notes and recommendations

Freespeak (
Sat, 01 Nov 1997 22:53:45 -0700

Some interesting technology reviews.

Frederick Mann

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>From: Phil Agre <>
>Subject: notes and recommendations
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>Some notes and recommendations.
>To answer a recurring question: although I am happy for RRE's wonderful
>subscribers to send me potential items for the list, I absolutely do not
>want any commercial press releases. I am not opposed to commerce -- just
>the other day, after all, I passed along Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt's
>advertisement for their contextual design course. It has simply been my
>experience that commercial press releases are invariably useless. I mean
>really, they must be *trying* to make them that way, or else some useful
>content would sneak in occasionally. The truth, more likely, is that they
>are designed for a completely different purpose than circulation among a
>general audience on the Internet.
>Marc Rotenberg and I have just edited a book called Technology and Privacy:
>The New Landscape (MIT Press, 1997). It collects chapters by ten authors,
>each providing a new conceptual framework for understanding the interactions
>among technology, economics, and policy. One theme is the changing role
>of technology: social thought has always associated technology with social
>control and surveillance, but new technologies of privacy protection hold
>the promise of reversing that association, and the Internet is helping to
>create a new public sphere for debate and organizing around privacy issues.
>Another theme is the maturation of the traditional data protection model
>of privacy policy: this model originated in a sort of lawyer's folk theory
>of how computers work, back when computers were large, centralized, and
>unnetworked, but the world has changed since then. The data protection
>model isn't obsolete, but it has clearly come time to rethink the issues
>from the ground up. And what's what we've tried to do. It's a great book,
>it's cheap, and most of the online bookstores have it on sale. So check
>it out. I'll send an advertisement to RRE soon; in the meantime, you can
>read excerpts from the introduction by following the link from my home page:
>In addition I've put some more of my papers online in the last few weeks, so
>maybe you'll find something of interest there.
>Mostly, though, I have a whole lot of recommendations to offer.
>The most interesting book I've read in years is Michael Allen Gillespie,
>Nihilism Before Nietzsche, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
>Building on the observation of Weber and others that much modern thought
>is secularized religion, Gillespie argues that an important tradition of
>philosophy is based on a view of God as thoroughly arbitrary and capricious.
>In the middle ages, the basic problem was how to reconcile reason and
>faith, and the basic solution was to derive both from the elaborate order
>that God Himself had instituted in the world. The serial upheavals of the
>Black Death, the Reformation, and the Thirty Years' War made that approach
>considerably less plausible, however. Philosophers accordingly began
>drawing much more on the previously marginal tradition of nominalism,
>which emphasized the tension between man's reason and God's radical
>freedom. This approach can be found in Descartes, who, Gillespie argues,
>founds a tradition in which man himself must take over many or all of God's
>functions. Gillespie then traces a downward slide through Fichte, the
>romantic movement, the Russian nihilists, Schopenhauer, and many others,
>finally down to Nietzsche. Although I doubt that Gillespie and I would
>agree about many things, I think that he is basically right about this.
>The basic pattern is widespread; in fact, you can see it clearly in AI
>research, which has long opposed the heroic and (in practice) almost futile
>rationality of the individual agent to an "uncertain, unpredictable, and
>changing environment". Gillespie is one conservative dude, a product of
>the followers of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. His political
>polemics sometimes get in the way, for example when he treats people's
>enemies as authorities on them, or when he goes whole-hog into guilt-by-
>association tactics in recounting the beliefs of the Russian nihilists that
>Turgenev wrote about. Nonetheless, I think that Gillespie's variety of
>conservatism will become more important in coming years. The conservative
>movement has much to gain by reactivating an awareness of the theological
>sources of modern social and philosophical thought, thereby shifting the
>whole of public intellectual discourse back onto religious terrain. This
>is why I keep saying that we're returning to the middle ages, and why I
>expect the institutional system of the United States to continue its rapid
>convergence with that of Iran.
>Also immensely recommended is David F. Noble, The Religion of Technology:
>The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention, New York: Knopf, 1997.
>Although Noble's politics could not be any more different from Gillespie's,
>his thesis is remarkably parallel, to wit, that technology is, and always
>has been, primarily a religious enterprise. It has long been known that
>important technologists for a thousand years have also written religious
>works, but Noble is just about the first person to go and read them all,
>taking them seriously as an integral part of the technological tradition.
>Indeed, from the beginning of technology with the Benedictine monks down
>to the present day, one finds technologists suggesting with remarkable
>consistency that technology will cause man to resemble God. In some
>cases this suggestion is part of an overtly elaborated theology; in other
>cases the theological ideas have been translated into secular terms, but
>with religious language reappearing from time to time as if the author had
>discovered the analogy afresh. NASA, for example, is largely a religious
>organization, run by religious people for quite openly admitted religious
>purposes. Babbage and Wiener, likewise, were explicit about the religious
>nature of their work in computing, and (as I suggest in a column coming
>out in the November issue of Technology Review) the discourse of cyberspace
>is full of classical millenarian themes. For Noble, all of this is reason
>to reject technology. Of course, the word "technology" can mean a lot of
>different things, so that rejecting technology can amount to a wide variety
>of different positions. In other work, Noble vociferously resists those
>false friends who would water down the memory of the Luddites, making their
>attitude toward machinery seem fancier than it really was. My own view is
>that technology is capable of taking many different directions, and that
>technologies embody ideas, and that those ideas are frequently fouled up.
>Noble's objection to the religion of technology is that it is a religion;
>my objection is that it is a lousy religion. As with Gillespie's genealogy
>of nihilism, reactivating an awareness of the religious ideas and practices
>that became technology -- that is, recognizing *which* religion technology
>is -- shifts the debate about technology onto religious grounds. Gillespie
>wants to undermine poststructuralism and communism, Noble wants to undermine
>industrial automation, and they're both right. This is a serious situation.
>Does it mean that we *should* rewind society back to the middle ages? No,
>I don't think so. Does it mean that we probably *will* rewind society back
>to the middle ages? There I'm not so sure.
>Also highly recommended, though seemingly completely unrelated to theology:
>C. Edwin Baker, Giving the audience what it wants, Ohio State Law Journal
>58(2), 1997, pages 311-417. We too often hear the catechism of the market
>applied uncritically to information. The problem is that information works
>quite differently from physical commodities such as sandwiches and trucks.
>Information, in short, is a public good. This is well-known, but nobody has
>catalogued all of its consequences. Ed Baker is a First Amendment scholar
>who couldn't care less about cyberspace. You may recall my recommendation
>of his book about the influence of advertisers on the news. He tells me
>that he wrote this paper because he simply needed a citation for various
>observations about the public good nature of information but couldn't
>find one. The result is an interminable catalog of the amazing economic
>pecularities of information. Unless you've gotten used to all of these
>facts, you're simply not in a position to talk about the economic issues
>(and therefore the policy issues) associated with information technology.
>While we're reading law reviews, here are a few more useful references:
>Mark A. Lemley, Antitrust and the Internet standardization problem,
>Connecticut Law Review 28, 1996, pages 1041-1094. This paper and the next
>are required reading now that the Justice Department has moved on Microsoft.
>Basically they explain why this is the probably best shot that Justice will
>ever have.
>James J. Anton and Dennis A. Yao, Standard-setting consortia, antitrust, and
>high-technology industries, Antitrust Law Journal 64, 1995, pages 247-265.
>Julie E. Cohen, A right to read anonymously: A closer look at "copyright
>management" in cyberspace, Connecticut Law Review 28, 1996, pages 981-1039.
>The title says it. One counterargument against information-as-public-good
>arguments like Ed Baker's is that information *is* excludable, meaning that
>an information vendor can use "copyright management" technologies to control
>who uses it and who doesn't. This would be great from the point of view of
>neoclassical economics, but it would be a catastrophe from the point of view
>of privacy if publishers could know just exactly what you read, and when.
>Marcel Kahan and Michael Klausner, Path dependence in corporate contracting:
>Increasing returns, herd behavior and cognitive biases, Washington University
>Law Quarterly 74, 1996, pages 347-366. Even though this paper doesn't seem
>like it's relevant to information technology on the surface, I include it
>because it's highly relevant to the idea that privacy can be treated as a
>good to be allocated by the market. The idea is that different companies
>can compete in the marketplace on their handling of personal information,
>and that the market would thereby reveal just how much privacy people really
>want, and exactly what they're willing to give up to get it. This is one
>more example of the mechanical application of market language to matters
>involving information, and as with all the other examples, serious analysis
>of the proposal doesn't begin until we take seriously the particularities of
>the market. If the market doesn't work right then it won't allocate goods
>in the right way. If we think about privacy markets as markets in contract
>terms -- privacy, after all, isn't a separate and discrete good, but rather
>a set of terms incorporated in the contract governing the sale of some other
>good or service -- then we need to understand the properties of markets in
>contract terms that relate to the handling of personal information. Kahan
>and Klausner suggest that markets in contract terms exhibit network effects,
>meaning that market participants benefit from using the same contract terms
>that others have used before them. That means that a firm that wishes to
>offer innovative contract terms will have to make a potentially substantial
>investment that other firms using more commonplace terms won't have to make.
>The result could be to restrict the diversity of terms that are available to
>consumers in the marketplace. Nobody has proven whether this really happens
>-- indeed, it is a characteristic of debate in this area that neither the
>proponents nor opponents of market mechanisms have the slightest empirical
>evidence one way or the other. But the argument is plausible enough that we
>shouldn't buy the privacy-market story without considerable investigation.
>I also recommend ACM's StandardView, a crudely produced but intellectually
>serious magazine about standards and standardization. I have long said that
>standards dynamics are the key to understanding the evolution of information
>infrastructure, and StandardView provides some concrete detail on the (often
>strange) standardization process.
>A tremendous number of books have been published in the last couple years on
>the subjects covered on RRE. No mortal could possibly review them all, but
>here at least is a partial list of them:
>Stephen A. Brown, Revolution at the Checkout Counter: The Explosion of the
>Code, Harvard University Press, 1997.
>Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak, Information Ecology: Mastering the
>Information and Knowledge Environment, Oxford University Press, 1997.
>William Dutton, ed, Information and Communication Technologies: Visions and
>Realities, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
>Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows, eds, Cyberspace/Cyberbodies/Cyberpunk:
>Cultures of Technological Embodiment, Sage, 1996.
>Ruth Garner and Mark G. Gillingham, Internet Communication in Six Classrooms:
>Conversations Across Time, Space, and Culture, Erlbaum, 1996.
>Laura J. Gurak, Persuasion and Privacy in Cyberspace: The Online Protests
>over Lotus Marketplace and the Clipper Chip, New Haven: Yale University
>Richard Hawkins, Robin Mansell, and Jim Skea, eds, Standards, Innovation
>and Competitiveness: The Politics and Economics of Standards in Natural and
>Technical Environments, Edward Elgar, 1995.
>Marco Iansiti, Technology Integration: Making Critical Choices in a Dynamic
>World, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1997.
>Brian Kahin and Charles Nesson, eds, Borders in Cyberspace: Information
>and the Global Information Infrastructure, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997.
>Brian Kahin and James H. Keller, eds, Coordinating the Internet, Cambridge:
>MIT Press, 1997.
>Brian Kahin and Ernest Wilson, eds, National Information Infrastructure
>Initiatives, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.
>Ravi Kalakota and Andrew B. Whinston, Frontiers of Electronic Commerce,
>Addison-Wesley, 1996.
>Samuel Krislov, How Nations Choose Product Standards and Standards Change
>Nations, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.
>Donald M. Lamberton, ed, The Economics of Communication and Information,
>Cheltenham, UK: Elgar, 1996.
>Pierre Levy, Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace,
>translated by Robert Bononno, Plenum Press, 1997.
>Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps, Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space,
>Time, and Organizations With Technology, Wiley, 1997.
>Brian D. Loader, ed, The Governance of Cyberspace: Politics, Technology and
>Global Restructuring, Routledge, 1997.
>Lee W. McKnight and Joseph P. Bailey, eds, Internet Economics, Cambridge: MIT
>Press, 1997.
>Alberto Melucci, Challenging Codes: Collective Action in the Information Age,
>Cambridge University Press, 1996.
>Marc H. Meyer and Alvin P. Lehnerd, The Power of Product Platforms: Building
>Value and Cost Leadership, Free Press, 1997.
>W. Russell Neuman, Lee McKnight and Richard Jay Soloman, The Gordian Knot:
>Political Gridlock on the Information Highway, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997.
>Arthur L. Norberg and Judy E. O'Neill, Transforming Computer Technology:
>Information Processing for the Pentagon, 1962-1986, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
>University Press, 1996.
>Wanda Orlikowski et al, eds, Information Technology and Changes in
>Organizational Work, London: Chapman and Hall, 1996.
>David Porter, Internet Culture, Routledge, 1996.
>Gene I. Rochlin, Trapped in The Net: The Unanticipated Consequences of
>Computerization, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
>Ziauddin Sardar and Jerome R. Ravetz, eds, Cyberfutures: Culture and Politics
>on the Information Superhighway, New York University Press, 1996.
>Susanne K. Schmidt and Raymund Werle, Coordinating Technology: Studies in the
>International Standardization of Telecommunications, Cambridge: MIT Press,
>Karen A. Schriver, Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers,
>Wiley, 1996.
>Werner Sichel and Donald L. Alexander, eds, Networks, Infrastructure, and the
>New Task for Regulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.
>Mark Stefik, Internet Dreams, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996.
>John Tiffin and Lalita Rajasingham, In Search of the Virtual Class: Education
>in an Information Society, London: Routledge, 1995.
>Andrew B. Whinston, Dale O. Stahl, and Soon-Yong Choi, The Economics of
>Electronic Commerce, MacMillan, 1997.
>Rolf Wigand, Arnold Picot, and Ralf Reichwald, Information, Organization and
>Management: Expanding Markets and Corporate Boundaries, Wiley, 1997.
>Michael R. Williams, A History of Computing Technology, second edition, IEEE
>Computer Society, 1997.
>David B. Yoffie, ed, Competing in the Age of Digital Convergence, Boston:
>Harvard Business School Press, 1997.
>Mark W. Zacher and Brent A. Sutton, Governing Global Networks: International
>Regimes for Transportation and Communications, Cambridge University Press,
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