Technologies of control, technologies of use

A much-cited March 2005 New York Times article asked: "Is a cinema studies degree the new MBA?" The premise was that digital audio and video tools, formerly wielded mainly by media pros, are now used increasingly for ordinary business (and personal) communication. As I documented in my series of Prime-time Hypermedia columns, we've hardly begun to understand the kinds of tools and techniques that will enable ordinary folks to compose and remix rich media in the same ways that -- almost without thinking about it -- we compose and remix text.

The challenges are formidable. Today's digital media landscape is a welter of incompatible formats, containers, and players. Because the ruling metaphor is entertainment, not collaboration, the flow of data is one-way: from producers to consumers. The textual Web has, finally, embraced the two-way model that Tim Berners-Lee envisioned right from the start. That collaborative style is, more than anything else, what the Web 2.0 meme describes. But so long as the tech industry aligns itself with Hollywood's agenda of control, the two-way media Web will remain an elusive dream. [Full story at]

Yesterday Phil Windley riffed on an MSNBC story about trusted computing:

TPM is like the Sony rootkit installed in the hardware. When you buy it and the OS that activates it, you'll be implicitly stating that you accept the controls it places on you. [Technometria: TPM and Positive ID]
Presumably no controls take effect unless the TPM is not merely activated by the operating system, but also pressed into service to guard some piece of protected content. So in theory it needn't affect you if you're creating rich media that you intend others to use freely, or if you're using rich media that others have created with the same intent.

In the realm of text, most of the words we read and write aren't subject to micro-control and arguably don't need to be. We often choose to control access, of course, but except for commercial or highly confidential texts we normally don't need or want to control use. Instead we are mostly concerned to facilitate and expand use, and as we build out the two-way textual web we are learning how to do that.

In the realm of rich media, though, we start from a different place. Most of the audio and video that we consume today is commercial in nature. That's true because the more specialized tools of audio and video production have yet to be fully democratized. But when they are, trusted computing won't help us figure out better ways to use our own rich media. The best we can hope for, it seems, is that our systems won't actively oppose us. Shame on the tech industry if it paints itself into that corner.

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