots the technological processes and the way these
processes are portrayed in popular story telling. What I find is that these stories
also feed back into the broader meaning of freedom in today's globalised world.
That is how freedom is understood and how it is achieved.

Here, at O?ati, by way of a progress report on my research I wanted to relate some
questions concerning this American way of law. A survey of the manner in which,
outside of formal or traditional legal proceses of law making, the logic of law in
Floss feeds into the constitution of a global system, and how these traits are in
the contemporary context becoming, increasingly, the norm, or standard of freedom
in our world.ii


The work I am undertaking is I think fairly classified as biopolitical.
Biopolitical in the Foucauldian sense. I am making a sort of excavation of one
story within the big globalisation story, and in so doing trying to focus in on
some minute detail, some minutiae. It is where things like science, academia, law,
technology and mythology all get wound up together. Where power relations seem
exposed but strangely at the same time they are hidden by a popular story and its
rhetoric. It is at once in this regard a social, political, philosophical,
technological and legal investigation.

It is biopolitical because it appears as related to how society is ordered,
disciplined and controlled in this global context. Here law seems to tell a popular
story which codifies a myth and a complex of stories. This story, whilst being
dressed up in the clothing of freedom, at the same time, acts as an agent of
discipline and control.

It is also biopolitical in that the distinctions between private and public all
seem jumbled up and mixed together. A private legal topic, such as IP seems to take
on a public status at times ? with flashes of sovereignty, property, freedom and
even policing. What appears to us as a public space from one perspective, seems to
really be a privatised space. And from another perspective it seems to be just the

What seems to be a question of IP, authorship and new forms of producing and
innovating, seem to carry with them characteristics, or overtones, that reflect
processes occurring in the constitution of a global and supranational form of
sovereignty. So here in part is what I am trying to investigate: to what extent
does this form of production march in step with, or even produce in a machinic way,
this form of sovereignty. To borrow from physicist/historian Peter Galison ? the
mixture appears as critical opalescence ? the point at which water and vapour no
longer appear stable but flash back and forth between each other.iii

In this research two threads ? broadly, authorship/innovation and
sovereignty/society; appear as networked machines and both machines seem to flash
signals back and forth to each other.

Free as in Freedom

In the telling of the popular story of Floss law plays a unifying role. It presents
a linear or unified story that masks over many of these signal flashes throughout
the network. The story of Unix and Floss is one that flashes between science,
commerce, academia, sovereignty, the law, the military and counter cultures. In its
detail it seems to defy the sort of unification that the popular legal story
portrays. Unlike this complexity, this critical opalescence, the popular story is
simply one of freedom.

The popular story is said to be one of a 'social movement' where institutions such
as the Free Software Foundation,iv and its relations, the Creative Commons,v and
the Electronic Frontier Foundation,vi play a role as guardians of 'our' law and
freedom. I have read that these movements are becoming in the U.S. centres of a new
form of student activism, in fact I have encountered some of these groups ? Free
Culture societies that spring up on campuses replacing the old forms of student
activism.vii These organisations spread their networks and spread their story of
law and freedom across the globe, repeating the popular story ? the Free Software
Foundations of Europe, of Brazil and of India.viii

Freedom as in Floss, or as in any of these related organisations, is bound up with
the logic of open democracy and in the end it seems free and open markets. Witness,
pop professor and driving force behind the Creative Commons and Electronic Frontier
'movements', Lawrence Lessig as recent as June 2005, writing about his trip to the
World Social Forum in Brazil under the banner of "The People Own Ideas".ix Under
the subheading "Truly Free Markets" Lessig gets to the core of this freedom: it is
a freedom that is about technology, wealth, efficiency and growth. It is a rhetoric
that seeks to justify the link between science and commercial prosperity, both
national and global, by a call to a moral and political vision of freedom. It is
without shame an American vision of freedom, even in his reportage on his trip to
Brazil, Lessig writes: "the kids at Porto Alegre" will find their solace in a "free
culture" - an "economy that governed creative industries for at least the first 186
years of the American republic".x

In some of my research to date I have tried to deal with some aspects of this type
of freedom. In a piece published in an Indian publication ? the Sarai Reader 4; in
2004xi; I tried to consider these notions of freedom from the perspective of Toni
Negri's constituted powerxii and how the rhetoric of policing, surrounding hackers
and terrorists in cyberspace seems to be piloting this "Free as in Freedom"
rhetoric. Piloting it from being touted as a sort of dot.communismxiii to being
nothing more than a new business model ? that is freedom as a story of capital's

The rhetoric of Floss proposes the technical device (the software) and the IP
device (the licence) as machines of liberty and freedom. Slogans such as "Free as
in Freedom", "Free as in a Free Society", "Free as in Speech" "but not as in beer"
all sound forth from the high priests of Floss.xv The latter, "free as in speech
and not as in beer", locates Floss firmly within the tradition of U.S.
Constitutionalism.xvi This American constitutionalism is continually reinforced by
the work of Lawrence Lessig. He envisages the "Future of Ideas"xvii as concerning
"our future" as a "free society" in the age of the internet, as a constitutional
question ? explicitly, that is, an American constitutional question; determined by
reference to the intent of the 'founders'.xviii

In Insurgencies Negri critiques this sort transcendental foundationalism. Negri
relates the manner in which the 'freedom of the frontier' in American thought has
been submitted to the constitution and was organised by Hamilton around the
"kingdom of monetary circulation". In Negri's America, money replaced the frontier
and reorganised power around financial capital.xix

In this context, freedom of speech (and not as in beer) becomes the breeding ground
of the kingdom of money ? the place where innovation takes place; rather than the
boundary of the frontier. Freedom in this context is always capped by property and
money. Here is the Hamiltonian concept of idea of freedom on full view: Property is
essential to survival and the right to property is essential to autonomy.xx

AT&T and the Freedom Machine.

The telling of the popular story about the birth of Unix, in the Bell Labs of AT&T,
also relates these American ideas of law and freedom. Lessig summarises this
popular story for us in his second book "The Future of Ideas".xxi It is a story
that is told and repeated by many Floss commentators. It is even retold by European
academics such as Manuel Castells.xxii Again, an American story becomes a global

This story tends to attribute the environment in which Unix was born, to a legal
story, one related to government command. It is a story of how legal command
affected the manner in which AT&T, the company in which Unix was first developed,
could operate.

This story tells us that it was law, in the form of the 1956 antitrust 'decree'
(actually an agreement between AT&T and the U.S Government) that created an
environment in which management decided to simply give away the Unix time sharing
computer system to anyone who wanted it.xxiii It was, the story goes, given away in
a manner similar to the way that today, it is said that Linux is freely given away.
In this popular story it is law that created a time and space where 'freedom' and
sharing was the norm within AT&T.

Law it is told, molded, and continues to mold, the subjectivities of the
programmers, the corporate executives, and the users, so that they embraced
freedom. It was law that not only created the environment of freedom but when law
changed it caused a different space to arise, one where sharing and freedom gave
way to corporate greed. This change was the 1982 AT&T divestiture agreement. This
change saw the company change track from being a national provider to become one of
the global oligarchs of international telecommunications.xxiv Lessig tells it as
such: after the AT&T divestiture AT&T "decided to enter the computing business ..."
and henceforth "Unix would no longer be free".xxv In the popular story Floss,
Linux, the Free Software Foundation and subsequently, its institutional relations,
arose as responses to this corporate attack on freedom.

The telling of the Floss story is one of the original purpose of the founders. Not
only the founders of 'our' Jeffersonian tradition of copyright. But more than this,
the founders of our tradition are a trinity - the founding fathers of the
constitution, the founding fathers of copyright, and the founding fathers of Unix.
It is the tradition of this trinity that has been betrayed by corporate greed. The
task, now, is to remake that original freedom and defend it. To do so we must
constitute our creative community of freedom by the mechanism of an IP device. A
creative copyright licence. Here, in the story of Floss, the production of
technical devices and the constitution of a community is guided, or founded by a
device of IP law.

The community of free producers in this scenario, is a society composed of free and
equal entrepreneurs, of classical and individual authors, and is constituted by
law. Law appears as integral, or fundamental to the composition and constitution of
this community, and of the new global order. It is a global form of juridification
of individual subjects, a founding of society where first and foremost we are all
legal subjects or subjects constituted by law. In a way these accounts, to borrow
from Deleuze and Guattari, come across a little like Oedipus. It is not the machine
of production that builds the environment, but that of our father - law.xxvi

It is in ways such as this that I am reading this popular story of Floss as an
American story. It is as if we are poised within the passage of becoming global, of
making or constituting ourselves as a global community, but we are bogged down on
the proverbial Californian limit.xxvii American freedom has on one hand overcome
the physical restraint of its west coast limit to the frontier, it has hurtled off
into cyberspace, but in so doing it has taken with it America's law and vision of
innovation and made it a global story.

In the process, like the fabled American Dream, it has denied a place to
exploitation. Reading the rhetoric of Floss you are plunged into an entrepreneurial
paradise, we are never 'mere' or 'crude' producers, whose work is extracted or
valorised by others for profit. In this scenario, we are never subject to the
machine of capital. We are machines of capital ? that is we are all capitalists
ourselves. We are the archetype of the Yankee Inventor,xxviii dragged from his 19th
century home and transported through time into cyberspace. As Marx might have put
it, we are free of the chains that bound us to the old system and we are now
vogelfrei, free as the birds, to participate in the new global hi-tech economy.xxix

At a time when American power and technology fuels the construction of the
international order, this story of Floss feeds into it or sends and receives signal
flashes back and forth.xxx It seems to disseminate the same core values, but this
time on a apparently counter-cultural stage. In the face of this freedom machine
local resistance or alternative views seem futile. Mere discussion of alternative
views of freedom are laughable, even condemned as coming from those that hate
freedom, from those, to use the parlance, that are simply spreading "FUD" - that
is, fear, uncertainty and doubt. Thus "Free as in Freedom" takes on a rhetoric that
is not dissimilar to the one in which there appears to us today only one story of
the broader idea of freedom in the world.

Once you start to excavate the prehistory of Floss, and look a little deeper into
the genealogy of the Unix machine, you find that it isn't quite as cute and simple
as the popular story tells it. The clean, and linear demarcations of production
into legal periods, of free and non free, open and closed, or proprietary and
non-proprietary, seem only to provide a unifying gloss.xxxi

In a recent work in progress, (nicknamed, Nix One,xxxii) I have sought to descend
into the depths of the invention of Unix within the Bell Labs.xxxiii In covering
the history within the company I have found that these clean demarcations just
don't work. The detail defies the unifying logic of the popular story. Its
complexity is not dissimilar to another story about the science and philosophy of

As I proceed with this investigation occasionally I feel as if I have myself
entered a time machine. In a way my excavation of the pre history of Floss has
become a passage through a time machine. A time machine that flashes back and forth
in history, now 2005, then 1969, taking me to 1956, 1982, 1889 and then to 1915 and
back again to 2005. It is one of my encounters with this time machine that I would
like to try and turn to briefly. In doing so I hope to give some idea of the
critical opalescence that makes up this interface of law and technology, of time,
power and knowledge, and amongst other things, sovereignty.

Time Coordination.

The great quest for time coordination of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, to which I intend to briefly refer, spins off into the environment in
which the quest for a computerised time sharing machine ? that is Unix;xxxiv was
eventually played out. By taking a trip in this time machine we might be able to
get a better handle upon the environment within AT&T that precedes the period 1956
and 1982. The one that Lessig finds as being conducive to freedom. Possibly only
with this journey can we then begin to understand the nature of this freedom.

Peter Galison's story of Poincar?'s Maps and Einstein's Clocksxxxv serves as a
precursor to my story of time sharing. His story is of the quest for time
coordination, for the synchronisation of time. It, as with Unix, flashes back and
forth between disciplines, between technology, invention, IP and sovereignty,
between power and knowledge. It too builds a machine of administration.

Time coordination helped build the administrative apparatus of the nation state and
of the great corporations of modernity. Time sharing also built an administrative
apparatus, that of the global networks of sovereignty and post fordist production.
The products of both of these time machines, this new model of doing science, have
given us, not only an administrative apparatus, they have given us the machines of
the three instruments of Hardt and Negri's conception of imperial command ? the
bomb, money and the ether.xxxvi

Reading Galison, time coordination appears to me on three levels immediately
relevant to the story of Unix and time sharing. It is linked to sovereignty and the
creation and ordering of space. It raises questions of philosophical thought and
practice. And it raises the question as to how ideas about law, and in particular
IP, seem to pilot processes of production, in a more immediate manner than do
formal legal processes.


Galison positions time synchronisation at the interface of technology, philosophy,
sovereignty, and the literature and practice of law and science. He tells this
story through the maps and radios of Henri Poincar?, the extraordinary French
mathematician, philosopher and physicist, and the world of clocks and patents of
the young Albert Einstein.

In its day time coordination was seen as the beacon of modern thought.xxxvii The
French pursued signal exchange as a tool to explore, map and govern their colonies.
As a tool of unifying or synchronising not only the French state, but its empire as
well. By its nature it was always an international affair where governments both
cooperated and competed for imperial supremacy.xxxviii

According to Galison, in the quest for time coordination "physics, engineering,
philosophy, colonialism, and commerce collided".xxxix Time coordination was a
machinic convention of modernity and in different places it stood for different
things. In Germany it was construed as a stand in for national unity, in France it
embodied the Third Republic's rationalist institutionalisation.xl In this
rationalist France, signal exchange was seen as a example and proof of properly
grounded knowledge. The event of signalling time from Paris was a matter of
national concern, envisaged as a national response to the fixing of zero degrees of
longitude at Greenwich.xli

In the US time coordination was put into the service of the post Civil War task of
nation building. A nation of railways and one eventually with universal access to
long distance telephone communications. In time coordination AT&T found the the
technical or practical key for the ideology and justification of a national
telephone monopoly.xlii In America it was literally a nation and corporation
building machine. Neither Poincar? or Einstein spoke of time, nor did time
coordination exist, in some technical vacuum.xliii

As Galison tells it, the wires of time coordination "came with national ambitions,
war, industry, science and conquest. They were a visible sign of the coordination
among nations in conventions about length, times and electrical measures.
Coordinating clocks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was never just about
a little procedure of signal exchange. Poincar? was an administrator of this global
network of time, Einstein an expert at the centre of the central Swiss
clearinghouse for new electrotechnologies... ."xliv


"[T]echnological time, metaphysical time, and philosophical time crossed in
Einstein's and Poincar?'s electronically synchronised clocks. Time coordination
stood, unequaled, at the intersection: the modern junction of knowledge and

In Galison's account, it is possible to read Poincar? and Einstein, as "if they
were abstract philosophers whose goal was to enforce philosophical distinctions by
fabricating hypothetical worlds rich in imaginative metaphors". These were worlds
that "employed imaginary trains, fantastical clocks, and abstract telegraphs."xlvi
In his story, technologies are not derivative versions of an abstract set of ideas.
Nor does technology cause philosophy or physics to adopt new conventions. He tells
a story of 'critical opalescence".xlvii It is a story were there are no cleanly
separated domains of technology, science and philosophy but only one were these
disciplines, and the worlds of politics law and sovereignty flash back and forth
between each other. Synchronising time became not just a matter of procedures but
also a matter of the languages of science and technology.xlviii

The philosophy of Poincar? and Einstien was conventional or procedural. Procedural,
possibly in the sense that Unix is also procedural. The development and operation
of Unix is a continual process of living, producing and reproducing desires,
problems and solutions. They nearly always give rise to new situations that must be
tackled in a similar manner. It is in this way that I am reading Unix as consistent
with more philosophical descriptions of thinking or of living life itself. For
example, Deleuze defends a conception of thought as essentially a "problem solving
activity".xlix Likewise Negri considers the idea of constituent power, as an idea
of constantly re-proposing the project of freedom at the limit. For Unix hacker,
Eric Raymond its is about, "scratching an itch".l At the heart of the Unix process
is a continual re-proposing of the idea, of scratching an itch, a procedural
problem solving activity of overcoming the limit.

Although the language and topology of these various philosophical descriptions and
disciplines may vary from each other, they share a common antagonism to absolute
standards or figures of mediation. Just as Einstein rejected the master clock in
showing time has no absolute component in favour of a procedural form of
coordination,li these different streams of thought, or better practice, privilege a
way of doing things, or an ontological process, over the idea of judging one's
actions by reference to an overarching, or transcendental standard or goal. To
borrow from Agamben, they are concerned with means and not ends.lii


Along with the worlds of sovereignty and ideas, the world of property in the form
of patents, flashed through the quest for time coordination. Einstein was "not only
surrounded by the technology of coordinated clocks, he was also in one of the great
centers for the invention, production, and patenting of this burgeoning

Galison describes Einstein's theory of time coordination as being "the model - for
a new era of scientific philosophy".liv But he links this new model firmly to the
world of patents. Einstein had started work at the Bern Patent Office in 1902. The
patent office was "a rigorous school for thinking machines".lv Here the young
Einstein was literally surrounded by a burgeoning fascination with
electrocoordinated simultaneity."lvi Einstein was immersed in this world which "was
a school for novel technology, a site that aimed to train a quite specific and
disciplined taking-apart of technological proposals".lvii Here time "technologies
spun off patents in every sector of the network", lviii it was a world where from
"New York, Stockholm, Sweden, London, and Paris inventors launched their timing
dreams toward the patent office, but it was the Swiss clockmaking industry that
dominated the trade."lix

It is in this context that Galison argues that Einstein's 1905 article 'On the
Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies', "the best know physics paper of the twentieth
century", bears the imprint of this crossroads between science and legal
literature. It is "a scientific paper written in the form and rigour of a patent
application".lx Galison notes that "it has long struck scholars that the style of
(the paper) ... does not even look like an ordinary physics paper. There are
essentially no footnotes to other authors" ... by contrast typical "physics
articles were filled with references to other papers; Einstein's article does not
fit this mold".lxi

But he argues that if you read Einstein's paper "through the eyes of the patent
world ...suddenly the paper looks far less idiosyncratic, at least in style.
Patents are precisely characterised by their refusal to lodge themselves among
other patents by means of footnotes". A demonstration of originality is not served
by footnoted references to prior art. In Galison's story the "specificities of
patent work had become, for Einstein, a way of life, a form of work, and ... a
precise and austere style of writing." Einstein's paper bears the hallmarks of a
patent application: a description representable through a model, a defence of the
unity of the invention, and with the consequences laid out in a series of

A unified infinity without centre?

This world of clock coordination "was a world machine: a vast, at first only
imagined, network of synchronised clocks that by the turn of the century had
metamorphised from networks of submarine cables hauled by schooners to a microwave
grid broadcast from satellites ..."lxii But Galison finds it as an ambiguous and
ironic machine. The irony of Galison's Einstein resonates for me into the ambiguous
nature of the Unix time sharing machine's history and the telling of its popular

Galison continues: "Here the irony of events ... there was, in Einstein's infinite,
imagined clock machine, no national or regional (clock) ... no master clock. His
was a coordinated system of infinite spatiotemporal extent, and its infinity was
without centre ... Einstein had both completed and subverted the project. He had
opened the "zone of unification", but in the process ... designed a machine that
upended the very category of metaphysical centrality."lxiii

In my excavation of Unix it too appears as a machine that criss crosses
sovereignty, philosophy and property. And it also appears as an infinity without a
centre ? a realm of possibility enscribed within the code. But in the popular story
there is no room for complexity or a critical opalescence. The Floss law story
appears as zone of unification, law as the centred guardian of freedom. Just as
Galison writes, that in Einstein's world, it was said that "true time would never
be revealed by mere clocks".lxiv What I find in the world of Floss is that "true
freedom may never be revealed by a unified telling by law".

Signal Flash.

The great quest for time coordination was culminated by Poincar? supervising one
end of an event that stands as a monument in the history of wireless telephony or
as we now know it, radio. On October 21 1915, AT&T researchers in Arlington,
Virginia flashed a radio signal across the ocean to Poincar?'s installation at the
Eiffel Tower. In France this stood as testament to the power of French rationalism.
In the US it was the culmination of AT&T's radio research and a key in their quest
to build a national and universal telephone network. Time coordination came down to
flashing a signal and adjusting for the time it took for the signal to arrive.
Wireless telephony, made this possible in a way that submarine cables had not.

This flash across the ocean, feeds the continental story into the system of
corporate research at AT&T's labs were Unix was eventually developed. The flash
across the ocean sent the world of Poincar? and Einstein off to meet the world of
the Yankee Inventor and the republican fear of monopoly. In turn AT&T would take
time and its coordination forward and in so doing tackle the problem of its
sharing. As the twentieth century entered its second half, time moved from being a
nation and corporation builder to becoming a global network builder. In this
respect it is of no coincidence that throughout its history AT&T has been known for
its "network mystique".lxv

That flash had originated in the labs of AT&T and travelled across the Atlantic to
Paris and returned. The AT&T labs were machines of nation and corporation building.
They became factories for patents and publications. They were machines of power and
knowledge. In turn they became a part of the machine that built a new form of
global sovereignty and a new type of factory. Both forms which have now exceeded
the walls of the nation and the corporation. The origins of these labs coincides
with the global search for time coordination and they stretched forward to the
quest for interactive communal computing ? a form of computing known as time

The Yankee Inventor and the Patent Corporation.

In the U.S. patents were the foundation of the science and technology based firms
developing in the 1880's and 1890's. "With the advent of the early testing 'labs',
business purchased the scientist's analytical skills and ability to make
improvements in existing processes and equipment. Invention, the development of
patentable devices and processes capable of altering a firm's competitive ability,
remained the task of individuals outside of the firm."lxvi However by century's
turn the place of innovation in the US was shifting from the site of the solitary
yankee inventor to the labs of corporate research.

Patents too were one reason behind the corporate mergers that swept business during
the 1890's. It is a time that is noteworthy for the invention of antitrust laws and
the growing concern over corporate monopolies and power.lxvii It is also noteworthy
as to how the rise in the fear of the corporate form of monopoly in the U.S.
coincides with the process of nation building, and the simultaneous subsumption by
the corporation of the yankee inventor. These themes run decisively through
American civic and republican traditions and today pervade the logic and rhetoric
of Floss.lxviii

The corporatisation of American life not only threatened the independence of the
yankee inventor. Business Historian Michael Dennis describes the debates over 'pure
science' and the threat commerce and the rise of corporate labs posed to the
university of that time. With the coming of the 20th century America still regarded
university research as being insulated from the evils of commerce. Dennis describes
the 1883 address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by
Henry Rowland, entitled "A Plea for Pure Science". In Rowland's plea science and
the university were insulated from commerce by "a classical framework, one relying
heavily upon republic conceptions of the marketplace" .... a "political economy of
science linking the future of American science to economic prosperity and national
pride, while justifying such claims on moral or political grounds...".lxix
Rowland's solution was the establishment of research laboratories within the
university system that would be insulated and survive with the provision of private

What appears to me here, is what was in the late 19th and early 20th century
definitely an American tradition, something which formed a part of the mixture in
which time coordination was pursued, reappears later on a global scale. Rowland's
plea might be read as a distant echo of Lessig. The debates of freedom and commerce
within America that are a part of the mixture surrounding the quest for time
coordination, have become in the context of time sharing, and the global ITC
network, global debates, debates about global notions of freedom. In preaching pure
science in 1883 and preaching free culture in Porto Alegre today, science and
commercial prosperity are justified by a call to moral and political visions of


The story of making the link between Paris and Arlington, sheds another piece of
light on this tension. 1907 marks a significant year in the building of the
national telecommunications network in the USA. It was a year of financial crisis
and stagnation. It was the year of JP Morgan's takeover of AT&T. It was the year in
which AT&T President Theodore Vail first enunciated his idea of providing America
with universal telephone service. It was the year in which, with Vail's support,
AT&T's development of long distance radio repeater transmissions and the goal of a
national telephone service started to feed into each other. It was also a time when
AT&T status was under the spotlight of the Government's recent Sherman Act ? the
beginning of the complex of US anti monopoly laws. By 1913 Vail had averted the
threats of antitrust proceedings by coming to the "Kingsbury Agreement" with the
Federal Government. It was a deal that saw in return for the provision of universal
telephone service, AT&T being granted a government sanction telephone monopoly. As
transatlantic radio transmission would soon provide the technical key to universal
service, the 1913 deal provided the legal key.

At the same time, in Germany, France and Italy scientists were experimenting with
wireless telephony and radio.lxx This was of course all a part of the world that
Galison describes surrounding Poincar? and Einstein. Reich tells how ATT saw the
importance of controlling wireless telephony. Control was important both to build
the national network but also to protect against competition and the threat radio
might pose to telephones.lxxi In October 1912, an outside invention provided the
key. This invention by Lee de Forest, of the 'audion' changed the direction of
radio repeater research. Immediately within AT&T the twin literary machines of
science and patents hummed with activity.lxxii It was not long before de Forest's
audion was firmly within AT&T's corporate walls. The AT&T acquisition of the audion
led directly to, on January 25 1915, Alexander Graham Bell talking, by wireless
transmission, to his former assistant Thomas Watson in San Francisco. Coast to
coast was born and telephony opened the way for AT&T to build a national network
and consolidate the corporations position in American life.lxxiii Almost
immediately this coast to coast transmission was followed by transcontinental
transmission ? the signal flash from Arlington to Paris and back. As Galison says:
"Wireless had made world synchronisation possible".lxxiv

Papers & Patents.

In Dennis's history of the birth of corporate labs in America "patents emerge as an
alternate literary form for the corporate scientists, one that secures priority for
the researcher and the firm within the sphere of corporate security and the
marketplace. Technological theory found its expression in two forms - the patent or
the published paper, and the device itself".lxxv Patents and publication were
mechanisms for bringing the scientist within the corporation. Science which had not
that long before in Europe been "a vast sea of anonymous knowledge",lxxvi or, in
the U.S. the realm of the yankee inventor, was rapidly becoming a corporate
endeavour guided by the production of patents.

According to Reich the literary form of patents and the logic of the patent lawyer
were of importance in the construction of the AT&T research labs. The technocrats
promoted under Vail's presidency were "willing to give researchers a certain amount
of freedom" but they also sought to ensure that this freedom was "strongly
encouraged" and thus guided "by the firm's pursuit of patents".lxxvii

Reich tells of how the success of transatlantic radio transmission triggered a
reassessment of the place and purpose of research within the AT&T system.lxxviii
Following the transatlantic transmissions, producing patents became a primary
activity of research. Within AT&T patent production became something that led to
research not something that followed research.lxxix In this way AT&T became a
patent making machine. Research activities broadened in order to give patent
coverage in as many areas as possible that might impinge on commercial interests.
The purpose of research became the task of gathering more information. Information,
that is, in the form of patents.lxxx

Quickly AT&T's R&D activities became clearly intertwined with the activities of the
patent department. Patents represented not only innovation, but were commercial
bargaining chips used in the pursuit of AT&T's monopoly and the provision of
universal service.lxxxi With the entry of the US into WWI this patent producing
machine combined with the military machine. Subsequently after the war the role of
the research labs grew.lxxxii

On January 1 1925, research driven by the goal of a national unity, of a universal
service, of building a sanctioned monopoly, of producing patents, all came together
with the incorporation of the Bell Labs. It was, as Reich notes, Bell Labs that
"kept the Bell System in control of much of the American communications
system".lxxxiii A system that would stay in tact in this form until the next bought
of global post war restructuring, one that coincides with the beginnings of the
quest for time sharing.

Time Sharing.

The synchronisation of time can be read as one of the technological building blocks
of modernity, consistent with a form of production centred on the corporation or
firm and with a system of sovereignty bounded within, or based upon, the nation

Time sharing, a means for users to share time on interactive networked computer
systems, can be read in a similar way. As a building block of post modernity. The
first widely disseminated and functional time sharing system, the Unix time sharing
machine, arose out of this Bell research environment ? out of this this factory of
patents and publications. Time sharing, like time coordination came to be in times
of change and restructuring. Corporations such as AT&T had used their control of
patents as a means to control the pace of innovation. But while innovation remained
in the firm, the firm controlled the speed of technological progress. The post WWII
environment, called for a fast forwarding of the pace of technological innovation.
Concurrently with this increasing emphasis on speed, we also see in the post war
environment the seeds of a tendency towards global sovereignty.lxxxiv

In this respect Unix and its descendants can be seen today as one of the principal
building blocks of globalisation and info-capitalism. A building block of a global
ITC infrastructure that supports a system of supranational rule and policing, of
instantaneous monetary circuits, and a system of post fordist production that is
based upon the selling of lifestyles and services.lxxxv

In the telling of the building of this infrastructure, the popular Floss story
appears to deal with the same questions, the same sorts of contradictions, that
those of the late 19th century faced, and its response appears as the same,
American response, but this time on a global scale. Calls for pure science - a
republican civic call for the insulation of innovation and pure creativity from the
market place; a call for the sovereignty of the yankee inventor in the face of
corporate might; and a call for the sovereignty or insulation of academia from
commercialisation; don't seem that too distant from the calls for Free Software and
Free Culture. Today, this same civic republican logic is being transported across
the globe, to places such as Brazil or India, places that might appear to seek to
chart their own course within globalisation. Here the logic of the popular time
sharing story serves, just as time coordination did in its day, as a call for
national strength and independence, or as being a buffer against encroaching
corporatisation. But just as with 'Pure Science', 'Free Software' and 'Free
Culture', knowledge becomes a commodity and the practices that they seek to
insulate from commerce, become the very practices that support commerce.lxxxvi

This rhetoric of freedom, that pervades the logic of Floss, is one that seeks to
justify innovation, prosperity and commerce ? in the end new technologies and new
business forms; not on economic or scientific grounds, but on moral and political
grounds. Prosperity, innovation and commerce are standard bearers of a new society
justified on the basis of freedom. It is an extensive, global, American freedom, a
society with a frontier always capped by the kingdom of money. In this popular
story law is given a role of unifier and guarantor of that freedom but it does so
in a system - this is the irony of Einstein as seen by Galison; in circumstances
where quite possibly there is no centre or unity remaining. What seems to be hidden
by this unity is what Galison portrays as the critical opalescence of the process
of production and it is these processes that I am trying to uncover in this

Time Machine from Rick Hallock's Time Machine page:

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