New Media and Creative-Response

This is the thirteenth in a daily series of articles taken from Elevate #10. I hope you enjoy the read – and come back tomorrow for more!

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At the 2008 Elevate Festival, Ronaldo Lemos, Project Lead of the Creative Commons Brazil, talked about the “commons of the mind”. He said that the internet had created a plurality of business models for media distribution – iTunes, BandCamp, Gumroad, Amazon, eBay and YouTube to name half a dozen. The question is whether this is a good thing for creative responders or not. Daniel Erlacher proposes that, compared to the corporate publishing model of the last century, today’s plurality makes distribution much more complicated for artists.

Those complications can also bring with them a certain freedom. Ursula Rucker has experience of both worlds: she released three albums on a traditional record label, but has released her last two albums herself as digital only downloads. “It may be harder because you don’t have someone taking care of you,” she says of the record industry, “but they were never taking care of you in the first place.” Antonino laughs a knowing laugh. “Now there’s a freedom,” Ursula adds. “You do it yourself; you’re not on a leash.” She smiles a wry smile. “At the same time, though, you do have to figure out how you’re going to do it.”

Another possible benefit of the collapse of old models of media distribution since the rise of the internet is that artists are allowed to fail a lot more now, without editors or publishers or producers peering over their shoulder. “I’m independent,” Deanna Rodger says. “I write my stuff, I put it out, I perform where I can.” She argues that, in this new media world of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the artist has more control. “You don’t have to tick any boxes, you don’t have to jump through hoops,” she says. “You’re also generating your own network and you’re getting instant feedback, which is only going to make you a better artist because you’re listening to the people who are listening to you.”

“New media is not a utopia of independence or creativity,” Antonino says. “You have to have a vision,” he adds. “That’s been there since Picasso painted Guernica. Work that’s timeless and timely has vision.” For him, social media are just the tools that we happen to have for creative-response today, but tools are the means, not the ends. “The ends is this.” He breaks the fourth wall of the stage and seems to connect with each one of us in the audience. “What we’re doing here is social media.”

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Everything for Antonino is about connecting with people, that’s his creative-response. The main purpose of his film, Let Fury Have the Hour, which took seven years to produce, was and is to connect with artists, collaborators and human beings. “These are just tools so I can be here with you today,” he says. “I would never have thought, as a fourteen year old kid in Philadelphia, I’d be sitting in Graz talking about this work – it’s an amazing privilege and honour.” We should remember, Antonino says, that clicking Like on Facebook is no substitute for being in the room, connecting with each other. “Real participation demands that we’re here, present, together.” Antonino reaches out to Ksenia and Daniel either side of him: “Like this.”

Deanna agrees, but takes a more global view. “Not everyone can afford to go to a show, or afford to come to Austria,” she says. She is keen not to downplay the significance of minute social media interactions either. “It might only be a re-tweet,” she says, “but that can be the start of something.” For Deanna, creative-response is built up slowly. A little burst of creativity, a tweet, might take only a few seconds, but the satisfaction of getting that tweet favourited by friends or re-tweeted by strangers might lead the nascent artist to ask the question: That only took me five seconds; what if I spent a day on it? From these modest beginnings, the artist slowly develops a vision and a voice. The virtue of this start-small method is that, as Deanna says, “There’s no excuse for not doing it because it is so simple and then you build on it.”

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And that is exactly how I got started as a writer. Since I was about eighteen, I’d said I was going to be a writer – sometimes I even boasted that I was going to be a writer who turned the world upside-down with my words. But that’s all it was: words. Until, one day, I realised that, if I wanted to become any kind of a writer, I would need to stop talking and start writing. So I started with the smallest possible story: fifty words long. It’s so short that I might as well reprint it here:

The Interview
The car pulled a parabola into position in front of endless low roofed warehouses. The steam from the looming cooling towers drifted across the Sun. The violins on the stereo screeched to a close and the chill of the air froze. In ten minutes he would be in the interview.

I think the world just about managed to keep itself on its axis, but that’s not the point. My plan was to write a new story every day, each day adding five words to the word count. Over the course of the next six weeks, I wrote another forty-one stories, ending up with one that was two hundred and sixty words long. It might not sound like a lot, but it was a start. Within a month of finishing that two hundred and sixty word story, I began writing my first full length novel. Within two years, I had finished that novel and published my first book of travel writing. I was a writer.

Daniel Erlacher suggests that the music industry has changed as a result of the growth of the internet, citing the fact that artists now make more money from their gigs than from their records. “It’s always been that way for me,” Ursula replies without hesitation. Chris Hessle, the electronic musician IZC, counters the popular denigration of what he calls “the old vinyl economy”. One accusation is that the music business simply doesn’t have the money any more. “There’s not less money,” he says, “but the money’s going somewhere.”

For Chris, it’s quite obvious where that money is going: Apple, Spotify, Amazon and the other major online distributors. Apple is the most valuable company in the world; they don’t seem to be too bothered that there’s “less money” in the music business. “There’s less money, but it’s only in our perception,” Chris argues. He runs a small traditional record label himself and, on his visits to the pressing factories, sees that “the money stays within the scene and creates jobs for people who are within the scene”. Apple’s profits from iTunes, in contrast, fund a technology company.

On this analysis, it’s hard to argue that today’s system of the financial control of artists is any more free than last century’s. Nafeez Ahmed makes this exact point. “We haven’t got away from centralised control,” he says. “We’re still beholden to these opaque systems of rights and ownership. You upload to Facebook, but how much do you actually own and how many rights are you giving away?”

You’ll be glad to hear, dear reader, that I’ve taken the trouble to answer this rhetorical question. You’ll be further glad when I tell you that you retain the intellectual property rights to any videos, music, poetry or photographs that you upload to Facebook. However, the second you post something on Facebook, you grant them a licence to do whatever they like with it, including using it for commercial purposes if they so desire. No wonder Nafeez is asking, “How can we move beyond being shackled by technologies still very much controlled by big corporations which have their own interests?”

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Antonino reminds us that the construction of the internet was publicly funded, by the military and educational institutions. He laments the fact that the internet could have seen the democratisation of technology, as well as art. But, according to Antonino, Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996 was “one of the great con tricks we pulled in the United States” and helped concentrate ownership of the media into the hands of fewer and fewer corporations. “After the economic collapse in 2008,” Antonino adds, “I thought there was a great opportunity for us to think about how society in general was organised, but then everything started getting funnelled back into this hegemony.” For Antonino, at the moment, the primary use of the internet seems to be “to promote more consumption and not more participation”.

Deanna takes us back to the fundamental question of distribution. “As an artist,” she says, “I want to make [my work] available to as many people as possible. As those are the tools I have at the moment, I think those are the tools I should use.” For her, it’s irrelevant whether or not she hates Facebook (she thinks she does), because she can use these tools to come together with others. “It’s not about how much money I can get from it,” she says. “It’s about how much change I can try to inspire. If that’s using Facebook because that’s where I know a hundred people will look at it, then that’s what I’m going to use.” She even challenges Facebook to use her work: “If they take it, then I’m going to write a new poem. Have that one, because I’m going to write a better one.”

Daniel Erlacher has more fundamental problem with social media. “I don’t have a Facebook account,” he says to Deanna. “I can’t follow you and I don’t want to; you exclude me.” When we laugh at his bluntness, he quickly adds, “Sorry, not literally – it’s a big dilemma.” Daniel doesn’t want to participate in this exclusionary social media at all, but when artists use Facebook or Google to promote their work, they become adverts for Facebook or Google. “Every click is an active invitation for other people to find you there,” he says.

Deanna concedes that it is important for artists to become more aware about social media and their channels of distribution, but she’s frustrated with how difficult that is becoming. All she wants is to write and perform, without worrying about whether or not Google owns a licence to all her YouTube videos. “What am I going to do? How am I going to be more aware?” she asks, getting more and more agitated. “How am I going to learn programming?” She hesitates. “I’m going to google it – jokes!” She laughs, we laugh, Ursula touches Deanna’s sleeve in solidarity.

There is, of course, a mid-way between most people’s total acceptance and Daniel’s total rejection of corporate social media. “We should use these mainstream channels and we should show our face if we are not afraid,” Ksenia Ermoshina says, but she also urges us to create “Temporary Autonomous Zones”, outside the internet, where we can come together in physical space.

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“It’s up to you,” Ursula says. “Are you able to balance using this vehicle but not becoming it?” Chris agrees, saying, “I think that it’s perfectly fine to use all these corporate structures, but I’m a bit scared to be depending on them.” He sympathises with artists like Deanna who just want to create. “These days, when you sell your music via iTunes, for instance, it’s not so easy to change your channels of distribution,” he says. “We’ve become already quite dependent on these channels, in my opinion.” As more and more people join social networks, the pull of those social networks becomes stronger and stronger.

So how much creative-response is there to these corporations? Daniel doesn’t see any. Antonino quotes John Sayles, the US film-maker, who says that “we all work for corporations in some form”. For Antonino, as for John Holloway, there is no such thing as purity. “Part of creative-response is finding the free space and not thinking about things as black and white,” he says. “Public Enemy, of course, Fight the Power – major label. It’s important that we have sophistication and nuance about how to use that.”

Antonino ends with a story of how his friend and artist Ai Weiwei found the free space on Twitter to subvert an attempted Chinese cover-up of the shoddy construction of schools in Sichuan. Seven thousand schoolrooms collapsed in the province during the earthquake of 2008, leading to the death of up to five thousand children. Every day since, Ai Weiwei tweets the birthday of one of the kids killed.

“That’s a sophisticated way to work with the system to do something that’s an amazing creative-response, so those children are never forgotten,” Antonino says with pride. In this way, creative-response is able to stretch out its fingers and touch people beyond its time and place. “Fighting them at their level is a difficult proposition because they have the wealth,” Antonino adds. “But we have the numbers, we have the better ideas. We have to remember that, we have to get to the free space.”

Thank you for reading – I hope you found something here that was enlightening and inspirational. Come back tomorrow from 8am for more from Elevate #10.

CLICK HERE FOR PAY WHAT YOU LIKE DOWNLOAD OR £10 IN PAPERBACK

Creative Response/Ability >> Elevate Festival 2014 from Elevate Festival on Vimeo.

Header image © Lia Rädler

Elevate the Commons

This is the eighth in a daily series of articles taken from Elevate #10. I hope you enjoy the read – and come back tomorrow for more!

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Addressing the oft-repeated accusation from the mainstream that alternative thinkers have no practical proposals for a replacement to capitalism, I hereby present Exhibit A: the commons. In an echo of John Holloway’s opening speech, Silke Helfrich characterises the commons as “putting hope into practice”.

The idea of commoning is that there are certain things that all of humanity holds “in common” and that responsibility for and access to those things should be shared equally among us all. Examples might include the air we breathe, the languages we speak and the water we drink. Commoners seek to extend and protect these basic shared resources; while capitalists seek to privatise and profit from them. Unless you happen to live right beside a fresh water spring, the water you drink has already been turned into a commodity that you pay for. Perhaps you believe that the air you breathe is a more genuine commons, free of commodification and profiteering. But would you say that you had an equal share in its pollution? Does this pollution make its way onto the balance sheets of industry in a way that reflects the damage done to your lungs?

What other resources should we have in common? Perhaps you might think the seeds that grow our food should be a common resource, provided by Mother Nature herself. But genetically modified “terminator” seeds that die after harvest have already been developed, so that farmers are reliant on buying more from the supplier. What about life-saving drugs? Private pharmaceutical companies using patent protection are systematically withholding life-saving drugs from the people who need them most. Or the internet, should that be a commons? According to a 2013 study, a quarter of all US internet traffic goes through Google’s privately owned servers; in 2011, that figure was just six percent. What about democracy, surely that must always be a commons? The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, currently being negotiated behind closed doors by the US and the EU, threatens to extend intellectual property rights and could clear away the national regulatory rights of individual EU countries, raising the prospect of the corporate imposition of genetically modified organisms and shale gas fracking. In return for this gift from our commons, TTIP promises the average household an increase in earnings of about fifty dollars per year by 2027. Not exactly win-win.

Silke Helfrich is so obsessed with commoning that she has, quite literally, written the book (well, co-edited it, at least). “The definition of the commons is a commons itself,” she says, slyly. “It is always developing. Commons are a process, another state of being.” As a process, Silke explains that it takes hard work to maintain the commons; they have to be made over and over again.

Michel Bauwens, the founder of the P2P Foundation, describes the commons as “any shared resource which is governed and owned by its community”. He also makes the distinction between material and immaterial commons; the distinction between common land and common language, for example, or between open hardware and open software. Michel sees a problem in that the material world is still governed by the old world, the corporations. “Capitalism destroyed the old commons,” he says, “and the socialist state was even worse!” While there are organisations working for the immaterial commons, like Mozilla and Wikimedia for the open software and knowledge commons, there are no organisations working for the material commons.

Silke Helfrich sees no such distinction between material and immaterial commons. “I’m convinced there are no immaterial commons that do not grow out of material,” she says. “Programmers need to eat.” She prefers to look at what these different commons have in common. “It’s about sharing resources that aren’t owned by any one person and never will be owned by any one person,” she says. Michel Bauwens responds by agreeing that, although the material and the immaterial are inseparable, the nature of the differing goods demand different rules. “The immaterial,” he says by way of example, “doesn’t mind freeloaders.” For Michel, this means that we have to create new forms of governance, new forms of ownership, “to create a seed from which something new can grow”.

Michel Bauwens is excited about the potential for commons production to help us move, as he says, “from anti-capitalism to post-capitalism construction”. He would like to combine open source knowledge and distributed machinery to create a new means of production that will not bear the hallmarks of capitalism, such as planned obsolescence. “If we add green – cradle to cradle design, shared resources – to the hacker mentality,” Michel says, “then we have a revolution.”

One obvious question suggests itself: If the commons are such a great idea, then why don’t we have more? What are the threats facing the commons?

“The value capture,” Michel answers, simply. “More and more people are creating commons, but the use value is created and the market value is captured almost exclusively by capital.” For Michel, this is a real problem in our society. “As a commoner,” he says, “I can’t make money from it unless I become labour for capital.”

This is an obvious contradiction and one that makes a commoning life currently unsustainable; under the economic conditions of today it is not possible to remake the new world in the shell of the old. For Michel Bauwens, we need to build commoning institutions and regulatory frameworks that allow us to make a living from our commoning work. This work, trying to move from theory to reality, is exactly what John Holloway meant when he talked about hopeability. Hope needs to find an echo in the world; there needs to be potential in the old world for the new, fertile ground for the seeds.

For Silke Helfrich, another threat to commoning comes from what she calls the “monoculture of thinking”, meaning classical economics, taught in universities and parroted in the media, which restricts what people are able to imagine as possible. For many years, classical economics has almost ignored the commons because it does not produce financial capital. A monoculture of thinking such as this returns us to the idea that change is not possible if you can imagine the end of humanity more easily than you can imagine the end of capitalism.

Talking of the end of humanity, Silke Helfrich raises a more serious threat to the commons: the ongoing depletion of natural resources. “At a global level we have little time,” she says. “Natural resources are becoming scarce.” And, without natural resources, there will be no material basis for the commons; without anything to share, there can be no commons. “This, in my opinion, is the bigger threat,” she says. “But I’m really enthusiastic about the opportunities.”

Silke Helfrich’s enthusiasm for the commons shines through in her optimism for the future. In 1989, just before the Berlin Wall came down, Silke was studying in Leipzig, East Germany. “We didn’t know in the summer what would happen in the autumn,” she says. “We didn’t know what the world would look like.” She sees a similar potential for radical, overnight transformation in the commons. “Technology means we can get the commons idea out into the world,” she says. “Big infrastructures and investment are not needed. We are in a transition where people are taking things into their own hands. We have to redefine what work means in terms of commons, what infrastructure means, what a unified state means.”

Michel Bauwens, however, sounds a warning note. “The only reason we have a welfare state is because we have a labour movement,” he says. “But that is weakened and can no longer defend the welfare state.” His solution you should be able to guess by now: “We need to change from labour to commons. We need to rethink politics around the commons.” Michel is hopeful, not for the labour parties, but for the new transformative political parties springing from the wreckage of European austerity: the various European Pirate Parties, Podemos in Spain and SYRIZA in Greece.
“Everything is connected,” Silke Helfrich says, in conclusion. “The commons are older than every state in the world and they have a future,” she adds. “The commons are the basis of an emancipatory society.”

From Wikipedia and Mozilla to urban gardening and food cooperatives, we can help build this emancipatory society by joining our local commons movement. Let’s continue putting that hope into practice.

Thank you for reading – I hope you found something here that was enlightening and inspirational. Come back tomorrow from 8am for more from Elevate #10.

CLICK HERE FOR PAY WHAT YOU LIKE DOWNLOAD OR £10 IN PAPERBACK

Elevate the Commons >> Elevate Festival 2014 from Elevate Festival on Vimeo.

Image © Jakob Isselstein

Creative-Response, Urban Exploration and Twitter

I am being edged out of participation in a society that communicates in the language of technology. In a couple of years, I predict that I won’t be an owner of a mobile phone. Already I am receiving messages from unknown friends that my non-smartphone cannot read because they (presumably) contain HTML, a language my phone doesn’t speak. Over the next couple of years, more and more communication will happen in languages that my phone cannot interpret, as more and more people start using smartphones and start to forget that there could ever be an alternative. Well over a billion smartphones have been sold in 2014 alone and, already by 2013, more than half of all American adults owned a smartphone, with over a million Google Android devices being activated every day.

In the next couple of years, my phone will become next to useless and I will become one of those people who are whispered about at parties – He doesn’t even have a phone.

Already I miss out on a vast amount of communication that happens over proprietary systems, driven by the smartphone technology boom. The average smartphone user checks his or her phone a hundred and fifty times every day, using an average of forty-one mobile apps. I don’t blame users for this, but it drives us all into the hands of the closed communication systems that are promoted on these devices.

SMS and email are open systems. In other words, anyone can send anyone else an SMS or an email; it doesn’t matter who provides them with the service. But not just anyone can communicate through Twitter, Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp, Instagram or any of the other communication tools that are supposedly at our service.

None of these “tools” is like a phone book. A phone book is a collection of telephone numbers attached to names that anyone can use to contact anyone else. How quaint. If you weren’t in the phone book, however, that didn’t mean that no one could contact you and it didn’t mean that you couldn’t contact anyone else; it just meant that your number was private. Facebook, to take the most popular example, is not like this. In order to contact someone on Facebook, you have to register with Facebook. Likewise, in order for someone on Facebook to contact you, you have to be registered with Facebook. It is a predatory system; it feeds off its membership; the more time you spend on Facebook, the more sustenance you give that mode of communication.

With well over one billion users, choosing not to be on Facebook is, to a certain degree, choosing not to participate in communication with those people. Facebook has around 1.35 billion active users. WhatsApp: 600 million; Instagram: 300 million; Twitter: 284 million; Viber: 209 million. Likewise, choosing not to have a smartphone is increasingly choosing not to be able to communicate with your friends. You can’t even use WhatsApp or Viber without a smartphone. I still have no idea who is sending me those unreadable messages.

As Shoshana Zuboff says, this is an illegitimate choice, it really is. Systems that used to be open and free are being fenced off and monetised. Email is open and free; Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are not. If you use Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, you can never communicate with me without contributing to the business model of these closed systems. There is a further risk, with the current threat to network neutrality, that a “First Class” internet will be established, excluding those like me who opt out.

What’s the problem with social media?

I concede that I’m probably in a minority who feel disgusted that Facebook are profiting from my communication with my friends; that they are mining my communications for data in order to more effectively sell products to me, my friends and family. British Telecom might have profited from my telephone calls to my friends back in the nineties, but my calls weren’t bugged, screened and fed back to me in the form of personalised advertising.

I think it’s important at this point to distinguish between the traditional way that advertising paid for “free” services and the way that companies like Google are able to provide “free” services. Cable television, for example, uses the traditional model: adverts are beamed in a fairly scatter-gun fashion at just about anyone who hasn’t bothered to switch over or get up to make a cup of tea. The advert hopes to influence your purchasing choices maybe tomorrow, maybe in a couple of weeks when you go shopping. Google, however, extracts data from you and can use that data to influence your purchasing choices directly, right now. There is a big difference.

But perhaps you feel like exchanging your data for “free” communication is a good deal. I accept that this is a price that many people are willing to pay for a “free” service. Fine, but there’s a lot more to my objection.

By using Twitter, I would not only be contributing to a business model that I fervently disagree with, I would also be shutting down options for other people. I would be adding my voice to communication that happens in exclusive, fenced off, proprietary and predatory spaces; rather than in inclusive, open and free spaces. That closed space keeps some voices out. The thought disgusts me. I don’t want to be a part of that clique.

But perhaps you feel like Twitter gives voice to more people than it excludes; certainly a lot more than are excluded by illiteracy or a military dictatorship2. Good point, but there is still more to my objection.

Twitter, it is worth pointing out, is not a democratic organisation. It is a business and will operate to extract the maximum wealth from us. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, WhatsApp, all likewise. There is no democratic oversight for these businesses, aside from government regulation. Unfortunately, these technology businesses have significant advantages over government regulatory bodies, namely much greater financial, computational and intellectual resources. More sinisterly, they are fulfilling a surveillance role for our more secretive governmental bodies that will always mean that regulatory bodies are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. But what, you might ask, is wrong with this hobbled regulation?

Well, as Shoshana demonstrated, perhaps the greatest consequence of the rise of these exclusive, fenced off, predatory, proprietary technology companies is the threat of the total erosion of democracy. As Shoshana explained, Google has pioneered a new economic logic: the company needs us as neither employees nor customers. If Shoshana is correct and democracy did indeed grow from the need for capital to employ labour, then what will become of democracy if the world is filled with companies like Google, vastly profitable, with a minuscule workforce? Google is the oligarchy of the internet age. Their only oversight is their “corporate mantra”: Don’t be evil4. Their clemency is extended on a whim. With annual profits of twelve billion dollars, a highly educated workforce with development interests including artificial intelligence and drone technology and a user base of one billion people, great evil is certainly within their power.

Beneath this threat lies the real problem: Google, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and all the rest make good products. That is the real problem, as Micah Lee identified. Because these products are so good, we are choosing this closed future for ourselves without really thinking through the undemocratic consequences of what Shoshana calls “surveillance capitalism”. And, as more and more people choose this future, it becomes harder and harder for people like me to choose any alternative. We either go along with the masses or we refuse to participate in mass society. Can you see the dangers inherent in these “choices” now? Sorry to employ the meretricious appeal to fascism, but the Germans chose Hitler.

Those without smartphones or a Facebook account already feel like an excluded underclass. Without a revolution in communication, it will only get worse.

How can we operate in this closing world?

Bradley Garrett is famous for taking a scenic photograph from the top of the Shard, Europe’s tallest building, recently erected on London’s riverside with buckets of Qatari money. The shot is famous primarily because the Shard wasn’t quite finished yet, it certainly wasn’t open to the general public and he was seventy-six stories up in the midnight air, peering over a ledge.

For obvious reasons, that photograph, and hundreds of others taken in equally adrenalin-pumping circumstances, became exceedingly popular on social media. I believe the term is “viral”. Popularity on social media led to a surge of interest from the mainstream media and suddenly Bradley’s night sport (and PhD research subject) of “urban exploring” was blown into the limelight. What Bradley was doing was not only borderline illegal, but it was also a great insult to the powers that would try to control our movements in the city. Bradley challenged the physical closed space in a spectacular, creative fashion that brought awareness of the enclosure to people who would otherwise have just gone on about their day. Creative-response.

I’m sharing this story because Bradley’s experiences with academia, social media and mainstream media can teach us something about how to get our message heard and change people’s perceptions of their world; precisely what we try to do at Elevate. “The only way to forge broader coalitions and get people talking about the politics of closed space and the control of narratives over our histories,” Bradley writes, “is to use the same techno-cultural media circuitry that is constantly entangling and distracting everyone.”

In other words: Never mind the threat to democracy, get a Twitter account.

Bradley, however, has one major caveat. “The danger here,” he says, “is that if you try to change the system from the inside, often what becomes changed is you.” Participating in a social media that encourages constant changing fashions, that advertises luxury goods, exotic holidays and foreign brides, will have a detrimental effect on your health and happiness.

Interestingly, given the dubious legality of his activities, Bradley is more afraid of the media than of the police. “While the authorities have largely failed to stop us,” he says, “the media is still working diligently to de-tooth urban exploration by buying us out.” Appropriately enough for a man used to evading the British Transport Police while running the Underground, Bradley has an escape route for the media as well. “Now that we have used their channels to broadcast our messages,” he explains, “it’s important that we slip the net and re-form as something equally inspiring and hard to pin down, and then reform again from another angle.”

Those words capture the essence of Antonino D’Ambrosio’s creative-response and his exhortation to be “flexible and fluid”. They could also be the beginnings of a battle strategy for using social media in the spirit of revolution.

1. Be hard to pin down. Do not give the social media corporations your life and livelihood; use an alias if you wish, lie to them.

2. Be inspiring. It is the message you communicate to us that is important, not the accumulation of surveillance data on social media servers. Use and abuse them to broadcast your message, not theirs. But you must make that message inspiring. It must be creative-response; it must speak with passion and with compassion. If it does not, then leave Twitter and keep working until you have something to say.

3. When your broadcast is over, burn your accounts without nostalgia or mercy. Be a citizen, not a “consumer”.

And, for pity’s sake, save your brainspace and use an ad-blocker.


The ideas contained herein are taken from my work with the Elevate Festival. The book of the festival is available now in paperback from lulu.com. It’ll be arriving before Christmas for download…

Things To Do When You Don’t Have A Computer #1: Get Chicken Pox

So you were wondering how my week without a computer went, right? Well, here’s a few ideas:

  • I enjoyed how I was able to relax. I wasn’t stressing over the constant clamour of the internet.
  • I wasn’t very productive. I didn’t do much writing. The computer is where I compose most of my short writing, or at least where I edit it.
  • I didn’t miss the computer’s power of entertainment. I had the radio and a hefty supply of good (and not good) books.

But this is all academic really because I’ve spent most of the last two weeks in bed, with grown up chicken pox.

Farcical.

I might as well make this post useful, so if you’ve got chicken pox, here’s what to expect:

Days -4 to 0

  • A developing fever and a sore throat. You’ll think you’re getting a cold. Little do you know what the universe has in store for you: two weeks of ugly.
  • You are now highly contagious, but you aren’t aware of that so you give it to all your mates. They’ll thank you in 10-20 days’ time.

Day 1

  • Discover funny little knobs behind head. Think that’s odd.
  • Feel feverish.
  • Feel sick.
  • Collapse on floor in a faint.
  • Wake up sweating, inside washing basket. Wonder how you got there.
  • Discover the first pustule.
  • Pustules multiply, popping up before your very eyes.
  • A strange weight on your chest makes you paranoid that you’ve also developed pneumonia. Keep an eye on that.
  • You indulge in lots and lots of sleeping.

Day 2

  • Pustules spread to legs, arms, back, face, and multiply on chest and everywhere.
  • A few spots are slightly itchy. Not compulsively itchy, just a slight throb, a feeling of bulge that is tempting to check out. Don’t.
  • Headaches persist through the day.
  • Hard to sleep at night due to discomfort of the pustules.

Day 3

  • The weight on the chest, the sore throat and the headaches might have eased a little.
  • Neck still aches though and you’ve lost your appetite.
  • Pustules are multiplying and itching at a low level, but just enough to make you constantly aware of them.
  • You try to have a shower to clean up a little, but can’t really do much actual cleaning because of vast number of pustules on your scalp. Your hair is matted. You consider dreadlocks.
  • Notice that some have burst and some are starting to scab.
  • Your face is burning and you think you might have accidentally burst a pustule in your ear. But it could just have been general grossness as you are now the ugliest you’ve been since you came out of your mother covered in blood.
  • No chance of sleep because your face is covered with exploding volcanoes. The night is the worst time for sleeping. Get some in the morning.
  • Fever seems to alternate with itching.

Day 4

  • Sleep in the day. Read. Twiddle thumbs. Listen to radio.
  • Get the shivers before going to bed.
  • Have heavy dreams, exhausting, fever and wake up with a headache and the sweats.
  • On the plus side: the itching is almost gone.

Day 5

  • Feel ill some of the day. 
  • Appetite definitely back as you eat a six-egg omelette with sauerkraut and ketchup (because that’s all you’ve got left in the cupboard).
  • Scared to believe that you have no new spots.
  • Try a bath with bicarbonate of soda – yeah!
  • Have best night’s sleep since Day 0. Still wake up three times for some sweats, but feel fine. Start enjoying the sweat.
  • You dare to hope that you’re over the worst.

Day 10

  • Tired with a headache all morning and afternoon. 
  • The pustules have mostly crusted over and are beginning to fall off, or get rubbed off.
  • You feel bored and lazy. This lassitude is now your biggest enemy.
  • You’re not contagious any more, but you still feel disinclined to go out in public in daylight.

Day 13

  • Worst of the scabs are falling off all over the place. Gross.
  • Your first day of full-on activity, like a normal person.
  • You’re still a bit ugly, though.
  • The worst of the scabs leaves a crater in your cheek.
  • The face ones seem to develop and fall off faster than the chest ones.

Day 16

  • Could pass for a slightly uglier version of yourself. People stop screaming when they see your face.
  • Just a few marks on your face that could be dry skin or normal spots.
  • Your chest still looks like leprosy. Don’t show anyone.
  • Still some itching against your clothes.

And still it goes on. Apparently chicken pox marks can take months to fully vanish – and, of course, some of them will scar you for life.

Enjoy!

How to Live With No Computers

As you read these words, I have been nine hours without a computer. For the first time in my life-long dependency on computers, I am going cold turkey. I’m not going to use the old bastard for the whole of the rest of this week.

Thank god.

I know this might sound like a ridiculous rich-world conceit, but I am way too reliant on my computer. It sucks into every pore of my life. I wake up with my computer, I work with my computer, I get headaches with my computer. My computer informs me, my computer entertains me, my computer frustrates me.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in – check email – breathe out.

And, to be honest, it’s rubbish. We need a break.

Why No Computers?

One of my ambitions in life is to be as self-sustainable as possible. For me, this means reducing my reliance on things that are not me. Relying heavily on external matter will only cause pain when they are taken away – as all things are one day.

I’m not saying that it’s not desirable to have these things – I rely on a lot of external things for my life and I am grateful for them. But, so far as I can, I want to know what it is like to not have. I might learn something useful through privation. What will I find to do without my time-sucking computer?

I have become so habituated to computers, that they no longer demand my imagination. They no longer get me excited. They are a default. I turn to my computer when I’m bored. I surf the net. I write an email. I surf the net again. When the internet isn’t working I might actually write something. Or play Hearts.

Without my computer to entertain me, I’ll have to think. I won’t have my default available any more. Maybe I’ll find something more interesting, maybe I’ll find something more useful, maybe I’ll find something more human to do.

So for the next week I’m not going to use my computer. It’s not a long time, but it should be enough to knock me out of my mindless reliance on the computer, stop me from taking the privilege of a computer for granted and teach me about what is really important, what is really necessary for my life.

What does No Computers mean?

  • It doesn’t mean I can’t type. I have a rather nifty little typewriter that I intend to do my writing on.
  • It doesn’t mean I can’t use other electronic equipment. I can still use my phone and camera, for example. It’s not a smartphone though, so no sneaky computer use there.
  • I’m not going to be an idiot about it. If someone else is using a computer and wants me to look, I’m not going to throw my hands over my eyes and run screaming. I’m just not going to use it myself. 
  • However, it does mean that I won’t be able to post on this blog any more this week. Not until Sunday night, anyway.


A slightly more extreme opinion on what I am doing comes from a 1987 essay by writer and farmer Wendell Berry:

“I would hate to think that my work as a writer could not be done without a direct dependence on strip-mined coal. How could I write conscientiously against the rape of nature if I were, in the act of writing, implicated in the rape? For the same reason, it matters to me that my writing is done in the daytime, without electric light.”

Extreme, but I sympathise with his argument and admire the stand he is making. Even though I’m not at total accord with his dismissal of the power of computers to spread knowledge (you can’t blame him for not foreseeing the role telecommunications would play in the recent revolutions in the Middle East) the rest of the essay is well worth a read: http://home.btconnect.com/tipiglen/berrynot.html

This article, written for PC World around 2002, is much closer to what I expect and why I am doing it: http://pcworld.about.com/magazine/2103p119id108732.htm