Smoke Signals

[ Please note that this essay uses some rough language.]

Introduction: The First Billion Seconds

In a few days time, it will be exactly thirty-two years – a bit more than a billion seconds – since I learned to code.  I was lucky enough to attend a high school with its own DEC PDP 11/45, and lucky that it chose to offer computer science courses on a few VT-52 video terminals and a DECWriter attached to it.   My first OS was RSTS/E, and my first programming language was – of course – BASIC.

A hundred million seconds before this, a friend dragged me over to a data center his dad managed, sat me down at a DECWriter, typed ‘startrek’ at the prompt, and it was all over.  The damage had been done.  From that day, all I’ve ever wanted to do is play with computers.

I’ve pretty much been able to keep to that.

Oddly, the only time I didn’t play with computers was at MIT.  After MIT, when I began work as a software engineer, I got to play and get paid for it.  I’ve written code for every major microprocessor family (with the exception of the 6502), all the common microcontrollers, and every OS from CP/M to Android.  I’ve even written a batch-executed RPG II program, typed up on punched cards, exectuted on an IBM 370 mainframe.

(Shudder, shudder.)

At Christmas 1990, I sat down and read a novel published a few years before, by an up-and-coming science fiction writer.  That novel – Neuromancer – changed my life.  It gave me a vision that I would pursue for an entire decade: a three-dimensional, immersive, visualized Internet.  Cyberspace.  I dropped everything, moved myself to San Francisco – epicenter of all work in virtual reality – and founded a startup to design and market an inexpensive immersive videogaming console.  It was hard work, frequently painful, and I managed to pour my life savings into the company before it went belly up.  But I can’t say that any of the other VR companies faired any better.  A few of them still exist, shadows of their former selves, selling specialty products into the industrial market.

These companies failed because each of them – my own among them – coveted the whole prize.  With the eyes of a megalomaniac, each firm was going to ‘rule the world’.  Each did lots of inventing, holding onto every scrap of invention with IP agreements and copyrights and all sorts of patents.  I invented a technology very much similar to that seen in the Wiimote, but fourteen years before the Wiimote was introduced.  It’s all patented.  I don’t own it.  After my company collapsed the patent went through a series of other owners, until eventually I found myself in a lawyer’s office, being deposed, because my patent – the one I didn’t actually own – was involved in a dispute over priority, theft of intellectual property, and other violations.

Lovely.

With the VR industry in ruins, I set about creating my own networked VR protocol, using a parser donated by my friend Tony Parisi, building upon work from a coder over in Switzerland, a bloke by the name of Tim Berners-Lee, who’d published reams and reams of (gulp) Objective-C code, preprocessed into ANSI C, implementing his new Hypertext Transport Protocol.  I took his code, folded it into my own, and rapidly created a browser for three-dimensional scenes attached to Berners-Lee’s new-fangled World Wide Web.

This happened seventeen years ago this week.  Half a billion seconds ago.

When I’d gotten my 3D browser up and running, I was faced with a choice: I could try to hold it tight, screaming ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’ and struggle for attention, or I could promiscuously share my code with the world.  Being the attention-seeking type that I am, the choice was easy.  After Dave Raggett – the father of HTML – had christened my work ‘VRML’, I published the source code.  A community began to form around the project.  With some help from an eighteen year-old sysadmin at WIRED named Brian Behlendorf, I brought Silicon Graphics to the table, got them to open their own code, and we had a real specification to present at the 2nd International Conference on the World Wide Web.  VRML was off and running, precisely because it was open to all, free to all, available to all.

It took about a billion seconds of living before I grokked the value of open source, the penny-drop moment I realized that a resource shared is a resource squared.  I owe everything that came afterward – my careers as educator, author, and yes, panelist on The New Inventors – to that one insight.  Ever since then, I’ve tried to give away nearly all of my work: ideas, articles, blog posts, audio and video recordings of my talks, slide decks, and, of course, lots of source code.  The more I give away, the richer I become – not just or even necessarily financially.  There are more metrics to wealth than cash in your bank account, and more ways than one to be rich.  Just as there is more than one way to be good, and – oh yeah – more than one way to be evil.

Which brings us to my second penny-drop moment, which came after I’d been programming computers for almost a billion seconds…

I: ZOMFG 574LLm4N W45 r19H7!

Sometimes, the evil we do, we do to ourselves.  For about half a billion seconds between the ages of nineteen and thirty nine, I smoked tobacco, until I realized that anyone who smokes past the age of forty is either a fool or very poorly informed.  So I quit.  It took five years and many, many, many boxes of nicotine chewing gum, but I’m clean.

A few years ago, Harvard researcher Dr. Nicholas Christakis published some interesting insights on how the behavior of smoking spreads.  It’s not the advertising – that’s mostly banned, these days – but because we take cues from our peers.  If our friends start smoking, we ourselves are more likely to start smoking.  There’s a communicative relationship, almost an epidemiological relationship at work here.  This behavior is being transmitted by mimesis – imitation.  We’re the imitating primates, so good at imitating one another that we can master language and math and xkcd.  When we see our friends smoking, we want to smoke.  We want to fit in.  We want to be cool.  That’s what it feels like inside our minds, but really, we just want to imitate.  We see something, and we want to do it.  This explains Jackass.

Mimesis is not restricted to smoking.  Christakis also studied obesity, and found that it showed the same ‘network’ effects.  If you are surrounded by the obese people, chances are greater that you will be obese.  If your peers starts slimming, chances are that you will join them in dieting.  The boundaries of mimesis are broad: we can teach soldiers to kill by immersing them in an environment where everyone learns to kill; we can teach children to read by immersing them in an environment where everyone learns to read; we can stuff our faces with Maccas and watch approvingly as our friends do the same.  We have learned to use mimesis to our advantage, but equally it makes us its slaves.

Recent research has shown something disturbing: divorce spreads via mimesis.  If you divorce, its more likely that your friends will also split up.  Conversely, if your friends separate, it’s more likely that your marriage will dissolve.  Again, this makes sense – you’re observing the behavior of your peers and imitating it, but here it touches the heart, the core of our being.

Booting up into Homo Sapiens Sapiens meant the acquisition of a facility for mimesis as broadly flexible as the one we have for language.  These may even be two views into the same cognitive process.  We can imitate nearly anything, but what we choose to imitate is determined by our network of peers, that set of relationships which we now know as our ‘social graph’.

This is why one needs to choose one’s friends carefully.  They are not just friends, they are epidemiological vectors.  When they sneeze, you will catch a cold.  They are puppet masters, pulling your strings, even if they are blissfully unaware of the power they have over you – or the power that you have over them.

All of this is interesting, but little of it has the shock of the new.  Our mothers told us to exercise caution when selecting our friends.  We all know people who got in with the ‘wrong crowd’, to see their lives ruined as a consequence.  This is common knowledge, and common sense.

But things are different today.  Not because the rules have changed – those seem to be eternal – but because we have extended ourselves so suddenly and so completely.  Our very new digital ‘social networks’ recapitulate the ones between our ears, in one essential aspect – they become channels for communication, channels through which the messages of mimesis can spread.  Viral videos – and ‘viral’ behavior in general – are good examples of this.

Digital social networks are instantaneous, ubiquitous and can be vastly larger than the hundred-and-fifty-or-so limit imposed on our endogenous social networks, the functional bandwidth of the human neocortex.  Just as computers can execute algorithms tens of millions of times faster than we can, digital social networks can inflate to elephantine proportions, connecting us to thousands of others.

Most of us keep our social graphs much smaller; the average number of friends on any given user account on Facebook is around 35.  That’s small enough that it resembles your endogenous social network, so the same qualities of mimesis come into play.  When your connections start talking about a movie or a song or a television series, you’re more to become interested in it.

If this is all happening on Facebook – which it normally is – there is another member of your social graph, there whether you like it or not: Facebook itself.  You choose to build your social graph by connecting to others within Facebook, store your social graph on Facebook’s servers, and communicate within Facebook’s environment.  All of this has been neatly captured, providing an opening for Facebook to do what they will with your social graph.

You have friended Mark Zuckerberg, telling him everything about yourself that you have ever told to any of your friends.  More, actually, because an analysis of your social graph reveals much about you that you might not want to ever reveal to anyone else: your sexual preference and fetishes, your social class, your income level – everything that you might choose to hide is entirely revealed because you need to reveal it in order to make Facebook work.  Because you do not own it.  Because you do not have access to the source code, or the databases.  Because it is closed.

Your social graph is the most important thing you have that can be represented in bits.  With it, I can manipulate you.  I can change your tastes, your attitudes, even your politics.  We now know this is possible – and probably even easy.  But to do this, I need your social graph.  I need you to surrender it to me before I can use it to fuck you over.

We didn’t understand any of this a quarter billion seconds ago, when Friendster went live.  Now we have a very good idea of the potency of the social graph, but we find ourselves almost pathetically addicted to the amplified power of communication provided by Facebook.  We want to quit it, but we just don’t know how.  Just as with tobacco, going cold turkey won’t be easy.

On 28 May 2010, I killed my Facebook profile and signed off once and for all.  There is a cost – I’m missing a lot of the information which exists solely within the walled boundaries of Facebook – but I also breathe a bit easier knowing that I am not quite the puppet I was.  When someone asks why I quit – an explanation which has taken me over a thousand words this morning – they normally just close down the conversation with, “My grandmother is on Facebook.  I have to be there.”

That may be our epitaph.

We are so fucked.  We ended up here because we surrendered our most vital personal details to a closed-source system.  We should have known better.

And that’s only the half of it.

So much has happened in the last eight weeks that we’ve almost forgotten that before all of this disaster and tragedy afflicted Queensland, we were obsessed with another sort of disaster, rolling out in slow-motion, like a car smash from inside the car.  On 29 November 2010, Wikileaks, in conjunction with several well-respected newspapers, began to release the first few of a quarter million cables, written by US State Department officials throughout the world.  The US Government did its best to laugh these off as inconsequential, but one has already led more-or-less directly to a revolution in Tunisia.  We also know that Hilary Clinton has requested credit card numbers and DNA samples for all of the UN ambassadors in New York City, presumably so she can raise up a clone army of diplomats intent on identity theft.  Not a good look.

In early December, as the first cables came to light, and their contents ricocheted through the mediasphere, the US government recognized that it had to act – and act quickly – to staunch the flow of leaks.  The government had some help, because an individual seduced by the United States’ projection of power decided to mount a Distributed Denial of Service attack against the Wikileaks website.  In the name of freedom.  Or liberty.  Or something.

Wikileaks went down, but quickly relocated its servers into Amazon.com’s EC2 cloud.  This lasted until US Senator Joseph Lieberman started making noises.  Wikileaks was quickly turfed out of EC2, with Amazon claiming newly discovered violations of its Terms of Service.  Another ‘discovery’ of a violation followed in fairly short order with Wikileaks’ DNS provider, everyDNS.  For the coup de gras, PayPal had a look at their own terms of service – and, quelle horreur! – found Wikileaks in violation, freezing Wikileaks accounts, which, at that time, must have been fairly overflowing with contributions.

Deprive them of servers, deprive them of name service, deprive them of funds: checkmate.  The Powers That Be must have thought this could dent the forward progress of Wikileaks.  In fact, it only caused the number of copies of the website and associated databases to multiply.  Today, nearly two thousand webservers host mirrors of Wikileaks.  Like striking at a dandelion, attacking it only causes the seed to spread with the winds.

Although Wikileaks successfully resumed its work releasing the cables, the entire incident proved one ugly, mean, nasty point: the Internet is fundamentally not free.  Where we thought we breathed the pure air of free speech and free thought, we instead find ourselves severely caged.  If we do something that upsets our masters too much, they bring the bars down upon us, leaving us no breathing room at all.  That isn’t liberty.  That is slavery.

This isn’t some hypothetical.  This isn’t a paranoid fantasy.  This is what is happening. It will happen again, and again, and again, whenever the State or forces in collusion with the State find themselves threatened.  None of it is secure.  None of it belongs to us.  None of it is free.

This is why we are so truly and wholly fucked.  This is why we must stop and rethink everything we are doing.  This is why we must consider ourselves victims of another kind of disaster, another tragedy, and must equally and bravely confront another kind of rebuilding.  Because if we do not create something new, if we do not restore what is broken, we surrender to the forces of control.

I will not surrender.  I will not serve.

II: Life During Wartime (with A Design Guide for Anarchists)

Like it or not, we find ourselves at war.  It’s not a war we asked for.  It’s not a war we wanted.  But war is upon us, the last great gasp of the forces of control as they realize that when they digitized, in pursuit of greater efficiency, profit, or extensions of their own power, whatever they once held onto became so fluid it now drains away completely.

That’s one enemy, the old enemy, the ones whom history has already ruled irrelevant.  But there’s the other enemy, who seeks to exteriorize the interior, to make privacy difficult and therefore irrelevant.  Without privacy there is no liberty.  Without privacy there is no individuality.  Without privacy there is only the mindless, endless buzzing of the hive.    That’s the new enemy.  Although it announces itself with all of the hyperbole of historical inevitability, this is just PR aimed at extending the monopoly power of these forces.

We need weapons.  Lots of weapons.  I’m not talking about the Low Orbit Ion Cannon.  Rather, I’m recommending a layered defensive strategy, one which allows us to carry on with our business, blithely unmolested by the forces which seek to constrain us.

Here, then, is my ‘Design Guide for Anarchists’:

Design Principle One: Distribute Everything

The recording industry used the courts to shut down Napster because they could.  Napster had a single throat they could get their legal arms around, choking the life out of it.  In a display of natural selection that would have brought a tear to Alfred Russel Wallace’s eye, the selection pressure applied by the recording industry only led to the creation of Gnutella, which, through its inherently distributed architecture, became essentially impossible to eradicate.  The Day of the Darknet had begun.

Break everything upBreak it all down.  When you have these components, make them all independentReplicate them widely.  Allow them to talk to one another.  Allow them to search one another, share with one another, so that together they will create a whole greater than a simple sum of parts.  Then you will never be rid of them, because if one part should be cut down, there will be two others to take its place.

This is an extension of the essential UNIX idea of simple programs which can be piped together to do useful things.  ‘Small pieces, loosely joined.’  But these pieces shouldn’t live within a single process, a single processor, a single computer, or a single subnet.  They must live everywhere they can live, in every compatible environment, so that they can survive any of the catastrophes of war.

Design Principle Two: Transport Independence

The inundation of Brisbane and its surrounding suburbs brought a sudden death to all of its networks: mobile, wired, optic.  All of these networks are centralized, and for that reason they can all be turned off – either by a natural disaster, or at the whim of The Powers That Be.  Just as significantly, they require the intervention of those Powers to reboot them: government and telcos had to work hand-in-hand to bring mobile service back to the worst-affected suburbs.  So long as you are in the good graces of the government, it can be remarkably efficient.  But if you find yourself aligned against your government, or your government is afflicted with corruption, as simple a thing as a dial tone can be almost impossible to manifest.

We have created a centralized communications infrastructure.  Lines feed into trunks, which feed into central offices, which feed into backbones.  This seems the natural order of things, but it is entirely an echo of the commercial requirements of these networks.  In order to bill you, your communications must pass through a point where they can be measured, metered and tariffed.

There is another way.  Years before the Internet came along, we used UUCP and FidoNet to spread mail and news posts throughout a far-flung, only occasionally connected global network of users.  It was slower than we’re used to these days, but no less reliable.  Messages would forward from host to host, until they reached their intended destination.  It all worked if you had a phone line, or an Internet connection, or, well, pretty much anything else.  I presume that a few hardy souls printed out a UUCP transmission on paper tape, physically carried it from one host to another, and fed it through.

A hierarchy is efficient, but the price of that efficiency is vulnerability.  A rhizomatic arrangement of nodes within a mesh is slow, but very nearly invulnerable.  It will survive flood, fire, earthquake and revolution.  To abolish these dangerous hierarchies, we must reconsider everything we believe about ‘the right way’ to get bits from point A to point B.  Every transport must be considered – from point-to-point laser beams to wide-area mesh networks using unlicensed spectrum down to semaphore and smoke signals.  Nothing is too slow, only too unreliable.  If we rely on TCP/IP and HTTP exclusively, we risk everything for the sake of some speed and convenience.  But this is life during wartime, and we must shoulder this burden.

Design Principle Three: Secure Everything

Why would any message traverse a public network in plaintext?  The bulk of our communication occurs in the wide open – between Web browsers and Web servers, email servers and clients, sensors and their recorders.  This is insanity. It is not our job to make things easy to read for ASIO or the National Security Agency or Google or Facebook or anyone else who has some need to know what we’re saying and what we’re thinking.

As a baseline, everything we do, everywhere, must be transmitted with strong encryption.  Until someone perfects a quantum computer, that’s our only line of defense.

We need a security approach that is more comprehensive than this.  The migration to cloud computing – driven by its ubiquity and convenience, and baked into Google’s Chrome OS – deprives us of any ability to secure our own information.  When we use Gmail or Flickr or Windows Live or MobileMe or even Dropbox (which is better than most, as it stores everything encrypted), we surrender our security for a little bit of simplicity.  This is a false trade-off.  These systems are insecure because it benefits those who offer these systems to the public.  There is value in all of that data, so everything is exposed, leaving us exposed.

If you do not know where it lives, if you do not hold the keys to lock it or release it, if it affects to be more pretty than useful (because locks are ugly), turn your back on it, and tell the ones you love – who do not know what you know – to do the same.  Then, go and build systems which are secure, which present nothing but a lock to any prying eyes.

Design Principle Four: Open Everything

I don’t need to offer any detailed explanation for this last point: it is the reason we are here.  If you can’t examine the source code, how can you really trust it?  This is an issue beyond maintainability, beyond the right to fork; this is the essential element that will prevent paranoia.  ‘Transparency is the new objectivity’, and unless any particular program is completely transparent, it is inherently suspect.

Open source has the additional benefit that it can be reused and repurposed; the parts for one defensive weapon can rapidly be adapted to another one, so open source accelerates the responses to new threats, allowing us to stay one step ahead of the forces who are attempting to close all of this down.  There’s a certain irony here: in order to compete effectively with us, those who oppose us will be forced to open their own source, to accelerate their own responses to our responses.  On this point we must win, simply because open source improves selection fitness.

When all four of these design principles are embodied in a work, another design principle emerges: resilienceSomething that is distributed, transport independent, secure and open is very, very difficult to subvert, shut down, or block. It will survive all sorts of disasters.  Including warfare.  It will adapt at lightning speed.  It makes the most of every possible selection advantage.  But nothing is perfect.  Systems engineered to these design principles will be slower than those built purely for efficiency.  The more immediacy you need, the less resilience you get.  Sometimes immediacy will overrule other design principles.  Such trade-offs must be carefully thought through.

Is all of this more work?  Yes.  But then, building an automobile that won’t kill its occupants at speed is a lot more work than slapping four wheels and a gear train on a paper mache box.  We do that work because we don’t want our loved ones hurtling toward their deaths every time they climb behind the wheel.  Freedom ain’t free, and ‘extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.’

Let me take a few minutes to walk you through the design of my own open-source project, so you can see how these design principles have influenced my own work.

III:  Plexus

When I announced I would quit Facebook, many of my contacts held what can only be described as an ‘electronic wake’ for me, in the middle of my Facebook comment stream.  As if I were about to pass away, and they’d never see me again.  I kept pointing them to my Posterous blog, but they simply ignored the links, telling me how much I’d be missed once I departed.  ‘But why can’t you just come visit me on Posterous?’ I asked.  One contact answered for the lot when he said, ‘That’s too hard, Mark.  With Facebook I can check on everyone at once.  I don’t need to go over there for you, and over here for someone else, and so on and so on.  Facebook makes it easy.’

That’s another epitaph.  Yet it precipitated a penny-drop moment.  The reason Facebook has such lock-in with its users is because of a network effect: as more people join Facebook, its utility value as a human switchboard increases.  It is this access to the social graph which is Facebook’s ‘flypaper’, the reason it is so sticky, and surpassing Google as the most visited site on the Internet.

That social graph is the key thing; it’s what the address book, the rolodex and the contacts database have morphed into, and it forms the foundation for a project that I have named Plexus.  Plexus is a protocol for the social web, ‘plumbing’ that allows all social web components to communicate: from each, according to their ability, to each, according to their need.  Some components of the social web – Facebook comes to mind – are very poor communicators.  Others, like Twitter, have provided every conceivable service to make them easy to talk to.

Plexus provides a ‘meta-API’, based on RFC2822 messaging, so that each service can feed into or be fed by an individual’s social graph.  This social graph, the heart of Plexus, is what we might call the ‘Web2.0 address book’.  It’s not simply a static set of names, addresses, telephone numbers and emails, but, rather, an active set of connections between services, which you can choose to listen to, or to share with.  This is the switchboard, where the real magic takes place, allowing you listen to or be listened to, allowing you to share, or be shared with.

Plexus is agnostic; it can talk to any service, and any service can talk to it.  It is designed to ‘wire everything together’, so that we never have to worry about going hither and yon to manage our social graph, but neither need we be chained in one place.  Plexus gives us as much flexibility as we require.  That’s the vision.

Just after New Year, I had an insight.  I had originally envisioned Plexus as a monolithic set of Python modules.  It became clear that message-passing between the components – using an RFC2822 protocol – would allow me to separate the components, creating a distributed Plexus, parts of which could run anywhere: on a separate process, on a separate subnet, or, really, anywhere.  Furthermore, these messages could easily be encrypted and signed using RSA encryption, creating a strong layer of security.  Finally, these messages could be transmitted by any means necessary: TCP/IP, UUCP, even smoke signals.  And of course, all of it is entirely open.  Because it’s a protocol, the pieces of Plexus can be coded in any language anyone wants to use: Python, Node.js, PHP, Perl, Haskell, Ruby, Java, even shell.  Plexus is an agreement to speak the same language about the things we want to share.

I could go into mind-numbing detail about the internals of Plexus, but I trust those of you who find Plexus intriguing will find me after I leave the stage this morning.  I’m most interested in what you know that could help move this project forward: what pieces already exist that I can rework and adapt for Plexus?  I need your vast knowledge, your insights and your critiques.  Plexus is still coming to life, but a hundred things must go right for it to be a success.  With your aid, that can happen.

When it does – well, let me share one of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite novels, Illuminatus!, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson:

The Chinese Taoist laughs at civilization and goes elsewhere.
The Babylonian Chaoist sets termites to the foundations.

Plexus is a white ant set to the imposing foundations of Facebook and every other service which chooses to take the easy path, walling its users in, the better to control them.  There is another way.  When the network outside the walls has a utility value greater than the network within, the forces of natural selection come into play, and those walls quickly tumble.  We saw it with AOL.  We saw it with MSN.  We’ll see it again with Facebook.  We will build the small and loosely-coupled components that individually do very little but altogether add up to something far more useful than anything on offer from any monopolist.

We need to see this happen.  This is not just a game.

Conclusion: The Next Billion Seconds

A billion seconds ago, Linux did not exist.  The personal computer was an expensive toy.  The Internet – well, one of my friends is the sysadmin who got HP onto UUCP – this was before the Internet became pervasive – and he remembers updating his /etc/hosts file weekly – by hand.  Every machine on the Internet could be found within a single file, that could be printed out on two sheets of greenbar.  A billion seconds later, and we’re a few days away from IPocalypse, the total allocation of the IPv4 number space.

Something is going on.

I’m not as teleological as Kevin Kelly.  I do not believe that there is evidence to support a seventh class of life – the technium – which is striving to come into its own.  I don’t consider technology as something in any way separate from us.  Other animals may use tools, but we have gone further, becoming synonymous with them.  Our social instinct for imitation, our language instinct for communication, and our technological instinct for tool using all seem to be reaching new heights.  Each instinct reinforces the others, creating a series of rising feedbacks that has only one possible end: the whole system overloads, overflows all its buffers, and – as you might expect – knocks the supervisor out of the box.

Call this a Singularity, if you like.  I simply refer to it as the next billion seconds.

The epicenter of this transition, where all three streams collide, sits in the palm of our hands, nearly all the time.  The mobile is the most pervasive technology in human history.  People who do not have electricity or indoor plumbing or literacy or agriculture have mobiles.  Perhaps five and a half billion of the planet’s seven billion souls possesses one; that’s everyone who earns more than one dollars a day.  Countless studies shows that individuals with mobiles improve their economic fitness:  they earn more money.  Anything that improves selection fitness – and economic fitness is a big part of that – spreads rapidly, as humans imitate, as humans communicate, as humans take the tool and further it, increasing its utility, amplifying its ability to amplify economic fitness.  The mobile becomes even more useful, more essential, more indispensable.  A billion seconds ago, no one owned a mobile.  Today, nearly everyone does.

Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested to make the mobile more useful, more pervasive, and more effective.  The engines of capital are reorganizing themselves around it, just as they did, three billion seconds ago, for the automobile, and a billion seconds ago for the integrated circuit.  But unlike the automobile or the IC, the mobile is quintessentially a social technology, a connective fabric for humanity.  The next billion seconds will see this fabric become more tangible and more tightly woven, as it becomes increasingly inconceivable to separate ourselves from those we choose to share our lives with.

Call this a Hive Mind, if you like.  I simply refer to it as the next billion seconds.

This is starting to push beneath our skins the way it has already colonized our attention.  I don’t know that we will literally ‘Borg’ ourselves.  But the strict boundaries between ourselves, our machines, and other humans are becoming blurred to the point of meaninglessness.  Organisms are defined by their boundaries, by what they admit and what they refuse.  In this billion seconds, we are rewriting the definition of homo sapiens sapiens, irrevocably becoming something else.

Do we own that code? Are parts of that new definition closed off from us, fenced in by the ramparts of privilege or power or capital or law?  Will we end up with something foreign inside each of us, a potency unnamed, unobserved, and unavoidable?  Will we be invaded, infected, and controlled?   This is the choice that confronts us in the next billion seconds, a choice made even in its abrogation.  Freedom is not just an ideal.  Liberty is not some utopian dream.  These must form the baseline human experience in our next billion seconds, or all is lost.  We ourselves will be lost.

We have reached the decision point.  Our actions today – here, in this room – define the future we will inhabit, the transhumanity we are emerging into.  We’ve had our playtime, and it’s been good.  We’ve learned a lot, but mostly we’ve learned how to discern right from wrong.  We know what to do: what to build up, and what to tear down.  This transition is painful and bloody and carries with it the danger of complete loss.  But we have no choice.  We are too far down within it to change our ways now.  ‘The way down is the way up.’

Call it a birth, if you like.  It awaits us within the next billion seconds.

The slides for this talk (in OpenOffice.org Impress format) are available here.  They contain strong images.

Three Billion

 
I: Give the Poor a Helping Hand(set)

For at least the past two thousand years, the traders of Arabia have built small, sturdy sailing ships – known as dhows – and set out across the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean, in search of spices, jewels, and precious metals.  The great trading city-states of the Arabian peninsula – such as Bahrain – gained their prominence as the nexus of the routes for these traders.  Throughout all of Western Asia, these cities were famed for their souks – the marketplaces where buyers and sellers from across the known world came together in profitable exchange.


Traders were humanity’s earliest version of a network; the trader carried material – atoms – from one point to another, but, far more significantly, they transmitted information – bits – in their news, rumour, craft techniques and technologies, which were as much their stock-in-trade as any pearls or cinnamon.  The earliest packet-switched network was, quite literally, composed of packet ships.  Each of the cultures which fronted on these seas and oceans learned something from the traders who came to visit; each of these cultures were influenced, in a “spooky action at a distance”, by each other.  The traders took the best of each culture, editing it down to something compact and transportable, and spread that widely.  Even the dhow evolved, as traders encountered other seafaring cultures, adapting the best improvements into their own design until the dhow itself became a potent bit of information, something that, due to their ubiquity in the seas of West and South Asia, was widely copied.

Dhows are still in widespread use today, around Arabia, and all of the coastlines touched by those traders so many years ago.  It’s a time-tested design that can be hand-built using local materials.  As such, dhows well suit the materially disadvantaged cultures of South Asia, and, in particular, the southern Indian state of Kerala.  There, fishermen have taken their dhows to sea for countless hundreds of years, dropped their nets, hauled their catch, then set their sails back to shore.  The Kerala coastline is dotted with fishing villages, each with its own fish market.  On any given day, any number of fishing dhows might dock at a particular village.  Should too many pick the same port, the market has too many fish, and, while the buyers get a bargain, the fisherman won’t even earn enough to cover the cost of taking the dhow to sea.   Meanwhile, just a few kilometers down the coast, another village has been overlooked by the dhows, and there’s no fish available at any price.  This is the way it ever was in Kerala; a chaotic market which never quite meets the needs of buyers and sellers.  

Just a decade ago, as India began its meteoric rise into industrialization, several of its wireless telecoms firms strung the Kerala coast with GSM transceivers.  Radio signals travel by line-of-sight; this means they reach out over the Indian Ocean to a distance bounded by the curvature of the Earth – around 25 kilometers.  While handsets are, in a relative sense, quite expensive for Indians – they cost about a month’s earnings for a fisherman (or the earned equivalent of nearly AUD $3000) – one relatively wealthy fisherman bought a handset and took it to sea.  At some point, during one of those trips to sea, he got a call or text from the shore – probably something family related.  In the course of that interaction, the fisherman learned that there was a fishing village completely without fish, and ready to pay almost any price for it.  That day, the fisherman headed for that port, and made a tidy profit.  Perhaps, on the next day, he made a few calls, while still out to sea, to find out which village was wanting for fish.  And so on.

This would not have gone unnoticed by the other fishermen in Kerala; they are a community, and while they compete, they also freely share information amongst themselves – that’s what communities do.  The news of this innovation would have spread among them very quickly.  And, despite the staggering cost, each of the fishermen – even the poorest among them – were soon sporting GSM handsets.  Each day, as the fishermen assess their catch, there’s a flurry of communication between these fishermen and the fish markets dotting the coast, as the fishermen learn where their catch will get the best price.  

Kerala in 2007 is a different place.  The markets always have enough fish; no market goes wanting.  But there’s always just enough fish to guarantee a good price – there are only rarely gluts in the market.  The fishermen are getting a good price for their fish; buyers and sellers are both satisfied.  And the fishermen are earning more money; so much more that a handset – as expensive as it is – will be paid for in just two month’s time.  

How did this happen?  Using wireless communications, the fishermen and fish sellers created their own market, practicing the time-honored principles of supply & demand – just like any electronic bourse in the industrialized world.  But this developed on its own, by itself.  It simply emerged, naturally, through the interaction of people and mobiles.

This was not predicted.  Nor was it predicted that farmers in Kenya would use mobiles to phone ahead to the various village and regional markets to learn the going prices for their maize and sorghum, so they too could make markets and maximize their profits.  Or that the spice traders of India and Arabia would use SMS to create far-flung auction networks, their own emergent eBay.  Yet all of these – and much, much more – are now happening.  When you add mobile communications to any culture, a now-recognizable pattern comes into play: some person, through their interaction with the handset, improves their economic fitness; this behavior is then widely copied through the culture.  It happened a thousand years ago, via the great trading cultures of Araby; it’s happening again today.  

Mimesis is the essential human condition; we have recently learned that the one thing that separates us from the chimpanzees is not our ability to use tools, but rather, our ability, from our very youngest years, to imitate behavior.  Behaviors which increase our economic fitness are strongly selected for; we adopt them quickly and pass them along to our peers and children.  

We now know, beyond any argument, that mobile communications inherently increase our economic fitness.  A paper published last month in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, titled The Digital Provide: Information (Technology), Market Performance and Welfare in the South Indian Fisheries Sector takes a look at the Kerala phenomenon in detail, and determines, through an elegant analysis:

The adoption of mobile phones by fishermen and wholesalers was associated with a dramatic reduction in price dispersion, the complete elimination of waste, and near-perfect adherence to the Law of One Price.  Both consumer and producer welfare increased.


The lesson of Kerala is not specific; there is a general economic principle at work.  It is known that the lifeblood of any market is information; when you improve the ability of participants in a market to communicate, you remove many of the inequities which plague markets everywhere.  It has now been demonstrated that such inequities are a major part of the reason why poor populations remain poor.  Simply by improving their ability to communicate, you can improve a person’s economic fitness.  This assertion doesn’t strain credulity: imagine trying to trade at a market in a foreign land; without access to the common language, you’d fail to trade, or, worse, be taken advantage of.  The development of ‘pigins’ – simplified languages – go hand-in-hand with the spread of trading cultures.  Savvy?

The phenomenon officially recognized in Kerala had already been de facto recognized by organizations which participate in microfinance.  Microfinance allows the poorest of the poor access to the minimal amounts of investment funds needed to dramatically improve their economic fitness.  These loans – which can be for as little as the equivalent of ten or twenty dollars – allow the applicant to purchase something which dramatically improves their ability to earn a living – a sewing machine, a milk cow, or – more and more – a mobile handset.  The oldest of these microfinance institutions, Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, found itself lending out so much of its funds for mobiles that it recently started its own telecoms firm, Grameen Phone.  In the first days of microfinance, a loan for a mobile handset would allow that individual to rent time on the handset to the other villages within that community, creating a pervasive, low-cost mobile phone service.  But, as we now know, interaction with the mobile handset produces a rapidly-reinforcing series of feedbacks which end, inevitably, with individuals owning their own handset.  Today, Grameen and other microfinance lenders make loans to individuals who sell new and used mobile handsets, repair broken handsets, and vend prepaid phone cards.

Sometime within the next few days, there will be three billion mobile phone subscribers.  Perhaps 10% of those are subscribers who have multiple accounts, so there are roughly 2.7 billion individual mobile subscribers at present.  It took about ten years to get to the first billion mobile subscribers; about 3 1/2 half years to get to the second billion, and about eighteen months to get to the third billion.  This process is accelerating along the all-too-familiar curve popularized in Crossing the Chasm.  We’re in the midst of an accelerating adoption of mobile communication, and soon – sometime around the middle of next year – half of humanity will own a mobile handset.  In a decade’s time we’ll have gone from half the world never having made a telephone call to half the world owning their own phone.

This is shocking on two grounds: first, there is a deeply-held belief that mobile handsets are the extraneous accessories of a consumption-oriented Western lifestyle, that they are, in short, “bling.”  The hyperbole surrounding the June launch of Apple’s iPhone makes this case convincingly.  For us, here in the West, mobiles are status symbols.  How could the expensive and unnecessary status symbols of the West be of any utility to the two thirds of the world who are, by OECD standards, poor?  Yet, against this, consider the Nokia 1100, introduced in 2003, and designed to be both very inexpensive and – with its entirely sealed case – durable: dirt, dust, and water-resistant.  Last year Nokia had sold its two hundred millionth 1100.  To put that in context, compare it to the iPod – Nokia has sold twice as many 1100s as Apple has sold iPods – in half the time.  It is, by far, the most successful consumer electronics gadget in human history.  Yet, because it is not sexy, because it doesn’t have bling, because it is aimed precisely at those emerging markets in the poor corners of the world, Nokia’s unprecedented milestone went mostly unnoticed.  In the West we are guilty of a willful ignorance; we’ve made our mind up about the value of pervasive wireless communication – that it is a toy to the rich, but worthless to the poor.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Pervasive wireless communication is of far, far more value to the poor than the rich.

Second, and what I will focus on through the rest of this paper, this rapid deployment of pervasive wireless communication will have unprecedented and largely unpredictable effects on human culture.  We already have some sense of how little we know: we have the example of Kerala – absolutely unpredicted, though, in retrospect, it seems perfectly obvious.  It is not that we are blind to the human capacity for self-organization and emergent behavior – indeed, we practice these behaviors every day – rather, it is that we have never made a study of them, and we certainly don’t understand what happens when this capacity is amplified nearly infinitely by pervasive wireless communication.  We’re going to have to learn all of this, and learn it quickly, because along with the improvement in human economic fitness, another part of the same package, comes a new capacity for chaos, as innate human capacities for both good and bad are amplified almost beyond recognition.


Part Two: The Triumph of Netocracy

In the wake of the May 1968 riots in France, two philosophers stepped back to do an meta-analysis of the cultural processes which led to such a crisis.  France was not under threat; the previous twenty years had seen the longest and strongest sustained growth French history.  Yet the well-educated university-attending children of the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie were out on the streets, fighting the police, burning cars, striking and shutting down these same universities which freely offered them an education.  Why?  How had this happened?  

Over the next decade, these philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guartari published a two-volume work, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which argued that the riots and youthful revolt were a reaction to a model of authority and hierarchy which the soixante-huitards rejected as inimical to their humanity.  In the first volume, Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari looked at how all structures of authority descend from ancient forms of patriarchy, and that the natural reaction to this authority is the Oedipal desire to kill the father – the archetypal authority figure.  Anti-Oedipus presented a diagnosis of the cultural illness, but it was the second volume, A Thousand Plateaus, which attempted to be prescriptive, outlining a methodology which might cure the patient.  In opposition to hierarchy and authority, which Anti-Oedipus asserted produced a “schizimogenesis”, a rift in the fabric of human being, A Thousand Plateaus asserted the value of the rhizome, the horizontal stem which sends its shoots out laterally.  The rhizome is the antithesis of hierarchy, not because it contradicts it (which is in itself an authoritative position), but rather, because the rhizome presents an alternative to it.  In a collection of rhizomes – that is, a network – there is no top, and no bottom, no master and no slave.
 
Everything and everyone exists within what Deleuze and Guattari identified as the milieu, the middle:

The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to another and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle.

 
When A Thousand Plateaus was published, a quarter-century ago, it shook the foundations of philosophy.  Much of the “postmodernism” which cultural conservatives sneer at comes from the pages of the that text.  (This reaction is perfectly in keeping with the recognized conservative tendency to bow to authority, and demonize anything that represents a threat to that authority.)  Yet, although the text presented a sort of “map” of a territory free from the schizimogenic qualities of authority and hierarchy, Deleuze and Guattari were philosophers, not revolutionaries: they did not present a battle plan to manage the transition from hierarchy to milieu.  As it turns out, that roadmap proved unnecessary.  It’s not that the ideas within A Thousand Plateaus were fruitless, but rather, at just the time both philosophers passed from the world, the rhizome rose and subsumed us all into its milieu.  Where is this rhizome?  All around us, now: pervasively, wirelessly, instantly accessible to nearly half the planet.  The rhizome is the network.

This is not an original idea; it has been explored by many philosophers, though, in the earliest flourish of the network era, fifteen years ago, it received more attention than it does today.  At that time, when the frontiers of network culture were first glimpsed, anything seemed possible, including something as profound the end of authority.  But as the network was colonized by hierarchical forces – which had, in themselves, absorbed some of the lessons of the network – it seemed that, for all of its power, the network would simply recapitulate the forms of authority on an even more pervasive basis.  This assessment was premature.

Although the network provides instantaneous connectivity, network effects are not in themselves instantaneous.  These network effects are non-deterministic, and depend on the evolving interactive relationships between the individuals connected through the networks.  It takes time for people, as the loci of agency within the network, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the network, and translate those experiential lessons into ontological frameworks which guide behavior.  Furthermore, the network is not one thing; it is a collection of things, and it is a growing collection of things.  The network of 2007 is not the same thing as the network of 1993.  This is in some small part due to the evolution of the technology of the network.  It is, more significantly, due to the development of new human behaviors and techniques for using the network.  These techniques, where proven successful, are then rapidly disseminated by the network, and which act as the catalyst for the development of other behaviors and techniques, which, when proven successful, are disseminated by the network.  This is a self-reinforcing process, which had led, in fairly short order, to an enormous and entirely real sense of acceleration around both the network and the idea of the network.
  
This acceleration, like the acceleration of bodies in space, produces its own inertial effects – “gravity,” if you will.  As acceleration increases, gravity increases, weighing down the objects which possess mass.  In this case, and in this context, the massive objects are hierarchies.  Hierarchies are being dragged down by this pseudo-gravitational force, and the life is slowly being crushed out of them.  This is not a political statement: it is a diagnosis of the present.  

Institutions, as the embodiment of hierarchies within human culture, are at this moment facing the growing threat of the network while, at the same time, their ability to move, to adapt, to maintain their self-integrity, is increasingly constrained by a force which makes them slower, heavier, and weaker.  They are more focused on breathing than doing.  This will not change.  There is no magic cure which will revivify hierarchy.  The network is too pervasive, too important, too laden with ever-increasing utility to be overcome, or forgotten.  The cultural incorporation of network ontology was the fatal crisis for hierarchy.  And that point has already passed.

Although I may have overstretched a my metaphors in the preceding paragraphs, it is easy enough to give a few of examples which illustrate my argument:

  • Wikipeida vs Britannica: the “crowdsourced” encyclopedia is now, on average, at least as accurate as the hierarchically produced, peer-reviewed production, and covers a far greater breadth of subject material than Britannica.
  • Television and film distribution: since the advent of Napster in 1999, all attempts to control the distribution of media have met with increasing resistance.  The audience now moves to circumvent any copy-restrictions as soon as they are introduced by copyright holders.
  • Politics: The Attorney General of the United States of America resigned last week, because of the efforts of a few, very dedicated bloggers.

There has never been an interaction between the network and the hierarchy which the hierarchy has won.  Not a single example.  Even the “Great Firewall of China”, which, until last month, was the sterling example for the fans of authority, has now been revealed as a failed technical and cultural project.  Wang Guoqing, the Chinese Vice-Minister for Information was quoted by Reuters, saying: “It has been repeatedly proved that information blocking is like walking into a dead end.”

All of this flows from Gilmore’s Law, which states, “The net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”  In light of what we now understand about the network’s relationship to hierarchy, it should now be reframed as, “The net interprets hierarchy as damage and routes around it.

Though it long dominated the organization of human affairs, hierarchy has had its day in the sun, and is passing from the scene.  The pervasive presence of the network killed it.  We now need to focus on the forms which are rising to replace it.


III: The Dictatorship of the Wikitariat

Wikipedia is the poster child for the age of Netocracy.  Its peer-produced, user-generated, freely-editable, open-source collective intelligence hits so many of the tick boxes of the network era that it seems very nearly a miracle suddenly appeared in our midst.  In its first years, Wikipedia was more an act of faith than a useful reference tool.  The continuous efforts of a dedicated community of believers translated a vision for a commonweal of knowledge into reality.  Once it acquired sufficient content – again, best conceptualized as gravity – it began to attract readers, who, in turn, became editors and creators, adding more weight, which in turn attracted more readers, more editors and creators, more content, in a virtuous cycle of positive feedback which seemed to have no where to go but up, up, up.
 
Wikipedia Article Growth 2001 - 2007 
I have some shocking news to report: it hasn’t turned out that way.  Yes, Wikipedia is still growing, but – for at least the last year – the rate of growth has dramatically slowed down.  The acceleration is actually negative.  Wikipedia’s growth is slowing down.  Why did this happen?  Just a few weeks ago Wikipedia passed two million articles in English (all these figures concern the English-language version of Wikipedia), and yes, it will grow for some time into the future.  But the growth of articles in Wikipedia should be steadily accelerating; it should be growing faster as it grows bigger.  It was certainly doing that for several years.  What’s changed?  Is it possible that there are only two million topics of interest to the English-language users of Wikipedia?  That seems unlikely, if only because Wikipedia is the outstanding example of the power and beauty of the miscellaneous.  Yes, all the major topics have been covered, but there’s absolutely no way that two million entries can begin to explore the depth of human experience.  It’s inconceivable that this is all there is to say about Life, Culture, the Universe and Everything.  Nor do I believe it likely that we have “crossed the chasm” into the downward slope – which would imply that four million article entries would pretty much represent the sum total of the English-language experience.

The true answer is far simpler, and, in its own way, far more dire: it is getting harder to create a new article in Wikipedia.  One can still type in a topic, and be presented with an opportunity to create a page if nothing exists under that heading.  It is technically as easy as ever to create a new article in Wikipedia.  It’s what happens after that article is created that has become the sticking point, the sclerotic plaque which is afflicting Wikipedia.  Wikipedia, newly powerful, has engendered the production of its own elites, its own hierarchies – individuals and networks of individuals who have proven, through time, dedication and contribution, that their opinion matters.  These individuals – the Wikipedians – have taken on the task of keeping Wikipedia concise, correct and pure.  While each of these definitions is highly provisional and contestable, it is the last of these, purity, which is causing Wikipedia the greatest problems.  The Wikipedians themselves don’t use that term – in fact, they would object to its usage – but their increasingly dogmatic application of self-derived guidelines for the determination of the “value” or “worth” of knowledge has a nearly religious dimension.  Wikipedians, in this context, are fighting a battle between the forces of chaos, on one hand, who seek to drown the meaningful information in a sea of miscellany and meaninglessness; while on another front, Wikipedians wage a constant war against special interests who seek to shape meaning to their own ideological ends.  This continuing and ever-increasing stress has made the Wikipedians increasingly conservative.  Wikipedians are coming to rely upon themselves more and more; the networked milieu which gave them vitality is rapidly fossilizing into a hierarchy, where certain individuals and groups of individuals assert control over specific topics and articles.  These are the gatekeepers who must be appeased before an article can be approved, or an edit retained.

In the space of just six years, Wikipedia has managed to recapitulate the entire hierarchical structure which frames Britannica, albeit on a much broader basis, but to the same ends, and, in the long term, with the same results. Individuals and organizations are already forking Wikipedia and MediaWiki to produce their own works: Conservapedia, though laughable in some respects, is at least an honest attempt to right the perceived wrongs of the Wikipedians.  Citizendium has taken as its basic premise that hierarchy must be embraced; Citizendium won’t need to grow its own hierarchy, as Wikipedia did – it will have it from the very beginning. 

The drive to keep Wikipedia pure is interesting and indicative of a certain vitality, but in the long run it is also entirely pointless.  You can not censor Wikipedia; or rather, if do attempt to do so, the net will simply route around you.  The chaos and miscellany that Wikipedians reject are, in fact, the lifeblood of a universal encyclopedia.  They will find a home, somewhere: if not in Wikipedia, then in something else, which will begin to grow in ways that Wikipedia refuses to, until it becomes a gravitational center in its own right, and this thing-that-follows-Wikipedia will perform a dance on Wikipedia’s desiccated corpse, much as the Wikipedians have done with respect to Britannica.  The human desire to create order from chaos – this noble desire which is strangling Wikipedia – seems perfectly natural to us; we believe order is a prerequisite to utility.  But we longer have the luxury of thinking in those terms.  Our present and our future are all about the newly empowered netocratic forces loosed in the world.


Conclusion: The War of All Against All

An SMS forwarded through a Chinese city can result in an anti-government demonstration – even when the government censors the messages passed through the state-owned telecoms firm.  Another SMS can send a crowd of white supremacists out to foment a riot in Cronulla.  A ringtone sampled from an illegally taped telephone conversation can bring down a head of state.  A meticulously photographed copy of every page of a purloined copy of the last Harry Potter can be distributed around the world in minutes, days before its publication.  There is no control anywhere in this, no center, no authority.  Things just happen.  In all of this, like-minded individuals come together, across the networks, and, through this “spooky action at a distance,” act in a coordinated fashion even while scattered to the four corners of the Earth.  It might look like Wikipedia – or it could look like al Qaeda.  It matters not: the same forces are at work.  

As we bring individuals into the network, we grant them the perfect tool to resist authority, to hack hierarchy, to make their own way as fully empowered individuals within a globally networked body politic.  For this reason, the 21st century will look a lot like a continuous, low-level civil war.  Imagine the “flame wars” of USENET or even Wikipedia’s discussion pages, amplified and shared, globally and instantaneously.  We already live in this world: a student journalist’s encounter with a taser makes its way onto YouTube minutes after the event; a politician’s racist epithet ruins his career – even without any TV cameras to broadcast the slur; a shadowy, fragmentary, Sharia-inspired resistance cell in Iraq films its latest IED attack, and shares the results with its unknown yet equally-well-connected co-conspirators.  This is the shape of the 21st century.  It is chaotic, and no amount of hand-wringing or wishing for a strong “daddy” of an authority figure will grant any of us any safety whatsoever.  All authority has been hacked.  The Net killed Daddy.

Finally, the net itself represents the last authority, the last hierarchy.  The telecoms firms themselves, and the networks they control, are the last, best hope for hierarchy.  The physical implementation of a telecoms network – where all the end nodes flow though a series of concentrators to a central hub – is the word of hierarchy made flesh.  Although networks have engendered the collapse of hierarchy, the agents of that collapse – these telecoms firms – have been strangely resistant to these same qualities of those networks.  But not for very much longer.  With the recent advent of mesh networking, the networks themselves are now becoming as radically restructured, radically decentralized, and will, in themselves, be as chaotic as the culture they engender.  

Just as the audience seized control over both the creation and distribution of media, this planetary mob is asserting control over the bandwidth and spectrum which have, until now, been the sole province of telcos and governments.  We are gearing up to another fight, hierarchy against network (even now in its opening rounds, in the disguise of “net neutrality”), and once again, if history is any guide, the hierarchy will draw back from the field bloodied and defeated.  At that point, networks will be the physical embodiment of the process they engender.  The network is already pervasive; soon it will also be entirely rhizomic.  The triumph of the network will be complete.