Think of a place: a locality, a city, a town. Think of a group of people, who may or may not be from this place; who appear and congregate at a central point. They bring tents and sleeping units for shelter and protection against the elements, audio-visual displays and mobile technologies for communication, and forms of speech, music and art, forming a kind of culture of their own. Above all, they bring signs. Banners proclaiming their interests, beliefs and ideals, declarations embedded in their music and art, thoughts expressed in the shared slogans and turns of phrases they collectively seem to understand. Even the presence of the group itself in this place is a sign of their existence to the other residents. This existential reminder is important—their aim is to use the shock of their presence to jolt the existing inhabitants of the place, taking the first step towards a larger goal.
These days, words serve mostly as vehicles to me: a catalogue of signs carrying meaning, or a concept, or something other than itself as passenger. Words take on value in themselves when others, more talented, more adept at casting and sculpting them, take hold of them. People like Dyer, Calvino, Orwell, Borges. I played the violin for a country singer once, and his songs never meant anything to me. Oh, they were certainly beautiful, and his voice had just the right rasp of gravel, but his words never meant anything and so I only heard them (never listening), letting them wash over me like a damp breeze going the other way.
(Image: McCulley Design)
This is a photograph of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s Las Vegas – an image of an architecture of communication. As the generative elements of communicative acts, sign and symbol attain architectural primacy in a landscape of big spaces and high speeds. Given this speed and scale, it is the bold impact of the Stardust sign-front and not the structure behind it that assigns order and conducts circulation. “If you take the signs away,” argue the writers, “there is no place.”
Like Vegas, Times Square is nothing if not sign. But Occupy Times Square on October 15th was a reversal of the bases of Learning from Las Vegas. Here, the operative scale is human, and the speed is minimal. The protestors are tightly penned in so that their relations regard each other rather than the built space around them. The same police pens mean that there is little movement, or no movement at all. In opposition to the frenetic pace of the automobile – whether in Vegas or Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles – Occupy is here to not move. The clearest symptom of the re-humanised speed and scale is the sea of analogue signs that has sprung up between the digital billboards high above. Their handwritten content is readable by eyes close by. These are signs for proximate bodies.
Reading the top 25 Damn You Auto Correct! moments of their first year (which, by the way, should really be Damn You Facebook! for the way the innocent candy-blue and green iPhone screens find their way onto my newsfeed with unerring precision), I found myself thinking in between gasps of laughter that the autocorrect function had a sort of correspondence with psychoanalytic theory. Not necessarily substantively, but at least on a formal level.
The basic structure that Freud sets out in The Interpretation of Dreams begins from the idea of two agencies, one creative and the other defensive. The first agency is responsible for the constructive production of the dream-thoughts, whereas the second exercises a sort of censorship on these thoughts, causing them to be compressed and deformed until only the manifest dream-content remains. It is, of course, this dream-content that we experience when we dream. It is a remarkable resemblance between this structure and that of the autocorrect: I intend to say, “I’m doing laundry” – the second agency between myself and the recipient intervenes to distort the thought until the content reads, “I’m doing Lauren.”
The following writing has been excerpted and adapted from my undergraduate thesis, ‘The Pure Theory of Law and Virtual Communities’. This section concludes the piece. You can also read Parts I, II and III.
The applied reading of the Pure Theory that has been undertaken demonstrates that legal theory can successfully account for the dynamics and structures of a virtual community like Superfuture. In particular, the use of coercion as a specifically legal means of ensuring that valid norms remain effective is especially important. A look at Superfuture demonstrates empirically that moderators and administrators do execute such coercive acts as motivation for obedience.
But law is not simply made of the fact of the sanction; it is also the norm that claims that “one ought to…” H.L.A. Hart referred to this normative force as the “internal aspect of rules”: the insistent demand, felt by subjects, that their behaviour ought to abide by the rules. This normative force is significant, and the use of words such as ‘just’ and ‘right’ that accompanies it sets it apart from other coercive forces (e.g. the threats of a gunman).
The following writing has been excerpted and adapted from my undergraduate thesis, ‘The Pure Theory of Law and Virtual Communities’. This section applies the structure previously set out to a sample community. You can also read Parts I, II and IV.
Having set out a working structure of the Pure Theory, we now possess a lens through which we may investigate a sample virtual community – Superfuture. Superfuture was started in 1999 as a project of “urban cartography”. The website collated information about a niche of art and design-related establishments in various cities across the globe, presented in the form of city maps, reviews of stores and newsletters of events. Originally, only limited communication with the Superfuture team was possible, but in October 2003 an Internet forum (supertalk) was added to the website. By allowing users to interact with each other, the addition of the forum marked, in the owner’s words, a shift in the roles of individual users from mere visitors to members of a community. As of November 2011, supertalk has approximately 49,000 members.
The following writing has been excerpted and adapted from my undergraduate thesis, ‘The Pure Theory of Law and Virtual Communities’. This section deals with the jurisprudence behind the paper. You can also read Parts I, III and IV.
There are, arguably, three components that are fundamental to a reading of Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory: (1) the norm, (2) coercion, and (3) the basic norm.
According to Kelsen, a valid norm is the “objective meaning resulting from [an] interpretation” of an act of will. Specifically, this meaning is that a person ought to behave in a particular way. In the Pure Theory, ought is used in a broader sense than it would ordinarily be: it expresses a command, permission, or an authorisation. In other words, when certain behaviour ought to happen, it should, may or can happen.
The ought-meaning is normative in nature, as opposed to the act of will, which exists as a fact. Consider a person making a statement that “X ought to close the door”. The making of the statement is the act of will. Its existence is factual; the statement was either made, or it was not. However, the meaning of the statement is normative. It is an ought-meaning, interpreting the act and describing behaviour that ought to happen.
The following writing has been excerpted and adapted from my undergraduate thesis, ‘The Pure Theory of Law and Virtual Communities’. Part I serves as a brief introduction and background to the paper. You can also read Parts II, III and IV.
In 1993, Howard Rheingold introduced the “virtual community” to the printed world, eloquently detailing his experiences within the communality of the Internet. The opening to his book is a piece of writing groundbreaking in its implications:
“Daddy is saying ‘Holy moly!’ to his computer again!”
Those words have become a family code for the way my virtual community has infiltrated our real world. My seven-year old daughter knows that her father congregates with a family of invisible friends who seem to gather in his computer. Sometimes he talks to them, even if nobody else can see them.
The way Rheingold uses the language of the real to describe his online activities is immediately striking. He “congregates” and “talks”, both verbs connoting ideas of space, movement and communication. He interacts with “friends” – suggestive of the closeness of the emotional ties between him and other faceless individuals. And although a computer mediates his activities, he sees his friends and himself as a “family”: a defined group with close-knit social relations, not unlike a community.
Next big things past and present: Google+, rising tennis star Bernard Tomic, cloud computing, the cholesterol-reducing drug anacetrapib, CFDA-nominated fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul. The phrase itself is essentially heraldic, promising progress. But anything can serve as the object of its revelatory message. On the other hand, the form of the message-container remains unchanging throughout the fluctuations in content. ‘The next big thing’ is, first and foremost, an example of mythical speech. “Everything…can be a myth” – “there are formal limits to myth, there are no ‘substantial’ ones.”