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Internet Development: Chaos and Design

JF Koh, June 1997

Annotated Bibliography

These readings will reflect my intention to adopt an interdisciplinary, hoslistic approach to studying Internet development. This is a approach which I had recently found to have a name: general systems theory, a movement which stalled from its own vaulting ambition in the 1970s. The disciplines I hope to borrow from include philosophy, sociology, bionomics (biology and economics), chaos theory and cybernetics.

BARRETT, Neil (1996) The State of the Cybernation. Kogan Page, London.

A serious academic study into the practical and legal problems of regulating the Internet without stifling it. It has an exhaustive chapter on issues including freedom of expression, privacy, digital ownership policing and political challenges. This book will serve as the real world case book against which theoretical models can be gauged.

BRAMAN, Sandra (1995) "Horizons of the State: Policy and Power". Journal of Communication, 45(4): 4-24.

This is the article prompting the further reading into Ohmae's region state. Braman's network state is an experimental evolution of the nation state using information policy to exercise the transformative power of information, amongst other forms of power.

Braman proposes an understanding of the state as the agent of power and as an evolving rather than a static entity. The latter philosophy of dynamic consideration in time is shared by many of the other readings in this bibliography.

BULLOCK, Alan, STALLYBRASS, Oliver and TROMBLEY, Stephen (1988) The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (Second Edition). Fontana Press, London.

This book has helped me to identify the wider theoretical, historical and political perspectives of my approach. The opportunity for cross-referencing has uncovered resources from chaos theory, entropy, thermodynamics, cybernetics and general systems theory.

CAREY, James W. (1992) Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Routledge, New York and London.

Carey's book offers not only theoetical frameworks for studying communication systems, but also a methodology for doing so. One of the most important propositions, borrowed from Harold Innis, is the assessment of communication media by their affinity to the dimensions of time or space, that is, whether a medium is time-binding or space-binding.

What I find engaging about his work is that the theories are based on long-term, country-specific historical developments, an approach which I would like to emulate.

DECEMBER, John (1996) "Units of Analysis for Internet Communication". Journal of Communication, 46(1): 14-38.

This is an architectural analysis of the Internet for an understanding of Metcalfe's engineering perspective that the Net is nothing more than a computer network to be better managed, as opposed to Kelly's techo-biological world view.

DELEUZE, Gilles and GUATTARI, Felix (1993) "Rhizome Versus Trees". In BOUNDAS, C.V. (Ed.) The Deleuze Reader. Columbia University Press, New York: 27-36.

Deleuze & Guattari provide the rhizome as a mode of thought and expression alternative to the traditional tree-dichotomy of institutional philosophy in France. The rhizome is essentially lateral in expansion, unconstrained by vertical relations. Instead, the relations of the rhizome are defined by six principles which come extremely close to the landscape of the Internet.

Just as the rhizome was conceived as a recalcitrant model against state philosophy, the Internet would present a worrying concern to the governance of nation states. At this stage my intention is to arrive at the proposition of a rhizomatic style of governance (if that is indeed not a contradiction in terms) to cope with the relatively new form of communication.

The position of Deleuze & Guattari will be supplemented by that of Malpas & Wickham.

DERY, Mark (Ed.) (1994) Flame Wars: the Discourse of Cyberculture. Duke University Press, Durham and London.

15 critical essays on the topic of flame wars in cyberspace. They will be helpful in better understanding how the technological interface affects human adoption of computer-mediated communication.

They will supplement the phenomelogical approach of previous readings of Donna Haraway (from Cathy Waldby's Technology, Culture and Communication) and Sherry Turkle.

ELDREDGE, Niles (1996) Reinventing Darwin: the Great Evolutionary Debate. Phoenix, London.

An introduction to the ongoing debate on evolution: the "ultradarwinians" at one end and the "naturalists" on the other. The difference in perspective is that the former focuses on "the supremacy of the gene and the struggle for reproductive success", and the latter emphasizes "whole creatures rather than genes and who think in terms of complex interacting ecological processes" (backcover blurb).

The look at these perspectives parallels my intention to contrast two different approaches of studying the Internet: one at the micro, individual level and the other at the level of the entire Internet as a complex, evolving system. To further broaden the focus, the Internet may be considered part of an even wider system — that of interdependent social systems, some of which seek to regulate the Internet.

GLEICK, James (1993) Chaos: Making a New Science. Abacus, London.

An introduction to the study of chaotic behaviour in everyday phenomena as well as in the arenas of various seemingly unrelated disciplines. Phenomena peculiar to chaos theory had until recently been ignored by mainstream science until the arrival of the formally stated principles.

The approach emphasizes looking at things in the long term and on the large scale, so as to observe emerging patterns. One of the conclusions at which I hope to arrive includes the notion that the Internet is a chaotic system, and thus the laws of chaos theory ought to be taken into account.

This book will be supplemented by Prigogine & Stengers. The rhetoric of chaos theory appear to support the theses of Rothschild and Kelly.

GOODWIN, Brian (1996) How the Leopard Changed its Spots: the Evolution of Complexity. Touchstone, New York.

This book attempts to factor the idea of complexity into the process of evolution as a tension between formation and destruction. It will be supplementary to Gleick and Prigogine & Stengers, adding to the understanding of complexity, although I do not consider it a major strand.

HAFNER, Kate and LYON, Matthew (1996) Where Wizards Stay Up Late. Simon and Shuster, New York.

This is the most complete biography of the Internet that I have found. It charts the development of the Internet from its earliest days in the 1950s to the near present. Lay explanations of technical developments are peppered with anecdotes of the personalities responsible for them as well as the political and social context of the day. I hope to use a thorough grasp of the Net's historical development to support my theoretical models.

KATZ, Jon (1996) "Tom Paine and the Internet". In SPUFFORD, Francis and UGLOW, Jenny (Eds.) Cultural Babbage: Technology, Time and Invention. Faber and Faber, London and Boston: 227-239.

Katz's celebratory essay views the Internet as a utopian instrument of American-style democracy, a tool for free speech and debate. Katz's school of thought is the most apparent of the immediate beneficiaries of the laissez-faire approach to managing the Internet.

KELLY, Kevin (1994) Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World. Addison-Wesley, World Wide Web

Kelly's neobiological world view is the technological offshoot of Rothschild's bionomics. His idea is that the classically opposed techne and gaia are converging: technological development ("the made") is becoming more like organic life ("the born"), and vice versa, in terms of organization and relations.

Implicit in that view is a laissez-faire ideology aligned with Rothschild. Counter to this approach are Metcalfe's management philosophy and Rodan's account of information regulation in Singapore.

MALPAS, Jeff and WICKHAM, Gary (1995) "Governance and Failure: On the Limits of Sociology". Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, 31(3): 37-50.

Malpas & Wickham provide a sociological framework in which to understand dominant conceptualizations of governmental success and failure, and also to reconsider the role of failure hitherto dismissed as aberration and exception. They propose an acceptance of incompleteness as an inevitable component of any large-scale, on-going project, and incorporating the notion of failure as playing an active, contributory role. It is the tension between the will to success in a landscape of recalcitrant incompleteness and the ever-lurking presence of failure which drives any project forward.

Their use of the machine metaphor to describe "definite entities with definite conditions of operation and definite histories" (p.42) encompasses an emphasis on process and development over time, an emphasis shared by Rothschild and Gleick.

Malpas & Wickham add a dimension of further consideration to Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome vs. trees.

MARVIN, Carolyn (1988) When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking about Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century. Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford.

Marvin's historical dissection of the telegraph, the telephone and the electric lamp bears surprising similarities to the current development of the Internet — these media inventions become the sites for social and political contestations.

METCALFE, Bob (1996) Interview. In John McChesney (host) Hotseat RealAudio program: 404 Not Found: Can the Net survive its own success? The Packet Network, World Wide Web

In this RealAudio interview, Metcalfe — one of the founding fathers of the Internet — speaks briefly on his philosophy towards managing the Internet, making a pointed reference to Kelly's book. He believes that Kelly's is a misguided organic metaphor that stands in the way of purposeful Internet management by design. He views the Internet as simply a "network of computers" requiring repair and attention. This conception is described and critiqued in Malpas & Wickham's paper on governance and failure.

NEGROPONTE, Nicholas (1996) Being Digital. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

First published in 1995, this is a non-technical, leisurely account of the integration of digital technologies in everday life and is peppered with anecdotes. The technical, phenomenological, political, economic, social and cultural are made accessible to the lay reader. Good for bedtime reading.

NEWHAGEN, John E. and RAFAELI, Sheizaf (1996) "Why Communication Researchers Should Study the Internet: A Dialogue". Journal of Communication, 46(1): 4-13.

Newhagen and Rafaeli introduce the special Internet issue of the journal with a discussion of not just why but also how the Net should be studied as a form of communication. They agree upon conceptualizing constraints as a strategy to move beyond the hype and to arrive at more enduring theories. Rafaeli highlights five points of pecurliarity about the Net which set it apart from other media:

Newhagen however prefers to think in terms of:

Their discussion also addresses other issues such as interface, access, effects, uses and gratifications, needs and niches. This discussion for me was a starting point to look at the phenomelogical and policy aspects of the Net.

OHMAE, Kenichi (1996) The End of the Nation State: the Rise of Regional Economies. Harper Collins, London.

This is further reading to Braman's essay on the reconfigurating shift of the nation state to the network state. Ohmae shares a similar sentiment about the decentralization of the nation state; by contrast, he takes an economic approach, seeing the growth, along with international communication, of the region state to determine business decisions and the flow of capital and corporations across national boundaries.

This relates to ideas (e.g. Innis and Carey) about the effacement or reconfiguration of geographical boundaries. I would like to investigate the tension between state jurisdiction and global informational flow.

PRIGOGINE, Ilya and STENGERS, Isabelle (1985) Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature. Flamingo Paperbacks, London.

Further reading to Gleick's Chaos. This one offers more technical details and has helped to support the broad macroscopic focus of Gleick, Rothschild and others. I hope to uncover detailed concepts and case studies of entropy (thermodynamics) to aid a cybernetic approach.

RHEINGOLD, Howard (1994) The Virtual Community. HarperPerennial, New York.

A celebratory look at the virtual community growing exponentially with the introduction of computer-mediated communication. It contains chapters on the history and culture on the Net, as well as specific case studies on America, France and Japan.

RODAN, Garry (1996) Information Technology and Political Control in Singapore. Working paper No. 26 for the Japan Policy Research Centre.

Publication details unfortunately are elusive, as I only hold a casual photocopy kindly given by the author (to my knowledge current issues of the journal are available only to members of JPRI). Rodan does an illuminating study of political control effected through IT policy in Singapore.

An important case study leading to a clear understanding of a government's attempts to bring the Internet under control, to which the theoretical framework of Malpas & Wickham as well as Foucault's panopticism might be applied.

Rodan's account highlights an approach which runs counter to the laissez-faire philosophy of Rothschild and Kelly.

ROTHSCHILD, Michael (1990) Outline of Bionomics: Economy as Ecosystem. The Bionomics Institute.

In this book, Rothschild proposes a parallel between biology and economics, likening processes in a capitalist economy to processes in an ecosystem in terms of complexity, hierarchy and inter-relationships. To arrive at this analogy, Rothschild takes the macroscopic view of the world, disavowing the stalled classical economic theories based on Newtonian assumptions of static technological conditions. Rothschild sees an economy, like an ecosystem, being an ever evolving dynamic system based on an exchange of technological information (viz a viz genetic information).

An interesting strand is Rothschild's assertion that while DNA is the only substance on earth that can replicate itself, information also ensures its own survival through replication (ibid.: Introduction). I see this leading to a close look at the application of entropy (the 2nd law of thermodynamics) in cybernetics.

Rothschild has to be supplemented by Kelly. Together, they offer a model for the organization of the Internet calling for a laissez-faire approach to management. Counter to this approach are Metcalfe's management philosophy and Rodan's account of information regulation in Singapore.

SANDERS, Barry (1995) A is for Ox. Vintage Books, New York.

Sanders proposes that electronic technologies are a corrupting influence on the youth of today, by eliminating oral tradition. The argument is might be simplistic and reductionist, and in any case I do not see it contributing significantly to my thesis.

TURKLE, Sherry (1995) Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon and Shuster, New York.

Turkle's ethnographic study of the Internet aims to arrive at different modes of conceptualising notions of the self. From the blurb: "We are using life on the screen to engage in new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, politics, sex and the self." This book is important insofar as locating a discourse at the individual or phenomenological level, viz a viz the macroscopic level of chaos theory and bionomics (Gleick, Rothschild et al.).

WALLACE, Jonathan and MANGAN, Mark (1996) Sex, Laws and Cyberspace. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York.

A valuable resource of legal and political case studies taken up by civil libertarians. The examples are by and large relevant to the US, but, as Barrett (1996: 163) has stated, because America is one of the most important geographical locations in which the Net resides, regulatory first steps taken there will have global repercussions.

New: 23 June, 1997 | Now: 15 May, 2015