Easy to Break & Easy to Fix

The 20th century was the age of mass media, a gigantic, top-down, few-to-many mode of transmitting information, of creating culture. The bulk of global media was famously controlled by a half dozen rich white guys.

I don’t know about you, but they didn’t speak for me.

Before the mass age, communication came from the family, the school, the church, the community, the clan, and it’s purpose was not to sell products, but to share with others how to survive in, and understand something of, this world. The egalitarian “oopsy” that wasn’t supposed to be, the “internet,” accidentally gave voice to way too many people. ATM over a billion people are “wired,” and therefore globally, the voiceless still outnumber the voiced. Even so, in spite of so much work to concentrate media/voice in the hands of the few, we have the unexpected and clearly undesirable circumstance that more human beings have a voice today, than at any time in the whole history of life on earth.

Amazingly enough, this is NOT my Creative Commons / Culture wants to be Free screed. I’ve already done that. Instead this is my, We Need Less Security screed. Which, as you can perhaps see already, stems from some of the same ideas.

As a choreographer for Halliburton, I’ve worked on some rather large-scale projects. And I can tell you, for pretty much my entire life, “art” has always come *last.*

I’m sick of it. And I can’t be a part of it anymore.

The security people always take over meetings, “if we don’t spend ‘x’ euros on ‘y’ security measures, you won’t have a project.” Then eventually the technical people take over, “if we don’t spend ‘a’ euros on ‘b’ technical extravagances, you won’t have a broadcast signal, you won’t be on the air.” At some point, no one in the meeting can think of anything else to say, and everyone has more money than they can possibly imagine spending on the gadgets of their choice, and so, to stretch the meeting out to lunch, the subject of the actual art of the event is briefly placed on the table. It doesn’t really matter what the concept is, nobody actually cares anyway, and nothing artsy types ever do is remotely comprehensible to real/normal people anyway. The “art” presentation is pro forma, and just a segue to the standard response to all art proposals, “that’s nice, but it’s a ridiculous amount of money to spend for ‘just the art’ — the people will watch no matter what you do. You can have (insert some fraction less than 1/2) of that.”

The thing about New Media, Social Media, Web2.0 Technologies, is that they’re remarkably egalitarian. When you click that edit button on that wiki page, you aren’t just typing in some arcane factoid, you are making a political statement. Novices, and given the rate of change, there are a lot of us novices all the time, are often afraid to click that edit button, for fear that they might “mess something up.” And then sometimes they do “mess something up” and they have to crawl, embarrassed to some administrator, “I think I messed your whole thing up.”

These things are typically easy to fix. And I’d rather fix a thousand “messed up” wiki pages, than take away that edit button. If you are a citizen of the 21st century, then that edit button is your birthright. Never give it up. Never apologize for it. What was it the late, great, bible actor Charlton Heston used to say: “they can have my edit button when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.”

A few years ago I was at a talk at the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. David Weinberger was talking about things like wikis, and as an example he used the largest wiki, Wikipedia. He said, for example, and gestured to Rebecca MacKinnon, who was seated a couple of rows in front of me, if somebody typed that Rebecca was a space alien who ate babies, it wouldn’t stay up very long. The guy sitting next to Rebecca actually went to her Wikipedia entry and typed exactly that, and in less than 90 seconds he got an email: “thank you for your recent contribution to Wikipedia. We believe that your contribution is not accurate and we have reverted it. In the future, if you wish to experiment with editing Wikipedia, you can try the Wikipedia Sandbox.”

Back in the dark ages — no, not the thousand years of Christianity, the hundred years of Mass Media — you needed a lot of security for your one-to-many media communications. But how much security do we need today? For a wiki page? For a SIM in Second Life? For so much of the media we jointly manage? As the wiki example shows, instead of “hard to break,” the new media model is “easy to break & easy to fix.” I like to believe that this model gives the most voice to the most people. With their simple, yet remarkably powerful page histories, wikis are particularly easy to fix.

How much security does a Second Life SIM need? Who has access to what, when, where?

Then again, we’ve all seen the once powerful tool email, mired and drowning in spam. And as use intensifies, spam diversifies to include not just “true” spam, but also things you may actually have wanted at some point, but now are too busy to look at and just find yourself buried in. More recently, the once fun playground Facebook has become saddled with too many friend requests from family and coworkers — requests that in principle, you almost like, but which in practice have a certain chilling effect on your voice. Perhaps a smaller voice at a larger table is good? It’s complicated.

Security and access and niched conversations, oh my!

To focus this for a bit of a conclusion: in the absence of the art, the security is irrelevant. In the absence of the security, the art might still have some value. No, everything can’t be open always. Yes, I’m probably ridiculously optimistic. BUT I think we have a tendency to secure first, and consider openness later.


Let’s be open first, and consider minimal security only as a last measure.

As the late, great Charlton Heston said in Orson Wells’ masterpiece, Touch of Evil, “Police work is supposed to be hard. The only place police work is easy, is in a police state.”

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Categories: Free Culture

Author:Vanessa Anne Blaylock

As a Virtual Public Artist my work invites virtual communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.
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