Josephine Bosma on Wed, 17 Feb 1999 10:15:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> [n5m3-debates] [the Law of Web TV]

     [orig to the <> list. 'n5m3' is
      the 'next five minutes' 3 conference to be held march
      12-14 in amsterdam & rotterdam. <>
      for details. for info about the n5m3-debates list see
      the end of the message, before the nettime footer--tb]

    [the Law of Web TV      by Derrick de Kerkhove]

Internet policy is hard to enforce, but there is no harm in thinking it
through. On the other hand, whatever order there is in the Net is generally
the result of focussed self-organization: namely that the elements that
constitute the medium, technology, market, infrastructure, policy and
consumers, fall into place rather quickly and often better than expected.
The focus comes from recognizing and applying best practice rather than on
imposing "law and order".

That being said, there may be a kind of "natural law of TV" which is
rewritten by the predictable development of "Web-TV":

1. TV is a collective form of consciousness, one of the best the world has
ever known;
2. TV is not meant to be interactive (however, it can handle interactivity,
albeit rather clumsily);
3. "Everybody a broadcaster" has become a truism. Posting anything on line
combines the merits of broadcasting with the targeted pertinence of a
private conversation;
4. TV creates its own large-scale communities not by encouraging
interpersonal dialogues but by providing common references and common
values (even specialty channels suggest a trend to refining and specifying
common values for "critical communities");
5. TV is necessary to local as well as global cohesion so the medium needs

WebTV (or whatever name the genre will eventually go by) bears much more
evidence of TV's maturation as a medium than either HDTV or digital TV.
Indeed, digitization affects all media to homogenize their substance and
allow convergence. TV is no exception. Digitization swallows all contents
and supports today, the way literacy and the press did before. High
Definition is not TV's, but cinema's destiny. HD is slow in coming to TV
precisely because definition is not the quality people require of TV first.
Like the Internet, what TV wants and gets is ubiquity. WebTV has the merit
of combining the advantages of both dominant media of our time: the
connectivity of the Internet and the collectivity of television. Both are
also screen-based media which displace the locus of information-processing
from the head to the screen. The mind is emigrating from the privacy of the
head to engage into new forms of association and behaviours. Beyond the
technological paradigm shift lies a fundamental psychological
restructuring, as has always been the case when a major new medium reached
a critical mass of human processors. As we move on-line en masse and
individually, as we rely more and more on organized networked data for
instant quality information and knowledge, as we connect more and more
wiith like-minded people in just-in-time associations, we are going soon to
recognize that we all belong to one or many more network supported "mental"
communities. This is much more than the "virtual" ones we have been told to
expect because mind communities are based on human relationships rather
than on technology. So we will use WebTV to carve our own networks in the
collective offerings of larger psychological communities of mind.

So what kind of policy can we consider for that new psychological reality ?

1. There should be no restriction about webcasting other than those which
are covered by the local laws of decency and good neighbourly conduct (on
the Net, the whole world is your neighbour) in any civilized country.
2. Likewise, the local legal provisions preventing the criminal spreading
of false rumours or warmongering should suffice to allow for a measure of
control of willfully untrue declarations or pronouncements on-line.
3. The word "broadcasting" should be replaced  by "posting" when people
refer to "publishing" (another wrong concept) for on-line distribution.
This linguistically sanitary measure would automatically render inoperative
most legislation covering radio and TV when applied to the Internet.
4. If national and local government are to survive the radical
fragmentation of all human associations down to the individual body-unit
and the irrepressible transborder data flow of all communication, they
would be well advised to protect its public media, e.g. public radio and
public TV. The development and protection of new public venues on and
off-line, within and without linguistic boundaries will replace the army
and military investment as defense mechanisms for large bodies of human
5. The very notion of boundary should give way to networks. Political
organizations and policy will reflect networked associations based on local
and global interests with direct participation rather than representation;
Internet policy should attempt to support that.
6. The conditions of successful human interactions in a WebTV environment are:
	-open access (i.e., affordable and reliable)
	-early adoption (i.e, educable)
	-fluid navigation (ubiquitously available)
	-targeted connectivity
The paradox of the Internet is that while it is addressed to the individual
user wherever he or she is, what it provides has no boundary, and thus is
global. So whatever legislation is being considered has to be inclusive and
global. The main issues hence are to identify what is "public" as opposed
to private domain in global terms (in that respect the question of "domain
name" debated in the discussion group is of the highest relevance
if not always of the highest congruence). Just as western society at large
eventually developed a charter of human rights a little over 50 years ago,
we should now consider what would be the items and contents of an
international charter of information rights. And world governments should
agree on providing a global or many global public consulting venues and
also offering global public services to that effect.

Another global concern affecting the immediate and the future state of
connected communications is the issue of software patents and copyright. As
the system becomes a seamless unified environment, world agreements must be
considered to balance  the individual rights to intellectual property with
fair use  and distribution. In software as in medical, pharmaceutical and
engineering innovation and practice, local patenting practices often put a
stranglehold on individual talent.

Another issue, more controversial perhaps, goes under the general notion of
the "bit-tax". The bit-tax is much resisted in the US generally, but
supported in Canada and the Netherlands by many, and particularly by Dutch
economist Luc Soete from the university of Maastricht. Soete suggested in
the recent economic Forum in Davos where the emphasis was on big business
becoming "responsible" that as the bulk of the earning power of the economy
moves from hardware to software and from off to on-line, the bulk of public
revenue should also take its source there. At the very least, it was
suggested that a modest bit-tax be levied for the support of
infrastructural and economically viable access to networked communications
in underprivileged countries.

One marketing temptation that might affect Web TV adversely would be for
big media concerns to put a proprietary stamp or conditional relationships
of use on portals and access within specific channels. Legislation should
ensure that "vertical integration" is not allowed to any single TV and
Internet access provider. In other words, I would not want to be in a
situation where because I am tuned to one TV channel, this limits my
navigation abilities to a preselected sequence or number of sites  Local
governments should do everything they can to avoid granting exclusive
rights of occupancy to a handful of access providers the way they have
tended to legislate cable and TV channels. The Chinese model of controlling
web access by licensing agreements is a dangerous precedent in that direction.

Nor do I feel more confident about the American way that seems to say: "Let
the market forces do the self-regulation". That's ok for you when you
control the whole show, as the US communication empire does, but it leaves
all the others in the lurch. Today, practically all Internet communication
transits via the US (including messages sent from Ottawa to Montreal or
Vancouver, for example). That is not a comforting thought, even less so for

In the end, we may continue to trust that the focused self-organizing
principles that have governed Internet evolution so far will prevail for
the better, but focus here is the operative word. The Internet works and
has sucessfully resisted vorticial biases in its information control flows
but mainly because people with brains and hearts have kept paying
attention. The N5M invites just that kind of attention.

A footnote on the Next Five Minutes:
The time span indicated by the ironic title N5M is put in perspective by
the project announced at the Doors of Perception Conference on Speed in
November 1997 and now in process of realization by Danny Hillis, a century
clock which beats a seccond a year. I was reminded of this important art
and technology concept by a curious fact of astronomy which is given
evidence by the accuracy of the records kept by Babylonians of full solar
eclipses. The  computer-assited calculations of waves of eclipse frequency
over the last millenia first show that the ancient records were accurate
down to less than a degree in space and than a second in time, but even
more than that, it is the very precision of such records that allow
scientists today to estimate that there has been an  imperceptible but
verifiable slow-down of the Earth's rotation speed. Such a huge throwback
in relevant data charted by people even if they may not have had our
problems in mind heralds a formidable change of scale in time which is
commensurate with the change of scale satellites and instant networked
access is now bringing to space. The idea of the N5M suddenly feels like

Derrick de Kerckhove
Director  McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology
University of Toronto


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