T H E  N E T W O R K  O B S E R V E R

  VOLUME 2, NUMBER 12                                DECEMBER 1995


     "You have to organize, organize, organize, and build and
      build, and train and train, so that there is a permanent,
      vibrant structure of which people can be part."

          -- Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition


  This month: Neurotic game-playing on the net
              Virtual house-hunting
              Things I do not recommend


  Welcome to TNO 2(12).

  This issue includes an article about aggression on the net.  I
  was inspired to write this article by a rather unpleasant recent
  experience, but the issues are obviously of broad concern.  My
  focus is not on the badness of bad guys, though, but on practical
  responsibility: the ways, beyond the right and wrong of the case,
  in which we permit ourselves to be abused by others, including
  our tendency to accept the self-serving logic of the aggressor.
  Neurotic game-playing can flourish on the net to the extent
  that its community structures are weak, and it provides us with
  an opportunity to reflect on our own complicity in that weakness.

  My "recommendations" this month are much longer than normal, and
  just this once, after two years of happy recommendations, they
  are things I think poorly of.  My point is not to beat anybody up
  but to encourage thinking about the precise nature of the vacuum
  that these regrettable entities fill.

  I wrote this month's "wish list" in my head while driving around
  and around San Diego looking for a place to live.

  A footnote.  At least once a day I run into someone whose first
  words are "did you get my last e-mail?".  What these folks don't
  seem to realize is that this question often has no determinate
  answer.  If I have gotten no recent e-mail from the person then I
  can say no.  But otherwise I have no way of knowing.  Very often
  I've seen a message from them and have replied to it.  Now one
  possibility is that my reply is still waiting in their mailbox,
  so that my answer should be "yes".  But another possibility
  is that they have seen my reply and have sent a reply to *it*
  that I have not seen, so that my answer should be "no".  This
  is way too much to explain while passing someone in the hallway,
  so my standard response is to say "I don't know; what did it
  say?".  Often they cannot actually recall what it said, or
  did not intend to tell me, given that I will be able to read it
  perfectly well once I get back to my office.  What they're doing
  instead, I think, is responding to a sense that our relationship
  is ill-defined at that moment -- we do not have enough shared
  context to feel connected or hold a proper conversation.  In
  other words, asking me whether I've seen the most recent message
  is a symbolic way of reestablishing the coherence of shared
  background upon which the relationship is based.  Such are the
  faultlines between synchronous and asynchronous media, and I hope
  they don't develop into faultlines in the relationships between
  people as well.


  Net games.

  I want to talk about the Internet as a venue for certain kinds of
  abusive game-playing.  But first I want to discuss the concept of
  personal responsibility.  People who find such matters distasteful
  may wish to skip ahead.

  I have been mugged twice.  The second time it happened I wasn't
  paying attention late at night, so that I stepped off a curb and
  found that a shotgun was aimed in my face.  After I handed the
  guy my cash, he threatened to come back and blow my head off if
  I called the cops, whereupon he fishtailed down the street in a
  red muscle-car with the lights out.

  The first time I was mugged, though, was more instructive, and
  I'm almost glad it happened.  It was many years ago, and I was
  living in a loft in Chinatown in Boston.  To get home from the
  subway I had to walk through the Combat Zone, and it was there
  one night that I looked over my shoulder and saw two suspicious
  characters closing on me.  Part of me said to run, but then
  another part of me said that running away from them would
  hurt their feelings, whereupon one of them executed this very
  professional choke-hold while the other one stood by, preparing
  to stab me if I did not pass out.  My last thought before losing
  consciousness was that I was going to be raped; my first thought
  after waking up with fewer material goods and a badly bitten
  tongue was that I should call up and cancel my credit cards.

  If you've never been assaulted then you might find the thoughts
  I reported having, particularly the solicitude I felt for these
  guys' feelings, to be odd.  In fact they are common.  Many
  women have reported being unable to defend themselves against
  assaults because they feel obliged to take care of others before
  themselves, and I think that many more men would admit the same
  thing if they were more aware of their feelings and had social
  permission not to be "tough".  The most common interpretation
  of this phenomenon is in terms of gender socialization, and
  that is surely part of it.  But another interpretation, which
  emerges from the recovery movement and fits more closely with my
  own experience, is that it is about self-esteem: giving others'
  feelings priority over your own, even in extreme situations,
  is an expression of the value you place on your own life and
  well-being.  I think today I would probably be able to run away
  in such a situation.  But I'm a different person now than I was
  when I was first mugged.

  Many people in the recovery movement also believe in a much more
  difficult concept, which is that I bear some responsibility for
  having been mugged.  Many other people resist such ideas, given
  that the muggers themselves certainly bear full responsibility
  for their own actions.  Permitting them to mug me is not the same
  as giving them permission to mug me.  I find that it helps to
  distinguish three equally legitimate but quite different concepts
  of responsibility, which I will call legal, moral, and practical:
  legal responsibility is whatever the law says it is, moral
  responsibility apportions moral right and wrong when something
  bad happens between people, and practical responsibility pertains
  to issues of *why* things happened and a posteriori of how
  they can be prevented from happening again.  Legal ideas about
  responsibility tend to reflect complex and historically shifting
  accommodations between moral and practical ideas, and I won't
  consider them any further here.  In the case of the muggings I
  described above, the muggers were 100% morally responsible for
  the muggings that took place and I was 0% morally responsible.
  But practical responsibility is a whole different matter.

  Much havoc occurs when the moral and practical conceptions of
  responsibility are confused with one another, or when one of
  them is emphasized to the exclusion of the other.  Let us briefly
  consider three examples:

   * Many survivors of abuse and assault find it very difficult
  to explore the ways in which they have permitted themselves to be
  victimized because this sounds to them as though it detracts from
  the moral responsibility of their victimizers, who usually claim
  with great and practiced casuistry that they are themselves the
  innocent victims in the situation.  The batterer might argue that
  the victim provoked the battering, or seduced and rejected the
  batterer, or whatever.  These claims may actually be true in some
  cases, but they are complete non sequiturs.  Batterers and other
  abusively controlling people are generally in massive denial:
  driven by an underlying terror of abandonment, they experience
  themselves as powerless and their actions as fully controlled
  by the other party.  And the battered party may come to believe
  this as well.  As a result, people who work with survivors of
  battering relationships were long reticent to admit that these
  survivors often return to a batterer even without a strong
  financial reason to do so; they did not want to provide support
  for (utterly false) claims that the battered party had thereby
  excused the past battering, consented to further battering,
  or else "wanted" to be abused in any sense that would reduce
  the batterer's moral culpability.  The most abusive lines of the
  batterer's ally are precisely the innuendoes that confuse the
  practical and moral varieties of responsibility: "You did have
  some part in it, now didn't you?"  For this reason and others,
  everybody needs to be the judge of practical responsibility for
  their own lives without submitting to the judgements of anybody

   * Some large and successful organizations offer workshops which
  teach people to view the world entirely in terms of practical
  responsibility.  Lifespring, for instance, actually teaches
  people that they are 100% responsible for everything that happens
  to them, that every ill that befalls them is evidence of a hidden
  motive, that this stance reflects "empowerment", and that any
  other stance is just part of the disingenuous rationalization for
  one's perverse desire to be victimized.

   * A rising political trend in the United States has laid claim
  to the phrase "personal responsibility" and has constructed an
  elaborate system of ideas about the "victimology" of certain
  social movements that have sought to identify and redress social
  ills.  People who employ these ideas generally speak as though it
  is always clear and obvious who bears responsibility in a given
  situation, and they will engage in harsh lectures about "taking
  personal responsibility" when they perceive someone as adopting
  the social identity of a "whining victim".  In practice, though,
  these ideas are empty, and serve as an excuse to apply the burden
  of "personal responsibility" in an arbitrary fashion depending
  on who the parties are.  It is as though American English has now
  differentiated two versions of the word "victim".  When given its
  normal pronunciation, with a major stress on the first syllable,
  it refers to the victims of violent criminals, liberals, and
  government regulators.  But when given its newer pronunciation,
  with an extra-heavy stress on the first syllable, it refers to
  those people who have chosen to construct themselves as victims
  of racist white people, sexist men, private businesses, abusive
  parents, or the police.  To be sure, some people really *are*
  whiners.  But to raise "whining" to a broadly but selectively
  applied stereotype is the very antithesis of moral reasoning.

  Some clarity about the nature of personal responsibility is a
  prerequisite for any serious understanding of the dynamics of
  unhealthy interactions between people.  In a series of books
  that were both highly popular and thoroughly lampooned in their
  day (e.g., "Games People Play" and "I'm Okay, You're Okay"), Eric
  Berne described these phenomena in terms of "games".  An example
  of a game is Uproar.  Everybody knows pairs of people, especially
  parents and teenaged children, who repeatedly get themselves into
  a situation in which both parties are mad and one of them storms
  out slamming a door.  Each of them will be deeply involved in
  assigning responsibility for the event to the other, and this
  will be one way that they effectively conspire to enact the
  same scenario over and over and over.  Now it could be that,
  in a moral sense, one of them really is primarily in the wrong.
  But that does not explain, in a practical sense, why both of
  them consent to participate in the endless cycle without either
  repairing it, doing something different, or leaving.  Everyone
  who plays a game has a practical responsibility for their own
  participation, and discovering such a game in one's life provides
  an opportunity to grow by exploring what's behind it and how it
  might be healed.

  It is important to keep clear that Berne is asking a practical
  question, not a moral one.  His point is definitely not that all
  assaults that occur, for example, are instances of a game; he is
  referring to people who do something to make physical coercion a
  pattern in their lives.  People who assault others are just about
  the lowest form of life and are morally responsible for their
  actions absolutely regardless of what their victims did or didn't
  do or could have done differently.  And many assault survivors
  most certainly found themselves with absolutely no options in
  situations that they could not possibly have been expected to
  foresee.  But the practical question still remains of why people
  who see trouble coming and have viable options to ameliorate it
  nonetheless sometimes fail to do so, and fail to do so repeatedly.

  The answer to this question is mysterious and depressing but
  not all that surprising.  Berne claims that all of us, or at
  least those who have not healed their game-playing tendencies,
  transact tacit negotiations with everyone we meet.  We go around
  effectively broadcasting queries such as "I like to be the one
  who storms out slamming the door in a game of Uproar; do you
  want to be the one who gets to complain about having the door
  slammed in their face?".  When our interlocutor doesn't want to
  play the other role in any of our games, we just say nice-to-
  meet-you and move along to someone else, until we find someone
  who wants to play.  Then perhaps we fall in love, go into
  business together, discuss politics, or whatever on the surface
  we claim we are doing.

  I have had many occasions to think about Berne's theory as I have
  run a large mailing list on the Internet.  Among the many social
  functions that e-mail makes more efficient, it seems, is the
  social trolling through which game-players find their partners.
  I have identified a couple of such games.  One of them is called
  Liberal Professor Closes His Mind To New Ideas.  It has two major
  roles, Professor (P) and Questioner (Q), and goes like this:

    P: forwards material out to a large Internet mailing list that
       has any sort of political content

    Q: sends professor a message in response that presents itself
       as an innocent inquiry full of high-minded language but
       in fact is utterly snide and often laced with innuendo

    P: takes offense and mails back a reply that reacts to the bait
       in any way

    Q: declares victory by adopting a tone of wounded innocence and
       professing shock and/or rueful disappointment that ("just as
       I thought") a Liberal Professor Closes His Mind To New Ideas

  The cycle may repeat, with P continuing to take the bait and Q
  escalating the rhetoric of wounded innocence, grave injustice,
  unconscionable rudeness, abuse of authority, and so on.  It takes
  very little indeed for Q to portray himself (in my experience
  it is always a man, or at least someone employing a man's name)
  as the victim of rude closed-mindedness.  For example, I find
  that even referring to Q's argument as "conservative", even in
  the context of a perfectly level-headed response, is enough to
  produce howls about stereotyping and labeling and party lines
  and thought police.  One guy called me a fascist because I used
  the word hegemony -- never mind that the guy who gave the word
  hegemony its modern meaning did so while rotting in a fascist
  jail.  The twisted logic is of course part of the game -- an
  invitation to play another round, double or nothing.

  As in most games that involve accusation, the protagonist in
  Liberal Professor Closes His Mind To New Ideas proceeds by
  creating and exploiting ambiguity, or at least pretending that
  ambiguity exists, about issues of moral responsibility.  I am
  attacked through an accusation of having conducted an attack
  myself.  Like most abusive behavior in real life, the attack
  works precisely by creating confusion and conflict about reality
  within the person being attacked.

    Was he really being snide?

    Am I imagining things?

    Am I overreacting?

    Am I just looking for an excuse to snap at someone?

    Maybe it's a cultural difference?

    Don't I have a responsibility anyway?

  And above all...

    Am I hurting his feelings?

  This very common pattern deserves fuller treatment on another
  occasion, as do the larger political project and form of
  self-fashioning in which Q is engaged.  My topic here, though,
  concerns practical responsibility.  Briefly put, why do I fall
  for this game?  Let us cut me some slack and forget the first
  half dozen occasions that this scenario occurred, before the
  pattern ought to have become clear.  The hard question is why
  I continue to play this game the twentieth time around.

  For one thing, I find it very hard *not* to reply to e-mail.  I
  can rationalize this by saying that it's moral, it's responsible,
  it's polite, and it's a norm of Internet etiquette to reply to
  everybody.  But if I am really paying attention, and am not in
  denial, I really can tell the difference between people who are
  offering me a game of Liberal Professor Closes His Mind To New
  Ideas and people who, while perhaps not sharing the political
  views that were expressed in the item I happen to have forwarded
  to a mailing list, and while perhaps employing some arguments
  that I find mistaken, nonetheless are interested in commencing
  a grown-up professional relationship.  Messages reflecting these
  two intentions really are as different as night and day, even if
  I could not provide a formal grammar to distinguish between them.

  So why *do* I keep choosing to play this game?  No doubt the
  answer has a number of layers to it, but one part of the answer
  is that I have a big red button on me that relates to unjust
  accusations.  You don't need to know where this button comes
  from, but you can probably imagine what it is like.  In any
  case the upshot, it seems, is that when someone offers me a game
  of Liberal Professor Closes His Mind To New Ideas, I frequently
  go right ahead.  I am better now at declining such offers than
  I used to be, and I expect to be even better in the future.

  My thing about unjust accusations is probably also one reason
  why I am prone to accepting invitations to another game, which
  might be called Censorship.  Like all games, this one comes in
  first-, second-, and third-degree forms.  (Berne's definitions of
  these degrees don't work very well, so I'll modify them to make
  them fit the case at hand.)  Fortunately it is hard to engage in
  third-degree games over the Internet, since these involve actual
  physical violence (but see Kali Tal's article in TNO 1(6)).  But
  first- and second-degree versions of Censorship have both become
  common on the net.  The game involves two players, a Moderator
  (M) and a Contributor (C), and it goes like this:

    C: joins a mailing list and submits items to the list that
       don't really belong there, repeating if necessary with less
       and less suitable material until...

    M: rejects those items

    C: asks why the items have been rejected, usually while
       affecting a tone of bewilderment and wounded innocence

    M: offers just about any explanation at all

       [at this point C might attempt to escalate the game by
        baiting M into saying something s/he'll later regret,
        and M might accept the implicit offer by taking the bait]

    C: declares victory by registering protests about having been
       censored, usually with high-toned language about freedom and
       hypocrisy and so on

  Once again let's ask about practical responsibility.  It may
  be objected that M is entirely innocent in a practical sense,
  inasmuch as precisely two options are available: publishing
  the unsuitable submissions or not publishing them.  But other
  options actually are available, such as negotiation, suggesting
  more suitable lists, offering to call C on the telephone,
  preparing a boilerplate text explaining the nature of moderated
  mailing lists and the policies of this particular list, offering
  different sorts of explanations or offering no explanation at
  all.  Of course, I do not mean to say that every list moderator
  is playing a game whenever someone complains about a posting
  not being published on his or her list.  In fact, I think that
  e-mail affords situations in which game-players can enroll others
  in their games, such as the two games I have mentioned here,
  with only a very minimal level of agreement from those others.

  Nonetheless, these considerations should not distract us from
  the perfectly real possibility that M actually does bear some
  practical responsibility for a particular episode.  I know that
  this has been the case in a few instances with my own mailing
  list.  In a first-degree version of the game, someone might send
  me a note, in that disingenuous tone that healthy people do not
  put up with, challenging me as to why I don't post certain kinds
  of materials on my list, or else insisting that I post particular
  items.  I might respond by explaining that the list consists
  simply of whatever I find interesting, whereupon my interlocutor
  will declare victory by saying something like "oh, so the list
  just exists to push your own views".  Any attempt to respond
  to this sort of nonsense is obviously further game-playing on
  my part, and I sometimes manage to abstain and sometimes do not.

  Let me tell you what a second-degree game of Censorship is like.
  Recently I received a series of long messages from this guy I've
  never heard of, written in exaggeratedly high-toned language,
  which vilified a mailing list moderator for declining to publish
  something he wrote.  I found these messages totally confusing and
  replied briefly saying so.  I then received an equally confusing
  and obviously disingenuous explanation from this person, followed
  by an even more confusing message reporting some kind of problem
  with my own mailing list.  I replied to the problem report with
  a simple "what are you trying to do?", and I got an even *more*
  confusing message back that, I realized, meant that he was trying
  to post something to my list.  This is impossible, however, since
  the list is only for my use.  He had received a message from
  the server explaining this in perfectly clear terms and giving
  instructions for subscribing, but he had bizarrely ignored the
  explanation and treated the rest of the message as an unsolicited
  personal invitation from me to join my list.  So I explained
  that my list is not a discussion group -- and got back even more
  high-toned complaining, together with incoherent accusations of
  double standards, singling out, and so on.  By now I had had it
  with this guy.  If I were a rational person I would have realized
  that "having had it" is simply what it feels like to decide to
  accept an invitation to certain kinds of games, in this case
  a game of second-degree Censorship.  Yet I plunged right in,
  explaining that moderators can do whatever they like with their
  mailing lists and advising the guy to get a life.  I don't feel
  particularly bad about this as a moral matter; it was certainly
  proportionate to the situation.  But proportions may have little
  to do with cause and effect in practical reality.

  Before I knew it, high-toned tracts accusing me of censorship
  *and* unprovoked rudeness were making their way to the faculty
  and staff of my department, some people in the hierarchy of
  my university, a CPSR mailing list, and heaven knows who else.
  These messages (some of them entitled "Language of an Assistant
  Professor") included numerous false and misleading statements and
  generally verged on libel.  Probably the most offensive falsehood
  is his claim that I told him that I would not publish his tract
  because I disagree with it.  In fact I have never read his
  tract and have never exchanged the first word with him about its

  In any event, at this point I began to snap out of my denial and
  ask around.  It would seem that the guy has been practicing this
  technique serially: trying to post a meandering tract on various
  mailing lists where it doesn't belong, getting rejected, and then
  vilifying the mailing list moderator to every address that can
  be connected with the moderator in any way and to several other
  mailing lists besides, until finally someone refuses to publish
  his messages and the cycle begins over again.  His principal
  tool in assembling and distributing his messages seems to be the
  Web: he searches the text in the list owner's Web pages looking
  for material that can be quoted in constructing a charge of
  hypocrisy, and then he searches for potentially relevant e-mail
  addresses that can be used to deliver the resulting message.
  In my case, he evidently went through the Web-based archives
  of my list that Kee Hinckley and Al Whaley so kindly maintain and
  sent his message to a large number of the people whose messages I
  *have* sent out.  (He does not use a Web browser to send the mail
  but Windows Eudora, suppressing his recipient lists with a blind
  cc.)  I am also told on good authority that he sent his tract to
  vice-president@whitehouse.gov along with a note explaining that
  my mailing list, among others, had refused to publish it.

  It is hard to know what to do about this.  Would I have been just
  as victimized even if I had not played my part in this fellow's
  game?  I could certainly have supplied him with less ammo by
  retreating into euphemism and high-toned language, the better
  to resist quotation out of context.  But if his past practice
  is any guide, he would probably then have kept escalating his
  provocations until I took the bait, or else satisfied himself
  with the basic charge of censorship if I did not.  It is also
  hard to imagine what redress I could have.  I would simply be
  signing up for a more strenuous game of second-degree Censorship
  if I approached his service provider, posted a public query
  asking for others' experiences with him, or placed a phone call
  to his mother.  Besides, I don't even know what country he's in.

  Will such behavior become more widespread?  As the net grows,
  it will include more people looking for fellow players of their
  games, and it will also include more potential places where such
  games can be played.  Perhaps a list moderators' union would
  help, by analogy to the extensive network of system maintainers
  who share notes about viruses, security holes, system hackers
  and their attacks, and so on.  It might also help to put names
  on these games, or at least to tell stories about them, so
  that fewer people fall for them unnecessarily.  Or perhaps this
  kind of behavior will simply become part of the price we pay
  for our enjoyment of the net.  Most people who have gotten this
  guy's messages have just blown them off as the work of a crank.
  (When I walked into my department's office the next morning, the
  entire staff asked me in unison, "who *is* this guy?".  Actually,
  they didn't use the word "guy".)  And I got an opportunity to
  learn something about myself.  The Buddhists say that we should
  be grateful to everybody, no matter how awful they are, since
  they provide us with another occasion to deepen our appreciation
  for the illusory and transient nature of all things.  By that
  measure this guy is a true hero of the net, and all thirty
  million of us should send him individual messages of appreciation
  for his tireless work.  (That's just a joke.  Leave him alone.)

  The net has a way of making old things new again, and obviously
  this includes issues of aggression and abuse, right and wrong,
  injury and responsibility, and the rest.  And just as in the
  corporeal world, our actions on the net either contribute to
  a healthy atmosphere of integrity and pluralism or they do not.
  This applies in a straightforward way to the people who wreak
  havoc on the net, but it also applies to the people (most of us)
  who abet havoc, who permit havoc to be wreaked upon us, and who
  comfortably play out the role of isolated social atoms judging
  things at a distance.  We know what we think about a game-playing
  troller, a builder of viruses, an author of hoaxes, a broadcaster
  of advertising to mailing lists, a forger of message headers,
  or a propagator of libel.  These people are aggressors against
  the whole community of the net.  But what about the rest of us
  -- the ones who took the troller's bait, who didn't virus-check
  that disk before sending it out, who didn't read that alarming
  message closely enough before passing it along to a mailing list,
  or who went ahead and believed something that didn't quite add up?

  The Buddhists are right: these people are here to teach us
  something, and we're lazy if we don't figure out it what it is.
  Sentencing wrongdoers to a zillion years at hard labor sometimes
  feels good, and sometimes no doubt it's even morally called
  for, but it does little to change how much wrong gets done.  And
  banishing perpetrators only shifts them to another neighborhood,
  where they will immediately start playing their usual games on
  someone else.  Pests flourish to the extent that communities
  are atomized, demoralized, and disunited.  Once we get off our
  butts and start building the institutions and customs and skills
  of community, they will no longer be able to feed on us, and
  they may even start seeking out the help they need to heal their
  own wounds.  I have no control over these people, and the more
  I stop trying to control them the less nutrition I will provide
  to their defenses and their delusions.  What I *can* do, though,
  is describe the reality of the situation -- put a name on it as
  best I can -- and hope that others will do the same, extending
  or deepening my own analysis and bringing in their own ways of
  thinking about the problem.  This kind of consciousness-raising
  is a prerequisite of both individual and community healing; the
  will to be of service to the community comes next; and the formal
  skills of listening, organizing, and building come after that.
  These skills can and must be taught, but they presuppose that
  everyone is looking to their own health, taking responsibility
  for the things they have control over and refusing as much as
  practically possible to be assaulted by the things they do not.


  Wish list.

  Having returned to San Diego from a few months abroad, I spent
  much of late November looking for a new place to live.  This is
  an appalling waste of time.  Fortunately I knew the city well and
  could narrow down the blocks I wanted to live on, first through
  my general knowledge of various neighborhoods and then by driving
  around and observing the remarkable block-by-block demographics
  in each area.  I spent some time responding to ads in the
  paper, but this was way too hard.  Many of the ads don't list
  an address, thus requiring me to leave a phone message that may
  or may not ever get returned in a useful form.  Even when an
  address is present, I still have to drive over there and look
  at the place from the outside before deciding whether to suffer
  the even greater hassle of trying to make an appointment to
  look at it from the inside.  Many apartment building managers,
  I'm convinced, really don't care whether their vacant units are
  rented out anyway.

  In consequence of all this, I ended up spending a great deal of
  time designing networked computer systems to support apartment-
  hunting.  As always in the wish list, "design" here isn't just
  about technology.  It's also about creating the architectures and
  institutions that structure incentives in the interest of doing
  the right thing rather than the wrong thing.  So far, it seems,
  developments in this area are primarily driven by the corporate
  owners of huge apartment complexes.  These include videotapes of
  apartments that you can borrow from Blockbuster, free "magazines"
  of apartment complex advertising, and (I'm told) a few Web pages.
  These projects are oriented to marketing a particular company's
  products, or those of an alliance of large companies, and not to
  the creation of standards to let everyone market their property.

  Now the obvious thing is to create a Web form that asks for the
  same information as the person on the phone when you purchase a
  want ad in the newspaper.  Then a prospective renter calls up and
  browses the resulting ads in any of a dozen forms.  This scheme
  should be extremely cheap, since nobody has to buy any newsprint
  or lug anything around town in a truck.  It also lends itself to
  arbitrarily elaborate extensions, and one can imagine categories
  of ads like in the yellow pages: two-line text listings might
  even be free, with display ads formatted in PDF, possibly even
  hyperlinking to further information in glorious multimedia back
  on the seller's home machine.  Clicking on the phone number might
  automatically dial the phone, and so on.

  But this scheme only solves a few problems.  It's the obvious way
  to start, by implementing familiar mechanisms in digital form,
  but we can do a lot better.  Let's crank up the technology a few
  years and imagine an online version of the "Aspen Project" of
  the Architecture Machine Group (the predecessor of the Media Lab
  at MIT).  What they did was drive around Aspen, Colorado while
  pulling a wheeled cart with a running video camera on it.  They
  did this three times for each segment of each street, with the
  camera looking forward, to the left, and to the right.  Then they
  put all of the resulting video clips on a videodisk and built an
  interface that lets someone "drive" virtually around Aspen.  When
  the person "turns" the corner, for example, the system directs
  videodisk player to cue up the clip corresponding to the street
  that one is "turning" onto.  Mike Naimark, now at Interval, was
  involved in the original Aspen Project and has done a variety
  of subsequent-generation versions of it, including a system you
  might have seen at the Exploratorium that lets you "fly" around
  San Francisco with a joystick.

  Now imagine someone building a version of this for the whole
  of San Diego.  If you figure that San Diego has something on
  the order of 2000 km of streets and the car moves at 50km/h and
  shoots 3 sets of video (forward, left, and right) at 2 degrees of
  zoom (a few buildings with yards and landscape versus close in to
  the buildings themselves) then the result is 240 hours of video,
  the equivalent of perhaps 150 movies and thus easily within the
  range of video servers that will soon become available.  Someone
  shoots all of this, sets it up on a Web-accessible server, and
  offers several different sorts of services, each interlinked with
  a different database.  So I could "drive" down the streets of the
  area east of Balboa Park, and some of the houses might have "for
  rent" signs on them; when I click on these signs I get a page
  with the full details.  Or else I could start with a map of the
  city, draw circles around areas that interest me, call up the
  want ads that fall within one of those areas, call up a street
  map of that area with the available properties marked on it, and
  then take a "drive" past all of them.

  Depending on how the architecture works (particularly how
  many different video "trips" can be running at once), it would
  be beneficial for everyone to get free access to the driving
  mechanism without necessarily using the enhanced services.  That
  way more people would be aware of the system and have a hotlist
  link to it.  Then individual services build on top of the system
  would each have their own fee structure.  Advertisers would pay
  for the want ads and for other annotations on their property
  (such as the clickable menu on the window of a restaurant),
  but browsers might pay for other services such as architectural
  information and other commentary on the buildings.  (Think of
  the "Access Guides" that I recommended in TNO 2(6); they are
  organized block-by-block rather than by topics.)

  Unfortunately, such a system could have a variety of less happy
  uses.  Imagine if the video database were linked to a phone book,
  or a mailing list, or a customer database enriched with detailed
  demographic information.  A less serious concern is that the
  video system might accidentally pick up people or situations
  that shouldn't be immortalized on video.  But the folks who are
  shooting the video would presumably post some warnings and send
  someone ahead of the car to alert people that it's coming and
  give then a chance to retreat inside.  Of course, the people
  might react in a less cooperative fashion, and it would be a
  fascinating scene to observe at a safe distance in any case.
  Another issue is what happens when the video goes out of date:
  Is the video going to be dated?  Who pays for it to be reshot
  when the appearance of the buildings or the street changes?

  Would such a system invade everyone's privacy?  The question
  has already arisen in the case of overhead representations in
  "GIS" digital mapmaking.  (See excellent work on this subject
  of Michael Curry <curry@geog.sscnet.ucla.edu> in the journal
  Cartography and Geographic Information Systems and elsewhere.)
  The basic problem recurs in a variety of emerging privacy issues:
  nobody has a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to
  what someone might see when driving past their house in a car,
  but that's not the same as their house being "observed" in a
  context that is enriched with data from other sources.  Suppose,
  for example, that burglars could call up geodemographic files
  and browse for houses that look easy to break into...


  This month's recommendations -- not.

  In the spirit of the season, this month I am going to get off
  my chest a bunch of antirecommendations -- some holiday turkeys
  that I regard as musts-to-avoid.  Those wishing to accentuate
  the positive may wish to move along to the "follow-up" section.

  Terence K. McKenna, Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original
  Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human
  Evolution, New York: Bantam, 1992.  Also, The Archaic Revival:
  Speculations on Psychedelic Mushrooms, the Amazon, Virtual
  Reality, UFOs, Evolution, Shamanism, the Rebirth of the Goddess,
  and the End of History, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  Terence McKenna has achieved a certain amount of fame in the
  cyberculture for drawing an analogy between shamanism and virtual
  reality.  My quarrel is not with this analogy -- both of them,
  after all, involve a sort of controlled hallucination.  My
  quarrel, rather, is with his ideas about shamanism.  McKenna is
  an ethnobotanist, which in practice means that he goes down to
  the Amazon, hangs out with people in traditional cultures, and
  trips out on gnarly mushrooms.  His books are basically arguments
  for the legalization of hallucinogens based on the great virtues
  of shamanism.  The problem is that he very misleadingly tends
  to conflate shamanism with drug-taking, so that his readers
  end up with little sense of the personal discipline involved in
  real shamanism or of the simple fact that drugs are not needed
  in order to practice shamanism at a high level of sophistication.
  A vastly better introduction to shamanism is Sandra Ingerman's
  "Soul Retrieval".

  The Red Herring.  This is an extraordinarily expensive magazine,
  with a self-indulgently meaningless title, from the subculture of
  venture capitalists and people dedicating their lives to cleaning
  up one day on an IPO.  I gather that its principal attraction for
  this audience is copious data on high technology companies that
  are raising funds.  The actual copy, though, is unimpressive.
  The people in this world are accustomed to hearing entrepreneurs
  pitching their companies by means of thoroughly self-serving
  presentations with no pretense of critical perspective or
  analytical detachment, and that, unfortunately, is precisely
  what the "articles" in TRH are.  To each their own, I suppose.

  The Weekly Standard.  The son of Irving Kristol and Gertrude
  Himmelfarb and the protege of Bill Bennett, Bill Kristol made
  his name in 1993 as the author of a series of bone-crushing
  faxes that crystallized conservative resistance to the Clinton
  Administration.  Having grown up steeped in the critique of
  liberalism, Kristol accurately saw its deep vulnerabilities at
  a time when most of his fellow conservatives were disoriented by
  George Bush's loss at the polls.  Although I only read the faxes
  in bits and pieces through others' quotations, I was impressed
  by the clarity of his vision in this regard.  Which makes it all
  the more surprising that his new project, a weekly conservative
  political magazine published by Rupert Murdoch, is so totally
  lame.  John Judis argues that this is simply one reflection
  of the bankruptcy of American conservatism as an intellectual
  movement (despite all of its talk about "ideas"), and it's true
  that nothing being written today holds a candle to the National
  Review in its early days.  But part of the problem is simply that
  Kristol is no longer a marginal hell-raiser with nothing to lose.
  He believes that the task for conservatives, now that they have
  decisively taken over the Republican party, is to soften their
  message enough to build a working electoral coalition.  In my
  opinion this approach is misguided, given the many structural
  trends working against the Democrats in the long run.  But
  Kristol opened his magazine with a heavily publicized quasi-
  endorsement of Colin Powell, and that tactical orientation has
  continued.  Very little of this stuff will be worth reading next
  month, must less in the next century.

  The concept of "memes".  The term "meme" was introduced by
  Richard Dawkins in his popular biology book "The Selfish Gene".
  The argument of the book is that evolution can be viewed as a
  process by which individual genes use organisms as vehicles for
  their own propagation rather than the other way round.  This is
  an amusing turnabout, but it is also a simplistic substitute for
  biology's crying need for theories that straddle multiple levels
  of analysis.  The concept of a "meme" was introduced by analogy
  to this.  A meme is simply an idea, and the rhetorical trick is
  to portray ideas as agents trying to spread themselves around
  in society, mutating and recombining through a process of natural
  selection in which our minds (brains, I suppose) are so many grey
  meat machines.  Now, Nietzsche said something like this a hundred
  years ago in reference to the "will to power" of metaphors.  The
  idea didn't make much more sense then, but at least Nietzsche had
  larger and more disturbing things in mind.  The word "meme" has
  gotten a boost lately from its frequent use in Wired magazine,
  from which it has been taken up into the shifting jargon of
  the subculture of cyberspace.  The concept does have attractions.
  It is one way -- better than nothing, I suppose -- of talking
  about a crucial phenomenon: people's incomplete awareness of
  the contents, origins, and logics of the ideas that they have
  acquired from others through the language they speak, the
  symbolism of their machinery, the seeming platitudes that they
  pass along from the evening news, and much else.  But it is
  nonetheless a poor theory of these things.  One basic problem
  is the biological metaphor: memes are to genes as people's minds
  are to creatures.  I suppose it would be churlish of me to point
  out that biological metaphors have been a staple of authoritarian
  thinking for a long time; at least these particular biological
  metaphors appeal in a misleading way to whole ecosystems and
  not to single organisms with authoritarian "heads".  The deeper
  problem is that these metaphors are moving in an antihumanist
  direction.  Do the people who talk about memes really think of
  themselves as passive cultural dopes, or as inert media through
  which great swarms of ideas pass?  Such a notion flies in the
  face of the massive work in which many organizations engage to
  encourage the proliferation of certain ideas and discourage the
  proliferation of others.  It also greatly underestimates the
  large amount of collective cognition that is part-and-parcel of
  group identity among people with shared interests in society --
  not least the cyberculture, with its shared "bet" on benefitting
  from the outcome of technology-driven social upheavals.  At the
  end of the day, treating ideas as "memes" is an abdication of
  personal responsibility.  *You* choose what ideas you think and
  say and write, and *you* should take responsibility for them.

  Those Dewar's ads.  You've seen them, in Wired for example: the
  ones that are aimed at men in their early 20's who are figuring
  out what's involved in being a man.  What's involved, it would
  seem, is drinking this crummy blended scotch.  The ads are based
  on ridicule and the fear of ridicule, and reveal the extent to
  which the cultural construction of masculinity, with its foolish
  poses and burdensome roles, depends on the threat of ridicule.
  Let's just all just move along -- to a world in which people's
  self-esteem cannot be manipulated by corporate drug pushers.



  In response to my article about those computer ads in TNO 2(10),
  one reader told me that Microsoft Windows was responsible for a
  great deal of togetherness in his family, inasmuch as his kids'
  game software is often so difficult to install that he must spend
  endless hours helping them with it.

  And in response to my wish in TNO 2(10) for voice annotation to
  web documents, Michael Chui <mchui@cs.indiana.edu> kindly pointed
  out (as I knew and should have remarked) that, as he put it,
  "annotation has been part of the conceptual cloud of hypermedia
  almost as long as it has been raining links".  He directed my
  attention to discussion of annotation in the original WWW design
  documentation at  http://www.w3.org/hypertext/WWW/DesignIssues/
  and to "current work relating to collaboration using the Web,
  including a pointer to the web page of the W3C Annotation Working
  Group", at  http://www.w3.org/hypertext/WWW/Collaboration/
  My point in wishing for voice annotations was not to claim any
  originality for the idea but to contextualize it and explore some
  of its consequences.

  Web picks.

  The telecommunications technology that has had the greatest
  impact on political processes in the United States since TV is
  still not the Internet but the fax machine: several organizations
  have set up weekly fax broadcasts to their membership, and the
  practice is spreading.  Republican theorist Bill Kristol, for
  example, is famous for his 80's faxes, mentioned above, against
  Bill Clinton's health care proposals.  Jesse Jackson has a fax
  broadcast as well, the texts of which can be found on the web
  pages for the Rainbow Coalition at  http://www.cais.com/rainbow/

  The Political Participation Project can be found on the Web at

  Phil Agre, editor                                pagre@ucla.edu
  Department of Information Studies
  University of California, Los Angeles         +1 (310) 825-7154
  Los Angeles, California  90095-1520                FAX 206-4460
  Copyright 1995 by the editor.  You may forward this issue of The
  Network Observer electronically to anyone for any non-commercial
  purpose.  Comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

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