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Inspiration for the five-year-old @jonl.

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Blast from the past! (My father was a Schlitz distributor when it was el numero uno…)

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Mindjack

Pete Rothman’s published a post at h+ on Donald Melanson’s brilliant neophiliac website Mindjack. I was on Mindjack’s board at one time, and contributed a few pieces to the site, including “Nodal Politics,” a chapter from my unpublished book Virtual Bonfire. In that particular piece, I was considering the potential for the Internet to serve as a platform for political organizing. Many if not most of the Mindjack authors were members of Howard Rheingold’s Electric Minds community, originally formed as a for-profit ad-based social site. (There’s a whole other interesting story about the sale of Electric Minds and the attempt to preserve the community as the platform changed hands.)

I don’t even remember writing a post at Mindjack about SXSW 2002 – post-dotcom-bust – but there it is.

This year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference was lean and mean – attended mainly by the core group of edgy ‘net whackadistas, the conference had an interesting vibe, like “Wow, glad the goddam dotcom splurge is over, let’s get back to what we were doin’…” And what we were doin’ had real depth, it was way more compelling than ecommerce or net.publishing, the kinds of projects MBAs brought to the table when they started calling the Internet an ‘industry’ and creating the concept of the IPO casino. Before all that stuff happened we were thinking about open and free paradigms for software development, technologies for community, new and better ways to tell our stories. We were re-inventing ourselves as cyborgs, humans enhanced by accelerated technologies, looking for ways to nurture each other and share ideas over faster, increasingly accessible networks. And though many were all a little tired, a little disoriented, a little uncertain about where they were going, there was no question that the crowd at this year’s SXSW was still committed to Internet technology and the web. Sadder, wiser, more grounded, but still eager to build.

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Little Nemo in GoogleLand

In 1998 I wrote a piece about Winsor McCay’s surreal comic, Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland, for the webzine version of bOING bOING. I’m a huge Little Nemo fan.

The strip first appeared on October 15, 1905… in honor of Nemo’s “birthday,” Google has launched a “Little Nemo in GoogleLand” banner that expands into a pretty wonderful animation.

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How many NeoNazi Black Panthers does it take to screw in an image orthicon tube?

This video by Alexandra Pelosi illustrates the problematic state of news today: media depictions of Sanford, Florida following the Trayvon Martin killing are wildly inaccurate. No wonder Americans are going crazy…

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Third Option

At Pecha Kucha Austin last night, spent some time talking to John Kunz of Waterloo Records, an old friend from the days when I spent a lot of time haunting his store, buying piles of records, CDs and cassettes. We discussed the difficulties of operating an independent record store in a digital world. He told me about Record Store Day and “Third Option,” which is about adding an “independent record store” button to the usual Itunes and Amazon links on websites for artists and records.  Glad to see this. I was browsing the new class of high-end vinyl at Urban Outfitters the other day, and jonesing for a turntable and some record-buying budget. Really miss old-school vinyl albums, especially the great covers, which were an art form in themselves.

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Apple’s convergent television: “I finally cracked it!”

Disrupting televison

We’ve been hearing for two decades now about television/computer/Internet convergence. Televisions sets today are advanced digital products, and we connect computers and specialized set-top boxes to ’em, but they’re still primarily display devices.

In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson writes that Jobs ““very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant.”

Jobs told Isaacson that “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

More on the Jobs/Apple vision of convergence here.

I’m imagining a media device that, like the Internet, swallows all other forms: television set, movie theatre, stereo, juke box, etc. But it would also be interactive, a window on the rest of the world. This isn’t exactly cutting edge – those who think about such things expected it before now.

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Roger Ebert: “a first-rate second-rate memoirist”

Maureen Dowd writes about Roger Ebert’s memoir, and about the disfiguring surgical failures that have rendered him unable to speak, eat, or drink – the lower half of his face is pretty much gone. Despite this, Ebert is “effervescent” but overly detailed in accounts of his early life. However he has great stories to tell, and he nails the movie industry:

“Hollywood dialogue was once witty, intelligent, ironic, poetic, musical,” he says. “Today it is flat.” He mourns that “it sometimes seems as if the movies are more mediocre than ever, more craven and cowardly, more skillfully manufactured to pander to the lowest tastes instead of educating them.”

[Link]

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Netflix fixes the wrong problem

You have to wait for new Netflix DVDs.

Word on the street is that Netflix subscribers are fleeing because of recent rate increases; the company hopes to fix this by splitting its streaming service from the DVD service and making both relatively inexpensive. The streaming service will still be Netfix, and the DVD service will be called Qwickster. You can keep both services without paying more, or if you just want DVD service or just want streaming service, you can keep one and ditch the other, and pay less. This could be a good idea if price were the only problem.

For many, I suspect it’s not. Check out the graphic at the top of this post – it shows the status of new DVD releases I’ve just added to my Netflix queue. Only one is available now. Others have a wait – from short to very long. This never used to happen; now it’s the norm. I can drive a couple of blocks and find a RedBox that has the recent DVD releases I want, or I can wait for some indefinite period for Netflix availability. I’m having to watch and juggle my queue – I have no confidence that the next DVD Netflix sends me will be the one I prioritized ahead of others; it might have a “very long wait.”

If Netflix can’t resolve this supply vs demand issue, more will flee regardless of price.

As for the streaming service, because so few of the films I want to see are available for streaming, it’s not especially attractive. Best thing about it is that I can watch old episodes of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” whenever I want to. Actually, I currently have more items in my streaming queue than my DVD queue, but they tend to be things I would watch if I had time on my hands, which I generally don’t – not necessarily compelling, and of course no new releases. And this service will only work so long as I have Internet access with unlimited access. If broadband providers cap their services (and I have no doubt they’d like to go there), high-bandwidth streaming of full movies will be potentially expensive. Capped bandwidth could kill Netflix’ streaming service.

Another issue is whether Netflix will be able to sustain contracts with content providers and continue getting all the DVD releases, or continue to get them at release. Consider the loss of Starz content.

We all have limited time for longer form media and many channels for access. I find that I’m increasingly watching movies via HD cable channels, and I can use RedBox for the new releases I’ve been getting from Netflix. There are also competing streaming services, such as Amazon’s, which is free with Amazon Prime. I’m not confident Netflix’ price reduction will bring departing customers back, or prevent existing customers from departing.

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Collaboration, cooperation, democracy

Everybody’s head is a strange universe filled with echos of voices they’ve heard over and over again. Against this, we try to manifest our intentions, to persuade with more voice, more conversation. Sometimes we get through, but even when we get through, we’re often filtered, just as we’re filtering. Is it any wonder that it’s so difficult to build and sustain an effective collaboration?

I’m looking at the ways that we strive to aggregate our attentions, find common ground, and work together. Over the years I’ve approached this through the lens of democracy, or what I’ve referred to as the “democratic intention” to create a participatory process that works. The older I get and the more I think about it, the more I realize that this intention, though we so often profess it, is actually rare. Most of us would really like to assert our self interest, our own preferences, but society is a collision of interests and preferences, we have to give in order to take. In a recent discussion of the book The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod, I was struck by the hardwired assumption that self-interest inherently rules, and cooperation is reached most effectively with an understanding of that point, thus the prisoner’s dilemma. In fact, I find that real people are fuzzy on that point, they’re not necessarily or inherently all about self-interest. We’re far more complex than that.

There’s a force of democratization in this world that I suspect is an inherent effect of two factors, population growth and density (which forces us to socialize and co-operate) and human evolution (hopefully we’re growing wiser, more capable, and continuing to adapt). I see aspects of it in work that I do. My internet work is often about building contexts to bring people together for shared experience and collaboration. At the Society of Participatory Medicine I’m involved in communications, and the concept of participatory medicine is driven by a democratization of health information and process. In politics I’ve focused on grassroots emergence, ad hoc and headless organizations, methods for effecting and enhancing participatory culture and activism. In thinking about markets, I’m drawn to the Cluetrain Manifesto and Doc Searls’ current Project VRM, or vendor relationship marketing, which is about giving consumers tools for symmetrical power within the vendor/customer relationship.

I’m thinking about all this in the context of my ongoing fascination with culture, media, and the Internet, and developing thinking that might feed into several interesting projects here and elsewhere. One thought I had was about a potential revival of Extreme Democracy and new conversations about emergent democracy. These are potentially lush gardens of thinking and doing that at the moment are barren, having been untended for a while.

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bin Laden and the horserace

Osama bin Laden’s death is a complex event with many implications and potential repercussions, yet it’s been trivialized by media analysis (professional and social) that avoids going deep and focuses only on its meaning in the context of the 2012 campaign, or as Adam Hochberg notes, “just another lap in the political horserace.” Another Hochberg point that bears repeating: “…the Internet has removed the traditional filters and allowed the public
to immediately see and participate in Washington’s constant political
posturing.”

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Bruce Sterling’s talk via live tweet

Bruce Sterling at SXSW 2011

Bruce Sterling at SXSW 2011

I live-tweeted Bruce Sterling’s talk at SXSW Interactive. Here are the tweets… in reverse chronological order, so read ’em backwards.

  • “Women of Italy, cast away all the cowards from your embraces.” SXSW looks like a new world because it’s got women in it.
  • Closing with a Garibaldi quote. “I offer only hunger, thirst, forced marches, battle, and death.” And people went for that.
  • This is an era of organized deception! Days of rage, baby. Be realistic, demand the impossible.
  • “Move to Austin, take over the town!”
  • You need to take power, millenials. I’ll vote for ya! You need a global youth movement.
  • Boomers, shut up! What you should study now is collaborative consumption, technomadism.
  • Young people are the victims of a decaying status qo.
  • They pretend to govern, we pretend to obey.
  • Who would save us from the BP? We’re incapable of rapid deciseve action, and the world demands that sometimes.
  • What worries me is the response to things that take courage and virtuosity and passion to work out, like disaster response.
  • Obese people in the US: “Imagine if the Statue of Liberty looked like that.” It brings out one’s inner Bill Hicks.
  • Catholic Church borgia-like devil’s bargain with Berlusconi to get the legislation they want.
  • Republicans: “a joke to anyone outside the range of Fox News.”
  • People don’t want to throw Berlusconi out, because they fear some kind of economic upheaval.
  • Talking about Berlusconi – he’s a head of state behaving like Hugh Hefner. This is a big deal in Italy.
  • ExxonMobil are not the only political malefactors, they’re just the best connected.
  • ExxonMobil is the personification of corporate evil. (applause)
  • You cn do whatever you want to a microbe and no hippie will show up with a protest sign. Microbes are not in the Bible.
  • Beautiful social network for synthetic biology: http://bit.ly/ei4Wja (expand)
  • Craig Ventner was at SXSW because he’s trying to reframe 20c genetic engineeering as 21stc synthetic biology.
  • In our society, we don’t have any passionate virtuosity.Our political situation is the opposite,disgusted incompetence.
  • We’ve got a series of problems that are poorly recognized.
  • Passionate virtuosity…. the ideas in Worldchanging 2.0 are passionate but lack virtuosity.
  • Bruce Sterling shows Worldchanging 2.0 (the book) at sxsw.
  • As a design critic, I criticize stuff that doesn’t exist yet.
  • Polarizing brand management. Culture wars. Politics from POV of a design critic.
  • All the political language has been rendered toxic.
  • “There are people here who are younger than the event.”
  • At Southby, science fiction authors talk like they know what’s going on.
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The Future of Journalism: a conversation

With colleagues Pete Lewis, Tony Deifell, Kevin Anderson, Andrew Haeg, and Scott Rosenberg, I’m in a two week conversation about the future of journalism on the WELL. The WELL is the seminal online community; this conversation is in the Inkwell forums, where Bruce Sterling and I have our annual state of the world conversation. Inkwell usually has conversations with authors, but for this conversation we’re trying a panel format.

Here’s my latest contribution to the conversation:

Most of us who studied to be journalists were taught consistent bits about how to structure and tell a story. We learned about inverted pyramids and who-what-when-where-how, about the problem of burying the lede, about economy of writing, and about an ethic that pertains to the profession. So we share something that might feed into our world view, but then we’re shaped by all sorts of other experiences that can take us down this or that rabbit hole.

I personally had a mission to find and tell the truth, and felt that the practice of journalism didn’t cut it. I left ostensibly to create literature, and found myself doing all sorts of things that didn’t always include writing.

Back then, I wouldn’t have known the truth if it bit me on the ass, but I thought it was important. Today I have a more nuanced view; I don’t expect the truth from journalism. I expect a perspective which, when combined with other perspectives, will help me build a world view. And that will be my perspecive… and there may be glimpses of something like the “truth” I was looking for 40 years ago. But I’m lucky if I can be merely accurate.

Over years of being close to many stories covered by journalists, I never saw one account that fit what I thought I had seen myself. There were errors, misrepresentations, misinterpretations. A reporter who has limited time and access likely won’t get a story exactly right. What I like about the web is that it facilitates the public exposure of many perspectives, and through that exposure you can hope to get a sense what’s happening in the world.

In putting together talks about media and the Internet, I’ve given a lot of thought to the evolution of communication. For most of us, our expectations of media are conditioned by a deeply rooted experience of mass media as we were growing up. For us, journalism was few to many – channels were scarce and could carry only a few writers and perspectives.

Before mass media, I think we were more intimately conversational and knew far less of the world. Post-broadcast, in the Internet era, we’re conversational again, but we also have an abundance of channels and information. This is pretty new, and I’m not clear where it’s going, but (to the point about Daily) I don’t think we’re going back.

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Mark Pesce on Wikileaks: “Everything feels more authentic.”

Wikileaks is a big deal; Mark Pesce’s written the most insightful comment I’ve seen yet explaining just why. Read it here.

Everything is different now. Everything feels more authentic. We can choose to embrace this authenticity, and use it to construct a new system of relations, one which does not rely on secrets and lies. A week ago that would have sounded utopian, now it’s just facing facts. I’m hopeful. For the first time in my life I see the possibility for change on a scale beyond the personal. Assange has brought out the radical hiding inside me, the one always afraid to show his face. I think I’m not alone.