Two Bits Part 10

Two Bits -

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The proliferation of hybrid commercial-academic forms in an era of modifiability and reusability, among the debris of standards, standards processes, and new experiments in intellectual property, results in a playing field with a thousand different games, all of which revolve around renewed experimentation with coordination, collaboration, adaptability, design, evolution, gaming, playing, worlds, and worlding. These games are indicative of the triumph of the American love of entrepreneurialism and experimentalism; they relinquish the ideals of planning and hierarchy almost absolutely in favor of a kind of embedded, technically and legally complex anarchism. It is here that the idea of a public reemerges: the ambivalence between relinquis.h.i.+ng control absolutely and absolute distrust of government by the few. A powerful public is a response, and a solution, so long as it remains fundamentally independent of control by the few. Hence, a commitment, widespread and growing, to a recursive public, an attempt to maintain and extend the kinds of independent, authentic, autotelic public spheres that people encounter when they come to an understanding of how Free Software and the Internet have evolved.

The open-access movement, and examples like Connexions, are attempts at maintaining such publics. Some are conceived as bulwarks against encroaching corporatization, while others see themselves as novel and innovative, but most share some of the practices hashed out in the evolution of Free Software and the Internet. In terms of scholarly publis.h.i.+ng and open access, the movement has reignited discussions of ethics, norms, and method. The Mertonian ideals are in place once more, this time less as facts of scientific method than as goals. The problem of stabilizing collective knowledge has moved from being an inherent feature of science to being a problem that needs our attention. The reorientation of knowledge and power and the proliferation of hybrid commercial-academic ent.i.ties in an era of ma.s.sive dependence on scientific knowledge and information leads to a question about the stabilization of that knowledge.

Understanding how Free Software works and how it has developed along with the Internet and certain practices of legal and cultural critique may be essential to understanding the reliable foundation of knowledge production and circulation on which we still seek to ground legitimate forms of governance. Without Free Software, the only response to the continuing forms of excess we a.s.sociate with illegitimate, unaccountable, unjust forms of governance might just be mute cynicism. With it, we are in possession of a range of practical tools, structured responses and clever ways of working through our complexity toward the promises of a shared imagination of legitimate and just governance. There is no doubt room for critique-and many scholars will demand it-but scholarly critique will have to learn how to sit, easily or uneasily, with Free Software as critique. Free Software can also exclude, just as any public or public sphere can, but this is not, I think, cause for resistance, but cause for joining. The alternative would be to create no new rules, no new practices, no new procedures-that is, to have what we already have. Free Software does not belong to geeks, and it is not the only form of becoming public, but it is one that will have a profound structuring effect on any forms that follow.



Throughout this volume, some messages referenced are cited by their "Message-ID," which should allow anyone interested to access the original messages through Google Groups (

1 A Note on Terminology: There is still debate about how to refer to Free Software, which is also known as Open Source Software. The scholarly community has adopted either FOSS or FLOSS (or F/LOSS): the former stands for the Anglo-American Free and Open Source Software; the latter stands for the continental Free, Libre and Open Source Software. Two Bits sticks to the simple term Free Software to refer to all of these things, except where it is specifically necessary to differentiate two or more names, or to specify people or events so named. The reason is primarily aesthetic and political, but Free Software is also the older term, as well as the one that includes issues of moral and social order. I explain in chapter 3 why there are two terms.

2 Michael M. J. Fischer, "Culture and Cultural a.n.a.lysis as Experimental Systems."

3 So, for instance, when a professional society founded on charters and ideals for members.h.i.+p and qualification speaks as a public, it represents its members, as when the American Medical a.s.sociation argues for or against changes to Medicare. However, if a new group-say, of nurses-seeks not only to partic.i.p.ate in this discussion-which may be possible, even welcomed-but to change the structure of representation in order to give themselves status equal to doctors, this change is impossible, for it goes against the very aims and principles of the society. Indeed, the nurses will be urged to form their own society, not to join that of the doctors, a proposition which gives the lie to the existing structures of power. By contrast, a public is an ent.i.ty that is less controlled and hence more agonistic, such that nurses might join, speak, and insist on changing the terms of debate, just as patients, scientists, or homeless people might. Their success, however, depends entirely on the force with which their actions transform the focus and terms of the public. Concepts of the public sphere have been roundly critiqued in the last twenty years for presuming that such "equality of access" is sufficient to achieve representation, when in fact other contextual factors (race, cla.s.s, s.e.x) inherently weight the representative power of different partic.i.p.ants. But these are two different and overlapping problems: one cannot solve the problem of pernicious, invisible forms of inequality unless one first solves the problem of ensuring a certain kind of structural publicity. It is precisely the focus on maintaining publicity for a recursive public, over against ma.s.sive and powerful corporate and governmental attempts to restrict it, that I locate as the central struggle of Free Software. Gender certainly influences who gets heard within Free Software, for example, but it is a mistake to focus on this inequality at the expense of the larger, more threatening form of political failure that Free Software addresses. And I think there are plenty of geeks-man, woman and animal-who share this sentiment.

4 Wikipedia is perhaps the most widely known and generally familiar example of what this book is about. Even though it is not identified as such, it is in fact a Free Software project and a "modulation" of Free Software as I describe it here. The nontechnically inclined reader might keep Wikipedia in mind as an example with which to follow the argument of this book. I will return to it explicitly in part 3. However, for better or for worse, there will be no discussion of p.o.r.nography.

5 Although the term public clearly suggests private as its opposite, Free Software is not anticommercial. A very large amount of money, both real and notional, is involved in the creation of Free Software. The term recursive market could also be used, in order to emphasize the importance (especially during the 1990s) of the economic features of the practice. The point is not to test whether Free Software is a "public" or a "market," but to construct a concept adequate to the practices that const.i.tute it.

6 See, for example, Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 6774.

7 Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, esp. 2743.

8 Critiques of the demand for availability and the putatively inherent superiority of transparency include Coombe and Herman, "Rhetorical Virtues" and "Your Second Life?"; Christen, "Gone Digital"; and Anderson and Bowery, "The Imaginary Politics of Access to Knowledge."

9 This description of Free Software could also be called an "a.s.semblage." The most recent source for this is Rabinow, Anthropos Today. The language of thresholds and intensities is most clearly developed by Manuel DeLanda in A Thousand Years of Non-linear History and in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. The term problematization, from Rabinow (which he channels from Foucault), is a synonym for the phrase "reorientation of knowledge and power" as I use it here.

10 See Kelty, "Culture's Open Sources."

11 The genealogy of the term commons has a number of sources. An obvious source is Garrett Hardin's famous 1968 article "The Tragedy of the Commons." James Boyle has done more than anyone to specify the term, especially during a 2001 conference on the public domain, which included the inspired guest-list juxtaposition of the appropriation-happy musical collective Negativland and the dame of "commons" studies, Elinor Ostrom, whose book Governing the Commons has served as a certain inspiration for thinking about commons versus public domains. Boyle, for his part, has ceaselessly pushed the "environmental" metaphor of speaking for the public domain as environmentalists of the 1960s and 1970s spoke for the environment (see Boyle, "The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain" and "A Politics of Intellectual Property"). The term commons is useful in this context precisely because it distinguishes the "public domain" as an imagined object of pure public transaction and coordination, as opposed to a "commons," which can consist of privately owned things/s.p.a.ces that are managed in such a fas.h.i.+on that they effectively function like a "public domain" is imagined to (see Boyle, "The Public Domain"; Hess and Ostrom, Understanding Knowledge as a Commons).

12 Marcus and Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique; Marcus and Clifford, Writing Culture; Fischer, Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice; Marcus, Ethnography through Thick and Thin; Rabinow, Essays on the Anthropology of Reason and Anthropos Today.

13 The language of "figuring out" has its immediate source in the work of Kim Fortun, "Figuring Out Ethnography." Fortun's work refines two other sources, the work of Bruno Latour in Science in Action and that of Hans-Jorg Rheinberger in Towards History of Epistemic Things. Latour describes the difference between "science made" and "science in the making" and how the careful a.n.a.lysis of new objects can reveal how they come to be. Rheinberger extends this approach through a.n.a.lysis of the detailed practices involved in figuring out a new object or a new process-practices which partic.i.p.ants cannot quite name or explain in precise terms until after the fact.

14 Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

15 The literature on "virtual communities," "online communities," the culture of hackers and geeks, or the social study of information technology offers important background information, although it is not the subject of this book. A comprehensive review of work in anthropology and related disciplines is Wilson and Peterson, "The Anthropology of Online Communities." Other touchstones are Miller and Slater, The Internet; Carla Freeman, High Tech and High Heels in the Global Economy; Hine, Virtual Ethnography; Kling, Computerization and Controversy; Star, The Cultures of Computing; Castells, The Rise of the Network Society; Boczkowski, Digitizing the News. Most social-science work in information technology has dealt with questions of inequality and the so-called digital divide, an excellent overview being DiMaggio et al., "From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use." Beyond works in anthropology and science studies, a number of works from various other disciplines have recently taken up similar themes, especially Adrian MacKenzie, Cutting Code; Galloway, Protocol; Hui Kyong Chun, Control and Freedom; and Liu, Laws of Cool. By contrast, if social-science studies of information technology are set against a background of historical and ethnographic studies of "figuring out" problems of specific information technologies, software, or networks, then the literature is spa.r.s.e. Examples of anthropology and science studies of figuring out include Barry, Political Machines; Hayden, When Nature Goes Public; and Fortun, Advocating Bhopal. Matt Ratto has also portrayed this activity in Free Software in his dissertation, "The Pressure of Openness."

16 In addition to Abbate and Salus, see Norberg and O'Neill, Transforming Computer Technology; Naughton, A Brief History of the Future; Hafner, Where Wizards Stay Up Late; Waldrop, The Dream Machine; Segaller, Nerds 2.0.1. For a cla.s.sic autodoc.u.mentation of one aspect of the Internet, see Hauben and Hauben, Netizens.

17 Kelty, "Culture's Open Sources"; Coleman, "The Social Construction of Freedom"; Ratto, "The Pressure of Openness"; Joseph Feller et al., Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software; see also, organized by Karim Lakhani, which is a large collection of work on Free Software projects. Early work in this area derived both from the writings of pract.i.tioners such as Raymond and from business and management scholars who noticed in Free Software a remarkable, surprising set of seeming contradictions. The best of these works to date is Steven Weber, The Success of Open Source. Weber's conclusions are similar to those presented here, and he has a kind of cryptoethnographic familiarity (that he does not explicitly avow) with the actors and practices. Yochai Benkler's Wealth of Networks extends and generalizes some of Weber's argument.

18 Max Weber, "Objectivity in the Social Sciences and Social Policy," 68.

19 Despite what might sound like a "shoot first, ask questions later" approach, the design of this project was in fact conducted according to specific methodologies. The most salient is actor-network theory: Latour, Science in Action; Law, "Technology and Heterogeneous Engineering"; Callon, "Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation"; Latour, Pandora's Hope; Latour, Re-a.s.sembling the Social; Callon, Laws of the Markets; Law and Ha.s.sard, Actor Network Theory and After. Ironically, there have been no actor-network studies of networks, which is to say, of particular information and communication technologies such as the Internet. The confusion of the word network (as an a.n.a.lytical and methodological term) with that of network (as a particular configuration of wires, waves, software, and chips, or of people, roads, and buses, or of databases, names, and diseases) means that it is necessary to always distinguish this-network-here from any-network-whatsoever. My approach shares much with the ontological questions raised in works such as Law, Aircraft Stories; Mol, The Body Multiple; Cussins, "Ontological Ch.o.r.eography"; Charis Thompson, Making Parents; and Dumit, Picturing Personhood.

20 I understand a concern with scientific infrastructure to begin with Steve Shapin and Simon Schaffer in Leviathan and the Air Pump, but the genealogy is no doubt more complex. It includes Shapin, The Social History of Truth; Biagioli, Galileo, Courtier; Galison, How Experiments End and Image and Logic; Daston, Biographies of Scientific Objects; Johns, The Nature of the Book. A whole range of works explore the issue of scientific tools and infrastructure: Kohler, Lords of the Fly; Rheinberger, Towards a History of Epistemic Things; Landecker, Culturing Life; Keating and Cambrosio, Biomedical Platforms. Bruno Latour's "What Rules of Method for the New Socio-scientific Experiments" provides one example of where science studies might go with these questions. Important texts on the subject of technical infrastructures include Walsh and Bayma, "Computer Networks and Scientific Work"; Bowker and Star, Sorting Things Out; Edwards, The Closed World; Misa, Brey, and Feenberg, Modernity and Technology; Star and Ruhleder, "Steps Towards an Ecology of Infrastructure."

21 Dreyfus, On the Internet; Dean, "Why the Net Is Not a Public Sphere."

22 In addition, see Lippmann, The Phantom Public; Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere; Latour and Weibel, Making Things Public. The debate about social imaginaries begins alternately with Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities or with Cornelius Castoriadis's The Imaginary Inst.i.tution of Society; see also Chatterjee, "A Response to Taylor's 'Modes of Civil Society'"; Gaonkar, "Toward New Imaginaries"; Charles Taylor, "Modes of Civil Society" and Sources of the Self.

1. Geeks and Recursive Publics.

1 For the canonical story, see Levy, Hackers. Hack referred to (and still does) a clever use of technology, usually unintended by the maker, to achieve some task in an elegant manner. The term has been successfully redefined by the ma.s.s media to refer to computer users who break into and commit criminal acts on corporate or government or personal computers connected to a network. Many self-identified hackers insist that the criminal element be referred to as crackers (see, in particular, the entries on "Hackers," "Geeks" and "Crackers" in The Jargon File,, also published as Raymond, The New Hackers' Dictionary). On the subject of definitions and the cultural and ethical characteristics of hackers, see Coleman, "The Social Construction of Freedom," chap. 2.

2 One example of the usage of geek is in Star, The Cultures of Computing. Various denunciations (e.g., Barbrook and Cameron, "The California Ideology"; Borsook, Technolibertarianism) tend to focus on journalistic accounts of an ideology that has little to do with what hackers, geeks, and entrepreneurs actually make. A more relevant categorical distinction than that between hackers and geeks is that between geeks and technocrats; in the case of technocrats, the "anthropology of technocracy" is proposed as the study of the limits of technical rationality, in particular the forms through which "planning" creates "gaps in the form that serve as 'targets of intervention'" (Riles, "Real Time," 393). Riles's "technocrats" are certainly not the "geeks" I portray here (or at least, if they are, it is only in their frustrating day jobs). Geeks do have libertarian, specifically Hayekian or Feyerabendian leanings, but are more likely to see technical failures not as failures of planning, but as bugs, inefficiencies, or occasionally as the products of human hubris or stupidity that is born of a faith in planning.

3 See The Geek Code,

4 Geeks are also identified often by the playfulness and agility with which they manipulate these labels and characterizations. See Michael M. J. Fischer, "Worlding Cybers.p.a.ce" for an example.

5 Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 86.

6 On the subject of imagined communities and the role of information technologies in imagined networks, see Green, Harvey, and Knox, "Scales of Place and Networks"; and Flichy, The Internet Imaginaire.

7 Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 32.

8 Ibid., 3348. Taylor's history of the transition from feudal n.o.bility to civil society to the rise of republican democracies (however incomplete) is comparable to Foucault's history of the birth of biopolitics, in La naissance de la biopolitique, as an attempt to historicize governance with respect to its theories and systems, as well as within the material forms it takes.

9 Ricoeur, Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, 2.

10 Geertz, "Ideology as a Cultural System"; Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia. Both, of course, also signal the origin of the scientific use of the term proximately with Karl Marx's "German Ideology" and more distantly in the Enlightenment writings of Destutt de Tracy.

11 Geertz, "Ideology as a Cultural System," 195.

12 Ibid., 20813.

13 The depth and the extent of this issue is obviously huge. Ricoeur's Lectures on Ideology and Utopia is an excellent a.n.a.lysis to the problem of ideology prior to 1975. Terry Eagleton's books The Ideology of the Aesthetic and Ideology: An Introduction are Marxist explorations that include discussions of hegemony and resistance in the context of artistic and literary theory in the 1980s. Slavoj iek creates a Lacanian-inspired algebraic system of a.n.a.lysis that combines Marxism and psychoa.n.a.lysis in novel ways (see iek, Mapping Ideology). There is even an attempt to replace the concept of ideology with a metaphor of "software" and "memes" (see Balkin, Cultural Software). The core of the issue of ideology as a practice (and the vicissitudes of materialism that trouble it) are also at the heart of works by Pierre Bourdieu and his followers (on the relations.h.i.+p of ideology and hegemony, see Laclau and Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy). In anthropology, see Comaroff and Comaroff, Ethnography and the Historical Imagination.

14 Ricoeur, Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, 10.

15 Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 23.

16 Ibid., 25.

17 Ibid., 2627.

18 Ibid., 28.

19 The question of gender plagues the topic of computer culture. The gendering of hackers and geeks and the more general exclusion of women in computing have been widely observed by academics. I can do no more here than direct readers to the increasingly large and sophisticated literature on the topic. See especially Light, "When Computers Were Women"; Turkle, The Second Self and Life on the Screen. With respect to Free Software, see Nafus, Krieger, Leach, "Patches Don't Have Gender." More generally, see Kirkup et al., The Gendered Cyborg; Downey, The Machine in Me; Faulkner, "Dualisms, Hierarchies and Gender in Engineering"; Grint and Gill, The Gender-Technology Relation; Helmreich, Silicon Second Nature; Herring, "Gender and Democracy in Computer-Mediated Communication"; Kendall, "'Oh No! I'm a NERD!'"; Margolis and Fisher, Unlocking the Clubhouse; Green and Adam, Virtual Gender; P. Hopkins, s.e.x/Machine; Wajcman, Feminism Confronts Technology and "Reflections on Gender and Technology Studies"; and Fiona Wilson, "Can't Compute, Won't Compute." Also see the novels and stories of Ellen Ullman, including Close to the Machine and The Bug: A Novel.

20 Originally coined by Steward Brand, the phrase was widely cited after it appeared in Barlow's 1994 article "The Economy of Ideas."

21 On the genesis of "virtual communities" and the role of Steward Brand, see Turner, "Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy."

22 Warner, "Publics and Counterpublics," 51.

23 Ibid., 5152. See also Warner, Publics and Counterpublics, 69.

24 The rest of this message can be found in the Silk-list archives at (accessed 18 August 2006). The reference to "Fling" is to a project now available at (accessed 18 August 2006). The full archives of Silk-list can be found at and the full archives of the FoRK list can be found at

25 Vinge, "The Coming Technological Singularity."

26 Moore's Law-named for Gordon Moore, former head of Intel-states that the speed and capacity of computer central processing units (CPUs) doubles every eighteen months, which it has done since roughly 1970. Metcalfe's Law-named for Robert Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet-states that the utility of a network equals the square of the number of users, suggesting that the number of things one can do with a network increases exponentially as members are added linearly.

27 This quotation from the 1990s is attributed to Electronic Frontier Foundation's founder and "cyber-libertarian" John Gilmore. Whether there is any truth to this widespread belief expressed in the statement is not clear. On the one hand, the protocol to which this folklore refers-the general system of "message switching" and, later, "packet switching" invented by Paul Baran at RAND Corporation-does seem to lend itself to robustness (on this history, see Abbate, Inventing the Internet). However, it is not clear that nuclear threats were the only reason such robustness was a design goal; simply to ensure communication in a distributed network was necessary in itself. Nonetheless, the story has great currency as a myth of the nature and structure of the Internet. Paul Edwards suggests that both stories are true ("Infrastructure and Modernity," 21620, 225n13).

28 Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cybers.p.a.ce. See also Gillespie, "Engineering a Principle" on the related history of the "end to end" design principle.

29 This is constantly repeated on the Internet and attributed to David Clark, but no one really knows where or when he stated it. It appears in a 1997 interview of David Clark by Jonathan Zittrain, the transcript of which is available at (accessed 18 August 2006).

30 As.h.i.+sh "Hash" Gulhati, e-mail to Silk-list mailing list, 9 September 2000,

31 Eugen Leitl, e-mail to Silk-list mailing list, 9 September 2000, Python is a programming language. Mojonation was a very promising peer-to-peer application in 2000 that has since ceased to exist.

32 In particular, this project focuses on the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), the User Datagram Protocol (UDP), and the Domain Name System (DNS). The first two have remained largely stable over the last thirty years, but the DNS system has been highly politicized (see Mueller, Ruling the Root).

33 On Internet standards, see Schmidt and Werle, Coordinating Technology; Abbate and Kahin, Standards Policy for Information Infrastructure.

2. Reformers, Polymaths, Transhumanists

1 Foucault, "What Is Enlightenment," 319.

2 Stephenson, In the Beginning Was the Command Line.

3 Message-ID: [email protected]

4 The Apple-Microsoft conflict was given memorable expression by Umberto Eco in a widely read piece that compared the Apple user interface to Catholicism and the PC user interface to Protestantism ("La bustina di Minerva," Espresso, 30 September 1994, back page).

5 One entry on Wikipedia differentiates religious wars from run-of-the-mill "flame wars" as follows: "Whereas a flame war is usually a particular spate of flaming against a non-flamy background, a holy war is a drawn-out disagreement that may last years or even span careers" ("Flaming [Internet]," [accessed 16 January 2006]).

6 Message-ID: [email protected]

7 Message-ID: [email protected] It should be noted, in case the reader is unsure how serious this is, that EGCS stood for Extended GNU Compiler System, not Ec.u.menical GNU Compiler Society.

8 "Martin Luther, Meet Linus Torvalds," Salon, 12 November 1998, (accessed 5 February 2005).

9 See (accessed 5 February 2005) and (accessed 5 February 2005). On EMACS, see chapter 6.

10 Message-ID: [email protected] In one very humorous case the comparison is literalized "Microsoft acquires Catholic Church" (Message-ID: [email protected]).

11 Paul Fusco, "The Gospel According to Joy," New York Times, 27 March 1988, Sunday Magazine, 28.

12 See, for example, Matheson, The Imaginative World of the Reformation. There is rigorous debate about the relation of print, religion, and capitalism: one locus cla.s.sicus is Eisenstein's The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, which was inspired by McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy. See also Ian Green, Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England and The Christian's ABCs; Chadwick, The Early Reformation on the Continent, chaps. 13.

13 Crain, The Story of A, 1617.

14 Ibid., 2021.

15 At a populist level, this was captured by John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of Independence of the Internet,"

16 Foucault, "What Is Enlightenment," 30910.

17 Ibid., 310.

18 Ibid., 310.

19 Adrian Gropper, interview by author, 28 November 1998.

20 Adrian Gropper, interview by author, 28 November 1998.

21 Sean Doyle, interview by author, 30 March 1999.

22 Feyerabend, Against Method, 21525.

23 One of the ways Adrian discusses innovation is via the argument of the Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma. It describes "sustaining vs. disruptive" technologies as less an issue of how technologies work or what they are made of, and more an issue of how their success and performance are measured. See Adrian Gropper, "The Internet as a Disruptive Technology," Imaging Economics, December 2001, (accessed 19 September 2006).

24 On kinds of civic duty, see Fortun and Fortun, "Scientific Imaginaries and Ethical Plateaus in Contemporary U.S. Toxicology."

25 There is, in fact, a very specific group of people called transhumanists, about whom I will say very little. I invoke the label here because I think certain aspects of transhumanism are present across the spectrum of engineers, scientists, and geeks.

26 See the World Transhumanist a.s.sociation, (accessed 1 December 2003) or the Extropy Inst.i.tute, (accessed 1 December 2003). See also Doyle, Wetwares, and Battaglia, "For Those Who Are Not Afraid of the Future," for a sidelong glance.

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