Bruce Sterling on Tue, 20 Oct 1998 17:16:26 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Viridian Note 00002

To: Viridian List

Key concepts:  Viridian List mechanics; attention economics; reputation

Attention Conservation Notice:  This Note will explain, in full detail,
the unorthodox format of Viridian Notes.  On the other hand, if you simply
skip this, it will make little difference, since the list's autocratic
moderator is determined to do these things anyway. 

From: (Bruce Sterling)

Sources:  none


To go further:  stay subscribed

Allow me to explain the structure of Viridian Notes and my basic ideas
about future contributions to this list. 

Internet mailing lists, such as this Viridian list, are a form of
publishing in which no money changes hands.  Nevertheless, there are two
important forms of para- economics involved.  The first is "reputation
economics."  People tend to contribute to Internet exchanges because there
are useful personal benefits in spreading one's ideas, establishing one's
public expertise, and making one's name known to other interested parties. 
This practice has a long and honorable history, and is well known in the
sciences and in academia generally.  These groups were the original source
of the Internet and its publication practices -- along with the military. 

The second para-economic aspect is "attention economics."  This one is
more problematic, because this is where the cruelest forms of exploitation
take place in the Internet's noncommercial world.  It is easy to cut-and-
paste huge archives of found text and images, and to bomb one's hapless
correspondents with them.  The time and attention of recipients suffers
badly, since the work of distribution can be accomplished in seconds,
while parsing all that text, and finally deciding that it is useless, can
take seemingly forever. 

We are intensely interested in the efficient design of lists and
distributed, noncommercial, electronic networking.  These issues will be a
major topic of discussion in the Viridian list.  We also intend to try
some experiments within the list itself.  We hope they will lead to
improved list performance. 

Our first formal innovation is an attempt to steal as little of your
attention as we can.  We don't fondly imagine that every reader will find
all posts in this list to be equally fascinating.  We are going to be
covering a lot of ground here, and much of our content will be not only
novel, but frankly weird.  Therefore, we will begin each Viridian Note
with a useful set of its key concepts.  With some practice, we hope that
you will be able to reject a Viridian Note, confidently and without a
pang, within two or three seconds. 

This effort, however, may not be enough.  You may still find yourself
painfully tempted to actually *read* the Note.  We therefore offer a
backup safety system, our unique "Attention Conservation Notice."  This
will begin each Note by explaining to you, in some brief detail, why you
should NOT read it. 

This has never been done before in print-based publishing, but in the
text-glutted electronic context, we feel this practice makes a lot of
sense.  By saving your attention, we are offering you a considerable
value-added service, which makes our Viridian list considerably "cheaper"
in attention-terms than the other, more primitive lists you may be
reading.  They cynically imagine that you are reading everything they
spew; we, however, know much better, and we are on your side.  Besides,
this is honest practice in list moderation.  No piece of text (especially
*free* text) can be perfect.  Since the list editor has already taken the
trouble to figure out what's wrong with it, you might as well know, too. 

We will follow the useful design edict to "Look at the Underside First." 
We'll start each Note by explaining the areas in which its design and
intention Note *fails,* rather than act as attention-hucksters, trumpeting
the work's supposed benefits and demanding that you concentrate. 

With time, we hope to develop a standard set of "Attention Conservation"
disclaimers that will save you much mental processing time.  In future,
the following warnings may see considerable use in this list: 

"Highly speculative;"  "Beautifully phrased but offers no evidence to
support its claims;"  "Of interest mostly to technical specialists," 
"Written in postmodernese;"  "Infested with subcultural jargon,"  "Grimly
accurate assessment, can cause feelings of despair,"  "Contains violent
partisan attacks," "Writer's original language not English,"  and so
forth.  (At least, those disclaimers would be of huge benefit in most of
the lists that we're reading right now.)

We will try a similar tactic with the issue of "reputation economics."  In
academia and the sciences, steady publication and the practice of
citations can lead to promotion, tenure, awards, membership on committees
that allocate research resources, cool junkets on other continents, and so
on.  That is why scientists will frequently pay to be published, and even
engage in the hideous scutwork of reading unsolicited science papers. 
Unfortunately, being autonomous and budget-free, we Viridians can't offer
any academic benefits; not even so much as a parking space. 

But the principle sounds intriguing.  So we will try the following
experiment. Whenever you offer useful commentary, research leads, or
behind-the-scenes aid for this list, you will receive a Viridian medal, a
little decorative chevron >^< for your log-in name.  For every piece of
writing that you publish on the Viridian list, we will place a star >*< by
your name.  And they are cumulative, as in:^^^^^^^**  (Buckminster Fuller)

and^^***  (Vassily Kandinsky).

These chevrons and stars will allow readers in future to instantly see
that you have been doing real intellectual labor here, rather than merely
lurking, and then dipping in to fatuously pontificate on other people's
efforts.  This parasitic activity constantly takes place in other, more
primitive lists; but the Viridian list has a work- around.  As time goes
on, our core contributors will receive a veritable sleeve-full of chevrons
and stars.  Perhaps a formal ranking system of some kind will develop: 
with Viridian bishops, archbishops, cardinals, High Priestesses, and so
on.  We are open to suggestion. 

For those who have won reputation capital in other contexts that they do
not want to risk slumming on the Internet, we offer our Viridian
house-names, "A.  Viridienne" (and, for gender fairness, "A. Viridian"). 
You can write under these names if you choose, and bypass the reputation
economy entirely.  The most generous contribution is, of course, an
anonymous one.  Think the matter over, and you may consider this the best
contribution you can make.  It is much easier to affect people's thinking,
than it is to affect people's thinking, and get the credit for it. 

We are all drowning in information here online, but we have a dire famine
of meaning and relevance.  Or course we appreciate people who send us
useful material. You will get a chevron.  We will appreciate it much more,
if you can find the time and energy to deliver your own critical
assessment of what you have found.  You will star. We know that it's
interesting to you -- for some reason.  We want to know why.  And how it
makes you feel.  Why it fits into our interests, and what general
relevance you feel that it holds for the future.  We are not a news
distribution list.  We are engaged in cultural criticism. This is a
creative, speculative, world-building exercise. 

Viridian text will be sent out in a format which is readable on a screen
in large, generous, 14-point type.  This is for the direct benefit of
middle-aged and elderly readers. 

We will send standard ASCII and avoid enclosures, for the sake of list
subscribers who lack massive bandwidth and bloated, semifunctional,
web-based, email readers. 

At the moment, there is no Viridian website.  We will be engaging in
website criticism, and in media criticism generally, but we have no
intention of building any very elaborate website ourselves.  Any website
we could afford wouldn't be up to our exacting design standards.  We're
going to talk a lot about the design of cars and power plants, and we
won't be building any of those, either. 

If you want to pass a Viridian note to a friend or a list of friends, go

Whenever possible, we will list the sources of our data, so as to
facilitate fact-checking activities by journalists, scholars, police
officers and other interested parties. 

Whenever possible, Notes will include relevant web links and other
suggestions indicating how this particular line of inquiry might be
usefully pursued. 

In days to come, I intend to write a series of brief, definitive essays,
that will establish the general tenor of the Viridian list, and sketch out
areas requiring investigation.  There may well be shakedown problems --
new lists generally have them -- but we will get past them. 

I hope and believe that the workaday activities of the Viridian list will
be much simpler and more natural than this elaborate explanation might

Bruce Sterling (

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