[extropy-chat] [FoRK] drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry (fwd from kranenbu at xs4all.nl)

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Fri Apr 9 12:27:07 UTC 2004

----- Forwarded message from Rob van Kranenburg <kranenbu at xs4all.nl> -----

From: Rob van Kranenburg <kranenbu at xs4all.nl>
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 2004 00:20:40 +0100
To: fork at xent.com
Subject: [FoRK] drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry

I don't know how to say this really, as I never do, but I got this
song in my head 'Bye, bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the
levy but the levy was dry' and it is a few days now, and tonight
finally I figure out why. Let me tell you.

We're in a dead end.

This the we.

That's us: the people who make and consume both. The people who have
been busy doing technology in the proper sense of the word, as in
techné - messing with the specs of mediation,
visualizing/experientalizing until then unknown connectivity.

This is the dead end.

If you take a look at the mobile industries wonderful 3G 4G
powerpoint presentations you see pictures of a person in the middle
surrounded by powerstations that connect all kinds of nodes that
would somehow give this person more agency, then you notice that the
pictures of the security industries are exactly the same but in their
case the agency lies in the nodes, not in the person.

Now for both the systems logic is the same: to distribute yourself,
your data- into the environment.

This is the key element in the digital revolution.

Which will therefore inevitably never happen.

Ambient Intelligence should have happened in the sixties! Where love,
peace and trust were the key themes that could move emotions on a
deep level for a while.

Now the key themes, the cultural and political views that shape the
environment - are insecurity, unsafety, and fear.

Who is going to distribute themselves into an environment that they
are being constantly told of  that they cannot trust it?

Take RFID:

For five years now I have been following it and I realized that it
was inevitable pretty soon but could hardly convince anyone as the
very idea of tagging every f.....thing is pretty unbelievable. We
postmodern, so called fragmented 'I's cannot believe that you can
actually organize this on such a scale, that you could not find the
driving need to convince all parties.

Well, they need no convincing!

As RFID works on all levels of implementation scenarios:

code: distributed computing
node: individuated logistics
link: amI
network: safety issues

So it inevitable as technology, and you can do nothing about it.

Or can we? Hmm.

Where is the challenge?

The challenge is at policy level, it lies in recognizing the dangers
of this cultural/political axiom to highlight safety/insecurity as if
there could ever be A SAFE DEFAULT position. This only leads to more
fear, more distrust, more anger as things and explosions will
inevitably happen and you will take the blame for not having been
able to prevent it.

The challenge lies in marketing from a high level downwards the idea
of distributing insecurity, realizing there is no safe default, but
that uncertainty is the default position.

This is also necessary because the fear policy goes directly against
the call for more and more innovation, innovation needs a risk
friendly environment. If you scare your population, very few risks
will be taken.

Allow me to bother you for a second with the current Dutch situation.
I love it. I love it because never in my entire life had I thought to
be able to witness such delibarate transformation.

With my students at St Joost, CMD and Willem de Kooning, all
designers of all kinds we witness the process of disciplining and
wonder if we can actually claim this most  nono of lines: They are
doing it. As if we can identify a 'they' anywhere as opposed to a
'we'. So we sit and discuss and realize that coming up with imaginary
'they's that do this or that, is a bit too simple. Still, we do
witness a tremendous sameness in the visual and textual rhetoric that
deals with unease, uncertainty, unsafety, and watch the hell out for
rucksacks on trains and pickpockets as well mind you. Mind the gap,

Now we know that this process is not committee run, nor committee
driven, but how come us noticing that all institutions are
reinventing themselves, redesigning themselves in two basic keywords:
transparency and control? What does a planning department of a city
do if it wants to put these keywords into action? It cleans out the
station of Amsterdam of all the bikes that have been standing there
for over twenty years, re-disciplining the public square into the
private merchants dream. What does a library do if it wants to put
these keywords into action? The new library in Rotterdam simple cuts
her bookshelves in halves, transferring the old serene experience of
wandering among books hoping for this serendipitous moment into a
full contact zone of wandering bodies, their backs aching. What does
a department of health do if it wants to put these keywords into
action? It scripts the notion of longing for a cigarette into the
humiliating experience of having to walk to a 'smoking pole', not
indoors, no, at the train station, in open air. What does the
department of education do if it wants to put these keywords into
action? It bans 'apekooien', this most wonderful of experiences when
you are six or seven or eight and get to use all the stuff, yeah all
the stuff that lay hidden in the vaults of the gym. You might trip
over something and fall. Yeah! What do you do when you are another
part of the department of health if you want to put these keywords
into action? You launch a huge campaign against the dangers of fire
and your clothes, are they synthetic? Do they burn easily? How long
before you are on fire with your outfit on Tuesday? And with that
lovely white top? Are you sure? Walking up to the smoking pole -all
them bodies cuddly together - in that white tope drastically fires up
your getburnedifyouare in the wrong place statistics. Better watch

Better spent some time thinking about these things. Thinking about you.

Thinking about you. You.

Which is much more interesting from a disciplinary point of view,
because if you spent all your time thinking of you, how would you
organize? How would you even be able to experience any other kind of
agency, but narcism? Would you be able to even begin to believe that
things need not be like this? That things are designed at converging
levels and can be designed otherwise? That revolutions do happen, can
happen and must happen. And that you are the cause of one? Do you
want to?

So, one fine afternoon, me and students from St Joost, Breda set off
for Oisterwijck, a lovely quiet provincial town. As we had only ten
suits, I could not wear one. The suits made the students look like
some weird medics, the kind of people who come to clean out your
chicken farm after some horrible disease has killed them all. Exactly
not the kind of people you would trust. Hmm. At least that is what we
thought. They were ten. Six had sticks you could point at things
with; dangerous things. Dangerous things such as the sky. Don't you
trust it with all that satellite debris. Better watch out. Two had
stickers that told of, and made icons of, dangerous things. In a red
triangle the dangerous object was represented in words: watch out
umbrella, watch out window, watch out tree. You can bump into these
things, you know. You better watch out. Be careful. Hey! The idea of
this performance like intervention was to draw feedback of the kind
that would get the joke, that would be aimed at the experienced top
down disciplining process going on. What happened instead was far
more interesting but also far more disturbing. Whenever they were
approached with a question like what kind of organization are you
from, they'd reply: the government. We are the Watch Out Team, a new
government sponsored initiative. At the market where they dished out
watch out umbrella stickers to grateful umbrella holders I overheard
a daughter telling her mother:  "They should have done this much

We never had realized until then how utterly deep the ravine between
this huge longing, this ocean of belief and the utter lack of
credibility. As De Certeau argued a while ago; there is so much
belief and so little credibility. We now saw it played out in front
of us. We did not look like clinical scary government spooks, no we
were potential saviours, safeguarding the people, the public - from
harm in every which way.

This is not so much a Dutch, as it is a current European, or global
why not- situation.

It calls for a new vanguard, a swarmy small group of networked people
who are able to design grand sweeping kitschy scenarios that will
draw the frightened majority into embracing the Creole reality that
will be ours in the 21th century.

Yes, this means building the Matrix.
If we don't.
They will.

web: http://simsim.rug.ac.be/staff/rob
mail: kranenbu at xs4all.nl
++32 (0) 472 40 63 72
Call home first 0032 9 2333 853

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