Opening up (Open Source and the commons)

Opening Up Francis McKee

In November 2003, Wired magazine published an article on the rise of the open source movement, claiming that. “We are at a convergent moment, when a philosophy, a strategy, and a technology have aligned to unleash great innovation.”

Open source ideology has now moved beyond the coding and programming to inform the broader fields of information and content distribution. At this level it acquired the power to fundamentally change the way in which society is organised.

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The term ‘open source’ originally referred to the development of computer software. Rather than a propriety piece of software that a customer would buy but could not then modify, open source software is developed collaboratively by many programmers and the source code is shared freely in the public realm thereby allowing anyone to modify or improve it. Often the programmers developing this software are volunteers, part of a larger collective enterprise producing reliable products that are then in competition with those sold by corporations.
The most obvious success story in open source must be the development of the Linux operating system. In 1991, a Finnish student called Linus Torvalds began writing a new computer program and solicited help via the internet from other volunteer programmers or hackers. Within a few years their exchange of information had spawned a global network of participants who had created a new operating system that was more reliable than many commercial alternatives. And it was free.
As Thomas Goetz points out in his Wired article1, this use of collective intelligence has spread far beyond the basics of computing:
Software is just the beginning. Open source has spread to other disciplines, from the hard sciences to the liberal arts. Biologists have embraced open source methods in genomics and informatics, building massive databases to genetically sequence E. coli, yeast, and other workhorses of lab research. NASA has adopted open source principles as part of its Mars mission, calling on volunteer “clickworkers” to identify millions of craters and help draw a map of the Red Planet. There is open source publishing: With Bruce Perens, who helped define open source software in the ’90s, Prentice Hall is publishing a series of computer books open to any use, modification,
or redistribution, with readers’ improvements considered for succeeding editions. There are library efforts like Project Gutenberg, which has already digitized more than 6,000 books, with hundreds of volunteers typing in, page by page, classics from Shakespeare to Stendhal; at the same time, a related project, Distributed Proofreading, deploys legions of copy editors to make sure the Gutenberg texts are correct. There are open source projects in law and religion. There’s even an open source cookbook.

ROOTS AND SOURCES

Open source ideology is closely bound up with the right to free speech and it is argued that there are links between the rise of the free speech movement in Berkeley in the early 1960s and the later developments in software in the same locality. Ironically, it is an attack: on machinery that lies at the heart of the most celebrated moment of the free speech movement. Concluding a speech on the Berkeley campus in December 1964, activist Mario Savio declared :

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

In his history of free software, Andrew Leonard3 cites a graduate student from Berkeley at that period who was familiar with both the free speech movement and knew the developing Unix software scene in the area:
Gage grins. Berkeley Unix, he proposes, offered a different way forward from the painful agony of hurling oneself into the operation of a demonic crankshaft. Berkeley Unix, with its source code available to all who wanted it, was the “gears and levers” of the machine. By promoting access to the source code, to the inner workings of that machine, the free-software/open-source movement empowered people to place their hands on the gears and levers, to take control of their computers, their Internet, their entire technological infrastructure.

“The open-source movement is a free speech movement,” says Gage. “Source code looks like poetry, but it’s also a machine—words that do. Unix opens up the discourse in the machinery because the words in Unix literally cause action, and those actions will cause other actions”

It wasn’t just the free speech movement however that provided the context for the development of free software in Berkeley. As the hippie culture evolved in San Francisco it also spawned groups that began to formulate ideas and practical solutions that would provide a framework for an ‘alternative’ society. One of the most important of these groups were the Diggers, activists who tried to create an infrastructure for the burgeoning Haight-Ashbury scene. Their work ranged from radical street theatre to more practical support for the communities appearing across the city, setting up free clinics and soup kitchens. Like Mario Savio, they vilified an industrial culture that folded man into machine though they identify computers as a means to free people from this relationship. In ‘Trip Without, a Ticket’, they state that Industrialization was a battle with 19th-century ecology to win breakfast at the cost of smog and insanity. Wars against ecology are suicidal. The U.S. standard of living is a bourgeois baby blanket for executives who scream in their sleep. No Pleistocene swamp could match the pestilential horror of modern urban sewage. No (children of White Western Progress will escape the dues of peoples forced to haul their raw materials.

But the tools (that’s all factories are) remain innocent and the ethics of greed aren’t necessary. Computers render the principles of wage-labor obsolete by incorporating them. We are being freed from mechanistic consciousness. We could evacuate the factories, turn them over to androids, clean up our pollution. North Americans could give up self-righteousness to expand their being.

This vision grows into a declaration of a free economy that is linked to a freedom of human impulses:
The Diggers are hip to property. Everything is free, do your own thing. Human beings are the means of exchange. Food, machines, clothing, materials, shelter and props are simply there. Stuff. A perfect dispenser would be an open Automat on the street. Locks are time-consuming. Combinations are clocks.

So a store of goods or clinic or restaurant that is free becomes a social art form. Ticketless theatre. Out of money and control.
“First you gotta pin down what’s wrong with the West. Distrust of human nature, which means distrust of Nature. Distrust of wildness in oneself literally means distrust of Wilderness.” (Gary Snyder).

Diggers assume free stores to liberate human nature. First free the space, goods and services. Let theories of economics follow social facts. Once a free store is assumed, human wanting and giving, needing and taking, become wide open to improvisation.

Written in 1968, these statements provided a Utopian blueprint for the communes and alternative cultures that followed. The practical realities of such schemes often meant they crashed quickly or descended into the same power struggles and petty greed of the society they were supposed to replace. Some practitioners though found practical applications of these ideas in a limited form which worked and revealed alternative economic models which were viable. One remarkable example was the archetypal hippie band, The Grateful Dead, who tacitly permitted the taping of their concert by fans. This led to the formation of a tape-swapping community that bypassed the traditional economics of the recording industry where music was heavily protected by copyright and taping was perceived as a threat. One taper, Alexis Muellner, recalls the events that sprang up around the tapes :

Software is just the beginning. Open source has spread to other disciplines, from the hard sciences to the liberal arts.

The beauty of it was that we were doing our part to expand the taping phenomenon by educating more and more people, and helping to unlock mysteries surrounding the tapes…At the same time, we spread the magic of the music through our events, which then went beyond just the music. They became a fertile ground for exploring artistic and creative freedom through multimedia, dance, and improvisation – some of the same themes the Acid Tests explored. In doing all of this we were creating a large community of active Deadheads in western Massachusetts, who in turn were sharing the music with all of their friends. It was a classic snowball effect.

The tapes not only spread the word about the Grateful Dead’s music but spawned a whole new series of cultural events. The real economic impact of this phenomenon only became clear long after the demise of the Haight-Ashbury culture. By the eighties, the band seldom recorded but toured prodigiously. The tapes in circulation generated such a reputation for the group that they consistently expanded their fan base and established themselves in a secure, and lucrative, position outside the trends of pop or fashion.

THE FREE WORLD

It was within this radical, Utopian context that programmers at Berkeley developed the world’s first standard operating system for computers – Unix. While few of these programmers were active radicals themselves, the general spirit of the region at the time certainly seems to have permeated their labs and gelled with a general academic respect for the sharing of knowledge. As Andrew Leonard6 points out, the most striking aspect of the Berkeley coders was their attitude:

Berkeley’s most important contribution was not software; it was the way Berkeley created software. At Berkeley, a small core group — never more than four people at any one time — coordinated the contributions of an ever-growing network of far- flung, mostly volunteer programmers into progressive releases of steadily improving software. In so doing, they codified a template for what is now referred to as the ‘open-source software development methodology.’ Put more simply, the Berkeley hackers set up a system for creating free software.

This general spirit of freedom and cooperation would have consequences that eventually reverberated far beyond Berkeley. Richard Stallman, a programmer who worked at Harvard in the ’70s, practiced a similar philosophy of sharing, establishing an ‘informal rule’ that if he distributed free copies of the software he was developing, hackers would send any improvements they made baCk to him. When Stallman’s lab community of hackers was eventually drawn into a private company in the ’80s, Stallman retaliated by matching their innovations program by program (distributing his work freely) in an unprecedented bout of coding that lasted almost two years. Setting up GNU in 1984, an organisation dedicated to ‘free software’, Stallman laid the foundations for the emergence of the open source movement in the ’90s.

At the same time, the world’s media was being transformed by several key developments. The video recorder was about to become a domestic commonplace, revolutionising viewing habits for cinema and television as films became infinitely reproducible. For musicians, the rise of sampling technology revealed an equally radical future as elements of one song could be lifted and then dropped into an entirely new musical context. The economics of cultural property and intellectual copyright began to be Challenged in ways in whiCh the movie industry, the music business and the art world had not foreseen.

THE NEW WORLD

In the early 21st century ‘open source’ begins to make sense of many of these developments. The ’90s saw traditional media industries flounder as they attempted to come to terms with a changing world where Napster, video pirates and web publishing overturned previous certainties for good. Now, recent initiatives in science and business are beginning to describe a new landscape. Looking at ways in which open source could benefit his business, for instance, Paul Everitt, of Digital Creations explains:

Thus, the question was, “Can going open source increase the value of our company?” Here’s what we saw:

Going open source will increase our user base by a factor of 100 within three months. Wider brand and stronger identity leads to more consulting and increased valuation on our company.

Open source gives rock solid, battle-tested, bulletproof software on more platforms and with more capabilities than closed source, thus increasing the value of our consulting.
Fostering a community creates an army of messengers, which is pretty effective marketing.

This is not the last innovation we’ll make.
In the status quo, the value of packaging the software as a product would approach zero, as we had zero market penetration. What is the value of a killer product with few users? The cost to enter the established web application server market was going to be prohibitive.

The investment grows us into a larger, more profitable company, one that can make a credible push to create a platform via open source. Since our consulting is only on the platform, a strong platform is imperative.
Open source makes the value of our ideas more apparent, thus the perceived value of the company is apparent.

Our architecture is ‘safer’ for consulting customers. With thousands of people using it, the software is far less marginal. The customer is able to fix things themselves or reasonably find someone to do it for them. Finally, the software will “exist forever”. Dramatically increasing the base of users and sites using it gives us a tremendous boost in “legitimacy”.

The exit plan isn’t about the golden eggs (the intellectual property) laid last year. It is about the golden goose and tomorrow’s golden eggs. The shelf life of eggs these days is shrinking dramatically, and the value of an egg that no one knows about is tiny. Give the eggs away as a testament to the value of the goose and a prediction of eggs to come. The community can work with us to dramatically increase the pace of innovation and responsiveness to new technical trends, such as XML and WebDAV.

Ride the coattails of the nascent Open Source community and its established Channels suCh as RedHat. OSS has a certain buzz that is greater than its real customer-closing value, but this buzz is getting hot. Moving aggressively towards Open Source can make us a category killer for the web application server market segment.

Perhaps the developments in science have been even more surprising. Interviewing biologist Michael Eisen, Thomas Goetz (2003) discovered that older models for scientific publishing are in decay:

“The guiding principle of science has been that freely available material is more useful; it’s more likely to generate better science,” Eisen says. But freely available is not the same as free of Charge. Science journals, with their historically narrow readerships, often charge thousands for a subscription. One of the biggest disseminators is Elsevier, the science publishing unit of an Anglo-Dutch media conglomerate, which distributes some 1,700 academic journals, from Advances in Enzyme Regulation to Veterinary Parasitology.

“The whole premise for that model just evaporated with the Internet,” Eisen continues. “Technology now makes openness possible; it’s maximum openness. The rules of the game have changed, but the system has failed to respond.” Proof that the scientific community at large have recognised this failure came in 2003 when TheWellcome Trust: produced a position statement on scientific publishing that acknowledged the value of open source8:

With recent advances in Internet publishing, the Trust is aware that there are a number of new models for the publication of research results and will encourage initiatives that broaden the range of opportunities for quality research to be widely disseminated and freely accessed.

The Wellcome Trust therefore supports open and unrestricted access to the published output of research, including the open access model (defined below), as a fundamental part of its charitable mission and a public benefit to be encouraged wherever possible.
This statement returns science to the spirit of the early natural philosophers sharing discoveries through networks of letters and journals such as the Transactions of the Royal Society.
With the acceptance of open source ideas in such areas of society it becomes more likely that these concepts will have a lasting impact. The collapse of the dot com bubble proved that older models of entrepreneurship lack the intuitive grasp of the internet as a medium and do not yet comprehend the odd mix of gift economy and commerce that have shaped its development. A more agile approach now seems necessary for any entrepreneur entering this new economy.

THE CCA – CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS IN GLASGOW

In 2006 CCA began to develop an ‘open source’ approach to its organisational structure as a pragmatic response to the expansion of the building in 2001. The lottery refurbishment of CCA added greatly increased the size of the building which now occupied most of the Greek Thomson structure, and all of the 19th villa behind it. The organisation struggled economically to fill such a large set of spaces and the aggressive business model that accompanied the new building did not work with the kind of programming that was expected by CCA’s audiences. It was clear though that the new building has fine resources, excellent gallery spaces, an acoustically perfect performance space, a dramatic central courtyard with a restaurant, a wood workshop, a small cinema, an artist’s flat. And Glasgow is a city with a large artists community, a great music scene, audiences hungry for film, literature and performance. It seemed clear that the building had much to contribute to those wider groups. In its debilitated state in 2006, the preciousness

The collapse of the dot com bubble proved that older models of entrepreneurship lack the intuitive grasp of the internet as a medium

of the building as a ‘lottery jewel’ had also faded. This gave us an opportunity to ‘repurpose’ several spaces. The bookshop space that felt misplaced became a third gallery on the ground floor. CCA office spaces that felt overly luxurious became a hack-lab and the Creative Lab residency space. Glasgow Life came in to support an independent programme for Intermedia Gallery which had become unmoored from King Street. Initially through word-of-mouth the theatre, clubroom and cinema were made available to artists and organisations that needed temporary project space.

When it became clear that offering the space in this way was useful and supportive to other organisations we started to formalise the process. For artists and organisations with minimal funding we would offer space for free. Technicians and Front of House staff would have to be paid for if needed but we offered our staff at cost, taking no profit from the organisations. Of course, if organisations clearly had additional funding we would charge for the space but still at a subsidised rate. The galleries on the ground floor remain at the heart of CCA’s own programme and are programmed solely by our own curatorial team.
To make this policy work two elements are vital. The first is co-ordination. As activities grew in the building, we created a role for someone to liaise and co- ordinate the multiple events across the building. The second vital element involves selection. Clearly such a policy could easily be taken advantage of or it could quickly become a kaleidoscope of random events. To prevent this, each event and every partner programme is considered internally and every new event must be proposed to the CCA.
Our criteria for inclusion in the programme are based on a wide variety of things. Quality is a priority and we also give a great deal of consideration to whether the proposal is appropriate to CCA. Our programme stresses experimental work and activities that cannot be easily housed in other venues. So, for instance mainstream theatre proposals are not a high priority as there are many venues

across the city that are better suited to those proposals. Equally, proposals that tend to demand high amounts of rehearsal time are not high priorities as they occupy space that could be used by other, more public, activities.

Over several years we have built up many long term partners through this open source policy. Regular users tend to come to. us at the beginning of the year and speak to us about dates across the entire year. The benefits for everyone from this include a much greater feeling of ownership of the space by a wider spectrum of the arts community. The openness of the programme also brings in a broader variety of audiences and helps us break down some of the barriers to access that can easily grow around an art centre. The building can provide support for a large section of the arts

community in the city and the programme can reflect more cultural perspectives than our small team could achieve on its own. Perhaps the bottom fine is we hope the activity cultural momentum and diversity of the programme demonstrates the best possible use of public funding for the arts in the city.

Opening up Francis McKee

Source: East End Transmissions I 15

Iron Cagebook

Source: Counterpunch
“No one knows who will live this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development, entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.”  Max Weber, 1905

On November 12 Facebook, Inc. filed its 178th patent application for a consumer profiling technique the company calls “inferring household income for users of a social networking system.”
Continue reading “Iron Cagebook”

“The amount of information gathered from users,” explain Facebook programmers Justin Voskuhl and Ramesh Vyaghrapuri in their patent application, “is staggering — information describing recent moves to a new city, graduations, births, engagements, marriages, and the like.” Facebook and other so-called tech companies have been warehousing all of this information since their respective inceptions. In Facebook’s case, its data vault includes information posted as early as 2004, when the site first went live. Now in a single month the amount of information forever recorded by Facebook —dinner plans, vacation destinations, emotional states, sexual activity, political views, etc.— far surpasses what was recorded during the company’s first several years of operation. And while no one outside of the company knows for certain, it is believed that Facebook has amassed one of the widest and deepest databases in history. Facebook has over 1,189,000,000 “monthly active users” around the world as of October 2013, providing considerable width of data. And Facebook has stored away trillions and trillions of missives and images, and logged other data about the lives of this billion plus statistical sample of humanity. Adjusting for bogus or duplicate accounts it all adds up to about 1/7th of humanity from which some kind of data has been recorded.

According to Facebook’s programmers like Voskuhl and Vyaghrapuri, of all the clever uses they have already applied this pile of data toward, Facebook has so far “lacked tools to synthesize this information about users for targeting advertisements based on their perceived income.” Now they have such a tool thanks to the retention and analysis of variable the company’s positivist specialists believe are correlated with income levels.

They’ll have many more tools within the next year to run similar predictions. Indeed, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and the hundreds of smaller tech lesser-known tech firms that now control the main portals of social, economic, and political life on the web (which is now to say everywhere as all economic and much social activity is made cyber) are only getting started. The Big Data analytics revolutions has barely begun, and these firms are just beginning to tinker with rational-instrumental methods of predicting and manipulating human behavior.

There are few, if any, government regulations restricting their imaginations at this point. Indeed, the U.S. President himself is a true believer in Big Data; the brain of Obama’s election team was a now famous “cave” filled with young Ivy League men (and a few women) sucking up electioneering information and crunching demographic and consumer data to target individual voters with appeals timed to maximize the probability of a vote for the new Big Blue, not IBM, but the Democratic Party’s candidate of “Hope” and “Change.” The halls of power are enraptured by the potential of rational-instrumental methods paired with unprecedented access to data that describes the social lives of hundreds of millions.

Facebook’s intellectual property portfolio reads like cliff notes summarizing the aspirations of all corporations in capitalist modernity; to optimize efficiency in order to maximize profits and reduce or externalize risk. Unlike most other corporations, and unlike previous phases in the development of rational bureaucracies, Facebook and its tech peers have accumulated never before seen quantities of information about individuals and groups. Recent breakthroughs in networked computing make analysis of these gigantic data sets fast and cheap. Facebook’s patent holdings are just a taste of what’s arriving here and now.

The way you type, the rate, common mistakes, intervals between certain characters, is all unique, like your fingerprint, and there are already cyber robots that can identify you as you peck away at keys. Facebook has even patented methods of individual identification with obviously cybernetic overtones, where the machine becomes an appendage of the person. U.S. Patents 8,306,256, 8,472,662, and 8,503,718, all filed within the last year, allow Facebook’s web robots to identify a user based on the unique pixelation and other characteristics of their smartphone’s camera. Identification of the subject is the first step toward building a useful data set to file among the billion or so other user logs. Then comes analysis, then prediction, then efforts to influence a parting of money.

Many Facebook patents pertain to advertising techniques that are designed and targeted, and continuously redesigned with ever-finer calibrations by robot programs, to be absorbed by the gazes of individuals as they scroll and swipe across their Facebook feeds, or on third party web sites.

Speaking of feeds, U.S. Patent 8,352,859, Facebook’s system for “Dynamically providing a feed of stories about a user of a social networking system” is used by the company to organize the constantly updated posts and activities inputted by a user’s “friends.” Of course embedded in this system are means of inserting advertisements. According to Facebook’s programmers, a user’s feeds are frequently injected with “a depiction of a product, a depiction of a logo, a display of a trademark, an inducement to buy a product, an inducement to buy a service, an inducement to invest, an offer for sale, a product description, trade promotion, a survey, a political message, an opinion, a public service announcement, news, a religious message, educational information, a coupon, entertainment, a file of data, an article, a book, a picture, travel information, and the like.” That’s a long list for sure, but what gets injected is more often than not whatever will boost revenues for Facebook.

The advantage here, according to Facebook, is that “rather than having to initiate calls or emails to learn news of another user, a user of a social networking website may passively receive alerts to new postings by other users.” The web robot knows best. Sit back and relax and let sociality wash over you, passively. This is merely one of Facebook’s many “systems for tailoring connections between various users” so that these connections ripple with ads uncannily resonant with desires and needs revealed in the quietly observed flow of e-mails, texts, images, and clicks captured forever in dark inaccessible servers of Facebook, Google and the like. These communications services are free in order to control the freedom of data that might otherwise crash about randomly, generating few opportunities for sales.

Where this fails Facebook ratchets up the probability of influencing the user to behave as a predictable consumer. “Targeted advertisements often fail to earn a user’s trust in the advertised product,” explain Facebook’s programmers in U.S. Patent 8,527,344, filed in September of this year. “For example, the user may be skeptical of the claims made by the advertisement. Thus, targeted advertisements may not be very effective in selling an advertised product.” Facebook’s computer programmers who now profess mastery over sociological forces add that even celebrity endorsements are viewed with skepticism by the savvy citizen of the modulated Internet. They’re probably right.

Facebook’s solution is to mobilize its users as trusted advertisers in their own right. “Unlike advertisements, most users seek and read content generated by their friends within the social networking system; thus,” concludes Facebook’s mathematicians of human inducement, “advertisements generated by a friend of the user are more likely to catch the attention of the user, increasing the effectiveness of the advertisement.” That Facebook’s current So-And-So-likes-BrandX ads are often so clumsy and ineffective does not negate the qualitative shift in this model of advertising and the possibilities of un-freedom it evokes.

Forget iPhones and applications, the tech industry’s core consumer product is now advertising. Their essential practice is mass surveillance conducted in real time through continuous and multiple sensors that pass, for most people, entirely unnoticed. The autonomy and unpredictability of the individual —in Facebook’s language the individual is the “user”— is their fundamental business problem. Reducing autonomy via surveillance and predictive algorithms that can placate existing desires, and even stimulate and mold new desires is the tech industry’s reason for being. Selling their capacious surveillance and consumer stimulus capabilities to the highest bidder is the ultimate end.

Sounds too dystopian? Perhaps, and this is by no means the world we live in, not yet. It is, however, a tendency rooted in the tech economy. The advent of mobile, hand-held, wirelessly networked computers, called “smartphones,” is still so new that the technology, and its services feel like a parallel universe, a new layer of existence added upon our existing social relationships, business activities, and political affiliations. In many ways it feels liberating and often playful. Our devices can map geographic routes, identify places and things, provide information about almost anything in real time, respond to our voices, and replace our wallets. Who hasn’t consulted “Dr. Google” to answer a pressing question? Everyone and everything is seemingly within reach and there is a kind of freedom to this utility.

Most of Facebook’s “users” have only been registered on the web site since 2010, and so the quintessential social network feels new and fun, and although perhaps fraught with some privacy concerns, it does not altogether fell like a threat to the autonomy of the individual. To say it is, is a cliche sci-fi nightmare narrative of tech-bureaucracy, and we all tell one another that the reality is more complex.

Privacy continues, however, too be too narrowly conceptualized as a liberal right against incursions of government, and while the tech companies have certainly been involved in a good deal of old-fashioned mass surveillance for the sake of our federal Big Brother, there’s another means of dissolving privacy that is more fundamental to the goals of the tech companies and more threatening to social creativity and political freedom.

Georgetown University law professor Julie Cohen notes that pervasive surveillance is inimical to the spaces of privacy that are required for liberal democracy, but she adds importantly, that the surveillance and advertising strategies of the tech industry goes further.

“A society that permits the unchecked ascendancy of surveillance infrastructures, which dampen and modulate behavioral variability, cannot hope to maintain a vibrant tradition of cultural and technical innovation,” writes Cohen in a forthcoming Harvard Law Review article.

“Modulation” is Cohen’s term for the tech industry’s practice of using algorithms and other logical machine operations to mine an individual’s data so as to continuously personalize information streams. Facebook’s patents are largely techniques of modulation, as are Google’s and the rest of the industry leaders. Facebook conducts meticulous surveillance on users, collects their data, tracks their movements on the web, and feeds the individual specific content that is determined to best resonate with their desires, behaviors, and predicted future movements. The point is to perfect the form and function of the rational-instrumental bureaucracy as defined by Max Weber: to constantly ratchet up efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. If they succeed in their own terms, the tech companies stand to create a feedback loop made perfectly to fit each an every one of us, an increasingly closed systems of personal development in which the great algorithms in the cloud endlessly tailor the psychological and social inputs of humans who lose the gift of randomness and irrationality.

“It is modulation, not privacy, that poses the greater threat to innovative practice,” explains Cohen. “Regimes of pervasively distributed surveillance and modulation seek to mold individual preferences and behavior in ways that reduce the serendipity and the freedom to tinker on which innovation thrives.” Cohen has pointed out the obvious irony here, not that it’s easy to miss; the tech industry is uncritically labeled America’s hothouse of innovation, but it may in fact be killing innovation by disenchanting the world and locking inspiration in an cage.

If there were limits to the reach of the tech industry’s surveillance and stimuli strategies it would indeed be less worrisome. Only parts of our lives would be subject to this modulation, and it could therefore benefit us. But the industry aspires to totalitarian visions in which universal data sets are constantly mobilized to transform an individual’s interface with society, family, the economy, and other institutions. The tech industry’s luminaries are clear in their desire to observe and log everything, and use every “data point” to establish optimum efficiency in life as the pursuit of consumer happiness. Consumer happiness is, in turn, a step toward the rational pursuit of maximum corporate profit. We are told that the “Internet of things” is arriving, that soon every object will have embedded within it a computer that is networked to the sublime cloud, and that the physical environment will be made “smart” through the same strategy of modulation so that we might be made free not just in cyberspace, but also in the meatspace.

Whereas the Internet of the late 1990s matured as an archipelago of innumerable disjointed and disconnected web sites and databases, today’s Internet is gripped by a handful of giant companies that observe much of the traffic and communications, and which deliver much of the information from an Android phone or laptop computer, to distant servers, and back. The future Internet being built by the tech giants —putting aside the Internet of things for the moment— is already well into its beta testing phase. It’s a seamlessly integrated quilt of web sites and apps that all absorb “user” data, everything from clicks and keywords to biometric voice identification and geolocation.

United States Patent 8,572,174, another of Facebook’s recent inventions, allows the company to personalize a web page outside of Facebook’s own system with content from Facebook’s databases. Facebook is selling what the company calls its “rich set of social information” to third party web sites in order to “provide personalized content for their users based on social information about those users that is maintained by, or otherwise accessible to, the social networking system.” Facebook’s users generated this rich social information, worth many billions of dollars as recent quarterly earnings of the company attest.

In this way the entire Internet becomes Facebook. The totalitarian ambition here is obvious, and it can be read in the securities filings, patent applications, and other non-sanitized business documents crafted by the tech industry for the financial analysts who supply the capital for further so-called innovation. Everywhere you go on the web, with your phone or tablet, you’re a “user,” and your social network data will be mined every second by every application, site, and service to “enhance your experience,” as Facebook and others say. The tech industry’s leaders aim to expand this into the physical world, creating modulated advertising and environmental experiences as cameras and sensors track our movements.

Facebook and the rest of the tech industry fear autonomy and unpredictability. The ultimate expression of these irrational variables that cannot be mined with algorithmic methods is absence from the networks of surveillance in which data is collected.

One of Facebook’s preventative measures is United States Patent 8,560,962, “promoting participation of low-activity users in social networking system.” This novel invention devised by programmers in Facebook’s Palo Alto and San Francisco offices involves a “process of inducing interactions,” that are meant to maximize the amount of “user-generated content” on Facebook by getting lapsed users to return, and stimulating all users to produce more and more data. User generated content is, after all, worth billions. Think twice before you hit “like” next time, or tap that conspicuously placed “share” button; a machine likely put that content and interaction before your eyes after a logical operation determined it to have the highest probability of tempting you to add to the data stream, thereby increasing corporate revenues.

Facebook’s patents on techniques of modulating “user” behavior are few compared to the real giants of the tech industry’s surveillance and influence agenda. Amazon, Microsoft, and of course Google hold some of the most fundamental patents using personal data to attempt to shape an individual’s behavior into predictable consumptive patterns. Smaller specialized firms like Choicestream and Gist Communications have filed dozens more applications for modulation techniques. The rate of this so-called innovation is rapidly telescoping.

Perhaps we do know who will live in the iron cage. It might very well be a cage made of our own user generated content, paradoxically ushering in a new era of possibilities in shopping convenience and the delivery of satisfactory experiences even while it eradicates many degrees of chance, and pain, and struggle (the motive forces of human progress) in a robot-powered quest to have us construct identities and relationships that yield to prediction and computer-generated suggestion. Defense of individual privacy and autonomy today is rightly motivated by the reach of an Orwellian security state (the NSA, FBI, CIA). This surveillance changes our behavior by chilling us, by telling us we are always being watched by authority. Authority thereby represses in us whatever might happen to be defined as “crime,” or any anti-social behavior at the moment. But what about the surveillance that does not seek to repress us, the watching computer eyes and ears that instead hope to stimulate a particular set of monetized behaviors in us with the intimate knowledge gained from our every online utterance, even our facial expressions and finger movements?

Darwin Bond-Graham, a contributing editor to CounterPunch, is a sociologist and author who lives and works in Oakland, CA. His essay on economic inequality in the “new” California economy appears in theJuly issue of CounterPunch magazine. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion