Personal Hypertext Report #7

I’m an implementer, tool builder, technologist; but that shall not preclude me from working on the human system side as well. Sometimes some of our tools will process data that happen to be human expressions. Today, whatever capability the tool might provide and if it is the most amazing ever imaginable, there can’t be any hope of meaningful improvement on the tool or human system side in such cases as copyright law can easily render it completely void. There’s much to write about the damage the print-era copyright law does to the digital world, but even the hypertext community seems to not care at all about the human system side in that respect. It’s no coincidence that we have no other choice than starting from scratch with our poor attempts to build another new hypertext system as most of the earlier work is unavailable, unusable or lost for legal reasons and I’m not aware of a single theoretical work that wasn’t published under the traditional publishing paradigm. Sure, the general availability of digital computers and networks are a fairly new development (we remember a time in our lives where there weren’t any), so the early computer/network pioneers didn’t have to deal with this issue as the technology itself built by them has no inherent recognition or support for copyright law that was designed to regulate the publishing industry. Even with our recent attempts, I have no legal permission to use anything published on jrnl.global except my own stuff. There’s absolutely no point in developing collaborative hypertext capabilities like a shared journal if we lack the most basic human system side policies that make it shared. There’s absolutely no point in curating work if it can disintegrate or disappear at any time. I don’t need the submissions to an institute to hold a monolog. What follows is a practical description of how copyright prevents collaboration.

For my Personal Hypertext Report #6, I made a screenshot that contains portions of Frode Hegland’s “jrnl launch meeting announcement (for Friday 24th of August 2018)” text. As the report primiarly covers actual issues of the existing posts on jrnl.global, it made sense to not only publish/distribute it via my own dedicated machine, but also to submit it to the FTI jrnl under Frode’s control. Sure, such practice is totally stupid because we don’t have a capability yet for both copies to share the same canonical identity, but what else do you do as long as nobody is working on such capabilities yet? So for the screenshot on the jrnl under Frode’s control, there is no legal problem because in the process of submitting, I gave permission to Frode to distribute my contribution to the screenshot, while Frode already has the permission to distribute his own contribution to the screenshot of course. Now, I also want to distribute the screenshot including Frodes contributions to it myself, be it via the dedicated machine(s) under my own control or in print, for which I need Frode’s permission, and that’s not only for me personally. Furthermore, I want to invite my visitors/readers/users to distribute my part of the work as well (for backup/posterity reasons), to create derived works, to distribute the derived works and to use all of that for whatever purpose (the four essential freedoms of libre-licensing). As the screenshot can’t be separated into Frode’s contribution and mine without disintegrating or destroying it, it’s up to Frode to consent or object to my plan of giving everybody blanket legal permission to do their own computing, reception, curation and publishing in freedom, sovereignty and independence as the technology easily enables them to – so I intend to remove the legal prevention and risk as well to realize the full potential of what digital can offer. Therefore, a non-transferable permit limited to me personally wouldn’t do.

I could argue that the screenshot is a new work/interpretation with its own new copyright, it could also be seen as derivative work. If so, I would license it under the GNU Affero General Public License 3 + any later version (without having really investigated what it means for works that aren’t software) and also the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (despite it doesn’t have a trusted path of upgradability). Why do I pick these two licenses? Simply by looking around which ones are most protective of users rights/freedoms, what features they offer in service to that. These licenses are not perfect, but the best we can do for now without violating the law, as we can’t change it nor afford to ignore it.

To be continued…

What’s the “Topic” Tool?

I think most of us can easily agree that any structure is better than no structure, and flexible structure(s) is better than just a single, fixed one (would love to explore contrary views on this, otherwise I would assume this as the working hypothesis). There are obviously costs associated with the application of structures on what otherwise is unstructured, context-less, meaningless chaos, but that’s also the only way we know how to gain benefits from what we have or are looking at.

I didn’t think about topics as a structuring tool/mechanism (in terms of a particularly useful structuring tool, which is the whole point of introducing such structure at all, except for natural structures that exist as a matter of fact, but might not be too useful to us as we don’t understand the nature and structure of many things), where categories, taxonomies and keywords/tags are useful structuring tools in my mind, instead, I regarded topics as broad, overarching, general “brackets” that include loosely what might be relevant for a question or problem and exclude everything that doesn’t seem to be related. As the topic tends to be broad and not very specific/formal, aspects and related fields can easily be added or removed from a topic, which makes it a not very useful structuring tool, because the topic is a single structure with a flexible, versatile meaning/interpretation. One day, other, unrelated knowledge/facts/aspects/topics can turn out to be closely related to the topic, and the next day it is found that it was wrong to see a connection between both, that they are in fact unrelated, but just seemed to be related, so those things get removed again. Thus, the topic is more of a snapshot tool for declaring what the human knowledge workers think at the given time of what’s related/included in a topic, to make the distinction to what is unrelated/excluded. It’s much more difficult to deny a piece the annotation/connection to a certain category, taxonomy or keyword/tag, to no small part because they’re used on small pieces/portions where topics cover large collections of pieces, categories, taxonomies, keywords/tags, even if the latter are in conflict with each other, they can still be included into the same generalized topic as different perspectives for looking at what’s relevant with-under the topic. Sure, we know that in reality, “everything is deeply intertwingled” and a problem of immense complexity, so the topic as a structuring tool doesn’t reflect reality, so it is indeed just a tool, so topics face resistance/opposition by people who think that separating disciplines, stereotypes, etc. are a bad thing precisely because they’re tools that don’t reflect reality, but it’s not that they can suggest a more useful alternative (cybernetics exist, but also don’t improve the usefulness that much), but demand that the limited usefulness a topic has needs to be furtherly destructed, maybe because it’s a bad thing and misleading and dangerous to think or look at things on a broad, generalized scope, that it is an illusion that you can.

That’s my current view of what topics are, it’s certainly a different question if/how we can improve topics or improve on topics or improve our or the structuring tools, as well as the question if our current tools/technology (properly or improperly understood and/or applied) are suitable (useful) enough for the increasingly complex problems at hand.

Just to note, before I forget: from computers we’ve learned that an answer to the latter question could be the network/“graph”, Ted Nelsons crusade against hierarchical structures, which topics are despite being flexible, because they’re “on the top” and other things “included/grouped below/within them”.

Addition: Everything is a structure, and if we care enough, we can also make it a topic. I’m not sure if we can reasonably describe something that has no structure, or if things without structure can or do exist, but I’m curious how we could approach such a notion. Consciousness might be something that’s not a structure, and we could discuss if consciousness requires host structure(s), but here we’re back again at the problem that we can’t properly talk about it because the lack of structure makes it hard to prove it’s existence. Not that things that potentially exist or don’t exist can’t exist if we don’t find their structure, but in absence of finding their structure or assigning a structure to them, one can easily claim that they do exist as well as claim that they don’t exist, which may or may not have influence over their real existence, but what’s certain is the fact that we can’t easily talk about it for that particular reason.

To avoid confusion about the “may or may not have influence over their real existence” statement: one can bring things into existence by simply claiming that they exist, or by introducing structure to something that was unstructured before (so it exists in or by or because of the structure), and we can debate if they really exist, but they’re not less or more existent than we are. If they have a consciousness is a different question, but even the possibility that they could have consciousness can’t be easily dismissed for the things we otherwise would be most sure that they don’t exist and aren’t real. A prime example could be a fictional character in a book or movie, is he/she more or less real/existent than, let’s say, “Shakespeare”, or you and me?

By the mere act of talking about consciousness, we certainly made it a topic and gave it (some) structure, but does consciousness itself have a structure, can we even know if it exists? Surely it exists, because of us assigning/identifying a structure of what consciousness is or might be and what it isn’t and probably might not be, so it has at least one structure (ours, as a topic or several topics, at least), so we’re back at wondering if things without structure can exist (again, not in terms of if they actually, really exist or actually/really because of us, or only virtually or any of that, but existence as something we can learn and talk about in opposition to things that may or may not exist, but about which we can’t talk or gain any knowledge about because of the lack of observable structure, including our own made-up structures to talk/think about things that didn’t exist for us before, so we can say that we don’t know about the existence of anything without structure, except unstructuredness itself potentially, if it actually or virtually exists, but that might be the only unstructured thing we can ever talk/learn about).

This text is licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License 3 + any later version and/or under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.