Archive for the ‘Shop talk’ Category

Web of Change and me

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

So here I am at Hollyhock, on Cortes Island, for Web of Change, for the second year running. I need to quickly put down some things or I’ll lose them. So this will be a fast and dirty post.

The main reason for this is that there is no time, despite this conference being organized largely on Open Space. The conference is bigger this year, for one thing. There are about 100 peeps here. And of these, there are so many fascinating, killer sharp folks that I want to chat with, in addition to attending the sessions, that it’s literally becoming a bit like work to track down and “pencil in” these moments. When in conversation with one, another will walk by and I interrupt myself to “bookmark” that person, to say hey, let’s talk later. Things like answering emails, mentally preparing for my return to normal life/work and facebooking (even though I’m over it) are taking up some precious “down time”…

Peeps I need to further bookmark:

Jon Stahl: I have linked to him on this blog for some time. He is a WoC alumnus but was not here last year. I am pleased to meet him f2f and he has lots of very interesting thoughts on the intersection of non-profits and open source, and he doesn’t mind getting political n shit… He posted this essay on his blog, which I skimmed but will treat more in depth when I return.

David Eaves: This guy is tack sharp. He presented a session called “Online collaboration: Quantifying the problem, designing a solution”. The main problem he identified stopped me in my mental tracks. It was just this: What we consider to be collaborative work online isn’t true collaboration. That is, offline, it would be considered something entirely different. This reminded me of the cyberutopian claim that the internet was a virtual agora that would revitalize democracy etc. etc. We saw this uncritical approach in a lot of early academic writing on the Internet. Now that I’m thinking about online practices and values, and their potential for contributing to offline social change, I’ve been hyping on “collaboration”, unconsciously and uncritically valorizing it as a practice that inheres within internet technology. My bad. This critical interpretation of online collaboration is one I need to flesh out and add to my growing collection of ideas around the prospects for 1. democratizing Internet technology and 2. translating this process offline (democratizing society). Thank you Dave.

Rolf Kleef: Another WoC alumn whom I became aware of through the WoC mailing list, but just met. His tagline on his card is: Online communication and collaboration. Rolf is from the Netherlands; I wonder if this accounts for his political orientation to Internet technology. For a little light reading he brought a book I’ve used (and now will reread): Cyberprotest: New media, citizens and social movements. He is an acquaintance of one of the editors, Wim van de Donk, whose work I totally dig. What are the chances? What interested me about Rolf was his insight that often,within organizations (he’s a consultant) problems that are identified as technical are, in fact social. This reminds (me) of the tendency to abstract technology from its social grounding and treat it as a panacea.

Schuyler to the rescue

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Schuyler Erle, a mapping hack I met at Rococo, tells me the name of the instrument mentioned in the last post is the kora. So there you have it – Schuyler to the rescue. Incidentally, he is an interesting dude. He is an open software developer and has some exciting projects on the go. Schuyler is one of those really *smart* people I met at Rococo. This is his blog.

McKenzie Wark: Hacking and gaming

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

So two days ago I attended [CRTL], which was a symposium about art, technology and society. The keynote was McKenzie Wark, whom I’d vaguely heard of in the context of his 2004 book, A Hacker Manifesto. I haven’t read it, but anyone who knows me would know I would like anything with “manifesto” in the title. I’m just that kinda girl…

Wark framed his talk with the notion of contemporary personas – two in particular: the hacker and the gamer. These personas offer a way of negotiating between abstract concepts/principles and the particulars of everyday experience. They help us get from everyday to abstract concepts, with the latter more closely approximating “how the world is run” (that is to say, everyday particulars are the result, not cause, of abstract concepts on which society is based, organized)

Wark’s goal with A Hacker Manifesto was to resurrect it as a category, reclaiming it from the realm of criminality, and reinstate it as a critical concept. He defines hacker quite loosely: it refers to the creative use of information (that may or may not use technology). So a hacker is one who cuts, edits, remixes information.

This provided a segue into Wark’s next topic, intellectual property, on which information creation historically has been dependent. IP’s advancement was accelerated by the invention of the machine layer that makes information’s relation to materiality completely contingent: the relation between information and its material form is arbitrary.
The evolution of digital technology enabled the separation of layers, thus digital information can become tangible, can be embedded in other, forms.

Technology, therefore, increasingly facilitates the separation of information from ownership altogether; info escapes from scarcity, necessity. Walter Benjamin anticipates this possibility, regarding it as an enabling stage for collective repossession of info as something through which we can manage our own world. The property system prevents this, Wark contended, because “owned” information creates a conflict b/w info as creation vs. info as property.

Shifting to game theory, Wark invoked Plato’s Cave, positioning the gamer in a prison of a shadowy game world, who emerges into the “real world” to find everyone hunched over their computers. In Wark’s inversion, the whole world has turned into a computer game; everyday life is an impoverished version of life, where things never seem fair, where the rules are unclear, and the umpire is unknown. In games, there is a level playing field, where the rules are known and achieving success is possible.

It is not the content of the game (against modernist aesthetics) that is important; rather, said Wark, the underlying algorithm of the game; this algorithmic gamer culture becomes a way of grasping the world. The algorithm, he argued, is a way of thinking allegorically about time, for example, in everyday life. With politics a horse race, the economy a casino and work a rat race, life more and more approximates the culture of the game, with the objective to turn whole of culture into algorithm. It is an attempt to manage life as one entire algorithmic game experience.

This raises some obvious questions. Is there a limit to algorithmic thinking? What does it exclude to its detriment, that has to do w/quality of digital (in that the digital necessarily excludes ambiguity)? We can divide all of what’s to be experienced into code, into 1s and 0s. But is something lost in this translation?

All of this to get around to this question: How can you democratize knowledge? Wark invoked critical theory as one way. He talked closed by imagining practices of making knowledge democratic that does not fetishize; a process to which we can attach an ethics, maybe even a politics.