June 16, 2007

VidArt from VAD at Conduit

If you're in the Dallas, TX area, here's your chance to catch up on the medium that's now at the forefront of attention in the art world. The Dallas Video Festival has been showing great video art for twenty years, and in celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Video Association of Dallas is presenting a series of five programs of "greatest video art hits" from its archives, co-curated by Danette Dufilho and -- yeah, me.

The series, I Heart Video Art, takes place on five consecutive Fridays beginning June 29, at Conduit Gallery, at 1626-C Hi Line Drive, Dallas, TX (near the Oak Lawn exit off of 35E). Doors open at 7:30 pm; screenings start at 8 pm. For more info, call Conduit Gallery at 214-939-0064.

We're still finalizing the details, but you can see a draft program schedule here.

June 11, 2007

Alas, Not-So-Poor Yorick

My boyfriend used to say he wanted my skull after my death, but after seeing the Body Worlds exhibit (here's my review), he's not so sure. Too bad, 'cause tombs have never appealed to me; but Damien Hirst's For the Love of God does. (Per the NYT, the title came from Hirst's mother who exclaimed, "For the love of God, what are you going to do next?")

I want mine with little lightbulbs in the eye sockets.

Do you think art, or its patrons, are overly-obsessed with the wrong, or poorly-chosen realities lately? Would we like this piece as much with cz's? (Is what's-his-face using real powdered dinosaur bones, or just patronizing unregulated entrepreneurs? Personally, I'd like to know. Of course, if his real work consists in an experiment regarding our gullibility, GREAT; but then, I'll be annoyed if he doesn't share the experimental results.)

Actually, what I see lately is an existentialist trend -- an epidemic of ennui. Bush's handlers were prolly onto something when they let on he was reading Camus.

(Update here.)

June 3, 2007

How to Control the Internet (by Transforming It into a Top-Down Surveillance System)

It's not just AT&T you have to watch out for (for more on that, see post and thread here). A variety of efforts are underway to gain control of the only significant remaining independent venue for news and opinion.

David Gelernter, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is working with Ajay Royan, who is employed at a West Coast hedge fund, on another way to control those unruly internets (see article here; you may need to click "skip this welcome" at the top of the page). They want to replace the web with a new system they call the "Worldbeam."

With the Worldbeam, instead of everyone having their own documents stored on their own computers, everyone will access their documents on the Beam through a much simpler box. Not only your current docs, but every doc you ever wrote or viewed -- every e-mail, v-mail, snapshot, every web page visited, etc. -- will be stored on machines maintained elsewhere. You'll be able to access your documents from any box anywhere.

As Gelernter says, "The desktop is dead; all my information must be stored on the Beam . . . ." All your data are belong to us.

Theoretically, only you will have access to your documents, using some combination of biometric identification, a key card, a password or the like, and only you will have the ability to add to or delete your docs.

Mmm-hmmm. As insecure as our individual computers may be now, it's hard to see why our information wouldn't be even less secure if the primary storage is in machines owned and controlled by someone else.

There's no discussion of who would own or control the machines on which all this information is stored. One suspects the system protocols would be secret or proprietary.

How do you segregate your supposedly private docs from those you want to be available to others? "Whenever you create a new document, it's born with the same permissions as previous documents of the same type." (No explanation provided re- how the Beam will determine what docs are of the same type.) Gelernter continues, "Your personal beam contains load [sic] of information about your habits and preferences."

Obviously, the Beam would involve massive centralization of control over all content that might otherwise be available on the Web, plus all documents to which inappropriate permissions are assigned by the system, unless you happen to catch the inevitable errors, plus, potentially, even those docs you successfully designate as private, as well as exhaustive data about your habits and preferences.

You'll no longer own copies or rights to most software. Instead, you'll subscribe to basic service and have the opportunity to lease fancier applications.

The corporations who expect to sell or lease us these subscriptions and applications must regard the Beam with great joy. Among other things, controlling software centrally would enable providers to simply eliminate old applications whenever they liked, forcing customers to "upgrade" to versions they might or might not want. I would no longer have the power to just buy an application once and use it forever if it were continuing to do the job for me.

Gelernter says, "the Worldbeam should strengthen the world's responsible governments against terrorists and criminals and the individual against busybodies . . . . The Internet tells government agencies: You each have a separate information stash and your own network; sharing information requires extra effort. The Beam tells them: At base you all share one information stash: withholding information requires extra effort. . . . no one can plead "technical" reasons for not sharing" (I presume he means, "technological" reasons).

Of course, nothing prevents government agencies from building a unified information system now, other than the cost; and the cost for such a system must surely be vastly smaller than the cost of transforming the entire Internet.

More importantly . . . "responsible governments"? I presume he means the likes of the social democracy of Norway, as opposed to the U.S. government under the Bush Administration? For in the hands of the latter, not to mention even more tyrannical governments, the Beam would make it even easier to spy on innocent citizens for political purposes, etc.

My boyfriend says, don't worry, the Beam won't happen. I hope he's right; but. The Web has become one of few remaining avenues for challenges to the interests that now own and control much of our election process and nearly all of the traditional media. It seems to me the Beam offers a great deal to those interests.

I found Gerlernter's article in the May 7, 2007 issue of Forbes, which featured short articles by "28 Great Minds" on "The Power of Networks." The same issue also contained interesting articles from other authors with a greater appreciation of the virtues of decentralized, distributed ownership and control. In their own words:

"One of the great lessons of the 20th century is that centralized planning and control don't work. . . . Decentralization is fast and flexible. It allows exponential, viral growth." -- Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Community Church ("The Power of Parishioners").

"The biggest mistake marketers make when they see the power of the consumer network is that they try to control it, own it or manipulate it." -- Seth Godin, marketing expert ("Your Product, Your Customer").

"A command-and-control model, the way one runs an army, is not well suited for new ideas." -- Jonathan Fahey, writing about Nicholas Negroponte's wiki-style project to develop a laptop that could be made for $100 each and provided to children around the world ("The Soul of a New Laptop").

"America can still win the battle for a democratic world. The most important weapon is a free, open, commercially and politically unfettered Internet that empowers ordinary people from across the globe to speak and act in the interests of their own communities." – Howard Dean, DNC Chair ("Wikipartia").

"The Internet functions best when its protocols are available to everyone . . . . there is wisdom in crowds, even – perhaps I should say especially – in crowds of volunteers and amateurs. . . . The great lesson of the Web 2.0 is that to control quality, you don't lock things down; you open them up." -- Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia ("Open-Door Policy").

Another article touched on important, related issues ("Can You Hear Me Now?"). Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, mentioned ideas expressed by many people that "'we're all being observed all the time anyway, so who needs privacy?' . . . When the question of political abuse came up, a common reaction . . . was . . . 'All information is good information' and 'Information wants to be free' and 'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.'" Turkle is clearly concerned that these ideas lead us to acquiesce in government spying on innocent citizens.

I happen to agree that all information is good information. But what needs to be spelled out in no uncertain terms is that because knowledge is power, a balance of power requires a balance of knowledge.

In a democracy, the weight of power should belong to the people; or at worst, the balance should be equal. That means that our government's activities should be open and transparent to us – we should know at least as much about what our government is doing as our government knows about us. That's not the way things have been going lately.

The same goes with respect to corporations, which have all but superseded governments in terms of their power over our lives.

Centralizing ownership and control of Internet hardware and software might result in certain cost efficiencies, but effective regulation or oversight over those in possession of that ownership and control would become impossible, since they would have the power with a few keystrokes to alter every digital record on the planet – even private documents of my own that I never intended to share with anyone else.

Who controls the Beam will control history, and thus will have the power to botch if not completely control the present and future.

It's worth a lot to me personally NOT to have to cede that much control to any centralized entity, governmental or corporate.

But so long as there's so much power and money to be gained by those who seek that control, eternal vigilance will remain the price of Internet liberty.

(Update here.)