19.137 telecommunications and terrorism

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005 07:21:43 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 137.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Daniel Gilfillan <dgilfil_at_asu.edu> (10)
         Subject: telecommunications and terrorism

   [2] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (87)
         Subject: Crisis and Wider Discussion

         Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005 07:04:03 +0100
         From: Daniel Gilfillan <dgilfil_at_asu.edu>
         Subject: telecommunications and terrorism

Dear Willard:

I am equally interested in the role of telecommunications &
terrorism, though I would extend your examples to the coordinated
implementation of the bombings on the part of the people who set the
bombs as well. This would highlight the ambivalent nature of
technology in general--as taking on the positive/negative intent of
the person using the technology.

Dan Gilfillan,
Asst. Professor
Arizona State University

         Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005 07:07:34 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Crisis and Wider Discussion


Your recent comments about the role Information and Communication
Technologies (ICTs) and social adhesion have led me to consider the use of
such tools not only in the context of the attacks on the urban transit
systems but also in the everyday transactions. Indeed it is quotidien
practice that keeps the technical and social infrastructure ready for
crisis situations.

Far and not so far away, on this side of the Atlantic, the impression
projected back to us was one of competence at work, images of
well-coordinated response. One of the first messages to cross the Canadian
news service was about communications: the telecommunications companies
had not turned off their wireless signaling equipement (as a reaction to a
possible mode of detonation) but that the circuits were busy due to people
checking in with each other. The theme and reality of information flows
was also captured in one of the televised images that was often repeated:
at the boundary of a cordoned off area, a tourist with map receiving
detour instructions from a police person.

I highlight these mediated bits to emphasize the synchronization aspect of
_network culture on the ground_. Person X receives from person Y news
about person Z. Also, person X will compare notes with person W and person
M, verifying global impressions with evidence from particular segments.
Throughout the nodes, information is shaped for redistribution and by
distribution. From the human perspective, the decision to redistribute to
a portion of a network depends upon one=D5s knowledge of what may have
already been distributed. This comes as no surprise to students of
self-regulating systems.

In light of the connection between feedback and redistribution, I want to
focus for an instant on what can be described as the hum of quotidien
practice. I want to focus in particular on the question of spam. Spam is a
mundane irritant and yet very instructive for thinking through scenarios
to avert the crisis of attacks in a networked world.

Decisions about redistribution played and continue to play an important
role in educating users about how to deal with an influx of unsollicited
e-mail messages e.g. bouncing back. There is the tempation to mount
denial of service attacks against the servers that house the sites that
spammers are advertising. The risk of course is bringing down other sites
housed on the server. Collateral damage. And further additions to network
traffic with people asking people about sites that are down [For an
example, see a recent exchange on the Text Encoding Initiative discussion
list where queries were met with information about the status of a mirror

Obvious Lessons for Humanists: the importance of support for online mirror
sites and off line replication of depositories.

The not so obvious opportunity: spammer as culture jammer. Skillful
spamming depends upon a timed release of messages. A single large burst
has the potential of rushing back on the advertized. What if a skillful
spammer acting as a culture jammer picked up the URL to a Humanities
project? Furthermore, what if the messages of such a troop of skillful
spammers were clearly tagged as =D2unsollicited=D3 thus enabling filtering=
the point of reception? A space for a discursive activity emerges. A

It=D5s less Social Darwinism than a cooperative model of how information
spreads in the hothouse environment of net-culture where =D2newness=D3 is
celebrated with how many people check in on the information. And if the
spread of virus, worms, and internet urban legends are any indication,
this kind of hacked =D2social engineering=D3 can happen with an ease far and
above almost any word-of-mouth situation in human history. I=D5m just happy
to be around to see if it can change even more.
<cit>Paul D. Miller from _Rhythm Science_ [2004] p. 65</cit>

While it is true and even discouraging that all the main outlets are,
however, controlled by the most powerful interests and consequently by the
very antagonists one resists or attacks, it is alow true that a relatively
mobile intellectual energy can take advantage of and, in effect, multiply
the kinds of platforms available for use. [...] communities shunned by the
main media, and who have at their disposal other kinds of what Swift
sarcastically called oratorical machines. Think of the impressive ranged
of opportunities offered by the lecture platform, the pamphlet, radio,
alternative journals, occasional papers, the interview, the rally, the
church pulpit, and the Internet, to name only a few.
<cit>Edward W. Said from _Humanism and Democratic Criticism_ [2004] p.

Addendum: I was one of those that lurked, waiting for your emergence,
waiting for that posting to the Humanist discussion list. That posting
came floating admist the spam and other messages. I am grateful that your
posting provided another opportunity to observe Humanists, computing or
not, dedicated to proving in Said=D5s words that =D2it is possible to=
wider discussion.=D3

   -- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large

Skill may be the capacity to manipulate perceptions of knowledge.
Magic is.
Received on Mon Jul 11 2005 - 02:30:13 EDT

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