T H E  N E T W O R K  O B S E R V E R

  VOLUME 3, NUMBER 2                                 FEBRUARY 1996


     "You have to organize, organize, organize, and build and
      build, and train and train, so that there is a permanent,
      vibrant structure of which people can be part." 

          -- Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition


  This month: Arguments against privacy
              Books about political networks
              The economics of noise
              Stereotyping the Internet censors
              Names for newsletters


  Welcome to TNO 3(2).

  This month I have gathered together another batch of arguments
  against a broad right to privacy.  They are no more impressive
  than the batch that I reviewed in TNO 1(10), but nonetheless I
  have been hearing them frequently; maybe you have too.  For each
  argument I have provided what I regard as an adequate response.
  Even if you agree with my responses, though, it does not suffice
  for someone to circulate such arguments on the Internet.  Given
  the great complexity of emerging privacy issues, I believe it
  is crucial for defenders of freedom to bring these arguments, or
  others like them, to a broad public.  When someone is suddenly
  faced with a form asking for their whole life history, it's
  probably too late for them to start inventing arguments.  Nobody
  is born knowing the full range of arguments about privacy issues,
  particularly when the opponents of privacy employ rhetorical
  conflations and ambiguities that they may never have thought
  through themselves.  But if people are armed with good arguments
  then they'll know how to say "no" when they're handed a pen and
  asked to sign away their informational lives *and* when they hear
  about some invasive new technology that is falsely portrayed as
  the inevitable epitome of progress.

  I've provided another reading list as well, this time on the
  social networks through which individuals and communities conduct
  their political lives.  I've construed this topic broadly, so
  that the bibliography includes a broad range of references on
  formal theories of politics, as well as references on economic
  networks.  I hope that these references will be useful to people
  who are trying to use computer networking technology to reinvent

  This month's "wish list" devoutly wishes for quiet and explores
  how technology might help.  Along the way it discusses further
  the concept of economic externalities.  Information technology
  creates harmful externalities in great abundance, but perhaps it
  can help eliminate them as well.  The crucial issue is whether
  such scenarios have any contact with reality.

  A footnote.  When I was in graduate school, one of my roommates
  was the bass player for an excellent pop band called Sensible
  Shoes.  Sensible Shoes was rather a good name, and it fit well
  with the kind of music they played.  Now it so happened that 
  another band, in Los Angeles, was also called Sensible Shoes.
  The two bands were aware of one another's existence, but they
  didn't bother themselves very much about the conflict, figuring
  that they would have to talk further in the unlikely event that
  one of them actually got a national record contract.  This kind
  of conflict is common.  The English Beat, for example, got the
  "English" part when they came to the US and had to contend with
  an obscure American band that was already called "The Beat". 
  And Dinosaur Jr. got their "Jr." to ward off legal trouble from
  a band of aging rock stars who called themselves The Dinosaurs.
  The underlying difficulty here is simple: there are untold
  thousands and thousands of bands and only so many good names
  to go around.  I had occasion to think about this recently
  when a guy in San Francisco started an Internet newsletter --
  really more like an op-ed column that he distributes on the net
  -- called The Online Observer.  When I got the first issue of
  this publication I was unhappy at the similarity to The Network
  Observer, which was by now a very well-established publication
  (at least in my own mind), and tried with no success to get him
  to find a new name.  Later on, though, I cooled off.  The way
  I see it now, just about the whole point of the Internet is to
  allow newsletters and other such activities to become at least
  as common as bands.  If this actually happens then neophyte
  newsletter editors will be going around asking their friends
  to help them come up with newsletter titles, just as musicians
  do when they are starting new bands.  The fact is, I filled
  several pages of my notebook with words and phrases trying to
  come up with something less generic than The Network Observer
  (which was about my second or third idea for a title when
  I started this newsletter), without any success.  Eventually
  newsletter editors will be forced to invent whole new genres of
  names.  The best names for rock and roll bands, as my bass player
  roommate pointed out, sound like this: Grateful Dead, Rolling
  Stones, Talking Heads, Simple Minds, Sonic Youth -- two syllables
  (first one stressed) then one syllable, adjective-noun, with
  the short form sometimes being the noun -- as in The Stones and
  The Dead.  But after a while those names ran dry (just as the
  computer industry is running out of company names like Apple,
  Intel, and Lucid -- one word, two syllables, accent on the first
  syllable), leading in short order to names like Pop Will Eat
  Itself.  Perhaps real democracy in communications will be around
  the corner when Internet newsletters sprout up with names like
  that.  Do "Feed" and "suck" count?  I don't think so, but time
  will tell.


  More bogus privacy arguments.

  In TNO 1(10) I collected a set of invalid arguments against a
  broad right to privacy that I had encountered.  Also, in TNO
  1(6) I reported the astonishingly cynical argument, articulated
  in this case by George Gilder but apparently widespread, that
  massive collection of personal information actually protects
  privacy by allowing commercial firms to target their unsolicited
  sales calls more accurately.  Since then I have encountered
  several more mistaken arguments against a broad right to privacy.
  Most have arisen in the context of privacy issues associated
  with automatic toll collection on highways (see TNO 2(4)), but
  they all have much broader application.  Here they are, all in
  composite form, with some appropriate debunking.  I encourage
  everyone to be on the lookout for arguments like these.  Do not
  let a single instance of these arguments go unrebutted.  Raise
  your hand in conference discussions, write letters to the editor
  (people do read them), contribute responses in online discussion
  forums, and just generally provide people with the arguments they
  need when interested parties start to confuse the issues.

   * "Most people are privacy pragmatists who can be trusted to make
      intelligent trade-offs between functionality and privacy."

  This argument, a favorite of public relations counselors, employs
  a common PR technique: burying its principal thesis as a hidden
  premise of an outwardly commonsensical proposition.  The fact is,
  the emerging technologies of privacy protection based on strong
  cryptography, temporary identifiers, and the like can frequently
  ensure that functionality does not trade off against privacy in
  any important way.  The problem, of course, is that most people
  don't know this.  If they are told they can have functionality
  or privacy but not both then they will engage in an exercise
  of weighing them against one another.  Moreover, the scales of
  this weighing process can easily be tipped by drawing attention
  to cases where the functionality in question is particularly
  needed by children or poor people or emergency medical patients
  etc.  The outcome of such exercises is virtually preordained --
  some privacy protections, but none that affect the interests of
  the largest and most organized privacy invaders in any material
  way.  The "trust" business tries to shift the issue from lack of
  information to lack of intelligence, as if privacy activists were
  paternalistically trying to prevent people from making their own
  choices.  Usually, in fact, the issue at hand concerns a proposed
  or actual system in which people are technologically prevented
  from making the choice they probably most want: functionality
  *and* privacy together.

   * "Our lives will inevitably become visible to others, so the
      real issue is mutual visibility, achieving a balance of power
      by enabling us to watch the people who are watching us."

  If the institutions that watch us are so powerful that we cannot
  possibly stop them from watching us, why in the world should we
  be able to do something considerably harder, namely forcing them
  to submit to surveillance by us?  The underlying problem, in
  my opinion, is a quasi-millenarian vision of computer technology
  in which computers are a kind of global mirror, passively and
  accurately reflecting more and more of reality in their stored
  representations; it follows that any incompleteness of these
  representations is simply a temporary glitch that progress will
  surely overcome.  Such proposals never come with any credible
  political strategy for actually achieving this reciprocity of
  surveillance, and I think their proponents tacitly believe that
  power relations between people will automatically be swept away
  by the inherent logic of the technology.

   * "Once you really analyze it, the concept of privacy is so
      nebulous that it provides no useful guidance for action."

  Many people have observed that the term "privacy" has been used
  to name a wide variety of interests and concerns which are hard
  to subsume under any single definition.  It seems to me that
  many institutions would find it convenient if all discussion
  of privacy issues were to grind to a halt at that point, unable
  to proceed for lack of clarity, and that they sometimes even
  encourage this muddled outcome by good-naturedly pointing at one
  conceptual difficulty after another.  This smoke-spreading tactic
  should be recognized for what it is.  When any particular privacy
  issue arises, or when any particular technological proposal or
  desired technical functionality is presented, it is usually easy
  enough to indicate the places where average intuition detects a
  privacy concern once the potential for concern is point out.  It
  can take real work to conceptualize these concerns in a way that
  provides a useful basis for action, but doing so does not require
  that we define privacy-as-such-in-general.  The difficulty of
  general definition, after all, is not limited to the concept of
  privacy; it is shared by most abstract concepts of any importance
  -- for example, truth, property, rights, tradition, and so on.

   * "People *want* these systems, as indicated by the percentage
      of them who sign up for them once they become available."

  This argument turns on an important ambiguity in words such as
  "want".  In the case of automatic toll collection, we can imagine
  two scenarios.  In the first scenario, a proposal for automatic
  toll collection is put before the citizenry at an early stage,
  before any decisions have been made about highway services should
  be funded, with experts and lay citizens given space and time to
  present arguments pro and con.  In the second scenario, decisions
  are made quietly, with minimal public awareness and input, after
  which systems are implemented and presented to the public as
  faits accomplis, and individuals are presented with the decision
  of whether to sign up for them or not.  In each scenario, people
  have been asked whether they "want" a particular proposition,
  but it's probably not surprising that the answers they give
  in each case are often radically different.  To my knowledge
  in every case when the first scenario has been enacted, people
  have answered unambiguously that they do not want automated toll
  collection.  But when faced with the second scenario, people with
  busy lives and virtually no prospect of changing the rules of the
  game will simply make an economic decision from among the options
  that are practically available to them.  The result will then be
  reported as "what people want", thereby feeding another round of
  fatalism and cynicism about pervasive surveillance and regulation
  of people's lives.

   * "Concern for privacy is anti-social and obstructs the building
      of a democratic society."

  I have rarely heard this argument in the United States, but it is
  a common argument in social democratic countries such as Norway
  and Sweden.  In such countries most people feel a relatively
  strong identification with the state.  They have highly effective
  data protection laws, they presuppose a high degree of social
  consensus about the values that should guide government policies,
  and they feel that the government is under the effective control
  of the citizens through the mediation of coherent, well-organized
  political parties.  In such countries I think it actually is
  somewhat reasonable to regard excessive concern for privacy as
  anti-social.  But only somewhat.  Even in a highly functional
  social democracy, it is still wrong to stigmatize concern for
  personal privacy except in cases where good evidence exists of
  organized conspiracies such as tax evasion.  Moreover, concern
  for the smooth functioning of the state, even a state with
  strong civil liberties protections, is no reason to gather more
  information on people's lives than is necessary for the delimited
  ends toward which a given policy is directed.  New technology
  greatly reduces the amount of information that must be gathered
  to collect taxes, distribute social welfare benefits, regulate
  traffic, and perform other legitimate state functions, and any
  state that wishes to regard itself as responsible and modern
  should be actively shifting its procedures toward these minimally
  invasive methods as fast as it reasonably can.

   * "Privacy regulation is just one more category of government
      interference in the market, which after all is much better
      at weighing individuals' relative preferences for privacy
      and everything else than bureaucratic rules could ever be."

  Although we should certainly pay attention if anybody can prove
  empirically that the market actually does function to protect
  privacy in accord with people's actual wishes, nonetheless when
  taken in the abstract this argument involves several fallacies.
  First of all, "government regulation" and "the market" are not
  mutually exclusive categories.  Only hard-core libertarians
  deny that it is one purpose of government to define and enforce
  property rights, and one large category of proposed privacy
  policies involves the creation of property rights in personal
  information.  I happen to think that these proposals would be
  both impracticable and ineffectual, but they are nonetheless
  serious proposals that count as both "regulation" and "market".
  It has become common to imagine the government as something
  that swoops down out of nowhere and interferes with an already
  functioning market, but this picture bears no relationship to
  either the historical or legal reality of the market.  Even
  if it did, the argument that the market will weigh preferences
  for privacy presupposes that the market is "perfect" in the sense
  defined in neoclassical economics -- so that, among other things,
  each individual knows, and can weigh, the full consequences of
  every transaction.  But this is rarely true, and it is a million
  miles from being true in the case of the personal information
  that large commercial organizations capture in their dealings
  with individual customers.  Most people do not understand the
  consequences of participating in the creation of transaction-
  generated information.  In particular it is extremely difficult
  for individual consumers to place a value on the surrender of
  this information, because the consequences are generally opaque,
  mediated through far-away computer databases whose connections to
  subsequent sales calls and other involuntary costs are actively
  hidden.  Many privacy policies are aimed precisely at forcing
  the market back toward "perfection" by supplying consumers with
  the information they need to make rational economic decisions
  about whether and when to surrender information about themselves.
  But these measures, too, are "government regulation".  A further
  fallacy involves the broad categories of externalities that lead
  to path-dependencies in markets.  Infrastructures tend to be
  highly path-dependent, since once they are created and lots of
  uncoordinated economic actors make commitments to them, they are
  very hard to change.  And so an information infrastructure --
  Internet payment systems, for example -- that does not protect
  privacy might well get entrenched in the market before any large
  number of actual or potential customers becomes fully aware of
  the privacy issues that are at stake.  It does not automatically
  follow that government regulation should steer the direction of
  these systems, but it does follow that the unfettered market is
  not leading to privacy protection.

   * "There's no privacy in public."

  Many emerging privacy issues involve surveillance of activities
  that occur in public places such as roads.  Some people have
  the intuition that activities that occur in public places are,
  by definition, not private.  The US Supreme Court, for example,
  ruled in a case involving police tracking an individual's car
  that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy
  on public roads.  And I have heard a prominent representative
  of US law enforcement argue that law enforcement should have
  unrestricted access to records of individuals' road travels
  maintained by private organizations, on the grounds that road
  travel occurs in a public place, so that the resulting records
  are therefore public records!  But the law is clearly failing
  to respond to ordinary people's intuitions about the nature of
  privacy here.  First of all, people very frequently take steps
  to protect their privacy in public places, for example by
  conducting their conversations at a safe distance from others,
  by lowering their voices, by rolling up the windows, and so on.
  People develop their expectations about privacy in public places,
  furthermore, against the background of their experience, which
  includes their experience of the means that reasonable others
  have to listen or watch.  No reasonable person feels that their
  rights have been violated if someone sees them entering a shop
  on a certain date, or if someone working in a neighboring location
  happens to notice them entering that shop every morning, but
  they *do* feel a violation if someone has taken unusual measures
  to record every shop they have entered across a great distance
  over a month's time.  In the past, these kinds of records have
  only arisen in cases where someone has been laboriously followed,
  usually by the police acting with some kind of probable cause.
  New information technologies, though, make it entirely feasible
  to track large populations on a routine basis, probable cause or
  no.  This is clearly a new situation, or at worst a qualitative
  magnification of an existing situation, and it should be treated
  as novel and thought through without the pretense that it is
  covered by past precedents.

   * "We favor limited access."

  This one isn't even an argument but more of a verbal trick.
  It has become common for would-be privacy invaders to express
  "support for limited access" or accuse their opponents of being
  "opposed to limited access".  These lines can be confusing, as
  well they should be.  The trick is to make it sound as though
  privacy advocates are wacky extremists who want absolutely
  all data to be sealed off from everyone for all purposes; this
  is opposed to the reasonable-sounding proposition of "limited
  access".  But the whole question is what "limited" is to mean.
  Few organized interests actually need literally unlimited access
  to information; they just need the particular very broad access
  that serves their own purposes, and they are happy to affirm that
  other kinds of access (by smaller competitors, for example) might
  need to be restricted.

   * "Privacy in these systems has not emerged as a national issue."

  One hears this line in the context of automated toll collection
  as a justification for neglect of privacy issues.  It's hard
  to know exactly what it means, since I have heard it uttered
  even after privacy has been raised as an issue in numerous large
  newspapers, analyzed in prominent law reviews, discussed on the
  Internet, and so forth.  What it comes down to in practice, I
  think, is the assertion that privacy advocates have not mobilized
  enough of a movement behind automated toll collection privacy
  issues to force any large organizations to address them in a
  serious way.  This amoral attitude should be recognized for what
  it is: an abdication of the individual's personal responsibility
  to reflect on issues of right and wrong, even in situations when
  nobody has exerted the force necessary to give the issue high
  prominence in the esoteric circuitry of the policy-formation
  process.  This approach is often rationalized with appeals to
  professional specialization: we just do technology here; the
  policy department is down the hall.  But of course, nobody over
  in the policy department gets any points for raising obstacles
  that nobody is forcing them to raise.  The bottom line here is
  elementary: everyone is obliged to take responsibility for their
  actions, even when nobody is making them to do so, and this goes
  double when systematic threats to the very foundation of a free
  society are plausibly at stake.


  Bibliography on political networks.

  A big rift runs through the academic study of the media, which
  is roughly the opposition between political economy and culture.
  On the political economy side lie issues of infrastructure,
  industry organization, social networks, and the formal processes
  of law and government; on the culture side lie issues of content,
  symbols, meanings, and identities.  Far too many studies focus
  on one side while ignoring or minimizing or explaining away
  the other side.  Imagine an economic study of art that makes no
  reference to what the paintings represent or mean, or imagine a
  study of art that does not discuss how artists in a given milieu
  manage to eat -- in neither case do we have a real explanation
  of how certain paintings come to be, nor of the uses that people
  come to make of them.  Yet biases to one side or the other
  are almost the norm.  This unfortunate situation is not simply
  a matter of narrowness, since studies of political economy
  and culture have developed different tools and methods and
  conceptual frameworks over many years.  Nor is it a matter of
  politics; the political economy/culture divide is present on
  both the left and right.  (First think about the tension between
  socialists and feminists; then think about the tension between
  economic libertarians and religious conservatives.)  It's simply
  *difficult* to integrate the two sides into account into a single
  study or a single theory.

  The same division affects studies of politics.  One can conduct a
  study of the content of political movements -- say, for example,
  the story of how the American populist movements of the late 19th
  century came to develop their particular understandings of money,
  industry, race and class relations, and democratic processes.
  But such a study would not tell us much about these movements'
  practical ability to organize, coordinate their efforts, mount
  political campaigns, and ensure that the politicians did what
  they said they would.  In order to understand *those* things,
  we need to know about the communications technologies of that
  day and the prevailing practices for using them, the economics
  of that day's newspapers, interactions between urban and rural
  patterns of political organization, and so on.

  In recent times, the Internet has motivated a revival of
  interest in this practical dimension of politics -- so to speak,
  the political economy of political culture.  It is inherently
  difficult to analyze the place of technology in society, and one
  always needs "bridging concepts" that connect the workings of
  technology to the workings of society (see TNO 2(6)).  The word
  "network" seems a promising place to start building such concepts
  because it refers nontrivially both to something technical --
  digital communications networks -- and to something social --
  patterns of human relationship.  The danger, of course, is that
  a focus on networks will encourage a tendency toward formalism in
  the study of politics -- a focus on infrastructures, quantitative
  measures, economic factors, mechanistic metaphors, resources and
  their mobilization, information as a commodity, and so on -- and
  a neglect of the content of politics -- social ideas, historical
  memory, collective identity, information as a world of meaningful
  symbols, and so on.

  With these important caveats in mind, here is a bibliography
  of useful research on politics and networks, plus a few items
  that drift into the territory of economic networks as well.  I
  encourage everyone to read this stuff, and I encourage everyone
  to think about what it would be like to marry this sort of
  formal/structural analysis with an understanding of contents and
  meanings.  I have cited some of these materials in TNO before.

  Craig Calhoun, The infrastructure of modernity: Indirect social
  relationships, information technology, and social integration,
  in Hans Haferkamp and Neil J. Smelser, eds, Social Change and
  Modernity, University of California Press, 1992.

  Brenda Dervin, Information <-> democracy: An examination of
  underlying assumptions, Journal of the American Society for
  Information Science 45(6), 1994, pages 369-385.

  John A. Ferejohn and James H. Kuklinski, eds, Information and
  Democratic Processes, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

  Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., Beyond Agenda Setting: Information Subsidies
  and Public Policy, Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1982.

  Mark Granovetter and Richard Swedberg, eds, The Sociology of
  Economic Life, Boulder, CO: Westview, 1992.

  Bernard Grofman, ed, Information, Participation, and Choice:
  An Economic Theory of Democracy in Perspective, Ann Arbor:
  University of Michigan Press, 1993.

  Lawrence K. Grossman, The Electronic Republic: Reshaping
  Democracy in the Information Age, New York: Viking, 1995.

  David Knoke, Political Networks: The Structural Perspective,
  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

  Robert Perrucci and Harry R. Potter, eds, Networks of Power:
  Organizational Actors at the National, Corporate, and Community
  Levels, New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1989.

  Robert D. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in
  Modern Italy, Princeton University Press, 1993.

  Slavko Splichal and Janet Wasko, eds, Communication and
  Democracy, Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1993.

  Hilary Wainwright, Arguments for a New Left: Answering the Free-
  Market Right, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.

  Frederick Williams and John V. Pavlik, eds, The People's Right to
  Know: Media, Democracy, and the Information Highway, Hillsdale,
  NJ: Erlbaum, 1994.


  Wish list.

  I cannot tell you how many times I have stayed in an expensive
  hotel with all kinds of free pens and mints on the pillow,
  only to be kept awake by some ventilation unit that wheezes
  and rattles obnoxiously all night long below my window, or else
  (and this is my absolute favorite) a *refrigerator* in clear
  view of the bed, with its compressor turning on and (especially)
  off several times a night with loud shuddering and clonking.
  And HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems the
  world over are far too noisy, for example in the SSSSSHHHHHH'ing
  of air through ceiling vents and the WWWWWWWOOOOOOO'ing of air
  under and around doors.  For example, the "faculty study carrels"
  in the UCSD Library are useless and largely abandoned for this

  Machines in general and compressors in particular, then, are
  too noisy.  No doubt some of this noise is inherent in the way
  the things work.  But much of it is random vibration that could
  have been prevented if the designers had used finite-element
  simulation methods to discover the principal vibrational modes of
  their designs and adjusted the designs accordingly.  Such methods
  have been around for a while now, but the rapidly decreasing cost
  of processor power should make their use more or less mandatory.

  Another approach to suppressing noise is through active noise
  cancellation, which works by "listening" to the sounds in the
  air, using bandpass filters or a Fourier transform to break
  them down by frequency, and then generating another sound that
  contains the very same power spectrum, only with all of the
  component frequencies shifted precisely out of phase relative
  to the input.  (This is a lot easier than it sounds.)  This
  "anti-sound" might sound pretty similar to the existing ambient
  noise if played in an otherwise silent room, but when *added*
  to that offending ambient noise the result (if you're lucky)
  is a nearly flat-zero power spectrum -- that is, silence.  This
  technology too has been around for a while, but the availability
  of cheap processing power should enable it to find much wider

  Perhaps a good approach to getting these technologies used is to
  establish some standards.  Of course dozens of standards already
  exist for workplace noise and its measurement, but I have in mind
  standards specifically geared to the needs of (say) people who
  are staying in hotels.  Once the standards have been established,
  a publication such as the Wall Street Journal whose readers
  include many frequent travelers could then start rating hotel
  chains and other relevant businesses in terms of their compliance
  with them, complete with excellent horror stories about the worst
  offenders.  Got a television set chattering away a foot from your
  head, backed right up against the wall behind your bed, with no
  adequate noise cancellation?  Call the manager, quote chapter and
  verse of the standards, and threaten to go to the press.  It's an
  excellent wish.

  My even more ambitious wish is for a market in quiet.  Noise
  is one standard example of a negative externality in economics:
  an economic cost which is borne by someone not a party to the
  activity that caused it.  That's why we have those obnoxious car
  alarms, for example, and why machine manufacturers had so little
  incentive to explore quiet technologies before workplace health
  and safety regulations began to address the subject in earnest.
  An externality is a failure of the market, and markets have many
  more externalities than you would think from the rhetoric of
  their promoters.  One standard approach to fixing an externality
  is to internalize it, in this case by creating a market for
  quietness, so that it sometimes costs money to make noise.

  How would this work?  If you believe in neoclassical economics
  then you would start by creating a set of property rights for
  quiet.  Someone who bought a house, say, would also be buying
  the rights to a certain amount of quiet under certain conditions.
  (Making noise to call for help in an emergency, for example,
  would probably be excluded by the law that defined the right.
  The sirens on car alarms would be not be excluded, though, since
  there are better ways to protect cars.)  Anybody who wanted to
  disturb that quiet would have to pay for the right.  This is
  obviously extremely difficult to arrange, since the transaction
  costs would be very high, both for defining the right to be
  bought and sold, detecting when money is owed, and for collecting
  it.  But digital technology should start to bring it within reach.
  If I want a machine to emit a noise, for example, the machine
  can use digital wireless communications to poll all of the noise
  monitoring boxes within earshot of the prospective noise, using
  a simple protocol to negotiate a cost with them and then summing
  the costs up.  Then I have to decide if it's worth it.  People
  with stationary noise sources could then negotiate with their
  neighbors, perhaps buying noise-cancellation devices for them
  in exchange for lower quiet-disturbance costs.  They would also
  be able to make economic decisions about, for example, whether
  to buy a power or manual lawn mower.  Mobile noise-sources
  such as cars would be a lot harder, but from the perspective
  of neoclassical economics the only real problem is that the
  roads already exist and noise was not factored into the economic
  decision to build them.

  The point of all this is not that it's necessarily feasible, but
  to explore the contours of a problem.  Neoclassical economics has
  many things in common with computer science, and one of them is
  that you can while away the hours "designing" elaborate formal
  castles in the sky that are based on their generative ideas --
  digital "mirrors" of concrete reality (an idea ultimately derived
  from philosophy) in the case of computing and the mathematics of
  equilibrium (an idea ultimately derived from physics) in the case
  of neoclassical economics.  In each case, one must learn to talk
  a certain way, so that an unbounded range of affairs of human
  life can be fitted to the frames that make the formal methods in
  question work.  Both computer people and economists, like many
  kinds of professionals, have the luxury of being semi-detached
  from the world: their work has real consequences for people's
  lives three or four steps down the line, but they can count on 
  the people who implement those steps to cover up all the messy
  gaps between the theory and the reality, leaving the theorist
  to dream on in complacent wonder at how it all fits together.


  This month's recommendations.

  Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin, eds, Critical Terms for
  Literary Study, second edition, Chicago: University of Chicago
  Press, 1995.  This is terrific book.  It consists of perhaps
  three dozen essays of perhaps ten pages apiece, each focused
  on a single key word from literary criticism.  If you've learned
  about literary criticism from the stereotypes you've read in
  the newspaper then I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the
  tremendous smartness on display here.  I read the first edition
  almost ten years ago, and it really made me happy to think that
  there were such smart people in the world, able to write clear,
  interesting essays that bear a personal stamp while representing
  a diversity of opinion in a fair way.  Each chapter includes
  an analysis of a particular text using the theoretical concept
  that the chapter has developed, and the result, for me, is that
  I have read everything differently forever afterward, from novels
  to newspapers to computer manuals.  The new edition is greatly
  expanded and thus even more useful in the same way.

  Brian Kahin and James Keller, eds, Public Access to the Internet,
  Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.  This book brings together most of
  the best writers on the issue of ensuring broad public access
  to the Internet, considering topics such as educational access,
  access for the poor and for minority populations, and Internet
  pricing and traffic measurement.

  Cynthia Cockburn and Ruza Furst-Dilic, eds, Bringing Technology
  Home: Gender and Technology in a Changing Europe, Buckingham, UK:
  Open University Press, 1994.  This is a fascinating collection
  of studies of technology in women's lives by a cross-European
  set of authors coming from different cultural and intellectual
  traditions.  Most of the studies are in early stages, and so
  they are interesting more for the stories they tell than for
  finished theories.  But the stories are marvelous, and draw
  out the complicated interactions among different aspects of the
  women's lives, for example the ways in which unequal divisions
  of housework have kept women from being active in union affairs,
  thus helping reproduce unions' inattention to women's workplace
  technology issues.

  Kristine Bruland, Patterns of resistance to new technologies
  in Scandinavia: An historical perspective, in Martin Bauer,
  ed, Resistance to New Technology: Nuclear Power, Information
  Technology and Biotechnology, Cambridge: Cambridge University
  Press, 1995.  A useful article that breaks down some myths about
  people's "resistance" to new technologies.  Looking at historical
  cases in the fishing, timber, and nuclear power industries in
  Norway and Sweden, she argues that, despite stereotypes of shop
  floor workers obstinately refusing to change with the times,
  "resistance" to technology is really a complex form of social
  choice with many players and many legitimate considerations
  beyond those of local technical expediency.



  In response to my hypothesis about the Christian Coalition's
  strategy on the Communications Decency Act in TNO 3(1), some
  people recited what I regard as the conventional wisdom: that
  the CDA and similar measures are the products of People Who
  Are Clueless About The Internet.  A whole system of stereotypes
  has arisen about these PWACATI's, starting with The Politician
  Who Has Never Logged On, and these stereotypes provide a cheap
  explanation for all things.  I'm sorry, though, this whole
  line of argument doesn't wash with me.  Some people, of course, 
  really are clueless about the net.  But the people who do the
  major policy work at the Christian Coalition are not rubes who
  wandered in from the sticks last week.  We are talking about
  sophisticated political professionals who have college degrees
  and Web pages and high-powered lawyers just like the Internet
  community's libertarian establishment does.  Their statutory
  language is not an amateur job but a sophisticated attempt
  to draw out a broad analogy between the Internet and broadcast
  media while forestalling some of the less fundamental challenges.
  Given the reasoning in the broadcast precedents, the likely
  successful appeals will probably have to be based in large part
  on the availability of Internet filtering methods less drastic
  than out-and-out content restrictions; this argument, while
  true, will not be trivial to make.  Despite my boundless respect
  for the Christian Coalition's skills, of course, I regard most
  of their concrete policy remedies as faulty, short-sighted,
  and overly broad.  And I also regard them as heavy-duty peddlers
  of vicious stereotypes in their own right.  But blowing them off
  as ignorant fools is a bad idea, not least because they are the
  major political organization that is articulating the legitimate
  concerns that many ordinary people have about emerging media
  technologies.  There really do exist aggressive pedophiles
  and out-of-control addicts to sick, objectifying pornography.
  Policy responses to these losers' activities must take into
  account a wide range of technical, moral, and legal issues.  The
  answer, as we all know, does not lie in the creation of broad,
  simplistic third-party liabilities.  But that doesn't mean that
  the concerns are not legitimate or that nothing should be done.
  It's quite possible that the window of opportunity for genuine
  dialogue on this issue has passed, but that's no reason to fill
  the vacuum with comfortable generalizations and stereotypes.

  I've been struck, incidentally, by the number of libertarian
  conservative polemics that present the CDA as part of a liberal
  reign of terror; some that have arrived in my mailbox have
  carried on against Bill Clinton using language like war, Nazis,
  and Auschwitz.  What's odd about this, of course, is that the
  major political force behind the CDA was not Bill Clinton but
  the Christian Coalition.  (See TNO 2(6).)  It's remarkable
  that these two branches of the conservative movement can pursue
  opposite policy agendas, each pretending that their main opponent
  is the liberals rather than one another, without much attention
  being drawn to the incongruity.  Actually, it's not remarkable;
  it's just more evidence of the complete and utter oblivion into
  which the liberal coalition and its pundits have sunk.  It is
  as though the entire social structure and political spectrum of
  the United States has been mapped into different segments of the
  conservative movement.  Sometimes, of course, the movement goes
  to the trouble of ostracizing elements that do not fit with the
  dominant coalition's strategy, as in the case of Pat Buchanan's
  social views (which are far to the right of this strategy) and,
  well, Pat Buchanan's economic views (which are far to the left
  of it).  Meanwhile, the various elements of the right are unified
  in their very successful campaign of pulverizing the traditional
  liberal coalition by systematically articulating issues that set
  one element of it against another, recruiting the electorally
  larger elements (the white working class) while stereotyping
  the smaller (upper middle class professional "elites").  Any
  effective response to censorship measures such as the CDA must
  begin with a map of these shifting coalitions and an analysis of
  the conditions that might permit newer coalitions to emerge on
  the basis of reinvigorated democratic values.  One unmistakable
  sign of the decline of these values is the rapidly proliferating
  belief that democracy simply means majority rule.  This view
  of democracy is upheld by cultural and libertarian conservatives
  alike, but for opposite reasons: the cultural conservatives
  favor majoritarian democracy as a justification for their agenda
  of expanded social regulation, while libertarian conservatives
  emphasize its evils in support of their agenda of curtailed
  economic regulation.  The true spirit of democracy, of course,
  is considerably broader than that.  It starts with social trust,
  respect for diversity, cultural skills of organizing and debate,
  broad access to education, and strong respect for the civil
  liberties of individuals and groups.  These conditions are never
  perfectly met, any more than other sets of values, but they are
  certainly an improvement upon the overt advocacy of intolerance
  and the futuristic embrace of a world spinning out of control.

  Following up on my bibliography on the economics of standards in
  TNO 3(1), here are some more references, the first two of which
  are available on WWW:

  Francois Bar, Michael Borrus, and Richard Steinberg, Islands
  in the Bit-Stream: Charting the NII Interoperability Debate, at
  I highly recommend this paper as a guide to the issues as they
  are currently understood, but I think that its analysis needs to
  be generalized considerably.  Briefly, they need to generalize
  from "operating systems" to "platforms", to apply their analysis
  recursively on every layer of the emerging NII, to take into
  account the common trade-off between the potential for innovation
  on a given layer of a network and the potential for innovation
  on the layer above it, to move from an economic criterion of
  NII policy success (level of investment in NII) to a political
  criterion (broad access to the means of association), and to
  broaden attention from state regulation (which, as they argue,
  cannot accomplish much in isolation on these issues) to debate
  in the public sphere (e.g., in the emergence of the discourse
  of "openness" as a material force in influencing the trajectory
  of path-dependent technology markets).

  N. Economides, Bibliography on network economics, at

  Henry Chesbrough and David Teece, When is virtual virtuous?:
  Organizing for innovation, Harvard Business Review 74(1), 1996,
  pages 65-73.  An article about the necessity of a single unified
  firm when innovation requires the imposition of new standards.
  Read as an exercise in microeconomics, this paper is an example
  of the profound consequences of the non-neoclassical economic
  phenomena surrounding standards, in this case for the boundaries
  of the firm -- a matter that has been most commonly analyzed,
  since Coase and Williamson, in terms of transaction costs and
  without regard for the demands of innovation in changing markets.

  Web picks.

  How often do you hear a Web site being praised with any adjective
  besides "hip" or "cool"?  We're supposed to be serious people
  here, not adolescent wannabes; why are we constantly using these
  words?  "Hip", of course, is the choice of marketers suggesting
  that they know how to translate the Ford Taurus into Web pages
  that speak to an audience raised on MTV and David Letterman.
  "Cool", meanwhile, is the encomium of choice for the whole
  subculture of people who are trying to get rich the same way
  Bill Gates did ("software is cool", "profit is cool", ergo "cool
  site of the day").  Truth be told, I'd like to be cool and hip
  as much as the next person.  But do those two words exhaust the
  full scope of *your* values?  Mine either.  So let's practice
  some other words of praise for Web sites, like "useful", "well
  written", "carefully thought out", "intelligent", "beautiful",
  and "doesn't require the latest release of Netscape".  We'll
  *need* some more terms of praise now, since my sense is that
  the Web has crossed some kind of line over the last few months.
  I'm tenaciously resistant to technological hype of all kinds,
  but I have to say that I'm starting to be genuinely impressed
  with the reality of the Web, as opposed to just its promise.

  While I'm at it, curses on web pages with shaded backgrounds!
  They are unreadable on black-and-white screens.  People who build
  web pages should comply with standards and use both the hardware
  and software that the median user has available, not the high-end
  latest stuff and non-W3C-compliant version of Netscape.  That way
  they can have a clue what their pages look like to others.  It's
  scary how many different hardware and software configurations you
  have to check out to make sure your web pages look okay.  Italics,
  for example, are nearly unreadable on the Macintosh...

  The Information and Privacy Commissioner for Ontario has a batch
  of useful materials, and instructions for fetching his office's
  reports (e.g., on privacy in intelligent transportation systems)
  on the Web at  http://www.ipc.on.ca/

  Hans Pufal <hansp@plato.digiweb.com> is assembling Web pages
  listing every model of computer that was ever made.  The URL is

  There's a good source of pointers to humanities information at

  Phil Agre, editor                                pagre@ucla.edu
  Department of Information Studies
  University of California, Los Angeles         +1 (310) 825-7154
  Los Angeles, California  90095-1520                FAX 206-4460
  Copyright 1996 by the editor.  You may forward this issue of The
  Network Observer electronically to anyone for any non-commercial
  purpose.  Comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

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