The goal of the Linux-Society (LS, dating back to the mid-90s as a professional club and tech-mentoring group) has been a purely-democratic Information Society; many of the articles are sociological in nature. The LS was merged with Perl/Unix of NY to form multi-layered group that included advocacy, project-oriented learning by talented high school students: textbook constructivism. Linux has severe limitations such that it is useless for any computer that will, say, print or scan. It is primarily used for webservers and embedded devices such as the Android. (Google is high-invested in it).

Technology is problematic. During the heyday of technology (1990s), it seemed it had the democratic direction Lewis Mumford said it should have in his seminal
Technics and Civilization.

Today, we are effectively stuck with Windows as Linux is poor on the desktop and has cultured a maladaptive following. Apple is prohibitive, and all other operating systems lack drivers, including Google's Android, an offshoot of linux.

In the late 90s there was hope for new kernels such as LibOS and ExoOS that would bare their hardware to programs, some of which would be virtual machines such as Java uses. Another important player was the L4 system that is a minor relation to the code underlying the Apple's systems. It was highly scientific but fell into the wrong hangs, apparently, and has suffered from having no progress on the desktop. There is a version, "SE" that is apparently running in many cell phones as specialized telecom chips, but is proprietary. SE's closed nature was only recently revealed, which is important because it is apparently built from publicly-owned code as it is not a "clean room" design it may violate public domain protections, and most certainly violates the widely-accepted social contract.

Recent attempts to enjoin into L4 development as an advocate for "the people" have been as frustrating (and demeaning) as previous attempts with the usual attacks to self-esteem by maladaptive "hacks" being reinforced by "leadership" (now mostly university professors).

In short, this leaves us with Windows, which is quite a reversal if you have read earlier posts here. But, upon Windows, we have free and open software development systems in the forms of GTK+ (the windows usually used on Linux) and the Minimal GNU Windows (MinGW and MSYS) systems. It is very likely this direction that development should go (that is, on Windows) such that s/w can then be ported to a currently-valid microkernel system that includes a driver system that can be adapted by hardware developers to reuse of their windows and apple drivers.

From a brief survey of L4, it appears that the last clean copy was the DROPS system of the early 2010s, was a German effort that used the Unix-like "OS kit" from an American University.

If we are going to be stuck on Windows, then it seems that a high level approach to free and open systems integration, such as creating fully transparent mouse communication between apps so that they can seamlessly work together as a single desktop (rather than deliberately conflicting). This would be very helpful for GIMP and Inkscape, both leading graphics programs that are strong in the special ways, but suffer from an inability to easily interrelate.

Another important issue is the nature, if you can call it that, of the "geek" or "hack." Technology is formed democratically but "harvested" authoritarian-ly --if I can coin a term that Mumford might use. Authority is plutarchy: a combination of aristocracy and oligarchy that is kept alive after all these millennia by using, or maligning, the information society as a part of the civilizing (or law-giving) process that embraces the dialectic as its method. Democratic restoration, that is to put humanity back on an evolutionary (and not de-evolutionary) track, I think, will require the exclusion of the "geek" from decision-making. As is, the free/open s/w culture attempts to give leadership to those who write the most lines of code --irrespective of their comprehension of the real world or relationship with normal users. We need normal people to somehow organize around common sense (rather than oligarchic rationalism) to bring to life useful and cohesive software and communications systems.

Interestingly, the most popular page on this site is about Carl Rogers' humanistic psychology, and has nothing to do with technology.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A short history of the Information Society

The very first technologies brought humanity away from a life of wandering looking for food and killing wild animals to survive. In adapting nature to make life better, domesticated animals started to change the farmers, making them more civil and able to create human society. Tribes in Africa who have just started to use metal plows have suddenly experience factors of growth in their ability to live richer lives. Small improvements can provide great strides for groups of humans, creating the beginnings of advanced civilization, possibly leading to artistic renaissance.

Not all humans took advantage of these strides, and with the creation of tools came weapons. Humans who continued to hunt rather than work with the earth and build villages, had no particular respect for life as killing was their main business (Mumford, p. 82). The paranoia and sadism of a life-long hunter tends towards a culture of killing that does is not limited to animals. For safety they form into groups, and these groups direct their killing instincts. Nature is benign; there are no real dangers that don't exist anywhere else, with the exception of folly with respect to the weather or other human error. Common sense should keep people from antagonizing large predators.

5000 years ago, a hunter finished a meal of red meat and bread in the Alps. It should have been a happy moment for him, but he was shot in the head with an arrow by a fellow hunter. With few real threats in the world, even at high altitudes, humans create all of their own threats.

Growth of Control, Paranoia and Armies
With time, armed bands grew into armies and their leaders where able to accumulate wealth and land and even other humans with the use of weapons. The weapon is the ultimate labor saving device, armed men can obtain wealth without working, they can obtain wives with out being kind and charming, they can gain power without any social or organizational talents. All they have to know is killing. Technologies that brought benefits to civilization have been shadowed by advances that have advanced killing to the point of terrorism. In the human experience, peace and prosperity have grown in parallel with terror and annihilation.

The great empires that grew prior to our modern age of the last millennium, were spread out and managed to diffuse their power structures so as to prevent socially equalizing forces from having a point to focus on. But in being so spread out they where vulnerable to a breakdowns in the information and communication systems that they had created to build their empires with their achievements. The breakdown of early empires such as Egypt and Rome allowed local nation states to grow without the fear of attack by an empire and the poverty caused by tribute.

Democratic Technic
At a certain undefinable point magic became science, alchemy becomes metallurgy. “Merlin” as it were, empowered by a kind and just “King Arthur” was able to move beyond “waving a magic wand” to the scientific method, moving beyond a childish desire to make things happen instantly to the hard work of understanding nature in the laboratory and embracing it to create significant technological advances.

Experimentation was the most important of all inventions and the scientists and inventors who embraced it defined a new type of human, one who, for the first time could easily navigate the social classes. Even small technological advances can make huge improvements across the whole of humanity. “The machine is both an instrument of liberation and one of repression. While creating apparent order it has caused global chaos.” (Mumford, p. 238)

Authoritarian Technic
The lock, the clock, and the gun
Machines define the growth of our technical age, and the early machinists where the clockmaker's, blacksmiths and the lock makers. Clocks in particular defined the standards for mechanical design and along with the blacksmith's weapons, defined a culture of regimentation control which passed from the military to the early capitalized industries. Clocks coordinated the efforts of man. No longer did the craftsman work when he felt inspired, he had to fit his work into dictated pattern. The lock too, is important in defining the cultural features of this growing and changing civilization. A regimented culture will create surpluses that the controlling organizations would want to store without necessarily revealing the quantity of the stocks. The locks on storage sheds provided a veil of secrecy, security for information much more important to its control of the culture than protection from theft redistribution by Robin Hood types. This kind of system is often called a “Machine” but is better described as a an exploitation system dependent on mechanical devices to control the people and society around it.

None of these inventions seem necessary for life itself, but only for the control of it and, specifically, for the control of society. With the influence of armies, regimentation becomes necessary to maintain control over society. Regimentation is perfected in the military and passes into society to allow control to perfect itself in the newly invented capital economies.

Movable Type and the Book
There was invention that was so different and wonderful that it seems today necessary for life, and it is only a recent invention in archaeological terms. This is the movable type of the printing press, creating the book as we know it today. The printed page suddenly brought information about all the other important developments within the grasp of the average person. Embracing it could also mean the mutual sharing information as well, any talented reader could easily publish his thoughts.

Coal and Iron
The Black Age
Energy also defines the growth of human society and technology. The discovery of coal combined with advances in metallurgy bring about an age where much of society is filled with huge machines. These advances where not necessarily good, as a culture of economic exploitation brought about the deliberate destruction of resources, the most important to industry being the human resource. Descriptions of these early industrial age are appalling -- women, kept naked, were used in English mines as beasts of burden since mules were too tall to pull carts in the narrow tunnels of coal mines. They were raped by their supervisors.

Early highly capitalized industries grew in the absence of society. Glass makers was the first out to the country. As a high energy process, the need for charcoal derived from wood sent their operations farther in the the mountains. The really significant change came with the discovery of iron. Initially charcoal was also used to make a very find quality of iron, but the discovery of coal, especially in locations near to iron deposits, created an entirely now kind of economic entity, a highly capitalized industry. From this we derive today the most important market number, the Dow Index of Industrial Averages. By operating near the resources, usually high in mountains, owners and managers entirely escaped the scrutiny of society and the control of the protective guilds. Far from society, managers met others who had avoided civilization, roving bands of hunters and killers. These thugs became secured management control over people employed in the mines and smelters and, of course, eventually became the police. In a dynamic parallel with modern terror, the structure of the factory could not know anything except production at the lowest possible cost, with profits derived from the greatest possible cost to civilization.

This sudden new reality is the age of coal and iron, the black age, the cult of death. The lands of middle England and cities such as Pittsburgh had become black and devoid of nature. Extreme and inefficient over production influenced by military regimentation created a cycle where weapons become increasingly bigger and bigger. Wealthy owners and managers disrupt every international peace process and exploit fear by forcing even complacent nations to meet or exceed the arms purchases of other nations.

The Human Resource
People are the most important component of industry, we are to it a human resource. To guarantee a plentiful supply of us to industry, moral manipulation was enacted where religious leaders consistently opposed any kind of birth control, creating fervent opposition to it. Families, non the less, managed to level their birth rates. Birth control and other other important new inventions and technology helped level the playing field between owners and more common society and created more modern and healthy age.

The New Natural Age
Technology Brings Us Together
Electricity allows the home to stay lit at night; friends and families can enjoy each other's company and read after a day of work. Telegraph and telephone also become common, linking all the common people in a two way communication systems that partially define the Information Age of today. Other inventions more subtly add to the perfection of an enlightened lifestyle. Plumbing makes us clean by bringing nature's brook into the home. Glass technology grew from a way to make a house what it is today, to providing eye glasses, so important for learning, and mirrors so that we could gaze upon and appreciate themselves, adding new meaning to reflection. Copper pots in the hands of a world of homemakers can produce predictable and savory results. Wearing beautiful textiles allows expression, creating joy in the streets. Clothes become yet another communication system, mostly for attracting those we want to know better.

Technology allowed humanity to re-join itself with earlier happier time when people enjoyed the benefits of nature, before the black age, when cultural Renaissances flourished and happiness was the most common human trait.

More spectacular advances such as the growth of aviation had to wait for developments in aluminum manufacture. Among the most abundant of materials; aluminum requires such huge amounts of electricity it is now processed near the highly efficient hydroelectric dams.

Once underway, aviation truly fused the cultures of the world. Creative cultures can travel and nearly the speed of sound making the whole planet a potential meeting of the minds.

Electric wave transmission through the air gave us radio and television. Knowledge, an in particular news, is distributed universally and news journalists have for the most part have held to high enough standards. The news media remains as a contribution rather than deterrent to the increase of society's body of knowledge. But the one-way flow of information of these media has frequently allowed exploitation. The same kinds of manipulation that have turned cultures against each other have been accelerated by the media in the last century. They allow no opportunity for questioning by those receiving the information because the news media has a one-way flow of information.

Sadly, many of the horrors of the black age and the regimented control of society and factories still remain. This new world of communication and cultural fusion has not been able to dislodge the industrial concept of work that supplanted the notion of self-enrichment with the paradigm of working purely for work's sake. Controlling owners despise the workers, because as hard has the workers are pushed, the controlling owners often drive themselves even harder.

Despite the success of highly capitalized industry, much of humanity has yet to experience industrial growth periods and the benefits of the modern technological age. They remain isolated until the managers of an updated version of the black age choose their lands as targets for annexation and exploitation. Lack of defenses and capital makes their governments vulnerable to attack and corruption; beneficial and popular leaders are routinely assassinated by industrial agents.

Today's technology, which is the most important component of the modern Information Society, has to be viewed in the context of technology's history. The Human Race's growth too, provides two parallel influences. One is beneficial and enlightening, brings the best out in people. The other is destructive, controlling and abusive and seems to have no purpose except to create more mechanical power for itself.

While some nations managed to escape this dark age of natural and human exploitation, the majority of power wielded in the area which is defining how information will be used is in the hands of highly capitalized industry.

The biggest information innovation is historically an extension of the telephone and the transistor. In fact, the modern device that makes up the Internet communication nodes really descends from products created by the American phone monopoly from the 1960s until its breakup as a trust.

The protocols that bind all the communication and information machines were developed in universities in the spirit of beneficial use. This resulted from anti trust laws applied by the US government against the phone monopoly requiring the sharing of their technology.

While the Internet is thought of as a network, it is in fact a matrix of communication and computational possibilities supported by vast repositories of information. It holds the potential to the resolution of problems caused by the contradictory healing and killing tendencies in the growth of humanity.

Digital Divide
In comparing the accessibility to information between cultures, we often use the term digital divide. It should seem reasonable that if culture and technology are so closely related, cultures lacking technology would be poor in both wealth and access to knowledge.

Tribal Brilliance
It is of course horrendous to assume that the cultures which have been technologically passed-over are weak in knowledge or brilliance. Tribal wisdom in its social context is probably vastly superior to that superficial brilliance of advanced culture. Tribal culture has developed without the intervention of monied classes manipulating common thought through bribery for the purpose of more efficient annexation and exploitation. Tribal and native truths have developed in natural and beautiful environments where the meditative process of conceptual modeling has always been freely available to everyone. This process is still humanity's greatest strength, communication and computational technologies only enhance what we have all been given at birth.

Access Divide
There are also technology and information divisions within societies and cultures. In the US, it is most notably class related in that America functions on a purely capital system providing only enough distributed support to prevent sudden social disruption.

This creates another view of social inclusion to the Information Society. There are those people who can access it through the Internet and those who cannot. This view also adds the handicapped to the equation. From this perspective technology could potentially concentrate on creating tools designed to meet the challenges of isolation where the adapted components are flexible enough to be used under a variety of favorable or difficult environmental conditions.

The Machine
Innovation of the 90s Becomes a Huge Stock Swindle
Often referred to as “The Machine”, the socio-economic systems that benefit from, and give rise to' technology behave in a cycles. With each new major achievement by scientists and inventors there is also much enthusiasm about the benefits to humanity to the economy. There are benefits to be sure, but the majority of them go to the owners or capital investors. The machine runs like an “engine without a governor”, and the capital markets are no exception. Unrealistic economic surges have followed major innovations, in recent times this has been recorded by the market indexes. Stocks and other ownership notes fly high and then plunge; those not in "the know" get dragged into a downdraft losing much or all of their savings. Theoretically, the major bank of the US and the world, the Federal Reserve, is supposed to moderate the cycle, often known as the cyclical rotation. In reality, they, especially throughout the 1990s encouraged uncontrolled growth into a condition known as a bubble, and then as the impending plunge in the indexes occurred, they raised the interest rates successively from nearly giving away money free money to nearly userous rates. Meetings between a major investment firm and the Federal Reserve chief occurred just prior the technology crash of 2000. Stupidly, the partner of the firm encouraged her representative investors to sell major portions of their technology holdings. Other major traders were even more candid in the papers; such is the arrogance of the banking community. As the technology markets plunged, so did the global stocks, so much was lost that it can be measured in millions of lives and immense suffering. To this day, despite the constant shifting of resources from the average person to the wealthiest investors, the top index has yet to reach its previous highs after five years. So deep was the plunge that conservative politicians could brag that the partial recovery was the greatest surge in many decades. The irony is that the present collapse has been the most damaging since the Great Depression.

The prosecutors of the State of New York documented brokers continually speaking of “buying into companies that you believe in”, while they themselves sold these very stocks. They fabricated research information, transferring billions upon billions to themselves while personally feeling little more than slight criticism from the government.

James Watt, Inventor of the steam engine, never collected a cent
Even more ironically, throughout our age of highly capitalized industry, scientists and inventors have rarely gotten more than academic credit for their brilliance. The system failed to properly reward the inventors of the steam engine, the textile flying shuttle and radio and television technologies, all crucial to the Information Society.

Brilliance is a commodity
Information workers themselves are separated from their skills just as the original factory workers were and returned to the market pool just as recession sets in. They can never get real credit for their contributions. Corporations benefit indirectly from society's contributions, such as the educational systems and urban infrastructures, yet use political influence to minimize their obligations to them. (May, 38)

Technological copyrights and patents are being absorbed by large corporations from small innovators in much the same way the aristocracies of the past annexed common lands in building their estates and ranches. (May, 72-73) Increasingly cryptic patent and copyright laws make it nearly impossible for individual technological innovators to maintain control over their inventions. If there is technology a major corporation needs, the small entrepreneur can either sell the technology to the large corporation, losing it, or weather endless lawsuits knowing his company will be destroyed in the end and the larger predator will prevail.

Mumford, L. (1934/1963). Technics and civilization. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World.

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