[NetBehaviour] Know Your Filesystem (and how it affects you)

Rob Myers rob at robmyers.org
Thu Oct 22 05:16:49 CEST 2015

On 21/10/15 03:15 PM, Dave Young wrote:
> Thanks for the quote & question! To draw a minor correlation between my
> text and this Illich quote – Illich wrote Tools for Conviviality in the
> early 1970s, the same time the first GUI (Xerox Alto, later Star OS)
> operating system was being developed.


I loved the article, really good.

Xanadu was started a decade before the Star project, and Computer
Lib/Dream Machines was published in 74. There may be something to the
idea of epochs, or at least eras. :-)

> What I wanted to get
> at in the text was that any interface acts as an enclosure: it presents
> options to the user, but in the end these parameters are designed and
> constrained - some possibilities of user-responses/interactions must be
> omitted, and we shouldn't readily consider these omissions to be inert
> gestures but moments where interaction is governed. 

Does this relate to the idea of "affordances"?

> I think the
> interfaces of Android, iOS/OSX, and Windows have been moving towards
> what Illich might have considered a “man-made shell” for quite some time
> already - our shifting perspective on the filesystem is to me emblematic
> of this. The more we find ourselves within this shell, perhaps the less
> we consider our devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc) as tools? I have
> the impression that, when it comes to tool-use, a sense of
> agency/ownership is important. I think we are really losing the
> entitlements that come with user-agency and tool-ownership as a
> consequence of these 'smart operating systems' and their reluctance to
> share their dirty laundry (filesystems, background processes,
> data-caching, and so on) with us - should we ask them to.

As we lose the ability to exercise our freedom we also lose the
awareness that we can?

I agree very much that filesystems are a site of history and politics
and a fit subject for critique. I'm really glad to see this article and

UNIX's file/directory system is no more "natural" than DOS/Windows'
version with the slashes going the other way. They and the desktop
file/folder metaphors contrast with other historical filesystems: BeOS's
database, VMS's versioned file system, the Lisa's search system, the
original Mac's flat list of files. It's more weird that UNIX won than
that other systems do it differently.

At the same time that apps and search are firewalling users from
filesystems more and more, Git, Urbit, IPFS, and other modern
distributed/versioned/cryptogrphically secured filesystems are putting
filesystems beyond the control of locked-down software and making them
truly distributed tools for storage and communication. Escaping the
lockdown in this way is good, at least relative to that lockdown.

On a related note, where has "View Source" gone in mobile web browsers?

- Rob.

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