Aaron Swartz’s death has unleashed a massive amounts of sentiment. Some from his friends (some of whom are also my friends), some from people who didn’t know him but knew his work, and others condemning his persecution, widely attributed as one cause to his suicide. All of which, is very heartfelt, and the emotion of which is a bit overwhelming to me, and has made me think a lot about suicide in general, a reoccurring theme in my life, and no doubt many others.
There is one thing nagging at me currently (I’m sure others will come up as I continue to reflect on this, as they tend to do), about the criticism of his persecution. Apart from the quite reasonable and warranted outrage at the charges that were levi ed against him for such an insignificant transgression (if there was a transgression at all), the critique of intellectual property I’ve heard surround this tragedy seems to be missing something.
While the rentier class who pushes the harsh penalties for intellectual property violation are certainly to blame, and as any purely capitalist force are completely deserving of critique, this forgets the fact that Aaron himself was, in a way, part of this class, having made quite a bit of money when Reddit sold out to Conde-Nast.
First of all, this is in no way to suggest that Aaron, his life, or his work was in any way hypocritical. On the contrary, from all accounts he was a remarkable person who strove to promote equity and justice in the world without exception, committing all of his financial resources to his work of liberating information, and people themselves by giving them access to this information. So much so, that as Lawrence Lessig suggests, he had few resources left for defending himself. I can think of few examples of lives lived in recent times, in which it sounds as if someone so selflessly devoted themselves to what is right, as opposed to what is popular or lucrative. And in general, I see absolutely nothing wrong with taking money from capitalist interests in order to fund the fight against them. This is an unfortunate fact of the extent of the capitalist economy in contemporary times–it is impossible to fight against them without holding property, using resources, and laboring under the auspices of the system.
What this points out, I think, is the contradictions of the system that Aaron was coming up against.
For all the activist technologists out there in the world fighting the good fight, there is very little recognition that the system itself that they are utilizing is broken. This path, of cashing in on a clever invention so that then, one has the resources to spend on the frivolous luxury of doing good, is viewed as the best and most noble path. Business, itself, is the primary tool that many technologists point to, as the weapon with which to undo the negative effects of capitalism. Start a business, make a fortune, start a non-profit, give a TED talk, everyone applauds. But if you do something as forward as plugging in a computer and start downloading public information, you have a prison cell to look forward to.
If we are actually trying to confront the rentier class, then we have to see the way that technology itself is the rent system. I don’t say that we should condemn technology. I say that we need to realize that the entire spectrum of “good” and “evil”, our entire conception of justice and how to achieve it, is wholly owned by this rentier class, and leased back to us, in pieces, in platforms, and in apps.
From everything I’ve read of Aaron’s writings about his life and work, it sounds like it was creativity and curiosity that drove him to accomplish everything he did, and I can only imagine, this is what led him to allegedly set a computer up to download those public files. Curiosity took him to thwart the rules of how to do “good” in the world, and to pursue a sort of good that has been criminalized. If I am correct in this assessment, the lesson I take from this is that our creativity must find ways to take back this sense of justice.
I don’t know what this means. I don’t know how to take back this sense of justice. But as we celebrate the amazing technological things that Aaron did, I can’t help but feel that he was set up, not just by the US attorneys who persecuted him, but by all of the technological wonders that make our world. I feel like the bad guys in this situation are not just the government, the music industry, and the institutions supposedly existing to spread knowledge that sought to restrict it, but also start-up culture, TED talks, what we know as “innovation”, business, and every piece of property, from restricted PDFs to office space, to every dollar and every cent.
I’m an unrepentant anti-capitalist, but if you are a person who thinks what happened to Aaron was wrong, I don’t know how it could be any other way. It was the technological property that Aaron worked with, that he was trying to liberate, that turned was against him; and I can’t help but think that every one of us benefiting by that property is in some way culpable.
Update 2: Salon has agreed to change the headline and deck on the piece, reverting to the original title of the piece, and totally reversing the wording of the subheading to make it more accurate to the content of my essay: see the link above, versus original screenshot below. (Though it is unfortunate the permalink cannot be changed.) Many thanks to JS at Salon for being very professional and agreeable in helping the change take place. As far as I’m concerned, this closes the issue, and Salon has put things right. I never did find out what the thought process was in the original mis-titling, but I’m willing to chalk that up as one of life’s unfortunate mysteries. As long as what amounted to me being misquoted was corrected, and the CC license is followed, then things are okay. What’s done is done. Thanks to everyone who expressed their frustration about this in commiseration with me as well–although such a thing might be “standard media practice”, it was heartening to know that I wasn’t alone in seeing this as a complete misrepresentation.
Update: I’ve been informed that Salon has a reprint agreement with TNI, according to TNI’s CC license. Reprinting, of course, is in line with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License. Setting aside the fact that Salon automatically violates the Non-Commercial use aspect, the question is then whether or not it is a derivative work or not. It is standard practice to re-title pieces when re-publishing, without consulting with the author. However, I think in this case, it is clear that the title and sub-heading are so different from the piece itself, to make it more of ironic piece of performance art than a real article when published on Salon. Imagine if someone wrote a piece about the positives and negatives of a particular political group, or a company, or a person. If that article was republished with the title, “X on its Last Legs”, the import of that change to the piece would be obvious. Without a judge’s ruling, this is just my opinion. So for now, I hope that Salon can see the damage they’ve caused, and simply changed the title or marks it as a derivative piece with a disclaimer.
Yesterday, while doing a standard Google self-search to find an essay I had published in the past, I discovered an essay of mine that I did not publish. Salon took an article I wrote about Burning Man that ran on The New Inquiry, and republished it without permission. Not only that, but they gave it a horrible, hatchet-title, which completely changed the meaning of the piece.
Please read my actual article at The New Inquiry if you are interested in how I was arguing, in fact, the opposite. My piece was about how through my experience, I came to the understanding that despite any particular problem or challenge of Burning Man, what people are doing there is something that is innate to their own way of life. No matter what happens to Burning Man, no matter how it changes, the people who attend it will continue to do what they do, either at Burning Man, or elsewhere. And that includes me, because I have been the last two years, and I will be there next summer as well.
So you might be able to understand how distraught I was at seeing my piece slapped up on another site with a low, attention-grabbing headline that completely misrepresented my piece. I know a little bit about the internet–stuff gets stolen, re-purposed, and borrowed, with different and contradicting definitions of what fair use is (what Salon did was in no way fair use, see below). But knowing that reality didn’t make it any easier to read the comments on the Salon page, where long-time burners dismissed the piece, my writing, and my own experience as an attendee of Burning Man. I completely understand why they attacked this posting. Burning Man isn’t something that is understood by people who don’t go because it is very complicated, and there are many different cultures and ethics rolled up into a singular meme. Media tends to send a few correspondents, who tend to report back the briefest glimpses of what actually happens there, the reality of which can never fit into 500, or even 3000 words. The limited nature of reporting on Burning Man was one reason that I was so excited to publish this piece. I wanted to break through the common conceptions of what the event is, and present the experience of a person who understood some of the events faults, but still loved it. Instead, because of Salon’s theft, this piece became another instance of what I hated: sensationalist journalism that cares more about page views than the subject matter. I’m deeply sorry to Burners who read this piece with this title, and thought that my words were meant as evidence of their cultures downfall.
I am sending Salon a DMCA takedown notice, because what they did is clear copyright violation. The New Inquiry is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License, which means that it’s material can be re-used, but only with attribution, not for commercial purposes, and with no derivative works. While Salon did provide attribution, listing my name and The New Inquiry as the source, they are using it for commercial purposes (as can be seen ads for cars and other sponsored links in the screen grab). And with the title change, they have published a derivative copy. Per my author agreement with The New Inquiry, I retain all copyright to the work, and so if Salon wished to use the piece outside of this license, they would have had to seek my permission, which they did not seek, and I did not and do not give. Furthermore, their site lists the article as “copyrighted by Salon”, and does not reproduce the Creative Commons License, which in and of itself is a violation of that license.
The unique powerlessness I feel in this situation is bizarre. I have gotten into internet scuffles before, but only on the basis of intellectual disputes. In these cases, I can respond, and even if my argument doesn’t outweigh my interlocutor’s, I can feel like I met someone on even terrain, and we were both able to make our cases, for anyone to read and judge. In this case, all I can do is send a DMCA takedown, and hope that Salon listens. I don’t have money for a lawyer. I’m simply an independent journalist. My name and ideas are being smeared by a major media outlet, and there is nothing I can do other than write a post on my own tiny site, fill out a form, and then sit here and hate it. I have no venue to respond in my own words (except here), because it is my own words that have been turned against me.
I would really like to get in touch with the editor at Salon that made the decision to steal my work in this way. The best I can hope from the DMCA takedown is that the page with my stolen work disappears. But I want to know why they did this. Was it simply to get a few page views? Did they have a quota to meet, or an assignment to publish something about Burning Man that they couldn’t otherwise complete? I want to hear from the person who thought it was okay to put an author in this position, and pulled the trigger on it. Did they think I wouldn’t care, or wouldn’t find out? Or is this one of countless thefts they make every day without really considering the ramifications? Is this standard behavior for a major media site? These are things I want to know, so I can contextualize this, and understand what this means for me and other independent writers.
Thanks to those of you who filled out the survey, I’ve been able to put together a small schedule of events that I think will be a lot of fun. So here is the official announcement. Attendance is free, but please email me to let me know if you are coming so I can get an idea of how many we will have.
Weird Shit Con 2012
Portland, Oregon, Cascadia, Western Standard Time, North America, Earth
August 17th & 18th
What is Weird Shit Con?
Tag cloud as suggested by survey responses:
Drone hacking / noise music / DIY transhumanism / graffiti divination / gonzo futurism / ritualistic architecture / geological timescales / cosmic order / the techno-peasantry / Follow the gnarl / math is cheaper than drugs / The Age of Horus / the New Economy / pseudo-coordinated motherfuckery / the color of a dead channel / various individuals and cells coming together to discuss their Great Work / a þing or folkmoot / gathering of the internet tribes, for real-world scenius-based hilarity / a supercollider for weird, spiky ideas / hoaxes / vapourware / paths not taken, and things buried or overlooked / the rough edge, rather than the bleeding edge / strong and weak signals / weird shit is weird for a reason, because it doesn’t fit into existing frames of reference / collecting and disseminating weird shit should be one of the first principles of any good network of power-weirdos / Solarpunk / robots / machine vision / technologies disruptive to society and government / insert the contents of our twitter comments to each other here, as annotated and expanded on by an orangutang that’s been subjected to several successive generations of cognitive enhancement therapy, who’s currently coming down from mushrooms and ranting about post-neoDarwinist Marxism / resilience / design fiction / futurism / sci fi / weird history / VARIOUS ESOTERIKA / systems / synthesis / solidarity
What will happen at Weird Shit Con?
This is up to the participants, but the road map for events is as follows, locations to be announced later:
1700 – 1800 – Meet & Disorientation
Receive your materials, shake hands, talk awkwardly, show off equipment, conduct opening rituals.
1800 – 2100 – Dinner & Keynote Discussion: What is Weird-Shit?
A consensus-process discussion in which the subject of the conference is identified and provisionally explored over a long dinner.
2100 – ??00 – Bar/Talk/Board Game Time
Discussion continues informally, beverages are quaffed, games are played.
1100 – 1400 – Show & Tell: 15 Minute Sessions
Every participant is given a fifteen-minute period to share something interesting with the group. These sessions will be transcribed, and guest participants from remote locations will be included.
1500 – 1700 – Outing: The Disappearance of Vanport City
A short field trip to explore the park, raceway, and country club area where Vanport City, Oregon used to exist, before being destroyed by a flood in 1948. Interpretation will be aided by GIS information and other historical documentation.
1800 – 2200 – Unconference Lab Time
After a short break for dinner, we’ll open up into a unconference-like session of group discussions, projects, games, or other activities. Want to workshop a new idea with a few weird minds? Want to build a small dossier on a particular subject? Want to show off and play with a hacked gadget? Bring it to the lab, and find some weird people to help you.
2200 – ??00 – Adjourn to Bar, or Continue with Lab, or Both
The group is free to drift to a nearby watering hole as they like, abandoning their projects or bringing them along, or simply continue with the labs, or disperse into the night.
How do I get involved?
Email Adam to let him know that you’re coming, and then show up for whatever sessions you like, and don’t forget to bring the weird. The announcement of locations will happen soon. We should have a projector for the Show & Tell session, and Wifi at all locations. If you are looking for something more specific to be there in the way of technological infrastructure, let us know.
When you make zines, it is something you can never just quit forever. I’ve been feeling the itch again since Apopheniac Communiques, which I put together with help from friends last spring. Since that was created entirely with a public call for content put out on the internet and it worked out marvelously, I think I’ll do a similar thing again.
Here’s where you come in. Please send to me your poetry, your prose, your fiction and non-fiction, your research, your collated documents, your notes, your drawings, your paintings, your collages, your sound art, your music, and your video. If you send it to me, I will figure out how to use it.
The only qualifications are:
- It is awesome
- It is your original work (define “original” how you like, but let’s say it must at least qualify as fair-use under US definitions)
- That you’re willing to give me one-time publication rights to include it in a Creative Commons-Attribution-Share-Alike work (which will be assumed if you submit it).
- That you understand that if you submit your 80K novel draft or something equally long, I will most likely include it with some remixing of my own in order to make the zine physically possible. :)
This is the greatest part for me. I love being able to say to friends, acquaintances, and strangers: “I know you do awesome things. I would love for you to share some of them with me, so that I can share them with more people.” If it wasn’t for your submissions, there would be no zine. But because of your submissions, I get to make a zine. It’s a beautiful thing.
I put together Apopheniac Communiques in classic zine-style, pasting it all together with print-outs and photocopies, but with this new zine it will probably be more electronic. The format will depend on the submissions that I receive, but I’m starting with the goal of making an electronic version to go along with the printed version.
This is why I included non-printable things on the list above, like sound recordings and video. Part of the challenge for me will be figuring out how to include diverse media. There will definitely be a black-and-white, ink (or toner) on paper version of this zine. I will have to figure out how to translate music and color images to this form. Will there be QR codes? Will a DVD come with it? Will there be a small circuit that plays lo-fi sound? WILL THERE BE HOLOGRAMS?!?! There will probably be an electronic version that will give me some options, but at this point, I have no idea how it will all work. But it will be awesome to figure it out. So send me whatever.
Other Details You May Care About
I don’t sell the copies of the finished zine for profit. If I collect money, it is only cover printing costs. Otherwise, I give them away free (last time, I gave them all away free, and just paid for the printing myself).
I tell you this to explain why I can’t pay your for your submissions, even though I feel that is an important goal for publishers to have. I will, however, provide you with copies of the zine. Additionally, I will provide you with print-ready files of the entire zine, which you may use yourself to reproduce it and sell it if you like, according to the Creative Commons-Attribution-Share-Alike license. The reason I like making zines is to make them. If I wanted to sell zines, I would do that, but I don’t, and so I won’t.
Other questions? Email me. And do spread this call around, if you wouldn’t mind. We got the perfect number of submissions last time, but secretly, I would like to see what I will do if I get a hundred submissions. Give me a challenge of amazing proportions!
It’s definitely a legacy of postmodernism: a cascading collapse of grand narratives, shifting social values replacing the previously held assumptions, major shake-ups in aesthetics. But if it was postmodernism, we’d be debating this only in a theory journal somewhere. I mean, ostensibly, there are people somewhere actually making money off of this. I’ve made a little money off of it, though not earning a living. And that’s the point, right? This is a carnival side show, but a carnival side show that will be scanning your home with infrared cameras looking for illegal activity, while we gawk at the skies.
@Zero – Remixing may (?) be necessary, but it’s insufficient.
If I could make a guess, one of the reasons that Mr. Pickard doesn’t buy it as postmodernism, is because he is selling it, as much more than theory. He is an associate writer & futurist at @superflux, which is a design firm that… well, in their own words:
“We work closely with clients and collaborators on projects that acknowledge the reality of our rapidly changing times, designing with and for uncertainty, instead of resisting it.
“We are particularly interested in the ways emerging technologies interface with the environment and everyday life, and with proven experience in design, strategy and foresight, Superflux is in a unique position to explore the implications of these new interactions. Ultimately, we strive to embed these explorations in the here-and-now — using rapid prototyping and media sketches to turn them into stimulating concepts, experiences, products and services.”
Or, pulled into this discussion completely out of context, in their own tweets:
‘Playing pop music via paper posters with conductive ink’ @ileddigital @petepigeon show their new work on BBC news: bbc.in/wZfO9z
While the many realities and non-realities of design-fiction are subject to on-going debate, it is clear that this is this is more than a intellectual exercise. Speculation is business. Speculation is industry. There is a need to be thinking very seriously about things that don’t quite exist yet, and there are people who are better at it than others. Their skill is such that they are paid to exercise it. This is a confusing terrain, but some people are drawing maps. They aren’t simply playing language games with it, or debunking it in a rehash of the Sokal controversy. How do you debunk a drone?
@justinpickard Okay, well, I suppose that depends what you are specifically referring to as “it”. What doesn’t fit?
My personal alteration of the Arthur C. Clarke quip is that “an insufficiently understood _____ is indistinguishable from an insufficiently understood _____.” Of course, these days, everything is insufficiently understood, and so future-weird generally looks a lot like everything else that is future-weird. I mean, someone at a university understands how those quadrocopters fly in neat square formations through windows. But the rest of us just stare at the Youtube video, mind and jaw agape.
And pretty much all the things that Rhizome.org has been so lovely as to let me write about, in my brief “career” in this jurisdiction. I don’t mean this simply as self-promotion (though it clearly is), it is just that the Intriguing Valley has kind of become my beat.
This story is unfinished. But while I am listing a bunch of things that are “of the iceberg” here, let me also throw out these notes by Joanne McNeil (@jomc) about the New Aesthetic. Joanne is someone who is very much in this conversation in my mind, even if she never tweeted in this Storify. She’s the editor of all of those Rhizome pieces I listed above, and she gets it. Even more than giving me a venue for those pieces, it is the pieces she has rejected that have been formative to shaping the Intriguing Valley, in my understanding. Not everything falls into this category, and we wouldn’t want it to do so. This is not a catch-all lumped together category of things we do not otherwise understand, but is a positive principle in and of itself.
“Technology has always meant seeing things more clearly — with every advance we move closer to understanding what the world is about. With progress come new points-of-view, new perspectives, new ways of seeing…”
…and yet our visions are filled with things are are confusing. Not shadows or phantasms, or mysticalized-for-profit apophenias. The Intriguing Valley is a place for specificities of the future. The things that most definitely exist, and yet we just don’t get quite yet. A growing number of people (unsurprisingly, on Twitter and related networks) are versing themselves in the topology of this Valley. The future is looking weird.
I feel like there should be a Twitter list associated with the Intriguing Valley. That might be the next step.
I received this email because one of my ebooks has “explicit content”, though it doesn’t need to be censored. Still, this is very concerning that a financial transactions company is telling a publisher what they may offer.
Email is published in full.
Re: Your Smashwords account at
Dear Smashwords Authors, Publishers and Literary Agents,
This email is being sent to all authors, publishers and agents who have published
erotica at Smashwords. We will also post this message to Site Updates and the
According to our records, you pubish 1 erotica-categorized title(s) out of 2
title(s) now live in the Smashwords system. This message may or may not pertain
Today we are modifying our Terms of Service to clarify our policies regarding
erotic fiction that contains bestiality, rape and incest. If you write in any
of these categories, please carefully read the instructions below and remove
such content from Smashwords. If you don’t write in these categories, you can
disregard this message.
PayPal is requiring Smashwords to immediately begin removing the above-mentioned
categories of books. Please review your title(s) and proactively remove and
archive such works if you are affected.
I apologize for the short notice, and I’m especially sorry for any financial
or emotional hardship this may cause the authors and publishers affected by this
As you may have heard, in the last couple weeks PayPal began aggressively enforcing
a prohibition against online retailers selling certain types of “obscene” content.
For good background on the issue, see this Selena Kitt post here – http://selenakitt.com/blog/index.php/2012/02/19/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship/
or here – http://theselfpublishingrevolution.blogspot.com/2012/02/slippery-slope-erotica-censorship.html#comment-form
or this Kindleboards thread here – http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,104604.0.html
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords
with an ultimatum. As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement,
PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened
to deactivate our PayPal services. I’ve had multiple conversations with PayPal
over the last several days to better understand their requirements. Their team
has been helpful, forthcoming and supportive of the Smashwords mission. I appreciate
their willingness to engage in dialogue. Although they have tried their best
to delineate their policies, gray areas remain.
Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.
The underage erotica is not a problem for us. We already have some of the industry’s
strictest policies prohibiting underage characters (we don’t even allow non-participating
minors to appear in erotica), and our vetting team is always on the lookout for
“barely legal” content where supposed adults are placed in underage situations.
The other three areas of bestiality, rape and incest were less well-defined in
our Terms of Service (https://www.smashwords.com/about/tos) before today. I’ll
tackle these one-by-one below, and I’ll provide you a summary of the changes
that will go into effect immediately.
*Incest:* Until now, we didn’t have a policy prohibiting incest between consenting
adults, or its non-biological variation commonly known as “Pseudo-incest.” Neither
did our retailer partners. We’ve noticed a surge of PI books over the last few
months, and many of them have “Daddy” in the title. I wouldn’t be surprised
if the surge in “Daddy” titles prompted PayPal to pursue this purge (I don’t
know). PI usually explores sexual relations between consenting adult stepchildren
with their step parents, or between step-siblings. Effectively immediately,
we no longer allow incest of any variety in erotica.
Like many writers, censorship of any form greatly concerns me. It is with some
reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at
Smashwords. Regardless of your opinion on incest, it’s a slippery slope when
we allow others to control what we think and write. Fiction is fantasy. It’s
not real. It unfolds in our imagination. I’ve always believed fiction writers
and readers should have the freedom to explore diverse topics and situations
in the privacy of their own mind. From an imagination perspective, erotica is
little different from a literary novel that puts us inside the mind of farm animals
(1984), or a thriller novel that puts us inside the mind of a terrorist, or a
horror novel that puts us inside the mind of an axe-murderer or their victim.
All fiction takes us somewhere. We read fiction to be moved, and to feel.
Sometimes we want to feel touched, moved, or disturbed. A reader should have
the right to feel moved however they desire to be moved.
Incest, however, carries thorny baggage. The legality of incest is murky. It
creates a potential legal liability for Smashwords as our business and our books
become more present in more jurisdictions around the world. Anything that threatens
Smashwords directly threatens our ability to serve the greater interests of all
Smashwords authors, publishers, retailers and customers who rely upon us as the
world’s leading distributor of indie ebooks. The business considerations compel
me to not fall on the sword for incest. I realize this is an imperfect decision.
The slippery slope is dangerous, but I believe this imperfect decision is in
the best interest of the community we serve.
*Bestiality:* Until now, we didn’t have a stated policy regarding bestiality.
I like animals. Call me old fashioned or hypocritical (I’m not a vegetarian),
but I don’t want to be a party to anyone enjoying animals for sexual gratification,
for the same reason we’ve never allowed pedophilia books. I don’t want to publish
it, sell it, or distribute it. The TOS is now modified to reflect this. Note
this does not apply to shape-shifters common in paranormal romance provided the
were-creature characters are getting it on in their human form. Sorry I need
to clarify it that way, but we don’t want to see bestiality erotica masquerading
as paranormal romance.
*Rape:* Although our Terms of Service prohibits books that advocate violence
against others, we did not specifically identify rape. This was an oversight
on our part. Now we have clarified the policy. We do not want books that contain
rape for the purpose of titillation. At Smashwords, rape has no longer has a
place in erotica. It has no place anywhere else if the purpose is to titillate.
Non-consensual BDSM – or any other form of non-consensual violence against another
person – is prohibited.
*NEXT STEPS:* If you have titles at Smashwords that are now expressly forbidden,
by the end of day Monday (Feb 27), please click to your Dashboard at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard
and click UNPUBLISH then click ARCHIVE. This will also cause our automated systems
to remove the titles from retail distribution.
DO NOT try to hide or obfuscate violating content by changing book titles, book
descriptions and tags. If we discover such shenanigans, said authors/publishers
will risk account deletion and forfeiture of any accrued earnings, per our Terms
We take violations of the TOS seriously, because such violations jeopardize the
opportunities for your fellow authors.
We do not want to see PayPal clamp down further against erotica. We think our
authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it
faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection. Erotica allows readers
to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore
in the real world.
The moralists forget that we humans are all sexual creatures, and the biggest
sex organ is the brain. If it were not the case, none of us would be here.
Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are
perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That’s not
fair. Our decisions today are imperfect. Please, act responsibly, don’t try
to game the system or publish content that pushes the limits of legality. Help
us continue to help indie authors around the world to continue to publish and
distribute with freedom.
*THINGS TO AVOID:* Avoid using words such as ‘bestiality,’ ‘rape,’ ‘incest,’
‘underage,’ or ‘barely legal’ in book titles, book descriptions or keyword tags,
otherwise Smashwords may conclude you’re violating the Terms of Service, or trying
to push the limits. If you’re writing non-erotic works, and any of these words
are necessary, then you’re okay.
On Tuesday (Feb 28) we will begin removing content that we deem in violation.
When we remove a title, you will receive an email notifying you of such, and
that email will append this letter along with instructions on how to notify us
if we made an error. I promise you, we will make mistakes, so please work with
us, take a deep breath and honor us with your patience.
If you believe we removed something in error, please click “Comments/questions,”
mention the title we removed, provide the hyperlink to said title, and provide
your *calm* reasoning for why we should reconsider.
Our support team is backlogged, so it may take several days for them to respond.
As we mention in the Terms of Service, we reserve the right to remove anything
for any reason. That said, we will also try to make our decisions with care
You might wonder if Smashwords should simply switch to a different payment provider.
It’s not so easy. PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform.
They run the credit card processing for our retail store, and they’re how we
pay our authors and publishers. PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted
payment option for our customers. It is not feasible for us to simply switch
to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with
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Hearing the commotion from the hall, the designer puts down his scalpel. A security officer comes in the swinging, double doors of the lab, out of breath, as the designer stands. “No problem here, zir. One of them writers broke out of containment. It took the full charge on two tasers, but we got it wrangled now. We’re taking it back to the tank, and then we’ll be back to clean up the mess on the floor. Wish they didn’t always void their bowels like that….” The officer was gone.
The designer sits back down on his minimalist steel stool, and picks up the blade. It might be part of the realities of doing design-fiction, but an interruption is an interruption. Increasing the magnification on the goggles, the designer brings the scalpel low over the text for another slice. The page shrinks back instinctively, as the sharp edge parts its fibers…
I couldn’t consider myself much of a young writer knowledgeable about the technological zeitgeist if I couldn’t preach to a particular choir about the particular concept developed in the last five years known as “design-fiction”. Like anything else these days, the truth no doubt resists easy categorization, being multi-faceted, and having different characteristics and attributes at different times and in different settings, depending who is measuring, and from where they are looking. Luckily, abstraction is my chosen art form, and building characters that are easily readable is a skill fundamentally component to my nature, almost as much as design-sense comes naturally to those who can afford Adobe Creative Suite. Without too much beating about the bush, I’m going to weave a little narrative about design-fiction; just a couple of multi-touch gestures on our collective interface here.
via Flickr user lifeontheedge
Let me begin by unilaterally defining design-fiction as the theory and practice behind conflating design, “building things that exist”, with fiction, “making up shit that doesn’t exist”. Design-fiction–either through its own limited fictional proposition or on the back of pre-existing works of fiction–links a fictional narrative regarding a proposed object, with some image, shadow, ghost, dream, or otherwise hologrammically-real design of that object. It could be a mock up of a car from Blade Runner, it could be a functioning hologram like in Star Wars. It could be the proposed features of a cell phone that could exist, if only the technology was available as specified. Or it could be the working prototype of something entirely useful, if certain fictional conditions were true. Most generally, design-fiction take “the future” as the generic narrative for its activity, and uses only enough fictional glue as is necessary to prop the designed object up upon that plane. No doubt, the makers of design-fiction experience a bit of perceived freedom in this activity. With this tool, they can give context to design ideas that wouldn’t otherwise be taken seriously. Fiction was something that reality merchants used to avoid, but now it is a new territory, just waiting to be settled. The designers and engineers, after decades (or centuries, depending who is doing the counting) of attempting to maintain their privileged control over the domain of reality, have suddenly noticed that there is an entire new world available in the realm of unreal, and are building new colonies as we speak to tap these fictional deposits.
The resource of fiction has proven invaluable to the design community. It is a fertile land for farming new ideas. It is a forest of raw timber, just waiting to be processed into something profitable. It is a mineral resource: a treasure trove of value just underneath the soil, which the natives refuse to profit by, at least until they are put to work mining and smelting it to store and back the value of the new economy of this land, in which fiction creators are now lucky enough to participate.
We, the fiction makers, used to do simple arts and crafts. Little stories, films, and comic books. Did you know that when we used to be able to freely hunt the elk of imagination, we’d use every part of the animal? We’d use the hide for plot, the bone for characters, and the antlers would be our lifestyle. (We’d even eat the genitals, for the sexual content which we believed it imbued our fiction.) We had a true respect for the environment of fiction, when we lived in harmony with its spirits. But that time has past, and we’ve been woken up to the new economy. Now we sell to the tourists along the highway, and if we’re lucky, get a job in design-fiction’s factory lines, hopefully with enough time to still practice the fictive arts around the fire, at home in the evening. We show off the goods that we have as the designers come around on buying tours. A positive nod from a designer, a mention in a bibliography or a name-drop in a project… well, that could make a career for one of us. Our fiction could be discovered, and we could be whisked off to the lab, to have our fiction milked for years-worth of homogenized product-fantasies, and our genetic material cloned into sterile keynote after keynote. If we are good and docile, we might even find a privileged pet position as “Director of Visionary Hype” at some publicly-traded corporation. We could be the monkey that gets to go home with the scientist.
Today, the magic no longer exists in our fiction, but in what they can do with our fiction. By the manifest destiny of design, the wonders of the future have been created in real life, with the subjugation of fiction to the anvil of reality. All classes have indeed benefited from this abundance. What wonders we have, on the bleeding edge of this economic extraction! We have “cyberspace”. We have virtual reality. Augmented reality. We have billions of phones that would be no more than simple radios if not touched by the magic hand of design, transmuting them into “cyborg” appendages, and we celebrate them for the virility they imbue within us. The value of everyday things like touch-screen interfaces, environmental sensors, and vehicular transportation increases exponentially when inseminated with “design-fiction”. It is the ultimate gamification, the hand of design-fiction, turning what would be ordinary stuff into exploding, plinging, gold coins, making all of technology and fiction seamlessly function For The Win. What once was merely the artistic present, is now the valuable future.
Cue the Disney-produced GM animation. Or rather, cue the Vimeo cut. Or even better, just play the entirety of Minority Report. Or, let us crowd-source a film version of Neuromancer, so we can slip once more into a sweet visual fantasy dimension, of endless flowing tides of VC and Kickstarter love and dollars.
I stretch the truth a bit, of course. Because I am a writer, and this is what I do. I make stuff up, at least to a certain degree. I invent worlds that don’t exist, for other people’s amusement. I simplify and I abstract to make a point, and to write something hopefully concrete and understandable. I draw the lines that no one else is willing to draw, and then give it away free: my own little bit of folk art. To get these bothersome ideas out of my head, and onto the web. Just doing my part, as a serf of fiction. Carrying my little crowd-sourced bag of fictional dirt up the wall of the pit mine that is the internet.
But I must answer for my quota of cotton; I need to bring you something for re-sale, and not just my little straw men. I can’t just spin fiction off into the wind, and so it must mean something. So I must ask, seriously: when it comes to the reality of design-fiction: what is it that we are doing here? How is it–and why is it–that fiction is actually being taken “seriously” when it is conflated with cool little technological gadgets, with visionary architecture, with high-profile names in the design world? Why is it only now that “fiction” is allowed to become almost “real” when printed on a design pamphlet or wired to an Arduino board, minted into the coinage of design-fiction? Should we who create fiction accept this colonization? What was fiction before design-fiction? Is design-fiction merely the modern extension and the next prototype of fiction: the future of fiction?
It seems that many people thought books and literature were only ever entertaining side-pursuits in our cultural history; that literature only came close to science in the form of library science. But fiction has always been a part of historical reality, long before design-fiction so kindly discovered the power of future-affirmation to it. Fiction has a very human purpose: it is the singularly important task of assembling, what I would call, a “mechanism of desires”. Fiction expresses the raw, chaotic power of human life through its material components. Through its own technology of imagery, thematic archetype, language, and other media forms, fiction expresses the depths of our species’ life in the continuum of past, present and future, and indeed, it is the only way we ever have. We talk about ourselves via the form of literature, or fictive writing, and also in music, film, art, and any other expression in which we might be able to conceive or perceive a narrative. Sure, often it is, strictly, “made up”. But this is the creative element–in order to better express those dark human desires underlying our societies, to project the hard-to-define emotions that pulse within our living existence, we must not be constrained to the plane of reality that those in the physical sciences hold themselves within. And in this way, fiction is entirely real–as real as emotion and thought, as real as our egos, as real as the mutable species-entity known as “humanity” that unites all of us with a similar genotype. It utilizes as its energy the chaotic reality of human life, and constructs a branching, cultural pipeline for this energy to flow within. And all this time, you thought you were just reading words!
Apart from this deep, underlying function, fiction is also useful for a great many other things as part of its expressive nature. We’re aware of the general humanistic good of consuming fine literature, of the entertaining feature of films, of the social aspect of music. Fiction can motivate and inspire humans to “real-life” activity in a variety of arenas, and physical design and technological invention is surely one of these. But over and above inspiration, design-fiction’s functionality has what could be considered to be a more insidious mechanism.
What is the purpose of attempting to design a cyberspace deck? What do we gain from building a Minority Report display interface? Why work on a product that only will ever exist within a story, pre-existing as separate narrative, or written specifically for that gadget? When we assume the design-fiction mantle of Future-Vision, what is the motivation? It is four-fold: 1) We believe these devices would be cool or otherwise meaningful in real life. 2) We believe they would perhaps be successfully marketable products, if they could be created. 3) We want to see if it can be done. 4) We buy into the fictional fantasy world of generic future-tense, and we commit to design-fiction as a way to express our mental investment and solidarity with that forward-leaning worldview. These reasons all have a common thread: once a technological gadget can be identified in a fictional way, a part of us wants to port this fiction to reality.
These are the reasons behind the majority of design-fiction, and as such, design-fiction is no more than steampunk. I don’t intend to drag steampunk through the mud by association, either; steampunk is a fine hobby. There is no reason not to port fiction to reality, as a prop. Play-acting is a form of fiction consumption, and always has been. A prop, just its progenitor the classical theater mask, is simultaneously real and not real. But design-fiction is kidding itself if it believes it can simply make the fictional real, to make it less than a prop. And that to do so is any more than gluing gears to vests for sale on Etsy, to sell shit by calling it Shinola.
Play acting is all well and good, but when the props are treated as real, there is a psychotic sort of commodification underway. The psychosis is a disavowal–a forced rejection of the entire fictional mechanism except for that one value point, “to make the future real”. It is a cauterizing excision of a segment of the fiction, cut out and fused into an independent object with only one quantifiable dimension. Ripped out of its context, the purpose of fiction as a whole is conveniently forgotten, and the gadget object is reduced to a commodity, existing only in terms of its market value. The expressive component of play-acting is dead. Design-fiction is a fetish pushed to the point of absolute objectification; it is no longer a node of pleasure, only a dried and homogenized portion of the original fiction, ready to be sold in consumer-ready packages. The future is no longer a vanishing point of progress in a real-unreal network of invention and art, but a quantified MSRP. It is to reduce all speculation to the assumption that what could exist must exist, and would, in existence, be valuable. It is to make this supposed value the end-all of all creativity. You can hook a disembodied dog head up to a blood pump, and watch it try to live. But why would you do that? Design-fiction has such questions to answer.
We don’t celebrate Neuromancer because it contains the idea of cyberspace; we celebrate the idea of cyberspace because it is part of Neuromancer. Neuromancer is less about the actual proposition of a virtual realm called cyberspace accessible through communication technology, and more about the feeling of micro-gravity. It is about the human wish to fly. Cyberspace gets the press, because it is an easily identifiable term, and not a more ethereal thematic concept. The coined phrase is its own commodity value. We recall that the end of the book take place in earth-orbit, as the cowboy of the virtual space is forced by physical circumstances to take his metaphorical combat into the world. The book is about dimensions that are unreal, and no less real. It is about manufactured space in general, and the new physics that we must learn to live within. It is about the new thermodynamics of information, and such immutable laws that would birth the sublime triple point of black ice. It is about the life that develops in unreal physical environments, life that is both human, and non-human. In the time since the book was written, the Internet has come to life. Cyberspace is now an actual thing, different than the cyberspace in the book. But the human desire, and ultimately, the need to fly through our invented territorial realms is still real, both in reality and the original fiction.
Design-fiction reduces the mechanism of fiction to one more corporate R&D department, convinced that it’s products are something more than just products. The fictional, thinner-than-thin, design-fiction smart phone is a product of dimensional flattening, reducing the real environment of information technology and communications to point at which it is just another virtual icon, that we flick across the surface of our real phones despondently: the killer app of the week. Such so-called “fiction” downsizes the network assemblage of human creativity and desire-engineering, replacing it with the boring repetition of the start-up model. How it works and what it does is less important than how quickly it can be pushed to market, or more likely, to the blog. It minimizes the desire that drove creativity to express itself through dynamic fiction into no more than a meter of quantitative investment and click-through interest, that can be channelled as is liked for best returns. So you’ve stimulated the nerve endings with desire for a phone that will never be sold. It’s creative output is made-you-look. The fiction might as well have never existed, and all that was manufactured was the lie. It’s thinking you don’t have to feed your dog as long as you keep ringing the Pavlovian bell. It’s inventing the Happy Meal toy before the shooting the film. At best, it’s bad fiction. At worst, the most you are affecting your audience with is lead poisoning.
Design-fiction would have you avoid the vast mechanism of real fiction, and invest in what is made up as a secondary commodification. It would have you forget about the book, and concentrate on the deck. It would sell you an Ono-Sendai T-shirt, not to bring the book to life, but in order to brand you into the fan club. The book is alive already, and its position as a classic work of fiction is the proof. If there was a cyberspace deck, it would be a piece of memorabilia to put under glass on a shelf. Something to sell online, if you were lucky enough to have an actual box to ship. What would be the purpose of a cyberspace deck today? We already have the interfaces that best conflate our needs to connect to our networks with the technology we have available. Design, without the fiction, is already delivering on the dream. It may be an interesting exercise to consider why we have smart phones rather than cyberspace decks–but this is a theoretical exploration between the work of fiction and reality, and something for writers to bother themselves with, rather than designers.
And then on to the next one. Remake each book into a film, and each film into a phone. What can you quantify the rights to, and convert into a design-fiction option? How about Minority Report? The Minority-Report-Interface (MRI) is now a completely isolated, flat piece of fiction separate from the fiction from which it is derived. Amputated from the work of fiction, in which it is an important image of the thematic import of the work–a larger theme of truth, evidence, and the foreseeable future–the device itself is now only a milestone about technological progress. When will we have the MRI? When, when, when? And how much will it cost? The future will only be here when we can gesture in space and construct a narrative of the future at our whim. But this forgets the point of Minority Report as a work of fiction: the idea of the work is that the future cannot be predicted, and cannot be constructed at our whim. In our manic gesturing towards the gadget-of-the-future, we’ve missed the whole point. The reality of fiction has been replaced by an urge towards false, isolated commodity.
Are objects pulled into the “real” world and isolated from the assemblage which invented them, even to be considered real? These simulacra of fiction seem to double down on the fakery. In fact, the entire woven mechanism of fictional meaning from which these objects grew before they were harvested like clones, the question of the worth of technology as an element of human existence from which have the fruitful discipline known as Science-Fiction seems more real. In open speculation and the intricate programming of fiction, I see more reality than in the commodification of potential-product. What is more real: the cyborg in the horror film, or the hardwired, uncanny horror that causes us to invent cyborgs in fiction, to keep us looking even though we wish we could turn away? What is more alarming–uncanny human subjects, on the border point between humanity and object, or uncanny objects, on the border point between creativity and capitalistic exploitation?
But let me call curtain. Enough with my own play-acting here, and philosophical slight-of-hand. Let me end this fictive fantasy I’m spinning, and return to reality. These post-colonial memories–they aren’t yours. This was a nightmare, from which we all can easily wake up. Fiction and object design are both equally real. They are all real, but only together, united as they always were.
I’ve been giving design-fiction an especially hard time, trying to seed its practitioners with a horrible dream, in which they are the enemies of the future, rather than its saviors and heralds. As the brainwashing super-villian in this narrative, I speak for an a-vocal, imagined constituency against a trumped up enemy. Us designers of fiction (not designers of design-fiction) are, in general, so pleased to finally be taken seriously that we almost forget to take our newly discovered importance as an insult. And so, I’ve lobbed the perceived insult playfully back towards my characterization of the design-fictioners, if only to have them finally look up into the sky for what might one day actually condense in reality with enough weight to hit them in the face.
Behind this little bit of territorial posturing, the relationship between the real and the fictional is the same terrain that we’ve always traversed. Our ideas, both of fiction and of physical invention, grow as nodes in the network–starting independently, connecting, separating, and eventually fading in importance. The lasting effect of anything, technological or artistic, is its ability to network with everything else in a connecting, transmitting relationship, rather than as a cancerous, pooling sink of resources. Both fiction and reality are simultaneous. Isolation and consolidation of nodes will occur, and there is nothing wrong with picking particular pieces of fruit as they grow. But reality only occurs simultaneously amid real-world praxis and the extensive networks of the creative production of fantasy. Keep your hammer in one hand, and your dreams in the other.
And in the end, recognition of this truth is my fantasy of the future. We who create fiction don’t have to view the design world as an expropriating, gentrifying force. We can work as a team with the designers. The designers are no doubt just as interested in our characters and the overall fictive headspace as they are in our marketable gadgets. And the world of engineering can be the same fertile ground for creativity, as fiction can be for design. They can let us into their studios and laboratories just as we let them into our heads. This was the origin of Science-Fiction, of course; and it is the continuing legacy of speculative fiction of all categories. Writers, artists, and creators of all media continue to be informed by the world around them just as we inform it with our work, and in this society of continual connecting networks, we ought to turn up the bandwidth, and upload as much data to the commons as we realistically can.
But in that effort, design-fiction: I urge you to remember who constitutes reality in this relationship. I may write on a computer, and access the cloud through the prouduct of your brilliant, visionary interface. But your imagination, your creativity, your humanity–you read these inscriptions off of the broad back of fiction. This world and its aspirations were built by fiction, and fiction keeps it. Remember, design-fiction, that when you dream, you are in our hands. We are you, while you sleep.
The club is the mediator or frame through which the music is communicated. The band literally plugs into the technology of the club in order to magnify the sound, turning a possibility into actually, making what is heard by the musicians themselves accessible to an audience. People pay to see others believe in themselves.