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We should not stress information at the expense of people. For the relations we make with each other matter more than the content of the messages that pass between us or the means of their transmission. In order to place the internet within a broader context of social life, we should step back to examine its historical antecedents. Human communication starts out as speech and the words exchanged are usually between people who can see as well as hear each other. A lot of non-verbal information accompanies the words - gestures, tone, emanations of feeling - and this helps us to interpret what is said and how to respond.

This is surely why we say that social interaction is real. The words are abstract enough; but the exchange is face-to-face, grounding what passes between us in the exigency of place. Writing made it possible to detach meaning from the persons and places where it was generated and to communicate at some distance in time and space, not only in the here and now Goody, , Even then, the signs were often highly particular, too many for all but a select few to understand and variable from one scribe to the next.

The alphabet took the process of simplifying the signs a step further, one sound for one unambiguous letter, thereby making it possible for writing to be adopted more widely and reliably. It was, if you will, a cheapening of the cost of transmitting information. The Phoenician city states, maritime traders of the Lebanese coast, were the main pioneers of alphabetic writing at the beginning of the first millennium BC; and it came into Europe through the Greeks.

I like to speculate how books were received at first. For example on Homer: "All youngsters want to do today is read at home. You can't get them to go out or anything. They have no idea what it was like hearing the old boy in a torch-lit barn on a Saturday night, with his voice echoing in the rafters. It brought tears to your eyes. Well, some of it was the smoke too. Virtual communication takes place more in the mind than in actual fact. The only way people could escape from the restrictions of the here and now was through exercising their imagination, usually under the stimulus of story-telling.

Alphabetic writing, ultimately the book, vastly increased the scope of the collective imagination. It also made possible more practical exchanges at distance. At more or less the same time as the alphabet around BC , coinage was invented in Lydia, now a part of Turkey Keynes, Alphabetic writing and this new form of money were profoundly subversive of old ways. Until then, wealth and power were concrete and visible, being attached to the people who had them. They took the form of cattle, vineyards, buildings, armed men and beautiful women. Now riches could be concealed as gold coins, allowing for a double detachment from persons - impersonal exchange at distance and unaccountable economic power because hidden and private.

From the beginning writing found a ready application in palace bureaucracy. The king could send messages while remaining himself invisible. It is one thing to be beaten up by royal thugs; but imagine the terror of receiving a written message saying "please commit suicide before tomorrow". We feel something of this dread whenever we receive a tax demand from the unseen hand of a remote authority. Plato captures this in a story he tells in The Republic.

Gyges was one of the Lydian king's servants. The king had a ring which made him invisible. He took Gyges with him one night to spy on his wife getting ready for bed. Gyges and the wife eventually ganged up to kill the king. Gyges got the ring, the wife and the kingdom, making him a precursor of legendary rich rulers like Midas. Marc Shell argues that this myth expresses the contradictions widely felt at the time between visible, personal society and invisible, impersonal society.

The Greeks were very concerned about the security of contracts between strangers. They insisted that each contract for which they devised the word symbolon should be marked by an object like a ring split in the presence of both parties and a witness. They didn't quite believe in pieces of paper. As long as books were handwritten, their circulation was restricted to a small literate elite capable of copying and reading them.

In my old university, Cambridge, until the 16 th century, teachers carried their own scrolls around in the deep pockets of their gowns and read them out for payment to students who thereby ended up with their own copies.

Copying was not in itself a major obstacle to the diffusion of texts. The ability to interpret the texts was scarce and costly. Printing made it possible for many more people to get hold of written material; and to an extent it eliminated some of the ambiguities of handwriting.

It took a line of business away from the hacks with gowns and shifted the emphasis in learning to the act of interpretation and hence to understanding. When my students complained of a "lack of structure" in my lectures, meaning that they wanted to be told the half dozen points that, when memorized by rote, would ensure a decent pass in the examinations, I used to ask them to consider the success of Cambridge University Press over the last years McKitterick, This was built on putting books directly into the hands of students, so that they could make up their own minds what they meant, with the help of learned and hopefully inspiring teachers.

Instead, today's students wanted me to revert to the role of a reader of scrolls before the print revolution, passing signs from one person to the next without touching the minds of either. My grandmother was born before the car, the radio, film, air travel and all the other transport and communications technologies that came to dominate 20 th century society. I used to marvel at the way she adapted to all of them. Now I am beginning to understand what she had to put up with; for, having lived through every year since the second world war, I realize how profoundly my world has changed in these respects.

I grew up without television in the home and with very limited opportunities for travel; so I relied on books to get away from it all. It feels as if my intensive training in the manipulation of words and numbers Latin, Greek and maths now belongs to another age. I have managed to gain a toehold on the digital revolution, largely through the tolerant assistance of bright young people who have grown up with it.

For them, the phase of national television that I missed is already a bygone era. We all enter this extraordinary time with a bundle of advantages and drawbacks. I take pride in a facility for writing coherent e-mail messages at a pace somewhere between a letter and a phone-call. Yet I also know that communicating through keyboards will soon be replaced by audio-visual methods, thereby removing one more link between the book and the screen. My academic colleagues are still fighting the war against television, refusing to allow one into a living room designed to show off their books.

It's all relative. One consequence of this revolution is a tendency for academics to consider books and computers to be opposed rather than complementary technologies. Yet print media are expanding almost as fast as their new electronic counterparts. Face-to-face exchanges, instead of being displaced by telecommunications, take on an added value when one spends the working day in front of a computer screen.

Simple pursuits like reading and conversation, which used to be taken for granted when they monopolized our means of communication, can be approached in a more analytical and creative frame of mind now that there are so many other ways of acquiring and transmitting ideas. I do most of my writing in a Paris apartment, the long-distance writer's traditional retreat into privacy; nothing new there. But I also keep up dialogues by e-mail with friends living all over the world.

And no writer was able to do that before the s.

What is Anthropology?

I now have a virtual office to accommodate a life of movement; my laptop, but I was forced to recognize the value of my own memory when it was stolen. Each of us experiences the digital revolution in our own way; yet there are changes taking place that affect us all. Computers have been with us for over 50 years, television for a bit longer and telephones for twice that long.

In thes these technologies converged with the emergence of a worldwide network of communications, the internet. The internet is the most inclusive term for all the electronic networks in the world. It is the network of networks. These are decentralized to a large extent, but they constitute a conceptual unity in much the same way as "the world market" does. Indeed the latter's transactions increasingly take place on the internet.

The World Wide Web is a disembodied machine, a type of software, that emerged in for use on the internet. It allows people to display messages in a non-interactive way through a multi-media format, employing words, pictures, sound, animation and video. The big innovation at the time was the move from words and numbers to visual images. All messages are transmitted between computers and television screens hardware by means of telephone and radio signals.

The infrastructure for these transmissions in turn constitutes a rapidly evolving network of satellites, cable grids and other means. The internet was for several decades restricted in use to a strategic complex of military, academic and business interests, based in the United States and Europe. For some time, the most intensive use of the internet was between physicists located near the two main nuclear accelerators in Illinois and Geneva. These scientists lent to the medium its definitive style and content in the early decades: highly technical, closed and clubby.

By the time that the internet went public in , there were only three million users in the world. In the next five years the number of users increased to mn. This figure is now estimated to be mn or 1 in 10 people alive. No previous technology has diffused so fast through the world's population. The internet is an American invention; certainly they behave as if they own it.

The Europeans are now trying to get a world regulatory authority for the internet set up in Geneva. But the Americans still constitute well over half of users and most of the practical instruments for intervening in the network are located there. Several hundred satellites now make broadband communications available to users worldwide.

This side of the digital revolution favours large corporations, even as it distributes the medium to an ever-widening network of decentralized users. At present, the fastest-growing use of the internet is for electronic commerce, something almost unknown before the s. At the same time, companies and private individuals are forming intranets, exclusive circuits of information exchange offering higher security than the public medium.

If ever there was a challenge to empiricism, the habit of extrapolating from previous experience, it is posed by trying to guess what the social impact of all this is likely to be. Compare, for example, the adoption of iron in the lands bordering the Eastern Mediterranean 3, years ago. Iron is the commonest metal ore on earth and it is extremely robust and malleable. When the technique of smelting it was first discovered, small quantities of iron were used principally for prestigious ornaments worn by the ruling classes.

Then it found a military use as weapons which allowed some groups to gain a temporary advantage over their neighbours. It took several hundred years in most cases for iron to find its most significant application, as tools used in the production of food and manufacture by the common people. If you had happened to be living in Assyria, say, at the beginning of iron production, you would have guessed that its destiny was to be a symbolic and practical means of maintaining the dominance of a military caste. Much the same inference could have been drawn in relation to the internet at any time during the Cold War.

So what is the digital revolution? It consists of rapid changes in the size, cost and especially speed of machines capable of processing information Naughton, ; US Department of Commerce, This is now measured as millions of instructions per second or MIPS. The world's first computer, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer ENIAC , was built soon after the second world war; it cost millions of dollars, was 50 metres wide and 3 metres tall, and processed 5, instructions per second.

In copper phone wires transmitted information at the rate of a page of print a second; today, hair-thin optical fibres can transmit the equivalent of almost a million encyclopaedia volumes per second. Until recently the modems linking computers and telephones most commonly in use took an hour to download a five-minute video; broadband technology currently available can perform the same operation in ten seconds. The following table puts this contemporary cascade of technical change in context. There are three main stages of the machine revolution, marked by steam-power, electricity grids and information-processing, respectively.

The steam-engine was invented in ; but it was another sixty years before James Watt's improvements made it feasible to power factories by this means; and the industrial revolution proper did not take off until after the Napoleonic Wars roughly a century after Newcomen's engine. Electricity was first identified and harnessed in ; over fifty years later, Thomas Edison began generating it for public use. Again, only in the first decades of the 20 th century was the efficiency of factories transformed by the wholesale adoption of electric motors; and widespread domestic use of electrical appliances had to wait until the middle decades of the twentieth century.

If ENIAC its inventor being suitably anonymous for a bureaucratic age is analogous to the inventions of Newcomen and Faraday, our time bears comparison with those moments, half a century later, when the discovery first began to have widespread social application. It seems to us that the rate of change today is much faster and more general than those earlier revolutions; and this may be a justifiable impression. Certainly, the significance of this third phase is much more far-reaching than before, if only for the internet's role in the formation of world society as a single interactive network.

But vast populations have still barely joined the steam-power or electricity grid revolutions. In parts of Africa, iron ox-ploughs in place of hand hoes are bringing agricultural production to a level of technology that has been normal in the Eurasian land mass for thousands of years. In the industrial West, human labour was replaced for most of the 19 th century not by machines, but by horses; and full mechanization of food production had to wait until the second half of the 20 th century. It looks then as if it will be another 50 years at least before we can tell how society is being affected in the regions already open to adoption of the internet.

Differences in the rate and manner of such adoption between the world's regions, classes and sectors of production will likewise only emerge in the course of the present century. Steam-power allowed factories to be located away from their principal source of energy once water and wood, then coal and to deploy machines replacing manual labour.

These factories were operated by a new class of industrial entrepreneurs, individuals like Richard Arkwright who were later parodied in Dickens' novels Crabtree, ; Dickens, Electricity helped turn factory production into a streamlined system of managerial control, powered the office complexes of the bureaucratic revolution and eventually made domestic life more convenient.

It required a physical network for its distribution and this encouraged governments to own or licence monopoly operators of grids as the most tangible symbols of the national economy.

They Lie, We Lie: Getting on with Anthropology by Peter Metcalf

The internet harnesses light for almost instantaneous communication between machines using microscopic circuits to process and store information. There are profound implications for the system of money, for the market economy and its dark twin, capitalism. Now that the internet is no longer primarily a research tool, its use is increasingly as a sphere of economic activity, as a link between and within businesses and between businesses and their customers.

It is becoming an electronic marketplace. The point about electricity is that it travels at the speed of light and the passage of information itself is essentially costless. This then is a market with unusual time and space dimensions, where the personal and impersonal aspects of economic life meet on new terms. It would not be surprising if it took us a while to adjust our expectations to this situation. In the world opening up now borderless trade is transacted at the speed of light. Very little of social significance will be left untouched before long.

The political economy of the internet. Money markets for instruments taking countless notional forms have injected a new instability into global capitalism. The East Asian stocks bubble burst in , followed not long afterwards by the dot com crash. Billions of paper assets were wiped out overnight. Mismanagement by the banks and pension funds has reached colossal proportions. This apotheosis of capital, its effective detachment from what real people do, has made many huge fortunes, often for individuals controlling billions of dollars, of whom own assets equal to the annual income of just under half the world's people United Nations Development Program, The situation is comparable to that between the first and second world wars.

A stock market boom ended with the Wall Street crash of The resulting depression lasted more than a decade and provided the stimulus for building national welfare states. What political forces can regulate the present money madness in the interest of people in general? The world organization of money has now reached a social scale and technical form which make it impossible for states to control it. This may be good news for democrats and anarchists in the long run; but in the meantime state capitalism, the attempt to manage markets and accumulation through national bureaucracy, has been subverted, with rampant inequality and appalling human distress the inevitable result Hart, If we are to grasp the political potential of the current crisis, we should step back and revisit classical political economy, the discipline that was formed to make sense of the first machine revolution's economic consequences.

Modern knowledge, as organized by the universities, falls into three broad classes: the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. The academic division of labour in our day is concerned with nature, society and humanity, of which the first two are thought to be governed by objective laws, but knowledge of the last requires the exercise of subjectivity or critical judgement. Nature and humanity are represented conventionally through science and art respectively, but the best way of approaching society is moot, since social science is a recent and questionable attempt to bring the methods of the natural sciences to bear on a task that previously had fallen to religion.

If science is the commitment to know the world objectively and art the means of expressing oneself subjectively, religion was and is a bridge between subject and object, a way of making meaningful connection between something inside oneself and the world outside. Now that science has driven religion from the government of modern societies, we must find new forms of religion capable of reconciling scientific law with personal experience. The onset of the age of machines coincided with various attempts to develop a science of society, of which British political economy Ricardo, , French sociology Comte, and German philosophy Hegel, all achieved a high level of definition in the years following the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Political economy was concerned with how the distribution of the value generated by an expanding market economy might best be deployed in the interest of economic growth. Smith, Ricardo and their followers identified three types of resources, each thought to be endowed with the power of increase: the environment land , money capital and human creativity labour. These in turn were represented by their respective owners: landlords, capitalists and workers. Their concern was with the distribution of specific source of income - rent, profit and wages - which between them contained the key to the laws of political economy: The conflict was then between landlords and capitalists; and the policy was to ensure that the value of market sales was not diverted from the capital fund to high rents.

Only later did the main issue lie between capitalists and workers. Political economy held that competitive markets lowered the margins available to distributive agents and forced capitalists to reduce their production costs through innovations aimed at improving efficiency. This was achieved through economies of scale, division of labour and ultimately the introduction of machines to factories Marx, The productivity of labour was thereby raised, allowing the resulting profits to be ploughed back into an expanded level of activity. Society's manpower was thereby freed up for more elaborate forms of commercial production.

The only threat to this upward spiral was if landowners raised their rents to take advantage of these newly profitable industries, diverting value into wasteful consumption. Worse, whereas the capital fund was inherently limitless, land was definitely in limited supply. Economic expansion meant population growth, thereby driving up food prices and squeezing the capital fund on the other side through wages. The solution was to expose Britain's landowners to competition with cheap overseas suppliers; and this made free trade the great political issue of the mid th century.

The basic division between classes possessing the environment, money and human creativity persists today. Indeed, writers as diverse as Locke and Marx had visions of history in which a state of nature or society based on the land gives way to an age of money our own whose contradictions should lead to a just society based on fair reward for human creativity.

So how are these broad classes of interest manifested in the struggle for the value generated by electronic commerce? If the owners of money and labour were first allied against the landlords industrial capitalism and then landlords and capitalists united to control the workers state capitalism , how are the classes aligned in the present phase of virtual capitalism? The landlord class has by no means rolled over and died; but the internet offers a means of escape from land shortage, indeed from spatial constraints of all kinds.

The territorial controls once exercised by the landed aristocracy has largely now passed to national governments. Territorial states are able to extract taxes and rents from all money transactions taking place inside or across the boundaries of their jurisdiction. This has been greatly facilitated by the advances in bureaucracy made over the last years; but it becomes more difficult when the source of value shifts from car factories and downtown shopping centres to commodity exchange conducted at the speed of light across borders.

The system of involuntary transfers taxation and rents on physical assets could once be justified in terms of economic security for all.

The Biggest Lies They Ever Taught You In Science Class

But that principle has been under attack by the neo-liberal consensus for over two decades now. The capitalists have come a long way too. Having formed an alliance with the traditional rulers from the s onwards, they absorbed and ultimately defeated the challenge posed by the workers.

The recent revival of free market liberalism provides triumphal evidence of that victory. But the relationship of capital to the state has become increasingly moot. Money has always had an international dimension and the corporations that dominate world capitalism today are less obviously tied to their nations of origin than before.

Moreover, half of the world's largest firms are American and a third European So the world economy is controlled today by a few firms of western origin but with dubious national loyalties. Capital and the nation-state have always had a relationship of conflict and co-operation. The wave of anti-trust legislation that accompanied the rise of monopolists like John D. Rockefeller in the early 20 th century is matched today by the feebler efforts of governments to contain the economic power of Microsoft and a few companies like it.

The idea of profit as a form of rent income from property has been confirmed, even if the burden has shifted from workers to consumers. The state competes for a share of the value of commodities in the form of taxes. But both rent and tax depend on a system of legal coercion, on a realistic threat of punishment, to make people pay up. This remains a shared concern of governments and corporations alike. So where does that leave the rest of us? If Marx and Engels could identify the general interest with a growing body of factory workers tied to machines owned by capitalists, the majority of us now enter the economic process primarily as consumers.

Economic agency is largely a matter of spending money. Despite the collapse of traditional industries in recent decades, there are still those who argue that workers associations, unions, remain the best hope for organized resistance to big business. State capitalism once made people believe in society as a place with one fixed point. But now the internet points to a more plural version of society composed of mobile networks.

The mass of its ordinary users have a common interest, as individuals and pressure groups, in avoiding unreasonable regulation and retaining the economic benefits of their equal exchanges.

The Philosophy of Anthropology

So we may provisionally accord to the "wired" a class identity in opposition to governments and corporations. The main players in the political economy of the internet are thus governments, corporations and the rest of us, the people the small minority who are wired. The landed interest, following a class alliance between landlords and capitalists forged in the mid th century, now takes the principal form of territorial power, the coercive capacity of states to extract taxes and rents on threat of punishment or by right of eminent domain. Capitalist profit is now concentrated in a handful of huge transnational corporations whose interest is to keep up the price of commodities and to guarantee income from property rent in the face of resistance to payment.

On an analogy with the workers who tended the factory machines themselves initially a very small minority , we could start by looking at the wired, the ordinary people who exchange services as equals on the internet, as representatives of the general human interest. Governments and corporations need each other, for sure, but their interests are far from coincident. Both may be vulnerable to self-conscious use of internet resources by democratic movements. The main threat to us all is the jealous concentration of state and corporate power to block our collective potential to build a just society with shared responsibility for life on this planet.

We could do worse then than return to Ricardo's focus on how wealth is distributed in human society and, in particular, on the contradiction between coercive demands for tax and rent and the formation of a world market where people freely exchange services as equals, using money instruments of their own devising Greco, This rather abstract formulation can be seen at work concretely in current conflicts over intellectual property rights. The fight is on to save the commons of human culture, society and environment from the encroachments of corporate private property.

This is no longer mainly a question of conserving the earth's natural resources, although it is definitely that too, nor of the deterioration of public services left to the mercies of privatized agencies. The internet has raised the significance of intangible commodities. Increasingly we buy and sell ideas; and their reproduction is made infinitely easier by digital technologies. Accordingly, the large corporations have launched a campaign to assert their exclusive ownership of what until recently might reasonably have been considered shared culture to which all had free and equal access.

Across the board, separate battles are being fought, without any real sense of the common cause that they embody. The "napsterization" of popular music, harbinger of peer-to-peer exchange between individual computers, is one such battle pitting the feudal barons of the music business against our common right to transmit songs as we wish. The world of the moving image, of film, television and video, is likewise a site of struggle sharpened by fast-breaking technologies affecting their distribution and use. In numerous subtle and not-so-subtle ways, our ability to draw freely on a common heritage of language, literature and law is being undermined by the aggressive assertion of copyright.

People who never knew they shared a common infrastructure of culture are now being forced to acknowledge it by aggressive policies of corporate privatization. And these policies are being promoted at the international level by the same American government whose armed forces now seem free to run amok in the world.

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In the case of the internet, what began as a free communications network for a scientific minority is now the contested domain of giant corporations and governments. The open source software movement, setting Linux and an army of hackers against Microsoft's monopoly, has opened up fissures within corporate capitalism itself.

The shift to manufacturing food varieties has introduced a similar struggle to agriculture, amplified by a revival of 'organic' farming in the context of growing public concern about genetic modification. The pharmaceutical companies try to ward off the threat posed to their lucrative monopolies by cheap generics aimed at the Third World populations who need them most.

The buzzword is "intellectual property rights", slogan of a corporate capitalism determined to impose antiquated "command and control" methods on world markets whose constitutive governments have been cowed into passivity. The largest demonstrations against the neo-liberal world order, from Seattle to Genoa, have been mobilized to a significant degree by the need to oppose this particular version of global private property. Margaret Mead saw in Samoa the possibility of loosening social strictures on sexuality -- something she suggested could lead to more pleasure, and less pain and suffering.

But it turns out you can -- so long as you convincingly pose as a great scholar yourself. Witness a new analysis from Paul Shankman in this month's Current Anthropology of the controversy over Margaret Mead's Samoan fieldwork. Shankman, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, has for several years been doggedly investigating the smearing of Margaret Mead by the anthropologist Derek Freeman. As Shankman writes in his latest piece, "Freeman's flawed caricature of Mead and her Samoan fieldwork has become conventional wisdom in many circles and, as a result, her reputation has been deeply if not irreparably damaged.

But Shankman's new analysis -- following his excellent book, The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy -- shows that Freeman manipulated "data" in ways so egregious that it might be time for Freeman's publishers to issue formal retractions. Some background: In her popular book, Coming of Age in Samoa , Mead presented Samoan culture as a social system that, without much fuss, allowed many adolescents to fool around before marriage. Contemporary scholars of Mead's work agree that, in her presentation of Samoa to American readers, Mead was motivated by a particular political agenda.

As a sexually progressive individual, Mead saw and portrayed in Samoa the possibility of loosening social strictures on sexuality -- something she suggested could lead to more pleasure, and less pain and suffering. In this and later work, Freeman appeared to conduct precise scholarship showing that Mead was just too gullible to realize that two supposedly "key informants" were pulling her leg about teenage sexual antics -- kidding the none-the-wiser Margaret Mead.

In Freeman's words, "Never can giggly fibs have had such far-reaching consequences in the groves of Academe. As early as , in his book Not Even Wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman, and the Samoans , the anthropologist Martin Orans used Mead's own field notes to show "that such humorous fibbing could not be the basis of Mead's understanding. Freeman asks us to imagine that the joking of two women, pinching each other as they put Mead on about their sexuality and that of adolescents, was of more significance than the detailed information she had collected throughout her fieldwork.

Now Shankman has delved even deeper into the sources; in , he obtained from Freeman's archives the first key interview with one of the supposed "joshing" informants, a woman named Fa'apua'a. This interview, conducted in , allegedly bolstered Freeman's contention that Mead had based her "erroneous" portrait of Samoan sexuality on what Fa'apua'a and her friend Fofoa had jokingly told Mead back in the s. But Shankman shows that the interview was conducted and then represented in deeply problematic ways.

The interview with Fa'apua'a was arranged and carried out by Fofoa's son, a Samoan Christian of high rank who was convinced that Mead had besmirched the reputation of Samoans by portraying his mother, her friend Fa'apua'a, and other Samoans as sexually licentious. Indeed, Shankman finds that Fofoa's son told Fa'apua'a "that the purpose of the interview was to correct 'the lies she [Mead] wrote in her book, lies that insult you all. This amounted to a particularly scandalous claim about Fa'apua'a, who had been a ceremonial virgin.

In upset response to these misrepresentations, Fa'apua'a, a devout Christian, branded Mead a liar and a woman who had mistakenly interpreted innocent jokes about their lives as the truth, misrepresenting the Samoan people -- and, by implication, misrepresenting humankind.