jon lebkowsky on Wed, 30 Dec 1998 03:29:12 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> 1998 Top Ten List

Cyberdawg's 1998 Top Ten List!

[Warning: slightly US-centric material below.]

Absent-minded as I've become, any ten things about 1998 that I can actually
remember deserve to be on a list somewhere, so here 'tis, in no particular

1) Bill Clinton was busted for bad sex and political hell broke loose in
DC, and the party-line divisions within the U.S. generated gaping crevices,
sort of like in those earthquake movies, fragmenting the hell out of
leadership and punditry. However the economy kept breathing and and
ordinary citizens were remarkably consistent in their support for a
president whose moral confusion didn't seem to affect his ability to hold
the meetings and make the speeches that keep the ship afloat.

2) People in general seemed remarkably complacent about chaotic, often
catastrophic weather conditions. As one hurricane followed another, we
wondered whether global warming might be more than a nifty subject for an
illustrated Scientific American article. Bruce Sterling, ever attentive to
heavy weather, started an email list around his Viridian design concepts,
building psychic infrastructure for a greening of the elite.

3) The Federal government asked the musical question, is Microsoft a
monopoly? And if so, should we Do Something About It? The answers are
probably yes and yes, in that order, but the quandary is what to do about
it, what remedies the court will suggest.  Meanwhile a cocky but elegant
operating system called Linux finds increasing market share and mindshare,
not because anyone is spending millions on marketing, but because it WORKS.
(See #10, below).

4) I'm not sure that it's news anymore when we bomb the living fuck out of
Iraq. Maybe they're really building bombs over there, and growing mutant
viruses for germ warfare, making mustard gas derivatives, etc. Maybe
they're evil, maybe they're scared. Maybe we think we're dead if we don't
have a war going on somewhere. I just wish I could have more trust, but I
guess I've seen too much.

5) The Internet is an industry. Corporations are spending millions of
dollars on web sites and Internet marketing. Investors are pumping
kazillions into Internet stocks of unproven value. We suspect that someone
has sprinkled pixie dust over Wall Street. It's called "the long boom," and
it's as real as immor(t)ality.

6) Then again, the Internet really might work as a channel for retail
distribution, in which case some of those investments might just make
sense. Retail to consumers over the Internet feels like a killer app;
ecommerce projects were coming on strong by the end of '98. Delivery's a
big deal here, so UPS, Fedex, USPS, Airborne, and possibly new carriers
will benefit from an explosion of net-based commerce (and their
infrastructures will be challenged, as well).

7) I always figured that the universe was only expanding until it was ready
to contract, i.e. a grand-scale pulsating universe, but I don't know
anything about physics or astronomy. It just seemed to make sense.   In
1998, space-time theorists gathered paradigm-shattering data using new
tools, such as the Hubble space telescope and way powerful new computing
systems. I'm not an astronomer and don't have a clue how to interpret the
data, but I keep faith in a vision of the universe-as-heartbeat. But who
knows? Maybe the Firesign Theatre had it right: everything we know is wrong.

8) This one's personal: I completed a book, _Virtual Bonfire_, in 1998, but
it was never published. Though it was probably the wrong book for me to
write, I learned a lot while writing it, so the considerable costs of a
four month sabbatical, barely impacted by the small advance, were a form of
tuition. The concept was to write something like Alinsky's 'Rules for
Radicals' specifically for online activists, but I drifted into the
metaphysical, trying to make sense of democracy and political process. Like
I said, "the wrong book." Alinsky was more practical than philosophical.
Jon L. was trying to be both.  The best (i.e. most practical) part of the
book, a guide for creating online activist groups, didn't say enough about
how to be effective once you've put the group together. Fact is, online
activist groups haven't been terribly effective. Those who were most
effective in getting the word out managed to orchestrate call-ins, fax-ins,
and email petitions, but these had little weight compared to fleshmeets and
money.  We were unable to prevent passage of the Communications Decency Act
despite solid opposition within the online community, and the CDA's content
regulations would be law today if not for the ACLU's work on the court
case, which took money and time and was quite grounded in the physical. The
effectiveness of corporation donations to CDA opposition far outweighed the
impact of the substantial efforts to organize the denizens of cyberspace.
Jerry Berman of the Center for Democracy and Technology once told
EFF-Austin that we should charter a bus and take our members to Washington,
DC to visit our legislators where the action is, and let them see that we
were real people with real concerns. We're associated now with folks (like
Gene Crick of Texas' Telecommunications Research Center) who are visiting
DC on a regular basis and working far more effectively than online
activists.  The book I should've written would have been less
philosophical, less a consideration of "nodal politics" (as I called it),
and more about practical political realities and solutions. <Deep sigh>
I've moved on, though, and I'll probably never write that book. I wasn't a
true activist, just a whacky guy who felt passionate enough about freedom
and technology to commit a few years trying to put it all together.  Now
I'm back where I was in 1992, blending community and technology in a
commercial context, and coming more from a context of social aesthetics and
networking than from some political/philosophical realm. Real politics is
more about taking than sustaining, but our activism was more about holding
our own than taking somebody else's, so I like to think our intentions were
pure if ineffective.

9) After studying the Amish in 1998, Howard Rheingold came away with a
question of deep signficance: "If we decided that community came first, how
would we use our tools differently?"  (See Howard's article in Wired 7.01,
January 1999, "Look Who's Talking")

10) There's a whole other 'digital top ten' prepared for the Austin
Chronicle (forthcoming), and one of those has really stood out in my
thinking since I completed that list. 1998 saw critical mass forming behind
the Linux operating system and the Open Source movement.  Linux is a
computer operating system that runs on PCs, and is based on Unix.  It's
powerful and relatively bug-free, and it's been gaining users among
system-administrator types and other users to appreciate its power and
reliability. Linux is a success, not because anyone's aggressively
marketing it, but because it works so well. A user-friendly graphical
interface called GNOME (g'nome) is in development for Linux, and once it's
completed, Linux will appeal to a broader user base. Linux is part of the
Free Software/Open Source movement, in which source code for computer
software is freely available for any programmers to enhance and improve.
Open Source proponents believe that cooperative work among programmers will
result in better software, sort of like peer review works in an academic
context. This isn't new thinking, but in '98 it became more prevalent as,
for instance, Netscape released source code for its Communicator product
(the cooperative improvement of which is coordinated through the Mozilla
project at  Open Source and Linux are looking more and
more like real competition for Microsoft and Windows. Though this probably
doesn't mean that Microsoft will collapse and die, it does mean that the
company will have an effective challenger, and will have to compete,
hopefully producing better software. And desktop users who adopt Linux will
have an opportunity to learn what it's like to use reliable, effective

This is cool.

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