Hey Chris I just finished the intro to Two Bits and and am working through the whole thing. I was trying to describe my thesis to a peer, and he recommended I check it out. (Apparently your anthro. class had a huge effect on my thinking, as people are referring me back to the source!) I started the intro with a very specific task in mind, to see whether your definition of recursion stays completely within human constructs — programming, language, law etc. or whether you talk about my favorite subject, space and the built environment. I can’t seem to find much writing that is able to analyze the current lack of criticality in architecture (sustainability ..bleh) and provide new insight based on an understanding of the ideology behind free software. I mean sharing code is great, but what does this mean about the way we construct and occupy space!?
And I think for me the entry point is in critiquing the foundation of the free software movement, that it is based on “freedom of speech”. What makes writing code speech, what makes blogging speech, what makes commenting on YouTube videos speech? If ‘Speaking’ is just writing text, then every time I type a new address in my web browser, am I speaking or am I “moving through virtual space”? I would argue I am doing neither. I am simply in a comfortable position summoning some information about the world, but I am also physically connected to an unknown number of layered “systems”. (We just discovered recently in The Tech that MIT had an undisclosed policy for monitoring the network here…)
And Tim O’Reilly pointed out how powerful it is when these systems are able align themselves such that the input information can quickly reconstruct the form of the system itself. Only he makes the analogy to a different democratic principle, voting, and says Google and Wal-Mart are so intelligent for recognizing that a search is a vote, a purchase is a vote. And again this needs to be critiqued in the same way the usage of “speech” needs to be critiqued, “hey, it’s not voting if I don’t know I’m voting!”
I think only after dissecting the usage of “speech” and “voting” as used pertaining to digital technology, will it be possible to discuss the ethics and design of recursive structures and their physical form. And the goal is not to ensure that “speech” and “voting” are possible through these technologies, but to recognize how these categories might no longer be useful, and strive to know what are the unexplored positives and unrealized negatives behind any recursive digital structure. Just think how drastically the average American’s stance toward civil liberties has changed from “privacy is a fundamental right”, to “if I’m not doing anything wrong why should I care who monitors me?” And I don’t think this only applies to issues raised with terrorism, I think most people now accept that given how pervasive digital technologies are, there should be some benefit derived from this aggregate view of behavior that did not exist before. (for example, less road congestion would be nice).
So I’m actually trying to apply some of these ideas to the construction industry of all places (and design). The knowledge generated in design and construction is never captured in a useful way, the end result is always just a building that looked better when it was only half built. But if the types of operating systems and management software that people worked through enabled the data of many specific projects to effortlessly exist in semantic relationship to other projects, than perhaps there could be huge unrealized benefit in sharing the most mundane information in one repository of the history of building projects. Does that make sense? I mean, if me buying Pop Tarts from Wal-Mart gives them the smallest amount of useful information, then any human action in an intentionally designed system could provide value in line with the intentions of the creators.
Of course that is perhaps the same thinking behind the “semantic web”, but I think there needs to be a lot more theorizing about the current ambiguous relationship between “speech” and “action”.
Anyways, I am rambling on, but I just wanted to let you know I look forward to reading the rest of the book!
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