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Tiberius Brastaviceanu

The Meme Hustler | Evgeny Morozov | The Baffler - 0 views

  • This tendency to view questions of freedom primarily through the lens of economic competition, to focus on the producer and the entrepreneur at the expense of everyone else, shaped O’Reilly’s thinking about technology.
  • the O’Reilly brand essence is ultimately a story about the hacker as hero, the kid who is playing with technology because he loves it, but one day falls into a situation where he or she is called on to go forth and change the world,
  • His true hero is the hacker-cum-entrepreneur, someone who overcomes the insurmountable obstacles erected by giant corporations and lazy bureaucrats in order to fulfill the American Dream 2.0: start a company, disrupt an industry, coin a buzzword.
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  • gospel of individualism, small government, and market fundamentalism
  • innovation is the new selfishness
  • mastery of public relations
  • making it seem as if the language of economics was, in fact, the only reasonable way to talk about the subject
  • memes are for losers; the real money is in epistemes.
  • “Open source software” was also the first major rebranding exercise overseen by Team O’Reill
  • It’s easy to forget this today, but there was no such idea as open source software before 1998; the concept’s seeming contemporary coherence is the result of clever manipulation and marketing.
  • ideological cleavage between two groups
  • Richard Stallman
  • Free Software Foundation, preoccupied with ensuring that users had rights with respect to their computer programs. Those rights weren’t many—users should be able to run the program for any purpose, to study how it works, to redistribute copies of it, and to release their improved version (if there was one) to the public
  • “free software.”
  • association with “freedom” rather than “free beer”
  • copyleft
  • profound critique of the role that patent law had come to play in stifling innovation and creativity.
  • Plenty of developers contributed to “free software” projects for reasons that had nothing to do with politics. Some, like Linus Torvalds, the Finnish creator of the much-celebrated Linux operating system, did so for fun; some because they wanted to build more convenient software; some because they wanted to learn new and much-demanded skills.
  • Stallman’s rights-talk, however, risked alienating the corporate types
  • he was trying to launch a radical social movement, not a complacent business association
  • By early 1998 several business-minded members of the free software community were ready to split from Stallman, so they masterminded a coup, formed their own advocacy outlet—the Open Source Initiative—and brought in O’Reilly to help them rebrand.
  • “open source”
  • The label “open source” may have been new, but the ideas behind it had been in the air for some time.
  • In those early days, the messaging around open source occasionally bordered on propaganda
  • This budding movement prided itself on not wanting to talk about the ends it was pursuing; except for improving efficiency and decreasing costs, those were left very much undefined.
  • extremely decentralized manner, using Internet platforms, with little central coordination.
  • In contrast to free software, then, open source had no obvious moral component.
  • “open source is not particularly a moral or a legal issue. It’s an engineering issue. I advocate open source, because . . . it leads to better engineering results and better economic results
  • While free software was meant to force developers to lose sleep over ethical dilemmas, open source software was meant to end their insomnia.
  • Stallman the social reformer could wait for decades until his ethical argument for free software prevailed in the public debate
  • O’Reilly the savvy businessman had a much shorter timeline: a quick embrace of open source software by the business community guaranteed steady demand for O’Reilly books and events
  • The coup succeeded. Stallman’s project was marginalized. But O’Reilly and his acolytes didn’t win with better arguments; they won with better PR.
  • A decade after producing a singular vision of the Internet to justify his ideas about the supremacy of the open source paradigm, O’Reilly is close to pulling a similar trick on how we talk about government reform.
  • much of Stallman’s efforts centered on software licenses
  • O’Reilly’s bet wa
  • the “cloud”
  • licenses would cease to matter
  • Since no code changed hands
  • So what did matter about open source? Not “freedom”
  • O’Reilly cared for only one type of freedom: the freedom of developers to distribute software on whatever terms they fancied.
  • the freedom of the producer
  • who must be left to innovate, undisturbed by laws and ethics.
  • The most important freedom,
  • is that which protects “my choice as a creator to give, or not to give, the fruits of my work to you, as a ‘user’ of that work, and for you, as a user, to accept or reject the terms I place on that gift.”
  • O’Reilly opposed this agenda: “I completely support the right of Richard [Stallman] or any individual author to make his or her work available under the terms of the GPL; I balk when they say that others who do not do so are doing something wrong.”
  • The right thing to do, according to O’Reilly, was to leave developers alone.
  • According to this Randian interpretation of open source, the goal of regulation and public advocacy should be to ensure that absolutely nothing—no laws or petty moral considerations—stood in the way of the open source revolution
  • Any move to subject the fruits of developers’ labor to public regulation
  • must be opposed, since it would taint the reputation of open source as technologically and economically superior to proprietary software
  • the advent of the Internet made Stallman’s obsession with licenses obsolete
  • Many developers did stop thinking about licenses, and, having stopped thinking about licenses, they also stopped thinking about broader moral issues that would have remained central to the debates had “open source” not displaced “free software” as the paradigm du jour.
  • Profiting from the term’s ambiguity, O’Reilly and his collaborators likened the “openness” of open source software to the “openness” of the academic enterprise, markets, and free speech.
  • “open to intellectual exchange”
  • “open to competition”
  • “For me, ‘open source’ in the broader sense means any system in which open access to code lowers the barriers to entry into the market”).
  • “Open” allowed O’Reilly to build the largest possible tent for the movement.
  • The language of economics was less alienating than Stallman’s language of ethics; “openness” was the kind of multipurpose term that allowed one to look political while advancing an agenda that had very little to do with politics
  • highlight the competitive advantages of openness.
  • the availability of source code for universal examination soon became the one and only benchmark of openness
  • What the code did was of little importance—the market knows best!—as long as anyone could check it for bugs.
  • The new paradigm was presented as something that went beyond ideology and could attract corporate executives without losing its appeal to the hacker crowd.
  • What Raymond and O’Reilly failed to grasp, or decided to overlook, is that their effort to present open source as non-ideological was underpinned by a powerful ideology of its own—an ideology that worshiped innovation and efficiency at the expense of everything else.
  • What they had in common was disdain for Stallman’s moralizing—barely enough to justify their revolutionary agenda, especially among the hacker crowds who were traditionally suspicious of anyone eager to suck up to the big corporations that aspired to dominate the open source scene.
  • linking this new movement to both the history of the Internet and its future
  • As long as everyone believed that “open source” implied “the Internet” and that “the Internet” implied “open source,” it would be very hard to resist the new paradigm
  • Telling a coherent story about open source required finding some inner logic to the history of the Internet
  • “If you believe me that open source is about Internet-enabled collaboration, rather than just about a particular style of software license,”
  • everything on the Internet was connected to everything else—via open source.
  • The way O’Reilly saw it, many of the key developments of Internet culture were already driven by what he called “open source behavior,” even if such behavior was not codified in licenses.
  • No moralizing (let alone legislation) was needed; the Internet already lived and breathed open source
  • apps might be displacing the browser
  • the openness once taken for granted is no more
  • Openness as a happenstance of market conditions is a very different beast from openness as a guaranteed product of laws.
  • One of the key consequences of linking the Internet to the world of open source was to establish the primacy of the Internet as the new, reinvented desktop
  • This is where the now-forgotten language of “freedom” made a comeback, since it was important to ensure that O’Reilly’s heroic Randian hacker-entrepreneurs were allowed to roam freely.
  • Soon this “freedom to innovate” morphed into “Internet freedom,” so that what we are trying to preserve is the innovative potential of the platform, regardless of the effects on individual users.
  • Lumping everything under the label of “Internet freedom” did have some advantages for those genuinely interested in promoting rights such as freedom of expression
  • Forced to choose between preserving the freedom of the Internet or that of its users, we were supposed to choose the former—because “the Internet” stood for progress and enlightenment.
  • infoware
  • Yahoo
  • their value proposition lay in the information they delivered, not in the software function they executed.
  • The “infoware” buzzword didn’t catch on, so O’Reilly turned to the work of Douglas Engelbart
  • to argue that the Internet could help humanity augment its “collective intelligence” and that, once again, open source software was crucial to this endeavor.
  • Now it was all about Amazon learning from its customers and Google learning from the sites in its index.
  • The idea of the Internet as both a repository and incubator of “collective intelligence”
  • in 2004, O’Reilly and his business partner Dale Dougherty hit on the idea of “Web 2.0.” What did “2.0” mean, exactly?
  • he primary goal was to show that the 2001 market crash did not mean the end of the web and that it was time to put the crash behind us and start learning from those who survived.
  • Tactically, “Web 2.0” could also be much bigger than “open source”; it was the kind of sexy umbrella term that could allow O’Reilly to branch out from boring and highly technical subjects to pulse-quickening futurology
  • O’Reilly couldn’t improve on a concept as sexy as “collective intelligence,” so he kept it as the defining feature of this new phenomenon.
  • What set Web 2.0 apart from Web 1.0, O’Reilly claimed, was the simple fact that those firms that didn’t embrace it went bust
  • find a way to harness collective intelligence and make it part of their business model.
  • By 2007, O’Reilly readily admitted that “Web 2.0 was a pretty crappy name for what’s happening.”
  • O’Reilly eventually stuck a 2.0 label on anything that suited his business plan, running events with titles like “Gov 2.0” and “Where 2.0.” Today, as everyone buys into the 2.0 paradigm, O’Reilly is quietly dropping it
  • assumption that, thanks to the coming of Web 2.0, we are living through unique historical circumstances
  • Take O’Reilly’s musings on “Enterprise 2.0.” What is it, exactly? Well, it’s the same old enterprise—for all we know, it might be making widgets—but now it has learned something from Google and Amazon and found a way to harness “collective intelligence.”
  • tendency to redescribe reality in terms of Internet culture, regardless of how spurious and tenuous the connection might be, is a fine example of what I call “Internet-centrism.”
  • “Open source” gave us the “the Internet,” “the Internet” gave us “Web 2.0,” “Web 2.0” gave us “Enterprise 2.0”: in this version of history, Tim O’Reilly is more important than the European Union
  • For Postman, each human activity—religion, law, marriage, commerce—represents a distinct “semantic environment” with its own tone, purpose, and structure. Stupid talk is relatively harmless; it presents no threat to its semantic environment and doesn’t cross into other ones.
  • Since it mostly consists of falsehoods and opinions
  • it can be easily corrected with facts
  • to say that Tehran is the capital of Iraq is stupid talk
  • Crazy talk, in contrast, challenges a semantic environment, as it “establishes different purposes and assumptions from those we normally accept.” To argue, as some Nazis did, that the German soldiers ended up far more traumatized than their victims is crazy talk.
  • For Postman, one of the main tasks of language is to codify and preserve distinctions among different semantic environments.
  • As he put it, “When language becomes undifferentiated, human situations disintegrate: Science becomes indistinguishable from religion, which becomes indistinguishable from commerce, which becomes indistinguishable from law, and so on.
  • pollution
  • Some words—like “law”—are particularly susceptible to crazy talk, as they mean so many different things: from scientific “laws” to moral “laws” to “laws” of the market to administrative “laws,” the same word captures many different social relations. “Open,” “networks,” and “information” function much like “law” in our own Internet discourse today.
  • For Korzybski, the world has a relational structure that is always in flux; like Heraclitus, who argued that everything flows, Korzybski believed that an object A at time x1 is not the same object as object A at time x2
  • Our language could never properly account for the highly fluid and relational structure of our reality—or as he put it in his most famous aphorism, “the map is not the territory.”
  • Korzybski argued that we relate to our environments through the process of “abstracting,” whereby our neurological limitations always produce an incomplete and very selective summary of the world around us.
  • nothing harmful in this per se—Korzybski simply wanted to make people aware of the highly selective nature of abstracting and give us the tools to detect it in our everyday conversations.
  • Korzybski developed a number of mental tools meant to reveal all the abstracting around us
  • He also encouraged his followers to start using “etc.” at the end of their statements as a way of making them aware of their inherent inability to say everything about a given subject and to promote what he called the “consciousness of abstraction.”
  • There was way too much craziness and bad science in Korzybski’s theories
  • but his basic question
  • “What are the characteristics of language which lead people into making false evaluations of the world around them?”
  • Tim O’Reilly is, perhaps, the most high-profile follower of Korzybski’s theories today.
  • O’Reilly openly acknowledges his debt to Korzybski, listing Science and Sanity among his favorite books
  • It would be a mistake to think that O’Reilly’s linguistic interventions—from “open source” to “Web 2.0”—are random or spontaneous.
  • There is a philosophy to them: a philosophy of knowledge and language inspired by Korzybski. However, O’Reilly deploys Korzybski in much the same way that the advertising industry deploys the latest findings in neuroscience: the goal is not to increase awareness, but to manipulate.
  • O’Reilly, of course, sees his role differently, claiming that all he wants is to make us aware of what earlier commentators may have overlooked. “A metaphor is just that: a way of framing the issues such that people can see something they might otherwise miss,
  • But Korzybski’s point, if fully absorbed, is that a metaphor is primarily a way of framing issues such that we don’t see something we might otherwise see.
  • In public, O’Reilly modestly presents himself as someone who just happens to excel at detecting the “faint signals” of emerging trends. He does so by monitoring a group of überinnovators that he dubs the “alpha geeks.” “The ‘alpha geeks’ show us where technology wants to go. Smart companies follow and support their ingenuity rather than trying to suppress it,
  • His own function is that of an intermediary—someone who ensures that the alpha geeks are heard by the right executives: “The alpha geeks are often a few years ahead of their time. . . . What we do at O’Reilly is watch these folks, learn from them, and try to spread the word by writing down (
  • The name of his company’s blog—O’Reilly Radar—is meant to position him as an independent intellectual who is simply ahead of his peers in grasping the obvious.
  • “the skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think”
  • As Web 2.0 becomes central to everything, O’Reilly—the world’s biggest exporter of crazy talk—is on a mission to provide the appropriate “context” to every field.
  • In a fascinating essay published in 2000, O’Reilly sheds some light on his modus operandi.
  • The thinker who emerges there is very much at odds with the spirit of objectivity that O’Reilly seeks to cultivate in public
  • meme-engineering lets us organize and shape ideas so that they can be transmitted more effectively, and have the desired effect once they are transmitted
  • O’Reilly meme-engineers a nice euphemism—“meme-engineering”—to describe what has previously been known as “propaganda.”
  • how one can meme-engineer a new meaning for “peer-to-peer” technologies—traditionally associated with piracy—and make them appear friendly and not at all threatening to the entertainment industry.
  • O’Reilly and his acolytes “changed the canonical list of projects that we wanted to hold up as exemplars of the movement,” while also articulating what broader goals the projects on the new list served. He then proceeds to rehash the already familiar narrative: O’Reilly put the Internet at the center of everything, linking some “free software” projects like Apache or Perl to successful Internet start-ups and services. As a result, the movement’s goal was no longer to produce a completely free, independent, and fully functional operating system but to worship at the altar of the Internet gods.
  • Could it be that O’Reilly is right in claiming that “open source” has a history that predates 1998?
  • Seen through the prism of meme-engineering, O’Reilly’s activities look far more sinister.
  • His “correspondents” at O’Reilly Radar don’t work beats; they work memes and epistemes, constantly reframing important public issues in accordance with the templates prophesied by O’Reilly.
  • Or take O’Reilly’s meme-engineering efforts around cyberwarfare.
  • Now, who stands to benefit from “cyberwarfare” being defined more broadly? Could it be those who, like O’Reilly, can’t currently grab a share of the giant pie that is cybersecurity funding?
  • Frank Luntz lists ten rules of effective communication: simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound, aspiration, visualization, questioning, and context.
  • Thus, O’Reilly’s meme-engineering efforts usually result in “meme maps,” where the meme to be defined—whether it’s “open source” or “Web 2.0”—is put at the center, while other blob-like terms are drawn as connected to it.
  • The exact nature of these connections is rarely explained in full, but this is all for the better, as the reader might eventually interpret connections with their own agendas in mind. This is why the name of the meme must be as inclusive as possible: you never know who your eventual allies might be. “A big part of meme engineering is giving a name that creates a big tent that a lot of people want to be under, a train that takes a lot of people where they want to go,”
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  • There is considerable continuity across O’Reilly’s memes—over time, they tend to morph into one another.
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