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e-money: Un texte de F. Stalder

this message entered the list on Thu, 18 Feb 1999 19:52:01 +0100
it has been sent by Nicolas Maleve
chers  Mouvingues

Voila un texte de Stalder qui trainait depuis longtemps dans mes dossiers
telecharges ( voir bas du mail ).

Peut-etre ca a deja vieilli ou bien c'est redondant par rapport a ce que
vous avez developpe. Quoiqu'il en soit, si ce type ecrit pour nettime, ca
vaut surement la peine de voir comment sa reflexion a evolue. J'ai repense
a ce texte en circulant dans les metros de Paris.

IBM, avec La Redoute, met le paquet. Grandes affiches cendrees, bon chic
bon genre, d'un look tout sauf technophilique, pour rassurer tous les
publics que cet univers electronique inquiete, promeuvent le paiement par
internet. Pour le bien des familles, le sourire des jeunes filles, le sport
et la sante de la gent masculine et last but not least l'elegance feminine.
A voir cette campagne, ca sent la trouille, la volonte de rassurer. Rien a
voir avec les campagnes precedentes qui essayaient ( chacun est libre de
juger avec quel succes... ) de briser l'image trop ronronnante, trop
menagere, du catalogue et du service.

Le seul indice qui indique que tout ce bonheur est du a la machine est la
mention du petit @. Ce symbole @ est la carte de visite acceptable et
lisible par tous. Tout ca pour dire que l'ampleur des moyens mis en place
me semble enorme et que je n'ai qu'une confiance relative dans l'esprit
critque des utilisateurs du web dans leur globalite. Que ce soit a la
television ( "Comment justifier un investissement dans un  site a son
comptable ? -en lui disant qu'il aura double nos gains avant la fin de
l'annee !" encore IBM ) ou dans les illustres ( jusqu'a Femmes d'Aujourd
hui qui promeut le paiement electronique sans parler un seul instant de
confidentialite !!!!! ), le message est le meme.

Ne pensez pas on a reflechi pour vous. Evidemment ca ne s'adresse pas a des
internautes de longue date mais a la part du marche qui a achete son pc a
Noel, dans un kit microsoft ( parce qu'ils avaient deja recu un GSM l'annee
derniere ) et pour qui la question est : est ce que c'est complique ?
Voila. A part vous raconter ce que je vois a la tele et dans le metro, je
ne peux rien faire d'autre que vous souhaiter de publier vos reflexions au
plus tot.

nicolas maleve

======================= begin quotation =======================

DigiCash: Learning from Failure

Felix Stalder   11.11.98

DigiCash's troubles utterly contradict any notion of techno-determinism

Much more than in success stories it is in sad failures where the gory
mechanics of development break through, scattered pieces lying around open,
available for inspection to anyone. No gloss of "evolution," "market
success," "superior technology" obscures the view on the vectors of forces,
the pulls and strings that shape the events.

The most important point to be learnt from  DigiCash's troubles is that they
utterly contradict any notion of techno-determinism, even its milder, more
fashionable version according to which technology is developing along some
inherent, independent trajectory.

What DigiCash's problems bring to the fore instead is that technology is
much more than just technology, than a mere set of tangible and intangible
artifacts. If that was the case, DigiCash would fly miles high, because it
is a beautiful, elegant, socially desirable technology. But it's flat on the
ground because it has been particularly weak at associating with its
technological proposal all the other elements that are necessary for
transforming a technology from an idea into something that actually works.

In the case of DigiCash, this would have been, most of all, banks and users.
But neither banks nor users are Alices and Bobs, as envisioned in Chaum's
blueprints. In the real world, they have their own interest, their own
inertia, their own idiosyncrasies which need to be reflected in the
technology they are to be attracted to it.

It might very well be the case that DigiCash was too good
a technology, too precisely thought out and
over-developed. When it encountered real human beings,
real institutions, real on-line behaviour this made it
impossible to change the technology to reflect those
different interests, not because it wasn't good enough,
but because it was so well constructed that nobody dared
to fiddle with it.

In this sense, a strong but inflexible technology can be a major impediment
in its progress. Technological development is to a large degree about the
mutual and simultaneous constitution of multiple elements: the technology
under development; institutions supporting the technology; society
incorporating the technology into its routines; and culture making sense out
of what is happening and integrating it into a larger context of who we are
as we relate to the technology. None of these elements can simply determine
others, nor is any simply determined by others. They are all in a process of
constant adjustment. Many of the major new technologies have undergone
series of deep changes under the influence of multiple non-technical factors
shaping its history, just think of the history of radio.

A motley crew of different forces, ideas and interest needs to be
incorporated into technology in order to make it acceptable, that is, make
it work. The true innovators are, more often than not, not the brilliant
inventors, fully immersed in the technology and only the technology, but
"heterogeneous engineers" people who manage several areas at the same time,
able to translate from one into the other. This takes time, because not all
elements change at the same pace. Artifacts are usually rapidly replaced,
but that doesn't mean that much, since they are only one, arguably small,
aspects of what technology is all about. Which is one of the reasons why
change is never discontinuous, despite all the millennarian rethoric
surrounding the Internet.

The other important myth that can be easily debunked looking at the story of
DigiCash is the 'invisible hand' of the market and the supposedly pitoval
role of 'consumer choice'. These concepts might be adequate if introducing a
new technology was about putting new artifacts out and then see who picks
them up. But the mutual adjustment of factors that have sometimes a very
slow pace of change requires deep pockets and sustained efforts. In the case
of electronic money, it requires extremely deep pockets since the product is
technologically, economically, legally, politically, socially and culturally
so complex.

Looking at the current field of electronic money, only heavy hitters are
left over. There are the smart card behemoth alliances -- Mondex and
VisaCash -- which are backed by a significant share of the financial
industry. Pockets don't come any deeper than this. And still, even they have
massive troubles coordinating all the different aspects that, together, make
a technology work. Mondex has just rescaled significantly its global
show-case implementation in Canada and a much publicized test in NYC is
quitely closeing down because of the public's lack of interest. Not even the
wealthiest institutions can simply control technology (as political economy
tends to suggest).

On the other end, micro-payments are being promoted by IBM and
Digital/Compaq, companies that can also mobilize very significant resources.
By the time when these technologies appear on the 'market' most of the major
decisions will already been made.

At this point, it remains open if any of the current technologies will ever
be accepted as what they aim to become: money, widely used and accepted. In
the closed environment of the nation state a new currency can simply be
introduced from the top down by replacing the old one, as it is being done
with the Euro. On the Internet, where all change is additive and everything
that is new needs to create its own niche, control is much more complicated
and development much more unpredictable.

 Felix Stalder lives in Toronto and is a regular contributor to nettime.
This text was published in a slightly different version on  nettime .

      Copyright  1996-98 All Rights Reserved. Alle Rechte vorbehalten
                        Verlag Heinz Heise, Hannover

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