Aug 212011
 
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I’ve written about this subject on and off over the past few years.  In a virtual existence where supposedly social media and networks encourage us to share everything, in reality there are economic forces which are isolating us more and more – and for entirely pecuniary advantage.

KatrinaNation tweeted this a few moments ago:

Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble” is a must- read 4 anyone who cares about what the personalized Internet means for public square of ideas.

If I understand correctly the thrust of this idea, this tendency for apparently public spaces on the Internet to actually be very private is a virtual equivalent of a process which has been taking place over many years in the high street.  We used to live and purchase in municipal spaces where each person as a subject of the land had every right to be – and where, indeed, the overriding discourse was democracy above all.  Nowadays, massive shopping-malls and “experiences” of all kinds have created “private spaces of public use”, where private security guards can throw undesirables out – and people only have the right to park their cars for two or three hours at a stretch whilst the supermarket in question proceeds to empty their pockets.

Forget, if you will, any attempt or intention on the citizen’s part to walk idly and uncommercially down a shaded grove of freely available trees, after passing through the purgatory that is the weekly shop.

But the modern commercial Internet is, possibly, even worse than those “private spaces of public use” I mention above.  Whilst the personalisation of our browsing environment is sold to us as a positive virtue, in reality there is a degree of evidence that this personalisation is being used against us.  Just imagine if our bricks and mortar shops dared to do what I suggested a couple of months ago:

Let’s imagine the real world equivalent then, just for argument’s sake. Let’s say some massive out-of-town supermarket chain uses its CCTV footage to determine how much its customers should be charged according to how frequently they visit the store. Let’s imagine, for example, that instead of using the aforesaid footage to simply provide a safe and secure shopping environment, this behemoth of our pockets and wallets actually employs such video material to better decide how to position, discount or, indeed, increase the prices of its products.

God forbid that such a thought should even enter their minds. But let’s just try and imagine it does.

Even if it did, it’s clear that these prices would be visible, available to and shared by all visitors to that particular store on that particular day.

Which is apparently – at the very least potentially – not the case in this infinitely malleable and individualised world we call the modern commercialised Internet.

But the very worst of it, if I’ve properly understood the brief reference in the tweet at the top of this post from KatrinaNation, is not in commerce – the very worst of it is in that “public square of ideas” of Eli Pariser’s.  That is to say, the very essence of a shared, shareable and commonly understood discourse that leads to real democracy.

If we are all faced with a different experience and exposure to ideas, according to the buttons they encourage us to press and the algorithms they employ as a result, how are we going to be able to reach an agreement over what to discuss – or even, in fact, over what has happened?  It’s almost as if, speaking linguistically in this case, we all had an evermore personalising vocabulary which made the overlap of understanding essential to communication gradually more and more difficult.

The baggage of experience, as it is, means we do not have an exactly similar appreciation of the meaning of the words we use.  Thus the disagreements and arguments which living together with others frequently generates in our social intercourse.

Just imagine, several decades down the line, where this might lead us in our ability to exchange opinion on matters of great importance.

We see it now as half the American nation is inculcated by Fox – whilst the other half, appalled, finds no common ground.

But it’s also happening on the Internet every day you open that preferred browser of yours and go to your favourite cookie-heavy websites and media.  What’s more, the process is, arguably, far more ferocious than in the case of Fox.  Partly because it’s – essentially – invisible.  Pinning it down is so very difficult.  Comparing notes is – by definition – mostly impossible; unless, of course, you choose to surf side-by-side with a friend – each, quite necessarily, on his or her own Internet-enabled device …

And understanding what’s going on is unlikely to occur to most of us because our offline references have assured us to date that ideas are out there for all to see.  In reality, meanwhile, what we see when we look down the microscope of the Internet, is not a contagious content we find ourselves obliged to share but, rather, something quite different: a mutating and highly mutable virus of individualised association which means we never know who’s seeing what – nor when.

This then, quite paradoxically, is how nothing on the modern Internet is quite what it seems.  How nothing on the modern Internet is comparable to the real world.  How nothing on the modern Internet, in fact, is shared any more.

By anyone – except, perhaps, the merchants.

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Aug 212011
 
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This quote came to me today via Twitter:

RT «@ecoconsumer “The opposite of war is not peace. It’s creation.” Quote from inspiring speech at @WashingtonBus event yesterday.»

This is so profound that I only now am I beginning to unravel the mind games which those who support war play with their populaces.  Although when Tony Blair says that (the bold is mine) …

But in a rare intervention into British politics since he left Downing Street, Blair defends the society Labour helped to build and says he believes this generation is more respectable, responsible and hard-working than his own.

… I have to agree with almost everything he is implying.  After the veritable mountain of disgraceful and rotten behaviours which accompanied Blair’s in many respects laudable socialism by stealth, the vast majority of the rest of us could hardly be seen to have behaved any worse.

The opposite of war is indeed not peace.  Those who sell the idea that this is so want to introduce and sustain the argument that those against war are passive souls.  But there is nothing more active than the creativity which adds newness to a world of constructive cohabitation.  And that is precisely where the established order finds it difficult to be fleet-of-foot; precisely there where it prefers to sustain the idea that “thuggish” imposition is action – whilst anything else involves the inactivity of the weak-minded.

That the opposite of war is not peace but creation indicates that the opposite of creation is actually destruction – and therefore war.

Blindingly obvious when you look at it like that, isn’t it?

So we’re not peaceniks then – but creationists?  Oh dear.  I do hope not …

Blair does however make some interesting assumptions – revealing, as he does, perhaps more about his impositional style of leadership than he might care to care for:

Blair writes that at the end of his time in government he realised that the solution was intervention family by family, a reform of criminal justice around antisocial behaviour, organised crime, persistent offenders and gangs.

But in a dig directed towards Gordon Brown, his successor in 10 Downing Street, he adds: “The agenda that came out of this was conceived in my last years of office, but it had to be attempted against a constant backdrop of opposition, left and right, on civil liberty grounds and on the basis we were ‘stigmatising’ young people.

“After I’d left, the agenda lost momentum. But the papers and the work are all there.”

Here, we still have that unhappy interventionist philosophy which arguably did the right thing early on in Kosovo – but, once unsheathed and raised on high and wielded with the ever-growing enthusiasm he showed, sadly led to Iraq, the setting-up of millions of CCTV cameras (incidentally unable to prevent the recent riots even as they were used to identify the miscreants), as well as a whole host of other “proactivities” which did, indeed, trample over certain civil rights and treasured assumptions, relating to those individual freedoms surely all governments must keep in mind.

Thus it is that the grand centralisation of Britain was Tony Blair’s fault – even as its cause clearly lay in Margaret Thatcher’s total destruction of the tapestry of British industry, community and public services.  In a sense, New Labour had no alternative but to use the command-economy approach to British regeneration and political expression – there was too little time and too much damage which needed repairing for any other more sustainable, and intellectually acceptable, approach to be used in those early years.

So Tony Blair was the son of Thatcher – although not in the way you might like to think.

Whilst Cameron’s “Broken Britain” is the son of the Coalition’s war on Blair’s socialism by stealth – even as Blair himself likes to justify his command-economy instincts and say that those responsible are simply the wildly disaffected: the alienated “yoof” no one is ever going to properly understand.

It would, of course, be too much for him to admit that the way he had done things had anything to do with the way people reacted recently.  Impossible, of course, to argue or recognise that top-down government of the early-emergency kind, whilst necessary at the time, laid down the attitudes and behaviours which encouraged such reactions.

As always, the shakers and makers are responsible for so much of the damage that takes place under their regimes – as well as afterwards, under others’.  For they can’t, on the one hand, when it suits them, claim the responsibility for having engineered sociocultural and political wonders – and then, on the other, when things go belly up, deny all connection.

But, and here’s the rub, it’s even more disconcerting than that: it’s far more, I would argue, because of their repetitive inability to get process right than – necessarily – their swollen penchant for inappropriate policy.

Though there’s always, of course, the latter too.

And, unhappily I would judge, they see their legacies in terms of the numbers they crunched – instead of understanding how such societal realities actually lie in all the voters they turned their clever backs on.

And still they do not learn.

And still they do not learn.

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Aug 212011
 
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This, today, is happening in England:

[…] Dane’s solicitor Kerry Morgan has criticised the judicial system for pursuing instant justice so much it resulted in an innocent man being locked up.

As well as leading to the following, where this innocent man, as well as having being charged and shamed publicly by the police:

  • has lost his home and all his possessions after being arrested;
  • was labelled a firebug by prison officers and told he would be jailed for life;
  • was locked up for 23 hours a day as a category A and then category B prisoner;
  • suffered panic attacks because of the stress;
  • has five alibis to prove it was not him.

More comment and background can be found at Liberal Conspiracy right now.

It does make me wonder if we are right – when we do so – to complain about the wheels of justice turning as slowly as they sometimes may.  A little more contemplation, a little less reaction, might have avoided all the above – and would’ve, in any case, surely led to a better investigation being carried out.

Perhaps it’s time we reconsidered the responsibilities of the police – law enforcers and crime investigators both.  There is clearly a conflict of interest which shows itself especially in times of crisis and sometimes appears to lead to certain decisions being taken which prejudice the sensible and objective assessment of crime.  If the Guardian‘s recent overview of the crowd-like dynamics of many magistrates wasn’t enough, then this individual case today should be enough to make us think twice.

For when the people act like a mob is precisely when we don’t want the state to follow suit.

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Aug 212011
 
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The Roman Catholic Church has had a well-documented recent history of child abuse – as well as it would seem, at least according to some in the Irish Republic, a certain resistance to cooperating with the authorities in bringing those responsible to book:

“The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.”

Pretty poor stuff.  Meanwhile, at a distance, via Spanish TV news, I am currently witnessing the conclusion to the so-called “Jornada Mundial de la Juventud” (JMJ) (in Spanish) – loosely translated this means World Youth Day.  Around a million pilgrims have attended the event – and, if we dared to see it in purely political terms, this might be interpreted as a massive public relations’ victory for the aforementioned religious grouping in what is an evermore secular nation such as Spain.

Whilst in the light of what’s happened in relation to the “management” of institutionally unhappy news, we might go even further and describe this kind of event as spin.

If we were so inclined.

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Aug 212011
 
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Here’s a cross-post from a new editorial project, currently in alpha, which I’m now involved in.  It aims to connect readers with authors – who come from everywhere but the mainstream – in those engaging, quirky and innovative ways good political writing always demands.  The project itself launches on 5th September 2011, but in the meantime, if you find the proposal interesting, why not go over to the site and follow us – or alternatively leave a comment?  And if you’re interested in finding out more on the subject of curating specific content which you have a particular interest in, then drop us an email on mil@bestoftherest.org.

Please note that further announcements will be given via our Twitter feed at twitter.com/BOTRorg.

On “editing”, publishing, Google, Facebook and Twitter

This is the first post in a long-term project designed to bring back a human touch to algorithm (ie computer-based) search and filtering systems.

The success of the human touch – and the need we still have for it – can be seen in the recent massive growth of Facebook and Twitter, even as Google and its mathematics-based systems of search had previously taken over and shaped our Internet landscape. In essence, both Facebook and Twitter serve to empower amateur and professional “editors”, allowing them to use the traditional search and filtering tools to hand to find, identity and classify content – but enabling them, at the same time, to stamp an editorial brand at the front-end of a content stream.

Facebook and Twitter, then, make the Internet once more personal. As well as indicating how important that personal element truly is for millions of users.

In the light of the above trend, then, BestOfTheRest.org, above all, is an editorial project – created from an editorial standpoint and looking to connect readers with writers in as engaging and quirky a manner as possible.

And whilst we believe in the open Internet and free access to all information, we also recognise the need that some creators (authors, editors, publishers and so on) have to earn a living from what they create. This is why we will also be distributing our posts via Kindle and KindleApp on a variety of Internet-enabled devices. And why we strongly suggest, if you need to earn your living, that you consider doing the same.

Now this is where you may suggest there is a contradiction in our positions.

And where we might argue there is less of a contradiction than you might presuppose.

If you’ve ever read a blog on a Kindle or iPad, you’ll realise that the readability, legibility and portability of the content is far superior to standard PC-connected Internet. When we sell and purchase a Kindle subscription, as creators and readers respectively, it’s not therefore the content we’re putting a price on but – rather – the technology behind the ease of accessing and reading the content in question. We are therefore charging for the added value of the service, instead of putting a premium on the material itself.

BestOfTheRest.org is currently in open alpha but will begin to provide regular posts to good content from 5th September 2011. In the meantime, if you find the proposal interesting, why not join our community as a follower?

We intend to add serious value to readers, authors, device-providers and editors – with the ultimate aim of bringing to light all the good political writing and content that’s out there.

And from everywhere but the mainstream.

Miljenko Williams, 21st August 2011, Salamanca, Spain

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