This week’s readings continue the theme of disembodiment that the last few weeks’ of critics have examined. Negroponte astutely emphasizes the shift in focus from material atoms to immaterial bits in computers. He pointedly notes the way in which bits flow more smoothly across “borders”–which break down when the flow is so free (look at the online financial market, where stocks are traded instantaneously across the globe with few hang-ups). Atoms face legal issues and transference problems because of materiality, but bits move freely and with fewer legal restrictions.

Barlow seems to see this free-flow the ultimate goal of the internet and general digital media. Because of the immateriality and the free-flow, these media should face fewer legal restrictions (particularly because much of this information is “speech” and should be protected by the first amendment). His “Declaration” is a bold assertion of this right. Intriguingly, he sees the people of “cyberspace” as a distinctly different group–a different society. He seems to consider contemporary governments and bureaucracies the remnants of an industrial age. Whether or not this is true, he raises an important sociological question: is the information age (or at Negroponte asserts, the post-information age) fundamentally changing the structure of society, such that a new “social contract” forms, disinheriting the power of traditional government and governing groups?

Barlow’s works also call into question the notion of property and ownership–with bits moving with the swiftness of thought, free and unfettered by legal restrictions and materiality, how do we claim “ownership” and do we need to? Material property becomes tenuous in a cyber-environment, especially when it comes to music and text; yet ownership is fiercely asserted (just look at all the lawsuits surrounding music and movie downloads). Even if we have a good idea, we want to claim it, assert the necessity of permission to put an idea into action. But is this obsession with property merely a socialized notion rather than a natural one, instilled in us by a society based upon ownership? If computers and the internet are extensions of our very minds and nervous system, doesn’t that mean we’re sort of locked into a giant, global “mind”? The internet serves as a kind of worldwide web of knowledge, and that might cause some problems in terms of ownership–especially when it comes to ideas. Pioneers of science, technology, new media, and other blooming fields have already started to see how new technology can be harnessed to better the world–and intellectual property loses its foothold in these sightlines.

One of the first vloggers, Ze Frank, in fact asserted that great ideas are meant to be shared, rather than stored like a squirrel stores nuts, thus allowing those who have time and funds to make them real. In a postmodern, fragmented world, his notion makes sense: divide the labor, spread the resources. We may have great ideas, but there are people across the globe who may be way more effective at making great ideas happen in reality; the internet, as a giant mind, a web connecting the globe, may offer the opportunity to finally spread the ideas to those who can put them into action. Otherwise, we hold our ideas for years, imagining their awesomeness, but never letting them out of our heads. He calls this BRAIN CRACK. And brain crack, is addictive, and not altogether good for you, or the world.


If you are not familiar with TED talks, go look them up because they are awesome. TED is basically a nonprofit org. devoted to killing braincrack addiction. It brings brilliant minds together in conferences and talks to spread great ideas and allow people to hear and put them into action. It’s not about the property or the ownership, but about the ideas themselves and how they can made the world a better place and help educate those who listen. Ze Frank, in fact, has spoken at TED conferences a couple times, and you can see his talks (which are hilarious) on Youtube. A great one on human connections in a virtual world:


The lesson? FREE YOURSELF FROM BRAIN CRACK ADDICTION! Spread your ideas! Because sometimes an idea is bigger and better than the person who thought of it; sometimes the world, or even a group, would be a better place for having that idea put into action, no matter who does it. Are you addicted to brain crack? I challenge you, in your next blog, to describe at least one great idea that you’ve had, that you’ve dreamed of seeing happen, but that you realistically know will probably never happen unless it’s in someone else’s hands. Who knows? Maybe someone in our class, or really anywhere in the world, will stumble across it and make it happen.

Lastly, a little comment on Gilder: his description of TV progression technologically and in terms of the legal system was fascinating, but I have had a harder time connecting it to the other readings. It shares the them of deregulation and free speech, certainly, and it seems television aspires to the condition of computers and the internet. As the internet is accessed over TV sets, and television is watched on computers, I can see this start to happen; the lines are blurred as each electronic devices gains the capacity to access clouds of information.

That’s all for now! Hope you stay brain-crack-addiction free!

One thought on “Barlow, Negroponte, Gilder”

  1. I think that the idea of the erosion of “ownership” you mention is really interesting. The problem I see is that it seems like it should be divided into at least two ideas: the first being the Brain Crack that Ze Frank talks about, and the second being the issues created by the infinite reproducibility of data in the information (or post-information age).

    Ze Frank’s concepts, as you mentioned, seem to be usually socially connecting and widespread, yet simple movements. I think having far reaching ideas that are beyond one’s means spread over the internet to find a patron does have a sort of beauty, and nothing like it was possible in the past. Free release of ownership in this way is something that I would support.

    Moving in a different direction, as Negroponte predicts, one of the biggest issues with the concept of ownership in cyberspace is piracy. Barlow’s declaration seems to support the “Information wants to be free” mantra, but I’m not sure how he would approach violation of copyright and intellectual property, which of course is still a problem for the modern artist, living in a material body that requires sustenance and such. Then there is also that idea that Hayles pointed out, of “possessive individualism,” that we form our ideas of being free agents by being able to possess, which seemed to be one of the arguments against the liberal human subject. The question of an individual’s right t possess a creation has come up before in collectivism, and I think we are seeing a different version of that question now, as the internet unites a world that relay seemingly infinite knowledge to many of its denizens.

    Also, if you haven’t seen it, try to find a film called “The Future We Will Create.” It’s a documentary about the setup and making of the TED conference in general, TED 2006 specifically, and includes several of the talks themselves. Sorry for the long response.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *