Recoil Communications: Effective to 300m
November 12, 2006
It’s not that the world is getting smaller, it’s that we’re coming together in ways that have discouraged in the past.Perhaps discouraged implies that something, politics or economical, has ensured that wide ranging relationships have been difficult to maintain. Geographical and language barriers aside, the reason to connect to many people has never been a personal driver, more a ‘raison d’être’ for brands.
Liberation through nervous anticipation of meeting strangers has been a deep rooted belief of timid creatures; being warily of threats comes from the expectations of our own predatory nature. May this be a hunter gatherer paradigm or just a sensation that comfort is what you know. Regardless, there is a respect to protocol that maintains our ability to decide on how to connect to something we know not of.
Adliterate kicked of a enticing thread about ‘what is digital’, which made me think how to explain that by digital he means software. Digital is merely slang for what is not mechanical – and nothing digital runs without software.
Software’s own paradigm has been the abstraction of mechanical engineering, based upon contemporary understanding of physics. Gates, timers, connectors and capacitors are all translated to methods and functions described as code.
Protocol is one of the fundamentals in software design; systems need to talk to each other, may they be local or remote. From an engineering perspective, a protocol is an agreed process for construction – it’s liberating because you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel..
Back to the Adliterate thread, the raging discussion trying to separate out what is so different about digital communications from (mechanical/analogue) communications doesn’t touch upon that difference of connectivity between people within different ranges of space and time. It would seem digital services will ‘get you’ regardless of where you are is the burning reason to embrace the software revolution of communications – which is a classic mistake in application of new technologies to old thinking. An improper use of technology will always be to accelerate existing processes. The correct or fruitful use of technology is to revisit the existing engineering protocols and use the human ability to abstract the processes to create something more relevant to the needs of the operator.
Take for example De Vinci ‘Helicopter’ – a vision into how flight could be achieved. Sure he studied the wings of birds and tried to translate this to flying machines to what we recognise as a plane, of sorts. Perhaps what he saw in a sycamore seed and design the helicopter..who knows.
But what’s interesting was the transference of a mechanic and applied it to a use, not simply try to enhance an existing process through the use of technology. This bought forth a method of communication that was about innovation: depicting the ability of man to achieve a position of commandment. De Vinci was designing machines of war to support his interest in the mechanics of life.
This relationship of combat and tool has been a constant driver in innovation for most of mankind’s communication diversity – an instinct to command rather than desire to listen. I call this the recoil relationship – one that gives a an instant kickback through achieving dominance – you have to be ready for it otherwise it will throw you to the ground.
A recoil relationship is perhaps the tipping point for an on going poor relationship – where you have the regular winner in a non-zero sum situation. One side will become tired, eventually and retaliate, and still not ‘win’. Regardless, the kick back from the victors technique becomes addictive.
A notable moment in cross creed communication was the meeting of Europeans and Southern Americans. Confronted by other humans but with no means to communicate, memisis was employed to gain trust and belief that the two nations could benefit each other. The Europeans had more to gain than the native Americans and thus the relentless desire to acquire the nation resulted in a recoil relationship.
Beyond this, the introduction of tobacco and guns into the common language, have bought us a another example of the recoil relationship. Literally, the desire to put as much power into a gun has increased the adrenaline by those who it.
The AK47 aka the ‘Kalashinkov’ is a stunning piece of design – a synthesis of variety of weapons, designed for combat, open modular design and acts a siren – it’s distinctive ‘ratatattat’ signals that it’s in use. People take cover when they know it’s in use because they know the accuracy sucks. The enemy can retaliate with precision, but the spread of the AK47 means that it normally supports the victor.
It also has a might recoil and although it’s simple design, cheap to manufacture and durability means that it’s the preferred guerrilla weapon, from task forces to terrorists, the product drives up the adrenaline. Amnesty International are more than aware of it’s impact on civilisation, here’s a video they released to raise the concern. And here’s a nice video about the history of the AK47 with a short interview with Dr. Mikhail Kalashinkov.
Designed to used in the sub 300m range, that is – it’s effectiveness by design is not suitable for long range tactics. And this is perhaps the most interesting part of it’s design and it’s illustration of the recoil relationship – the dynamics of the relationship between two parties was the driving force of the AK47.
With tobacco, we have a similar set of dynamics. Smoking a cigarette gives a kick, a hit, a momentary high. It also, like the AK47 has an alleged killing spread of under 300m. Here’s a Quintin Tarrintino vignette from the movie Jackie Brown illustrating recoil relationships,and featuring the AK47. Note Fonda reaches for the cigarette just before the end..
To fight the killing done by smoking, The Truth, is an project set up by the anti smoking lobby in the USA. Most anti smoking campaigns have failed – they cant seems to acquire the cool factor that is required to convince smokers that smoking is not ‘cool’. So, the lobby has launch a couple of interesting projects, one is a traditional video spot and the other a clever digital guerrilla tactic..
They ask that you leave the website running on public machines, to which it them scroll through a series of messages about the dangers of smoking. But this is not a recoil relationship – but here we have a machine rattling off a series of messages without a care who sees them. It’s effective to the sub 300m range. The instigator may smugly enjoy the prank of setting of the propaganda machine, but would it release the adrenaline? It’s in fact the audience who do the recoiling..
By encouraging this hit and run type of marketing, they are tapping into the aforementioned humans desire to communicate with defense – no one likes to hear people bleat on about the fact that smoking kills – I’ll let Hicks have the last word on that…
The other project from The Truth is a the video spot, here it is.
Again it’s an up close conflict between the communicator and an the audience – again the audience experience the recoil effect – as every line in the song delivers a message, they recoil at the delivery of the message – the horror of the digital voice box cowboy.
This transference of the kickback in the recoil relationship is something particular to digital. The impact of shock has been around since the advent of storytelling, but the ability to automate the communication, that is, without human delivery, to enable an audience to recoil is one of the distinct characteristics of being digital.
The power of this is in fact the mass distribution of effect which create a relationship with an audience. There’s no reason why a human cant step into to replace the automation upon reply of the audience, it’s the instigation that digital enables.
Communications on the whole is designed by humans, the ability to synthesise the message and transmit requires craft, and until the rules that define who communication works and thus be abstracted, we are likely to be dealing with recoil communications for quite sometime yet, especially if armed with AK47 of PDAs, aka the Blackberry. What we can do is to avoid building in the recoil effect, not just being cautious about not building it into the devices, but trying to design and construct processes that reply upon zero-sum exchanges not non-zero sum.
Because zero-sum exchanges imply that there is nothing to be gained from the exchange, the ‘funness’ of the exchange becomes a focus to the design of the device.
The best example I can think of effective zero-sum exchanges is sharing. Consider all the examples above, and if the purpose of the exchange was to share, not attain, then we might not be seeing all our mechanical concepts being translated into digital and watching the guardians of possession (copyright lawyers) succeed in curtailing the development of culture. The MCPS is a fine example of the mess communications is in.
Digital, by it’s very nature, that is software based productions, is based upon shared knowledge, it’s agreement of shared protocols, and a desire for people to think creatively about non centric distributed communications, namely communities. Communities don’t require recoil, and as we are seeing communities are becoming aggregated over distance because of the Internet. Only once these communities gather in Real Life, does recoil become pervasive in the handshake, the greeting or the after speech applause – it’s less a protocol more a habit.
Communication could be far more satisfying if we didn’t have the need for those emotional kicks to indicate a success. Moo have managed to find a lovely way to deal with this with their flickr-to-business card service. In contrast – here’s the ‘business card scene’ from American Pyscho.
Perhaps this is about asymmetrical communications – where the communicator and the receiver no longer have to be present to enable the communication transaction. Perhaps Information Theory has pushed the desire to ensure that the message gets through too much – considering it ushered in DeCSS (DVD content scrambling for copyright protection), we may need to consider that dialogue does not have to be a coherent message at all. Conveyance of meaning, indication or advice is perhaps best acquired through multiple sources, leaving the receiver to find a way to construct their own sense of relevancy. We are already seeing this through content syndication via RSS. As this format of data becomes more common, innovation in the tools for aggregation may become the design of the communicators of today. The tools are likely to be emotionally driven, allowing fluid transformations of information reception. Messages will then be manipulated and remixed by the audience for their own satisfaction. With all interpretation truly at the decoding of the individual – they will be no desire for recoil by the transmitter. We will be communicating without consideration – communication would be free and actively built upon. Our desires to connect to many people yet treat these relationships as if they were in the sub 300m radius offers the opportunity to participate without defenses. This is to treat communications as an ecosystem, to which Darwin made some arguable statements.
From his Diary of the HMS Beagle’s second voyage, he notes the first encounter with the Fuegians:
They are excellent mimics: as often as we coughed or yawned, or made any odd motion, they immediately imitated us. Some of our party began to squint and look awry; but one of the young Fuegians (whose whole face was painted black, excepting a white band across his eyes) succeeded in making far more hideous grimaces. They could repeat with perfect correctness each word in any sentence we addressed them, and they remembered such words for some time. Yet we Europeans all know how difficult it is to distinguish apart the sounds in a foreign language. p217
He describes also their social economic framework:
The perfect equality among the individuals composing the Fuegian tribes must for a long time retard their civilisation. As we see those animals, whose instinct compels them to live in society and obey a chief, are most capable of improvement, so is it with the races of mankind. Whether we look at it as a cause or a consequence, the more civilised always have the most artificial governments. For instance, the inhabitants of Otaheite, who, when first discovered, were governed by hereditary kings, had arrived at a far higher grade than another branch of the same people, the New Zealanders,—who, although benefited by being compelled to turn their attention to agriculture, were republicans in the most absolute sense. In Tierra del Fuego, until some chief shall arise with power sufficient to secure any acquired advantage, such as the domesticated animals, it seems scarcely possible that the political state of the country can be improved. At present, even a piece of cloth given to one is torn into shreds and distributed; and no one individual becomes richer than another. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how a chief can arise till there is property of some sort by which he might manifest his superiority and increase his power. p242
Michael Taussig covers this in his book Mimesis and Alterity, musing over Darwins dismissal of the Fuegians ability to ‘progress’ without a ruler. Tassug points out that Darwins observations (above) regarding their value of the gift economy – a form of mutual exchange – is something that Marcel Mauss called ‘the spirit of gift’ in his book ‘The Gift‘.
He notes: The object that is given carries the identity of the giver, and hence the recipient receives not only the gift but also the association of that object with the identity of the giver.
Gift-giving is thus a critical mechanism for creating social bonds. Mauss describes three obligations:
- Giving: the first step in building social relationships.
- Receiving: accepting the social bond.
- Reciprocating: demonstrating social integrity.
These terms have been disputed by Derrida and more recently by Laidlaw, who describes Jainism – a creed that live of the gifts of others in search of purity. He also notes Derrida’s views on the gift:-
- There is no reciprocal giving back of a return gift
- The recipient does not perceive the gift as a gift or him/herself as a recipient
- The donor must not consider the gift as a gift
- The gift does not appear as a gift
But Mauss investigation into Potlatch is perhaps where we come full circle. The English term Pot Luck is said to derived from the term used to describe the ritual ceremony of giving away food etc, as a families demonstration of wealth, though actually it seems it’s from Pot Luck..
But the caparison of wild free distribution, may it be a splew of magazines from a AK47, urban spam or gestures, the kickback is arguably residing in the intent of the action.
Mauss concepts of the Gift have influenced the open source software movement – but then again one must look at the intent of ‘giving’ away something. Open Source projects are now established to distribute development and lower costs – this is not the same as handing over source code because the projects is no longer to your benefit.
The above citations on the examples of giving indicate that the recoil relationship is perhaps implicit in all human actions, our rituals and thus expectations are deeply rooted in the notions of reception. For the communications industry this is a fait accompli, leaving only opportunity to work with. As we transfer more and more social and economic support to software, are we to try and program this desire for reception, or can we redefine the handshake. Already we use SOAP/XML and HTTP requests to maintain connectivity and web2.0 is making sure that these are the protocols to use for data verification requests. These are recoil relationships – established for the purpose of deferred acquisition.
Lets look at the Jian school of thought: Which I’m going to bravely distill to ‘Take not Give’, gives them the opportunity to remove desire from their vocabulary. There abstinence for everything from root vegetables to sex also reduces the scope of what to take, but regardless the focus is not on offering to your peers gifts, but securing a community when express permission is not required. Jains are the core service providers for a community – hospitals, schools etc. The Jain style of architecture reflects the ethos of free expression and open availability.
Our western perspective makes this seem like theft, but acquisition without desire is not theft – remove the intent of personal gain and you have a system of distribution that is pull, not push. This breaks the supply and demand model and heralds a societal movement of living with what your peers produce who require no kickback.
Without the recoil relationship there is no tension of possession; diversity of production is limited to the imagination of peers who in turn are building their existence upon the production of others. There is no need for gifts. Offerings are symbolic, not a basis for exchange.
If this protocol stands a religious practice, a rules based ideology, then it’s ontology can be the basis to a software process. The absence of recoil affords the practice of acquisition without price – thus an ecology of production free of communication for there is no need to define the offering as it’s in the interest of the acquirer to define the purpose of acquisition.
Jain was also the title of a development by Sun Microsystems – a protocol, or rather, a set of APIs for the telecommunications industry to merge their services with web services. It faded of as the industry opted for the Parley specifications instead when Sun tried to enforce their way of working. Instead Parley offered a more open way to create an open system. The idea behind these initiatives to give service carriers greater flexibility in integrating services that resided on the internet rather than on the telecoms systems – multimedia services for example.
Both systems built upon the Advanced Intellegent Network – the system used by telephone operators to separate out switching equipment from service logic. Unfortunately the Parley system is porting the telecoms engineering concepts to the web services interfaces, which is again an acceleration of the process already deployed by the industry. It utilises the http/soap model, so again it’s a forced gift economy resulting in a recoil relationship espcially as phone devices are so very personal to the user.
Skype was an attempt to break these models, based upon the Kazaa architecture, when ‘helping yourself’ was the business model, but the communication interface is now back to permission based communication – just like the classic phone systems. The Kazaa architecture was used purely as a communications framework to reduce use costs. I’ve always felt they missed a trick here for progress – but innovations was never their interest – profit was. The giving of software is the gift economy. Listening to podcasts via your cell/mobile phone is an interesting idea.
What I’ve tried to explore here is some understanding of the ways the service providers of communications are woefully letting down the future markets by adhering to non-zero sum methods of services in an era of digital – where connectivity is expected and convergence is an excuse to apply various presentation layers on top of tired exchange mechanisms.
These abstractions as architecture are defined as SOA (Service Oriented Architecture)/ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) – basically brokering systems. What is required is a interface to basic services that the user can construct their own service architecture – every user having their own bespoke service they can control. Billing for such can be as creative as you want – brand support means relationships can be built faster and synchronicity with the audience is maintained. Here the user takes, the service provider goes not ‘gift’, and the game is zero-sum – both parties benefit. No recoil relationship.
Working digitally doesn’t require that tangible kickback you find in the physical world – software is executing actions conceptually, not physically. The crossover between the realm of software and the real world is where the interesting stuff happens – it’s largely unexplored. This is where the licence schemes fit in: Creative Commons and the GPL. Both systems indicate that Attribution is fundamental; it’s the last thread of connectivity between the conceptual and the tangible. What I’ve been thinking through is the removal of attribution all together as it is the basis of a recoil communications – the guaranteed kickback..
We have to ask ourselves, as producers, what is more important: the ability to create freely or the fame and the glory of our reworkings of the past: we are always going to be making stuff based upon the past. If you think back to the Jain religion – all their attribution is focused on their founder, not a mystical god. This is the same premise as Pop Idol – contestants build their skills based upon classic pop songs – use the myth of the past – and organically create their identity with the assistance of the panel of ‘monks’.
The exception is the young idols want their fame – their kickback.
This is a bold statement, that attribution is actually causing problems with ongoing production – on the whole the creative industries are still struggling with sharing. Until digital became accessible, our mechanical concepts of communication suited the recoil relationship: most media only really needs to be effective within 300 metres. To be effective with digital, the rethinking has to start with the abstraction of production, and attribution makes no sense when you’re trying to connect to everyone. To achieve the broadest and deepest connectivity,the think must change from:-
“Have some of that!” to “Take some of this…”
Neither frameworks of the Fuegians or the Jains are a desirable proposition to a modern day audience, yet their freedom to follow an idol is key to appending some form of attribution. Instead of dictating that the rules of engagement, make them attractive so that they show their appreciation in the their activities.
Once you have enabled the audience to distill meaning for themselves, the communicators role is to assist them in making the most of that meaning.
Digital is this chance to rework culture, building upon human abstraction, not mechanical idealisations.
Without irony, I’ve lost the links to some of the images in this post. If you spot them as your’s – please let me know and you can have a link though to source.