As a part of our (Galia Offri & mine) involvement in this year’s Transmediale Festival in Berlin we participated in a panel discussion titled “Lost in The Open”. The focus of the discussion which I moderated was to hash out some of the challenges for Free Culture beyond its epic battles against centralized institutions, record companies, major film studios, copyright regimes…
I am including here the videos for the full panel beginning with introductions by the 5 panelists and continuing with the full discussion and audience Q&A.
“We prepare every year the biggest Free Culture show ever” (Simona Levy)
“We are basically doing illustrations for Wikipedia… it’s not so simple” (Galia Offri)
“…I would interpret the whole thing as a bit broader than just about copyrights. ” (Andrea Goetzke)
It’s not a Twitter, Facebook or YouTube revolution. It’s a revolution of hungry oppressed people who had enough. They didn’t need Wikileaks to tell them how corrupt their government is. It was a burning man, burnt by his misery and oppression that got people out to the streets.
Through the past three weeks the coverage of the popular uprising in Tunisia was completely neglected by western media and was far from being a “Twitter trend”. Why? Because it wasn’t a Western interest. Some papers argue the fall of the Ben Ali regime is actually contradicting Western interests, claiming Arabs cannot be trusted with democracy, as they cannot be trusted to choose “the right leaders”.
But now it has happened, despite our lack of attention, sympathy or solidarity. Without the West noticing, the Ben Ali regime has fallen and the self-centered new media elite has awoken to the news—a totalitarian regime has fallen. So how can we digest it? How can we be made to even care? Oh… right, there was something about Tunisia on one of the cables released by Wikileaks. Oh and a bunch of these activists are using Twitter and Facebook, oh and I think I saw something on YouTube too. Let the appropriation begin!
Beyond being very disrespectful of the people in the streets putting their lives on the line. This narcissistic reading of global events does not help us understand the true meaning and affect these tools hold over global events. We tweet the latest political blog post we read or update the status with our cleverly articulated social critique. How nice would it be to believe these are the butterfly wings that bring down regimes somewhere in some remote country we could not even find on the map.
Activists in Tunis and Iran are risking their lives. Sometimes they use networked communication tools, but their sacrifice is still very physical and is not something we can just easily retweet.
Forks vs. Knives – Developing the code that governs us
Describe your project
Reaching consensus is never easy and when it gets really tough some reach for their knives. We say, drop the knives and pick up the forks.
Imagine a site – fvsk.org – where each community can store its social pact – be it legal, ethical or religious code – and share it with its members and the world. Much like the social coding sites – Github and Bitbucket – the site will let each community member create her own version, a “fork”, and then share and discuss it with others. Forking becomes an opportunity to reflect, explore and innovate.
But we will not stop at that, communities need a way to agree on a mutual social pact. FvsK will support a well-defined enactment process for accepting forks and updating a pact. Using the power of distributed version control systems (DVCS) such as Git and Mercurial we will create a system that keeps the entire history of changes to the social pact and allows each member to propose changes. We will use the key processes of DVCS – forking and merging – to encourage free flow of ideas and to formulate agreement. On top of the DVCS system we will use tested organizational workflow solutions (such as BPM) to model the current process of pact revision approval and create simple tools to improve that process.
Our long-term vision is to create a system that can serve any size of community – from the manifest of a small ad-hoc activist group to a country’s statutory law – providing a way to keep their pact dynamic and encourage members’ participation.
This project will launch in Israel, one of the most challenging political environments today, where opposing communities are torn over national, religious, economic, racial and cultural differences. The future of our region is dependent on gaining the permission to read, write, and enact the codes that govern us, and to dare innovate, engage and affect them.
During the first year of this project we will build a system to serve two Kibbutz communities to be elected from the 256 “Kibbutzim” in Israel. Being a communal village of a few hundred people, the bylaws of the Kibbutz are critical to its members. The issues of private vs. communal property are hotly debated as kibbutzim adapt to economic changes and the evolving needs and wants of their members. Continue reading Introducing Forks vs. Knives
Invisible audiences drive the success and failures of mediated social life. Before we rush to further network our private and public spaces we should consider this radical cultural shift. Some lessons can be learned from a recent ambiguous website and an old ambiguous book.
The privacy debate has been dominated by the cultural leaders of our time – software engineers. Therefore we should not be surprised that the tones of this debate have been often quite binary. Private or public, 0 or 1, all or nothing… these binary dichotomies make sense for packet switching and network protocols, but they are very different from the way we lead our social lives.
Privacy has become a selfish demand, and publicness—a public good. A public demanding the civil rights of information: “information wants to be free”. But this highly celebrated “free” information does not necessarily stand for “freedom”. Thinking that free information would necessarily lead to free societies is as misguided as the similar sentiment about free markets. Yes, technologically it is easier to set something public, “to set it free”, than to define a more limited context for it. But what does it mean for the way we’ve been communicating and contextualizing social relations since the dawn of civilization?
On the day after I land back in Israel, I will participate in a very interesting event taking place in the context of the Bat-Yam Biennial of Landscape Urbanism. I have written a new essay for this biennial’s publication and for this event titled Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences. In this essay I am using both Chat Roulette & the bible as two critical case studies through which to reorient the “privacy debate” and focus it on the invisible audiences that have been penetrating our social life online and recently on the street as well.
This would also be a great opportunity to reconnect in Israel after 5 years in NY.
An interdisciplinary discussion in the context of the Bat-Yam Biennale of Landscape Urbanism
The discussion focuses on the urban rhythm heard in endless sounds, which can also be seen and felt through the density and height of construction and the pause offered by parks and playgrounds. During the discussion, we will examine how the designers, curators, and artists who are inspired and stimulated by this urban rhythm offer lasting or temporary interventions.
יום שני, 27.9.2010, 16:00-19:00
רחוב אורט ישראל 33
כשחושבים על עיר כמושג ועל עירוניות כדפוס חיים, עולים במחשבה המושגים קצב, דופק, רעש, ריבוי קולות וקקופוניה, בהיפוך לשקט, לרחש ולהעדר התנועה המתקשרים בתודעתנו אל הכפר והטבע. קצב עירוני מתבטא בצלילים ללא הרף , אולם ניתן לראותו גם בעין, בצפיפות הבניה ובגובהה, באתנחתא שמספקים גינה ציבורית או מגרש משחקים, בזרימת התנועה מן הרחובות הקטנים אל צירי התנועה המרכזיים, בעצירת כלי הרכב בצמתים וברמזורים, בתנועת הולכי הרגל, בשילוט המסחרי ובתמרורים. לקווי המתאר של כל עיר יש קצב משלהם, כשם שיש לרחובות המתפתלים, או הישרים. העין והאוזן חוות את הקצב העירוני בעת ובעונה אחת וללא ספק, גם שלושת החושים האחרים שותפים לחוויה. מתכננים ואמנים סופגים גירויים והשראה מן הקצב העירוני ושואפים לא אחת, להתערב בו בצורות שונות, שיגלו אותו מחדש באופן רענן, או שישנו בו משהו באופן ארעי או קבוע. בדיון נשמע כיווני מחשבה והתנסות שונים בתחומים אלה, נחליף דעות וננסה להציע רעיונות חדשים.
“While Linus Torvalds is best known as the creator of Linux, it’s one of his more geeky creations, and the social implications of its design, that may well end up being his greatest legacy. Because Linus has, in just a few short years, changed the social dynamic around forking, turning the idea of multiple versions of a work from a cultural weakness into a cultural strength. Perhaps the technologies that let us easily collaborate together online have finally matured enough to let our work reflect the reality that some problems are better solved with lots of different efforts instead of one committee-built compromise.”
“Most importantly, the new culture of ubiquitous forking can have profound impacts on lots of other categories of software. There have been recent rumblings that participation in Wikipedia editing has plateaued, or even begun to decline. Aside from the (frankly, absurd) idea that “everything’s already been documented!” one of the best ways for Wikipedia to reinvigorate itself, and to break away from the stultifying and arcane editing discussions that are its worst feature, could be to embrace the idea that there’s not One True Version of every Wikipedia article.”
Extending the distributed model beyond code and leveraging forking in other collaborative processes have interested me for quite some time. In commenting on Anil’s post, I realized something about the inherent difference between Wikipedia and software. Instead of rewriting it, I’ll just quote my comment in its entirety:
I’m happy that both the merging and the network view issues were addressed on the previous comments. I have been interested in extending the git&github models beyond software myself. I understand the interest in considering Wikipedia as the next logical step for networked collaboration right after code, but I think there is a fundamental difference between the two. While software code contains a set of rules that would operate a system, Wikipedia’s model is almost opposite – it documents a system that is already happening or has happened. Wikipedia attempts to document a monolithic past while software attempts to imagine the multiplicity of the future(s). Read the rest of this comment→
In celebrating the merits of Free Software and the excitement of this radical networked production method, an important truth is left unspoken. Networked collaboration shines in the low levels of network protocols, server software and memory allocation, but user interface has consistently been a point of failure. How come the networked collaboration that transformed code production and encyclopedia writing fails to transcend into graphic and interface design?
The following is an investigation into the difficulties in extending the Open Source collaboration model from coding to its next logical step, namely interface design. While it dives deep into the practical difference between these two professional fields, it might also serve as a cautious note to consider before rushing to declare the rise of “Open Source Architecture”, “Open Source University”, “Open Source Democracy”…
Is a book “content” or “conversation”? With the notion of challenging the power of monolithic institutions, are we creating one in the form of a book? Should we focus on the motivation, or the invitation? Do “in-dividuals” even exist?
A lot of work has been done, a lot of challenges in weaving our diverging views into the book in a way that would create that multiplicity that we want but still maintain the reading flow and would make for a good read.
We have acknowledged several times that this book sprint, editing an existing book originally written 5 months ago by a mostly different group of people is a completely different project than the original sprint. While then we started from 2 words (“Collaborative Futures”) that are predefined and cannot be changed, only expanded upon, this time we started from 33,000 words that we needed to position ourselves against, edit, change, replace, expand…
On the first day we had a lot of conversations between the new authors and some of the original team. This has continued on the second day, with authors challenging each others writings, both the one made in January and the new writing now. This is a conversation, and since the text is malleable and is prone to constant change, it is an ongoing conversation. But at some point the conversation has to stop and a book is generated and printed. A book can contain a documented conversation, but can it be a dynamic conversation? Or is a book always “content” – static and monolithic?
Motivation vs. Invitation vs. Individuals
Another theme that was dominant from day one is a large unease with the discussion of motivation. Astra argued against the general amazement at “why do people collaborate outside of the traditional market framework?” as it assumes these frameworks are the only way we can define social production. From a Marxist point of view everything is social production and the fixation around value exchange and markets should not be regarded as the fundamental concept through which to evaluate collaborative work. Catherine (Kanarinka) argued against our fixation with the construct of the “in-dividual” (undivided) as we are a multiplicity internally and externally and the whole discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations does not make sense to her.
We have changed that motivation chapter completely. Alan (working from Berlin) has worked with us on framing the discussion around the ‘invitation’. What is the invitation to collaborate? What does it promise? Who has the power to define the invitation? Who is it aimed at? Not only initially, before the collaboration starts, but also throughout the collaboration. We argue the invitation is a powerful aspect constantly defining the collaborative framework.
One day left
A lot to do… We will mainly need to work on the flow. As I said, make sure it makes for a good read, even if the result is more schizophrenic than the original text was just a few days ago. We’ll need to work against the tyranny of structurelessness, while acknowledging and managing the oppressive power of monolithic structures. We also want to finish some of the writing we’ve been working on, like my long overdue text about Open Source Design and networked creativity beyond code. Galia is working on a cover for the June version of the book, we’re already pretty excited about her ideas and drafts.
Oh, and we also need to settle my dispute with Catherine, why does she think she needs to get rid of the individual to allow for multiplicity of identity and agency? And can we indeed agree to call ourselves “creatures”? Does it matter?
A new team of authors/editors with a fresh set of eyes, critically dissected our initial conventions about collaboration. The main surgical intervention will happen now, by Friday night we should stitch it all together.
It’s scary to see your labor of love on the surgeon’s table. That’s a bit of how it feels now after the first day of the June 2010 Collaborative Futures book sprint.
Kanarinka, Astra Taylor & Verina Gfader have joined Michael Mandiberg and myself at Eyebeam and Adam Hyde, Alan Toner & Mike Linksvayer (via Skype). The new authors having read the book, set to examine the convictions and ideological frameworks that have defined the book written in January. Like in the previous sprint, we expressed ideas and themes through sticky notes and then clustered them together.
These are the titles of the clusters we came up with:
There was an interesting discussion about inconsistency in the book. While inconsistency makes the reading slightly harder, it can also be framed as information that exposes diverging views. One of the challenges we face is making the reading flow and not be broken by inconsistency, but at the same time leave room for multiplicity and conflicting views.
More updates will follow, got to rush and start the second day…
Starting tomorrow morning and for the next 3 days we will work on a new edition of the Collaborative Futures book.
As I’ve done before I will keep updating with posts here every evening. In the meanwhile I will leave you with the spiel:
In January 2010 six authors and one programmer were locked in a room in Berlin and were assigned by the Transmediale festival to collaboratively write a book titled “Collaborative Futures”.
5 days and 33,000 words later the first incarnation of Collaborative Futures was finished online, and sent off to be printed. 5 months later the original authors together with three new people and will be locked in Berlin and New York to produce the second edition of the same book.
They will be joined by additional guests and contributors who will drop in or contribute remotely on the Booki.cc website.
We will meet every morning at 9:30am and will write until the sun or our minds sets (the later of the two).
We will use the Booki.cc online software to write, edit and collaborate.
We will edit the existing work, possibly even replacing full chapters.
We will write new chapters to extend, complement and possibly contradict the existing ones.
We will eat and drink in the space and will have dinners together on the three days.
We will argue and fight against each other and against the paradigms of this collaborative effort and its tendency to subsume our conflicting voices.
We will produce the 2nd edition of the Collaborative Futures book by the evening of Friday, June 25th.
To help writing and editing the book read this chapter first: