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Re: <nettime> More Crisis in the Information Society
Felix Stalder on Sun, 20 Jul 2014 11:45:42 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> More Crisis in the Information Society

I share Florian's sense of crisis, but I would unpack the issues --
surveillance, security, information economy -- a bit differently.

Ever since "Wall Street" switched from telephone/telegraph to computer
networks for communication and transaction in the early 1970s (and
the City of London some 10 years later), the functions that would
later would taken over by the internet have grown into a the essential
infrastructure of contemporary societies, like transport of water,
energy, physical goods and so on. To make matter more complex, these
different parts of the infrastructure are not simply layered on top of
each other, but dependent on one another. Take out one, and all others
break (ie. how long would our cell phones work in Europe, if supply
routes from from Asia were interrupted. For a take on this question,
see this [1] (in German).)

In this sense, the proposed "offline library" is is only gradually more
offline than, say, archive.org. This small difference might have real
consequences in some cases, but my hunch is that the number of cases is
relatively limited. So, the internet is now what Marx would have called
"circumstances not of our choosing".

Snowden has shown three things, in my view. First, the shift of balance
from legislative to executive power over the last three decades has
produced, even in Western countries, something of a deep state, that is
a set of actors who have wide ranging powers over the state but are not
affected by elections, rule of law, fundamental rights, and other such
things. This is not a technical issue, but a political one, a deep
crisis of democracy. How deep it is can be seen by the fact that there
is no relevant political force able/interested in countering it. On the
contrary, it took the British government only days to rush through new
legislation (DRIP) to reinstate data retention after it has been
declared in breach of fundamental rights by the European Court of
Justice. In the wake of the Snowden affair, the German has demanded, and
is likely to receive, a massive expansion of its budget.

Second, the way communication over digital networks is constructed, both
technically and institutionally, makes surveillance so extremely cheap,
but it's feasible to simply collect everything. This can be changed
relatively easily. Encryption and decentralized infrastructures work to
make surveillance much more expensive, so much that it becomes
unfeasible vacuum up and analyze everything.

Third, it is nearly impossible to secure digital communication against a
sophisticated, resourceful attackers. Hackers and computer security
people have always known that -- hence their resistance against things
like online voting -- but now we all know it. Depending on the threat
model, it might be worth to scale down the degree of "onlineness" a bit,
and create situation where such minor differences in the degree of
connectivity create substantial difference in security/robustness. The
Dutch levy system might be such a case. There is, probably also on this
level a trade-off between "convenience" and security, only that here,
convenience is called efficiency. So, there is a question, which systems
should we make less efficient, aka more expensive, but more secure?

Somewhat separate from all if this is the question of the information
economy and the decline of the creative class. For me, this is not
technical issue, but again political one. To put it simply, if we were
to return to 1970s levels of taxation, a lot of problems would be
solved. But of course we cannot, since there are no organized forces to,
well, force that, and hence the political systems has been thoroughly
captured by financial interests.

Unregulated capitalism, as we know not only since Picketty, leads to
extreme social inequality. Though "unregulated capitalism" is a bit of
an oxymoron, since capitalism is itself a system of regulating society
(in the interest of capitalists).

The billboard that Michael made us aware is so extreme that I thought it
was a satire, but apparently, it is not. But anyway, it has nothing to
do with creative class, but it's a threat against trying to strengthen
the position of low level service workers through the introduction of a
minimum wage. This time, it threat is labeled "automation" rather than
"outsourcing" or "offshoring".

What is totally true is that the creative class, at least those parts
that are generally considered creative, like the photographers mentioned
by Florian is systematically precarized. [As a side note, Florida
included in the creative class also lawyers, dentists and others to make
the stats look better, but they never appear in heart-warming examples.]

But what is really the reason for that? How much of this is that

a) thanks to "smart" technologies the barriers of entry into these
professions are really low? And that for most commercial cases medium
quality is enough?

b) ever more institutions, such as Florian's and mine, are producing
workers for markets that do not expand, at least in the amount of income

c) So, while the markets, per se, might not be shrinking, the
competition in these markets has massively increased, hence wage
pressure is intense.

Again, this is less a media issue, than one of political economy.

Perhaps, our productive systems are becoming too efficient for
capitalism. If anyone who has some base talent and invests enough time
in watching online how-to videos can become a half-decent photographer,
then there ceases to be a market for half-decent photography. Now, if
this happens only to the "creative class", then this is brutal for the
"creatives", but what if this happens everywhere? Then things get weird.
And for this to happen, we need to the internet.


[1] Das unvermeidliche Ende des Internet und der Untergang der

On 07/19/2014 04:13 PM, Florian Cramer wrote:
> Your posting on the crisis of the information society struck me as a useful
> summary of a current state of affairs. There seem to be obvious conclusions
> to be drawn from this which, apparently, nobody dares to clearly state:
> (a) The Internet - i.e. anything traveling over TCP/IP and routed via DNS -
> cannot be trusted for any form of truly private or classified information.
> It needs to be seen as one, global, public billboard - yet with varied
> privileges of access that non-corporate and non-governmental users are in
> not control of. The fact that all information received through this network
> is, as you write, potentially tampered, is the second issue on top of the
> privacy issue.
> However, these restrictions still imply that the Internet can serve such
> good purposes as running UbuWeb (to refer to Kenny Goldsmith's article on
> this list) or Nettime.
> Crypto activism does not solve these two issues despite its good
> intentions. Too many core technologies such as OpenSSL, TrueCrypt,
> PGP-E-Mail (with its lack of meta data encryption), TOR, ... have turned
> out to be flawed or compromised. They all can do more harm than good for
> one's privacy if one isn't a highly skilled computer user using
> non-mainstream operating systems like Tails.
> Offline communication still remains a simple alternative for dealing with
> these restrictions. A good example is Henry Warwick's "Radical Tactics of
> the Offline Library"
> (
> http://networkcultures.org/blog/publication/no-07-radical-tactics-of-the-offline-library-henry-warwick/
> ).
> (b) These two above issues lead to the logical conclusion that no critical
> infrastructure should ever rely on Internet communication. That includes
> all mainstream scenarios of the Internet of Things, Smart Cities and most
> other technologies marketed with a "smart" prefix, drones, robotics and
> autonomous cars. To give one example: If I correctly interpret information
> I received from a colleague of mine, a researcher in water management, then
> it is already possible to flood the Netherlands through computer hacking
> because its current systems of levees and watergates is controlled via a
> local sensors in the levees connected to a data center that controls the
> pumps based on the real time sensor data; all these data connections run
> over the Internet via a VPN. If technology development blindly proceeds
> with such "smart technologies", we'll be able to study Philip K. Dick
> novels and "Terminator" movies as predictive scenarios - and write
> screenplays for war movies where countries get attacked by someone hacking
> and crashing all Google cars.
> (c) The San Francisco billboard likely epitomizes the end of an
> "information society" and media bubble period roughly between 1998 and
> 2008. In that time, the classical media and information economy, and their
> jobs, were still in swing while the industries that were about to replace
> them first came in as additional players working on venture capital. The
> temporary coexistence of these two economies created an inflated market. I
> remember how in the late 1990s, newspapers such as Frankfurter Allgemeine
> Zeitung suddenly boomed and expanded (employing some Nettimers as writers,
> btw.) because dotcoms massively placed their ads in them. In retrospect,
> this could be described as the media eating itself. The same must have
> historically happened in other industries, for example in transportation,
> when railroads where built while coachmen were still in business. In both
> cases, the economic growth model - and investment stimulus - for the new
> industry is the prospect of taking over the market with a fraction of the
> previous costs and resources, basically replacing comparatively
> inefficient, local and regional players with a few global players.
> In the media and information sector, the business model for the new players
> (Google, Apple, Facebook) has not only been centralization, but also the
> fact that they are media companies that no longer employ "content"
> creators. This conversely means that thee economic exchange value of media
> creation, in the classic sense of editorial or artistic/audiovisual/design
> work, is sinking to unforeseen lows. For regional commercial video
> producers in Europe, to take an example with which I'm familiar, hourly
> rates are the same as for repairman only in the best case; in most cases,
> they are lower, and don't reflect investment into equipment. Another
> example: according to market research, the average pre-tax income of
> commercial photographers in the Netherlands is about $20,000/year. If this
> is indicative of any larger trend in media jobs, then it means that nothing
> is more obsolete than the notion of the "creative class", but that the bulk
> of "information society" and media jobs have become working class
> employment or worse.
> -F
> On Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 6:20 PM, michael gurstein <gurstein {AT} gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Pando.com: New San Francisco billboard warns workers they'll be replaced
>> by iPads
>> if they demand a fair wage
>> http://tinyurl.com/mn2xzzn
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