Nov 292009
 
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New Labour was on a high.  The Tories were down in the polls.  The last couple of years before the 1997 election had an inevitable feel about them.  The question was not if – rather, it was by how much.

In much the same way, John Naughton’s Observer column today signposts how similarly Microsoft has begotten New Google.  The viruses and other malware which the former unleashed on its customers have led Google to conceptualise its own operating systems in such rigid ways that even those of us who find Bill Gates’ business model and practices about as resistible as they come may find that a middle way such as the multifarious flavours of Linux – with all their challenges and rough edges – will continue to suit us far more intellectually and emotionally than any normal perception of utility would suggest.

Google’s Chrome operating system ought to be a godsend.  But the closed nature of its requirements bodes ill – taking in this sense, as Naughton quite rightly says, a leaf out of Apple’s book.  If I do have a good word to say about Gates’ world and PCs, it is precisely the fact that their weakness – a multitude of incompatible hardwares – is also their strength.  Diversity of hardware options drives development and creativity. 

It also means that perfectly good machines have to be ditched in a mad and marketing-driven process of obscenely built-in obsolescence.

Oh dear.  How closely these days business and politics mirror each other.  I love Google’s products as I love the decent bits of New Labour.  But as Thatcher begot New Labour, so the bad bits of New Labour will beget New Conservatism.  And instead of a bold new era of cloud computing, we will get a sad old era of yet more control freakery.  People who know their lives are finite and their chances once in a lifetime will never dare to act otherwise.

And politicians are mortal too.

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Nov 292009
 
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Twitter and the recent agreements to monetise with first Microsoft’s Bing and then Google itself lead us down an unhappy road.  Twitter is constructed on the basis of a finite but highly disperse and multiple sequence of individual acts of compressed writing.  This writing is generally carried out voluntarily – as with all Web 2.0 – though this doesn’t mean that some writers aren’t already trying to make money out of the tool.  That is to say, turn a communication medium into a sales pitch.

Twitter’s real utility – that external objective utility we might wish to calibrate – doesn’t stem from those individual writings, though, but – rather – their summation in searches as people read an accumulation of shared compressions at one glance.  These are, like Google Wave may yet yearn to become, also examples of Vannevar Bush’s Memex machine with their trains of thought developing – in this case in a curiously stuttering kind of way – towards a sense and sensibility even people as notorious at making money as Microsoft can appreciate.

The fundamental immorality and injustice of Web 2.0 is then laid bare for all to see.  Voluntary acts of a discrete nature, carried out by small individuals in order to communicate with other small individuals, initially in the context of a medium free of overt commercialisation, become cannon fodder for large corporations other than the entity which set up the medium to make money off the backs of those individual acts of virtual reachings-out.

Yes.  I know.  We are back to that bizarre 21st century dilemma.  We need massive utility companies to provide us with the basic services and tools of communication – but we would far prefer to own our means of production if that were at all possible.  And the latent nature of the latter issue becomes burning and incandescent when people like Peter Mandelson try and enshrine oldco behaviours in bills he – and everyone else who counts in the Labour Party – knows that no one (certainly not the current breed of Tories on the opposition benches, in the grip as they are of the Murdochs of this world) will ever be able to choose to oppose.

There are two alternatives.  Continue to use the Twitters of this world – with their monetisation agreements that taste of sell-out and fragmentation – or create new Twitters with our own means of production.  The very fact that Bing now appears to be setting up an oldco copyright- and wall-ridden fragmented version of what a search engine should be clearly indicates where this is all leading us.  And this is why we need to consider – more closely than ever before – why we need to own our own means of production.  Just, in fact, as Murdoch and his ilk have always believed the same.

Let us learn from Murdoch.

Whilst there is still time to do so.

Socialism is no different from capitalism in this sense.  Both believe in the importance of that ownership.

In the meantime, I am investigating how to integrate the following Twitter-type tool into my micro-blogging life.  Based on open source tools, it is surely worth a try.  Especially as all content and date operates under this CreativeCommons.org licence.  More here from identi.ca.

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Nov 252009
 
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This story from Tech Dirt today shows just how wrong the SGAE (the Spanish Association of Authors and Editors) can get as far the Knowledge Society is concerned – and ought to act as a warning shot across the bows for what would appear to be an evermore digitally illiterate British government:

We were just talking about how the justice system in Spain seems at least somewhat more reasonable on the subject of file sharing, and here’s yet another example. A court has overturned injunctions on two file sharing sites and fined the anti-piracy group that brought charges against them in the first place for “acting in bad faith.” The case was dismissed because the court realized (yet again) that linking to infringing material is not infringing itself. But, the “bad faith” part involved the anti-piracy group, SGAE, tricking the operator of the sites into believing that two SGAE employees were representatives of the court and had the right to search his home and confiscate computer hard drives. We’ve seen such things allowed elsewhere, so it’s nice that the Spanish courts are letting private anti-piracy groups know that they are not law enforcement.

In the meantime, the Google Wave wavelet on the subject of “The Knowledge Society in Britain” that I’ve set up is beginning to build up links and conversations. All points of view are welcome – the wider the opinions, the better if truth be told. If you’d like to join us, please email me at mil@pobox.com so I can add you as a contact and participant. If you don’t have a Wave invite as yet, please provide me with an email address to send the invite to.

Other people I’ve had the honour to invite have received their invitations within 48 hours of me sending the request in – so it looks like Google is sticking those stamps on their virtual envelopes rather more efficiently than at first was the case.

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Nov 222009
 
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This, via Chris on the Google Wave “The Knowledge Society in Britain” wavelet, has come up with the following link:

[…] Minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms, who introduced the new bill, claimed that 99% of ISPs are “broadly supportive” of the bill. That’s funny because BT and TalkTalk — two of the largest ISPs in the UK — have loudly complained about the plans (with TalkTalk threatening to sue, and BT saying that this solution is “not the way forward”) and the ISP Association, which represents ISPs in the UK has loudly slammed the bill as unworkable and backwards looking:
“ISPA members are extremely concerned that the bill, far from strengthening the nation’s communications infrastructure, will penalise the success of the internet industry and undermine the backbone of the digital economy,” the industry group said.

Nicholas Lansman, ISPA’s general secretary, said in the statement that the government’s proposals were “being fast-tracked… and will do little to address the underlying problem”.

“Rather than focusing blindly on enforcement, the government should be asking rights holders to reform the licensing framework so that legal content can be distributed online to consumers in a way that they are clearly demanding,” Lansman said.

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Nov 202009
 
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I’ve been waiting for something big enough to come along to drive me into the arms of direct action. This is that big enough. It touches on everything that could be good about the 21st century and which the old ways of seeing refuse to give way to. The old-fashioned copyright holders, those grand institutions which sit on essentially static cash cows, aim to hobble the end-user/producer eco-system so that what should really be a basic utility of this new world we could all inhabit continues to be a value-added preserve of those who would use knowledge to restrict power.

I’ve always believed in consensus in politics – in an adult politics. I’ve also always believed in copyright law – a just and productive one, that is. This issue, however, is welding what should be a liberating socialism with a Murdochian domination of discourse. Twitter, blogging, Facebook and open source all create opportunities for multi-dimensional communication. The press barons of the world and their ilk, however, want us to return to reading their intellectual property from cover to cover, adverts included. We believe in picking and choosing, we believe in using our friends and followers as editorial filters and guides. And creating too. The world as we see it is far more complex and compelling than a single letters’ page which occasionally lets a censored exchange of opinion to support an editorial line. But the Murdochs of this world – maybe, sadly, even the Rusbridgers now – are only interested in preserving their hold on ever-decreasingly captive audiences. For them, the end in sight is bitter – so their fight to regain the initiative in the face of the forces of crowdsourcing, CreativeCommons.org type copyright freedoms and Web 2.0 in general will be bitterly fought.

That is our challenge. That is also why direct action is needed. Why? Because these old ways of doing are already directly active and fighting their corners. They are already trying to stem the tide of historical – and historic – change.

Mandelson is not the real problem – because almost certainly the Tories are also in on the gameplan. Cameron is just as enamoured of Murdoch as New Labour ever was – here, Murdoch, Mandelson, Cameron and all those who totally misunderstand the real positives of the Knowledge Society are as one. Just go to places like Extremadura to understand how completely British socialism is missing a fascinating and empowering boat.

Economic growth is ours for the taking, if we realise how to conceptualise the future intelligently – and at the margin of existing structures. We need to create parallel distribution systems and content. Fair copyright law, a just reward for ingenuity, a creative approach to small business start-ups, support for the grassroots infrastructures that start in schools and ripple outwards to future business opportunities … that is what the Knowledge Society can mean.

A true empowerment of real men, women and children. Not those distorted distractions of humanity which occupy the higher echelons of business life, and refuse to engage with the normalities of this planet’s existence.

Please not this mad turning-our-backs on a potentially marvellous and shared future.

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Nov 192009
 
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Either that, or he is already in the pay of the Murdochs of this world.

This, from Boing Boing today, if true, should require Peter Mandelson’s summary removal from office.  Reproduced in full below:

A source close to the British Labour Government has just given me reliable information about the most radical copyright proposal I’ve ever seen.

Secretary of State Peter Mandelson is planning to introduce changes to the Digital Economy Bill now under debate in Parliament. These changes will give the Secretary of State (Mandelson — or his successor in the next government) the power to make “secondary legislation” (legislation that is passed without debate) to amend the provisions of Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988).

What that means is that an unelected official would have the power to do anything without Parliamentary oversight or debate, provided it was done in the name of protecting copyright. Mandelson elaborates on this, giving three reasons for his proposal:

1. The Secretary of State would get the power to create new remedies for online infringements (for example, he could create jail terms for file-sharing, or create a “three-strikes” plan that costs entire families their internet access if any member stands accused of infringement)

2. The Secretary of State would get the power to create procedures to “confer rights” for the purposes of protecting rightsholders from online infringement. (for example, record labels and movie studios can be given investigative and enforcement powers that allow them to compel ISPs, libraries, companies and schools to turn over personal information about Internet users, and to order those companies to disconnect users, remove websites, block URLs, etc)

3. The Secretary of State would get the power to “impose such duties, powers or functions on any person as may be specified in connection with facilitating online infringement” (for example, ISPs could be forced to spy on their users, or to have copyright lawyers examine every piece of user-generated content before it goes live; also, copyright “militias” can be formed with the power to police copyright on the web)

Mandelson is also gunning for sites like YouSendIt and other services that allow you to easily transfer large files back and forth privately (I use YouSendIt to send podcasts back and forth to my sound-editor during production). Like Viacom, he’s hoping to force them to turn off any feature that allows users to keep their uploads private, since privacy flags can be used to keep infringing files out of sight of copyright enforcers.

This is as bad as I’ve ever seen, folks. It’s a declaration of war by the entertainment industry and their captured regulators against the principles of free speech, privacy, freedom of assembly, the presumption of innocence, and competition.

This proposal creates the office of Pirate-Finder General, with unlimited power to appoint militias who are above the law, who can pry into every corner of your life, who can disconnect you from your family, job, education and government, who can fine you or put you in jail.

More to follow, I’m sure, once Open Rights Group and other activist organizations get working on this. In the meantime, tell every Briton you know. If we can’t stop this, it’s beginning of the end for the net in Britain.

If this touches your soul at all, I suggest you link to and fully reproduce as I have done.  This is a most shameful proposal – and would lead me to seriously reconsider my membership of the Labour Party if there were any chance of it becoming law; or even any substance in the allegation.

The next issue is obviously whether the Tories are also a party to the plot – not entirely out of the question, given how much they are already beholden to the Murdochs of this world.  Be interesting to see how this story unravels over the next few weeks.

Quite stomach-churning how media empires are currently carving up the political landscape.

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Nov 182009
 
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Victor Keegan writes nicely tonight on the subject of illegal downloading:

The moral is simple. We are not a nation of thieves, but if a supermarket leaves its doors open and shuts down the tills, it should be unsurprised if people help themselves. The music industry lets illegal downloading thrive because it didn’t provide an easy, affordable way to pay. […]

This is absolutely spot on.  But, even more interestingly, Keegan points out in his article that the growth of sites such as Spotify and Last.fm (both of which I use quite often) is apparently beginning to kill off the once prevalent desire to download illegal music.  The truth of the matter is that we don’t need to do it any more.  There are more productive and intelligent ways to make money out of these processes.  You just have to encourage (read force) the large companies to brainstorm their way out of the paper bags they currently find themselves in – and they will, then, with their imaginative marketing departments to the fore, find a way to square all our circles. 

Yes.  You can choose to criminalise half the population if you want but will this – long-term – be good for your business?  Of course not.  You start cutting off access to the Internet for these alleged miscreants and you’ll soon find horror stories in the newspapers of parents unable to pay their driving licences or road tax or access their bank accounts because dubious extra-legal procedures have removed their Internet connections.  What’s more, as digital delivery of intellectual property strides astonishingly across the landscape (Random House have just announced $22 million of e-book sales via Amazon’s Kindle for starters, even before the Christmas sales period has properly started), pursuing a policy of cutting off access to the Internet would quite clearly be a question of cutting the branch you found yourself sitting on, especially as you start to seriously pursue a policy of changing purchasing habits.

So don’t make the law an ass – but keep it as that asset and last resort we will always need just in case.

Just so long as it remains that just-in-case contingency.

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Nov 162009
 
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I picked this up from Tom Watson’s Twitter feed just now:

Together the press, all commercial broadcasters, film, book publishing and music industries must now work together to find a new business model with the Search Engines. The latter, the aggregators, think it is ok to enjoy the use of all your valuable intellectual property and ad revenues for little or no return.

And for those who think this challenge is just too hard, I urge you to recall the recent words of Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO: “We use as our primary goal the benefit to end users. That’s who we serve.” So there you have it: the end user matters, not those who create content in the first place.

The full speech here.

What this manifestly ignores is the overwhelming reality of an early 21st century where the lines between end-user and producer are blurring productively, not destructively.  Just think how our youth is developing its visual and cinematic literacy on YouTube; how our youth is interacting and communicating far more effectively than we ever did; how, indeed, our youth is reading and writing far more than we could ever have imagined ourselves so doing – whether this be the truncated art forms of Twitter and texting or the more leisurely and half-dropped multimedia conversations of Facebook.

In reality, Baroness Buscombe is talking more about sustaining an out-of-date business model than re-engineering a forward-looking one – a model which continues to advocate a centralised top-heavy corporate commercialisation of ideas; a model where intellectual property’s backdrop, in this case in relation to the traditional press, is the ever-dwindling reach of classified advertising. 

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for massive corporations in the future.  What I am suggesting is that that place will lie more in providing the infrastructures which will foment third-party digital manufacture and distribution than in the providing of that content itself.

The YouTubes, the Nings; even Facebook and Twitter themselves.

In much the same way as supermarkets, libraries and online stores now encourage you to serve yourself, so digital technologies will empower ever-decreasing circles of aficionados to produce the kind of films, videos, websites and content we all want to see.  Big business will still make money out of such content, but it will have to move along the supply chain to find out where the buck can best be had.

And I can tell you now, in a world where the screen is getting smaller and more discrete, where people will want to watch videos in the palms of their hands and share themselves via multifarious online distribution systems with the faraway friend but not necessarily with the close-to-hand, it won’t be in the production of HD quality films or full-colour newspapers that the big corporations will make their money but rather in the enabling and empowerment, the glorification of the end-user/producers.

Reality TV and programmes like “Britain’s Got Talent” bear witness to this tendency.

The problem with Google is actually that we’d all like to have had their ideas first.  But they’re not creating realities, they’re simply identifying them sooner than the rest of us.  It is bizarre now for Buscombe to argue that the aggregators have brought the traditional intellectual property industries to their knees.  Their own lazy and profligate habits have done that all by their lonesomes.  If they hadn’t chosen to make so much out of music CDs, they wouldn’t have pushed young consumers to the edges of legality.  In truth, it’s absolutely clear that the film industry, which still preserves most effectively its technological astuteness and legalistic right to make it difficult to make back-up copies of DVDs, has long ago recognised this reality – it’s now very easy to find brand new films in your local supermarket for less than a fiver; less, in fact, these days, than a decent music CD might still cost you.

The IP industries – and their mouthpieces (Baroness Buscombe, and now by extension the PCC, included) – may vigorously choose to continue chasing the agenda of old-style publishing, both verbal as well as audiovisual.  But in the meantime, on the high streets and in the shopping centres, market forces – those very market forces she may on other occasions, and for other ideological reasons, virtuously proclaim – are forcing an undeniable recognition that you can squeeze the consumer up to a point; but at your veritable peril – for there is a point beyond which such an exploitation will mean you will lose that consumer forever.

Not to the illegalities of IP piracy – which, in any case, I would never advocate here.  Rather, to the intelligences of new types of copyright licences (for example, CreativeCommons.org) and the – as already mentioned – increasingly productive blurrings of the dividing lines between end-users and producers.  We are getting to the point where we are more interested in seeing ourselves in our own words, photos and films than the big explosive productions that tear our senses apart.

Or, even, the verbal weekend contingency of evermore argumentative column-writing.

I hear that on Wednesday BBC’s iPlayer will be coming to the Wii video console.  This is an excellent example of how public broadcasting can support and interface with private initiative.  Before a certain part of the publishing sector decides to destroy the glorious – if flawed – anthem to audiovisual endeavour that is the BBC, it ought to remember that the most innovative, the most productive, the most financially rewarding pockets of the world are precisely those moments in time where different and contradictory cultures have the opportunity to rub up against each other.

Both in business and politics, both in economics and society – all the above is applicable.

Baroness Buscombe’s speech is only scary if we truly believe she can swim against the tide of history.

She can’t.

Mainly because that tide is wisely and intuitively bringing together a fascinating dissolving of counterpointed realities: private enterprise, public application, end-user/producers, reader/writers, texter/tweeters – even (dare I say) that new breed of individuals we might call the voter/politicians.

All fashioned and forged into a gorgeously attractive mix by clever bods in ivory towers – towers which turn out, in the end, not to be made of ivory at all.

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Nov 142009
 
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It’s possible.  Spain has done it.  So reports Green Monk:

Ok, not all the time, but last weekend at 5:50am on Sunday morning (8th Nov) Spain set a new record, hitting 53.7% of its energy requirements being supplied by wind energy.

As you can see from the graph above, the amount of electricity being supplied by wind, the light green portion of the graph, doesn’t go below 30% at any point in the 24 hours and is closer to between 40-50% for most of the time!

For those of us who have been to Spain recently, this should be no surprise whatsoever.  Elegantly bestriding wind generators meet you wherever you travel.  If Laurie Lee were around today, he’d be singing the praises of Spanish renewables – rather than bemoaning the effect they have on the landscape.

53 percent is an astonishing, praiseworthy and politically immense achievement.  The Spanish deserve all the plaudits they will receive, both in relation to this project as well as other long-term infrastructure investments such as the high speed train and electric car networks. 

Just think.  Now they can conduct their international relations on the basis of real principle. 

No longer bound by the outlying – or, after all, not so outlying – blackmail of countries like Russia in their energy dealings.

Thus it is that I have little sympathy for the concerns of environmentalists who – rightly – reject fossil fuels, who – understandably – reject nuclear energy and who – finally, blindly – fight tooth and nail the widespread installation of wind parks.

In this latter endeavour, they are so wrong.

Spain is so right.

It’s as simple as that.

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Nov 132009
 
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Google doesn’t always tell us what we need to know.  Sometimes it tells us what the very determined want us to think.

Don’t believe me?  This screenshot, via tlhote’s Twitter feed, should convince.

Another reason why projects such as www.poblish.org should see the light of day.

For there has to be a better way.

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Nov 112009
 
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I suppose you’ll already have seen this.  And I suppose it’s counterproductive even to draw further attention to it.  But there is so often a moral obligation to bear witness which attaches itself to such acts of treasonable intelligence.  For Hannan’s intelligence is treasonable.  It is similar to the BNP in its dynamic and purpose.  All of us hear and experience the terrible things that everyday people say in their daily lives – the jokes, the common cruelties, the more than occasional lack of humanity as crude observations make fun of now distant events.

What people like the BNP and Hannan aim to do, however, is bring into the light of a shared daylight these dreadful prejudices; to bring into public discourse the primitive exchanges we have all been guilty of in the pub, at the workstation, on the bus and during the evening out.  They aim to provide sustenance and substance to the underbellies of our societies.

We mould ourselves to our environment too often; we do not bear witness as often as we should.

Now it is time we should change.  Now it is time we should act as the spin doctors of prejudice, nailing every lie, every inexactitude, every hateful observation as they happen, as they propagate themselves.

Hannan is the Goebbels of modern European extreme right-wing politics; not – I hasten to add – exactly because of what he believes in but, rather, because of the strategies he is employing.  Anything which does not fit his preformed cooked meat of an ideology is dismissed as irrelevant; and, essentially, worthy of scorched earth dismissal.

A bastardised scientific method of distortion and empty-headed evidence that appeals to those places we all occupy that I mentioned earlier.

The workstation and the pub.  Iconic examples of how not to conduct ourselves.

And both Hannan and his brothers-in-strategic-arms the BNP know it.

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Nov 102009
 
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They’re calling it Obama’s best speech.  I worry terribly how politics and the evaluation people make of their politicians can turn on the basis of how several hundred words are strung together.  Words are too limited as entities of meaning for us to want to allow them to substitute the essential realities we should refer and connect to. 

But then again, I suppose my fears are a result of my simple brain.

You can find the speech in question here on the occasion of the massacre at Fort Hood.

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Nov 092009
 
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There’s a fascinating book out there waiting to be read.  This is where you can find it and this is how it presents itself:

The increasing irrelevance of postmodernism requires a new theory to underpin our current digital culture. Almost without anybody noticing, a new cultural paradigm has taken center stage, displacing an exhausted and increasingly marginalized postmodernism. Alan Kirby calls this cultural paradigm digimodernism, a name comprising both its central technical mode and the privileging of fingers and thumbs inherent in its use.

Beginning with the Internet (digimodernism’s most important locus), then taking into account television, cinema, computer games, music, radio, etc., Kirby analyzes the emergence and implications of these diverse media, coloring our cultural landscape with new ideas on texts and how they work. This new kind of text produces distinctive forms of author and reader/viewer, which, in turn, lead to altered notions of authority, ‘truth’ and legitimization. With users intervening physically in the creation of texts, our electronically-dependent society is becoming more involved in the grand narrative.

To clarify these trends, Kirby compares them to the contrasting tendencies of the preceding postmodern era. In defining this new cultural age, the author avoids both facile euphoria and pessimistic fatalism, aiming instead to understand and thereby gain control of a cultural mode which seems, as though from nowhere, to have engulfed our society.

With new technologies unfolding almost daily, this work will help to categorize and explain our new digital world and our place in it, as well as equip us with a better understanding of the digital technologies that have a massive impact on our culture.

You can buy this book from Amazon.co.uk here.

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Nov 092009
 
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Sorting out its health service so that the majority of its people can celebrate their finite existence on this planet – can work and study and live in peace, can live secure in the knowledge that the wolf of uninsurance is kept from their doors and their hearths – is a major victory for the most powerful nation on the planet.  It is most appropriate that on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Barack Obama brings sense and sensibility to a nation of warm and clever peoples.

A wonderful juxtaposition of realities.  A bastardised socialism falls under its own weight as a sensitised capitalism rises from the ashes.

There is still hope yet that we can harness all our forces.

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