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Suspension of disbelief applies to networking

Saturday, April 19, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named tramp.jpgEvery creative endeavor involves the concept of suspension of disbelief in some way. I suppose they call it different things in different areas. When Ted Nelson saw an early version of my outliner he exclaimed "It's a virtuality!" Same thing as suspension of disbelief.  Permalink to this paragraph

The concept comes from the movies or is it literature. When you're watching a great movie, like The Godfather, Casablanca, The Departed or Chicago, you get sucked into the plot so much that your mind is in the reality of the movie, not the reality of the theater. Music can do it. I'm listening to an old Elton John song I haven't heard since the 70s. I remember being a high school student listening to it on the car radio as I was learning to drive. "Hand in hand went music and the rhyme." Permalink to this paragraph

Suspension of disbelief can be experienced, profoundly, when you're interrupted. If all of a sudden during a great Bogart/Bergman scene the lights come on or the film breaks. You're sitting there in a room, where did this room come from? I was in Morocco, now I'm in West Newton, MA. It was hot, now all of a sudden I feel coldPermalink to this paragraph

Getting Suspension Of Disbelief broken is like waking up from a dream that felt real. Permalink to this paragraph

I mention it because in the last few days I've discovered that the concept applies to the Internet too. All of a sudden I have a roommate as I use the net, a very judgemental person who has a very strong opinion of how I should be using it, and how my use of it departs from their expectation. Permalink to this paragraph

From Comcast's Excessive Use FAQ, these are examples of activities that represent excessive use.  Permalink to this paragraph

Sending 20,000 high-resolution photos, Permalink to this paragraph

Sending 40 million emails; Permalink to this paragraph

Downloading 50,000 songs; or Permalink to this paragraph

Viewing 8,000 movie trailers. Permalink to this paragraph

It's not so much the numbers that disturb me, after all none of these represent any of the things I do with the net. However, I do definitely download more than 20,000 medium resolution pictures a month. They're not high-resolution, they're medium. And this is a totally legitimate, legal and wonderful use of the net, imho. And one that I'm fairly sure zero people at Comcast have even heard of, much less understand. Permalink to this paragraph

I definitely don't send 40 million emails. I get it, they want to shut down spammers. Good, I support this one, for sure.  Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named casablancaPoster.gifI don't download excessive numbers of songs, and I don't think I watch any movie trailers. But this is where I get weirded out. See, Comcast doesn't mention how many movies I can download without being deemed excessive, or how many I can stream from Netflix or Blockbuster, it's as if they don't even recognize the activity. And since they haven't told me how much I'm allowed to use without getting disconnected permanently, not even verbally (and certainly not in writing), there goes the suspension of disbelief. Every minute I'm using the net I'm thinking about whether Comcast approves. Permalink to this paragraph

What does Comcast think about movies on the Internet, after all it competes with the cable TV services they offer. I imagine they think I should just use their movies on demand. What does Comcast think about podcasting? How about RSS aggregators? Do they know what these things are? How many podcasts can I download without seeming weird? How many news feeds? Permalink to this paragraph

I have an application that reads about 100 feeds every ten minutes. So that's 600 feed-reads an hour, or 14400 per day, or 432,000 a month. Does that seem excessive? Not to me, but I could see where Edgar the Comcast Cop might think so. (And the NY Times and the BBC, who provide the content, know I'm doing it, and they don't object.) Permalink to this paragraph

Here's the problem. When they say I am in the top 1/10th of 1 percent of all their users, they're right -- in terms of the weirdness of my use of the net. I'm doing things that almost no one else is doing. But that's the cool thing about the Internet, I'm allowed to do that. It's none of their business what I use the net for, anymore than the water company can prohibit me from making lemonade or beer from the water they deliver to my house. The bread company is not entitled to an opinion whether I make a tuna sandwich or French Toast, or feed toasted crumbs to birds who live in my neighborhood. Ford Motor Company can't stop me from using my car to drive to Tahoe or to Vancouver or to Santa Cruz. I can even use the car to transport CDs I borrow from a friend who lives on the other side of town. These are my choices, and none of their business.  Permalink to this paragraph

I get concerned because the stuff I was experimenting with ten years ago hasn't even shown up on today's Excessive Use FAQ. This is all old stuff now. Do they understand what FlickrFan is, and why a user might very legitimately and legally want to download over 20,000 pictures a month?  Permalink to this paragraph

Read their FAQ and see if it doesn't chill you, if it doesn't alter the way you use the net, if it doesn't break the suspension of disbelief. There's a very inappropriate Big Brother feel to it. They need to get out of my space, as long as I'm a customer who pays his bills, how I use the net is none of their business. If they want to change the terms to limit the amount of bits that can travel to and fro, fine. But I have a feeling they care about things other than how much, they care what -- and that's wrong. They ought to be very careful about expressing these opinions, and they aren't being careful.  Permalink to this paragraph

I've been here before, in 1999, when Conxion cut me off because I used a T1-line I leased from them to criticize their service. It's not a good place to be. Do you think it's excessive use of Comcast's service to use my cable modem to criticize them, as I'm doing here? Hmmm. Worth a bit thought.  Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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