PREFACE PART ONE What is a Person? Chapter 1 Missing Persons Chapter 2 An Apocalypse of Self-Abdication Chapter 3 The Noosphere Is Just Another Name for Everyone‟s Inner Troll PART TWO What Will Money Be? Chapter 4 Digital Peasant Chic Chapter 5 The City Is Built to Music Chapter 6 The Lords of the Clouds Renounce Free Will in Order to Become Infinitely Lucky Chapter 7 The Prospects for Humanistic Cloud Economics Chapter 8 Three Possible Future Directions PART THREE The Unbearable Thinness of Flatness Chapter 9 Retropolis Chapter 10 Digital Creativity Eludes Flat Places Chapter 11 All Hail the Membrane PART FOUR Making The Best of Bits Chapter 12 I Am a Contrarian Loop Chapter 13 One Story of How Semantics Might Have Evolved PART FIVE Future Humors Chapter 14 Home at Last (My Love Affair with Bachelardian Neoteny) Acknowledgments
Preface IT‟S EARLY in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons—automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The words will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in remote, often secret locations around the world. They will be copied millions of times by algorithms designed to send an advertisement to some person somewhere who happens to resonate with some fragment of what I say. They will be scanned, rehashed, and misrepresented by crowds of quick and sloppy readers into wikis and automatically aggregated wireless text message streams. Reactions will repeatedly degenerate into mindless chains of anonymous insults and inarticulate controversies. Algorithms will find correlations between those who read my words and their purchases, their romantic adventures, their debts, and, soon, their genes. Ultimately these words will contribute to the fortunes of those few who have been able to position themselves as lords of the computing clouds. The vast fanning out of the fates of these words will take place almost entirely in the lifeless world of pure information. Real human eyes will read these words in only a tiny minority of the cases. And yet it is you, the person, the rarity among my readers, I hope to reach. The words in this book are written for people, not computers. I want to say: You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.
What is a Person?
Missing Persons SOFTWARE EXPRESSES IDEAS about everything from the nature of a musical note to the nature of personhood. Software is also subject to an exceptionally rigid process of “lock-in.” Therefore, ideas (in the present era, when human affairs are increasingly software driven) have become more subject to lock-in than in previous eras. Most of the ideas that have been locked in so far are not so bad, but some of the so-called web 2.0 ideas are stinkers, so we ought to reject them while we still can. Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks, so is he. PUBLILIUS SYRUS
Fragments Are Not People Something started to go wrong with the digital revolution around the turn of the twenty-first century. The World Wide Web was flooded by a torrent of petty designs sometimes called web 2.0. This ideology promotes radical freedom on the surface of the web, but that freedom, ironically, is more for machines than people. Nevertheless, it is sometimes referred to as “open culture.” Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks, and lightweight mashups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interaction. Communication is now often experienced as a...