Mining Projects OnLine.

By Brian Ohanlon, published at 10 May 2007 - 8:12pm, last updated 12 years 22 weeks ago.

I just finished reading Danah Boyd's 5th February 2007 blog entry. It reminded me of some thoughts I have had in my head for a while about the web, privacy and so on. I hope you enjoy reading. My old art teacher, told me about his experience in boarding school. There was no such thing as privacy at all, except when sitting on the toilet bowl. Spend longer than five minutes and someone was banging the door down. Danah argues that technology has resulted in a decrease in privacy. I will point to Howard Rheingold's book on Smart Mobs in which discusses the high density living environments that exist in Asia. Whole massive apartment blocks, where buying grocceries means phoning someone on another floor who delivers the goods to your door number. In stark contrast to the North American solution to everything. Where you fill your SUV with gas and drive five miles to buy a newspaper. Is it any wonder that the internet was born in such an environment? As Scott McNealy said in a recent interview, shipping electrons is cheaper than shipping atoms.

I had a discussion with a professor from university of Nebraska. I conjectured, that rules don't matter at all in university. I studied architecture in university. People spend a lot of time together and I witnessed a lot of strange behaviour from intelligent students. I evolved an attitude that normal rules don't apply to these young people. They can simply do what they feel like. Like in Lord of the Flies, I witnessed the complete erosion of human fabric. The professor won the debate on that occasion. He was very skillful and able to prove me wrong. One thing I did learn from the debate, was about vernacular architecture in Europe. By vernacular architecture, I mean the old cottages and shibeens you see in old photographs. If you look at the older housing designs, you will notice a greater openness to their design. By openness, I mean the houses operate in such a way that people sit together around a heart. Not very many people owned newspapers in the old days. Not very many people could read the newspapers either. A person who could read was an important component of a community. It was common in my fathers time to walk miles through the fields to enter someone elses house and hear the news. At first glance, there is no formal order to the process. Neighbours are free to come and go as they please. Because the order is so subtle and imperceptible to our modern gaze, we hardly even notice it. Again, the professor was right. Even in situations where you think no rules apply, they do exist. They exist and they can exert powerful influence upon our behaviour. I grew up in a part of the world, where I saw the tail end of this long tradition which stretches back for centuries. Steven Johnson in his book, Emergence discusses the evolution of the human in relation to the fire side culture. The aboriginal people in Australia would start a fire wherever they went. Or if they moved camp, the fire had to move with them. If by some circumstance, this fire went out, a runner was sent often a hundred miles to another camp to bring fire back. It was irrelevant these people could easily start their own fire. It was something to do with continutity of the fire. Continuity of cultural practices, respect for nature and the social organisation around the fire. Siegfried Giedion's book, Time, Space and Architecture has an interesting discussion on culture. The last chapter of his book is a favourite piece of mine.

During the discussion amongst the professors another made observation was made about modern human behaviour. That people slouch around nowadays, watching TV in their underwear. I countered by saying that people who expose a lot of flesh, do not invite people to enter their company. They use it as a tactic to regulate who comes in or out. If you are not intimate friends with someone, you will hardly sit with them and watch TV in your underwear. The traditionalists I was raised by, had conservative notions on dress. But their architecture and social pattern encouraged a much wider social circle. It was more condusive to discussion and interaction amongst many. From experience in past living arrangements in my college days, I noticed that when people wanted to annoy you they would wait until a quiet moment of the evening. Perhaps when you were listening to a favourite piece of music and relaxing with a book. Then they would engage in extra loud gorilla sex. They would brazenly come down stairs afterwards and take a slug out of an orange juice carton from the fridge. And patronise you even more, by engaging in idle chit chat. There is a good example of what I mean in the movie Fight Club. The truth is Danah, walls don't really exist in meatspace either. The only thing that exists is order or lack of it. Order is something, anything that allows us to maintain a certain continuity in our social behaviour. When reading John Battelle's book, Search, I realised one important thing. Whether or not, you create to an online persona, chances are one is going to be created anyways. Jaron Lanier makes a similar point in his recent essay, Digital Maoism. Wikipedia will take any person and create an online puppet to replicate that person. I have no idea how I would get along with my online puppet. Maybe we could become great buddies and share a beer. Maybe we would just end up fighting in the street. Who knows? I think Arnie did a movie based around this theme one time?

The one thing I have realised, is one may as well contribute to your own online persona in whatever way possible. Become internal to your own online persona, rather than being external to it. Or outsourcing it altogether to be assembled by some online creature like a techno-bot. Whether people know this or not is irrelevant. They wear the web like this new prostetic limb. Those of us who accept the fact, are learning in baby steps how to use the limb. Those of use who refuse to accept, are having to drag the limb around regardless. You gain the extra weight without the extra functionality. There is really no instruction manual. I take the same point of view as men like Richard Stallman. Why use passwords and profiles? It won't prevent anyone from breaking in. But it will encourage people or bots to try even harder. There is a cunning plan undertaken by social networking sites to make the information a little bit hard to access, simply to raise its value even more on the open markets of cyberspace. This merely provides what the large search engine providers want. If there is no deep, hidden veins of information resources for the search engine bots to mine. Then they are automatically out of business, of no use whatsoever. Then their business model fails. For all the technology, the internet at it stands, reminds me of the global economy in the nineteenth century where things all revolved around a gold standard. The key thing for search engine companies is to own the keys to those mines. But I predict for further expansion of the internet, at some stage a faster rate of expansion will require a break from this gold standard.