12 March 2008

Anna Schwartz and Benkler's Wealth of Networks



With Tom Glaisyer's invitation, I had the pleasure today of responding to the noted monetary economist Anna Schwartz' review of Yochai Benkler's book The Wealth of Networks. (Download any or all of the book here for free.) Using no notes, she delivered a trenchant series of critical reflections on Benkler's work for 20 solid minutes. And, one may mention as it is only to her credit, she is 93 years old. That's right, 93. Schwartz coauthored with Milton Friedman, perhaps the key neoclassical economic thinker of the last half of the twentieth century, the seminal A Monetary History of the United States (1963); she also reports she is working on a history US state intervention into foreign currency exchange from 1962, which continues her (truly) lifelong interest in money supply. May I be doing anything, let alone making 27 year-old PhD candidates very nervous, at 93! I found her charming and wonderfully ferocious.

She reads Benkler as arguing that the (intensive capital-holding, proprietary, market-based) industrial information economy is substantially different from the (low capital-holding, nonproprietary, nonmarket-based) networked information economy in that it allows social production to flourish in a new way that emphasizes individual voluntary choice of the factors of production. In the traditional industrial model, market signals or managers make such decisions; in Benkler's networked model, individuals self-select projects based on their capacity, producing ostensibly a low-cost model of production. Benkler, in her reading, would have the second subsume the first. (This last point is patently wrong: he argues for coexistence of market and nonmarket forces, not the domination of one over the other--and, to prove the point, he does so in the market-friendly terms. An argument for their separation would ostensibly do well to separate vocabularies as well.)

She counters Benkler's points with the assertion that all preexisting models of social production are flawed to date. The totalitarian model has under-performed as a non-voluntary mode of production; and almost all voluntary social production models have relied on charismatic leaders to urge production while requiring conformity and loss of individual freedom. The Kibbutz movement in Israel, among many other semi-religious communities (many in early American history), exemplify how social production can exhaust its founding community after a generation.

She wonders then whether there are sufficient signs of discontent or enthusiasm surrounding the idea of commons-based peer production to test the trajectory of such work; and points to omissions in the work such as an insufficient treatment of the networked model's incapacity to produce hard-material goods for consumers, like cars or barges or highways; that the internet is a tool and all tools can be used for good or ill; and lastly that copyright is only one restriction to information flow and perhaps not the most important subject for reform: rather that the state directly intervenes itself in ways to render unusable any material procured by Freedom of Information Acts requests.

My comments were more youthfully optimistic, uncertain but hopeful. The book's key points in my mind follow: Benkler's book boils down to a lesson we should have learned from Sesame Street, i.e. share nicely. It successfully critiques intellectual property policy as an inefficient way of marketizing non-rivalrous information in the public commons; the fact that the reproduction or distribution costs tend toward zero means property rights no longer need to tax nonproprietary models of production; nonproprietary models rely on altruism and other motivations that do not easily lend themselves to exchange values. They also rely on the 'excess capacity' or time off-the-clock of laborers in fields like education, arts, scientific, and industry research. Even the act of voting can be read as a leisure activity. Benkler's book looks to monetize social production in ways that will benefit all: in Lucas Graves' fine phrase, all ships will rise when the tide comes in.

Despite whatever complaints, the information networked economy produces incredible amounts of use-value. We use it all the time, we even give back sometimes. How use-value becomes exchange-value is not only the central question at hand, it may in fact be the problem. I wonder not only how should we do it, but should we do it at all?

Does employing the language of competition and zero-sum games of law and economics reduce nonmarket social production to a battle with market production logics, which it will surely loose on its own terms? That is, will Benkler's project of benefiting all by translating social production into the language of markets condemn it to the benefit of those most fluent in exploitation and enclosure? Finally, will the attempt to widen the calculus of competition, equilibrium, and efficiency to include previously unaccounted positive and negative externalities of the culture of social production, in the end, (a) monetize those factors into private gain for the well positioned, (b) break upon the corporate logics to the wider dynamics of industry survival (i.e. that everyone can benefit when we share knowledge), (c) both, or (d) something else? Is asking which one wins--nonmarket or market forces--already to have lost; should instead we ask how they can coexist? If so, what language do we have to ask it?

The questions we ask already perform the language we rely upon to answer the questions. If one asks about the utility of social sharing from a purely neoclassical economic point of view, his or her answer will tend to be pessimistic and backed by hard evidence. If one includes terms themselves based on optimism (altruism and other seemingly non-rational forms of generosity), his or her assessment will be more complicated and uncertain. Thank goodness for behavior economists struggling with the incongruities and gaps between human behavior and traditional incentive theory: may that field give economics, law, and the rest of us the language in which to ask better questions.

Benkler's work is both important and weakened because it focuses heavily on the present. However, the timelessness of writing a book on Internet-related case studies and examples quickly dates Benkler's book. A deeper historical perspective on the social production model implicit in human history can only fortify and stabilize the debate for itself. This is not a real critique, however. His one book does too much already, if anything. Future work in this vein should draw upon the past.

As Rasmus Nielsen has pointed out, it may also do very well to account for massive information infrastructure costs, the fiber optic cables, the wifi, and the laptops that the Benkler's optimism depends upon in the international development scene.

In response to Prof. Schwartz' comments, it is worth noting Kibbutz et. al. tend to be very close-knit, intense communities, whereas the virtue of peer production network communities tend to be the very weakness of that community. For the most part it is an interest in work, not a larger vision of relationships and life, that unites these communities. In Mark Granovetter's influential 1973 title, it is "the strength of weak ties" that matters here. Lucas Graves also points out that networked peer production communities are united by, if anything other than the will to work, the very ideology of sharing. Analysis of the incentives driving these communities, then, must include the more complex calculations of human behavior.

Lastly, the optimism of Benkler's book (or, for instance, his live wager against Nicholas Carr) may in fact be a structural component of his very argument. Both the economic logic and the tone it employs are, in a strong sense, faith-based. Faith, I argue, is fine provided one hard condition: that it leads to individual action. Without work, faith in any mode of human interaction is senseless. For those who would entertain Benkler's optimism, we cannot forget the incredible amount of labor implicit in his call to collaboration.

Altruism itself is preconditioned on the applied belief we will (personally, incalculably, and possibly calculably) benefit from helping and sharing nicely with others. It is not surprising its best arguments depend upon the same logic.

12 Comments:

Blogger Derrick said...

So happy to have found this. It makes me happy to think that I can use it to continue, in my head at least, our great conversations walking from La Salle to 96th Street.

March 17, 2008 at 8:37 AM  
Blogger Olivier said...

Hey. I've been thinking a lot about Wednesday's colloquium with Anna Schwartz and Ben. For fear of having come across more bellicose than I intended, and because I selfishly want to mash up a bit more with those of you who are Benklerites, I thought I'd follow up. (Apologies to you guys if this is terrain you've tread over one too many times already in your ad hoc Wealth of Networks working group.)

In a review/critique of the book I presented for a conference earlier this year, my argument against the book was not so much with the descriptive fact that P2P social sharing practices are important new forms of communication/information production. Benkler's text does as good a job as any other I know in assimilating all of the social science research out there to show that, yes, the stuff happening on the Internet is worth serious notice. (For doubters, check out a recent piece on how even NBC Universal is incorporating p2p protocols for distribution of certain products for efficiency reasons (notwithstanding Ben's fears of the privileging of "efficiency"): http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/nbc-media-moguls.ars).)

My main gripe with the argument in the Wealth of Networks is the optimism Benkler has in the promise of the "networked information economy." He does indeed think that the world - all of it - will change; he emphatically argues that social sharing practices constitutive of the NIE have and will continue to change everything.

They will improve economic development efforts around the world. They will advance social justice.

But I disagree. With apologies to the Obamaniacs around here, I think that "we are the change that we seek." The platforms and protocols are not. Don't you agree?

To put a bit of a finer point on this, the NIE is not wholly constitutive of the world that we inhabit. It only "affords" opportunities for the elite "knowledge-workers" who use and rely on social sharing platforms in very particularized, specialized settings.

The NIE doesn't mean jack for social justice, economic wellbeing,
or even political liberty unless we (or someone) directs them to those ends. And we're a long way from that. I still don't even know how such a thing happens. There are a set of material factors that have always "determined," nay "structured," nay "influenced" politics and policy, let alone the
political economy of culture and communication. You know, what Raymond Williams called the "structures of feeling" or what Althusser called the "ideological state apparatus." For what it's worth.

Benkler remains adamantly silent on this point. He ventures incoherently for
a couple pages into Gramsci (let alone his meandering foray into
theories of deliberative democracy). But that is it. His book is not a clarion call to
arms. Its value, as far as I'm concerned, is limited to its
synthesis of extant research on the "nonproprietary strategies"
that motivate action on the NIE. No more.

That's why I think it is a mistake to use Benkler's worldview as a
starting point for the political possibilities of the NIE.

I'm just saying.

Olivier

March 18, 2008 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Ben Peters said...

Response to Olivier:

An unsurprisingly smart analysis.

Obama's "we are the change we seek" cuts to the heart of the matter: it's about people and performance, which point not only delivers your reformist critique of Benkler's optimism (global poverty reduction , etc. does not follow directly from NIE) but it recapitulates your scope critique. It turns out the "we" in the 'we are the change we seek' are not many, and thus we should not expect the changes to be huge, over-reaching, structural, or whatever, except within the sphere of its own creation, the NIE. I think some optimism is justified in the analysis but, I agree, not in the prognosis (your point) of NIE. The excess capacity depends on altruism, and altruism depends on hope, so an analysis of the system should expect to find optimism animating not only NIE workers but its leading synthesizers.

Two other moments: One, "I still don't even know how such a thing happens." This returns us to our recent walk: if law doesn't enact change, what does? Teaching? Parenting? A slow coming to terms with the fact the only structure of feeling I can change is my own? There must be more, no? This seems the most disturbing and important point for me, as I don't know what to do to find out how "such a thing happens"; I'm not willing to despair; and am thus left in limbo.

Two, worthwhile scholarship synthesis makes good points and good conversations possible. But aside from that, I think I'm almost eager to accept your proposed limitations and get on with it. A critical review, I think, would have to develop Rasmus' point about the infrastructural limitations of NIE international development as that seems the clearest point to chop or trim his worldview.

BP

March 18, 2008 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Rasmus Kleis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 19, 2008 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger tomg said...

I'm sympathetic to one of the points Olivier makes. Intent as he posits or charisma as Anna mentioned, or just the common purpose that I would argue is a property in viable sub-networks is critical in my view.

The question for me is whether
(1) we are soon to live in a "Benkler-Moglen World" of couchsurfing FOSS advocates OR
(2) a "Corporate Networked World" where the networks that matter are private and available only to an elite OR
(3) a world constantly responding to attacks on vulnerable nodes on the networks by those with illiberal ideas.

Notwithstanding that the platform could be closed by a few legacy actors more comfortable with extracting monopoly rents - building on Alessandra's point about two sided markets needing a platform - I think the affordances are potentially so significant they will be adopted by anyone with the choice to do so. Participation will be broad. That is not to say that it will be entirely equitable.

What gives me hope that this might work out well and that we can avoid (2) is that, unlike the industrial age where diseconomies of scale kick in at only very large numbers, networks are said to have a maximum optimal size http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar_number of between 100 - 230. (I know it doesn't have any apparent solid rationale but it makes intuitive sense to me. Perhaps there is some research to be done here!!)

If Dunbar's number holds any group above this number really means you aren’t really looking at a single network but rather multiple interlocking networks. Moreover, assuming you can be part of at least 2 or possible three of these networks at any one time what we'll end up with is competing, but friendly, sub networks. Assuming a legal environment can be sustained that is supportive to such an ecology and permits them to provide social value this could be a better place to live in comparison to a "Polanyi World." Likely a world where (1), and (2) compete and (3) can be minimized.

As a result I'll disagree with Olivier's last point and suggest that it is a good starting point to discuss a era though I'll concede that alone it is not sufficient. The question I'm left with is what is needed to be added?

Olivier have you another author in mind that we should read or should we do we need to wait for "The Wealth of Intent" by O Sylvain?

March 19, 2008 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger Rasmus Kleis said...

My own gut reaction to Benkler is closer to Olivier than to Tom, but, running the risk of simultaneously sounding like I'm trying to have it both ways (which I may be) and that I'm a Marxist (which I'm not, since I'm not really anything coherent), I'd argue for a good, old-fashioned, dialectical view of this, the idea that the networked information economy and the world that it is part may at the same time be the best thing and the worst thing. Think Frederic Jameson and his 'Post-Modernism' here (a short version of that argument, which I think is enormously important still, can be found here
http://www.newleftreview.es/?page=article&view=726). Couldn't it be the case that almost
everything Benkler writes could come true for everyone who's likely to ever read his book? And for many more in the global north too? And that for the (rather large, one would think) 'rest', both north and south, things aren't changing in quite that direction, even though internet cafes, cell phones, and the like certainly are transforming a large swath of material culture in the global south too? I don't buy the benign thrust that Benkler projects onto the technological development, but I can't accept the idea that it makes no difference either--what Jacques Ellul (I think) wrote of technology and technological development more generally may also be appropriate here--'it is neither good, bad, nor neutral'. Despite Benkler's persistent optimism in the book, which Olivier rightly brought back to our attention during the discussion, I'm not even sure that Benkler would disagree with this, but as his book seems to be at least as much an intervention as an analysis, its intellectual vector is hard to decipher. After all,
it was exactly Gramsci, whome Olivier refers to, who argued for 'pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will'. Both were obviously involved, but one wonders which of these human faculties drove Benkler's book. And one may take issue with his strategy if
such calculations further fueled his optimism--an interesting parallel could be drawn here to leftist political thinking in general, but I won't, since I really should spend my Saturday doing something else.

March 19, 2008 at 10:43 PM  
Blogger Ben Peters said...

From Lucas...

Two quick thoughts:

1) I basically agree with Olivier. In some very limited number of
arenas, mere will is what it takes: people agreeing to use the
technology in a particular way is enough to defeat incumbents and
transform an activity or a market. There's not much that classified ad
purveyors can do to reclaim their market once something like
Craigslist comes along (not just because it's online, but because it's run as a nonprofit). It's pretty clear Encyclopaedia Britannica's moment has passed, in the face of Wikipedia but also of scores of free, field-specific online efforts. Or think of the trillion-dollar tech support industry that doesn't even exist because the vast bulk of
it that labor is done collaboratively, online. Open-source may never
wipe out Microsoft, but the opposite is also true.

However, governance is emphatically NOT one of these arenas. Political
action is precisely exercising the authority (and competing for the
authority, which may be the same thing) to distribute resources. Using Linux or Wikipedia makes sense on the margin: I don't mind that most of the world is on Windows as long enough people use Linux for it to be viable. Nor does it matter that 99 percent of people who read Wikipedia never contribute, as long as enough do. That kind of easy secessionary logic doesn't work in the case of political communities.
This is partly because they deal with rivalrous resources, demand for which grows as the community (or commune) grows. But I think it's also because political authority itself is a rivalrous resource. Exercising
political authority in favor one interest at the expense of another
isn't just a reward of power, it's a strategy for gaining and
preserving power. Maybe the best analogy here is the way Dawkins
explains the emergence of single-celled organisms from the primordial soup of amino acids. All you need is a feedback loop for organization -- in this case, accumulation -- to emerge.

With Rasmus, I'm not saying the NIE and social production can't have
any impact. (Though perhaps as much in the form of unexpected
informational / organizational landmines established actors have to steer around, as in the day-to-day material culture of cell phones and cybercafes.) But in the broadest, structural, rolling-downhill sense
conveyed by the shiniest examples of social production, as Olivier
says, "The NIE doesn't mean jack for social justice, economic
wellbeing, or even political liberty unless we (or someone) directs them to those ends." Put it this way: Governance is one area where, had we the will, we could have introduced near-total transparency and enlightened crowd-sourcing long before the Internet came along.

2) We should do something with Jonathan Zittrain while he's here. He's really smart and interesting, though I wonder whether the grim
scenario he paints -- basically, the NIE unraveling -- was motivated
as much by academic positioning as visceral fear. Still, I give him
the benefit of the doubt, and I'm curious to learn more. (To clarify:
As far as I can tell he differs from Benkler on the historical
momentum of social production, but not as to the unalloyed good and
desirability of it all.) Here's an interview I did with him a while
back... apologies for the inanity: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.01/start.html?pg=15

cheers
Lucas

March 27, 2008 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Ben Peters said...

Please note the following two events, both at Yale Law school, Tuesday April 1 from 2:10 until 7.

Balkin and Post's law and media program at YLS looks very worth a tag, plus there's Zittrain.

I'd love to train up with anyone interested.

B

1. Jonathan Zittrain will be speaking on his new book "The Future of
the Internet--And How to Stop It" on April 1 (Tuesday) at 2:10pm in
room 127.

2. The Yale Law School Law and Media Program Announces Its Launch Event:
"Covering Scandals: Investigative Reporters, their Lawyers, and the Process of Breaking Controversial News"
A panel discussion on the process of investigating, editing, vetting, and reporting high profile stories featuring: Brian Ross, Chief Investigative Correspondent, ABC News; John Zucker; Senior Vice President, Law & Regulation, ABC News; Jeff Leen, Investigations Editor, The Washington Post; and Eric Lieberman, Vice President and General Counsel, The Washington Post. The panelists, award winners for breaking such stories as the Mark Foley/Congressional Page scandal and the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, will talk about the intersection of law and journalism, ethical and legal obligations, and roles attorneys and reporters play in reporting controversial news.

March 27, 2008 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Ben Peters said...

From Jonah...

Hey Everyone,

Don't think for a second I am sitting this one out - I'm actually off at
PyCon (the annual US python programming language conference -
http://us.pycon.org/2008/about/) and experiencing aspects this
conversation first hand. Trust me, our backdrop has been on my mind all
weekend, and I might have to actually drag some of you to something like
this in the future.

Anyway, I am still recovering from an incredibly intensive weekend (I am
not staying for the sprints, but it was tempting) and will write more
soon, but first I really want to understand why we aren't having this
conversation on Ben's blog, Working Notes.

Ben wrote this awesome writeup on the presentation here:

http://www.columbia.edu/~bjp2108/blog/2008/03/anna-schwartz-reviews-and-i-respond-to.html

which seems like the natural and obvious place for use to continue this
thread. Not only is our correspondence contextualized, it may also
benefit from precisely the network effects at issue if we have this
conversation in public. I mean, the essays introduced so far have been
keenly insightful and original - _surely_ helpful to others studying
this topic. Discovery could happen serendipitously, or more likely by
reference, but there are already a bunch of folks I know that I would
send this conversation too...

So - can we move this conversation back into the, dare I call it, public
sphere? Can Olivier, Tom, Rasmus, and Lucas repost their emails as
comments on this post? Or, create new posts in their own blogs with
trackbacks to Working Notes, if you prefer?

Did we wind up in email because the messages crossed paths? Are folks
shy about publishing unpolished ideas (though, I would not call the
correspondence so far unpolished)? Am I being too pushy about this?

more soon,
/Jonah

March 27, 2008 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Ben Peters said...

From Olivier...

You sound busy, Jonah. Thanks for taking the minute.

I'll assume the blame for the email thread. My only intention was in corresponding with folks in our program who were at the Schwartz/Peters colloquium. I read Ben's blog post when he circulated it last week, but I didn't for a minute think of posting my note on it. (I too thought it was a good review of the talks.) By sending my email, I unwittingly revealed my own already-anachronistic instinct to email rather than blog. I did not think about the advantages of the "network effects" of a more widely circulated note - not so much because I don't think there are advantages to expanding the circle of contributors, but because the PhD gang was precisely the group to whom I wanted to limit my post.

But you make a good case that we should transport these thoughts to Ben's blog. (This is not meant as a slight to Ben or other professional bloggers, but I don't think that blogs necessarily constitute the public sphere anymore than our little bubble does. But we can get into that at some other point, I suppose. In some ways, it goes to the very core of the argument I meant to make.) Other people in the world would benefit from reading Tom's and Ben's and Rasmus's and Chris's and Lucas's thoughts as much as I have. And, of course, we would benefit from others' contributions. Can you do that Ben? Or is that something we should each do?

More pertinently, maybe we can pick up the very question of what, in and of themselves, these network effects are good for. (Never mind the question of motivation right now.) My hunch is that the value of networks depends on who is in them or, to make this an even more elusive problem, what it is we are valuing. (I'll try to post this right now.)

March 27, 2008 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Ben Peters said...

Sounds great. Please post away: http://www.columbia.edu/~bjp2108/blog/2008/03/anna-schwartz-reviews-and-i-respond-to.html

Unless I hear otherwise, I will assume that everyone interested will post his or her comment to my blog. (I can do it myself, but then your brilliant comments would be from me. But If people don't do it on their own but are in favor, I may post everything myself marking the comment author in a few days. )

The switch is wonderfully performative. The networked world is us, of course, the people who might possibly be crazed enough to read my blog. Present use-value calculations of the blog are less than future access-value estimations. We post not for ourselves but for others, although there are no others yet. Access (in addition to efficiency) is another tricky subject I'd like to get my head around: it presupposes absent bodies and their symbolic mediation (a bit like representative democracy, actually!)

Of course, then again, the value of an email response is that everyone gets it necessarily. No one of us will ever be forced to access my blog (thank goodness!).

B

March 27, 2008 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Ben Peters said...

From Jonah...

Hey Everyone,

[I'll post this over as a comment to Ben's blog after all the preceding
one's have made it over. And yeah, until/unless we are in the habit of
pulling information from common sources we might also decide to email
each other the links to new posts, but I think there is still a great
deal of value in conducting these conversations in public, even if
nobody other than us ever reads them].

Wednesday's talk was _really_ instructive, particularly in learning how
Benker's book is being interpreted across various conversations. I think
his book had a particular vector that gets all muddled when trying to
view it from different perspectives. The arguments need to be broken
down and teased out before they can be taken up in different contexts.
Yes, he conflates and rolls many threads together in WoN, but that's
usually the bargain in structuring a complex series of arguments into
the narrative of a book.

First, I just want to mention that Benkler himself was actually a member
and treasurer of Kibbutz Shizafon from '84-'87, according to his own CV.
Cursory research turned up that this Kibbutz collapsed sometime after he
left, though another one has been founded on the same site.

I think that Rasmus' designation of 'intervention' is helpful. In
Benkler's words, at a presentation:

"The emphasis I want to place here, particularly in the last portion of
the talk, will be on how this translates into a variety of current
policy debates that are going on the policy side in the wrong direction,
even though society, market, and technology are all pushing in what I
consider to be the right direction. And there's a deep conflict between
the direction in which the political system, the judicial system, and
the regulatory system are pushing policy, trying to squelch the
direction in which market, society, and technology are pushing us." -
http://public.resource.org/20060531_Benkler.html

I think his book is aimed at inspiring policy reform, especially in the
area of Intellectual Property law, with the carrot of his optimistic
utopia as a rhetorical persuasive device. I think his optimism is one
way to tell the story of what's at stake, and he mostly omits the
dystopic directions these changes could lead to. A "must read" on the
darker side is Nigel Thrift's is “Re-inventing invention: new tendencies
in capitalist commodification” Economy and Society, Volume 35 Number 2
May 2006: 279306
http://nigelthrift.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/reinventing.pdf, (Søren
Mørk Petersen is riffing on similar themes). But, I think we need do
some work to separate the discussion of the transformations in
communication, production, and consumption he outlines from his optimism
for one possible form those transformations might take.

I personally did not find the analytic distinctions between inevitable,
easy, and desirable to be useful. In this type of predictive work the
urgent task is to anticipate contingencies, strategies and
counter-strategies, but they are all probablistic. The NIE is upon us.
There are many competing forces contending to shape and control it, and
its form (with its correlated values), is precisely what remains for us
decide.

Olivier wrote:

> My main gripe with the argument in the Wealth of Networks is the
optimism
> Benkler has in the promise of the "networked information economy." He
does
> indeed think that the world - all of it - will change; he
emphatically argues that
> social sharing practices constitutive of the NIE have and will
continue to
> change everything. They will improve economic development efforts around
> the world. They will advance social justice.

> But I disagree. With apologies to the Obamaniacs around here, I think
that "we
> are the change that we seek." The platforms and protocols are not.
Don't you
> agree?

Now this is a really meaty question. Which part of that series of
assertions you disagree with? I think everything is changing (it always
does), and it is up to us to insure that these changes lead to
improvements. But, to paraphrase Latour, could technology/law/habbits be
viewed as our predecessor's Will made durable? To me, the claim that our
Will, in the present moment, are the entirety of the changes we seek is
strongly analogous to mind/body dualism. The way I look at it the
platforms, protocols, policies, and cultural habits are the
manifestations of our will, but there are undoubtedly feedback loops
which influence future possibilities. The body of technology, laws, and
routines limit and constrain where the imagination, and in turn, our
collective will may venture. (BTW - this is a really great peek at
Obama's "machinery of hope" -
http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/19106326)

As an addendum, a really important thrust of Benkler's book is debunking
the widely held belief that the market requires increasingly proprietary
protections to incentive innovation. We have largely left that argument
alone, perhaps taking it for granted. But there are _many_ business and
legal folk (academics?) that have yet to grasp this economic and
psychological reality. I think Benkler's table of "Ideal-Type
Information Production Strategies" (p. 43, or
http://www.congo-education.net/wealth-of-networks/ch-02.htm#2-1) is
immensely important to popularize, but is in desperate need of polishing
and elaboration.

Lastly, I think its really interesting to start thinking about the
category of things which can't be copied. Here is a post which
admittedly begins in a gross caricature of Benkler's giddy euphoria, but
then enumerates a series of qualities/attributes which are inherently
unique. The author imagines this is where the actual exchange value will
re-enter the picture (ie - what people should start making money selling)

http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/01/better_than_fre.php

Really stimulating conversation.

Be well,
/Jonah

March 27, 2008 at 1:21 PM  

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