Last week, Rich and I gave a talk at OWASP Austin, the open web application security group. Social network security was the title. The main idea is how the health of social networks and communities can be compromised by attacking the identities – replacing identities known to the community with ones that are less functional. When identities are degraded or made more anonymous, then the community is at risk.
Of course, we talked about complementary currency and among RSnake‘s several good questions was how does a complementary currency system keep someone from taking too much. Of course, we mentioned the idea of putting a credit limit for each person in the code, but as everybody knows, it is less about the code than it is about the people and if the community is healthy and all the transactions are transparent, then people will police it themselves. If the community is sick, they won’t. Even for the hackers at the OWASP meeting who are immersed in code every day, this idea seemed agreeable.
So, again it comes down to participation and as Henry Jenkins says, “as soon as we begin to talk about participation, the emphasis shifts to cultural protocols and practices.” In Alexander Galloway’s new book about networks and protocols The Exploit: A Theory of Networks, he often uses the word contingency. It’s a word that deserves more use because often times relationships break down because we don’t consider or acknowledge the contingencies that our peers might face. That is what protocols are for. For instance, Galloway says that how a DNA computer breaks down the traveling salesman problem “could just as easily be reconceived as a contingency problem.” Galloway says that protocols emerge through our complex relationships and they must “accomodate a high degree of contingency.”
Inspired by Edgar Cahn’s idea of a social operating system, I’ve written about how communities break down under complexity. As complexity increases, it becomes harder to acknowledge contingencies that can arise for those around us. Simple protocols are needed to take care of each others needs. For instance: You work an hour. You earn an hour.
We might fall into the trap of reversing this relationship, and come to believe (or at least act as if we believe) that our status as persons derives from possessing an electronic “identity” – that is, a record in a database.
If this happened we’d be in danger of becoming “unpersons”
Unpersons are bad for community.