“This is the next century
Where the universal’s free”
Blur: “The Universal”
Read this entry over at Kottke.org, which started me trying to sublimate my thoughts around a recent mental obsession: the universal machine. So bear with me while I try and stick ‘em here in the outboard brain.
For instance, Jon Udell’s take on Palladium (which in turn quotes from a salon article):
“Society must either give up on copy protection or the general-purpose PC and the Net.” And no matter how hard Hollywood tries, Felten argues, society will eventually choose the latter because “the sheer value of the Net and computers is so much greater than any value that copy protection can provide.”
Here is the use of an innocuous but super-important phrase, refering to computers, the net, and digital devices as a whole: “general-purpose”
The fabulous (and British-invented!) concept of the ‘general-purpose universal machine’ is under attack in all these arguements.
The subtext is if Palladium, or something similar succeeds, then values will be hardwired into that which was formally Turing’s “universal machine”. The personal computer, will be bounded by a set of values, set-up to tip the balance against the edge, the individual and towards the centre, the corporate.
As the picture is consistently painted, these vested interests are looking to preserve a market hegemony over data and intellectual property. They would rather that the heterarchy of the web looked more like a tree structure, or a river delta where all the tributraries of attention (and value) flowed to them.
Alan Turing’s legacy is at the centre of all these issues… I think it should come out in the open and be debated of itself. It’s value should be promoted and understood by all.
The Felten quote assumes that “the sheer value” of this big and tricky concept is self-evident. Just look at the comments on Jason’s piece about explaining the damn thing. It’s not.
The best I’ve seen is Mr. Scott McCloud’s explanation in Reinventing Comics. There is about a 5-6 page diversion where he stops to explain where computers and the internet evolved from, and why they are strange, different and powerful additions to the canon of human invention.
I photocopied (ahem.. fair-use?? ach… sorry Scott) this section and put it in the pigeonholes of everyone in Sapient London. Stimulated a lot of great discussion, and more importantly understanding of why we (the design team) loved the web. As a base-line, a glossary for understanding, it was great.
“An environment which is ordered in precise and final detail may inhibit new patterns of activity. A landscape whose every rock tells a story may make difficult the creation of fresh stories. Although this may not seem to be a critical issue in our present urban chaos, yet it indicates that what we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further development”
Kevin Lynch – The Image of the City, 1963
The universal machine is damn important. Selling it’s importance right now in ways which real people get is imperative. The connected fate of cities, software and minds… may depend on it?