Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Lou Marinoff described one definition of Justice as "doing the right thing at the right time." He continued by explaining that it means you have to define "right thing".

There are at least eleven ways of being right.
  1. deontology - rules tell us what is right and wrong
  2. teleology - The end justifies (or sanctifies) the means
  3. virtue ethics - goodness comes from virtues, which are like habits
  4. humanistic existentialism - what we choose to do determines what we value
  5. nihilistic existentialism - "God is dead." And we killed him. So all moral bets are off
  6. analytic ethics - "Goodness" cannot be defined or analyzed
  7. correlative ethics - every right entails an obligation, and vice-versa
  8. sociobiology - ideas of "right" and "wrong" are motivated by our genes
  9. feminist ethics - women have different moral priorities: e.g. ethics of caring
  10. legal moralism - if it's legal, it's ethical
  11. meta-ethical relativism - each situation has its own unique ethical dimension

Aeons ago, Clay asserted that power-laws existed in blogs and that it was in-equal but fair. Maybe he is basically being a deontologists with a bit of legal moralism thrown in. The rules are fair so it's OK. Marko (a philosopher among other things) asks the question, "So the interesting question this raises is: What are the principles if satisfied that would show the blogging world to be a just institutional structure? And the meta-level question: How would we justify these principles to each other?" I know that Marko is an expert on "justice" and my simple explanation above is far to simple, but this dialog about whether blogs are fair, good or just forces us to examine what we mean by fair, right and just. I think that in order for us to justify these principles, we might need to define Virtue. (Since defining "right" is so difficult.) According to Lou:

Aristotle said that Virtue is the Golden Mean between two extremes. It was all about balance. "Rational" comes from "ratio". The idea was to triangulate from two extremes of vice. For example, Courage is the mean between cowardice and rashness.
I know Dave Winer likes the word "triangulation" and the blogs are good at that. Is it possible that blogs can help us get out of the echo chamber and achieve the Aristotelian Virtue of the Golden Mean? (I know many people disagree with this, but I continue to believe as I argued in my Emergent Democracy paper that this is possible.) danah expresses her opinion that blogs are not an equalizing technology and that it is the a technology for the privileged. To her, fair (and probably just) isn't about having rules that are difficult to game, but rather about being available and designed to promote equality. She is probably more of a teleologist with a bit of correlative ethics and feminism thrown in. (Sorry, just playing with the labels a bit. Don't mind me.)

To finally tie it into the discussion about technological determinism vs social constructivism, I think we need to be aware that we have an active effect on how the architecture of this technology evolves. I don't think we can yet "show the blogging world to be a just institutional structure", but rather we can try to determine what is just and strive to make the blogging world into something we feel is just. This requires us to dive into some of the questions that even Aristotle didn't answer. What is right? What is just? Hopefully the tools themselves will help guide this discussion, but rather than be nihilistic or deterministic, I think we should be actively involved in a dialog that best represents a consensus of our views. In order for this to be just, we must try be as inclusive as possible of everyone and on this I agree with danah. The tool is not yet inclusive. I think that blogs are right in many ways, but are far from right in many others. How can we try to make blogs as right and just as possible. I think that this is the question that faces us today.


Keep smoking, dude. It's just a blog, not a social revolution.

Joi, I can see we're thinking the same way, and on this subject that's a good thing. Some of the Thursday night people are making their own treks up to NH now. I think this is hugely significant. Susan Kitchens, who knows people at JPL (she lives in the neighborhood) is covering the Mars landing. This is why I'm interested in blogging, not the social network stuff. I want news from the people. I call this citizen bloggers. They stand alone. They tell you what they see. They make triangulation work. They increase the odds that you'll hear about the latest outrage.

I was talking with Hiawatha Bray for his article on RSS (a must-read, btw) and said wasn't it weird that none of the pros told us about the unbundled Patriot II provisions passing and being signed because they were too busy shwing us Saddam getting his tonsils inspected, and he said it was probably just because the reporters were too busy to tell us about the New Fascism. That's why I'm glad I have bloggers keeping their eyes and ears open, and that eventually the pros will tune into a story if we repeat it often enough.

And to the previous poster, it most certainly is a social revolution and much more.

I wouldn't say deontolgy says that rules tell us what is right. Rather, what is right and what is wrong can be deduced from the fact that we are rational beings and these deductions lead to rules that universally applicable.

I'm sorry to come here and piss in your coffee, Joi, but the question "are blogs just?" is BS, as is the question "is the blogging world a just institutional infrastructure?"

To my ear, this is much like asking "are notepads just?" "is the literate world a just institutional infrastructure?" It isn't an institutional infrastructure at all.

Not all notepads are the same, nor are all blogging tools, and the diversity of tools is sure to increase. And I don't think there is *a* blogging world. Different bloggers, and communities of bloggers, use blogs in different ways that tie in with one another loosely if at all.

Adam, How about "is the press just?" "is the mass media a just institutional infrastructure?" Aren't these valid questions? Didn't "the press" historically represent small time operations huddled around the technology of little printing presses? I'm sure the people who read the "Wall Street Journal" of the days happenings would probably have had a hard time convincing people that in the future they would have much impact on world affairs. Didn't these small time printing presses eventually become huge multi-national companies worthy of the term "institution"? Didn't people think that "radio" could become a technology of the people? Isn't it government regulated now? I don't care whether you like the term "blog" or not. Call it what you like. Blogs represent a new way for information to be collected, aggregated, searched and read. We have the the ability to influence how the tools and how the norms of this "institution" evolve. I believe that it is prudent to think in these terms.

I would like to clarify here that when we talk about blogs, we are talking about a variety of things. Just like the printing press went on to revolutionize not just the media, but printing in general, I believe that blogging tools have a great deal more to contribute to society than the narrow meaning of "blogging" I refer to here. But I believe that just as "the press" means more than just any old thing printing on a "press" I believe that whatever we end up calling it, the use of blogs for the pursuit of truth and justice has the potential to become an institution guided by principles and virtues.

With all due respect....huh????

Massively networked micropublishing, that’s what I call it. The key is linking. Back in the day, a small paper in Philadelphia had no way to directly, instantaneously incorporate content from a small paper in London; simple citation took months. Today—well—you know the score, and of course we’re not just talking about commercial media here; we’re talking about you and me. This is evolutionary and revolutionary, and we’re just barely getting started. It’s never too soon to begin tackling issues of justice and equity in the face of technologically that will, inevitably, alter society. The coming change will be spasmodic and radical, but ultimately for the better because, unlike water, which always seeks the low, the truth always seeks the high, the clear light of day. When the poor, disenfranchised, and to date largely ignored get their hands fully around this technology, you and those about whom you care had better be on the right side of things. You heard it here first.

Joi -- there is definitely something here worth pursuing as a dialogue within the community, and there is a tremendous opportunity (as there was with most new media). The difference is that it has finally been brought down to the lowest common denominator: text. Of course therein lies one of the problems, namely, it is biased towards those who live in the world of words (yes, I've seen moblogging but thus far I'm underwhelmed).

Above all, blogging is important because it allows a most fundamental urge (more fundamental than procreation) to flourish. Namely, the urge to communicate. The democratic aspect is perhaps a side effect of the emergent nature. However, given the fascist tendencies in the current polity, I fear that the plug will be pulled before there is a chance to do something really interesting.
There are many ways the internet genie can be put back in the bottle, or otherwise disemboweled, but it is our duty to ensure otherwise.

ps. one of the best ways to kill something is to institutionalize it. Become too dependant on a glitterati who self-censor to maintain their status and you're right back in the echo chamber. Emergence only works when it's dynamic...

Hmmm. Perhaps we are talking past each other a little.

I believe that technology is value-neutral: it's how use it that can be judged as good or bad, just or unjust. Technology can, of course, reflect the biases of those who create it, and predispose us towards certain kinds of use, and in that sense, I agree, it is worth reflecting on how our tools *should* evolve.

I don't see a direct line of descent from the earliest flatbed press operators to Bertelsmann AG. If anything, I see a business interest that said "Aha! Books! Hey, we could make money off those! Let's get one of those newfangled presses." Obviously it's more complicated than that. And you're right about radio, but there too, you've got to draw a line between the technology and its use. Radio-the-technology, of course, is still used as a democratic means of communication by ham radio operators, cellphone users, etc. Radio-the-mass-medium, of course, is not democratic. So is printing-the-technology. I have a printer near my computer with output to die for, and all I need to do is feed it a little paper and toner. Xeroxing is cheap, and 'zines flourished as a result.

I suppose that a Bertelsmann or ClearChannel of the future might say "Aha! Blogs! Hey, we could make money off those!" They might, I don't know, buy SixApart and start posting a bunch of homogenous, corporatized blogs.

But you and I would still have blogs-as-technology, and until this hypothetical BlogCorp of the future can literally squeeze us off the Internet, we can still read each others' blogs and ignore BlogCorp's. Frankly, I don't see how independent blogs can be marginalized by Big Media players.

Radio-the-mass-medium achieved its position through favorable government regulation. Which is probably for the worse, considering the state of radio today. This created a somewhat artificial barrier to entry (though the idea that the airwaves need to be rationed makes sense in the abstract, and rationing by price is most effective, we could do a much better job spreading them around). Press-the-mass-medium achieved its position through the high barrier to entry of large printing presses being really, really expensive. The barriers to entry for running a blog are inherently very low, and even today, when the US government is so obviously biased towards corporate interests, I have a hard time seeing it creating artificial, regulatory barriers.

But perhaps I'm still missing your real point. Do you mean something like this? That blogging obeys power laws, that blogging favors people with the luxury of free time, and that these are intrinsic qualities of blogging *as a human endeavor* or qualities that reflect the biases of current blog-tool developers, and that these qualities are unjust. I would disagree with that point too. If blogging favors people with more free time, well, if there's any injustice there, it's in the unequal availability of free time. Power laws? I don't have a problem with them. I write my blog for my own satisfaction and to let my friends know what I'm doing and what I'm thinking about. And to remind me in the future of what I was doing/thinking. While it's nice knowing that other people are reading it (which, I think, a few other people do), that's not why I do it.

Two Things

First, a compelling social need drove early advances in printing. Namely, the need to mass produce Bibles and hopefully, through spreading the word, save our mortal souls etc. etc.

Second, I think the current definition of blogging needs to stretch its wings a bit and peer forward in time. To my earlier point about the disenfranchised (here’s where compelling social need kicks in) imagine a world in which micropublishing is as simple as uttering the phrase ‘record’ and letting your glasses capture the police standoff with protestors, food lines, what have you and simulcast it to your ‘blog’ or (insert futuristic sounding virtual publishing name here) for immediate consumption by your contemporaries, big media, big government, whoever. As I said, we’re only just now scratching the surface. Dismissing the threat this scenario poses to big corporate sponsored government strikes me as a touch rosy. Call me paranoid, but even paranoids have enemies.

Adam. I believe that a lot of science is value neutral. Laws of physics, the fact that you can blow things up. Architectures and the way that science becomes technology and technologies are built around architectures are value ridden. Understanding how architectures affect society and how politics affect architectures is key in steering our world one way or another.

The basic philosophical difference of having smart people in power and secrecy with all people transparent to those in power vs power being forced into transparency while protecting the privacy of those who dissent is a fundamental difference in the way we run society and is reflected in almost every single decision about technology. We live in a world where we are constantly negotiating these tradeoffs.

As I sit in marketing meetings where people are discussion what "the consumer wants" and designing DRM, features, network architectures, identity managment systems, privacy policies, all based on what they think people want... I realize how these decisions will fundamentally change the way people will interact with these services which will in turn fundamentally change what they are more likely to do or think. Obviously, if the marketing people are wrong and the people do not buy the product or choose to behaving unpredictably, the services will adapt, but there are choices by both the people and the technologists occuring every day that could "squeeze us off" the Internet. I personally am not as pessimistic as most and believe that we will, in the end, win this battle, but telephone carriers make ADSL modems that don't handle VoIP well, cable modems often are tuned to do video over IP poorly. Everyone is throwning sand in the vaseline trying to rig the system in their favor with only the virtue of a profitable quarter as their single motive.

I do agree with Matt that social needs drive most technologies and technology in the absense of a social context really doesn't have any meaning. I think the key right now is that there are many politically opposed and technically incompatible vectors fighting for control of the architecture. I think that identifying which social needs ought to have priority over others should be a key driving force in the discussion about technology and law and that is why I am so supportive of organizations like the EFF and Creative Commons which are trying to bridge these worlds.

Sorry about the rant...

At the risk of putting too sharp a point on this thread, I feel compelled to respond to the notion that “…identifying which social needs ought to have priority over others should be a key driving force in the discussion about technology and law…”

We all ‘need’ to be heard, some more than others. Sadly, an inverse relationship stands between ability and need. Those who could most benefit from a voice are often the least able (through sheer circumstance) to win an audience, while privileged blowhards who should know better seem unable to resist shouting even the most vapid, fleeting thought; theirs is surely not the greater need, yet those who can often do, good sense be damned.

So, perhaps we might persuade ourselves to make a little gamble. Put the best possible publishing tools into the hands of those with great need and leave it to them to define and describe their place in world, to make known their needs. Trust that their unique truth will find a high place from which to be seen, and trust that social justice will follow and prevail. Ask me where I hurt and I’m likely to tell you, “All over.” Allow me to describe my pain in detail, over time, and I’ll begin with what’s troubling me most and construct a deep and credible story that captures the genesis of how I came to be. This cannot be rushed, but it can be started.

You’ll no doubt note my extrapolation from the particular (individual vox) to the more general need for social justice. The latter cannot exist without the former and, put simply, is there any higher calling than the pursuit of social justice? Can we, of the technology class, serve one another and the world any better?

I would apologize for the rant, if I was sorry. (smiling)

Sorry this is coming in late to the conversation - I emailed this to Joi yesterday and am only posting it now...


Let's back up and look at Clay's argument that blogs are unequal but fair. He gives four reasons why this is so:

- Blogs are free - anyone can have one
- Blogs are daily - it's hard to rest on your laurels
- It's not a clique - it's distributed, aggregated preference than creates the A-list
- There is no A-list, just the top of the B-list

The last one is a bit of semantic gamesmanship - there's no A-list because there's no discontinuity between the A-list and B-list. That's like saying that there's no extremely wealthy people because there's a smooth Pareto curve from mutli-billionaire through billionaire into mere millionaire. Whether there's ten or fifty people on top of that list, they've got an unusual an interesting power, whether we call them A-list or not.

The other three arguments interest me more, especially when we bring them into the developing world:

- Blogs are free, assuming you have a computer, regular internet access and time to blog. It also helps to be computer literate enough to use a web browser and to type, and sufficiently literate to be able to construct blog entries. Clay argues that this threshhold isn't much higher than the threshhold of having Internet access, and he's right. Sort of.

We all know that the quality of access we have changes our uses of it. There's no chance you and Barlow would have kept open an iChatAV window for several hours unless you each had cheap, all-you-could eat bandwidth. Had you both been paying by the minute for dialup or cybercafe access, that would have been a much shorter chat. Weblogs are like that - if you're online 10+ hours a day, your blog tends to have a great deal of metacommentary about what's new on the net. And because you're talking about the hot issues, folks link to you, you get involved in conversations and you're part of the community.

If you're offline most of the time and save up money to occasionally post from a cybercafe, you're not going to be involved in the same debates. You're likely to blog about reality (which is often less fun that the web, but lots cheaper to access); you're likely blog long and sporadically. If you're blogging about something that the mainstream blogosphere is deeply interested in, they're likely to cut you some slack and read you. (Salam Pax.) Have the misfortune to live in a media dead-zone and you're likely to be dismissed as an essayist who "doesn't get" how blogs work.

- Blogs are daily. Or, in the case of the top A-list blogs, more than daily - they're real-time conversations with people who, in a very real sense, live and work online. While I share your technological optimism that this is a growing group of people, it's still a finite, small group of people. As danah points out, it's a largely white, male and overwhelmingly rich group of people.

Within this world, as Clay points out, it's a meritocracy. A very competitive one, at that, as folks are beginning to discover that successful blogs can lead to successful books, journalism gigs, speaking gigs, etc. That's okay, but let's not fool ourselves and pretend that we're competing with the whole world - the bloggers we read aren't the smartest, most literate people on the planet, just the smartest, most literate ones who are lucky enough to have access to this medium and the free time to take advantage of it every day.

- There's no clique. But there is a culture. Assume two well-written, well-researched blog entries, one on peer to peer filesharing and one on the Burundian peace process. I'm willing to be the former gets a bit more traffic than the latter. Culturally, the blog community tends to care more about cutting-edge tech than it does about foreign affairs.

But hey, it's a democracy - maybe P2P is just more interesting than Burundi. Or maybe there just aren't a lot of Burundians online. They probably care pretty passionately about these issues. We're seeing small, self-contained communities of interest emerge when there's sufficient people online who care about those interests - the community of Iranian webloggers is clearly a group that's crossed the critical mass threshold.

But what of the rest of the world? If a Ghanaian weblogger wants to be widely read, she should probably either write about issues of concern to the blogosphere, or wait for enough fellow Ghanaians to enter the blogosphere for them to read her writing. To succeed, she needs to conform to the culture or wait for the culture to look more like her. That sounds a lot like a clique to me, just a big, distributed one based on cultural identity.

Putting aside for the moment which of Lou's categories my argument falls into (I'd go for humanistic existentialism, personally), let me take a quick swing at the deontologists. It's not just about the rules - it's about who can and can't access the system governed by those rules. The authors of the United States constitution build a beautiful system of rules that, on their surface, seem extremely fair. But it took centuries for women, people of color, immigrants and people without property to get full access to that system. When you see rules constructed, it's always wise to think about who they were constructed by, for whose benefit and who, intentionally or inadvertantly might be harmed by them.

I think bloggers have built a pretty good set of rules and social norms. But I think the unconscious assumptions of who will be governed by these rules ensures that it will be very hard for a non-English speaker from a developing nation to become an influential A-list blogger any time soon. And until one does, it will be pretty hard for the rules to change.

Thanks for the explanation--that puts things in context much better. I understand and share your concerns about where technology in general may be going.

Is there anything in particular happening in Blogistan that got you worried about where blog technology is going, or are you just taking DRM and such as a cautionary lesson for blog technology?

Privilege, as Danah Boyd has so intelligently summarized, is an extremely important issue in terms of the question of fairness in blogging. The majority of blogs are coming from people who are clearly not working class. Thus the perspectives are all very middle to upper middle class. As somebody living just over the poverty line I'm weary of reading blogs that start with the assumption that the reader *also* owns a Palm spring visor (and I'm not referring to somebody like Joi whose occupation and livlihood depends on technology but the *average* blogger). Obviously if somebody has to work a 14 hour a day job cleaning toilets they probably don't have energy for attending to their blog... thus we don't hear from that person. The bloggosphere may have been created by wealthy early adapters (thanks guys) but it doesn't have to be dominated by those people. And it's obvious that things are changing (slowly). You can still talk about your gadgets but maybe you can also spend some time finding ways to put a few gadgets in community centres and classrooms or hell post about somebody (or some organisation) that might benefit from your status.

I'm sorry, but I have to pull apart the underlying pretension of this thread, which is that non-technical lower/middle class Josephine Bloes give a rat's ass about the blogworld.

If I am going to be patronizing toward a particular group of people it would be towards those who feel the social consensus of the blogworld differs enough from their own that posting their thoughts would be pissing in the rain, not the somehow underprivledged.

I'm not sure if you see how pitying the poor unwired masses holds the same intentions as missionaries pitying the unwashed heathen.

I say we pity ourselves for being so smug. Smuggness is blinding you know, sort of like informing ourselves about the world via text on a page...

** How about "is the press just?" "is the mass media a just institutional infrastructure?" Aren't these valid questions? **

Well, yes. So is the question: "Are blogs just?" All questions are valid, but not all are interesting. It would seem to me more interesting, recognizing the inevitable imperfections of our fallen world, blah blah blah..., to ask what feasible actions here and now could make blogging opportunities and consequences more just.

WOW what a collection of amazing concepts and streaming ideas

As someone who is far more a traditionalist and yet at 35 and CEO of a nationally regognized strategic business consulting firm, Concepts In Success, I must say that as a new blogger... behind all the hype, hassle and pardon me hoo hah is the most primal and basic forces, the desire for individuals to connect, to share ideas to optimize ideas and and find ways to engender more effecient and effective outcomes at all levels of the human condition.

Social, professional, spiritual, etc all the spheres can coexist here and the sharing is the universal thread that binds us all.

I have enjoyed hearing about success and forces that drive you each to reach for new goals

Bravo and good night


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