Thoughts On Efficiency

[a story for you]

As Tzu-Gung was traveling through the regions north of
the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable
garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would
descend into a well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms
and pour it out into a ditch. While his efforts were
tremendous the results appeared to be very meager.

Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate
a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do
much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?”

Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, “And
what would that be?”

Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at
the back and light in front. In this way you can bring up
water so quickly that it gushes out. This is called a

Then anger rose up in the old man’s face, and he said,
“I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines
does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like
a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries
the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He
who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of
his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something
which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do
not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.”


[my thoughts]

Efficiency has been the modern mantra. It is more important than love,
more important than family, and more important than friends. We
adhere to it for the its excitement, for the rapidity which which
it brings us capital, and for the capable of providing more
material goods for the common man. To oppose inefficiency, to run
counter to the flow of technology is tantamount to sin.

For the last century (arguably two centuries), this efficiency has been in the form of big business. We have relentlessly struggled with the morality of “working for The Man,” especially in the sixties and seventies. It is easy to hate large corporations as it is easy to hate the rich and those in power. But there is a new class of proclaimers of efficiency rising in our midst. And it is not in the form of big business, but of individuals themselves: the free source community.

Why do they/we do this? Why should we take it upon ourselves to more
efficiently destroy the foundations of humanity than even those before
us? The answer seems to be that we have finally believed the myth of
the corporation: that efficiency *is* good, and is a valid thing to
strive for. The Open Source community was a natural extension of society
finally embracing the propaganda of efficiency. We joyfully welcome Big
Brother with shouts of adulation now; we crack the whip upon our own
backs. There is no need for a tyrant, no need to have some outside
oppressing force when we can do the job so much more effectively. We
will efficiently maximize our destruction through efficiency, carried
out cleanly, happily, and without waste. A fitting end. One that we wish
to participate in?

Any technology not aimed at making Man better, at encouraging him to
enjoy life and make friends will do nothing but crush the life out of
us; even those that are so geared are not guaranteed to succeed, and
may backfire horribly: there was a tribe in Africa where one would
light a fire after having sex, always. This helped keep adultery in
check, because you’d have to go to your neighbor’s house for a light
to light the fire after the deed, and, well, everyone would know then.
Separately, Europeans came with information on health, agriculture,
etc. They happened to bring matches. Think about it.

If a good percentage of those without technology are sociable, happy,
and down-to-earth, what end does technology bring us to? Why do we
pursue something that makes us stressed, nervous, and unhappy? Why do
we strive to make more intense the very things that cause us angst?
We know from the lesson of time that we will not have less things to
do — we will have a little bit more and four times the responsibility,
twice the people connected to us to be upset when only three times the
things we did before we get done. We will be a little more alienated
from our fellow humans, a little less comfortable with our humanity, a
little less content, a little less impressed by reality, a lot more
stressed, and our “Quality of Life” will go up at the expense of the
real quality of our lives.

Technology is neat. It is fun. It is shiny. Just like the guidance
systems on ICBMs. It is compelling, intense, and exciting. It can be
pretty, “pur-ple,” pay well, and come with Mountain Dew. We jump up
and down, code, design, engineer, and implement, all with friends,
relatives, co-workers and elders encouraging us, cheering us on as
we change the world and make Big Names for ourselves. But what are
we doing? Is this *good*?

If it is not, stop. No amount of Mountain Dew, cash, or encouragement
should be able to compensate us for destroying humanity. We must find
positive ways to use technology, if there are any. (I hope there are.)
My justification for Start^2 is that it will get people off the

computer, to see each other, network people, let people enjoy life. I
see this as sufficient justification. It is an “anti-technology” as it
were, encouraging people to use technology less. Not a sticky portal,
but the very opposite: a *boot* portal to give you a solid kick in the
Go outside, here’s the weather, here’s what’s going on. Have fun.

This is a fundamental difference between what I want to do and the new
Net-communities run by Excite, Dejanews, etc…I want everyone to use
my site, stop using other sites very much, and stop randomly surfing
the Net and start talking to their neighbors. I failed to point that
out last night, mainly because I am just now realizing our goal…


Teleacoustics: The Regulation of Transmitted Speech

For the last century, the Western world has been in possession of two technologies created for the primary purpose of transmitting speech over a distance: the telephone and the radio. While both deal with the transmission of audio, they differ significantly in how their content is regulated and who is allowed to transmit information over the medium, partly due to each media’s respective nature and how the government organizes access to
them, if at all. I shall focus on the content of these transmissions as opposed to the formation of their respective networks. However, it is important to realize that in radio networks, as for cable, there is a tight pairing between content and the network over which it is distributed, whereas telephone networks are paired to services, but not, for the most part, transmitted content.

The first and most important reason as to why the US Government, or specifically, the Federal Communications Commission, regulates radio transmission is the apparent scarcity of bandwidth for such transmissions. Ithiel Pool argues that this scarcity is self-imposed; radio receivers needed to be affordable for radio to become popular,
so the frequency spectrum was divided in a simplistic and inefficient
way that was inexpensive to receive properly. Pool argues that while
this technique may have allowed radio to take off very quickly in the
US, its inaction in moving forward to more advanced technology for
radio broadcasts has created unecessary limitations on the number of
stations that can broadcast radio. This scarcity is not some product
of nature or fundamental limitation of radio1. The Digital Radio proposal by the Canadian government has put forth a new standard to allow for higher-quality audio reception, and the addition of a data channel to the audio. While technically superior, new standards
such as these have failed in the US, due to the opposition of entrenched
US broadcasting stations with brandnames, licenses, and investments to
protect2. Those who have made it into the radio market have little interest in opening up spectrum to make it easier to start a new station.

Spectrum limitations began to surface in the 1900’s, when an increase in the number of amateur and experimental radio transmitters began to interfere with naval communication. The Radio Act of 1912 was passed to grant the Secretary of Commerce power to assign stations certain pieces of the spectrum to prevent interference. However, the law had no real force other than suggestion, as was evinced by the Supreme Court’s 1926 decision in US v. Zenith Radio Corporation that indicated that the Secretary had no power to enforce its spectrum allocations3. Regulation was required if the existing spectrum allocation to radio bands was not to be changed. The Radio Act of 1927 created the Federal Radio Commission to provide this regulation through spectrum licensing4. The later Communications Act of 1934 continued these provisions and put radio along with telephony under the control of a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Unfortunately, having fewer available frequency bands than applicants
for spaces requires discretion as to which stations may obtain licenses, implicitly allowing the FCC to hold as threat suspension or nonrenewal of a station’s license. The US code states that the FCC must allocate licenses to stations who serve “the public interest,” but it is left up to the FCC to determine what constitutes programming that is in the public interest5. Laws against broadcasting obscenity were set up to not only punish individuals 6 but also to suspend the license of the transmitter7. Applied to print media, this would be roughly equivalent to terminating a newspaper’s publishing right if an offensive column was
printed once upon it. When a radio station owned by the Pacifica Foundation transmitted a humorous commentary on “words you couldn’t say on the public airwaves,” it was severely reprimanded by the FCC, When taken to the Supreme Court, the Court backed the FCC, and stated:

Of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection. Among the reasons for specially treating indecent broadcasting is the uniquely pervasive presence that medium of expression occupies in the lives of [US citizens]. Broadcasts extend into the privacy of the home and it is impossible completely to avoid those that are patently offensive. Broadcasting, moreover, is uniquely accessible to children. 8

The FCC was in such a manner capable of inducing a form of censorship. More insidiously, the FCC’s power to revoke, or simply not renew, licenses not found to be “in the public interest,” disincentivized stations that otherwise might have felt more free to disseminate programming that openly criticized the government9.

Telephones also go “into the privacy of the home,” and have established laws against involuntarily received obscene transmissions10. As a person-to-person medium, a telephone is more of a tool for conversation than for public discourse. As such, it was not a form of mass media and could not be so regulated; telephone service could not be suspended as a result of voluntary discussions occurring over the phone network.
Indeed, telephone conversations were protected against any monitoring at all by requiring a court order to wiretap(*10*). In this aspect it differed from radio, which, being a public-access medium, is open to monitoring at any time.

Everybody who has a telephone has a “right to transmit”: there is no
distinction between the right to receive a phone call and the right to
place one other than a small fee placed on the outgoing calls. Both
rights are granted to anyone with sufficient resources to purchase a
telephone and secure a connection to the telephone network. While
inexpensive, there are some left yet “unphoned.” Many have called for
action on this, declaring that a telephone is “a necessity…
essential for citizenship.” 11 Connecting everyone to everyone
else with a telephone is the first step in the creation of a
global network for the exchange of ideas — it is the realization of
Pierre Teilhard’s noosphere, where everybody connects with everyone else to form a
thinking whole of the entire planet12.

Such a degree of grassroots support is not seen for universal radio
reception. One reason for this lack of support may be that radios
are already quite accessible. There is no recurring charge to a radio,
due to advertiser support. A phone, to contrast, has monthly access
fees plus additional fees for any calls outside of the caller’s local area.
There is no “installation fee” for a radio, but telephones require a
preexisting phone network to get connected to the network. As such,
practically everyone is capable of receiving radio transmissions.

It also must be considered that radio is an interesting and
informative tool, but as a one-way medium cannot effectively act as
anything more than a limited service for the individual, who has no personal interaction with the medium other than selecting a channel. It is an impersonal medium, even if it can draw the listener into a deep bond with the speaker and others listening to the broadcast13. As Marshall McLuhan points out, the telephone is a “participant form, that demands a partner…It simply will not act as a background instrument like radio.”14 Without interactivity or feedback, the radio cannot truly be considered part of a global information network in which ideas and entertainment flow in all directions.

In terms of access to radio transmission, there are
large technical, political, and financial barriers to entry for a
typical citizen. Because of the limited number of licenses
which such a system provides, licensed carriers are, in some sense,
*common* carriers mandated “to operate in the public interest.” They are
so mandated “to present those views and voices which are representative of his
community and which would otherwise, by necessity, be barred from the
airwaves.” 15 A radio station thus operates somewhat
uncomfortably on the line between a government-sponsored monopoly
under the laws of common carriage, e.g., the telephone system, and a
player in an openly competitive information market, e.g., newspapers.
The American citizen has a right to airtime to respond to aired
personal attacks 16, but not a right to airtime to respond to
advertisements. 17 The inclusion of content beyond self-defenses
is up to the editorial discretion of radio station, permitting radio
stations to impose self-censorship.

Due to continued economically justified self-limitations
on the number of available distribution channels, radio continues
to require regulation and mild censorship to best serve the public
interest. Telephony, courtesy of its near-universality and the legal
protections afforded against eavesdropping, continues to be free of
censorship for two consenting adults in conversation. While many laws
have been passed and technologies advanced which shifted the structure
of the telephone network, the laws regarding its usage by consumers
remain largely unchanged, as do laws concerning radio transmission and

There is, however, a new medium that can form an odd marriage of the
concepts of radio and telephone: digital transmission. By
encapsulating audio into chunks or packets of bits, audio can be represented
abstractly to flow over generic data networks that also carry word
processing documents, web pages, and charts. Here, I will briefly
discuss digital telephony, digital radio broadcasting, and new media

With a digital channel, I could turn my voice into bits to send to a
friend in Turkey. My friend in Turkey could reply, also with
his voice. This realtime exchange of voice data is effectively a phone
call that uses the Internet as a free long distance carrier. Needless to
say, the long-distance companies are not thrilled about this. Neither
are local phone companies, who must completely subsidize local phone calls
to Internet Service Providers from other sources of revenue, usually long
distance calls18.

The network will also permit transmision of a signal to many people at
once. Music sent out onto the network as it is played simulates
a radio broadcast. As early as 1994, rock bands were transmitting audio over the
Internet using “multicast” technology and getting feedback from
audience members as they played19. This clearly shows the power
for small broadcasters to reach out and touch many people in a much
more interactive way than allowed by traditional radio. While there
are a few economic barriers to entry, resources are equally available
to everyone for broadcasting information over the Internet. Prices for
Internet publishing software and access tends to be quite reasonable;
many Internet locations will allow people to publish their own extensive
sites for free on their service, provided that the page displays an
advertisement for one of their clients.

With low barriers to entry and no practical limit to the number of broadcasters, the old model of radio regulation cannot apply. Attempts to censor of web
sites or audio broadcasts over the Internet are misguided, given that
transmissions must be actively sought out: viewing an offensive website
usually takes definitive action on the part of the viewer.
Web pages rarely actively force themselves itself upon you in the
same manner as a radio transmission does when one turns on the radio.
There need be no government restriction of access to the new medium in
the old forms.

Yet the network also allows communication in ways that in the past
were not possible, or at least were prohibitively expensive. Internet
startup MPlayer has created software to allow groups of people to talk
audibly together at once over the Internet. Slightly reminiscent of the old
trunk “party lines,” the technology brings together new communities to
live together in an audio cyberspace. Some parts of the community, called “fight rooms,” center on speech that is patently abusive and derisive.20 This speech is not protected by the First Amendment. Should such speech be protected, restricted, or simply left out of the law? Answers to tricky new questions like these may be many years forthcoming.

In sum, the telephone has provided nearly everybody powerful and uncensored
one-on-one dialogue; radio gave Western civilization one-to-many
communication but in a limited and censored medium and in a format
less than wholly permissive of a free exchange of ideas by all
parties; new digital technologies will provide an ultimate enactment
of free speech by allowing ubiquitous access to information in a many-to-many
broadcast communication environment that need not be censored, given
the effectively infinite number of communications channels.

A new way of sharing thoughts in speech form is arisen, related
to the old media only insomuch as it encompasses them and goes beyond
them. The digital medium represents an amalgamation, a convergence of all of the media
technologies before it along with numerous genuinely new methods of
communication. The whole world over, we are entering into a conversation amongst
ourselves that, once started, will never stop, but will continue evermore with the fervent chatter of the hopes, dreams, ideas, and whims of Earth’s inhabitants.


1 – Pool, Ithiel de Sola. “Technologies of Freedom.” (Belknap:
Cambridge, MA), 1983. pp142-148.

2 – Web site. “Digital Radio.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. []

3 – Pool, pp113-114.

4 – ibid., p118.

5 – 47 USC 307(a).

6 – 18 USC 1464.


7 – 47 USC 303(m)(1)(D).

8 – FCC v. Pacifica, 438 US 726. 1978.

9 – 47 USC 223.

10 – 47 USC 1004 and 47 USC 229(b)(1).

11 – Graham, Stephen, James Cornford, and Simon Markin. “The
socio-economic benefits of a universal telephone network.”
Telecommunications Policy, V.20, N.1, Jan/Feb 1996, p5.

12 – Kreisberg, Jennifer Cobb. “A Globe, Clothing Itself with a
Brain.” Wired Magazine. Issue 3.06. June 1995. []

13 – McLuhan, Marshall. “Understanding Media.” (MIT Press: Cambridge,
MA) 3rd ed. 1995. pp301-302.

14 – ibid., p268.

15 – Pool, pp130-131, p121.

16 – Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 US 367. 1969.

17 – Pool, pp131-132.

18 – Komblum, Janet. “Agency: Telcos to pay for ISP calls.” Web
site. C|Net [,4,27907,00.html]

19 – Drake, William J. “The National Information Infrastructure
Debate.” The New Information Information Infrastructure. Ed. William
J. Drake. (Twentieth Century Fund: New York) 1995. p325.

20 – Moriarty, Brian. “Whispering Pines.” Video, private showing.
MPath, 1998.