Seth Godin has taught me so much about communications, leadership, publishing and life that I thought that it was important to stream my conversation with Seth. As usual, it was a great conversation.
Seth is on the Media Lab Advisory Council.
Seth Godin has taught me so much about communications, leadership, publishing and life that I thought that it was important to stream my conversation with Seth. As usual, it was a great conversation.
Seth is on the Media Lab Advisory Council.
Shaka just released his book, Writing My Wrongs that you can buy on his website. It's an amazing book and an amazing story. I just attended the book launch party earlier this week and have posted some photos on Flickr. Shaka is one of the MIT Media Lab Director's Fellows, a Knight Foundation BMe award winner and one of the most inspirational friends I have. I was honored to write the following foreword to the book.
On July 1, 2012, the MIT Media Lab announced that we would be creating an Innovators Guild-a team of scholars, executives, and designers that would go to communities around the world using the power of innovation to help people. Our first focus for this was Detroit.
Three weeks later the Knight Foundation, which was funding our trip, organized a meeting with Detroit community leaders. We gave presentations about MIT and the Media Lab and about how we had come to Detroit to explore how we could create innovative solutions to long-standing problems.
Then, during the Q&A, a tough-looking black man with dreadlocks stood up and spoke. "Many well-meaning people come to Detroit with a missionary mentality. Then they get discouraged when they realize how just how tough our problems are. If you want to make a real impact you have to go out among the people in the communities and not buy into the romanticized view of Detroit based on Midtown and Downtown." Although there were other comments expressing skepticism, this one stood out. We realized, for the first time, that we were looking into the face of reality-The Truth.
After the formal part of the meeting, the man came up to us and introduced himself as Shaka. He said that if we were willing he would show us the real Detroit. We immediately accepted the offer. On the next trip we avoided Downtown altogether and went straight to Brightmore on Detroit's West Side, a neighborhood full of burned-out, vacant homes and liquor stores fronted with bulletproof glass. Shaka told us stories that had none of the romance, but they were real.
We quickly realized that we couldn't just fly in, do good, and go home. We needed to introduce ourselves to the community, learn about the people who live there, and build trust. If we wanted to have a positive impact on Detroit we had to be there for the long haul.
In the following weeks, my team from the Media Lab and creatives from the design firm IDEO flew to Detroit, working with Shaka and others to come up with a plan for how we might be able to join the community and work together. We then invited Shaka and the Detroit team to the MIT Media Lab to meet students and faculty and see and learn about what we do. Bonds began forming between the Lab and the Detroiters.
In October, we all converged on Detroit-setting up a base at the headquarters of OmniCorpDetroit, a vital, local organization. We were a team of community leaders, chief innovation officers, students, and designers. Each of the teams started working on projects ranging from solving the streetlight issue to urban farming. Shaka emerged as our natural leader, keeping the energy high and the teams working together.
By the end of an insanely productive three days, I had a plan. I would make Shaka a MIT Media Lab Fellow and he'd be our man in Detroit-our connection to the incredibly important world he represents. Since then, Shaka and the Media Lab team have started to work together extensively, and Shaka continues to inspire and challenge us.
In December, Shaka emailed me that he had a rough draft of his memoirs and asked if I was interested in reading it. I read the entire book in two sittings, riveted. Shaka is, among his other talents, an amazing storyteller. The book is funny and moving and astute and by the end I felt as if I had been the one convicted of murder, as if I'd spent seven years in the hole, and gone through the dramatic transformation from angry, scared young boy, to enlightened teacher and leader.
And by the end I could begin to see how a generation of bright children full of promise are channeled into a system that sees them as little more than felons-in-waiting. Yet again, Shaka has inspired me to help right the wrongs by, in this instance, helping him "write the wrongs". The book may be about Shaka's past, but it points to a future in which we all take the next step to build a more just society.
Jeff and I spent the day cranking on our book. Feeling good about the structure of the book and we made a lot of progress.
One of the things I decided I need to do is to get my blog voice back so - hello!
We still don't even have a real title for the book, but we're close. Watch this space for more about the book as we get rolling.
A few weeks ago, Stewart Brand emailed me asked if I was still playing World of Warcraft and if I had read DAEMON. I was still playing World of Warcraft and hadn't read DAEMON. A few days later, thanks to Amazon, I was reading DAEMON.
Years ago, I remember thinking about Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) and how much they affected people in the real world. I knew people who were obsessed with MUDs, the first Multi-User Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). I was obsessed. (I think the first time I ever appeared in Wired was in 1993 when Howard Rheingold with Kevin Kelly wrote about MUDs and mentioned my obsession.) In MUDs, people got married, people got divorced, people lost their jobs, people shared ideas... The MUDs I played touched the real world through all of the people in the game.
Unlike the World of Warcraft and more like Second Life, MUDs allowed players to create rooms, monsters and objects. When you entered a MUD, it was like entering the collective intelligence of all of the people who played the game. There were quests that were designed by people using their knowledge of Real Life™. Playing in their worlds was like walking through their brains. These worlds merged and collided as people from everywhere collaborated in creating MUDs of various themes with various objectives.
At some point in the evolution of MMORPGs, MUDs forked and we ended up with most of the people who liked creating objects and worlds in places like Second Life where, while you CAN make games, most of what happens is world creation. The "gamers" ended up in games like World of Warcraft where the game play aspect has been honed to a fine art, but the player content creation aspect has been completely lost. (Although most of the developers are former obsessive players.)
What I envisioned back when I was playing and hacking MUDs more was that if you turned the world a bit inside out and imagined that YOU were the MUD, the people who played your game were like little pawns or interfaces for you in the real world. They inputted content and created worlds and taught you about the real world. They promoted you to their friends. They played obsessively increasing experience points and commitment to the game so that they would forever feed you and keep you alive. They would set up servers and pay for hosting just to feed their obsession and protect their investment. If you became extremely popular, a group of your players would spawn a new MUD with your DNA-code and there would be another one of you.
The hardcore players would hack your open source code and keep you evolving. The Wizards would educate and add character to each instance of your code. The players would be your footprint in Real Life™.
When most of the gamers moved to corporation owned closed source games designed by a team of developers, I stopped having this dream. The games were no longer "alive" in the same way I had envisioned them evolving.
After reading DAEMON, this dream is back. Leinad Zeraus depicts a world where a collosall computer daemon designed by a genius MMO designer begins to take over the world after his death. In many ways, the vision is similar to the vision I had, but the author adds a macabre twist and many many more orders of scale to make this one of the most inspiring books I've read in a long time. The author is "an independent systems consultant to Fortune 100 companies. He has designed enterprise software for the defense, finance and entertainment industries." He uses his experience to make the book extremely believable and realistic and still mind-blowing.
It was super fun to read and is a book I'd recommend to any who loves the Net and gaming. I'd also recommend it to anyone who doesn't. It's a great book to learn about the importance of understanding all of this - before it's too late.
When I was in London, Cory gave me a copy of his new book Little Brother. I read it mostly on the plane and while traveling through London, Hong Kong, Macao and Tokyo airport security. The book is about a future where there is a terrorist attack on San Francisco and DHS in the US gets overzealous and starts abusing their power. The hero of the story is a teenage hacker who decides to declare war on the DHS and take back his civil liberties.
It's a great story about teenagers, net culture, security, activism and politics and was a lot of fun to read. It references a lot of real-life stuff like XBox hacks and ARGs and is classic Cory.
Anyway, it should be coming out soon and I would recommend it to people who like that kind of stuff as well as recommend recommending it to people who still think that fighting terrorism the way we currently are makes any sense at all.
It's also pretty good timing considering the upcoming election in case there is any doubt on which way Americans should vote on security vs civil rights issue.
A really cool thing about this is that Impress has decided to release this mook under CC BY-NC (v 2.1 Japan). They have also made a PDF versions of each section available for download simultaneously under the same license on their site.
On Friday, I met John Buckman. He runs Magnatune, a record label that uses Creative Commons. I've been a huge fan of Magnatune and had been looking forward to meeting him. At the meeting he told me about BookMooch which just launched today.
BookMooch is very cool.
It reminds me a bit of BookCrossing, but the approach is different. BookCrossing is a way to leave books for people in public places and allow people to find these books. You get to track your book and has a neat book-as-artifact element.
BookMooch is more systematic. On BookMooch, you register your books and others search for books. You use points to get books that you earn by listing books. Unlike many other used book services, they don't get involved in the shipping and payment. It's peer-to-peer. Of course, if the book isn't available, there is a link to Amazon.com.
John is very good at combining clean sharing with business to provide a win-win for the various players. BookMooch and Magnatune both have John's sensibility. I view John as a rare example of a serial sharing economy entrepreneur.
Ryu Murakami (WP) and I spent the last nine months or so meeting occasionally to chat about Japanese culture, politics, media and the economy. Creative Garage and Diamond Shuppan transcribed our conversation and published it as a book. (You can buy it on Amazon.co.jp.) The book came out last week and climbed to #6 on the Amazon.co.jp book rankings and is slowly settling back down. (It's #14 at the time of this posting.) That was pretty exhilarating. Having said that, Ryu Murakami is "the name" on the book. Anyway, thanks to everyone who helped on the book and especially to Ryu.
The book is in Japanese and currently we have no plans to translate it.
I remember someone telling me a story about the delivery of the first copy of MS DOS to Japan. (I don't know if this story is true, but it's a good story.) The shipment contained a copy of DOS on paper tape and a blank roll of tape. They taxed just the blank one because the one with DOS on it was "used".
So... Does this make Amazon.com a "used comment salesman" and Six Apart a seller of "new comment space"?
I'm of course mostly joking, but I think this represents two completely different views on the "media" business. You can sell the blank media or "used media". Either the comments are the product or the ability to create comments is the product. This is what separates the professional world from the amateur world... But good amateur can exceed crappy professional in quality. Production and distribution are becoming lower cost, and two opposed views of the world are colliding harder. Clearly, clever people have managed to arbitrage/manage both of these models, but they surely produce very different types of laws, processes and world-views.
Anyway, I'm totally biased and very proud of my sister, but you should still take my recommendation and buy this book. ;-) (Or at least download the introduction.)
Mizuko ItoPersonal, Portable, Pedestrian: Mobile Phones in Japanese Life
The book is an edited collection of social and cultural studies of keitai (mobile phone) and pager use over the past decade or so in Japan. We included our own research as well as research by a variety of mostly Japanese scholars whose work we translated from Japanese.
The new Harry Potter books has been pirated and posted online in 24 hours and there is a video of man spoiling the ending for people standing in line to buy the book.
I wonder how they are going to embargo the Internet...Raincoast BooksRaincoast Books Obtains Injunction Against Early Disclosure and Reviews of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Madam Justice Gill of the Supreme Court of British Columbia granted to Raincoast Books Distribution Ltd., Bloomsbury Plc and JK Rowling, a John/Jane Doe injunction against the copying or disclosing of all or any part of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or any information derived therefrom including without limitation the story, plot or characters of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to any person prior to 12:01 a.m. local time on July 16th...
IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ALL HARRY POTTER FANS
We know that many children and adults around the world cannot wait to read the new book, but we urge anyone who may have bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at The Real Canadian Superstore, 3000 Lougheed Highway, Coquitlam, British Columbia on Thursday July, 7, 2005, where it was temporarily placed on sale early or who have otherwise obtained it before July 16th 2005, to return their copies to Raincoast Books for just a few more days to preserve the excitement for all Harry Potter fans alike...
Although Karel is a professor at the University of Amsterdam, he spends a great deal of time in Japan, writing for various publications, debating Japanese politicians and working very hard to try to help Japan. He had read some things that I had written and I was happy to have Karel say I was a "kindred spirit."
We discussed the history of postwar Japan and how Japan had missed an opportunity to build a more functional democracy because of the focus on fighting communism driven in large part by the American occupation. The US Occupation helped fund the conservative "Liberal Democratic Party" which co-opted or crushed most of the so-called "left-wing" liberal groups that were trying to emerge. A particularly unfortunate victim of this effort was the The Japan Teachers Union. Many teachers in postwar Japan felt a great deal of guilt for having taught children Imperialist warmongering based on the right-wing central government produced texts of the time. There was a strong desire among teachers to turn this guilt into something constructive. The Teachers Union confronted the LDP and the Ministry of Education and pushed for decentralization of education and fought against textbook censorship. The conservatives attacked them and marginalized them, effectively crushing the effort. In light of the recent discussion on Japanese historical revisionism and the festering right-wing, it is really a pity that this movement was crushed since it could have become a positive movement to help face the facts of Japanese Imperialist history. (The union still exists, but is taking a much more moderate stance on reform.)
We talked about the Internet and Wikipedia and how facts and history are being collectively created online. One interesting problem that he has is that many people spell his name as "von Wolferen" instead of "van Wolferen". Even editors of major newspapers consistently "correct" the spelling and change it to "von". It has gotten so bad that there are more results for the wrong spelling than the correct one on Google. It's funny to imagine people who are so sure of their spelling that they would change the spelling of someone's name without checking.
We promised to keep in touch and try to collaborate in the future.
The book reminds me of Don't Think of an Elephants by George Lakoff which is about how the Republican Party is successful at telling their story because it fits the frame / worldview of their voters.
Interestingly, Seth is telling a pretty strong story that I believe doesn't fit the worldview of many of the marketers he is talking to. I hope they believe his story. ;-)
He has a blog about the book called Liar's Blog for the book.
Chris updates some figures from his original article where he had written that "57% of Amazon's book sales are of books not available in stores". He writes in an update, "I've now spoken to Jeff Bezos (and others) about this. He doesn't have a hard figure for the percentage of sales of products not available offline, but reckons that it's closer to 25-30%. That would put it in line with Netflix's and Rhapsody's figures." There is an interesting discussion going on in the comments as well.
New York TimesGoogle Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database
By JOHN MARKOFF and EDWARD WYATT
Google, the operator of the world's most popular Internet search service, plans to announce an agreement today with some of the nation's leading research libraries and Oxford University to begin converting their holdings into digital files that would be freely searchable over the Web.
It may be only a step on a long road toward the long-predicted global virtual library. But the collaboration of Google and research institutions that also include Harvard, the University of Michigan, Stanford and the New York Public Library is a major stride in an ambitious Internet effort by various parties. The goal is to expand the Web beyond its current valuable, if eclectic, body of material and create a digital card catalog and searchable library for the world's books, scholarly papers and special collections.
Sounds good. Now if only we can figure out a way to get more of the books, particularly those which are out of print, into the public domain.MuninnHarvard Pilot Project with Google
I just got a university-wide email regarding a pilot project that Harvard is starting with Google. It looks like Google will also be joining with other universities in this project, which will begin the work of digitizing, and in the case of public domain works providing public access to, the contents of the Harvard library system.
So the big question for me after reading Chris Anderson's excellent article, The Long Tail is... Will there always be producers and consumers of music and other content, or does the amateur revolution really take off and completely blur the consumer and the producer of content? Will amateur and nearly free Creative Commons style content become the primary content that people consume? Will most consumers create content as well? In other words, will the long tail wag? I've heard many theories about this and it is probably different for text, audio, photos and video, but I think this is an important question.
And in case you haven't noticed, it's clearly now a discovery problem, not a delivery problem.
Holy shit. Watch out Amazon, here they come!
Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Since a lot of the world's information isn't yet online, we're helping to get it there. Google Print puts the content of books where you can find it most easily; right in Google search results.
To use Google Print, just do searches on Google as you normally would. Whenever a book contains content that matches your search terms, we'll show links to that book in your search results. Click on the book title and you'll go to a "content page," where you can see the page containing your search terms and other information about the book. You can also search for other topics within the book. Click on the "Buy this Book" link and you'll go straight to a bookstore selling the book online.
If you're a book publisher and you'd like to have your books included in Google search results, look into the Google Print program for publishers.
UPDATE: It appears that people have known about this since last year and it has been on and off in test mode, but the official announcement was Oct 6th.
Fantastic article in Wired by Chris Anderson titled The Long Tail. You MUST read it. Physical distribution limits the number of titles of books, music, DVDs that can be stocked. He explains that online sales show that the market size of stuff below the break even threshold for physical distribution is often larger than the market for the "hits" that make it into stores. He calls this "The Long Tail". We can essentially double the market for most content by figuring out ways to help people find the stuff they are looking for in the long tail and deliver it online.
He also makes another important point about pricing. The iTunes 99 cents is too expensive. It's based on a calculation to protect CD distribution. He suggests that the price should be based on how much your time is worth. In other words, at what price is it not worth your time to find, download and tag a track from a file sharing network. He thinks that maybe this number is around 20 cents for a college student.
I absolutely agree with his analysis and it's great that he's got so many figures and facts to support the argument.
UPDATE: POP STARS? NEIN DANKE! -
In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen people... written by Momus in 1991 is very relevant to this discussion. Thanks Boris.
I did an interview for NPR's summer reading series where we are supposed to talk about books to read over the summer. I ended up talking mostly about blogs. ;-) It's about a month old.
What do YOU recommend we read this summer?
It will be very difficult to "prove" that the Creative Common license and the freely downloadable aspect of Free Culture improved sales, but the book is selling and making it freely available has clearly not STOPPED sales. I wonder if it is possible to show that making books available for free electronically increases the sale of real books? I wonder if there are particular genres where this holds more true...CC WeblogLessig's free book still racking in the sales
Stanford Magazine carries a story this month about our chairman and co-founder Lawrence Lessig's book which has just entered its third printing. This is interesting because the book is freely available online for download (under a Creative Commons license), and has been downloaded about 180,000 times. On the one hand an author can give away free content for folks to remake into audio books, translations, and other formats, and the author still gets paid through traditional book sales. Amazing how that works, and works so well sometimes. [via Copyfight]
I was chatting with AKMA the other day about my thumb. He's had thumb problems, and my thumb hurts. Ever since he got his hernia operation and my post about his Hernia operation became the top result on Google for a search of hernia operation, we've had this mutual medical support bond. (It's not #1 now, but still on the top page.)
Anyway, we were talking about thumbs, and that reminded me about Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins. Then I remembered that I liked Jitterbug Perfume better. AKMA said that he didn't have enough silliness in his life. (I can't really image that is true, but if a Reverend says he needs more silliness, it must be serious.) So I decided to send him the two books. Although I didn't remember the stories very clearly, I clearly remember they were both very silly and fun.
I had forgotten that Jitterbug Perfume and probably Tom Robbins in general tended to be a bit snarky about Christianity. I'd never read them from the perspective of a Reverend before. AKMA seems to have taken it in stride, but it's interesting how you can overlook things that suddenly become snarky in context. I feel like someone who had been laughing at a joke that isn't very funny for some of my friends.
This stream of consciousness Amazon.com impulse buy story was very helpful during my NPR reading series interview when they asked if I ever ready any fiction.
I arrived last night, made the mistake of eating a cheeseburger before bed and didn't sleep much and felt REALLY BAD this morning.
I crawled onto stage at Flash Forward this morning feeling very scattered and weak, but thanks to a strong topic and lots of funny movies to keep people awake, I was able to struggle through my talk. I talked about Creative Commons, Intellectual Property and the future of marketing. I channeled lots of Lessig and Godin. We did a Q&A session afterwards and I really enjoyed talking to the Flash community. Flash and Creative Commons makes SO MUCH SENSE together. The conference is extremely well organized and cool. I got to meet Stewart McBride and Lynda Weinman who really run a class act. Looking forward to figuring out some way to work with them on something...
After that, I went over to NPR and did a short interview about what I read. Blogs of course. ;-) I think the 20 min or so will be edited down to 3 min so I'm not sure what's going to end up in the interview, but I'll post a link once I know when it's going to air.
So no more public speaking until Apsen next week. Time to relax...
Clearly no one reads blogs...Scripting News"No one was listening," said the NPR...
"No one was listening," said the NPR announcer, as she introduced the guy who posted the note on Tuesday morning about the new Edwards decals on the Kerry campaign plane. No one was listening, except for the people who were.
I'm going to be doing a Summer Reading Series interview for NPR this week. I should list all of the blogs people should read this summer. ;-)
Don't you hate it when your favorite writers do, write or say stupid things?Dan GillmorRay Bradbury's Bizarre Complaint
Ray Bradbury is one of the great science fiction writers. But in his advancing years he's also acting in a fairly petty manner.
The author of the brilliant novel "Fahrenheit 451" is claiming to anyone who'll listen (AP) that Michael Moore has somehow committed an act of intellectual theft by naming his new movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" without asking permission.
This reminds me of the horror of reading Orson Scott Card's homophobic essay, "Homosexual "Marriage" and Civilization".
Just finished reading the Galley Proof of We, the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People by Dan Gillmor. O'Reilly is the publisher and it should be coming out mid-July. The book will be published under a Creative Commons license and you will be able to download it free for non-commercial use.
Dan is one of the few professional journalists that really understands the impact of blogs and other new technologies on journalism. It's amazing how many professional journalists I know pooh pooh blogs and keep on chugging like nothing is changing. We, the Media is a excellent book that should be enlightening and humbling for professional journalists. It is also a great guide for us little "j" journalists about what the possibilities are as well as what the difficulties will be. Anyway, it's an amazingly important book for anyone interested in journalism and democracy. It goes well with Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture and Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs.
Just finished reading the famous introduction to Orientalism by Edward Said. Said was a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University and was a well known Palestinian scholar who died in September of last year. Orientalism was written in 1978, but probably continues to become more relevant.
Basically, he argues that the whole notion of the "Orient" or "Orientalism" is a body of culture, academic work and politics that tries to identify the East as "them" in terms that have evolved through Western imperialism. He makes the point that even work that doesn't appear immediately political had political impact and was part of the larger process of the development of Orientalism. Reading it brings back memories of Trader Vic's and pictures from British Museum exhibits of "Headpiece from dead savage."
He points out some important issues which ties into the racism as stereotype discussion we had about Lost In Translation. The simplistic stereotypes and the images of the the East leads to a kind of fascination with the Orient, but also creates a false sense of understanding and fake academics upon which many ignorant, racist and imperialistic political decisions are made.
A version of the introduction is available on The Guardian Unlimited Books web site so I'll give you a few quotes from there.
I just picked out some paragraphs there were particularly interesting to me, but the whole thing is really interesting so I suggest you read the intro in its entirety.Edward W. Said...Orientalism is very much a book tied to the tumultuous dynamics of contemporary history. Its first page opens with a description of the Lebanese civil war that ended in 1990, but the violence and the ugly shedding of human blood continues up to this minute. We have had the failure of the Oslo peace process, the outbreak of the second intifada, and the awful suffering of the Palestinians on the reinvaded West Bank and Gaza. The suicide bombing phenomenon has appeared with all its hideous damage, none more lurid and apocalyptic of course than the events of September 11 2001 and their aftermath in the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. As I write these lines, the illegal occupation of Iraq by Britain and the United States proceeds. Its aftermath is truly awful to contemplate. This is all part of what is supposed to be a clash of civilisations, unending, implacable, irremediable. Nevertheless, I think not.
I wish I could say that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam in the US has improved, but alas, it really hasn't. For all kinds of reasons, the situation in Europe seems to be considerably better. What American leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, so that "we" might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow. It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar. But this has often happened with the "orient", that semi-mythical construct which since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in the late 18th century has been made and remade countless times. In the process the uncountable sediments of history, a dizzying variety of peoples, languages, experiences, and cultures, are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the sandheap along with the treasures ground into meaningless fragments that were taken out of Baghdad.
The major influences on George W Bush's Pentagon and National Security Council were men such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, experts on the Arab and Islamic world who helped the American hawks to think about such preposterous phenomena as the Arab mind and the centuries-old Islamic decline which only American power could reverse. Today bookstores in the US are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, the Arab threat and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange oriental peoples. CNN and Fox, plus myriad evangelical and rightwing radio hosts, innumerable tabloids and even middle-brow journals, have recycled the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalisations so as to stir up "America" against the foreign devil.
Think of the line that starts with Napoleon, continues with the rise of oriental studies and the takeover of North Africa, and goes on in similar undertakings in Vietnam, in Egypt, in Palestine and, during the entire 20th century, in the struggle over oil and strategic control in the Gulf, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Afghanistan. Then think of the rise of anti-colonial nationalism, through the short period of liberal independence, the era of military coups, of insurgency, civil war, religious fanaticism, irrational struggle and uncompromising brutality against the latest bunch of "natives". Each of these phases and eras produces its own distorted knowledge of the other, each its own reductive images, its own disputatious polemics.
My idea in Orientalism was to use humanistic critique to open up the fields of struggle, to introduce a longer sequence of thought and analysis to replace the short bursts of polemical, thought-stopping fury that so imprison us. I have called what I try to do "humanism", a word I continue to use stubbornly despite the scornful dismissal of the term by sophisticated postmodern critics. By humanism I mean first of all attempting to dissolve Blake's "mind-forg'd manacles" so as to be able to use one's mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding. Moreover humanism is sustained by a sense of community with other interpreters and other societies and periods: strictly speaking therefore, there is no such thing as an isolated humanist.
Speaking both as an American and as an Arab I must ask my reader not to underestimate the kind of simplified view of the world that a relative handful of Pentagon civilian elites have formulated for US policy in the entire Arab and Islamic worlds, a view in which terror, pre-emptive war, and unilateral regime change - backed up by the most bloated military budget in history - are the main ideas debated endlessly and impoverishingly by a media that assigns itself the role of producing so-called "experts" who validate the government's general line. Reflection, debate, rational argument and moral principle based on a secular notion that human beings must create their own history have been replaced by abstract ideas that celebrate American or western exceptionalism, denigrate the relevance of context, and regard other cultures with contempt.
The terrible conflicts that herd people under falsely unifying rubrics such as "America," "the west" or "Islam" and invent collective identities for large numbers of individuals who are actually quite diverse, cannot remain as potent as they are, and must be opposed. We still have at our disposal the rational interpretive skills that are the legacy of humanistic education, not as a sentimental piety enjoining us to return to traditional values or the classics but as the active practice of worldly secular rational discourse. The secular world is the world of history as made by human beings. Critical thought does not submit to commands to join in the ranks marching against one or another approved enemy. Rather than the manufactured clash of civilisations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together. But for that kind of wider perception we need time, patient and sceptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction.
Humanism is centred upon the agency of human individuality and subjective intuition, rather than on received ideas and authority. Texts have to be read as texts that were produced and live on in all sorts of what I have called worldly ways. But this by no means excludes power, since on the contrary I have tried to show the insinuations, the imbrications of power into even the most recondite of studies. And lastly, most important, humanism is the only, and I would go as far as to say the final resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.
My current friend and former nemesis, Hiroo Yamagata and I were on a panel with Larry Lessig last week. He casually mentioned that he had decided to translate Das Kapital into Japanese. He is one of the best translators in Japan and has translated Lessig, Leary, Krugman and many others. Anyway, he said that all of the existing translations were related to the Japanese communist party in some way and were edited and filtered. For instance, violence and other things were omitted. He remembered someone in college who argued Marx with him based on a faulty translation and in retrospect, this pissed him off. He decided to make a more accurate translation. Hiroo is kind of a weirdo, but it's because of people like him that some things that are lost in translation actually get fixed. Blatant censorship is pretty scary, but this reminded me how dangerous intentional mistranslations can be as well.
Sorry, a bit late in blogging this...Lawrence Lessig“Free Culture” is
Thanks to the lessons explained by others (Cory), and the courage of a great publisher (Penguin), Free Culture launches today with a free online version of the book, licensed under a Creative Commons license. You can get the book here, though at the moment, only the bittorrent version is apparently up. Later today, there will be a direct download available from the Free Culture site, and from the Amazon site.
Larry needs to get rid of these books, you REALLY need to read this book, Creative Commons needs the money. Do the right thing. If you haven't read Future of Ideas, donate to CC now and get a copy of Larry's last book now.
Lawrence LessigAs I just said, I’ve got a new book coming out in about ten days. To clear the shelves, and to thank blog readers, I’ve got a few hardcover copies of my last book, The Future of Ideas, that I’ll happily send to anyone who makes a contribution of at least $5 to Creative Commons. To qualify for this special offer, either click on the PayPal logo, or send a check to Creative Commons at 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Palo Alto, CA 94305. If you’d like the book defaced with my signature, then send an email after you order to llynch at stanford.edu.
Justin Hall's guide to Tokyo, "Just in Tokyo" has just been released under a Creative Commons license. It's great for people who want to just dive into Tokyo.
In my pursuit to understand Bo better, I'm reading a book that Barak gave me called How to Speak Dog. It's really a great book about how to to communicate with your dog. Stanley Coren makes an interesting assertion about our co-evolution with dogs.
Thanks Bo!Stanley CorenIt is well established that the primitive humans who survived to become our forefathers formed an early relationship with dogs. Compare our success to that of the Neanderthals, who never got along with dogs, and who ultimately died out. Some evolutionary theorists have suggested that the survival of our ancestors had to do with the fact that our cooperative partnership with dogs made us more efficient hunters than Neanderthals2. With the dog's more acute sensory systems, finding game was easier.
Here is where the serious speculation begins. These theorists suggest that since these early humans now had dogs to do the tracking, they no longer needed the facial structures that would allow them to detect faint scents. This, then, allowed our early ancestors to evolve more flexible facial features, which were capable of shaping more complex sounds. In other words, our prehistoric association with dogs, who would do the smelling for us, gave us the ability to create speech.
2. J.M. Allman, Evolving Brains. New York: Freeman, 1999.
"Oh, what are you working on these days." "I'm working on a few scoops." "Oh! Like what?" ;-)
Reminds me of sitting next to Dave Weinberger at a conference where we kept looking over each other's shoulders when we were blogging.
You've all probably read by now, but Amazon has added a feature that allows you to search the full text of over 120,000 books. Totally amazing. Now tell the truth everyone (so I don't look totally vain), how many of you have ego-surfed Amazon already? I searched for "joichi ito" and "joi ito". I got 8 results for "joichi ito" and 1 for "joi ito". The weird thing is that other than Timothy Leary's book and John C. Lilly's book, I have never heard of any of the other books. Also, the few books that I do know I'm mentioned in did now show up. I wonder if they are scanning books that don't sell well first. ;-) I DID find out that I have the honor of being in a "For Dummies" book.
How can I NOT buy this book to find out what they said about me. Ack!Excerpt from page 170 of Digital Aboriginal. . . voice to the radicals. Japanese information pioneer and digital artist Joichi Ito tells a great story about the CIA." An operative told . . .
A new Japanese book on blogging is about to come out called "Bloggers! Vol. 1" which you can pre-order on Amazon.co.jp. The action heros on the cover, especially the guy with the poopie thing on his head, are a bit weird, but the authors and the publisher, Shoeisha are reputable in Japan. (I hope the yellow guy with the poopie mark isn't supposed to be me...) I haven't seen the actual book yet, but I'll get a few extra copies to bring to ETech. ;-) There's a dialog between Howard Rheingold and me (I had totally forgotten about this. It was a taped dinner conversation...) , and an interview with "the developers of Movable Type". It looks like there's an article about Blosxom as well.
Just started reading Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier. He write a lot about actual risks versus perceived risks.
This really illustrates how subjective people's feelings about risk are. Looking at and talking about risk statistically compared to how we mentally deal with risk is interesting. Media coverage of human rights issues based on the closeness of the culture to ours is similarly subjective. The fact is, mentally, the value of a life depends on the context. We are all very subjective. Acting like we aren't clouds the issues. Journalists who say they are impartial and politicians who represent "everyone" all run this risk. Bruce's book takes a very pragmatic approach to risk, trying to describe the actual quantifiable risks, but also describing all of the factors that are involved in the decisions about security methods to deal with those risk.Bruce Schneier - Beyond FearIn America, automobiles cause 40,000 deaths every year; that's the equivalent of a full 727 crashing every day and a half -- 225 total in a year. As a society, we effectively say that the risk of dying in a car crash is worth the benefits of driving around town. But if those same 40,000 people died each year in fiery 727 crashes instead of automobile accidents, you can be sure there would be significant changes in the air passenger systems. (I don't mean to harp on automobile deaths, but riding a car is the riskiest discretionary activity the majority of Americans regularly undertake.) Similarly, studies have shown that both drivers and passengers in SUVs are more likely to die in accidents than those in compact cars, yet one of the major selling points of SUVs is that the owner feels safer in one.
I'll post more about this book as I continue to read it. (I read slowly...)
PS It's interesting to note that traffic accidents account for about 10,000 deaths a year in Japan compared to 30,000+ deaths due to suicide. You're 3 times more likely to commit suicide than get in a deadly traffic accident in Japan.
Mark Pilgrim (aka f8dy on #joiito) blogs that Dive Into Python is going to be published as a book. James Cox (aka imajes on #joiito) will be the editor. This is great news. Dive Into Python is how I learned Python. I've read several other tutorials, but Dive Into Python is the best I've seen. It's also interesting to note that f8dy and imajes met on #joiito. I was when I was reading Dive Into Python that I went to the #python on Freenode for help. This inspired me to start #joiito. Kind of circular karma. ;-)
Khalid on #joiito pointed me to the following article.
It's an interesting article about how an email six degrees experiment shows we are no closer than when Milgram did his famous experiment in 1967. (Milgram did an experiment which resulted in the assertion that we are only six hops away from anyone else in the world.) I referred to Milgram's famous experiment in my Emergent Democracy paper. When the paper was being reviewed by Shumpei Kumon, he referred me to Six Degrees by Duncan J. Watts and pointed out to me that Watts writes about Judith Kleinfeld who found that Milgram's experiment was flawed. I removed the reference in my paper. Milgram's six degrees experiment is so widely referenced that it has become almost an urban legend, but it DID NOT show that the world was connected by six degrees, it just got us thinking about it. I think the phenomenon is real and the "small-world problem" is a very interesting field, but people should stop quoting the Milgram study as fact. The email experiment referred to in the article is being conducted by Duncan Watts as well and he has a web page with more info.New ScientistEmail experiment confirms six degrees of separation
Despite enabling almost instantaneous global communication, email appears not to have made the world a more close-knit community.
Duncan WattsThe Psychologist Judith Kleinfeld stumbled onto what nows seems like a classic instance of such misplaced faith while she was teaching her undergraduate psychology class. [...] Remember that Milgram started his chains with roughly three hundred people, all of whom were trying to get their letters to a single target in Boston. The story everyone tells has the three hundred people living in Omaha, but a closer look reveals that one hundred actually lived in Boston! Furthermore, of the almost two hundred in Nebraska, only one-half were randomly selected. [...] The other half were blue-chip stock investors, and the target, of course, was a stockbroker. The famous six degrees is an average over these three populations, and as you might expect, the number of degrees varies quite a bit between them, with the Boston natives and the stock investors managing to complete chains more successfully and with fewer links than the random Nebraska sample.
Remember also that the surprising finding about the small-world claim is that anyone can reach anyone--not just people in the same town or people with strong common interests, but anyone anywhere. So really the only population that satisfied, even remotely, the conditions of the hypothesis as it is usually stated (even by Milgram himself) was the ninety-six people picked out of the Nebraska mailing list. At this point the numbers starts to get disturbingly small: of ninety-six starting letters in that population, only eighteen reach the target.
I just read about "Speed Up Your Site" by Andrew B. King on a klog apart who links to an entry in meryl's notes. Sounds like a cool book. I think I saw some references to it in some email I got, but I thought it was spam. It's kinda scary how my brain has associated certain words with spam so it filters phrases such as "speed up your site". On the other hand, I'm glad that my RSS feed can help those catch those things that fall through my inbox.
I just received this email and downloaded the book. It's great.
email from Ryuichi SakamotoFrom: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Date: Tue Feb 18, 2003 6:37:49 AM Japan
To: Joichi Ito
Subject: Dear Friends
recently one of my friends went to Iraq to meet the people and see their lives.
Soon after he came back he published the book "On a small bridge in Iraq"
which just came out in Japan.
Please see the pictures of the Iraqi people and their lives.
Those are beautiful pictures.
Can we bomb them, the people just like us?
Please go to http://www.cafeimpala.com/downloadbookE.html
and download the English version of the pdf file.
Had lunch with Ejovi Nuwere today. He's a friend of Ken who used to work for me and they did some security work together. Ejovi has a new book, Hacker Cracker which was picked up in Wired News recently. It's an amazing story about Ejovi who grew up Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy and how a tech oriented kid used computers to build his life. He's lived in Japan and is now here writing some articles getting more and more into policy and privacy related issues. We had a lot of interests in common and it's great to meet a like-minded person from a very different background. He's got a blog and a site for his book.
A bureaucrat that with whom we have had numerous debates suddenly visited my office today wanting to talk. Gohsuke had told him to read Lawrence Lessig's book, Code. The bureaucrat read the book over the holidays and wanted to see me right away to tell me about it. (Today is the first day of work after the Japanese holidays. He said he, "got it." He liked the book very much and finally realized the scale and the context of the issues we had been debating and now understood what we were talking about. This story has several lessons... Focusing on specifics before you share a framework is futile; a well written book by an important person (the bureaucrat insisted on confirming the social status of Lessig) can change everything; the "meta-discussion" is less threatening than specific issues with responsibilities and associated budgets. ;-) Anyway, thanks Larry!
Hiroo's notes are worth reading. It's a good summary and frames the issues in Japan well. Activism in Japan died with the student activists of the 70's. It's quite "un-cool" to be an activist. If Larry can get people like Hiroo to become activists and support important issues, I think we still have a chance.
Larry LessigThe Future of Ideas has been translated into Japanese. As sometimes happens, the translation improves the book. Not only is the title better ("Commons", which the American publisher vetoed), but it also has a great and revealing introduction by the translator, Hiroo Yamagata. As always, the translator reveals as much about the work he translates as the world he translates into.
I am embarrassed to admin that I had scanned The Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig, but had not READ it carefully. I find I do this with books where I know the author's position quite well in an area I know something about. I KNOW that the book is worth reading, but it feels like patting myself on the back. I tend to like reading books written by the enemy. ;-) Anyway, enough lame excuses. Tomorrow, I have a magazine article discussion with Larry and the translator of The Future of Ideas Hiroo Yamagata, who as I've said before, is an intelligent, but ruthless fellow. Hiroo is a menace to those who are unprepared, but is probably one of the most thoughtful people in this space... Anyway, now that I finished the book, I am prepared for tomorrow...
So about the book... everyone has probably read it already so I probably don't need to write a lame book review, but if you haven't read it, I can now urge you to read it. Larry talks about spectrum, code, and content control and calls them the physical, code and content layers. This is exactly how I think of these issues and how everyone should think of these issues. Although he addressed it in his last book, Code, Larry doesn't have time to talk about privacy in this book. I believe that identity and privacy are also important and probably represent for me the other BIG issue.
I had thought through most of these issues already in great detail so the logic was easy to follow and the detail and facts have added new ammunition to my arsenal. What was also interesting was Larry's continued pursuit of balance both politically and technically. When you are under public scrutiny, balance is very important to protect being attacked by people you are trying to change. The difficulty of taking a balanced view is that the message is difficult to deliver, you can sound wishy/washy and at the end of the day, you will end up being attacked by both extremes, the moderates apathetically fading into the background. Or at least that is my experience.
Maybe it's because Larry is a law professor, but he is able to navigate the detail and the logic well... But as the issues become more and more complex and one realizes that the government and public opinion become more and more obtuse, one ends up becoming VERY despressed as Larry appears to be by the end of the book.
I think Larry's mission, shared by most of the intelligent people that I know is one of the most important missions today. The commons and innovation are threatened by the old power structures which are more and more able to stay in power than ever before. I believe that a similar struggle is going on in the field of energy technology. Big oil protecting its interests and waging war.
Innovation in information technology and energy (See ECD) has the power to solve many of the problems we face today, yet this innovation is faced with great resistance. The public, which at the end of the day is the only group capable of causing real change, sits watching apathetically. How depressing.
He also makes a point that although Japanese are considered to be nature lovers, much of it manifests as control over nature.
Dogs and DemonsPeople who admire the Japanese traditional arts make much of the "love of nature" that inspired sand gardens, bonsai, ikebana flower arranging, and so forth, but they often fail to realize that the traditional Japanese approach is the opposite of a laissez-faire attitude towards nature. These arts were strongly influenced by the military caste that ruled Japan for many centuries, and they demand total control over every branch and twig.
Dogs and DemonsIn the early 1990s, construction investment overall in Japan consumed 18.2 percent of the gross national product, versus 12.4 percent in the United Kingdom and only 8.5 percent in the United States. Japan spent about 8 percent of its GDP on public works (veersus 2 percent in the United States -- proportionally four times more). By 2000 it was estimated that Japan was spending about 9 percent of its GDP on public works (versus only 1 percent in the United States): in a decade, the share of GDP devoted to public works has risen to nearly ten times that of the United States. -- The colossal subsidies flowing to construction mean that the combined national budget devotes an astounding 40 percent of expenditures to public works (versus 8 to 10 percent in the United States and 4 to 6 percent in Britain and France). -- by 1998 it (the construction industry) employed 6.9 million people, more than 10 percent of Japan's workforce--more than double the relative numbers in the United States and Europe. Experts estimate that as many as one in five jobs in Japan depends on construction, if one includes work that derives indirectly from public-works contracts. -- In 1994, concrete production in Japan totaled 91.6 million tons, compared with 77.9 millions tons in the United States. This means that Japan lays about thirty times as much per square foot as the United States. -- By the end of the century...shoreline that had been encased in concrete has risen to 60 percent or more. -- There are more than a thousand controlled hazardous substances in the United States,...In Japan, as of 1994 only a few dozen substances were subject to government controls...
Ryu Murakami is one of Neoteny's advisory board members, the author of "Coin Locker Babies" and won the Akutagawa award for "Almost Transparent Blue". He visited our office today. In "In Coin Locker Babies" he wrote about two boys who are abandoned in coin lockers and grow up and gassed Tokyo. (This is before the Ohm Shinrikyo subway event.) His last book "Exodus in the Hopeful Country" is about junior high school students who help cause a revolution in Japan with the help of the Internet. We talked quite a bit before he wrote this book and that discussion along with his discussions with other people before he wrote the book also became a book...
Novelist Murakami Ryu sees a dim future
The year is 2001. A CNN news crew in northern Pakistan finds a Japanese teenager in the midst of a band of Muslim guerrillas. In a TV interview, he declares: "There is nothing in Japan. It is a dead country." His words strike a chord with Japanese children his age. Across the country, middle-schoolers stop attending classes. They organize across the Internet, form a video image distribution agency named Asunaro that beams their message across the world, and start a variety of new businesses. Summoned to Parliament, the youngsters' leader tells stunned adults that Japan has everything but hope. Meanwhile, the yen collapses and the nation slips to the brink of bankruptcy. Asunaro moves to the northern island of Hokkaido where the kids establish an independent state.
I had asked Gosuke to ghost write a short article for the Tokyo Shimbun (newspaper) based on a discussion with me. It was about the problems with the National ID. (I DID review it.) Then, I was asked to write an blurb in a book about the National ID so I asked Gosuke to add some more of my thoughts to the aritcle and we gave it to the publisher. Before I knew it, with the mere contribution of a 2 page ghost-written article, I was the co-author of the book, my name on the front of the book as if I had done something important. Luckily, the co-author is Yoshiko Sakurai who I respect deepy. All of the royalties go to the protest movement. So, I guess some people are trying to make sure I don't look too co-opted by the government. ;-)
Another one from BoingBoing
I truely love the OED and this new edition sounds cool. "bunny-hugger" in the OED is really something I must ponder tonight. I'm going to go to amazon now to buy this...
AskOxford.comThe essence of the Oxford English Dictionary
2002 is indeed an auspicious year. It is the first year that can celebrate a World Cup, a Royal Jubilee, and a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. In terms of frequency, a new Shorter comes between the other two events: it is almost ten years since the previous edition, and this is only the fifth edition of a book that was first published in 1933.
People often point out that 'Shorter' is a strange title for a two volume work. Of course it's only 'Short' when compared to the twenty volumes of the full Oxford English Dictionary. Although one tenth the size of the OED, it manages to include around one third of its content: it aims to include all words used in English since 1700, as well as everything in Shakespeare, the Authorized Version of the Bible, the poetry of Milton, and Spenser's Faerie Queene. As a historical dictionary, it includes obsolete words if they are used by major authors and earlier meanings where they explain the development of a word. More than ten centuries of English are covered here, from the Old English period to the 21st century.
Some 3,500 new entries have been added to the fifth edition. Asylum seeker, economic migrant, bed-blocking, and stakeholder pension reflect the serious side of life; bunny-hugger (a conservationist or animal lover), chick flick (a film appealing to women), gearhead (a car enthusiast), and Grinch (a spoilsport or killjoy) are entries in a more light-hearted vein. Several entries are testaments to the popularity of science fiction, among them Tardis from the TV series Doctor Who, Jedi from Star Wars, and Klingon from Star Trek.
Howard Rheingold, one of my mentors, friend, and former editor of the Whole Earth Review who has written some of my favorite books about the mind and thinking recently writes books about "the next big thing" in technology starting with Virtual Reality, Virtual Communties and now Smart Mobs.
The big battle coming over the future of smart mobs concerns media cartels and government agencies are seeking to reimpose the regime of the broadcast era in which the customers of technology will be deprived of the power to create and left only with the power to consume. That power struggle is what the battles over file-sharing, copy protection, regulation of the radio spectrum are about. Are the populations of tomorrow going to be users, like the PC owners and website creators who turned technology to widespread innovation? Or will they be consumers, constrained from innovation and locked into the technology and business models of the most powerful entrenched interests? HOWARD RHEINGOLD: SMART MOBS [7.16.02]John Brockman, literary agent extraordinaire and editor and publisher of Edge writes about Howard's new book. (John Brockman is also the sponsor of the Billionaire's Dinner)
Introduction In 1999 and 2000, Howard Rheingold started noticing people using mobile media in novel ways. In Tokyo, he accompanied flocks of teenagers as they converged on public places, coordinated by text messages. In Helsinki, he joined like-minded Finns who share the same downtown physical clubhouse, virtual community, and mobile-messaging media. He learned that the demonstrators in the 1999 anti-WTO protests used dynamically updated websites, cell-phones, and "swarming" tactics in the "battle of Seattle," and that a million Filipino citizens toppled President Estrada in 2000 through public demonstrations organized by salvos of text messages. Drivers in the UK used mobile communications to spontaneously self organize demonstrations against rising petrol prices. He began to see how these events were connected. He calls these new uses of mobile media "smart mobs." For nearly two years, Rheingold visited hotspots around the world where smart mob technologies and societies were erupting. He had some idea of how to look for early signs of momentous changes, having chronicled and forecast the PC revolution in 1985 and the Internet explosion in 1993. He is now sees a third wave of change underway in the first decade of the 21st century, as the combination of mobile communication and the Internet makes it possible for people to cooperate in ways never before possible. — JBHoward's been working on this book for awhile and this topic is perfect for Howard and perfect timing for us. It's amazing considering how much fieldwork Howard does, how Howard is always there at the right place at the right time. But I'm sure it's not luck. ;-) I think that people have all over-estimated the short term impact of the Net, but the issues that Howard discusses are many of the core issues that the Net combined with mobile communications will impact. These issues change the face of media and communications, which will change the whole notion of the "public." This shift will finally change the balance of power in economy, politics and society more and more to the people. (I hope. ;-) )
|Joichi Ito's Reading Notes||January 16, 1999|
|Doubt and Certainty in Science||by J. Z. Young|
Excellent book. The book was published in 1951 and the references to computers are extremely dated, but his analysis of the brain, thinking, scientific discovery, learning, evolution, etc. are very enlightening.
Young tries to look at human beings from the perspective of a biologist. He tries to describe all aspects of humans including religion from a biologists perspective. He looks at the brain as an organ and begins by describing the brain and the neurons that make up the brain. He explains how these neurons and their behavior can explain most of the behavior of humans. Remeniscient of "Lost Worlds", he talks about the evolution of humans and how we are more a product of our social environment than our DNA. (This is a very old thread for me and something I would like to develop more in the future.) He explains how atoms flow through the human body and explains that we are a "pattern" and have nothing solid that persists over time. We are like a whirlpool. "Piology like physics, has ceased to be material," he says. In this sense, evolution of humans is about learning. Learning is about the brain. The neurons in our brain throb happily until they are disturbed by some outside stimulus. They try to come up with some solution that stops the noise and brings the brain back into sync again. This process of disturbance and harmony is the "doubt and certainty" in science he talks about. Learning, he says, is not all as Pavlov and his conditioning shows. Humans look at things and think in order to disturb or break up the harmony in order to discover better ways. He trys to explain that studying the anatomy of the brain my give us insight into the process of learning and help us evolve.
His vision seems to tie in well with the De Bono book about thinking that I have just begun reading after being recommended to do so by Sen Nagata. More on these thoughts later...
We began the discussion talking about the ways that Arrow, Coase and Barnard describe the necessity and the method by which organizations are form are become required. Although while I was reading Barnard, much of what he wrote felt rather redundant and not-so-significant, in the context of trying to describe organizations, I found myself continually coming back to frameworks and metaphors that were proposed by Barnard. The most important aspect in our discussion was the idea that organizations are not merely ways to make economics factors more efficient, but things like vision, authority, responsibility and many other factors guide the function as well as the raison d'etre of organizations. Barnard best described this.
From this discussion, we talked more about the raison d'etre of organizations and Kokuryo-san proposed that maybe we cooperate for the sake of cooperating. What is happiness anyway? Just belonging to an organization can be happiness. This ties into the idea "what is utility anyway?" and other big questions. If the purpose of economy is to optimize utility in society and utility is supposed to make us happy then...
"Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" is in the constitution of the United States of America. So shouldn't we be talking about happiness instead of utility? This then connects to Alexis de 's observation that American's do not have equality, but opportunity and "Liberty." The happiness that comes from choice and liberty are is a very strange kind of happiness indeed in that it comes from an infinite ability to have aspirations, but a very difficult time reaching goals. I think Simon talks about the utility function in terms of aspirations and satisfaction. If happiness can be defined in this way, it becomes exceedingly obvious that many of the things that affect our happiness can not be purchased, thus are not connected to the utility function.
Marx might say that labor is a major part of value and that exchange value can not replace the labor value. Bauldrillard might say that sign value can make us happy. Goldhaber would probably say that attention makes us happy. Still... a lot of this we can buy. I wonder if there is anything significant that makes us happy that you really can not buy. What is it and how does it act? This is the question that I am concerned about...
The Limits of Organization by Kenneth J. Arrow
1974, Fels Center of Government
In the book, Arrow first shows that the price system is not sufficient in mediating competition and making all things fair. He shows that organizations such as the firm and government serve to make decisions and distribute resources in everyone's best interest. He explains why organizations are more efficient. He explains that authority is necessary for organizations to exercise power and be effective, but responsibility is also necessary to prevent or minimize error. The balance between authority and responsibility being important.
He says, "There is no simple argument, and there are few economists, though perhaps many laymen, who would defend the proposition that there is a simple argument which states that the resulting distribution of income has any special claim to be called just. The price system then does not provide within itself any defensible income distribution and this is a key drawback." This is similar to the point that Mimi and I have been discussing regarding the salaries of CEO's. The price mechanism is not enough and many things are hard to value. He goes on to talk about trust by saying, "Now trust has a very important pragmatic value, if noting else. Trust is an important lubricant of a social system. It is extremely efficient; it saves a lot of trouble to have a fair degree of reliance on other people's word. Unfortunately this is not a commodity which can be bought very easily." Authority and belief in organizations is a way of increasing the efficiency of a system by building trust.
This trust is similar to what the BoJ guys were calling common knowledge which in turn was the collateral for their currency. Since organizations can manage this trust and the balance between authority and responsibility is a significant factor in the effectiveness of organizations, it may be said that the balance between authority and responsibility can account for the level of trust in society which in turns become the collateral behind money.
Arrow talks about the "codes" within organizations as a way for people to exchange information which in turn allows decisions to be made. Since organization can optimize the way information is dealt with, organizations can have more "channels" and make better decisions. People within organizations exchange information using these codes and have channels within and with the outside. Arrow talks about the method in which these channels develop, are maintained and are used for collecting information used to make decisions. He also says, "this definition of information is qualitative," and also says that, "the value of knowing whether or not A is true may be vastly greater than the value of knowing B's truth-value."
So, it would seem that a robust organization requires authority, responsibility and also a method of making good decisions, which requires maximization information, which is qualitative in nature. How does an organization attract higher value information and allow them to exchange this information effectively within the organization. Arrow talks about the capital investment and the tendency to stick to channels. This means that individuals and organization tend to fixate on specific channels. If the environment requires rapid change, some method in necessary to restructure these channels, value the information, yet retain authority.
An old favorite from Alexis de 's "Democracy in America" written in 1835. I found this in college, but now it seems more and more relevant...
From time to time, indeed, enterprising and ambitious men will arise in democratic communities whose unbounded aspirations cannot be contented by following the beaten track. Such men like revolutions and hail their approach; but they have great difficulty in bringing them about unless extraordinary events come to their assistance. No man can struggle with advantage against the spirit of his age and country; and however powerful he may be supposed to be, he will find it difficult to make his contemporaries share in feelings and opinions that are repugnant to all their feelings and desires.
It is a mistake to believe that, when once equality of condition has become the old and uncontested state of society and has imparted its characteristics to the manners of a nation, men will easily allow themselves to be thrust into perilous risks by an imprudent leader or bold innovator. Not indeed that they will resist him openly, by well-contrived schemes, or even by a premeditated plan of resistance. They will not struggle energetically against him, sometimes they will even applaud him; but they do not follow him. To his vehemence they secretly oppose their inertia, to his revolutionary tendencies their conservative interests, their homely tastes to his adventurous passions, their good sense to the flights of his genius, to his poetry their prose. With immense exertion he raises them for an instant, but they speedily escape from him and fall back, as it were, by their own weight. He strains himself to rouse the indifferent and distracted multitude and finds at last that he is reduced to impotence, not because he is conquered, but because he is alone.
Coase comes up with a definition of the "firm" as an organization that defines employer and employee, master and servant which satisfies the "plain man's" definition of the firm. Coase explains that transaction cost optimization can account for the need of the firm.
The thesis is interesting and his discussion of other theories is rigorous and useful, but Coase's conclusion and logic is limited in many of the same ways as the theories he tries to tear down.
First of all, the idea that there is some kind of curve that can show when a firm is the right size, albeit the firm may be in several product areas is a bit linear. Also, he doesn't really discuss in depth some of the knowledge and competence that can be held in a firm and account for its fitness or value. Obviously silicon valley and virtual companies didn't exist in 1937 when he published the paper, but I think that the technological advances that caused the scalability and transaction cost performance that gave birth to the firm are now giving birth to virtual firms and communities that transcend the firm.
As a paper to set the definition of the firm and set a milestone, it was very interesting.
Feburary 16, 1999
In afterthought and particularly after talking to Iwamura-san, it appears that Coase does describe the firm as something beyond the market. Iwamura-san noted after my reference to Coase that Coase was not the first person to think of this. In any case, some people, like Iwamura-san will argue that everything is just an extension of the market.
Simon has many very interesting models that he develops for thinking about and describing things. In his words, he describes interesting "states" and interesting "processes".
Simon seems to conclude that everything might seem very complex, but that actually if you design the way you think about and the way you view everything, it actually can be described. He describes a system of a hierarchy of chunks which are "near decomposable" which means that intra-component (intra-chunk) linkages are generally stronger than inter-component linkages.(1) Or… High frequency being independent from low frequency dynamics. This allows evolution to occur by level in the hierarchy making it easier and more likely. It also allows the system to be described more simply because the design of the function or the "efficiency" of each component can be separated from the internal design of the component. Thus, the fitness function of a DNA strand is a based at the end of a combination of organs which is not so concerned about the detail of the internal workings of the organs.
I have a problem with this model. It is possible that the internal design of a component may not affect the next layer up in the hierarchy, but may affect another layer. This may be very non-linear and not as easily quantifiable as "efficiency". For example, the color of an organ or skin may not have direct impact on certain variables, but may have significant impact in certain situations from the fitness point of view. I think that there is considerable "chaos" integrated in hierarchical complex systems, particularly when they have to do with information or culture. Simon talks about chaos, but classifies it as a different sort of complexity than his hierarchical complexity. This may be true in many of the models he presents, but I think that this model by itself is limited. I have a "hunch" that chaotic systems can be "described". Maybe not in words, but in some method that allows us to on the one hand deal with physical things in this sort of reductionist mode and deal with chaotic information based things in some other method and reconcile this in some other kind of output. I have a feeling that there are some answers in art, anthropology or sociology which is more familiar with the non-linear, but natural.
The way that he simplifies the complex is by collapsing similarities and creating new views that lessen the number of chunks by adding levels or by organizing a level in a certain way. This is very interesting and is probably very useful, but a risk is that there are various methods of making our storage and manipulation of a reality more efficient, but each of the methods brings with it a bias towards a specific direction or solution. (2) Simon talking about the folly of the model of optimized markets which maximize the utility function. One can find adequate solutions, but there is no optimum solution. I think that one can apply this idea to methods of describing complexity.
I very much like his style, his approach and his methods, but I think there is a risk of underestimating the impact of weak ties, culture and non-linear interactions. On the other hand, it allows a level of rigor in thinking about complex things that is very enlightening. His idea of the linearity of the brain is very useful (although he doesn't address illogical decision making processes, dreaming, emotions, etc.). His view that the utility function is too simple and aspiration and satisficing can help explain some of the problems with the idea of optimizing the utility function are useful. On the other hand, I think that trust networks, communities, SWT, common knowledge, culture, etc. are much more complex than just computing aspiration and satisfaction.
His description of the role of organization vs. markets was very interesting and I think will lead very well into Chandler, so I will reserve myself a little until then.
OK. Below I was trying to organize a series of "chunks" that Simon was presenting as a sequence of quotes… After reading further and finally the last chapter, I realize that was presenting a series of sub-concepts that he would use to support his final theory on hierarchy, complexity and near decomposability. I'll leave the quotes to digest later and write a few thoughts about his conclusion.
We can view the matter quite symmetrically. An artifact can be thought of as a meeting point-an "interface" in today's terms-between an "inner" environment, the substance and organization of the artifact itself, and an "outer" environment, the surroundings in which it operates. p. 6
We might look toward a science of the artificial that would depend on the relative simplicity of the interface as its primary source of abstraction and generality. p. 9
In a benign environment we would learn from the motor only what it had been called upon to do; in a taxing environment we would learn something about its internal structure-specifically about those aspects of the internal structure that were chiefly instrumental in limiting performance. P. 12
The computer is a member of an important family of artifacts called symbol systems, or more explicitly, physical symbol systems. Another important member of the family is the human mind and brain. p. 21
Intelligence as Computation intelligence is the work of symbol systems…a physical symbol system…has the necessary and sufficient means for general intelligent action…p. 23
Chapter 2 Economic Rationality: Adaptive Artifice Economics illustrates well how outer and inner environment interact and, in particular, how an intelligent system's adjustment to its outer environment (its substantive rationality) is limited by its ability, through knowledge and computation, to discover appropriate adaptive behavior (its procedural rationality). p. 25
Today several branches of applied science assist the firm to achieve procedural rationality. One of them is operations research (OR); another is artificial intelligence (AI). p. 27
OR being linear and AI being heuristic
A large body of evidence shows that human choices are not consistent and transitive, as they would be if the utility function existed. p. 29
To deal with these phenomena, psychology employs the concept of aspiration level…A theory of choice employing these mechanisms acknowledges the limits of human computation and fits our empirical observations of human decision making far better than the utility maximization theory. p. 30
Roughly eighty percent of the human economic activity in the American economy, usually regarded as almost the epitome of a "market" economy, takes place in the internal environments of business and other organizations and not in the external, between-organization environments of markets. To avoid misunderstanding, it would be appropriate to call such a society an organization-&-market economy; for in order to give account of it we have to pay as much attention to organization as to markets. pp. 31-32
The key question here, one much discussed in "the new institutional economics" (NIE), is: what determines the boundary between organizations and markets; when will one be used, and when the other, to organize economic activity? p. 40