Monday, March 01, 2010

I am a gadget, you are a widget, they fidget, bridget - Its the Long Gadget, Gromit

Jaron Lanier's fine new book,
You are not a Gadget has a lot of things to say that I agree with.

Turning it up to 11, there's a nice chapter suggesting some new models, which might very much fit the Horizon Digital Economy project - there are three notions, which I have re-branded as follows:-

1. songlets - his idea is more Ubicomp than mine - basically, create a
"songle" - this is a physical key to a right to play a song - could be an Rfid, or a Barcode on a can of coke - it creates an "artificial scarcity" for songs so that instead of people trading them for free on filesharing nets, people trade them for
micropayments (possibly bundled with other things)...its a nice idea
2. giglets - telegigging is the idea of inviting a live band to your party over the net - giglets would be my old version, which is that all live gigs should be webcast and recorded (a la bbc iplayer, NOT a la youtube) with low cost DRM - possibly using a model where its pay per view up to some deadline, and then switches to free if not moving out of the long tail, but staying pay per view for longer if it gets popular and moves up the zipfian...
3. marklets - these are instruments (in the trader sense) which can be formally checked for sanity against a policy + safety rule-base - this is a good idea and resembles some of the things George Soros- wrote in his fine work on the Crash of 2008 and What it Means - he put in some meta-rules (some are basically stability conditions in feedback systems with many actuators - some are what a Programming Languages person would recognize as reflection - all nicely and intuitively explained).

Things I disagree with:-

1. music and midi

- kids share music - they don't share midi, but they do share
recordings, Youtube videos, tab and formal classical notation
so that they can learn stuff - kids I see doing this
do play amazingly better than kids when I was their age - they
don't know they aren't supposed to be that good yet, so they just do it

The real problem is that any abstract representation of music (i.e. notation) degrades it - classical notation, tab etc

using printed symbols for notes is (to reuse an Elvis Costello phrase) like
dancing about architecture

kids i know (in the 12-18 current cohort) share the recordings of the results
not midi - maybe its coz uk is guitar-live oriented, or maybe i am ignorant of dance culture (well, 20 years out of date on it)

midi is so 70s/80s/ synth/drum machine - agreed - but that's only a trap
someone who is synth/keyboard/tech obsessed would fall into

2. code and inflexibility -
i) I was amazed not to see Larry Lessig cited...
ii) I don't see files as lock-in - that is like saying
bits are lock-in - files are just ways to frame a set of data - you can have sets of sets , etc - just like bits. there's a load of theory why this is general....

this is a granularity/sampling error, which i think is a mistake as a metaphor for a cognitive framing error - the notion of Unix files as a problem is much less weak, but still not as good an example as midi, even if I believe midi is a red herring...

3. on music
Doh, how dumb, the internet
Ray, a blade of golden sun
me, an apple trademark bet
far, site, neat place to keep one
sew, a cpu scheduling threads
la, a loony tune land of cgi fun
t, a pipe with 3 ends
and that brings us recursively back, doh

good, bad or midi?

4. singularity (c.f. Singularity Sky, Accelerando etc) and
techno-totalitarianism (none so bad as Extropian!)

The idea goes back a long way - Indian and pretty much
every other early myths have avatars and nirvana,
although, perhaps less blue and with less grunge...
to sublime, to get to cloud nine, to reach Twoness (oops, sorry, Woody Allen:)
or oneness - read Lord of Light....

5. upload and the Turing test - yes, its reductionist - Turing
wanted something akin to what Shannon had for information theory of a channel - so
he constrained the situation - of course it then lacks context, state, emotion, society etc - yes its sad.

6. Some more thoughts on this as I read about his critique of the impact of the "free to air, paid by advertising" business model - he uses examples from
journalism and music and berates the long tail argument

However, the death of journalism long pre-dates the Internet, although it is a technocentric death - the centralisation of press by barons such as Murdoch (and before, Maxwell - c.f. Wapping etc etc) destroyed most of the community of local newspapers and full time journalists who gave detail and colour - this is well documented - the book "Flat Earth News" shows the fraction of news that is actually written anew and analytically by journalists and the vast majority that is simply a verbatim reproduction of press releases. The complaints by media that Google gets revenue from avertisers simply for "indexing" this stuff is rediculous, since the majority of the material isn't even copyrightable by the so-called "publishers" in the first place - it is effectively plagiarised anyhow. (often literally without citing the original "source").

secondly, the music business has concentrated for 20 years on back catalog - this is why it has seen a demise faster than film - the problem is that this is the exact OPPOSITE of the long tail - the claim that A&R men invest a significant fraction of profit in finding new talent is pathetic - it is about as pathetic as most drugs company claims that they spend a large fraction of their profits on new drug development - they don't - they spend more on advertising. One obvious consequence of this is that kids are overwealmed with the quantitiy of high quality material they can see - if you are setting out to learn to play (remember first 3 issues of the first and greatest punk fanzine, Sniffin Glue covers: "here's a chord". "here's another chord". "here's a third chord - now go form a band") - this is just not going to occur in the retro world....on the other and, myspace is full of some cool crazy dudes - i would comapre the clunky wonderful amateurism of, say, sulek, with the madness that is harmelodic metal tapping, sweeping and shredding of Buckethead...

The Internet is a corrective to these poor trends - that doesn't mean it is a perfect replacement, but it sure is better than the alternative.

I love the idea that language might have started as swearing about smells - that is really cool.

otherwise 11/9:)


Richard G. Clegg said...

I thought that quote was Steve Martin. Turns out even Google can't find me an authoritative answer.

jon crowcroft said...

crucially, there are existence proofs that lanier is not wrong, but he's not right either - see for example:

jon crowcroft said...

A nice article about how little musicians make online is referenced here (which supports Lanier's arguments a bit):