Went to visit the Kröller Müller Museum deep inside the Dutch country side (if that exists) last Sunday. Apart form a walk in the rain through the splendid sculpture garden (an absolute must-visit) we had a short (too little time, must come back in the summer) walk through the permanent collection. One of the works that i really liked was this relief (or however you call this) by the russian avant-garde art group UNOVIS:
UNOVIS (1921) Suprematistisch reliëf
Apart from the beauty of the work as such i also find it quite intriguing that the design team at sony has apparently been inspired by this work when they came up with the symbols on the buttons of the playstation controllers.
I just finished reading ‘Ups and Downs – the economic and cultural impact of file sharing for music, film and games’ (see my earlier post for context). All in all the full version does not contain a lot of surprises when compared to the executive summary (which my first post was based on): It is a well written report that, although it makes a lot of sense to someone familiar with the subject, does not really come up with much new insights either. The strength of the report is that it places file-sharing within the wider social and economic context (as opposed to placing it solely within the economic logic of the entertainment industry). While they sometimes appear naive (it does not seem to occur to them that buying CDs or renting DVDs from the video-rental-shop is rapidly becoming obsolete from a technicals point of view) the researchers do seem to have a fairly good understanding of what is going on.
The core of their argument (to be found in sections 5 & 6) is that there is no direct causal relationship between file-sharing and the decline in revenues in the music industry. On top of this the researchers argue that even tough it is likely that there is a substantial decline in revenues for the recording industry as a result of file sharing, this is offset by an even more substantial increase in welfare for the general public (or at least that proportion of the general public that downloads musical works). This finding is based on an economic model that is summarized in figure 6.1:
Figure 6.1 from ‘Ups and downs’ – blue boxes and grey arrows and labels mine (personally i am a bit surprised by the relative amounts of lazy and smart peple implied by this figure. life experience tells me to expect the opposite distribution).
The orange block represents the revenue generated by selling recoded music in the absence of file sharing, which equals the maximum possible revenue for the recording industry. In this situation the rich people(a.k.a stupid people) profit (save money) because they would have been willing to pay more than the market price. All the people to the right of the orange colored block simply could not afford to buy recorded music.
With the possibility of file sharing available to consumers we see a shift: a certain amount of people who used to buy recorded music now download it for free (‘cheap people‘). In addition the smart people (a.k.a poor people) now have the same access to recorded music as all the others and finally there also is a group of lazy people who simply cannot be bothered to download because they perceive the process as too burdensome.
When comparing the changes between (1.) and (2.) in economic terms the researchers conclude that while there is a negative impact on the recording industry (caused by the cheap people) the fact that the smart people now also have access to recorded music represents a much bigger increase in economic welfare (and does not hurt the recording industry as it is ‘demand without purchasing power’ that is being met)1. As mentioned in my earlier post the researchers value the damage to the recording industry at a maximum â‚¬100 million p.a while they value the socio-economic gain caused by the increased access to recorded music at at least â‚¬200 million p.a.
Personally i am not sure if this will be of any consolation to the recording industry, but as far as i can see it is a fairly adequate description of the current transformation process: A business model anchored in an outdated means of distribution is (partially) being replaced by a social practices that are (a) more in line with the technological state of the art and (b) provide greater socio-economic benefits to society at large.
For the rest the report does not contain much news: Chapter 3 (‘the legal framework’) gives a solid and up to date (it even includes last years legislative battle around the EU’s telecom review) overview of the legal implications of file sharing (in the Netherlands) and Chapter 5 gives an overview of recent studies on the economic impact of file sharing2. Apart from the economic model described above chapter 6 also lists a number of ‘dynamic and indirect’ effects of file sharing that are fairly obvious but nevertheless worthwhile to repeat: The researchers argue (p.123) that while it is likely that file sharing hurts big successful artists (as cheap people will buy less CDs from them) it has a positive impact on smaller artists (as it allows more people to sample their works, which will turn some of these people into buyers of their CDs or make them attend concerts). More interestingly the researchers also argue (p.125) that acceptance by consumers of the substantial increases in ticket prices for live-concerts has to be seen in the context of file-sharing: The increased willingness to pay high prices for concert tickets may be due to the fact that consumers are aware that they are spending less on recorded music (or the other way around: as they have to pay more for concert-tickets consumers are less willing top pay for recorded music and resort to file sharing).
When it comes to their conclusions the researchers note that file-sharing is here to stay and that we (the recording industry) are beyond the point of no return: It is impossible to build a successful business that is solely based on trading recorded music. According to the researchers is is also highly unlikely that there will be a point in the future where all music will be obtained from authorized sources (p.136). Given this they argue (inter alia, their official recommendation comes down to a pathetic paragraph where they make a plea against criminalization of end users and for more awareness building among file sharers) for a model where internet service provides offer internet subscriptions that include a fee for the access to copyright protected content (a.k.a the content flatrate).
Note how the rich people profit in both scenarios: they always pay less then they could (or should). this is probably why the distribution model the Nine Inch Nails used for Ghosts I-V worked so well. ↩︎
Chapter 4 ‘Downloading in the Netherlands’ is a bit of a disappointment. If presents the results of a representative survey that was conduced (by an external research-firm) among Dutch internet users. While the researchers repeatedly mention that the survey shows that file sharers have no clear understanding of what they are doing the data presented by them also underlines that the researchers (or the company contracted to carry out the survey) lack a clear understanding of their research object: see table 4-9 (usenet and newsgroups are two synonyms for the same source of files) or table 4-13 (most sites listed as sources for paid-for downloads do not offer downloads to users based in the Netherlands). Given this Chapter 4 casts a shadow on the otherwise high methodological standards claimed by the research team. ↩︎
Early last year the Dutch government (the ministry for Economic Affairs, the Justice Department and the ministry for Education Culture and Science to be precise) commissioned a research report on the socio economical aspects of (peer 2 peer) file sharing. Last week the research consortium formed by TNO, SEO & IvIR published the final version of the report titled ‘Ups and Downs – the economic and cultural impact of file sharing for music, film and games’. This 141 page report looks into the economic and cultural consequences of file-sharing for the music, movie and games industries. The central conclusion of the report is that:
The research shows that the economic impact of file sharing on the Dutch economy is strongly positive when viewed from both short term and long term perspectives. As a result of file sharing consumers get access to a wide range of cultural products. This has a positive impact on the economy […] According to estimates the positive economic effects for consumers amount to 200 million euro per year. On the other side the maximum decrease in revenues for producers and publishers of sound recordings is 100 million euro per year. [page 3 of the report, translation mine, an official english translation hereof the entire report is forthcoming]
It is refreshing to see a government sponsored report that recognizes that while one part of the entertainment industry (music) suffers some losses, these donâ€™t necessarily outweigh other – positive – effects of file-sharing: According to the researchers, file-sharing gives access to a wide range of cultural goods and is often used to sample works that are bought later. Most file-sharers would have never bought all the content they downloaded, and having access to such a large media library has positive effects on the social well and economic position of downloaders and the society as a whole.
One of the most interesting observations in the report is that while revenues related to the sale of music are steadily declining, the overall amount of money spend by consumers on media for entertainment (ie music, videos and games) is relatively steady. It appears that money that is not spend on music is instead spend on video games. This can be seen as an indication that the real cause of the decline of revenues in the music industry is not primarily caused by file-sharing consumers, but by intra-industry competition: people simply spend their entertainment euros differently.
Instead of music CDs consumers buy Guitar Hero or Rock Band (plus extension) packs these days. This is one more reason why the recording industries’ push for stricter IP enforcement will probably not do them much good: It gives consumers little reason to not spend money on games and go back to spending it on music CDs. From the consuer perspective a â‚¬50 game is much better value for money than a CD that contains one or two really good tracks.
After the presentation of the report on Saturday in Groningen a Buma/Stemra representative called the report ‘scary’ [‘greizelig’ in Dutch]. One can only hope that his fear will transform itself into the insight that the industry will need to change if it wants to ensure it’s survival. But if the past is any indication the most likely reaction to this fear will be a counter study that comes to the conclusion that downloading is extremely bad for the economy and that we need much stricter IP-enformcement. In the meanwhile one third of the Dutch citizens will continue to download and go to concerts and buy CDs and buy DVD and go to the movies and fail at becoming Guitar Heros…
Finally finished reading ‘Denken in een tijd van sociale hypochondrie‘ (‘thinking in times of social hypochondria’) by the Dutch sociologist Willem Schinkel a couple of weeks ago. By the standards of Dutch sociologists, Schinkel is fairly young (31) and relatively famous (he was one of the 6 summer guests appearing on VPRO’s zomergasten in 2008 [torrent-file here]) which however does not mean that there are any english language references or translations of his work or available on the net (hence all the quotes in the remainder of this post, have been translated by myself and might contain translation mistakes).
The book is rather long and at many times hard to read as he cultivates a way of writing that is obsessed with tracing every single observation/thought/proposition back along the entire back-catalog of philosophers & sociologists. This of course is common among theoretical social science scholars (and probably the reason why most people don’t read these kind of books) but in his case it seems to serves a special purpose: Distancing himself from all pre-Schinkel sociology and declaring most of it worthless. According to Schinkel, Niklas Luhmann (who’s theoretic work already constituted a fairly radical departure from the works of many of his colleagues and predecessors) was the last of the line of ‘old Europeans’ all of whom worked based on a misleading concept of ‘society’. Schinkel, who borrows heavily from Luhmann’s work1, comes to the conclusion that even Luhmann was wrong where it comes to conceptualizing ‘society’ (Schinkel uses the term ‘society’ (‘maatschappij’/’samenleving’ in Dutch) exclusively in quotes) and that it rests on him to demonstrate that there is no empirical entity called society:
We therefore leave behind the fictional character of ‘society’ and exploit it. A ‘society’ is a creative fiction, a map that pretends to be a landscape. Or at least a map that pretends to be a map of a landscape – within the metaphysics of society thinking has never advanced further than this. It is the fiction of a ‘together’ and co-existence, and therefore we now refer to ‘society’ as a certain kind of confiction. We are talking about the fiction of a ‘con’, and ‘with’ or ‘together’ […] The observation ‘society’ is such a confiction. This term is a fictive representations (representation fictives) and has a fonction fabulatrice which we will call a fiction function in this context. ‘Society’ is just one example of such a confiction but conficties exist in all types and sizes and at different levels of aggregation. A ‘neighborhood’ is a confictie, as well as a ‘club’, a ‘nation’, a ‘people’. […] The ‘society’ is a fiction which must be believed in. (page 286 f.)
Throughout the book Schinkel continues this arrogant way of writing/reasoning but for me he manages to get away with it: The entire book seems to be torn between two main objectives: One the one hand he tries to develop his own sociological grand theory (including an appendix of 20 or so pages to explain the terminology that he introduced in order to do so) and on the other hand he delivers one of the most powerful analyses of contemporary Dutch ‘society’ that i have come across since i am in the Netherlands/stopped studying sociology (which – to those not familiar with my biography – is a direct casual relationship). For me, this second aspect of the book is much more interesting than the first (and makes it a must-read in the current political discourse in the Netherlands). His analysis is not limited to Dutch ‘society’ alone and he places the current Dutch obsession with [integration] (the term is used in brackets throughout the entire book) within a wider analysis of late/developped capitalist ‘societies’ at the beginning of the 21st century2:
The only remaining collective project after the demise of the credibility of the projects of the Enlightenment and Modernity is thus what we call Operation Obesity. This concerns a residual-organicistic discourse that conceptualizes ‘society’ in terms of growth. In this discourse, unguided but necessary growth has taken over the position of progress within the project of modernity. For society Operation Obesity results in all the accompanying feelings of guilt that are characteristic for overconsuming obese people: concern about weight, fitness and health, guilt with respect to those less fortunate and the environment. Where it comes to the politics of [integration] this manifests itself in adressing the problem of [integration] spcifically growth inhibitors are observed. “Integration policy revolves around the words ‘modern citizenship’ and ‘economic participation’. By this the government means that citizens feel involved with each other and with society.” In short ‘the society’ is largely defined in economic terms. […]. The words “goal of integration policy is a society in which everyone actively and fully contributes”, must therefore be taken literally: ‘Society’ is compromised by those who ‘work’ in economic terms. (page 379 f.)
In other words the process of [integration] that is primarily defined and debated in cultural terms is – above all – a mechanism that attempts to ensure the as total as possible inclusion of migrants into the economic system. He argues that migrants (and other outsiders) are not placed outside of ‘society’ but that they rather form the (economic) underside of the system that perceives them as outsiders. Schinkel is certainly not the first one to point out that the concept of [integration] implies that that migrants are somehow languishing in a place other than ‘society’ and he devotes much energy (and many pages) to illustrate the more or less obvious point that there is no place outside of society where those that are expected to [integrate] could be located (the moment they are identified as objects in need of [integration] they are already part of ‘society’). Consequently he concludes that the persistent demands to [integrate] are primarily aimed at reproducing the position of migrants as ‘outsiders’:
When it comes to [integration] of the n-th generation migrants the bar is raised so high, that the result is a permanent somewhat weak state of [integration]. This is illustrated by the themes that make up the curriculum of the current naturalization courses: A pre-modern conviviality sentiment (voormodern gezelligheidssentiment – ‘What do you when your neighbour has her birthday?’), a responsible eco-consumerism (‘to what category of waste do frying fats belong?’) – things characterizing the Dutch ‘Judaeo-Christian-Humanist culture’. This is also evident from the [integration]attempts from neighborhoods such as the ‘greeting zones’ and the ‘street contracts’ mentioned in the intermezzo that intend to promote a sentimental disciplined ‘street contact’. [Integration] is everything except in-corporation (the real and literal inclusion in the social body). […] [Integration] is thus also the symbol of the utopian ‘self’ observation that is based on a provincial petty-bourgeois community-rhetoric. In fact [Integration] reflects an observation that is contrary to the postmodern hyperindividual constantly looking for connection-opportunities, mobility, self-transformations and reinventions. […] That the ideals of naturalization and [integration] are so petty-bourgeois and confer so little integrity, has everything to do with their ridiculous nature in a time of ‘self’description crisis on a global scale. (page 390)
For Schinkel this ridiculous vision on [integration] is functional. The constant pressure on migrants to participate in the ‘host society’ needs to be read literally: They can only become part of the imagined ‘society’ if they contribute their labour to the economic project of perpetual growth without progress (‘Operation Obesity’). At another point in the book (and i think that was the example from the current Dutch debate around integration that for some reason most disgusted me) he quotes from a website providing information at migrants that are expected to [integrate] in Dutch ‘society’ through taking ‘citizenship’ courses:
See: www.hoemoetikinburgeren.nl [pk: the site is not active anymore and forwards to www.hetbeingtmettaal.nl. A pdf (see excerpt below) with the content of the site is still available here] On this site we find the following vision as a normative decoration: “During the naturalization course, I met a couple of nice people. I am still in contact with one girl. She is Vietnamese and she also works for Shell. We speak Dutch with each other.” Typical migrants trying to become citizens work at Shell, or: directly see ‘how we live together in the Netherlands’: preferably working for Shell. (page 394 footnote 63)
For example in this crucial passage on page 211: “Dat differentiatiedenken dat zich oriënteert aan hand van het systeem/omgeving-schema gaat precies aan die grenzen voorbij door een sociaal systeem (bijvoorbeeld een ‘maatschappij’) te conceptualisieren als iets dat alleen bestaat in een bepaalde verhouding tot een omgeving van dat systeem en dat bovendien mogelijkerwijs functionele relaties onderhoud met die omgeving. In geval van het onderscheid systeem/omgeving is de omgeving een ‘unmarked space’ die verder geen informatie biedt. Maar word de omgeving systeemintern gethematiseerd als bestaande uit andere systemen en gaat het om wat Luhmann ‘Systeem-zu-System’ relaties noemt dan is ook de ander kant van de vorm iets dat gemarkeerd kan worden. Kortom het onderscheid systeem/omgeving betrekt een systeem altijd noodzakelijkerwijs op iets buiten dat systeem en ondertekend daarmee dat systemen. hoewel ze autopoietisch en dus operatief gesloten zijn , nooit bestaan onafhankelijk van een systeemomgeving.” ↩︎
At another point in the book he makes a rather interesting observation about the process commonly called globalisation: “De Globalisering was bovendien het meest anti-filosofische dat het westerse denken had kunnen overkomen: en immanent geheel van niks anders dan banale connecties. Een geheel zonder buitenkant ook, met alleen maar nog interne omgevingen. een ruimte van eeuwige herhalingen van steeds iets anders: andere connecties. Een ruimte die niet te bezetten is, maar waarin ieder zich slechts kan redden door kwetsbaarmakende connecties aan te gaan. Het gaat hier om de teloorgang van van iedere historische taak en de implausibiliteit van iedere filosofische constructie , zoals bijvoorbeeld Sloterdijk die ondernomen heeft, om die te herstellen.” (page 386) ↩︎
So one of the worst things about living in the Netherlands has been that there has been no proper supply with Gold Bears (Gummibärchen) which did reduce my quality of life quite substantially. The only way they have been selling Harbio Gummibärchen has been in those ridiculous 300g bags that contain 30 or so 10g bags that contain macrobiotic quantities of tiny gold bears [the other option was to buy properly sized gold bears from one of the kosher shops in Buitenveldert, that import them from the US but they charge you €4 per bag the last time i checked…].
Now this morning i cycled past this advertisement which reads ‘now also BIG Gold Bears’. Never been this happy about an advertisement…
So the big non-news of last week has been the release of the long anticipated ‘anti-islam’ movie ‘fitna‘ by the dutch clown/politican Geert Wilders. not only was he too stupid to release the movie via bittorrent (which would have scaled with demand much better & allowed for better quality) he also actually confirmed what i had always assumed, namely that he is too stupid to make a proper film: ‘fitna’ is not much more than an amateurish powerpoint show that shows that wilders has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.
So while the media (in holland) were wasting their time and energy on the the release of ‘fitna’ and were desperately trying to find someone on the streets who would talk about some kind of violent uprising there were actually two much more interesting developments at the intersection of film and islam last week:
First the Lebanese general security department reversed a decision to ban screenings of the prize-winning animated film Persepolis in Lebanon. This move came after an initial decision to ban the film for being offensive to islam and offensive towards Iran (Iran is the backer of the influential lebanese Hezbollah party). Needless to say this move will have multiplied interest by the moviegoing public in Persepolis (which, regardless of repeated attempts i still have not seen).
Secondly i came across (via boingboing) this marvelous video snippet from some Iraqi TV channel wherein a distinguished gentlemen (identified as Fadhel Al-Said, a ‘researcher on astronomy’) eloquently explains why the earth is flat and the sun is circling around the earth. enjoy… (made possible by the ever productive propaganda translators at memritv.org)
So since two weeks or so the counties’ biggest super market chain (Albert Hein) is having some stupid action where you get a plastic smurf every time you spend more than €15 on groceries. Plus the stores are full of smurf themed advertisements and they play stupid smurf music in the background and there is poster advertisements with smurfs on them all over the city. No idea why anyone would think that this is a good thing.
As far as i am concerned i can hardly think of anything more insulting and stupid than being asked by some 16 year old girl at the cash register if i would like to have a smurf with my groceries. but then there seem to be lots of people who are in fact happy with this infantilization of society….
Yesterday on my way to the albert hein we encountered a group of teenagers burning plastic smurfs on the pavement in front of the shop entrance, which gave me back a tiny little bit of hope: at least the kids (or some of them) are still alright!
Patrice has posted an extensvie piece to the nettime-l mailing list that describes a rather bizarre legal dispute between an Indian textile manufacturing company and two Dutch internet service providers (one of them being my own). It comes down to the Indian company arguing that hosting websites that criticize labor conditions in their manufacturing plants constitutes an ‘international criminal conspiracy’:
Now eight Dutch citizens, staff persons and directors of the [ISPs], are indicted and required to appear in person before court in India under a mendacious, but cleverly constructed ‘cascade’ of counts, starting with libel and diffamation, escalating into racism/xenophobia carried on by means of ‘cybercrime’, and culminating in an alleged “international criminal conspiracy”. The latter indictment constitutes an extraditable offense in the sense of international agreements on judicial co-operation between democratic, ‘rule of law’ states. The acting judge in Bangalore now needs only to sign an international arrest warrant for the real risk of deportation and delivery of these eight accused into an Indian remand jail to become effective. Though the Dutch minister of justice still would have the last word […]
This slightly out-of-control evolution of what would be in itself a fairly routinous incident in to-day’s globalised, highly competitive economy, might be taken as emblematic for the predicament into which the ongoing trend to lower procurement costs, outsource and delocalise industrial production has landed us. […] India’s minister of commerce, Shri Kamal Nath, has let it known that criticism of the modus operandi of the Indian textile export industry amounts to ‘hidden protectionism’ by parties unhappy with India’s competitive provess and resenting the consequent delocalisation of their own manufacturing base, theoretising a fresh form of NTBtIT (Non Tariff Barrier to International Trade in WTO-GATTese) in the same breath.
So the Holland Herald (KLM’s in-flight magazine) runs a story about chess boxing, which is you guessed it a combination of chess and boxing. according to the article a match of chess boxing consists of alternating rounds of chess (4 minutes each) and boxing (2 minutes each). You can win by either checkmate or knockout. The game is inspired by Enki Bilal’s (who i have covered here before) 1992 comic book Froid Équateur and was apparently brought to the real world by some Dutchman (the reason why it is in the HH) who promptly became the first world champion in chess boxing.
Now unfortunately the photos in the holland herald do not even come close to Bilal’s imagination and i would guess that chess boxing is a pretty sad affair. However there is a little box next to the article that really triggers my imagination:
This weekend the el hema الهيما project by mediamatic finally opend. The idea behind it is to create an arabic identity for the HEMA store chain (brand) which is about as Dutch as it can get.
The project had gotten quite a bit of media attention as HEMA had been so stupid to threaten to sue mediamatic for trademark infringement some 4 weeks back (which is more of less the best free publicity you can get). The whole thing is really well executed (much respect to the whole team that worked on it over the last two months). They did not sell anything on the opening night on friday (much to everybody’s dismay) and when they finally started selling the merchandise they almost got run over by hordes of dutch people who acted as if t-shirts (and condoms, chocolate, towels and underwear) with arabic script are something that that never existed before:
Just try to image the opposite scenario: Arabs going crazy over t-shirts with latin script on it (hint: does not really happen unless you are taling about expensive brand names). today when i passed by mediamatic there was a line stretching almost 100m outside of the shop. seemed like they were selling the first european iphones or something.
While the t-shirts are really nice (although the my favorite one does not even have text on it) my favorite part of the whole installation is the little arrow on the celing in one of the corners that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca (‘qibla’ / قِـبْـلَـة). Makes me almost want to have one for my flat….