Habermas Just Blowing Hard?

December 28, 2007

Ping: “War Strategies … for Daily Life?” at VibeWise

/*preliminary draft; do no quote, please and thank-you

When I spend more time on this it will be shorter. heh */

Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Habermas blows off question about the Internet and the Public Sphere – November 5th, 2007 by Howard Rheingold

“I think it’s important now to build new theories and not simply to rely on Habermas, who is signalling his ignorance of the meaning of the changes in the infosphere that have taken place in recent decades. He did his part in his time, but the ideal public sphere he described — a bourgeois public sphere dominated by broadcast media — should not be taken as the model for the formation of public opinion in 21st century democracies.”

What I’m going to write is that Habermas’ ideals are so far from being reali-ized that that their validlity and his perfunctory defense of them might seem without basis. My point is that even Web4.0 will fall short because real develop must be orthogonal to the “with this hammer I call AJAX I will hammer every nail” attitude that now dominates.

What has oriented me in these matters is having read (or, more precisely, being in the process of re-reading for the umpteenth time) Habermas’ “discourse ethics” in context of the operational considerations comprised by the OpenAccess project as set out by UBC/PKP’s Prof. John Willinksy.

A fancy toy is just a toy, for all its wonder. “And you shall know them by their uses”, we might say.

At the risk of seeming cynical or bitter or both: where (Oh, please! Do tell me where!) is there to be found the authentic discourse that Jurgen Habermas so skilfully depicted? I’m talking about operational criteria, not just aspirational-goodie-goodie bliss-ninnie light-and-love (by the pound, by the gram, whatevuh) … I mean authentic subjective narrative in discourse. (Two ways … sorry kidz, tweeting is almost 1/2 of that recipe.)

Here’s something I’d like to be corrected on: from both my studies of abhidharma and my practice as a Marxist I’ve bought into “activity conditions consciousness”. (Oh-wooops I left out cog-psych … “schema theory”, yes?) Endless hours of 1st person ejaculation (Think “soliloque” here … get your mind out’a gutter; make some room for the rest of us.) … equally endless hours of 1st person shooter … endlessly peregrinating constructs resulting in a tangle of conceptual fictions and fictional identities. (Nooo, not “personas” … I said identities and I meant identities.)

Discourse … not “discussion”, not “debate”, not just “exchange”. (I happen to love Edge. But to the vast majority of the human race it is effectively hermetic. “In effect” is the watchword of Pomo, please.)

It’s great fun to play fast and loose … sophistry (Think about it … “sophist-icated” … what I call the Marie Antoinette syndrome … like marketing: no need to produce and deliver bread if you can produce a clehvur joke about cake, ehh whot?) … to quip the old-school Zen, a painting of bread does not feed. (Ohhh sure sure, “Man does not live by bread alone”. Go without a coupla meals sometime!)

see also: TimBL on “net” and *shudder* “graph”

Earlier this evening (I took a break after writing the large part of the above; I put up a batch of my best bitter last week and tonight I’m enjoying some of it.) I thought back across my history with communications … a time before SBI (“Soviet-bloc illicits”) and ILS (Integrated Logistics Support) and troposcatter (uhhh … 10KW WiFi huh huh) and, and and … I mean my relationship to the phenomenon itself. I remember as a child gazing into the sky, extrapolating the sun’s movement, and wondering at how this time-piece was so similar and different from the one on the wall above the stove in the kitchen.

I believe it was thinking like that whot allowed me to grok LASER theory in grade 3. It was as though the molecules were communicating with one another, as though ducks scrambling to get into a row. So it was natural, only a few years later, to get into ham radio … watching the 20mtr beam swing towards its great-circle bearing to the distant antipodes … VK2RU, IIRC … Australia. And, in the late evening, knowing that the air around me was filled with uncountable conversations.


So it’s with a bit of a startle that I read, “Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Treating my Facebook community as a public” … ehhh? To treat FaceBook or whatevuh as anything other than public? Isn’t that like putting up a sound-proof wall all around your house so neighbours won’t by mis-chance or mis-deed happen to hear a bit of your commonplace and mundane?

Schema … in large part, barriers against what’s previously been tagged #noise, filtering in what’s salient. But those processes result in valence. I take it as confirmed that most kidz today take as “true” what is pleasant and “untrue” or even “wicked” whatever gives rise to dis-comfort in any sense. Valence … why it matters … and that, dear reader, is for me the heart-essence of discourse. Not “data”, and more than “information”.

Eric Fromm wrote about how a parent who, upon hearing a devestating prognosis regarding a child, is ill who responds by asking about probabilities. It’s more than cost/benefit … and so it’s more than signal/noise (“SNR”, in my business).

But it’s late. And my best bitter, if not actually my best, is very very good.

Front of mind? I miss my old springer spaniel … “Duart’s Mr. Chips” … Chippie … won Canadian Kennel Champion in his first show, he did … and trained himself, he did too. Missing him matters to me … it shows me I still care about the beings in my past. And I daren’t lose that.

–bentrem 00:18 29DEC07


I’ll see your conundrum and raise you a paradox

December 16, 2007

Context: I yesterday post a near-rant in my MozDawg blog; “Silo by any other name would be as …

Give 1000 people 100 communications channels and everybody may have a whole lotta fun but, really, you aren’t goint to get anything done. That ain’t rocket science.

Blogspot (multiple blogs), WordPress (multiple blogs), LiveJournal (2 accounts), FaceBook, MySpace (also 2 accounts), LinkedIn, ITtoolbox, and of course Twitter … I’m registered at more but those are the systems I used most often. What I see is a cloud of activity, 95% of which is buzz … fun, perhaps, and entertaining, to some degree, but basically it’s mostly dissipation.

How many blog comments are some variation on “That’s really good?” and nothing more. I’m bothered by this chaos not because it’s meaningless (It’s chaotic, not random, i.e. it truly is “information rich” rather than being just noise.) but precisely because it’s straining to be meaningful. The success of sites like Digg shows how folk really want to contribute something even if it’s only a vote.

A lovely little post by Charles Arthur at The Guardian presents some very interesting data: “What is the 1% rule?” reads in part,

“It’s an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will “interact” with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.[In stats from WikiPedia] 50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users.

Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo [in “Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers”] points out that [in Yahoo Groups] the discussion lists, “1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively”.

Arthur ends on what I think a key point: Not just “you shouldn’t expect too much online.” but more: “to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders.”

Dynamically stable systems go through chaotic phases after having been perturbed beyond their limits. In my own words, when a system loses its ordering principle then it will come apart and the information it contains will become indecipherable.

Hundreds of millions of people active in tens of thousands of forums and mail lists and blogs … millions of hours of creative time … producing blinding clouds of data and information.

How to order all this without driving out the vitality that makes it valuable? *shrug* I talk about discourse. Maybe someone will actually hear.

My bottom line? If you bring a group of people together and sit them down in a clump, likely you’ll need something like a facilitator to get something going. As Robertson puts it:

“Left unmanaged, this will inevitably lead to the proliferation of hundreds or thousands of collaboration spaces each containing a small subset of corporate content. […] This fragmentation makes it hard to find information published by other areas.”

But take that same group and sit them down around a camp-fire and (Caveman TV rulz!) things seem to sort themselves out.

See also Wisdom of Crowds is Cowardice” at CentralDesktop; “Collaboration Tools – Are Information Silos a Problem?” and “Enterprise 2.0 Letting Hypertext out of its Box” at Traction Software; a think piece by Danah Boyd: “Choose Your Own Ethnography: In Search of (Un)Mediated Life“; “Social Media Meets the Corporation” at ConferenzaBlog; “Collaboration tools are anti knowledge sharing?” by James Robertson; “Putting Enterprise 2.0 In Perspective” by Mike Gotta; Ross Mayfield’s blog

An afterthought: perhaps the web’s churn would be more evident except for the fact that so much of the contents is actually in-formed along a single vector: sales and marketing. If you want to see how it’s running on the IT equivalent of flat tires, try to use it for problem solving!

Lemming bait

December 7, 2007

In a longish article on APML, “Attention Profiling”, MasterNewMedia writes:

“We have reached the point of information hyper-saturation. It can become quite a chore to find relevant content online, when there is so much other information competing for your attention. But by implementing attention profiling, it becomes possible to have the services and websites you visit begin to make suggestions for content that you might be interested in.”

I can’t feel comforted by the thought that darkly secret algorithms are going to steer the masses’ information grazing.