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Transmisol

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Summary of the transmisol workshop with Jamie Allen and Geraldine Juarez. Participants are to build solar powered micro transmitters of FM radio.

Jamie: Interested in doing art involvning electronic power but without pluging in, literary. When you are on-grid you plug into the power structure of war, oil, property, ownership. But if you think about how to take power off-grid, you end up in this world of DIY culture and hacking at the edges of the network.

It is also relates to a term from Ivan Illich called convivigal technologies. The ones that bring people together and the ones that bring us apart. So a water well or a market would be something that brings people together. But during the 20th century we have been connected to the thing and not other users of the thing. It all became infrastructure, the way water and electrcity work today.

The question came up about what new technologies we have today that are convivigal and internet was one example. I don’t think this is necessarily true. But the major impact of internet is instead the ability to make other technologies convivigal. Take movie watching for example which often is a non-convivigal activity. You usually are only connected to the thing, the movie. But internet allows for the creation of communities around things. To make non-convivigal technologies convivigal. Even cars for example, by coordinating carpooling.

So radio is a technology that is always present. You walk through radio, breathe radio. This is why it’s so strange to buy and sell it. And so many technologies are involved in this allocation of the radio spectrum. What bought and sold is not the actual frequencies but just power, the immaterial. The actual waves are always free, just as digital copies are always free no matter what the regulation says. This way of not confusing the regulation with the physical is what hacking is all about! So just as you can get off grid and claim energy from the sun you can claim space with radio frequencies.

This means that compared to internet radio, which goes through all these layers of ownership and control that makes things like filtering possible, radio transmissions are an autonomous technology. The internet doesn’t have to be like this of course, it could also “get off-grid”. You can build internet starting from one computer and expanding. Radio is what makes this possible. It is interesting though to compare radio and internet. What it means for the resilience of the net to always plug in to this system. This whole black box that is disguised by concepts such as “the cloud” but that we are always so dependent on its neutrality and stability. Should we try to get off the internet grid now before it’s too late?

An important inspiration for the project is Tetsuo Kogawa who wrote the “Micro Radio Manifesto”. He’s a japanese artist with an interest in dead or forgotten technology and using them for the appropriation of space. In Japan there is apparently no gaps in the radio spectrum. As you turn your tuner there’s no noise, only one commercial radio station immediately fllowed by another. So Tetsuo has been inserting noise, silence or other information into this spectrum at local places, for example by hanging radio in trees. By doing this he makes radio into a medium that brings people in, since you actually have to go visit this tree, rather than a medium that extends outwards through more and more powerful broadcasting.

Dead technologies also open up regulatory spaces since the authorities are more interesting in the cutting edge technology that can be geared towards economic growth (yes, the internet).

An important aspect of this radio hacking, and all kinds of hacking, is that energy and information is not two separate phenomena but two ends of the same spectrum. And by hacking we can tranform the one into the other. Hacking of course is not only about technology. because through the principle of the energy-information spectrum we can apply the same concept on culture and public space as the same time as technology (anyway it is pointless do separate them any more than on a spectrum). No sphere words here!

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October 7th, 2009 at 4:13 am

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Presentation in Milan: Hackmeeting 2009

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This is a re-write of the presentation I held at the Hackmeeting in Milan last Saturday. As I had already published the other two presentations I decided to build on them.

Some things were added to the themes I talked about there because of questions and comments I had gotten during the days. For example, several people expressed sceptisism over the narrow political program of the Pirate Party and asked why they did not include other importat social issues. I realized that we had developed a view of the former political process that is very different from what the italians thought. Maybe it can be described as us viewing a political party as a tactical intervention in a particular process while them viewing it as a strategy to gain political influence for all their issues. So I began to describe the LA Quadrature method of looking at the EU law as code as a way demystifying parliaments, political processes or political parties.

PP is not a future governing party with a complete political solution, but a narrow focusparty. You have to look at it more as an event within a broader more chaotic constellaton than a political solution. One way of translating discourses for the specific situation of the EU parliament. Or perhaps one piece of hard rock within a flow of lava that eventually might dissolve, crack or incorporate in other entities. Maybe the Pirate Party can reorganize itself to open up for a multitude of political issues, but you have to see them as constituted in the same way as this volcanic rock. They are a heterogenous collection of materials that has cooled down and hardened into one form that would not have formed a coherent entity in other situations. Only the protocol, which is the specific issues they deal with, could assemble this collection. So it might not be a strong fundament but it works very well right now and will perform a crucial function when it comes to keeping the network open. But this is all good as long as you don’t go all in with the pirate party.

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In the second presentation I traced the relations between opening up politics in this way, open networks and open culture.

I ended up with something of a call to view the creation of artworks and networks at the same time. That you can’t consider artworks as content – and prioritize access to information – seperate from the context they are experienced in. And this context is built as networks. Computer networks for sure, but also by connecting these computer networks to people, spaces, discourses and so on. And this is from where I departed in the hackmeeting presentation.

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I began with the ocean and the superabundance that has to be anchored in specific contexts that is always non-digital. Because there is no music on the net, music is always vibrations in the air in a very specific context.

And it is only the new media that allows us to see that old media featured an overflow of value-creating practicies apart from the pure transfer of information. Only when we have the digital access without context that we can see how other ways of transfering information always came together with these other activities. Compare discovering a new style of music through a file-sharing netwok jut by browsing, clicking and listening to in on your stereo with discovering a new style of music in, say the 80′s. Something that involved or required becoming part of particular social relations and getting access to certain spaces that exposed you to stories, surroundings, emotional states, stimulants, world views, machines and time spent.

Together with mexican artist Geraldine Juarez I have proposed “The Slow Download Movement” as an answer to this situation. A movement that affirms the time between desiring something and getting access to it as a duration in which to weave realations and emotions around this object of desire. Given a good enough broadband connection, today there’s to delay between desire and access, no time for weaving contexts. But in a future with heavy internet monitoring we might once again be exposed to the slow downloads of the old analog world.

This is not a nostalgia for old times, but a way of acknowleding that cultural developments does not happen on the net, but through new configurations of people, relations, places, sensations, stimulants, objects, vibrations, devices, machines, symbols, knowledge, conversations, moments and durations – only made possible because of the net. The form of network is not final, not yet decided. It can go way beyond the current configuration of licensed ISP:s selling internet access to consumer subscriptions. As an example, look at the latest logo on the Pirate Bay – The persian bay – leading to a forum encouranging us to re-configure the internet by setting up proxies that allow people in Iran to access blocked websites. A computer that previously was an end station of the internet all of the sudden becomes an intermediary – an internet service provider (in a broad definition). More about Iran later…

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So the internet is not a geography, but more about connecting people, places and objects in new ways. It’s about hacking the reality.

The internet is not like a book. You are immersed in a book while reading, noticing nothing of the world around you, until you get an insight from the book and then  close the book and go out and change the world. The internet is constantly interfering in the world, connecting to other entities. (Maybe a book can be like that to actually under the right conditions…)

Networks will always be a part of, and yet not contained by, other collective arrangments or networks. Networks enter into entities and displace earlier ways of managing relationships.

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These kinds of displacements are of course scary and I think we can see the emergence of a networked paranoia that’s different from the individual paranoia. So if I may and we have time, I would like to be a bit theoretical:

Foucault wrote about panopticon as a method of self-discipline. In a prison, an office or a square with CCTV, the surveillor can always, potentially, see you, while you can not see them, or know if you are being under surveillence in that very moment. Thus there need not to be a surveillor, only the internalized belief that you are under surveillence. The panoptic diagram surveills, and creates, individuals and are focused on action, on getting individuals to perform or not perform a certain action.

A new kind of surveillence on the rise, that we can call panspectric, deals instead with patterns. Both in Sweden and Great Britian, most certainly other countries as well, large programs for storing and monitoring data has been motivated by claiming that the will not monitor the content of the data transfers, only the communication patterns, the traffic data, who connects to whom. The panspectric surveillence is interested in relations, networks and connections, not individual actions.

This way of thinking in networks and relations creates a new kind of disciplin and a new kind of paranoia. It’s no longer about controlling what you do, but who you connect with, what networks are being build. Police today arrest people who are part of terrorist networks, not because they have performed an act of terror (since this would leave them dead) but that they, according to the police, not yet have performed this act. Their future behavior is considered predictable because of the network (of people, information and objects) they are part of. The same kind of paranoia about networks can be seen in everyday life regarding social networks. A lot of people believe or are taught that you need the right social network in order to get connections, work or other benefits. The wrong social network on the other hand leads to a path of criminality and drug abuse. It doesn’t matter so much who you are or what you do, only who and what you associate with. This is the kind of paranoia that replaces social life and friends with networking and contacts.

Paranoia only happens when freedom and control exist in the same space. If you don’t have the freedom perform a certain act, there’s nothing to be paranoid of. But paranoia happens when you are able to excercise freedom, but run the risk of bumping into control. When there is nothing material preventing you from doing something, only this symbolic resistance.

So the networked paranoia is here because we have all the resources to be able to create open networks and form relations. As an example we can look at opening up wifi-networks. After a new file-sharing law in Sweden, the IPRED law, there was a lot of panoptic paranoia about continuing with file-sharing. A classic case of individual freedom (to be able to down- and upload) coupled with the risk of control (of being monitored by anti-piracy organisations). This paranoia could be overcome by de-individualizing, that is – opening your wireless network, since this would not hold you responsible for what others didi on your network. However this opening needed to overcome the networked paranoia – the fear of associating (your network) with unknown people. The most common reason people give to why they have a password protection on their wireless is that otherwise a pedophile nearby may use the connection to download child porn. this risk is of course highly exagurated. But this paranoia was collectively overcome by a stronger affect of social needs. A successful initiative called ipredia.se encouraged people to open their networks and name them ipredia.se as a way of showing that you would not be intimidated by this paranoia.

Because the networked paranoia only exist when there is both freedom and control, it leads to unused network overcapacity, both unused computer capacity and relational overcapacity.

This paranoia is not a subjective state, not something that you have within, but a post-human paranoia that transverses humans and non-humans. We shouldn’t look for the panspectric human subject but instead talk about paranoid networks and non-paranoid networks of humans and non-humans, techniques and environments. Overcoming this is not only about convincing people with arguments, but building non-paranoid networks.

This de-individualization of the data source can be developed much further. A commentator after the presentation mentioned distributed webserver systems where all the data are moved between peoples computers. The idea of one individual, with one internet connection and one personal computer containing personal data is really something that can and should be challanged.

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So as I said before the network is never separate but neither contained within other entities. Let’s apply this to the protests in Iran and the Persian Bay project. The communicative networks made possible by circumventing the censorship are neither separate, nor contained by the opposition and mousavi. So helping iranian internet connections like the Persian Bay does is not a way of taking a stand for the opposition, rather the effects are to increase the ratio of that which is not contained within a political program. By this, you are helping…well…something else. And we should discuss what this something else is. Some people would call it chaos, and there are of course those claiming that the internet has created a world of chaos where nothing is certain anymore – no morals, no truths, no standards – from which the only result will be angst, depression and panic attacks. I don’t believe this is necessarily true, but equally wrong would be to claim that open communication automatically lead to democracy, freedom and happiness for all. What’s needed is to investigate what political and cultural spaces and configurations communication technologies opens up and what forces have the ability to dominate these spaces.

Today this might seem like an easy equation to solve; more internet means less power to politics building on domination over the inherently nationalistic TV-medium, such as Berlusconi or the american republicans. But remember that the US now has not, or is claimed not to have, a TV president but a social media president. We can ask ourselves what this will mean for the future.

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June 22nd, 2009 at 2:41 pm

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Presentation in Milano: My view of Chaos and Randomness

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After the last presentation I was asked a very good question. Having noticed that the Persian Bay was a collaboration with anonymous and that I despite of this had talked about the madness of the shuffle button, I was asked what my opinion was about chaos and randomness. It took me a bit by suprise and I asked to delay the answer to after the session. I eventually came up with one and (something like) this is what I replied:

Chaos and randomness, glitches and the loss of control has always been a part of our project, but they are always anchored to, or are interfering with, an ordered structure, never existing in a nothingness. The chaos news agency Telecomix for example is interfering with the rigid system of politics.

Another great example is the music featured on the s23m trip to Bolzano. Mp3 was banned because with mp3-archives you really only have two choices (given the current programming of digital music players) either full control – you select the precise song you want to here – or total randomness – you hit the shuffle button. What we instead did was to bring an old tape recorder and collecting 100 mix tapes. This gives a completely different kind of randomness. We don’t know what music will play when we enter a cassette, but we still know that it will be something that we, or friends of ours, used to love and experience about ten to twenty years ago. We also cannot skip between the different kinds of music too easily but are instead forced to obey the slow movements of the tape. So this is randomness and openess but within a limited space of exploration.

Florian Cramer writes very well about this in Words Made flesh. He compares two different kinds of chance. One is the ontological chance that anonymous in their worst times can be accused of, that the shuffle button stands for and that Cramer accuses John Cage of mystifying and confusing with the other form av chance. This other form is the stochastic chance based on probabilities and marchov chains. This quote from Words Made Flesh explains it:

[Such] random operations create stochastic chance, not philosophical-ontological chance. Throwing a die is a stochastic chance operation with the possible outcome of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Since these results are foreseeable as the set of potential results, they represent not an ontological, but a deterministic chance. [...] Ontological chance, and therefore true indeterminacy, would occur if the die would crack, vanish, or show the number seven.

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June 20th, 2009 at 11:00 am

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Presentation in Milano: Variations on the theme of openess

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This is the second presentation in Milano a few hours after the last one and with a bigger crowd. It was a part of five presentation giving variations of the theme of openess, such as independant agriculture networks or the community behind Debian. My contribution, tracing the realtions between openess in politics, networks and culture, should be understood as a continuation of the first presentation but since the audience were overlapping but not the same, there are some repetition.

The presentation starts with recapitulating the last presentation, talking about PP as a resource for creating publics around issues, as a way of getting access to the political processes of the EU. I also once again tell the story of how we got involved in EU politics and the computer inspired outlook on political action presented by La Quadrature du Net opening up a multitude of possible points of entry into the political process.

It’s nothing new that politics and science gets confused in this way. Both the body, the organism, evolution and the steam engine has been translated from science to politics, but today we have a new closeness between technology and politics, especially communication technology, where it is the centre of both political utopias and dystopias and seem to set both the limits and the possibilities of politics. Communication technologies is not a technology external to the political process. An example of this would be the discussions in Sweden of what to do with the auto company SAAB who are on the brink of collaps. This is a political discussion about a technology. But there is no political discussions about the internet. It is immanent to the politics, a technology that becomes political. The politics around the internet is not about demanding access to or about managing an external resource, but using this resourse to create new spaces and configurations.

Apart from the concept of the code, the idea of the network is central to political imagination. It is a metaphor for a democratic vision of horisontal communication, but also the dream of being able to program, and to manage by code, a larger part of the social domain. Close to the concept of the network is the concept of openess. All areas that become affected by the network gets a pressure towards openess. Openess is about upsetting existing relations and communication patterns.

The idea of openess has a history within the domain of society and communication before the internet. In Open Society and its Enemies Karl Popper made a claim that the central question for political theory was not the one about an ideal form of government of the best ideology. This we cannot know and trying to answer them ran the risk of leading to intolerence and totalitarianism. Instead the central question for him was how to make the political system open enough to be able to get rid of bad government, much like free software projects have the assumption that as long as the code is kept open and enough people review it, bugs can be dealt with as opposed to hiding them in proprietary software.

This also resembles the cybernetic theories emerging after world war II. The idea of a system of feedback that becomes self-regulation as components being affectedd by the system report their status back thus enabling the automatic adaption of the system. The cybernetics also contain an element of social control where all information is out in the open and the system can regulate every behaviour according to this information. This is done today not only by a big brother state, but perhaps even more by companies and the imagined or real social pressure from peers.

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The computer inspired way of thinking about politics have been used as a force to open up political processes and new political areas. A recent example is when a few days ago the swedish minister of communication gave the assingment of evaluating the concept of openess in regard to internet technology to the post and telecommunications agency. Instead of waiting for their report to be published and criticizing it, a group of us called We rebuild EU that, in an experimental and chaotic way, have been working with activism around the telecoms package decided to intervene in this process and ourselves respond to her assignment. So a month before the report she asked for, we will come with our own report on our view of openess and send it to her. If you open up the black boxes of the political process you will find many more ways to connect than just the regular inputs and outputs. A report that she wanted to contain within the frame of the political institutions will now be opened up for public dissensus.

The political should thus not be understood as the power over institutions, but the process of opening up spaces for contestation. How technologies, objects, practicies and activites become matters of contestation. This also involve opening up the usual paths that of the political institutions since many of these questions are handled outside of the political debate.

So openess is both the method and the goal in some way. By opening up our selves, the political process and create communicative networks we can guarantee that we keep our networks open. Although we shouldn’t always say that the politics of opening dissensus is good and the anti-politics of consensus is bad. For example creating consensus around certain basic rights of an open net would be a good thing. Today, these basic rights have been opened up for dissensus and are being questioned.

Because this is what’s at stake right now. Before, the network was a technical system on top of which the economy and various social functions was built. But today, the network has penetrated so far into society and politics so far into the network that the very definition of the internet has become a political issue. What we have is a battle between two versions of the internet.

One is the smart internet. Despite its name, this is the bad one. A smart internet has decision making programmed into the very network. Maybe a certain broadband subscription can only use certain protocols and application or maybe the network monitors the traffic to look for copyright infringment and automatically disconnects the user. This is a closed net, because things that used to be a matter of choice or political discussion has been written into code. Technology is here used as anti-politics. To close political spaces.

The other net is the stupid net. It just transfers information and all decisions and configurations are made at the end of the network. The internet has so far been about an open, transparent and dumb net. All closed, hidden and smart configuration has been implemented by the users at the end of the network. It is with this net that we can use the technology for politics – that is; creating new configurations that challenge assumptions of what the digital means. Because while the usual open net is to prefer, it definitely does not mean that the form of the internet is finished and done. There is still an unlimited number of new ways in which you can configure this network and connect it with physical spaces, devices, social relatons and institutions.

There are political and economical reasons for the current drive for this “smart” net. The copyright industry has a view of digital economy based on content that is about using the internet as a distribution channel for their own services. The copyright industry has become the digital fundamentalists that we once could have been accused of being. The book industry sees a linear progression from selling analog paper books to selling digital e-books. The computer game industry believes we’re living in a digital stone age if we don’t change the net to make room for their services. They see a kind of progression towards digital maximalism with more access to files, more bandwidth, more pixles and so on. A linear development from manufacturing objects to selling digital content.

Instead of this we in the bureau for piracy discovered a singularity or a peak a few years ago that folds time and progress. The internet was once compared to the ultimate open territory – the ocean – with unlimited access to information and culture. And we also thought this in the beginning. That the big impact on music of file-sharing would be this enourmous access to the entire history of music; somehting that would change both the production and consumption of music.

But it turned out that this created another question that had to be asked – what to do with all this unlimited access? What to do with music libraries bigger than you can ever integrate in your finite lifetime. The first thing we concluded is that you should NOT use the shuffle button! This would create a totally random non-place of music without context or direction that can only make you go mad. Much like a lonely sailor on the ocean looking for freedom but only finding a big nothingness that eventually drives him crazy. The superabundance has to be anchored in specific contexts.

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So what if the internet is not an ocean, not this vast open surface but something that more resembles a forest. The difference is huge. A forest is closed and can seem scary at first, but if you know your way around and learn to read its signs, knows whats healthy and poisonous, you can find great richness. An ocean can only be navigated by an external resource such as the stars or GPS satellites while the forest can be immanently navigated by remembering its own signs. Every part of the forest is different from the other one, each with its own ecology. The forest is populated by many different life forms, some live separate from each other, some in symbiosis, some are enemies. Different creatures live of different kinds of food. The forest, in a different way than the ocean, has to be taken care of and constantly managed. In the forest you have to make yourself a home by reshaping it.

The forest metaphor means that every digital development makes us even more entangled in the physical world, in social relations, in corporeality, in specific contexts – rather than seperates us from them. This is clear within music. The folding of time created by digital technologies has not led to a virtual version of the music industry of the 90′s but something that more resembles bygone ages.

The access to the infinite open space of information created a new interest for limitations and intimacy. The most profound effects of digital technologies on music could very well be a return (with a difference) to music that was only present in one moment in space and time, experienced as a collective and intimate event. The recorded work is not the centre of this age of music, but what happens when the music starts to vibrate.

This is not cultural developments that happen on the net, but through new configurations of people, relations, places, sensations, stimulants, objects, vibrations, devices, machines, symbols, knowledge, conversations, moments and durations. Once again, the form of network is not final, not yet decided. It can go way beyond the configuration of licensed ISP:s and consumer subscriptions. As an example, look at the latest logo on the Pirate Bay – The persian bay – leading to a forum encouranging us to re-configure the internet by setting up proxies that allow people in Iran to access blocked websites. A computer that previously was an end station of the internet all of the sudden mecomes and intermediary – an internet service provider.

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June 20th, 2009 at 10:01 am

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Presentation in Milano on the Pirate Party and Internet Swarms

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This is a re-write of the first presentation i did in Milano around lunch time the 18th of june in the faculty of political science with an audience made up of students and professors. It was largely about the Pirate Party and what could be expected from their seat in the EU parliament, but also about the constellation of the Swedish movement underpinning their success. I did this presentation not a member of the party, but still someone who is engaged and wanting to influence the party in  certain directions. Sweden today consists of a rather chaotic network of entities taking part in overlapping discussions, a situation very much a consequence of a very open method for creating political alliances.

People here were well aware of the fact that the pirate party (PP) got over 7% of the votes in the election. It has also spawned much interest all over Europe. Not only because of the political program, but because it seems to be the first time a new party based on social movements interest themselves for EU politics on this level of detail and scale.

The election was preceded by a hot spring of net politics in Sweden. The trial against the pirate bay had created lots of energy, but also frustration with the current political culture. The harsh sentence against the pirate bay, giving four people one year in jail each and a fine of 3 million euros meant people had enough. A lot of this energy was converted towards the EU politics and especially the telecoms package that was on the agenda at the time. This is a huge collection of law proposals regarding the internet and telecom sector in which we wanted to include a guarantee of basic citizens rights on the internet.

A new kind of activism had emerged that got deeply involved early in the EU decision making process, before the proposals had frozen into the large bodies of proposals. This was instead happening on the micro level of amendments, sentences and even single words. A lot of people got involved reading through proposals and amendments, calling members of the parliament to vote on certain proposals and generally try to influence the processes. This created a huge enthusiasm and many exiting long night and nervous days when last minute actions was put in to try to get a certain amendment accepted. This kind of passion for the issues of the european parliament was unheard of and the talk of the day in brussels the day after a vote was about who the hell these citizens, some in their early teens, were that called from all over europe, somehow knowing what the parliament were about to vote on and having a strong opinion about the most detailed issues.

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So how come these publics started to form around the EU processes? What happened was that we stopped considering the proposals as a black boxes to vote yes or no on and instead try to change how they were constituted. It really began with simple, everyday desires. EU politics has traditionally been of no interest in Sweden. We don’t have the euro, we don’t consider ourselves european and the social democratic party leader commented their failure in the EorganizationU elections by saying: “This is a lesson learned before the real elections”, meaning the national elections.

It wasn’t until a technology stretching across borders – the internet – came along and a number of laws flowing from the EU, to Swedish internet regulation and hence straight into the living rooms of ordinary Swedes that a direct link was created between their broadband connection and the corridors of Brussels. The Swedish European passion didn’t begin with political agitation or common european symbols, but with the spark that was ignited with the conflict between the law and the desire and the following epidemic spread of action. And if it was this desire that created the uplink to the parliament it was a french group of activists called La Quadrature du Net that created the method to hack the system. Their idea was to treat the european law as a code. Something that you could engage with and supply patches to and clear from bugs. They saw that the important contributions to law proposals was being entered through the back door by amendments and tiny sentences that opened up for another interpretation. They set themselves out to create a system that scanned for these bugs and supplied new texts or patches to members of the parliament without different wordings and sentences. This method, to treat the law as a computer program, was coupled with a swedish political thinking also inspired by computer networks that managed to channel the desires from a possible cynical resignation before the mighty EU into passionate action.

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During these exiting times, there was somewhat of a split within the Pirate Party. While many of their members was also a part of this telecom swarm, many of them, including the party leadership seemed most interested in counting the increase of new members and polls on the election. As if they waited with doing politics until the party organization had come to a certain position. They can be criticized for this and it also says a lot about the two views you can have about their role in politics. Either being a material force opening up political processes or a party whose goal is to grow and get as much influence as possible in order to forward their own agenda. More about this later.

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The success of the Pirate Party has a lot to do with how they have been able to latch on to certain external developments. If you look at the statistics of new members, you can really see the peaks coming when some new public debate has been ignited. Issues like the FRA law (internet surveillance by “the defense radio establishment) or the trial against the Pirate Bay has been crucial for their success. The elected pirate, Christian Engström, were even quoted after the sentence of the Pirate Bay saying: “This is our ticket into the EU”. This movement is about politicizing new issues, not to give new solutions to traditional political conflicts (even if journalists never get tired of demanding these solutions).

To these external developments, the PP has added a simple protocol, a simple format and retorics, often in an alarmist tone. Christan Engström even encouraged people to protest vote on the PP, something otherwise seen as ethically dubious. And the PP views themselves as a fire fighting party, who at least to the outside, has the hope of dismantling the party in the future when the fires are put out, the threat of surveillance is over and the so called old-parties have once again learned about the influence and interests of the citizens.

//

At first, the real value of the election doesn’t seem to be much. One vote among 751, no previous political networks and no EU experience (other than as activists). So except from the symbolic value – is there something there?

To answer that, you have to look at the material resources that this seat means. Apart from getting a member of the parliament, they also get resources to employ a staff of three or four people able to work full time on these issues and things like paying people to travel to Brussels and get experience of the parliament. These resources can be used to bring energy into the EU and contaminate the parliament, both other Swedish parties who are scared of the success, but also their own party group (whichever it will be), who then can exercise pressure.

But just as important is their ability to bring information out of the EU to the different European constellations about the latest developments and threats. In this situation a very productive relationsship can form between the more rigid and formal structures of a parliamentary party and the chaotic and open forms of internet swarms, of firing a hot and precise laser and the stochastic processes of plottering. Different situation require different speeds, widths, concentrations and durations.

//
There has been speculation on possible future conflict zones within the party. They have grown enormously lately and the question is if they can contain this politically very heterogenous collection of people within one party program. Speculations if the PP is actually right or left has been going on, but there really isn’t an answer to that and the question is not as relevant as other possible lines of conflict. One is between political minimalism or extension, of keeping the “focus-party” or becoming a general full spectrum information party.

There are a number of issues where they could spread apart from the issue of integrity which today is the core question, much more than anything to do with file-sharing.

The patent issue is such an issue which Amelia, the second candidate, is very interested in. Changing the patent system is of course not an easy task but points of entry could be for example through the environmental issue (possibly collaborating with greens) where the US recently declared that is refuses any developments towards green energy that includes exceptions in the patent rights of US companies dealing with green energy.

Another point of entry could be by bringing the issues of intellectual property all the way to the level of trade agreements by focusing on opening up the secret negotiations of ACTA (Anti-counterfeit trade agreement). While it doesn’t contain anything on patents it would put the discussion on intellectual property on the highest economical level where the patent issue belongs.

While we’re still talking about the economy of immaterial production, on a different level there is a number of interesting issues if you were to connect the information politics to issues of urban development. The idea of creative economies, the information city or the conditions of the cultural life in urban areas for example. I doubt that such an initiative would come from the party leadership, since it would be a pandoras box of potential internal conflicts, but local sections could do it on their own and even outside any formal party engagement. Something that members of the green party or the feminist initiative already do.

Speaking of local sections, the PP is far from the top-down party you can get the feeling of if you only follow the media. The local sections are strong and autonomous, some of them even quite openly criticizes the party leaders.

//

Looking at statistics from the election you get the picture of a geographically very distributed party. Region by region, they only vary form 5,4% to 8%. This is a big difference from other new comers such as the feminist initiative who are concentrated around the gentrified urban areas such as Södermalm in Stockholm or Möllevångstorget in Malmö. The voters are young; PP got 25% of the votes from people under 30.

While we’re on the topic of statistics, there is one area where the PP is far from as progressive as the established parties and thats gender balance. 80% of the people voting for the PP are men. The reasons are not hard to think of; this is issues that originate from a very specific context – the male-dominated computer culture – and only later spread in the the mainstream society. But also here, things are cooking below the surface. A network, “the net socks” (referring to old feminist group “the red socks”), has been formed and even though many formal positions are held by men, a large part of the ideological blogs are written by women.

The discussion about the voting habits of young men have been a large discussion in Sweden. It has been said that PP shares the same voter basis as the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats (SD). But this is a pretty lazy analysis treating the demographic group “young men” as a homogenous totality. In some sense though, PP can be said to have provided political hope for the future for people who otherwise could have been drawn into ressentiment memberspolitics by SD. While the established political parties fail to provide political visions, it’s very likely that this is people who would not have voted if it wasn’t for the PP. In that sense, the Pirate Party is more likely to steal votes from SD by increasing the total number of voters than actual members.

//
If PP do the right thing now, they can be just as much a European party as a Swedish one. The alternative, that they use the position in the EU mostly to build the party for the national elections, would be a lost opportunity. A great thing to do would be to employ a staff that did not consist of party members but outsiders with experience, possibly even a non-swede such as Jeremie Zimmerman from La Quadrature du Net. Apart from being a great resource, this would send the signal that PP is here to do politics, not build a party organization.

//
So what about the future? Even though the present party leader, Rick Falkvinge, has a fixed five step rocket, it’s hard to predict the future. PP won’t be able to set the European agenda themselves, but it will rather be about continuos interventions in the EU flow – politicizing new issues and deepening perspectives. Here PP will be one component in a larger European constellations contributing in different ways to this work. For their own sake it will be a lot about contaminating other, stronger, parties with their ideas.

Possibly, the other Swedish parties will have taken over their agenda by the time of the national election. This must be seen not as the loss of influence but a success for the politics. Party politics is just one was of intensifying the contact surfaces where the “pirate” ideas can spread. The publics forming around every issue must multiply into many areas of the social. The traffic in and out of the EU parliament will be an important node, but the power is far to distributed for this to be the only strategy.

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June 19th, 2009 at 6:59 pm

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Presentation in Moscow on books, networks and embassies

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This is the presentation I held on june 14th in Moscow at the book festival in front of an audience of maybe 50 people, many of whom approached me with very interesting questions afterwards. Because there was no english-to-russian translator available at the time, but strangely enough a swedish-to-russian translator, I held the presentation in Swedish. It was all prepared for English though so this is what I actually was going to say. During the presentation I used this Prezi space, please have a look at that. I also showed some of this video from the Embassy of Piracy. The presentation features an overview of the pirate bay, piratbyrån and the internet movement in sweden, but also about how we view the future of digital communication, especially related to the book industry. I told a few stories beginning with in the beginning of june in Venice and the Embassy of Piracy. The timing was quite funny because next to my presentation there was an other presentation going on that was officially sponsored by the Swedish embassy.

Every second year in Venice the Venice biennial is taking place as one of the biggest and most prestigious art exhibitions in the world. And this year the Bureau for Piracy and Pirate Bay did an art project called the Embassy of Piracy. I’m going to tell later how come us Swedish pirates have manage to launch a career as international artists. But I would like to begin with the story of this project and use it as a way of understanding the sometimes complex genealogies of the Swedish so called file-sharing movement. Let me begin by showing the project… [VIDEO]

This years biennial had the theme “making worlds”. Our contribution to this theme was to make embassy. We didn’t want to make an embassy that had one origin, representing one entity, like an ordinary embassy would do. Instead we wanted to spread out the participation. A common representative of top-down hierarchies is the pyramid shape. It’s opposite and often mystified shape is the network where every node is equal. This is an often romanticized idea of the current networked relations so what if we would create a hybrid of these and make a network of pyramids. Our symbol became this foldable pyramid that we encouraged anyone to print, modify, fold, take a picture of and upload to our website. We got over 500 submissions from all over the world.

The project consists of two dimensions. One is what you see here. A materialization of the communities of the internet. The pyramids is a way to visualize a community spread all over the world, but connected through shared tools, beliefs, symbols and desires. But also locating this project from the internet to the venice biennial is significant since the biennial is an indication of a new kind of economy, where the economy of a city is based on cultural, creative and immaterial production, but that gets an outlet in the urban environment and re-shapes city development. We will talk more about this relation between information and space later.

So the project is very cute as you can see. Popular among children, etc. Everyone loves it. But still, last sunday, it was raided by the italian police force – guarda di finanzia – who entered the space, locked the doors and said “You cannot have the pirate bay here” and began to search through this exhibition of pyramids, balloons and t-shirts. This leads us to the second dimension of this project. The one consisting of grey zones and diplomacy. Because what does it mean to “have the pirate bay there” and what would it take to remove it form the space. No one present at the time was part of the trial against the pirate bay. The logo outside featured the pirate bay ship, but no torrents or trackers was installed on the computer inside. So the police action was instead directed to the symbol of the pirate bay, and an attempt to prevent the biennal to speak about the pirate bay and the controversies that name gives rise to.

So like the italian police. This Embassy of Piracy leaves us perplexed. What does pyramids have to do with digital networks? And what exactly is the pirate bay?

[Ok, here I give a re-cap of the history of Piratbyrån and the Pirate Bay up to the walpurgis ritual that can be read in many other places.]

This ritual led to an invitation to manifesta and our part-time careers as international artists. We had been interested in how this new access to the infinite space of information had created a new interest for limitations. This was first seen in music. While we first thought the primary effects of file-sharing on music to be the enourmous access to culture that was given by the networks, we now started to see that the most profound effects of digital technologies on music could very well be a return to music that was only present in one moment in space and time, experienced as a collective and intimate event.
Music is always an expression in the moment. Even if one step to this expression is a recording. It’s always a direct action, no matter if it’s a live band playing or music that leaves huge speakers and redifines speces and communities around them. Music is always connected to a social situation and an emotional state taking place where it is played.

The project we did for Manifesta was to do the same thing as had happened to music but with friendship. We took people from the infinite space of friendship online and stacked 23 of these people in this old re-build bus together with a tape recorder, 100 unknown mixtapes and various tools, texts and materials. Then we drove from Sweden down to the exhibition in Italy in a kind of mobile laboratory of analog internet culture.

We did two more trips with this bus in eastern europe before ending up back in sweden at the trial of the Pirate bay, the so called Spectrial.

[Ok, here I go in to the events leading up to the trial against the pirate bay. They are very well known and not worth repeating here.]

Anyway the trial eventually came earlier this year and as the second longest trial in swedish history, it got massive attention. We had a lot of fun using the entire trial as a gathering of great people from sweden and abroad. It was much like a festival, only with court hearings instead of artists.

The prosecution had great difficulties understanding both the technology and the organisation. They had trouble descibing the function of bitorrent and understanding that pirate bay aren’t involved in any copyright infringment. They also used some creative mathematics to calculate losses due to file-sharing. But maybe more significantly, they had real trouble understanding how the pirate bay was organised. How such a huge site can function without any formal responsibilities, in swarms. For example, they asked who made the search engine, but couldn’t understand how code could be a combination of open source, add-ons, customized code, user contributions etc. In the words of Swedish artist Montt Mardié: “We are all the pirate bay“.

//

In a way it felt strange to have a trial against the pirate bay in 2009. By internet standards, it’s already a very old site, based on old technology. The way I look at it, bit torrent and it’s followers has solved the problem of simple, free distribution of information over the internet for mankind for ever and ever. Good, we can be happy about that, but this is just one point of passage, not the final destination. We are not content with content! It is beyond distribution that we find the interesting cultural problems and the amazing opportunities.

The trial is important, not because the pirate bay is the solution but because pirate bay is the lowest threshold that we can build on. Pirate bay allow people to share links to any informaiton that they have. That’s the very basis of the internet. If you want to do something interesting today, you at least have to be better than the pirate bay.

So the trial was really ontipolitic. A debate about the ontology of things. Definition of linking, of economy, of what it means to make money on something or just make money because something exists, of what groups are and what networks are. It pointed towards a politics of the very definition of the thing – internet.

//
Energy from the entusiasts of the trial has continued into politics.
 Surely, you have heard about the Swedish pirate party getting over 7% of the votes in the EU election and thereby getting a seat in Brussels, which I think can be used as a great resource. Getting one vote is one thing, but the member together with a staff of maybe 3 or 4 people that will get money and resources really have an opportunity to research and inform about developments in the EU, something traditional media has failed to do, and function as a resource to connect the european wide grassroots movents on information politics.
The success of the Pirate Party has been preceded by a hot spring of European net activism with epicentrum in Sweden. Now Sweden will have the precidency of the EU the next six month and several crucial developments about the very definition of the internet will be on the table.

So the conflict is really about how we imagine what the internet is. The same is true in the field of culture.

There are two distinct views of what digital culture is. One is to see it as content. Just as you before manufactured and sold physical objects, you will now sell digital information. To me, this is absurd.

And actually, right now, among the harshest organizations for pushing this content thinking and tougher anti-piracy enforcement in Sweden is the publishing industry. This because they see a linear development for the book publishing industry from an analog past to a digital future. It sees it’s future business models as based on selling e-books and audiobooks in digital format.

The consequence of this thinking is that we get a binary polarization between two well defined groups – pirates and anti-pirates. Just like we have had for years now. But I like to acknowledge a different development than this linear track from analog to digital – the post-digital development.

The post-digital means that everything is not becoming digital and virtual – that is: the same as before, but digital and virtual – but that digital communication technologies actually intensify physical connections of humans, machines and object. In the case of books this would mean that we have too lokk for developments that change the production process of books, the settings in which they exists and technologies to connect digital information to material practicies.
There are a number of things pushing this development.
* screens have become boring. Objects impress more than pixels.
* people have integrated the digital in their life to the extend that you can’t seperate digital and analog living.
* what digital media has created, in terms of practicies and desires, move back into the world of objects.

One post-digital future for book publishing that I like to talk about (note that I don’t say the book publishing _industry_) is the Espresso Book Machine. This is something between a printer and a printing press, somewhere between private and public. These can be put in stores and either a customer can choose from a database of titles or bring their own usb-stick with their own document and print a book from this in the time it takes to make an espresso. Here’s a potential conflict between book stores and book publishers. Book stores have everything to gain by becoming post-digital nodes for print on demand (less storage, more titles) while the book publishers loses control of what is printed and might lose sales on newer titles if people choose to print older works where copyright has expired. This is another aspect of the post-digital; more technology doesn’t mean more escape from the past to the ever new, but instead makes us more entangled with out cultural heritage. The post-digital folds time, finding new contexts and spaces for older, even obsolete, cultural works and practices.
Some book stores would see this as a threat to their own line of books, while others would transform into a kind of literary center where paper, the digital, conversations, recommendations and stimulants live side by side. The conflict in this scenario is no longer about consumtion of works, but of production. Production of literature (anyone can get published), production of paper (anyone can materialize any text) and production of presence (new spaces for discovering literature can be created, not only marketing). A new kind of production enabled by a convergence of digital information and materialization, something very different from selling e-books on a website.
This is not a universial solution of course. Traditional publishing will still be significant. Not only because it produces more beautiful artifacts, but because printing is a stop. To be published means more for a writer than to have some letters on paper. And think about academia and what status a published book have for citations and references. The new media allows us to rediscover the material functions of certain kind of settings where we before only saw information.
If printing is a break, the creation of a work, there are also other developments going away from the idea of an individual work. A great example is online poetry communities, where young poets, the majority female, publishes poetry, commenting on each others work and evolve as a community. Here, writing is more of a continous flow.

So breaks and flows co-exist, but e-books is just one form among many possible. In the light of this, perhaps it is ironic that the primary audience of the worlds largest project for digitizing books, the google book project, is not human readers, but googles own large computer farms, who wants to use our literary heritage in order to improve its realtime spell-check and translation services of new communication tools such as Google Wave.

My initial reaction to developments such as the espresso book machine is not fear of what it will do to the business models of book publishers, but what new kind of social and cultural situations, publics and sensation that can be created by them. I also don’t think that these stand in contradiction. The challenge to publishing in the contemporary media scape is not book pirates, but a fight against time. How can people _find_ time to get interested in and to read (not to speak about writing) literature in a mediascape of information overflow and exponentially increasing speed of information. How can the post-digital reinstall a slow life. That is the question for today.

Written by admin

June 19th, 2009 at 6:45 pm

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Ownership and Belonging

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Nedan följer fri omarbetning av anteckningarna inför presentationen på horitzo.tv. För er som känner till Piratbyrån och svensk fildelnings-debatt finns det mest nyskapande under rubriken “Archive / Event” där jag utvecklar förhållandet mellan direkta upplevelser och digitala arkiv.

Also available as PDF

—–

Ownership and Belonging

- Event: Presentation @ La Capella, Barcelona
- Setting: TV studio in church turned art gallery, I am seated in front of a green screen, audience is behind the cameras and spotlights.

1. About – Introducing Piratbyrån

Let me begin with a few words about Piratbyrån and the file-sharing debate in Sweden, as I’m sure not everyone is familiar with it. Piratbyrån is a bunch of people from Sweden. Internationally we are most known for creating the bittorrent tracker – The Pirate Bay. But in Sweden, we are mostly known as one of the dominant figures of the file-sharing debate. Not at least because of The Pirate Bay, and the controversies surrounding that, we have a rather active debate on file-sharing and copyright in Sweden – in the press, on TV, in blogs, in seminars, in the academia and in everyday lives.

This was not the case when we first started out back in 2003. To understand the situation then, we must first understand that Sweden was and is very proud of its cultural industries. From the present idea of the Swedish music export success – important for the branding of Sweden and as a source of income -  to the film history with Ingmar Bergman – a golden age the film industry hopes to re-create. There is an almost arrogant pride to it.
What you had in the mainstream press at the time was the anti-piracy lobby portraying piracy as the anti-thesis of a healthy cultural climate. As something that would reduce tax incomes from the music export and prevent this re-bergmanisation. So it was provocative to see a potential in file-sharing back then. But that’s what we did. We saw it as a good thing, that piracy created a dynamic cultural climate and the free sharing of information as something future society would have to build on.

So who is in Piratbyrån? Well, depending on how you define it you could say we are anything from 5 to thousand of members. Piratbyrån does not consist of a given group of people, but the links and exchanges between people – it works as a network. And in a network, some links are strong, with lots of activity. These create the necessary trust needed to keep the consistency of the network. They hold it together, creating a core. To view this core as Piratbyrån would be to view it as an organization with just a few members.

But in a network, most links are weak, rarely activated. They create the necessary links to other groups, networks, cultures and scenes. Without them, Piratbyrån would only be an internal matter for a group of friends. To include these weak links would be to view Piratbyrån as an ongoing conversation. We have different degrees of nearness and distance. Nearness allows for exchange of ideas. Distance allows for independent development and fresh outlooks. The oscillation between these is what creates a dynamic network.

Working as a network clashes with the mass media logic and their perception of us, of social movements and of politics. The mass media and others influenced by that way of thinking often ask for opinions the network holds, solutions we propose, if we are for or against this and that. But for a network the object is not an opinion or a program – like for a political party – but experimentation, development, activity, production. For our selfs and for others. This calls for a new kind of ethic that is not based of formulating a goal or a common moral ground. The network is not just a way of organizing people or information but also the ideas themselves. There is no output outside of the network, it can’t be represented. What we do today, here in Barcelona, is not me representing Piratbyrån but us creating an instance of this network from where new ideas can emerge. So ideas have to begin at one point in the network and then spread, not involve the whole thing at once.

The focus of Piratbyrån has not primarily been a critique of copyright laws or an effort to reform the laws,
but instead to show how we are already in many ways are beyond copyright. Despite the law, despite what is being done to enforce it – habits are changing, culture is changing, economies are changing. The interesting things seem to happen in the grey zones – between private and public, legal and illegal – where copyright is either not important, impossible to enforce or even preventing creative processes. So the focus is not on what the law says, but what is socially and technically possible. The law, or at least the enforcement of the law, obviously have a strong impact on what is possible, but an investigation of it can’t begin from the perspective of the law.

2. Abundance – Thinking “after Copyright”

This way of exploring what is already “after copyright” means abolishing the idea of the One solution – a single model that will replace copyright and work for all kinds of artistic practices. The conditions for different cultural activities are too different. But there are tendencies that can be generalized. If you are interested in the future of the cultural industries – the more pressing issue than the economical impact of file-sharing is the general impact of the abundance of information, the surplus of information we have today and what to do with it. The task of  finding ways to create meaning from a situation of cultural superabundance.

We have access to more information and culture that we can ever digest in our lifetime. Within 15 years or so, we will have reached the point when every cheap pocket-size storage devices will be able to hold all recorded music ever released – ready for direct copying to another person’s device.

Someone who has understood the importance of this is Bill Drummond, former member of The KLF and a music business hacker. When creating a project called “The 17”, that consisted of him putting together a choir, rehearsing with it and than performing only once, with no recordings – in other words a performance that is technologically forgotten – he sent out a letter of invitation where he wrote the following.

A time has arrived where we can listen to any recorded music,
from the entire history of recorded music,
wherever, whenever while doing whatever we want.

This is good for numerous reasons.
But a by-product of this is, recorded music will no longer contain
the meaning it once held for us.
This will entail it no longer gives us what we need and desire from it.
Once a music has lost it’s meaning it has no value.

Thus as we edge our way deeper into the 21st Century we will begin to
want music that can not be listened to wherever, whenever while doing
whatever.

We will begin to seek out music that is both occasion and
place specific, music that can never be merely a soundtrack.

We have a paradox here.
On the one hand – Copyrighted material is our world, our memories and our environment. These memories and environments are owned and controlled, but through file-sharing they are still accessible. And as Bill Drummond says – this is a good thing.
On the other hand – These works are unable to create meaning on their own. Simply because of their accessibility. They are fragmented memories – that needs to be completed.

3. Anti-Piracy – Still here…

But lets hold that thought for a moment.
Even if this is a more interesting and pressing issue than the economic impact of file-sharing and it’s meaningless to talk about imaginary losses of profit due to file-sharing if you don’t grasp this – we still have anti-piracy. We still have a copyright industry, concerned with short-term profits and protection of their immaterial resources. There are still those who want to conduct business the same way they did before the internet. In fact they’re more aggressive than ever.

In development right now is ACTA – the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement – where the US, EU and some other countries in great secrecy are drawing up the fundamentals of a new era of anti-piracy. Among the proposals are incrimination of all facilitators of copyright infringements, liability for search engines and ISPs and the right for border security to search devices and goods suspected of containing pirated material. This agreement will then be “locked” and forced on other countries all over the world.

Anti-Piracy is clearly about more than protecting a business model. To some extent – piracy seems just as an excuse. As if the war on piracy is sort of a micro-version of the war on terror, where all sorts of enforcements are created in its name. But it’s also a matter of control. The copyright industry of course wants people to be creative and do what they want, break with old ways and create new desires – otherwise there wouldn’t be any new music, lifestyles or markets. But they also want to control this creativity, make sure the value that it creates ends up under their control and is turned into profit for them. They want to make culture and communication manageable.

So what is it that they’re trying to do? The copyright industry reduces culture to content, knowingly or not. They want to define “creativity” as the ability to create as many reproducible end products as possible. Any performative aspects are either neglected or viewed only as secondary or as marketing for the products. Any positive impact file-sharing might have on these performative aspects are ignored. This perspective is not only boring and sterile, it is also dangerous for the very idea of internet as a communication medium. Internet is only to e used as a new form of distribution for the same industry. It is not simply about money but also about controlling desires. Content is manageable, quantifiable, predictable – easy to own.

When confronted by the media, no matter what question is posed to the lobby organizations of the copyright industry, the answer is always the same.

Does Anti-Piracy really work?
All I know is that the rights holders must be compensated for the work effort they put into making the works.

Aren’t your business models obsolete?
Maybe, but the rights holders must be compensated for the work effort they put into making the works.

The rights holders must be compensated for the work effort they put into making the works.
First of all, the answer is problematic in itself. Do they really mean that anyone that create something should be compensated? No, it must only apply to some. Is a free download of your work enough to qualify? Probably not.
And should it really be the amount of work they put in that they should be compensated for? No, the value of a work of art can not be measured by work hours.

Even more problematic is when this answer is linked with tougher laws and harder enforcement. Because they haven’t understood the problem of information abundance, they can claim that harder enforcement will lead to better compensation for artists. When studies show that the most active file-sharers are also the most active media consumers and when the most important thing for business and brands today is that they can gain the trust of consumers or users, that they can build relationships, to make people want more than a digital copy – it is clear that another strategy is needed. Anti-piracy destroys trust. Trust in the media corporations and trust in the legal system itself.

But although anti-piracy is an absurd response, what is the problem they are trying to get at although they fail?

I believe it can be formulated like this:
Certain people, or rather a lot of people, generate value – things, knowledge, communication, culture, software, in a way that we, our society, recognize as valuable, as important, but have no way or measuring and compensating – no way of valuing individual efforts.

- Market economies fail to measure it. It’s to fast, to distributed, to complex, to micro. There can’t be a monetary transaction with every exchange of information.
- Equating them with analog counterparts can’t measure it. Saying that a song distributed for free equals a loss of the market value for that song is not correct.
- Work hours can’t measure it. It’s too dynamic an non-linear.
- Distribution systems can’t measure it – either state programs or initiated otherwise.

4. Archive / Event – The Primal Scene of Archivation

Right now we are in a phase, maybe a transition phase, where the economy around these activities – digital information -  are centered around complementary activities. The immeasurable value generates measurable value in traditional markets. For example, the a song being distributed in file-sharing networks generates extra value for live concerts, festivals and merchandize. Blogging leads to advertising, presentations or lectures. So the digital content is not an end product but a hyperlink to other markets and activities. This is the attention economy.

But maybe complementary activities is the wrong way to put it. First of all, it presents it as if the archived content is the primary activity and the real-time event the secondary. For example that music is really about recorded music and live music is only a complement to this. This is not the case. In fact such an idea has only a recent history. Earlier it was recorded music that was seen as a threat to the employment of musicians.

Calling it complementary also presents the two as separate. As if a failure to create a market in the digital domain creates an economy that return to traditional markets, such as live music that remains unchanged by the digital transformations (as Drummond suggests, that which can’t be listened to everywhere). But that live, direct, un-copyable experience is not the same as it was before the digital came. What we’re saying here today does not stay here. It is not to be seen as an analogue event separate from the digital archive. This is important to remember because at first they seem disconnected. The archive is about remembering, storing, filtering out what is to be remembered. The event is about forgetting, letting go, wasting time. But today events incorporate recording, storing, memorizing, archiving, as well.

In this kind of economy, in this kind of culture, the business model of the copyright industry based on exclusive grant of access to archives is clearly obsolete. It prevents attention, prevents the flow of information and the cultivation of meaning. The importance of the kind of archives they try to grant access to is declining. A personal example is my hard drive on which many of my favorite movies is stored. I never watch these films. I open the drive, look at the files, and say: Oh, so much to see. Oh, so little time. What to do? Anyone who has ever lost such an archive or an mp3 library in a hard disk failure recognizes the liberating feeling that accompanies it. The importance of forgetting when you can store everything. Meaning is not created by the data alone, but by the meta-data, the context the data emerges in. The importance of the way data is accessed. The importance of the present when you have access to the past. The remembering of the archives is linked to experiences, the present, the context. In news media, a blurry picture from a mobile phone taken at the instance an event happens is more valuable than a high-quality image taken half an hour later.

All of these real-time events are always archiving. To take part in them is to take part in the primal scene of archivation, of the establishment of a new archive, or of a new section of the networked archive we call Internet.
Maybe this is even more the case the less that event is directly – technologically – archived, thus allowing the participants to speak for the archive, to become guardians of it. To give it their interpretation. The more an event is wasted, forgotten – the more meaning the stored fragments of it gets – the louder they speak.

Archives are created by archiving events – their primal scene is in the foreground.
Some examples from the web:

Youtube. Videos become popular because they document real events with as little interference as possible.
Facebook. Information is linked to events. Attendance, changes, updates, friendships.
Sartorialist. Styles are only meaningful because someone wore them on the street. Someone had the experience of carrying them, being looked at, being archived.
Stureplan.se. Wannabe celebs attending only to be archived.

The information is of course not always reliable. Ads on Youtube are being made to look like amateur documentations on spontaneous events. Sartorialist photos are taken outside fashion events, not on regular streets. If this was explicit they wouldn’t be meaningful anymore, but maybe it is right here, in the grey zone between real and imaginary that the most interesting things happen – when we are not really sure. Reality intensified by the imaginary.

There is a feedback loop between digital archives and events. Between the remembering and accumulation of archives and the forgetting and waste of participating in an event. One could be pessimistic and say that events are never experienced directly because of this – you are never really in the moment. They are only experienced to look good in the archive. This is certainly true for some and it’s very important not to forget the waste of time and energy involved in events. This event we are taking part of right now is located somewhere between a real-time event and an archivation. What is the difference between seeing it live and viewing it in the archive later? Cameras, the direction of the spotlights, the border between studio and audience creates a screen between us – much like the computer screen.

But a more optimistic view is that these events can be intensified due to this link to digital archives. Different events can be connected, they can build on each other, become viral, transfer experiences. They can involve more waste of time and energy because they are being archived.

5. Barcelona – As creative city

Lets turn to economics – this time to the macro level, because here is where archives and events are connected to the global economy. Because if the economy of the information age is not to be found in selling digital information, in granting access to archives, in copyright – it is exactly here – in the links between events, experiences and the symbolic. This is what drives the so called creative economy on a regional and city basis. When manufacturing moves to cheaper countries, something else has to be installed in its place. What we have today is a global competition between cities and regions for qualified work, companies, tourists and finance. As these become more mobile, cities all over the world compete to keep and attract these flows of goods, people and money.

They do this by creating distinctive marks – a unique profile that will separate this city from other cities – city branding. This is certainly true for Barcelona. The city is using old catalan history as symbolic capital together with new spectacular architecture and an idea of a certain Barcelona lifestyle to attract tourists and comers and distinguish the city from other european cities. In this process, creative activities have a key role, from the grand architectural projects to small scale, alternative or independent scenes, events and projects. Not at least an old church turned into an art gallery inviting projects from all over the world. All get caught up the city branding game. They become symbolic capital connected to the experience of Barcelona, which will give the city a competitive advantage.

So events happen, cultures form, networks take shape in Barcelona.
These are supported and turned into symbolic capital creating an archive of what Barcelona is.
This is used to attract tourists, money etc to barcelona.

The development has its downsides. First of all the feedback effects of having more tourism and money coming in to Barcelona. It often leads to increased real estate prices, higher rents, more traffic in the city centre, more expensive living and more global brands taking the place of distinctive local businesses. From a strictly economic stand point this has long term negative effects since the city loses its distinctiveness and the attraction that was based on Barcelona not being like other cities. These new events rewrite the archive for the worse.

What’s also at stake is the history, the archive, the symbolic of the city. The experience of coming to Barcelona is sustained by a story of the history of the city and the lifestyle associated with it. But the archiving is not done by the people that took part in the archiving events. These are often based on alternative communities, artists, squatters, anarchists, that developed self-organizing networks before this feedback process started.
Whose history is invoked when the symbolic capital of Barcelona is to be increased? Who are the guardians of this archive? What happens to the movements that potentially can create another story, another archive – or that are a part of the story told?

6. Creative Industries – Two Approaches

The process of city branding is not unique to Barcelona, but is at the moment a very influential discourse in European policy that goes under the name on creative industries or creative industry policies. Since it is a reaction to a post-industrial situation, it will probably only be more influential the more manufacturing is moved away from Europe. The basic idea is that the former marginalized cultural economy or rather the creative economy – the economy based on innovation, creativity, design etc, from art to software – takes on a crucial role in an economy that can’t support itself on manufacturing anymore.

We can identify two forms of creative industry policies – although they are far from always separated.
One is where culture is directly profitable through intellectual property, thus generating tax revenues. In this view, the most importance political measure is securing this intellectual property by tougher laws and enforcements on piracy. How the creativity of the creative industries comes about is not as explored.
The other form of policy is where culture is only indirectly profitable. The presence of creative industries in a city attracts tourism or the establishment of companies. These policies can either be geared towards creating a generally healthy climate for creative industries where its activities attract tourists or migration which boost the economy through comers or real estate, or they can be focused on creating a well developed creative industry that attract companies to establish branches in the city, either to hire people with special competence from the local creative industries or to establish themselves as a “listening post” to find and learn about the unique styles, desires and markets in that particular city.

Companies need this external, self-organizing culture and creativity. The creation of meaning happens in self-organizing networks. It can not be produced by corporations, advertising or artists alone. Billboard advertising is  being replaced by storytelling connected to brands that spread through social networks, innovation in mobile phone interfaces and features comes from the creative uses and adaptions of teenage mobile users, the fashion industry need its street styles. What companies can try to do is to facilitate this meaning-creation, take part in it, support it.

7. DIY

So, in all of this, how does the future look for DIY media or DIY culture – this spontaneous, self-organizing culture that creates the cultural meaning, the symbolic capital.

Previous attempts at DIY media were stuck in the home or small circles, as private resistance to mainstream media, because there were no proper distribution system. Today there is an opportunity to have a real impact.  Small scale experimentation and events can spread through the digital archive – the tools for production and communication are accessible. But that DIY is not restricted either to the home or to private distribution networks also mean that DIY cannot avoid engaging with the rest of the cultural and communication industries. There is no outside anymore. DIY culture is dependent on businesses – not at least IT as platforms and on standardized formats. It is dependent on living conditions provided by the public sector – cost of living, access to spaces, subsidies and funding. DIY is perhaps a misleading name.

We will probably see more active efforts from the public sector and companies to engage with this self-organized culture. The public sector needs it both for branding as symbolic capital to distinguish themselves and to solve social problems, to communicate, to reach out to communities they can’t reach anymore.
Companies need to use external resources – they need special competence, they need someone to create meaning, give credibility. Companies value local, unique initiatives – the opposite of what was thought to be commercial culture.

The idea of creative industries is a discourse in the exact sense of the word. A way of talking and thinking that generates effects, that can be used for different purposes, but one that is not easily escaped. Copyright is not only a law that can be reformed or abolished – it is a way of viewing culture and economy that needs to be escaped.

So what is needed today, and is already happening around us, is both a new language of media that is not focused on end products and does not separate between archive and event and a new way of organizing and networking – with companies and the public sector, making use of their resources, but also being able to work without them, self-organized and self-sustained.

Today we have formed one particular blend of archive and experience, made possible by a particular way of communicating, networking and resource gathering. There are infinite ways of doing it differently. So, I end the same way Bill Drummond ended his letter:

Please accept my invitation to embrace the unknown opportunities of what lies ahead in whatever way excites you.

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June 13th, 2008 at 8:59 pm

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Remember Everything – Stiegler och GTD

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Jag har spenderat senaste dagen med att försöka få ordning i myllret av anteckningar som är utspridda på datorn, i googles webapplikationen och i undangömda anteckningsblock. Just nu experimenterar jag med Evernote (som det alltid lika kusligt vältajmade Jaiku tipsade om). Inte bara kan man organisera dokumenten på hårddisken och spara klipp från webben (i ett grymt snyggt interface), man kan även fota av böcker och anteckningar och få deras text sökbara. Guld! Fortfarande i Beta med en del skavanker men den dedikerade användarbasen gör förhoppningsvis sitt.

Det som fick mig att fastna var den här guiden som beskriver hur taggar kan användas för akademisk forskning (visserligen med den äldre, mer utförliga windowsversionen). Den visar tydligt att utvecklandet av webben inte bara handlar om nya tjänster utan minst lika mycket om att användarna upptäcker hur man kan använda tjänsternas funktioner på nya sätt. Dessa ‘best prectices’ (som kan eller kan inte omsättas i kod) är också möjliga att översätta till andra liknande tjänster vilket gör att man i lägre grad låser upp sig till en utvecklare. Något som annars är ett stort problem när det gäller just dokumenthanterare.

Det finns en intressant ideologi i den här GTD-hetsen som såklart är lätt att ironisera över. Till exempel är det just de få stunder där man inte har tillgång till verktygen är de som låter flest tankar framträda. I duschen, på cykelturen, när man ska sova. De situationer som karaktäriseras av rörelse, kroppslig affektion och en helt annat distraherande från uppgiften än vad informationsöverflödet ger.

Det enda sättet att nå dessa situationer är med den enda informationskanalen som inte låter sig påverkas av fukt och inte kräver händernas uppmärksamhet, nämligen den akustiska. En vattentät diktafon inbyggd i duschen, någon..? Tillgängligheten försöker tränga in i alla livssituationer, men kanske är det just påträngandet som gör att tankarna flyr till andra situationer, till en skillnad eller ett avbrott och hela GTD-rörelsen strävar efter en omöjlig totalitet.

*Evernote listar mina anteckningar om Bernard Stieglers artikel på Ars Industrialis som relaterat*

I “The Dissaffected Individual” beskriver Stiegler de samhälliga konsekvensera av att försöka fånga informationsöverflödet. Överflödet leder enligt Stiegler till en slags trängsel. Informationell trängsel, men också en emotionell och en närmast fysisk upplevelse av trängsel. För att delta i samhällslivet måste man trängas i överflödet.

Stiegler använder det engelska ordet ‘saturation’ för att beskriva informationsöverflödet. Ett ord som både kan beskriva ett tillstånd och en process.
“Saturation – the state or process that occurs when no more of something can be absorbed, combined with, or added.”
“Saturation” är inte ett kvantitativt mått på att vi skulle ha för mycket information. Snarare ett mått på vår oförmåga att absorbera och sätta samman den information vi har. Detta överflöd leder lätt till utvecklandet av en slags neuros hos den som försöker fånga hela flödet. Vad sägs om Evernotes slogan “Remember everything” eller skivobolagens försök att få varje utnyttjande av ett upphovsrättsskyddat verk att leda till en betalning? Situationen påminner om lantsortsbon som kommer in till storstaden och försöker hälsa på alla han möter. I överflödet måste man släppa taget. Baksidorna heter avinduvidualisering, cynism och kyla. Det gäller såväl inställningen till digital musik som medmänniskor i storstaden.

Överflöd leder enligt Stiegler till disaffektion, till opersonliga relationer. Vad vi då måste leta efter är inte en lösning för att producera fler objekt-relationer. Vad vi måste göra är att ta till vara på de öppningar (eller förslutningar) som möjliggör intima relationer.

Redan Norbert Wiener varnade för att öppna cybernetiska system leder till disaffektion och att de mänskliga relationerna finns i de isolerade delarna av systemet (PDF ). Det innebär att människan i sig finns bara i de isolerade delarna av systemet, då det cybernetiska systemet är ett integrerat system av människa och maskin. Människan, som organism, är en sluten del av ett öppet system.

Trängseln leder till i vissa fall till ett tillbakadragande i en mediavärld. Motsats till och på samma gång en konsekvens av den översociala mediavärlden. Nu ska vi inte göra det så enkelt för oss som att associera den tillbakadragna mediavärlden med negativa värden (isolering, ensamhet, sjukligt beteende, beroende) och den sociala mediavärlden med positiva värden (kreativitet, gemenskap, socialitet, öppenhet, demokrati). Bara för att medierna leder användaren bort från skärmen behöver de inte innebära något positivt. Att spendera tid ensam framför skärmen kan också innebära lärande och skapande. Vi ska inte bara ifrågasätta vilka världen som kopplas till vissa former av mediaanvändande utan även de positiva eller negativa associationerna till dem. Är det så självklart att något som ‘socialitet’ alltid är positivt? En socialitet som kan även innebära påtryckningar, konformitet och stress.

“Just as there is a cognitive saturation, there is also in effect an affective saturation. The phenomena of cognitive and affective saturation engender individual and collective, neurological and psychological [cerébrales et mentales], cognitive and personality, congestion, which one could compare to the paradoxical effects of urban congestion engendered by the excess of automobile traffic, of which bottlenecks are the most banal experience, and where the automobile, thought to facilitate mobility, produces on the contrary a noisy and polluting—that is, toxic—slowing down and paralysis. In the same way as cognitive saturation induces a loss of cognition, that is, a loss of knowledge, and a bewilderment of minds [esprits], a stupidity of consciousnesses [consciences] more and more mindless [inconscientes], affective saturation engenders a generalized disaffection.”

Det kommer finnas anledning att återkomma till Stiegler och hans kritik av patologiseringen av (miss-)skötseln av informationsöverflödet samt kopplingen mellan asocialt och socialt mediaanvändande.

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April 8th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

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P2P seminar @ ku.dk

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Seminar with Michel Bauwens at Copenhagen University today. Bauwens is the head of the P2P Foundation and a full time advocate of p2p as a new, emergent form of social dynamic on all fields of human endeavors. Read more on his arguments here. http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499

While Bauwens has lots to say on social production and its properties, I would like to situate the phenomena in a less utopian and world changing context. But that’s just where our styles differ. Here are my reflections from the seminar.

The social dynamic of p2p (for which I would rather use a less positively charged word as network hierarchies, networked organization or the like) opens up for organic hierarchies. Bauwens sees this as a third mode of production as separated from capitalist markets and state planning. Without the ideological overtones I would claim that it creates a spectrum of control/freedom organizations, where during a large part of the 20th century, the choice was between the anarchy of the emerging mass or the control of the mass by an elite. Something that spawned both bureaucracies rationalizing population control and revolutionary groups wanting to overthrow this order. P2P is not a revolution in this sense that is overthrows a previous way of organizing society (although Bauwens thinks it is both immanent, but has a transcendental capability to capitalism). It is a silent revolution if you will in the sense that it turns a binary choice into a spectrum of possible organizational forms. This mode of thinking is a healthy injection into a left that was previously left to revolutionary utopian dreams or a resigned, cynical world view of a totalitarian capitalist dystopia.

But pure p2p is not always the most optimal form of organization. When it comes to file sharing, the distributed systems are surely the best for transferring large amounts of data efficiently, but when it comes to creating meaningful cultural experiences and deepening perspectives, you have to close it of and moderate the information flow to ensure continuity, engagement and make sure opposing viewpoints meet each other instead of falling into the trap of p2p-secterist consensus groups.

There is always a danger of open systems turning into islands of gang like structures or wolf packs with flat and flexible hierarchies based on merit and reputation on the inside, but strict and hostile borders to the outside world. “Open” when it comes to digital networks is not an open space as the idea of the public town square is open. The sqaure is limited in space, forcing its population to meet different opinions, to compromise, to listen. The web is open in the sense that there is an abundance of space and therefor always room for you and your likes to create your own world separated from any sign of conflict. This is why the large hubs that are to large to be ignored and fled from are important.

P2P enables us in a flexible way to think about control and freedom, opened and closed, consensus and conflict that open up opportunities to “hack the system”, intervene and modify structures on a case to case basis.

Questions arose after the seminar on the exlusion from peer to peer production. We can from that identify three kinds of people.

1. People like Bauwens, who are able to make a living being engaged in peer production. The knowledge workers, the creative class.
2. People like myself, who only having myself to support and myself to lose, can sustain an active participation in peer production while having my main income from a non-p2p corporate part time job.
3. People who have entire families to support on an unskilled job in the service sector, who only under exceptional circumstances and with proper support are able to take part in social peer production.

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October 12th, 2007 at 10:52 pm

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Notes on Networks

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1)When people meet a stranger on the other side of the world and they find out that they have some common acquaintance, the reaction is usually one of surprise about the meeting.”What a coincidence that we had this acquaintance!”


But the remarkable thing is not that they had an common acquaintance with a complete stranger on the other side of the world, since the average distance between any two persons are only about three links. The remarkable thing is that they managed to find this connection in the brief moment that they conversed. Thus, it is a miracle of communication and not one of a cosmic coincidence.

2) The seduction of networks is their nearness, bringing near what is far while preserving its farness. To be close friends is to be near, to share a world. To network is to believe in the nearness of that which is far away, in a separate world.

3) Our acquaintances are more “useful” in our lives than close friends. Important in the sense of helping you find a job, pick up gossip, get news and so on. This is because your close friends probably all know each other, but with each new acquaintance you get access to a new network of friends.

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July 31st, 2007 at 9:14 am

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