Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 21:21:35 +0900
From: Jiro Kokuryo 
To: Joichi Ito 
Subject: Re: Cultural Captial

Hi Joi,

>Culture could be the most important stabilizer for the information

Katarzyna Olszewska who is traveling with me gave me a hint that culture
depends not only on the sender of messages but also on the framework by
which the receiving end interprets it.  This is parallel to the idea of
"knowledge" or "meaning" dependent on the interpretive mechanism.  

A community that shares the experience of interpreting messages together
forms a shared system of interpreting information, which is my
understanding of context.   Is my understanding correct that this is
close to what you are calling culture?)  Richness of communication
depends on the the level of it.

What the modern transport and communication technology offers are
markets that are wider than communities that shares high levels of
context.  What we see as a consequence is a large scale dissemination of
shallow communication. 

I have a mixed feeling about the the commodification of culture.  In a
community that has limited context in the past, shared experience with a
common artifact provides a base for future context.  You know, something
to start a conversation with a total stranger. A common base is
necessary to communicate.  Takemura-san's system of expressing color
becomes a shared system of expressing and interpreting color -a shared

I was reading a biography of Otsuki Bumpei who edited an enormous
dictionary of the Japanese language in the Meiji period.  Not only in
Japan, but in all "nation states," editing of the dictionary was equated
to the establishment of the national identity and was therefore a
national security matter.  In the process, languages were standardized
creating bases for people to communicate.

The bad news is that some dialects were deliberately destroyed.  We
tried imposing Japanese language on the Koreans which, to the Koreans,
was elimination of their identity.

I guess the lesson from the internet is the commonly shared context at
the lower layer provides opportunity to build high context communities
on top of it.

> On Sun, 30 Aug 1998 11:58:02 +0900
> Joichi Ito  wrote:
> > Hi... I just finished talking to my sister again. I wrote a few
> > paragraphs describing my current thoughts. If you have a
> > moment, I would really appreciate any feedback you might have.
> > The notes are at:
> > 
> >
> > 
> > Thanks!
> > 
> > - Joi
> > 
> > 

To: Jiro Kokuryo
From: Joichi Ito
Date: 9/5/98

Hi Kokuryo-sensei,

I'm sorry that my reply to this message is so late. I really appreciate
your thoughts and this last message from you I think has driven home
a point that I have yet to resolve in my own mind. I don't have a very
good way of thinking through this problem, but let me try to describe my
confusion to you...

I think that what I have been calling "culture" has at least two opposing
aspects. I heartily agree with you that a common protocol whether it is
IP protocol or language or the rules to a game such as Go are very important
in creating context and allowing the tranfser of meaningful content.

On the other hand, I think what I have been calling "culture" is almost the
opposite of that. In the example of the tapas restaurant from my sister,
I think the "culture" aspect was the part that couldn't be codified. So what
is culture?

Taking it from a different angle...

I think you need to be able to think of something completely new and also
be able to communicate this meaningfully to others to be of value to a
community or culture.

What this means is that each node needs to be different enough to be unique,
but same enough to connect. It is a question of at what layer you put the
sameness and what layer you put the information.

I suppose the fear that my sister has with commodification of culture is that
in a world where there is sufficient sameness and syncronization the system
feeds on new information or difference. By taking a new layer such as fashion
or food and commodifying it, it is depleting a resource of sorts. I think that
where there is complete chaos or where chaos is prevelant, rules and order
help to stabalize it. I hate to reduce everything to balance, but it seems like
this might be the only good explanation from me at this point.

I suppose that it might be viewed as a situation where one group is trying to
keep a certain layer different from everyone else to preserve identity and
the commodification of that layer reduces the value of that layer. But...
Maybe layer is the wrong metaphor... Taking the tapas restaurant or any
other bit of culture that has been commodfied... (maybe house music)

Why is it bad? 

By making it a commodity, the system reduces the it to just the elements
that can be understood and consumed by the masses. At this point, it becomes
rather superficial and the core of the culture that it comes from (which
probably can not be synched with the main stream) is removed. Such a
"neutralized" piece of culture an then act as a common metaphor to use
as context, but such a piece of culture becomes static and no longer grow
or develop much. So stepping away from the "layer" metaphor, I suppose
that different cultures use different pieces of its culture to retain "difference"
and "identity". Other cultures can take that culture and build it into their
"similarity" or "context" to add value to their "context" part. But, this
lowers the "identity" of the first culture. I'm not sure what I am saying makes
much sense, but I am trying to describe thoughts that occur to me from my

Mimi, do you have any thoughts?

 - Joi

Date: Sat, 05 Sep 1998 20:50:59 +0900
From: Jiro Kokuryo 
Subject: Re: Cultural Captial

Hi, Joi,

> What this means is that each node needs to be different enough to be unique,
> but same enough to connect.

I agree that this is the question.  Don't have answer myself.

An exercise that is usually helpful in this kind of instance is to
define terminologies.

Can you define culture in less than 25 words?

Do NOT think about this while driving...  It's dangerous.

The argument that I usually make is: to "connect" you need to share a
"platform" which consists of (i) vocabulary, (ii) grammar, (iii) context,
and (iv) norm.  A group of people that share a platform is called a
community.  There can be multiple platforms and a person may be on
multiple platforms.

To: Jiro Kokuryo
From: Joichi Ito
Date: 9/7/98

Tell me if you have already gone down this trail
of thought...

If you use the strength of weak ties idea with
culture and communication, it seems that
strong ties require more shared context and
"sameness" whereas weak ties are more
about have just enough context to communicate,
but taking advantage of the "difference".

Therefore, I can imagine a view of the myriad
of cultures and groups in our society as a
combination of high context close-knit
communities and low context wide communities
or weak tie links.

I think what happens when culture is commodified,
is that a weak tie is converted into a strong tie
and the difference between the two groups is
collapsed and forced into context. This increases
the size of the strong force group, but now there
is one less node.

What is wrong with less nodes? I think that nodes
are like different DNA combinations and that
diversity is good. Probably different languages
are better and describing or thinking about different
problems and I think different cultures produce
different cultural goods. This difference can help
dampen fluctuations and manage changes in the
different environments.

- Joi

p.s. I will work on the 25 word definition of

Date: Tue, 08 Sep 1998 08:44:10 +0900
From: Jiro Kokuryo 
Subject: Re: Cultural Captial

Hi Joi,

A bit pressed for time.  Please excuse me for giving compressed

I think what we need are:
Diversity in nodes on a common dimension
while a single node residing on multiple dimensions.

Contrast this with a situation in which:
No diversity among the nodes.
Only one dimension exists.

Multiplicity of dimensions is sort of important, I think.

May be we share enough context for this to make sense to you...