February 28, 2007

photo of West Bank wall by FREEPAL

In a wonderful example of crossover between meatspace and cyberspace linguistics, the always excellent Global Guerillas blog by John Robb has a post entitled Nation-state firewalls. Robb lists some of the larger fences, walls and barriers around the world designed to limit and control the transitions of people between the two sides of the barriers in question.

Of course, the ‘firewall’ is a term originally for something in physical space, but in most people’s minds these days I think we consider it a ‘cyberspace’ term. The two have similar functions, of course – namely to limit the transition of stuff like data or people – but it’s interesting to see them being used interchangably here.

Question: just what is the difference people and data, anyway? I think I know people I’ve ‘met’ online but I’ve really only seen the data they produce. There’s certainly more to a person than just their intellectual output (just look at David Beckham) but how much more must vary an awful lot.


Bottom-up organisation & bottom-up control

February 9, 2007

An interesting (and admittedly paraphrased) quote from a post John Robb’s always-interesting blog:

Complexity and Globalization

…In response to globalization, many states have over centralized due to a loss of local control. These centralized efforts haven’t resulted in a single hierarchy, but rather a plethora of overlapping and often conflicting efforts that routinely trump local authority (an example of how complexification in response to environmental stimulus is now providing negative returns on investment). The remoteness, obscurity and opacity of these parallel “authorities” add to the equation…

Organic Security

Once the legal monopoly of armed force, long claimed by the state, is wrested out of its hands, existing distinctions between war and crime will break down much as is already the case today in . . . Lebanon, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Peru, or Colombia.” Martin van Creveld.

States may not have an option. The catch is that if the national government doesn’t/can’t step in to rectify a decline in local control, forms of organic security… will replace them.

Is he talking about how local societies and built-up groups can inherently have more affect on their neighbourhood than over-beurocratic imposed orders from a national government? Nope – he’s talking about insurgencies and guerrilla warfare. Read his blog (and book when it comes out!) – it’s fascinating stuff.
In all these explorations of how I want neighbourhoods to restore control to themselves and foster bottom-up organisational methods, it’s important to remember that things might not necessarily go smoothly. In fact I’d say they almost certainly won’t. I’m hoping that the starting point (middle class British suburbia) already contains enough respect for order and peace that things wouldn’t shift too badly towards anarchy, but power vacuums are always risky – no matter how small.

Internet access as a right

February 6, 2007

An article on the BBC News website today covers a story about the Indian President last year outlining his future hopes for free Internet access for everyone in India. Ambitious, non? Not only is the sheer logistical challenge of such a dream almost insurmountable, but any capitalists out there will be turning into enraged beetroots as we speak. Just think of all the lost revenue!

To start, let’s look at the first complaint. Doubters are right to point out the mountains of difficulty anyone attempting such a technological feat wouild encounter. But the Indians have done it before. In 2004 the state of Gujarat announced that they intended to have electricity in all their villages within two years. All the other Indian states had a good laugh at this claim, as did much of the world, but by golly they actually managed it in the end. With electricity now piped to all Gujarati villages, businesses and economic growth has flourished in previously declining rural areas. This growth means an increased likelihood of better health care and living standards, and of course gives the villagers of Gujarat a good reason to be smug.

…But can it be done with internet connections, and is it fair to deprive telecons of a business that some might say is rightly theres? Lawrence Lessig, copyfighter extraordinaire and founder of the Creative Commons, wrote about similar arguments a few years ago in Philadelphia:

“In September, I reported that Philadelphia was considering funding a WiFi service for the city. Sixty percent of the citizens have no access to broadband. The city elders believe that’s no way to enter the 21st century.

But as Public Knowledge now reports, a bill on the Governor’s desk would now make it impossible for Philadelphia to offer such a service, because it “competes” with private businesses offering the same service.

So, let’s see: If I open a private street light company, selling the photons my lights give off, can Philadelphia offer “free” street lights? Or does the fact that Guards To Go offers services in Philadelphia mean we need to disband the Philly police department?”

If governments and councils are there to fundamentally ensure the enrichment of the lives of those people who elect them, how can they not at least consider something so useful as internet access for all? In suburban London, unlike rural India, there are plenty of businesses out there who can supply you with broadband access, but that shouldn’t mean that democratic organisations can’t.