Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An economy of bottle caps

Copyright is confusing. So confusing, in fact, that the only way to explain it is to turn to the bottle.

Or, rather, the humble bottle opener.

If at this point you're slightly confused as to what kind of bottle opener I'm referring to, seeing as there's quite a variety of mechanisms that can be used in the process of bottle opening, therefore deserving the name "bottle opener" - you're on point. There's more than one way to open a bottle, and there's more than one way to construct a bottle opener. The general principle being that if it opens bottles, it's a bottle opener.

Enter copyright.

The prevailing paradigm when it comes to enforcing copyright is to ensure that everyone uses a particular kind of bottle opener. No matter that there are many kinds of openers, many ways of opening a bottle and many bottle standards across the world - one solution fits all. And you have to use this particular opener in order to open the bottles you want to open.

The prevailing paradigm is circumvented every day. As you might imagine.

The key to making this enforcement strategy work is to design bottles in such a way that they can only be opened by a particular opener. Which is as hard to do in regards to bottles as it is to anything else, be it physical or digital objects. But, hard or not, the design efforts continue. Those who have the know-how to find other means of opening the bottles do so; those who do not, are left with the hope that the bottle/opener works well together.

And have to trust the ever so helpful customer services when they don't.

One example of this is libraries and ebooks. Especially university libraries. If you're a student, you most likely have access to a large number of ebooks through your library card. However, to actually use this access, you have to jump through some hoops. One of them being to log in with whatever student login is required. Another being that you are limited to using whatever format they are providing. Regardless if those formats actually work on the devices you use. Or the software you use.

Things only working in Internet Explorer, not working on mobile devices, only working for a limited time - there's a lot of demands and limitations to take into account. And it is up to you to adapt yourself to these demands and limitations, rather than the other way around.

Copyright demands that you use the prescribed opener. Which, in the library case, means that things are not as accessible and readable as the library ethos would want them to be. But they have to use these systems, because otherwise they wouldn't have access to these ebooks at all.

Copyright demands. Copyright limits.

It could be as simple as the book being there, available to everyone who'd want to read it, the world being a richer place for people having read it. It could be. But it isn't.

That's the most confusing part.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Propahate this

There's a simple propaganda test. It can be used to test if someone has been subjected to propaganda. It is very simple. It is this statement:

If you feel allowed to hate someone, you've been subjected to propaganda.

That's the extent of it. There's nothing more to it. It's as simple as that, and it is an effective test because of that.

Why would such a test be effective?

Thing is, most readers have strong feelings about either propaganda or hate, or both. There's an immediate impetus to try to refute this statement, or modify it in some way. And it is in this very act of refutation that makes the test an effective one.

It gets people to talk. And they talk propaganda. Either by reaching for those justifications that allow them to hate some particular someones (this staple of propaganda), or by trying to invalidate the test in some other way. It doesn't really matter in what particular way - the act speaks for itself, as it were. However the response is phrased, it finds itself trying to justify hate in some form. Usually because at some level, there's some hate that is perceived to be in need of justification.

It's a simple test. It is also slightly unethical. And, to be sure, it is in itself a nice piece of propaganda.

Not unlike the propaganda that you are subjected to on a daily basis. -

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Let's play 20 questions

Some of the more vocal supporters of #gamergate have suggested that critical assessment of games are, in a word, colonialist. Which suggests that games are in some way a sacred space, whose sovereign integrity is not to be violated by outside interlopers.

This is a premise. Let's run with it.

Or, rather, let's gradually nibble at it. By asking this one question: how much assessment is too much?

It should be safe to assume that a critical analysis regarding how gender, ethnicity and ideology are represented and reproduced within the narrative framework of a game is clearly over the line. More so a discussion about which kind of subjectivity a particular game suggests and normalizes. There are lines of inquiry that can be safely assumed to be on the colonialist side of things.

This is a given.

One approach might be to gradually decrease the complexity of analysis until we reach a non-invasive form. At some point, even outsiders are allowed to witness sacred spaces, given that they are quiet enough.


That approach would take an inordinate amount of time, and include a lot of effort. To be sure, no efforts to reduce complexity are ever wasted, but there is a faster way. And that way is to approach it from the other side.

Start from something that is considered within the allowed bounds. Something that even the believers themselves claim to be on the right and proper side. And then slowly and gradually add analytical concepts to it, until we reach the limit. No leaps and bounds, just one nuance or aspect at a time, as incrementally as possible. Ever so slowly nibble our way to clarity.

Given enough subtle nibbling, the boundary should eventually make itself known. Some questions are allowed, others are not, and by carefully cataloging which is which a reasonable picture should emerge. Some questions are within the framework of the believers preexisting lifeworld, and others are imposed by outside colonialists. Knowing which is which should enable us to communicate with the believers in a non-confrontational way.

That was a premise. I've ran with it.

Possibly with scissors.

A cycle of trust

When learning to repair a bike, you do not only learn to repair a bike. You learn other things as well, while and by doing the repairwork.

One of these things is the notion of trust. In order to repair a bike, you have to trust it. And, more importantly, you have to trust it in order to get on it and roll with it. It's a bumpy ride if you don't.

This trust is not just a trust in that it won't break down right away. That's part of it, but it goes further. It goes into knowing how it will break down, and knowing that you know how to repair it when it does.

A trust born in familiarity.

Because it will break down. Again and again. Not because of lack of repair skill, but because it's a mechanical object put into action, wearing and tearing all along. Entropy isn't kind on things in motion.

You can trust entropy. You can trust things to break down predictably (most times). You can trust yourself with knowing what to do when that happens.

Learning by doing. It's a thing.