Re:Group – Beyond Models of Participation

The brouchure cover by Ange Tang

For the past year I have been collaborating with Paul Amitai (Eyebeam), Jason Jones & Beka Economopoulos (Not An Alternative) and Marco Desiris (Snafu) on a talk series as a part of Upgrade NY. The series revolved around open source as it relates to activism and creative practice. Yesterday we opened an exhibition on this theme, investigating models of participation and participation as a model.

The show features 13 works from a long list of artists and art collectives. The collaborative process of developing the show was quite fascinating (though sometimes excruciating) on its own. This process reached its climax when we had a really hard time arriving to a consensus on the curatorial statement. Things got pretty emotional as each side felt subsumed by the other in a futile attempt to find the middle ground.

In the core of the disagreement was an intellectual argument Jason and I have been (really) enjoying for the past three years. If we have not reached an agreement for three years, a three days deadline was not enough to change it. Finally we realized that in the rush to come up with a uniform statement we have not internalized the tagline we chose for the show and go “beyond consensus”. We decided to publish an introduction followed by two curatorial statements.

Excerpt from the intro:

For the past year Eyebeam and Not An Alternative have organized the NY node of Upgrade!, with the theme Open Source in Activist and Creative Practice. The decision to produce this show was born from that collaboration, however the curatorial concept was a source of constant debate. A unified position was never achieved, but collaboration does not necessarily result in synthesis. The intention with the following two curatorial statements is to reflect subtle but important differences in our curatorial perspectives on the subjects of collaboration and participation. As we reflect back on the process of curating this show we see that our experience was far richer because of the (albeit sometimes painful) philosophical, aesthetic, and political debates among us.  While harmonious unanimity was never achieved, in our view this must not be seen as an inevitable goal. We appreciate that in this show about collaboration, our curatorial collaboration has honored distinct positions, rather than subsuming difference in pursuit of consensus.

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Diaspora’s Kickstarter $$$,$$$ success endangers both Diaspora, Kickstarter & you

The Internets is all buzzing with chatter against Facebook’s latest privacy breaches. Into this happy mix a bunch of NYU students have been cast as the Davids against the social networking Goliath. Is that really a good thing? Can we help? Diaspora is a new initiative by 4 NYU students to create a “privacy aware, … Continue reading Diaspora’s Kickstarter $$$,$$$ success endangers both Diaspora, Kickstarter & you

Engagement is everything, a dialogue

Communication breakdown… It’s never the same. How I tried to extend my social network to beyond just “friends” and came off as a douche bag

In my previous post titled “Relationship: It’s Complicated” I was trying to make the point that social media interfaces and terminologies excludes the room for conflict. I came up with three proposition for intervention, one of them worked or rather took a life of its own much faster than I expected.

I was proposing to use Twitter list to follow not just like-minded people, but also people you often disagree with, as a way of both challenging your point of view and of engaging beyond our networked echo chamber. (read more about it on my post)

As I was preparing the post, I made a list of that type for myself, added a few Twitter users that I count as my intellectual/political opponents and named it “adversaries”. Just a few hours later, and even before I got to publish my post I noticed this tweet:

@mushon I find my inclusion on that list distasteful and distressing. May it be the only thing I ever have in common with AIPAC & Netanyahu.Wed Apr 28 10:28:48 via TweetDeck

Adam Greenfield is a prominent media theorist who’s best known for writing Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. I have seen him present more than once, he’s a really great speaker, I also assign a talk by him to my NYU students, throughout the semester it is usually one of the pieces that inspire them the most. Yet after watching him speak or reading him I was often left with a sense that his poetic theory often emphasizes the pros and de-emphasizes the cons. This left me pretty disturbed about what he represents and has won him that place in my adversary list.

With that being said, I did not expect he will see this list. It was not some attempt at teasing him or provoking him. Maybe the way I used the word ‘adversary’ was wrong? Maybe it’s indeed more offensive than I think (note: I am not a native English speaker). I definitely have nothing personal against the guy. I changed the name of the list to ‘opposition’ and tweeted back.

Sorry @agpublic, wrong choice of terminology on my part (corrected). I hope you will accept my wish to follow you yet disagree with youWed Apr 28 11:45:41 via web

Continue reading “Engagement is everything, a dialogue”

Interface as a Conflict of Ideologies

Originally written in April 2007. Minor edits: March 2010.

Preface

In the past 50 years the digital user-interface has become a major field of cultural production, since the innovations of Douglas Engelbart in the sixties (mouse/keyboard/video-screen) through the personal computer revolution in the eighties to the rise of the World Wide Web in the nineties and the wider trends for social web applications since the turn of the century. Producers of hardware and software systems have been attempting to develop interfaces that will direct the users to produce the interaction desired by the system they represent.

Discussions about interface design have been constantly revolving around the axis of experience and usability, presented sometimes in contradiction and sometimes as complimentary assets of ‘good interface design’. As a tool the success of interface is defined by its ability to generate the desired interaction on behalf of the user and have the user understand and act by the set of rules that the system defined.

It is important to mention though, interfaces have existed for a long time before the personal or the institutional (academy/military) computer. Actually, they have been around longer than culture or man-made tools have. Yet the rapid development and consumption of interfaces have made this an important and influential part of contemporary culture.

Interface is defined as a point of interconnection between two independent systems. This definition sheds a different light on the way we have learned to know the interfaces around us. If the sides interacting through the interface are to be two independent systems, then one would expect interface itself to maintain that balance and not favor one system over the other. This essay would address the question of control and agency embedded within interfaces and attempt to find where is interface situated within the map of power. It would also use several examples and attempt to propose tactical and strategic approaches to act within this conflict.
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Upgrade New York: “Free As In What?” video

We have just uploaded the video documentation for one of the most interesting Upgrade events we had in the past year with Biella Coleman and Zach Lieberman discussing the tensions within the Free Software / Open Source world(s?) on the meaning of “free”. It explores the tensions between ethics and pragmatics, between “to free” and … Continue reading Upgrade New York: “Free As In What?” video

#BuzzOff: 10 reasons to turn Google Buzz off

Please RT! (click the image)

On February 9th Google have unvailed Google Buzz, a service that involuntarily transforms every Gmail user’s private contact list into a public social network. While Google has suffered from privacy concerns in the past, Buzz is considered by many angry users to be crossing a line. Many loyal Google users including myself have hence chosen to disable the service. I present a list of reasons why you and your contact list should do that too.

1. Choice: We never asked for it

First and foremost we have never asked for Buzz, we have never signed an agreement to enable it and we don’t necessarily want it. Even without all of the many other reasons, this should be enough. Many of us are already oversaturated with social media and Buzz just creates more noise. The fact it is coupled with Gmail makes it harder to resist the temptation to waste even more time on depressing filtering of meaningless contextless chatter.

2. Privacy: Our private and public contacts are not the same

An abused women workplace and new partner exposed to her abusive ex; doctors’ confidential client list shared with the world; journalists’ sources automatically revealed; Iranian and Chinese activists networks mapped for their governments to easily track; your own private contacts, private no more. When asked by CNBC if users should trust Google as a friend the company’s CEO Eric Schmidt answered:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

I don’t know if this is the excuse he was also making internally at Google in their privacy debates over Buzz which they most certainly have had before giving the green light for this bold move. Schmidt and Google are not vindicated by the fact Facebook has been compromising its own users’ privacy and that its founder Mark Zuckerberg have been making similarly miserable statements. In response to Zuckerberg social media researcher and lead thinker on the issues around the online public/private danah boyd says:

“Privacy isn’t a technological binary that you turn off and on. Privacy is about having control of a situation.It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways.”

The same applies to Google. This time, it was even more “unexpected” as it simply happened.

3. Context: Who you interact with on different services is different for a reason

“By offering social communications, which have primarily been used for entertainment purposes, Buzz would bridge the gap between work and leisure.”
Google co-founder Sergey Brin on Google Buzz, quoted by the New York Times

Why would we want to do that? There are very good reasons for us to keep different contacts on different service. In fact, one of the most often complains people have about Facebook is that its popularity has ruined it. Once both my clients, my students, my colleagues, my kindergarten friends, my boss, my grandma and some hundred other people who claim they know me all “friend” me on Facebook the platform immidiately loses its social context. Would you invite all of your facebook friends to one party? Would you want to tell all of them the same thing in the same way? Yeah… me neither. Now ask yourself the same question about anyone you’ve ever emailed with on Gmail, including all the people you email with and you just can’t stand. E-mail gives us control over the contexts and tones of our different relationships and that’s its key feature. That’s something Buzz is ignoring by turning our email contact list to a social network.

We switch between different social networks all the time, we manage different social graphs (social structures) and manage different aspects of their identities in different ways on any of them. That’s exactly why we develop work relationship around our LinkdIn contacts and leisure relationships around our YouTube contacts. No Sergey, we don’t want you to bridge this for us and I wish I could add “…thanks for asking”, but you didn’t! Continue reading “#BuzzOff: 10 reasons to turn Google Buzz off”

Help Strike a Win for Watchdog Journalism – Vote for NewsShift

NewsShift is the title of the grant application coming from some of us at the ShiftSpace team in collaboration with LittleSis.org. NewsShift basically turns a news page into a node in a networked collaborative journalistic effort. It has made it through the first round of proposals and is constantly trending as one of the highest … Continue reading Help Strike a Win for Watchdog Journalism – Vote for NewsShift