to: ellipsis ...
24 July 1996
subject: letter twenty-four X
attachments: Softopia 1
: the imaginary rock foundation
: y celwyddgwn ar y prom
dear ellipsis ... and everyone
Knowing that u+n and e+w are still busy writing
those earlier letters that I couldn't manage, I
wake now to the writing of this one.
Which reminds me that the turning point of this
writing came when Utopia invoked everyone to wake
up from industrial living to something warmer and
more lively, even magical.
And now I've just re-read 'Couriers' (which I've
not looked at for years) and I feel again the
strange but joyful feelings I had as those words
came through my fingers (in 1984) and I wonder how
the egalitarian dream of Dr Bellamy can coexist
with this newrotic folktale and the changed
culture that's implied - for that is the
purpose of my drift ...
To combine in one vision (or a virtual fiction of
continuity) the full extent of all the thoughts
and stories about everything in this writing so
To connect divided worlds and to join the
previously unjoinable until you heal the old
divisions as you reverse what was reversed.
And who is this you of whom I'm writing?
I didn't find an answer to that question while
writing 'Depending on everyone'. The you in that,
the you who listened to Dr Bellamy, is it me or is
it you or is it everyone? For you must know that
we're all in this together and there's not yet a
way to enter or to exit from this new form of
living that's about to break out ... Or so I think
I wrote that several hours ago but because of my
fatigue after yesterday, or because of the
inherent difficulty of doing this, I wasn't able
to continue until now.
Let go, let go, says Nick Routledge,* after his
revelations on the road to connectivity, via the
And letting go is surely how to unlock what's been
stopping me today. But I resolved earlier not to
talk of the difficulty and not to write unless it
So what now of 'i2', the virtual fiction that I've
promised myself to be writing here in this letter
before the last one tomorrow in which it could
relate to i1 (the net as it is)? ...
But my experience today is of the net itself, not
the fiction, for this morning I logged on to a net
conference called Sohbet. Very strange, very
empty, for there was no one else present and no
topics had been posted and yet I felt I was in a
vast social space reaching to 'the ends of the
In a box called new topic I typed in the equation
'Sohbet = everything' (for this conference -
which is organised by Nick Routledge - is
supposed to be a meeting place for people who like
to think about 'the whole').
And then I wrote my suggestion that we begin by
each writing something as independently as we can.
That would be the first round. Then in later
rounds each one of us would write something else
as interdependently as possible and continue thus
for several more rounds until we pause to
'consolidate', whatever that means.
The purpose of this is to have a formal procedure
in which no one (or few) can dominate and no one
is silent or excluded, i.e. a formal way of
'keeping the centre empty', such as is proposed in
'Letting go' and 'keeping the centre empty' being
my formula, at present, for the making of
effective social forms both in the net and
That was my first experience today, pleasant but
eerie. The next one was awful.
I'd switched off the telephone company's service
which speaks back the cost of each call
immediately after you've made it but I wanted to
hear how much my unexpectedly long time reacting
to Sohbet had cost. I tried a code I'd noted down
for getting the cost of a single call but a taped
voice said the number is not recognised.
Then I began a long series of attempts to get this
information, or to get someone to tell me if the
codes have been changed, or whatever. Each call I
made was longer and more frustrating than the one
before it until, about a quarter of an hour later
I broke off when the live voice of a sales person
said, 'we're not allowed to connect you with the
people who know the answer to that question' ...
or words to that effect.
The real stopper in all this was a succession of
taped voices reading out lists of options from a
menu and telling me to remember them and then
press a number corresponding to the one that
fitted my request.
Almost impossible to comply with because, as is so
likely to be the case in things human, we think
and do things that cannot and must not be squeezed
into ordained categories if our lives are to
remain pleasant. In everyday conversation this is
easy, and so it is on the voice phone as we've
known it but now, with the money-saving advent of
taped-voice menus, that tremendous flexibility is
For a long time I've been thinking that one of the
first provisos for new technologies and cultures
is a law against queueing and against menu-driven
anythings, for to subject anyone to these is, to
my mind, a crime. Yes, I'm serious.
Some years ago I began, with a professor of
radical law to design a legal system for new
technologies and that was my first proposal.
Perhaps it was too idealistic (for our
collaboration got no further) but I still see
law-design as a good way forward. Says he,
reverting to the positive language of progress,
presently in disgrace.
But to complete the story of my call-charge
Just after putting down the phone in anger I asked
myself why it's happening now and never did
before? The answer is obvious: it's because of the
presence of cheap computing power at every node of
the network (the essential recipe for both the
internet and it seems these awful menu-driven ways
of forcing callers to 'do work' and 'pay for
waiting-time' that should be done and borne by the
recipients) ... So this incident, though tiny, is
as significant as any to the evolution, if we want
it, of a technology that waits on people, and not
that fascistic reverse.
Well, in the note I made just after, I wrote:
to wait in calling queues is intolerable ! ! This
is start point for 24!
I didn't take the note seriously, having already
decided that this letter is to be about the
fictional net (i2) and that the 'net as it is'
(i1) belongs in twenty-five. But here is my note
appearing in this letter and now it's here I'll
have to adapt to the 'purposive drift' that it
embodies and reverse my intentions.
To make fictional laws for i2 (to be worked out by
the good Dr Bellamy?) sounds like one way to do it
so I'll let that be the way in.
The 'way in' to what?
To a fiction that embodies just not the laws of
his utopia but a feel for the kinds of living that
all their presence could support.*
And that arouses a second memory. I woke today to
the notion of making another combined text like
the one of the Book of changes and Genesis.
This was to combine words from William Morris's
News from nowhere with some from William Gibson's
Neuromancer - as opposite poles in this
discussion. I'll try it now before thinking how to
do it, or what it might lead to, for it's time to
act swiftly and, as Nick says, to 'let go' of
As I go to fetch the two books I 'cannot resist'
taking five others (Being digital, The virtual
community, City of bits, Silicon snake oil and the
text of 'Couriers') ...
... And as I return to the keyboard I realise that
a combined text from all seven would be
... perhaps I'll do that later as an attachment,
if I have time ...
... but for the moment here is the shortest mix I
can manage from William M and William G. (After a
bit of doubt I decided to take, from one
chance-chosen page from each book, the section I
feel is most characteristic of the whole and to
type successive sentences from each page, with odd
numbers choosing a sentence from W M and even
numbers from W G.)
(In the event I had to take alternate sentences
from each text as there were many even numbers and
very few odd. Otherwise I'd have been typing all
night before William Morris got a look in.)
As I typed this out I realised that the two books
are more similar than I thought. Both writers
reveal a strong interest in sex and both are
firmly tied to the vocabularies and the
circumstances of their times. The future doesn't
seem to be present, not really.
Well, as I wonder now what this has to do with the
net as it is, or as it might be, I decide to leave
that text alone for the present. I find that
chance compositions reveal more to me in
subsequent readings than they did at first. I
expect this one will too.
But before going to bed I'd like to recover
something of the 'warmth, liveliness and magic' of
Utopia's awakening from the passivity of the life
industrial, and some of my joyous writing of
'Couriers', and I'd like to further the drift of
these writings towards the imagined world of Dr
Bellamy and myself, sweet fictions of continuity
and sour ones of new discord, as old divisions
vanish and new differences arise ..
... but that's for tomorrow.
And what texts do I select now as attachments to
The first is 'Softopia 1', which was written in
September 1995. It's an attempt to design a
non-alienating successor to the net, based on ' The
Imaginary Rock Foundation', which supports
'everyone as artist', and includes other
possibilities outside the reach of specialisation.
I wrote these two texts not as real software but
as a basis for imagined stories of how it is
experienced on the virtual planet j-921, and also
on earth immediately through a proposed software
And one more piece, out of character with the
others: 'Y celwyddgwn ar y prom' (the lying dogs
on the promenade) is writen in cymsaesraeg, my
version of Welsh-English. It is a play against
labelling, and ethnic cleansing, in defence of
the cultures we love. To which the net is one
solution, I'm sure.
But now it is after midnight and the 25th has
begun. Is tomorrow going to be a time for
The question's out of order. For the rune oracle,
to which I've been turning when doubtful, has it
that twenty-five is just blankness, the moment to
relinquish control when faced with 'the creative
power of the unknown'. A time to trust the
and the wise ones said nothing