Building a Hidden City – a first skirmish in the War on General Computation
My friend Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) gave a barnstorming talk to this year’s Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin, #28c3, “The Coming War on General Computation”. It’s available to watch online at and there’s a transcript for those who prefer to read such things at https://github.com/jwise/28c3-doctorow/blob/master/transcript.md
The core of his argument is that the arguments over copyright that have taken so much of our energy over the last two decades merely prefigure a much more fundamental conflict between those who would allow free expression to extend to the ability to run any code on any processor, and those who would regulate the use of Turing machines. As Cory puts it
“we don’t know how to build the general purpose computer that is capable of running any program we can compile except for some program that we don’t like, or that we prohibit by law, or that loses us money. The closest approximation that we have to this is a computer with spyware — a computer on which remote parties set policies without the computer user’s knowledge, over the objection of the computer’s owner. And so it is that digital rights management always converges on malware”
So far this has been done to serve rights holders, but as every technology converges on being controlled in so
The BBC in-house newspaper, Ariel, is no longer published on paper – the last print edition was last week. I’ve written for it for many years, but until recently my columns were behind the firewall. I plan to post some old ones here, but thought I’d start with the final column I wrote for ‘Leading Edge’
New Forms in the Media Ecosystem
We are living in a society that is as dependent on access to and engagement with computers, digital data and fast networks as the one I grew up in was on electricity and the one before it on oil – although of course we still depend on both of them, and seem have added computers to the mix rather than replaced what went before.
The patterns of my daily life are increasingly defined by the capabilities of the digital tools I engage with and I find myself reliant on internet access and my smartphone as I negotiate home, work, family, friends and my engagement with culture at all levels.
Most of my media consumption relies on IP – the Internet Protocol – instead of broadcasting, to the point that when our Freeview TV stopped working we didn’t get it fixed for weeks and I hardly noticed, yet if Twitter is over-capacity I get withdrawal symptons within minutes.
I realise that my experience is far from typical, but as an inveterate early adopter and experimenter I think I make a useful subject for study for anyone trying to figure out tomorrow’s media landscape.
It is a shifting landscape, as all of us at the BBC know well. We’re seeing new media forms emerge from the old, grafting digital characteristics like immediate feedback and direct engagement onto analogue entertainment genres, bring news in an instant and offering direct access to newsmakers without the filter of the reporter or editor, and reshaping our assumptions about what happens in the classroom and what education is for.
But what is happening is not ‘convergence’, if that is understood as the coming together of all different forms of creative expression into a bucket of bits labelled ‘content’ that can be delivered over the network to any screen or any device.
Instead we’re seeing new forms of media life evolve, each specialised to survive in a particular niche, all competing for attention in a world that can seem saturated with stuff demanding to be watched, listened to, discussed or reviewed.
Only some of these new forms will flourish, and we’re in the middle of a period of discovery and experimentation as exciting as the early years of the BBC’s television service seventy-five years ago. Unfortunately we can’t tell in advance which ones are going to succeed, which poses a major challenge for anyone engaged in building tomorrow’s BBC.
Since I joined the Archive Development team at the BBC two years ago, initially part-time but now pretty full-on, I’ve done less and less writing here. I dropped my regular BBC column and though I’m still writing for Focus magazine and doing Click/Digital Planet on the World Service most of what’s ended up here has been photos and tweet-length apercus.
I’ve decided I need to get my groove back on, so I’m going to make the effort over Christmas to post something daily, and then keep up a more regular posting schedule in 2012 – my model will be the gifted John Naughton over at Memex 1.1 who manages to collect interesting stuff, his own writing and references to things he’s published elsewhere.