"One might almost say that truth itself depends on the tempo, the patience and perseverance of lingering with the particular." (twa)
Author: Joerg Blumtritt
Joerg Blumtritt (*1970) is data scientist and blogger. He co-founded the companies Datarella and BAYDUINO, based in Munich, Germany, and Baltic Data Science in Gdansk, Poland. Datarella develops data-driven products for the Internet of Things, BDS delivers data-science-as-a-service, BAYDUINO builds open source hardware.
Before that, Joerg had worked for media companies in Europe and the US. Having graduated in statistics and political sciences with a thesis on machine learning, Joerg started as a researcher in behavioral sciences, focused on nonverbal communication.
As political activist and researcher, Joerg works on projects regarding future democratic participation and open source IoT. He is co-author of the Slow Media Manifesto and blogs about media and art at slow-media.net, about data and the future of social research at beautifuldata.net, and about the IoT at datarella.com.
Sessions on post-digital life and art with Addie Wagenknecht and Joerg Blumtritt
The Hague, Thursday July 7th 2016
“You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
“It lacks even the appeal of the apocalyps.”
Addie Wagenknecht and I will hold two sessions on culture and art in the post Internet age, on occasion of Bordersessions Conference at The Hague. First we will introduce into Cyberpunk , and discuss how to survive and maybe even live in our digitally enhanced reality. In the evening, we will give a lecture on aesthetics for the digital arts at Leiden University .
Come to us all who labor with cyber culture, and we will give you the rest.
Plus: You get free vaccination against nerve attenuation syndrome.
Cyber is the condition of reality, Punk is our way to survive. What started as science ficton genre 30 years ago is today’s fight for reclaiming freedom in our cultural habitat: We are shaping culture, technology, and media ourself, we don’t go conform neither with mass consumerism nor with surveillance and authority. We take action. Join us!
Ten billion people will live on the earth soon. Today, half of all living humans have a mobile phone, two and a half billion have internet access via smartphone. Cybernetic systems have become mundane, from autonomous cars, to algorithmic content publishing, and smart implants into the body.
When the Net took off 25 years ago, we welcomed it as the promised land of unlimited access to culture and information for everybody, granting freedom of expression to all. However, the Net is indeed free more as in free beer and less than in freedom. All links of the chain seem either privately owned by global corporations or tightly controlled by the security apperatus.
The term cyberspace was coined by science fiction author Wiliam Gibson in his dystopic vision of an overpopulated globe of digitally connected people, governed by gargantuan conglomerates, with little left of civil society -high tech, low life. A grim metaphor what our world might already be evolving into – ‘The Jackpot’ (to quote Gibson’s latest novel). This genre, made popular by him together with Bruce Sterling, Richard K. Morgan, Neal Stephonson and many others, was soon called ‘Cyberpunk’. Since then, cyber has degraded to the prefix of cyber-bullying, cyber-crime, or cyber-terrorism.
But we want to use Cyberpunk for nothing less then as instructionons for shaping the things to come. For us, Cyberpunk is not fiction as entertainment, but as design fiction, thought experiments on a world that could happen soon.
Cyber will be the dominant part of our human condition, and our way to deal with it, to survive in such a world is punk. Punk means bricolage, streetfighting with everything that is handy to be used as our tool, and experimenting how it feels to live outside the cage without building a new one. Let’s see, how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Time: Thursday, July 7th, 1100
Location: Korzo theatre, Prinsestraat 42, The Hague
Besides data as storytelling, journalism, and dashboards, data has grown into a medium for expression for a large spectrum of creative output. Parametric design, algorithmic architecture alongside rapid prototyping technologies have redefined the relationship between creator and artist tools. Generative art means using algorithms to create an object whose primary qualities are aesthetic. Although the products created by machine learning are not yet perfectly mimicing human creativity, it becomes increasingly hard to tell them appart. Even beyond the blunt journalistic hyperbole of AI related stories, algorithmic music, poetry, and generative visual art have evolved to such an extent that it became necessary to discuss a basic question once again: What do we think is art? Or better: What will be art?
Contemporary artist are still struggling to find the language for a new contemporary output and practice in the post-internet genre. The online world is bingeing but is also a rapidly changing one. Does the next generation of digital artists, responding to their own experiences of the online world, threaten the way artist work and affect what is being known as a staunchly Web 1.0 aesthetic? Artistic expression within the digital arts has brought forward critical examination of the technology and its impact on society, such as surveillance and self-determination, and has often collaged quotations of all aspects of media and consumerism, questioning art market concepts like authorship and intellecutal property rights. Mediums range from video, software, websites, to hardware, kinetic machines, and robotics. Parametric or generative art emerge from algorithms without direct human intervention.
We want to illustrate current developments with examples of recent bodies of work, and discuss how theoretical aproaches like object oriented aesthetics (Harman), parametricism (Schumacher), atemporality (Sterling) can contextulize the current emerging fields within contemporary art.
Time: Thursday, July 7th, 1730
Location: Living Lab, Faculty of Governance and Global affairs, Schouwburgstraat 2, The Hague
“Let us invite you to bring the family, the grandparents and the children, and sit on our open-source furniture, relax, even eat something. Fill a wine glass with tomorrow.”
One year ago, Casa Jasmina opened its doors, a showroom for household technology, smart and connected, and open source. I had learned about this project by some remarks of its initiator, Bruce Sterling at earlier occasions. Like many ‘Cyberisti’ of my age, I have been loosely following Bruce’s thoughts for thirty years now. There were always some ideas that I would take for me, to write or talk about, but it was not before his book ‘Shaping Things‘ that I could really work with what he was telling. ‘Shaping Things’ is a small book, more an essay. It is as far as I know the first comprehensive examination of what was really going on when digitalization would leave the confinement of the web and would conquer the realm of physical things to form an ‘Internet of Things’; and he was talking in particular on how digitally enhanced things might still be designed in a benign way, despite their totalitarian nature of global connectedness and allover datarization of human life.
With Casa Jasmina, Bruce announced to translate this design theory into the practice of an effectively livable home, that he was going to build together with Jasmina Tešanović, the Casa’s eponym. It is one thing, to write about stuff, a totally different thing to build something in the corporeal world, with all the constraints of the human condition to face. So it is no wonder that the ‘Casa’ I found at the day of its opening celebration was more an echo chamber for our visions and expectations than an actual home.
Today, one year later, Casa Jasmina has matured to officially host the Piemonte Share Art Festival. Luca Barbeni who had curated Share.to since its beginings 2006 had moved to Berlin to start his NOME Gallery, and Bruce Sterling stepped in as artistic curator to run the festival in Torino together with its co-founder Chiara Garibaldi, getting illustrious support by MOMA curator Paola Antonelli and astronaut celebrity Samantha Cristoforetti. Bruce would further focus the art exhibition from ‘art post internet’ as such, to domestic art and technology.
The ‘Casa’ and its inhabitants are notedly welcoming to guests, and the hospitality we experienced this time was no exception. Art in modernism on the other hand had struggled with domestic life since its conception – most artwork is plainly unsuitable for normal household conditions. And this property it shares with digital technology. Although most people use ‘computers’, formally PC, nowadays smartphones and tablets also at home, these devices have not really become part of our houses’ facilities. Our digital tech is still mostly personal outfits, more accessories than appliences. It is partly the arrogant presumptuousness of both tech and modern art, demanding all attention, defining their apodictic morale, which in my oppinion make both so hard to bear in the limited space of our private quarters. Jasmina Tešanović has argued about this in her vitriolic manifesto ‘The seven ways of the Internet of Women Things’ that we have published on this blog, too.
‘House Guests’ is the title of the exhibition, and thus the project is more about comfortable cohabitation of art, tech, and people, than about art as such. (Therefore I want to postpone my criticism on the artworks to a later article).
On exhibition we see two distinct types of artwork: Physical things and video. Eight pieces of video art that originate from the online art platform seditionart.com are displayed on wall-mounted white iPads. These eight works are not interactive, but mere video images. So it might seem that they could have been running on a laptop or a beamer, or any kind of digital screen, just one after the other. Instead, the iPads were framed in black ruffs, approximately double the diameter of the screens, resembling the bourgeois tableau painting. The problem with video displays in general, and in particular with mobile screens like the iPad’s is the total dominance of the medium over its content. McLuhan’s observation holds unchanged, that things on TV are primarily television, and secondly, if at all, the content, be it a story, movie or news. This medial predefinition is much less true for paintings, print, or sculptures where the material is just one aspect of a bigger whole. And despite their voluminous collars, the iPads in Casa Jasmina had not lost much of their hypnotic quality. The art they were showing faded under the beautiful hues of the brilliant technology. This pornographic dominance of the medium is clearly an issue with art in the digital age.
Compared to the solipsism of the videos, the physical objects were much more about really living with them. Tablecloth with algorithmic design, plates inspired by the quantified self, musical instruments driven by Microsoft Kinect: All kinds of calm technology, blending in with the maker artefacts that were to be found in Casa Jasmina before. The pretense of Casa Jasmina’s art is little, we don’t get sold an art revolution. While the late Zaha Hadid and her partner Patrik Schumacher would claim parametricism as the next paradigm of architecture, design and even the human condition as such, the objects at Casa Jasmina are rather playing with creative options than providing a grand narrative.
The art at Casa Jasmina is thus not so much about art but about home. The real art project is the whole Casa, with everything that has been going on inside it from the beginning. As Bruce had proclaimed then: It is about putting human values into technical things. Together with the Arduino-creator Massimo Banzi, Bruce has been advocating for ethical technology, and had recently put together three posits in an IoT Manifesto: Things should be kept open and interoperable. While the standardization of user interfaces in smartphones are a clear advantage of Apple’s products, hardly anybody would want art to be paved down by the paternalistic sterility of the iTunes store. Closely related is second postulate of sustainability. What good is an LED lightbulb that might last for 20 years, if the software that makes it ‘smart’ would be outdated and might even stop its working after two years? Planned obsolescence has been the business practice in Silicon Valley from the beginning. That this is not just eco-babble was impressively demonstrated by Google’s remotely shutting down and bricking their ‘Nest’ devices that were sold before a certain date, to force people buying new ones. The third postulate is fairness. Tech must not to spy on people. I think this can only made possible, if we prevent things from requiring a centralized infrastructure. Only if we manage to build mesh networks of decentralized, distributed, and autonomous devices we will be able to maintain privacy.
For many people, contemporary art has long become detached from their lives – intellectually abstract, just the hermetic expression of the artist’s personality, protected by authorship and intellectual property claims – do not touch! Digital technology is mostly withdrawn from our grip. When we open their shiny cases, we void the warranty. Casa Jasmina’s art and technology is open, friendly, easy to live with. One might say that it lacks the grand gesture; it is just comfortable. Maybe this is exactly the point. We will see domestic things with interesting design, that are not just branded signature consumer products, but bespoke and uniquely fit to their owners, demonstrating instead of ellegantly veiling their factitiousness. What we will see is the rise of a new Arts&Crafts movement. Like its predecessor 120 years ago, this neo-arts&crafts will take a stand opposite the slick perfectionism of corporate industrial production, but not by regressing to pre-industrial manufacturing, but by embracing the novel methods and tools of the time. And opposed to the maker movement from which it has spun off, neo-arts&crafts will be less about technology and more about craftsmanship. Art nouveau at the turn of the last century is called Jugendstil or Reformstil in German. The ‘reform’ was about creating a livable environment for people to lead happy and healthy lives. If neo-art nouveau follows similar goals by being open, sustainable, and fair, I am convinced it will prevail. Much more than parametricism and other academic concepts of re-inventing art, it has the potential to become a major paradigm of art post-internet.
This is how the story of our BAYDUINO project went.
“There is a reason they call it hardware—it is hard.” Tony Fadell
“Ideas are cheap. Only execution matters.” This business truism is a mantra, frequently uttered by my co-founder Michael Reuter. And I agree. However, there are two ways from conceiving an idea to executing the project that it entails. The first is the traditional: Go to the workshop, build the prototype, test, and if successful, get orders to build more. The second way, comparably young, is to develop the concept, get a patent, and then find a sweatshop to get your project produced as cheep as possible. The latter became fashionable with companies like Nike in the 1980s; it works of course only if you have global availability of cheap labour and efficient logistics for the goods. The main prerequisite however is that the idea as such can be owned, protected for exclusive exploitation to its inventors.
For artisans, securing intellectual property rights from their creation seems as absurd as it would have centuries ago. No carpenter or tailor would be fooled that their customers would buy their work because of its unique originality of its design. The separation of idea and manufacturing came with industrial mass production, when for the first time the designer became a specialized function within the process of manufacturing. Since the design dictated all the products’ properties and how to do them to the manufacturer, the blue collar workers were rendered exchangable. Once designing things was severed from building them, it was almost natural to split the two no longer connected businesses into separate companies.
Over the last thirty years, we have seen many branches of the manufacturing industry crumble. Textile, once strong in Germany, is almost totally lost. Worst is electronics. If you want to start something with electronics. it seems almost impossible to do without globally sourcing the components. All concerns, environmental and humanitarian likewise have to be abandoned.
When we started working with data, it was obvious that the richest source of data about humans was the so called Internet of Things. More and more devices carry sensors, small instruments that continuously measure all kinds of different values about people’s actions, their surroundings, and even their communication. Some of these devices are fixed, like thermostats or webcams, many are mobile, like the smartphones or wearable accessories.
Smartphones in general are by now the most common IoT gadgets. Their sensor measurements range from geo-location to delicate readings of the magnetic fields. However, the operation systems running on the phones hardly allow direct access to these sensors. Hence it remains basically a black box, how the data is generated. The information exists only mediated through Google’s or Apple’s interpretation of the data.
Understanding, how data works, how it is generated, collected, stored, processed, and finally analyzed and interpreted has become the basic skill in information technolgy. Data science is called the “hottest job” now. Without proper knowledge about the physical actuality behind the data, it stays just theorizing scholastics,
This is how the story of our BAYDUINO project went.
One year ago, I visited the beautiful city of Turin in Piedmont for a special occasion: The grand opening of Casa Jasmina at the Fab Lab there (see my report here). Next door to casa Jasmina sits the Officine Arduino. The Arduino (or Genuino respectively) has become the most common platform to prototype for the Internet of Things. It is open source and strongly tied to the maker culture.
I am not good in soldering. All educational hardware that I tried, ended in disappointment. In particular, most are way too complicated to just give to the kids; they would fail, too, and then come back to me, hoping I could help them. So I had a strong desire to come up with an easy path into sensor hardware. Also I was convinced that it should be possible to source such a projects locally in Munich, maybe with some help from other parts of Europe.
When back home, we discussed my experiences from Turin in our team and decided, that we would start developing. My friend Nils Hitze recommended us to Hans Franke, a hardware expert who turned out to be a total genious. After three month we had our design ready.
The BAYDUINO is an open source hardware board. It is compatible to the Arduino as well as the upcoming BBC Micro:Bit. All components come from Europe, most have traveled less than 150 km – with one exception: The CPU which is Chinese. Sadly we were not able to find a local one. The boards are also assembled locally.
Just two layers of circuitry, one on each side of the board. Every component would be labeled, so you could not only understand, how all the components are connected, but immediately see, what is what. The board carries various sensors like gyroscope, magnetic field instrument, or photo detectors, and five buttons as controls, has a small LED display and can easily be connected to other actors.
The BAYDUINO has an Open Roberta interface which is developed together with the Roberta team at Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Open Roberta is a language that lets children to do robotics with small building blocks of code that can be drag-and-dropped on a graphical user interface. This makes programming the BAYDUINO easy even for children who are not skilled in typing. We are also developing mobile apps for this task because many children have smartphones or tablets but no PC.
Rapid prototyping and accessible SMT placement shops, great support from the community, and of course the open source knowledge that is available on the net were indispensable help to getting the BAYDUINO accomplished.
With our first prototype we started a crowdfunding campaign. And in the next days the first boards will be send out.
The BAYDUINO is our idea of Slow Media translated to hardware and the IoT – Slow Technology.
“We must put human values into things, we must beware of the clashes among things. A smart house can clash with a happy house. The thoughtless convenience of seamless design can clash with the need for control and dignity. The users clash with the people. Our geek hood clashes with our personhood.” Bruce Sterling
Casa Jasmina, the first connected home built totally open source, celebrated its grand opening in Turin, Italy, on Saturday.
The Internet of Things
Smart homes -interconnected household appliances and domestic technology controlled by computer, connected cars -the automobile as cybernetic system, driving partly or even fully autonomous, wearable technology probes that we carry directly attached to our bodies, as smartwatches, wrist bands, or smart textiles, and finally smart cities, a pervasively networked communal administration – this is the IoT, the Internet of Things, which is about to enter our daily lives, and will maybe change it even more than the World Wide Web and the smartphone has done.
What is it like to live with connected technology? More than two billion people already access the Internet via their smartphones. A smartphone is in fact a platform to support some twenty different probes, sensors that continuously track our movements, whereabouts, connectivity, and many other dimensions. However, this is not how people experience using their devices. Phones and tablets appear quite similar to books with just a bit more functionality. We use our mobiles as media, and we hardly ever see them as part of some Internet of Things, of course. Thus is it far from trivial to make a truly connected life visible. So this is one aspect of what Casa Jamina is about: It is a showcase for living with connected technology at home.
Digital technology has changed almost everything in business as well as in our everyday lives. However, even if I recognized something would happen, I was never able to convince people of the consequences, that in my view had become unavoidable. Then change struck, and left its victims bleeding on the field, often enough lethally wounded. I love digital technology. I love social media, search engines, and wikis. But I moan about how easy we give away the public space, our people had been fighting hard to achieve. I moan loosing social and political control to economic reasoning. I don’t want to give away one other bit of what is left of our public goods. This is why we wrote the Slow Media Manifesto five years ago, this is why we argue to have Slow start-ups instead of more disruptive technologies. Demonstrating open alternative to proprietary platforms in the IoT is the second task, Casa Jasmina was conceived for.
At Wired Nextfest 2013, I heard Bruce Sterling suggesting a possible strategy to counter the “Silicon Valley way” of doing technology, that with good cause is called “platform capitalism” by some: Bruce suggested Open source luxury. Instead of harvesting network effects, scalability, and winner-takes-it-all economics, he advocated for economic value, based on craft. Open source, he said, would be no contradiction to luxury, at all. It would rather foster craftsmanship as point of differentiation. Instead of forcing people into an operation system, to lock-in the users to subscription plans, open source luxury would offer convenience as well as freedom of choice. And from September 2014 on, Bruce announced how this idea would be rendered tangible: The Casa Jasmina. Named after Jasmina Tešanović who would originally came up with the idea, the first open source connected home would root into the Turin Fab Lab, and its Arduino ecosystem. It would be a field trial for technology which will pervade our homes one way or the other.
Casa Jasmina will be a connected home with real people living in it. It will be not just another corporate showroom with fancy displays that nobody will ever really use. No jetpacks, no flying cars, no talking refrigerators enhanced with silly home entertainment displays nobody had asked for.
Casa Jasmina is based on two foundations. First, the Arduino, open source hardware that has become the leading platform to control the IoT. The Arduino is a genuine Piemontese invention. Started at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, it is developed by a team around Massimo Banzi in a small office above the Fab Lab in Turin. While open source, the Arduino is partnering also with traditional consumer electronics suppliers like Intel or Samsung. A huge community of people commits to the development of Arduino based applications. Together with its English counterpart, the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the Arduino now provides the strongest support for the Internet of Things.
The second foundation is design. How things look, how things interact with us and with other things, what materials are used, and what story they tell, this is as important to what things are, as is their technical functionality. Casa Jasmina is somehow design fiction, design that shows, what would be possible, to let us experience, how that feels. But other than the regular design fiction, Casa Jasmina will have objects that really work, that can be used, or if not, to be replaced by other things that would do the job. Designing things that really work is different from doing a display to just show off. Thus the things to see at Casa Jasmina might be edgy, but they will have to work with the inhabitants, and not just preveil until some trade fair’s doors close.
And now it is there, at Via Egeo No. 16. The architecture of Casa Jasmina is genuine Futurismo Italiano: Built in the 1920s, the floor of the Casa used to be the apartment for some managing ranks of FIAT, sitting right on top of a steel foundry, meant to tear down the walls between private live and industry; what better metaphor could there be for what we have today! Like the futurists demanded but had never fully realized, the Internet of Things will diminish our privacy, the bourgeois concept of private home. But instead of letting this lead right into fascism, as we had seen futurism end in 1930s, we have the chance to nudge the contemporary futurism onto a benign, democratic trail. “We must put human values into things”, as Bruce Sterling put it.
The exterior of Casa Jasmina still looks a bit run-down for Turin standards, but it would very well pass for an average apartment building in say Naples. The staircase leading to the building’s Piano Nobile is rather narrow and I suppose it was originally ment for servants and deliveries. We enter the flat through a small hallway, painted in dark grey, with a programmatic text of Bruce Sterling to introduce the visitor to the project -like you would expect an arrangement at some museum’s exhibition. Opposite of this wall lies a very basic bathroom.
Straight on, a spacious corridor opens, painted all white leading along huge windows on the right giving view to a roof garden. Left is a small living room, not seperated from the corridor by a door or threshold, but by a bookcase, a design study by Caterina Tiazzoldi. A spacious kitchen, also open to the corridor, lies separated by a wall next to the living room. Behind that follow to more rooms with doors, to be used as bedrooms when Casa Jasmina finally will house its inhabitants. At the end of the corridor, a few stairs lead to a wall with an A0 sized poster displaying an allegory of “The Internet of Women Things”.
Behind that might have been a double winged door that was probably the original main entrance. The floor in the bedrooms, the kitchen and living room is covered by an expensive, arfully made oak parquet that somehow survived the long decades during which the building had been abandoned and degrading.
Most of the furniture is designed by Open Desk, a London based design shop that publishes patterns for furniture, easy to be cut out from plywood. Open Desk’s way of distributing their designs for free is far less uncommon than we might naively think. It is rather something we used to have until very recently. If we would go to a carpenter, the artisan would show us different design examples from pattern books or catalogues. We would then commission the work based on a pattern, and the furniture would get made. So good quality in furniture is by no means connected to securing intellectual property. Rather the opposite: Only mass produced goods need protection because they can never meet artisan standards.
Smart things in the Casa Jasmina so far consist mostly of works of art, playing with concepts of Calm Technology. Some off-the-shelf smart tech has also found its way into the house. A Roomba, not connected at all, however in a way autonomous, and a Samsung Smart TV set. Right on the evening of the Casa’s grand opening, Juventus Turin faced FC Barcelona in the Champions League’s final, a game not to be missed by anybody in Turin, of course. But despite all the nerdy and geeky people around, we weren’t able to get this Smart TV set . In the end, I plugged my Laptop into the Samsung set, degrading it into a totally dumb screen for the really smart and connected however totally 20th century device that my PC is. Trouble went on after that was done, and realized, that Mediaset, Italy’s dreadful broadcast trust, would only stream their content via Silverlight – a video technology so outdated, that even its inventor Microsoft had long ago stopped supporting. So I had to start a virtual machine with Windows on my computer, and run an ancient version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in that.
This funny anecdote illustrates, what’s wrong with how the smart home business is implemented by the traditional consumer electronics companies. The design of the TV set is still the same as when there were just a couple of stations to switch between and no need for a keyboard to type in complex commands. Even worse is Mediaset’s online video service. Driven by the station’s wish to maintain control over the “digital rights management”, they built their proprietary system of content distribution with tools crippled for the very same reason. If such outdated software would run critical infrastructure, it would easily become a security risk. You wouldn’t even want to run your laundry with that.
Consumer electronics has the reputation to be an industry with the worst user interfaces and the lowest understanding of people’s behavior. If you have ever tried to program the clock of your stove, you know that CE engineers must be living just at the opposite site of the universe than their customers. Household technology was always outdated, obsolete electronics refurbished to once more generate some money. This is really not the industry you would want to resign your private data to. Neither are utility companies, which are among the main drivers of Smart Home, famous for their customer care.
On the other hand, we are becoming more and more used to doing things mobile. Services that are not accessible via app feel outdated and inefficient. People once having experienced the mobile convenience, will benchmark all electronic things accordingly. And why not? Just because the legacy providers of our services and products are not delivering according to our demand, should we take abstention? Should we give in, and keep to outdated, inefficient products that waste our time, energy and other resources?
Will my home be run by Google Nest or by Apple Home? Imagine the ridiculous situation, when you decided to buy some smart device from one provider, and that would require all your other stuff to run the same proprietary operation system. You’d have to either give up your smart home functionality or to restock everything with the matching system. There might be some brand purists that want to mindlessly live in a monoculture. For most people, this seams not really practical.
To become successful, smart appliances will have to be seamlessly interoperable with each other, too, no matter who manufactured them. This is not the business model of companies like Google or Apple. Open standards for interoperability is what open source stands for. The Arduino is the most advanced and most stable IoT technology anyway. But open source technology is not only better in making things work together. Open source means, that people can hack it, dismantle it, understand, how the thing and more important, its software really works. This is the only way I now that helps to make things secure. Only what can be hacked gets thoroughly tested. Only when there is a vivid discussion going on potential security flaws and how to patch these, we will get safe technology. This has been lessen we should have learned by now.
The Internet of Everything
“As Warren Ellis said at ThingsCon, we may be living in the last days when nobody knows where we are — when the home is still like an aristocrat’s castle, distinct from the rest of the world.”
The Internet of Things is not just about machines talking to each other. The sensors on our devices generate and collect data that is directly linked to our personal lives, to our behavior, our actions, and the environment around us: “Data is made of people”
Privacy, informational self-determination, and algorithm ethics become even more important with the IoT, “the Internet of Things and Humans” as Tim O’Reilly calls it, or what might be even clearer, the “Internet of Everything”. Concepts like Big Data or the IoT bear the danger to get killed by overexposure and buzzwordization. The marketing and tech babble disguises, how pervasive the influence of digital tech on our lives already is. A human-scaled model of the smart home will help to make that visible. We will be able to explore how to get the best from the truly remarkable development, that could realy help us, not only to make our daily lives more convenient, but even more meaningful, more social, and more sustainable.
And this is why I belief Casa Jasmina is a very important project.
Uber is the new Google (which was already the new Microsoft, that was maybe the new United Fruits, or the new Standard Oil). And while we hear that “Software eats the world”, we learn with how little control we are left with. Like shopping malls, the walled gardens of the Facebook’s and Google’s Internet exclude the public, and the political.
With the Internet of Things, the business model of forcing use and services into silos and protected property starts to contaminate the very physical parts of our reality: smart cities, connected cars and homes. Uber’s aggressive omittance of social rules has become synonymous for what is called platform capitalism.
Dystopia of corporate oligarchy
Contemporary science fiction often tells about this world of winner-takes-it-all markets. From the DEAMON, placed in the now, to Windup Girl, in a more distant future, where every plant life is extinct except for patented grains from American crop conglomerates. What most of these writers get wrong is how contingent the conditions are, that lead to such oligarchies. Just like the trusts before World War 1, Google, Uber, or Monsanto nourish from inefficiencies of the slowly changing legal system. Nothing that couldn’t be changed by the voters. The ongoing protests against the US-European free trade treaty TTIP show, that there indeed is an alternative to just give in to the status quo.
José Bové, the French agro-revolutionary, became famous for “deconstructing” a McDonald’s branch, going to jail for that, but not without being decorated with high honors by the French president for his epic fight against the malbouffe, the bad-eating. “Le monde n’est pas une marchandise.” And as much as I love this quote, it is aiming way too short. It is the same argument by which Naomi Klein at the same time fiercely ranted against the marketing driven corporate culture of Nike, Apple, and their like – “No Logo”.
Slow Food, the Italian answer to malbouffe, came finally to resolve this dialectic of economy versus culture, that made the ecological movement so repelling for the bourgeois mainstream.
Slow Food is a brand. The products under its label are distinctly branded as well. Certified regional origin and testified raw products are the legal backbone of Slow Food. The process of production however is totally transparent. No trade secrets – everybody can learn to do Slow Food by just reading the cookbooks.
I have seen the rise and fall of the Pirate Party. I had put great hope and personal effort in reinventing politics with internet wit. It failed. We failed. In other parts of the world this failure was more dramatic. The Arab Spring that had the power to overthrow authoritarian regimes without a chance to replace them. M5S in Italy, who not even bothered to hide their right-wing libertarianism. The German Piratenpartei is on the best way to follow this path (however without much hope for success in the elections). What was missing was rooting the system into culture.
Make in Italy
Five years ago, we wrote the Slow Media Manifesto. We were convinced that there would be an alternative to malbouffe also for our industry. How would slow but still internet-driven culture look like?
Open source is usually criticized by advocates of the culture industry like Jaron Lanier as to be the lever to fully disenfranchise the creative class. José Bové saw it right in the opposite way. He blamed patents and intellectual property to be the main cause of trouble for the peasants in Europe, together with state subsidiaries which (like patents) tend to only support big business without helping small producers. Everyone can try to grow wine or try to make cheese. Good wine and good cheese are not sold with a price premium because they are patented. We pay to get something that would cost effort not to invent, but to produce.
Kano is a computer for kids based on Raspberry Pi. Kano was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Although it has a full scale Debian Linux system running on it, the Kano’s user interface is designed for young children who can learn to code on the Kano as easily as they build things with Lego.
Raspberry Pi is an open source computer that comes from England and Wales (depending whom you ask you’d get the one or the other response …). The Pi is the most versatile tool for any kind of computational task, be it streaming media, be it kid’s computers. More than 2 million Pis have been shipped. Arduino is an open source circuit board from Piedmont. If you want to see what the Internet of Things will look like, just check Arduino based projects.
Pi and Arduino are laying the groundwork for a new kind of design and manufacturing: The Maker movement. The Maker movement fits nicely into the small-scale cultures of Italy, which has for centuries been artisan rather then industrial.
Open source luxury
My Prada satchel. Of course every maker of leather goods could make a satchel like that. It is not the copyright-protected design that makes the genuine product valuable.
Bruce Sterling sketches “Make in Italy” as the natural extension of “Made in Italy”. He argues that people will always pay for the value of artisan manufacturing. What Slow Food did for agriculture and cuisine, Maker Movement could do for design and luxury goods, which are the primary assets of the Italian economy. ‘Open source luxury’ is not a contradiction. Italian food is not precious because it cannot be legally copied. Fashion is not special because it is protected intellectual property; in fact you can buy all sorts of counterfeited Italian fashion brands, but this does in no way diminish the value of the genuine thing. Bruce Sterling’s possible future economy of open source artisan household goods and accessories is truly beautiful. I strongly encourage watching his plea in this video on the ‘Casa Jasmina’.
Bruce Sterling’s version of a benign open source economy would also perfectly fit the German manufacturing culture. I am sure, my friend Ibo Evsan is right with his plan to leverage maker spaces into the heart of German manufacturing which is mid-sized, family-owned factories.
We started Slow Media because we already saw that there were things happening to change the game – Slow Fashion, Slow Furniture, and a whole Slow Industry we hoped we would see evolving. Five years later, I am sure that we were right to join the idea of Slowness.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.1. Cor 13
You saw, O king, and behold, a great image. This image, mighty and of brightness, stood before you, and its appearance was frightening. The head of this image was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its middle and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
Daniel interprets Nebukadnezar’s vision. The colossal statue symbolizes the course of history, starting with a ‘golden age’, the paradise, deteriorating epoch after epoch. Until the messianic event – the world revolution – which stands at the end of this ‘historic materialism’.
.והיית אך שמח Devarim 16,15
Hours, days, or weeks repeating, that is a useful illusion. In reality we live through each moment of our life only once; thereafter it has passed. What we experience as relatively homogenous over certain time spans in our lives, is ourselves. We have the impression of uniformity, because we are one person, indeed more or less the same every day.
Over longer time periods, our person however changes, and in fact not continuously, but at specific points in our life very rapidly, while it appears almost constant over years or decades. It is a not completely arbitrary conclusion, to divide our life into sections: childhood, youth, adulthood, senility – or something similar.
Romano Guardini (1885-1968) has written a remarkable book on the life’s ages, their ethical and pedagogical meaning, Lebensalter, Ihre ethische und pädagogische Bedeutung (as is the original German titel). On some thoughts therein I want to further dwell here.
Every section of age is based on specific needs, faculties, and motivations. The necessity to satisfy these needs, to develop the faculties according to one’s age, and to follow one’s motivations, entails the appropriate ethics -what is good and important for children, is hardly by itself the right thing for adults.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, as Qohelet says. This concept of targeted, progressing life is typical for our Judeo-Christian Weltbild; death is the point, where life is completed, and where every goal has to be reached – in opposite to cyclical systems of rebirth, our occidential life spans an arc.
A central aspect in progressing from one age to the next, are crises, even dramatic discontinuities, through which we (should) live, when we e.g. change from the age of the mature adult into senility; things that went seamlessly as an adult, we have to learn to let go, to give room for others; if we manage to get old in dignity depends not least if we are able to make that step, or if we try to perpetuate our youthfulness, long lost in reality, into eternity, as a fop like Thomas Mann’s protagonist Aschenbach in Death in Venice. These crises constitute how we devide our lives into ages, as mentioned above.
Each of the ages has a correspondent way to comprehend the world. This comprehension corresponds also with a certain way to express ourselves in language. Children experience the world in a sort of mystical way, all the enchanted, that for adults lies at the edge of kitsch, is experienced as real part of the personal world. For children, metaphors are not paraphrasing of reality, but reality itself.
Here we leave Guardini, who mentioned the idea of rhetorical figures just marginally in his context of ages. We move back two hundred fifty years to Naples, where Giambattista Vico had published his philosophical magnum opus Sciencia Nuova, the New Science in 1725.
Vico had been pondering on history for many years, in particular on Greek and Roman antiquity, and he had studied the literature of those times intensively. There he recognized a fact, that went totally unnoticed before: The “high cultures” he investigated, were not homogenous over time, but they appeared to him as a temporal hierarchy, a coming of ages, maturing, and decaying –Corso and Ricorso. Each of these epochs, so Vico deduced, brings specific properties of culture and society to the people living in it, that we could compare with Guardini’s ages of life.
Especially one thing came to Vico’s attention: Every epoch had specific tropes, that shaped its literature and presumably also the whole thinking of its time. From this observation he unfolded an original system. The earliest literature of some culture expresses a mystic way of comprehending the world – everything is incorporated by metaphors. In these times, people belief in gods steering fate directly, until they finally get replaced by heroes. Now it is men, that define destiny, however supernaturally advanced and legendary figures. Metonymy is the figure of speech in the age of the heroes. Finally comes the actually historic epoch, the Polis or republic, with real humans as acting subjects. Legal texts and political speeches now make the most part of literature. Metaphors or figurative meaning hardly have room here. Irony is the trope of the age of the humans. After that decline comes – empire and dictatorship, worshiping heroes again, and at last decay into the mystic epoch of the Völkerwanderung, the early medieval age.
If we compare Vico with Guardini, it is obvious to combine the ages of life with the epochs of history – and thus we get an appropriate rhetoric figure for each phase of our lives, too. Children comprehend the world in play. As in mysticism, everything can be “the normal thing”, e.g. a plank, and still something different, say a spacecraft. Children make no difference between fairytale and non-fiction. Adolescence brings hero worship, exaggeration of role models, the projection, the hyperbole. For adults, everything is achievable, scientific, regular. In their dealing with each others, irony helps adults to demonstrate distance to their own positions, “take it with a pinch of salt”. With dwindling power in older age, growing feelings of anxiety, a desire for security, fixation on solid structures, and the longing for strong leadership in a society, that is increasingly sensed as threatening, are the consequences. As a doter we end unable to differentiate reality from fantasy – senile paranoia, depression, or “mystic wisdom”.
Age of Life
As mentioned frequently before, we can describe our current history as a sequence of turning points in communication culture. First, the Linguistic Turn makes an end with the dark medieval times, with its allegoric thinking, the childhood of our culture. The Iconic Turn lifts us into the age of global mass communication, with irony, not to say cynicism as the leading figuere. and finally we are living through the next turn, the Memetic Turn, falling back into the pictorial. This history of turns I have elaborated on in its own post: Memetic Turn.
A world as inexorable sequence of progresses has underlying something sad. That to say, everybody always dies to early. There is probably no agreeable way to part from life. Goals unmet, things that remain unsolved at the end of life, they even appear tragic. Thus the angel of history has with wide open eyes to see “one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet”; progress as sequence of tragedies. Instead however to grieve about our certain end, I recommend now, to read Nachman of Breslov, that great mystic, who taught twohundred years ago, in what today is the Ukraine, as chassidic zaddik; his morale rule: “Mitzvah gedolah le’hiyot besimcha tamid” – It is the great commandment to always be happy..
Twenty years ago today the first SMS was sent. And with the SMS begins the age of short messages, of asynchronous real time communication, and the epoch of laconism. Out of SMS came Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Whatsapp, … currently c. 300,000 SMS are sent per second.
With the SMS we have learned to organize our lives just where we stand or go, without the need to get the Other ‘on the line’. Although the pager had been around before, it is the integration into one device that would not only let us make calls, but would let us text, and soon also make pictures and process our entire communication.
SMS, Short Messaging Service, a string of 140 characters (some providers might allow up to 255 in simple Latin alphabet though). SMS has educated us to be brief. Through it we have developed a new and extremely efficient language, laconic, like we see it in languages of the antiquity.
Laconism has its name from the Lacedaemonians, the Spartans. Xenophon passed on the dispatch quoted above, sent by the Spartan vice admiral during the battle of Kyzikos to his home city. The one-lined dispatch was intercepted by Athenian spies and thus ironically preserved for posterity:
“Ships sunk, Mindaros dead, men hungry, ran out of wits.”
The acute brevity of the expression soon become proverbial for Spartan culture, the reduction to the essential, abstination from all decor, that we now call Spartan.
What do SMS, short messeged news have for us twenty years later? Every new medium can according to McLuhan be analyzed in four aspects to get a clearer picture what the medium does to society and culture:
1. What gets enhanced by the medium?
2. What gets obsolete?
3. What is retrieved that was lost before?
4. What does the development flip into when pushed to the edge?
This Tetrade regarding short messages could look like this:
Enhances Efficiency, community, controle
Retrieves Verse, metaphor, laconism, conversation
Medium: SMS /Short messages
Flips into Memetic communication, shitstorm, Pirate Party, Arab Spring, Big Data, Slow Media
Makes obsolete Pager, voice mail, correspondance, newspaper, TV news
The Tetrade model by McLuhan: Four aspects how media effect culture and society.
1. Short messages increase efficiency. We share information in brief, highly condensed, and at the same time we are independent of the fact if the other is ready to receive. The continuous exchange fosters community. Not only are we able to organize ourselves within a larger group of people – when we want to meet in a beergarden, we usually no longer give an exact location anymore, we rather organize spontaneously. By ‘I am there and have experienced this and that” we share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences seamlessly and continuously with others. By this, SMS, Twitter, Foursquare etc. also increase control: We can demand from others to inform us, we can even expect it – “Your line was busy” or “You haven’t answered your phone” no longer work as a pretext.
2. The pager was obviously rendered obsolete by SMS. But even if many haven’t gotten this yet, this is also true for the answering machine, voice mail as people nowadays call it: It is a nuisance to listen through recorded voice messages just to extract the little of relevant information they convey, like the number to call back, that we have to take down manually, while short messages usually would allow direct reply.
I am convinced that it was SMS and not the email that pushed the written letter aside. Email is still a text of almost arbitrary length; even if it usually gets delivered much quicker than paper mail, it shares all other disadvantages with it: quickly the inbox is cluttered; before one could go through the time consuming statements of a letter are ingested and digested into a reply, all kinds of things have happened that outdated the content of the letter, lots of other messages, emails or letters have arrived, that also beg for response. Written correspondence, the drivel filling pages is no longer up to date and in recession; it is more than 15 years ago that I wrote my last letter – and this only because the recipient was in his eighties. The successor, the email thread, this we can say with confidence, will hardly bear anything that we would want to call literature.
The end of classic news media through Twitter can be taken literal. I is not just the lack of actuality in newspapers and TV news compared to the real time communication of short messages – it is primarily lack of filters. While newspapers and TV give us always the feeling to learn what we don’t want to know while leaving out what we would regard as really important to us, we are looking for the very people in our timeline who’s statements we find relevant. I don’t want to go into the problem of the filter bubble here, the phenomenon that we are confined in our own patch of reality. I don’t want to elaborate on the question if it would not perhaps be better if we still read the paper – it is just the fact that classic news has been pushed away by asynchronous real time updates.
3. There is a form of verbal expression perfectly suited for the 140 characters of short messages: the verse. Verse is the most important tool for oral tradition. Every sentence is a simple one-liner. Verse by verse one can memorize the myth, the fairy tale, the ballad. A test divided into simple sentences of almost identical length generates by itself its rhythm. With the printed book, verses were pushed to the fringe of literature to become a mere artistic format without practical implications; the persistence of printed literature made it no longer necessary to learn something by heart. SMS brings back the verse, the aphorism, the one-liner. And since poetic language expresses itself in highly condensed ways, by concentrating entire images into metaphors expressed in a few words with multiple layers of meaning, it is no wonder that the language of short messages is often metaphorical. But not only the verse-like form of short messages reminds of oral tradition. SMS, Twitter, etc. are in their core not textual media, but rather conversations, exchange of word and reply, often not just in a dialogue but over a whole group of participants.
4. We are already living through the changes in our culture caused by short messages. We have already written about the memetic turn. Metaphors, pictorial expressions that would make accessible their meaning only to those who can read the picture, generate a high extent of communality. Cat pics are the glue of society. By the immediacy of ‘I can reply right away’ we see messages built up to a literal storm in a positive loop, in particular when it is about indignation. The shitstorm is the trope of the age of short messages.
The culture of the Pirate Party is also closely related to short messages. Highly poetical, now Tweet without hermetical hashtag, highly self-exciting, and for people outside almost looking impolitely brief and direct. Even if there are more than 30,000 members in the Pirate Party now, the core of activists does not inform nor organize themselves via mailing lists or the wiki, but via Twitter; “140 Zeichen muss reichen.”
I am convinced that many of the political uprisings of the last years are closely related to SMS culture. I don’t say that we wouldn’t have seen an Arab Spring without Twitter or Facebook, but short messages have left their mark on these new forms of self-empowerment.
Beside search engines, it is the deluge of short messages which has lead to a new paradigm in IT: Big Data. The volume is just so huge, and so quickly do the new posts come in; and everything has to be processed in real time. Thus the old rules for hardware, operation systems, and databases had to be quickly abandoned. Short messages are conversations given in written form. This makes them readable to machines easily; it is thus not only volume and velocity, also machine learning was kissed to awaken from its deep slumber.
And finally: When real time has become reality, when it is thus no longer about accelerating communication because it has already reached total simultaneity, our goal now has to be to comprehend what is going on. We can now concentrate on what is really important to us, what we find really valuable. Slow Media is our response, our synthesis of the SMS tetrade.
Twenty years of short messages – a historical epoch of greatest importance for the culture in most parts of the world, but in particular for us here, and for myself very personally.
In our consciousness of the everyday grind we are mostly aware of thoughts, feelings and actions for a moment or a longer timespan like days or weeks. We try to do the Right Thing™ at the Right Time™ to keep us in a flow to reach our goals. Frequent self-reflection on this consciousness enables us to tell if we have managed to do right.
I am using the terms right or good though they are not easily defined without getting in a mess of philosophical ethics and morality. Since I am speaking about intuition and failure in our biographies, I prefer to stay on a more subject-related level. Feel free to fill good and right with your own content. In case you don’t believe in these categories at all or don’t value them somehow: they are not playing a really important role in this post.
A chasm runs through our society (if we would stay with this 19th century term anyway). The Digital Divide is usually attributed to the problems of “digital illiteracy”, the fact that a portion of the world’s population is kept outside the Internet by poverty or stubbornness.
In truth, however, and I am convinced about that, the fault of the digital divide is cutting on a much more elementary level though our so called occidental culture. And I take this reactionist term as fully adequate, as Oswald Spengler would have done, because we are talking about nothing less then the complete upheaval of the order that we took for granted at least during the last 200 years. Why would I write such lofty stuff? Because it fits!
Fifteen years ago, I had read a witty article in Wired: : Net-Heads vs. Bell-Heads. Bell-Heads is derived from the Bell Telephone Company, the world’s first telco and direct predecessor of AT&T. Over a hundred years, the Bell-Heads had been the architects of the global (tele-)communication. From the Bell Labs in New Jersey many of the most important inventions of the IT-age originated, not least the transistor. The Bell-Heads had been the heros and prophets of the connected world.
The end of the Bell-age bears legendary traits in the meantime: how John Draper in 1972, with a whistle from some cereal-promotion would have seized the whole US telephone system. When the decentralized net-logic of TCP/IP was more and more established, it became clear to the mentors of Net culture: centralized, bureaucratic systems like that of the telcos would in the long run be inferior to the distributed chaos of the Net. The Net-heads, the evangelists of an anti-hierarchic communications architecture became the apocalypticists revelating the dusk of the old telephone world.
The Net without fixed hierarchy, with mere local organisation is the metaphor for a new model of society. The degree of freedom from force, of freedom of speech and the sheer unlimited possibilities of personal evolvement and creativity that we could experience since the 90ies in the Internet, has shown to us, how we also could live. The communications network became an Utopia. Reality outside the Net however looked different: 9/11, “War against Terror”, banking crisis, economic slavery, refugees that our own border patrol would drown in the Mediterranean, and the fight for “intellectual property” – just to chant a short part of last decade’s litany. Thus it is no wonder, that the Net would sometimes take downright messianic shape in our view, the place where everything shall be better. Today however I do not want to dive into deconstructing these – as always – questionable promises of salvation.
Suddenly there is disturbance in the world. People stand up and go down into the streets. But it is not ideologies, neither party platforms or union speeches that set people into turmoil. The occasion for insurgency is not the same for all events. From the Maghreb to Spain and to the US, there are definitively different coercions, against which the people rise.
What unites the demonstrators from Tahrir Square to Wallstreet, is the disire for self-determination and self-organisation. And the model is the culture in the Net.
Thierry Lhotehad twittered: “like in may 68 in France a whole generation is learning meme manufacturing for their next Media VP job #occupywallstreet”; and what might read cynical at first sight, turns out to a remarkable observation. In the same way as 50 years ago, a generation has grown up, for whom a consensus about the values of the “old world” can no longer be reached. Thereby the dived cuts right through the middle of the old political wings. Right, left, green – all these groups are dominated by a generation that stays foreign to the Net culture emotionally and intellectually, even, if they do not position themselves openly hostile. And when the Net-heads try to get involved with the old structures, this does only work as far as nothing gets changed and the Old is accepted unconditionally. This was demonstrated in a tragic-comically way recently, when a case of Twitter-censorship shook the German green party.
The rise of the Pirate Party is often compared to the rise of the green party in the late 70ies. And much of this comparison fits. Some enemies of then remained the same: nuclear energy or monopolistic corporations. Some parts are even strikingly parallel. What the Notstandsgesetze, the “Emergency Laws” would have meant for our parents (this role would have played the draft for the US), for us today it is Internet surveillance, three-strikes-out, bail-out, and FRONTEX. The meme #ozapftis (the uncovering of the government malware) is the Watergate of our generation.
Damals, als wg. Sachen wie #Bundestrojaner noch Bürger auf die Straßen gegangen wären. Those were the times when citizens would have gone into the streets on occasions like that
might @videopunk lament – but I am convinced that this is exactly what happens.
“You will never be happy with strangers, They would not understand you as we, So remember the Jarama Valley And the old men who wait patiently.” Alex McDade
“Er sagte, es krache im Oberbau, und es krache im Unterbau. Da müsse sich sogleich alles verändern.”
(“He said, it cracked in the superstructure, and it cracked in the base. Thus everything would have to change at once.”)
(Bloch über Benjamin)
Communities persist by their members taking tasks within the community, fulfilling duties and profiting from the communally achieved successes. In the state’s society, the citizens delegate parts of their tasks and duties to the state’s administration. Over the last two hundred years, the citizens of the so called western world had handed over more and more even of some of their very intimate responsibilities to the state – care for the sick and elderly, birth and death, social security, education of children and much more.
How these delegated tasks would to be carried out, is defined by the process of representative decision-making of the parliamentary democracy. Elected representatives are mandated to take care over the span of several years. To fulfil these tasks, skilled persons have to be paid for and provided with their working means. And that those specialists would use their assigned means just about as planned in the society’s decision-making, an administration is needed on top.
Facebook is regularly compared to a nation that, regarding its population, would rank third in the world, after China and India. What makes Social Networks (and first of all Facebook) so nation-like?
In Social Networks, people affiliate with each other to communities, communicate and exchange. In most cases the exchange is rather personal; even when thousands of Arab women gather at the Persil Abaya Shapoo Facebook page, under the roof of their favourite detergent, it is at first sight all about the small things of every day’s business.
But not always things would stay to the small and private. Egypt, Tunisia, Libia, Spain, or the demolishing of Stuttgart’s main station – during the last months, huge groups of people came together, at first, to share their views, but then to form a common will – the common representation of no longer willing to accept the state of things, and finally to get organised and to jointly protest. And because the Networks it was always transparent, in how far others would join the movement, the protesters can be sure not suddenly be left out in the rain.
The protests’ content is always the getting back of responsibility and influence, that have – depending on the society’s shape rather or rather not be given up voluntarily. This calling “We are the people” is thus not without problems. Just because it is many that gather and articulate around some issue does not yet mean that a majority would share this opinion. Often the majority’s will is totally unclear, like with the Stuttgart main station. And even if it can be taken for granted that in deed a majority of those concerned would support the protest, important corrective features of democracy like protection of minorities and other, indisputable rules are lacking, that in our understanding of statehood should not be subject of change even by majorities of votes.
Politics will less and less work by delegation. The election terms appear to us completely inapropriate in length – but shorter terms would likely just lead to permanent campaigning and not to better representation of the will. Party platforms appear to us as irrelevant and inadequate, as the shallow content of mass media news. By the new communities and the preassure they can build through Social Networks, political decision-making is shaken. However it is not the case, that just a new variety would step alongside the established channels of representative democracy, just as Internet usage would not be additional or substituting to newspapers or other traditional media of the society.
Initiatives trying to somehow get “Net Politics” into parliamentary processes are necessarily longing to short to really stop the distortions. The speed, flexibility and intransigence that is demanded by the protesting people (attributed by mass media sometimes as angry citizens), are hardly to be balanced with whip, delegates’ conferences or presidential councils, without which a parliamentary-democratic system cannot be organised. As a stand-alone movement that is formed for realising a model for the entire society, like e.g. the Green Party in the eighties, the rather loose and spontaneous communities of interest are neither really suitable.
It will happen; for party politics, the newspaper’s fate is imminent. It will not help to tinker with politics 2.0 like with the symptoms of some illness. Openness in mind, admitting that even a system could fail that has been for centuries, should give us free sight of the alternative, that may lie before us. Only giving many options a try and allowing errors will bring us into the position to transpose what we treasure in the old world into the new. This change does not happen by itself, not due to nature’s law. Especially the technological infrastructure that enables the new, is shaped. If we care about how politics in future should look like, we have to take things into our own hands, not at last on the technological development and shaping of the new communal systems, like e.g. the culture in the Social Networks.
On Techcrunch, Semil Shah, regarding the uprising in North Africa, had reflected, to interpret the revolution as a new Social Media product. If therefore – like he says – start-ups would be needed, that would transform some political function into Social Media, I cannot really see. I think the infrastructure of existing Social Networks, Smartphones, video and photo networks would probably already be sufficient. In one thing, however, I totally agree: