Impossible silences ⊗ Delinquent telephone activity ⊗ Under the big black sun — No.166

This week → Impossible silences ⊗ Delinquent telephone activity ⊗ Under the big black sun ⊗ Outgrowing software ⊗ Unlikely union between hackers & indigenous peoples

A year ago → The most clicked article in issue No.119 was What It Looks Like From Space When Everything Stops.

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

Unless I’m forgetting something, over 166 issues I’ve taken planned breaks for vacations, but otherwise never skipped sending this newsletter. One of the reasons is certainly the promise to readers, but close behind is the always fresh pleasure of that moment when, unplanned, two or more ideas click together and each makes more sense presented with the others. The first two featured pieces and the first Aside down below all click together that way for me, I hope they do for you too.

Thinking out loud this week, I might have had something like a good idea for a DIY research studio. Feedback more than welcome.


Impossible silences

Superb essay by L. M. Sacasas at The Convivial Society, where he attaches a number of Ivan Illich’s ideas. He’s considering silence as a commons, what that might mean, and how in-person silence might differ from online silence. This is very much a “read the whole thing” case but to give you an idea, the conclusion is basically that silence between people together can happen in multiple manners, mean different things, leave time to think, to consider, and can mean something all on its own. Online, we have none of that. Sure, you can decide to not say anything, but it’s definitely not the same thing as a considered silence person-to-person. The current thinking, that by communicating online we are having true human exchanges, is a big part of the problems we are currently facing in online public spaces.

I’d add that, of course the internet gives us access to many more people, sometimes finding friends and tribes we wouldn’t otherwise meet, but both the incompleteness of online communication and the access to more diversity can exist at the same time.

Henceforth the access to the microphone would determine whose voice shall be magnified. Silence now ceased to be in the commons; it became a resource for which loudspeakers compete. Language itself was transformed thereby from a local commons into a national resource for communication. […]

The ostensible promise of social media was that anyone’s voice could now be heard. Whether anyone would be listening has turned out to be another matter altogether, as would be the society-wide consequences. […]

“Just as the commons of space are vulnerable and can be destroyed by the motorization of traffic,” Illich went on to argue, “so the commons of speech are vulnerable, and can easily be destroyed by the encroachment of modern means of communication.” […]

[T]he temptation to be resisted, if I may put it that way, is that of reducing human interaction to a matter of information transfer, something that can be readily transacted without remainder through technological mean. This is the message of the medium, in McLuhanist terms: that, becoming accustomed to electronic or digitized forms of communication, I forget all that is involved in being understood by another and which cannot be encoded in symbolic form.

Delinquent telephone activity

Another piece I greatly enjoyed this week, this one by Rachel Coldicutt provides a nice useful overlap to the essay above, as well as the solid trend we’ve seen in the last couple of years of “the dark forest,” this surge in popularity of smaller communities online, looking for more private connexions. Coldicutt brings a new perspective, advocating for the occupation of technology with love, re-appropriating online spaces, and creating more “scenes.” She goes back to the original intended use of the telephone, how women redirected that to social purposes, and how technologies developed and framed by men, are often used quite differently by women. Here of course, we can also include many minorities and (sorry) connect this to Gibson’s “the street finds its own use for things.”

There’s a discussion going on, which I’ve linked to before, that looks more like a nostalgia for the open web, blogs, and the internet as it was, but here I feel it’s not a looking back, but more a purposeful appropriation of unsatisfying technology.

What do I mean by occupying technology? I mean, roughly, bending it to our will; taking advantage of its adaptivity to do something different. […]

Counterpublics are spaces of circulation in which it is hoped that the poiesis of scenemaking will be transformative, not replicative merely. […]

Rather than sliding ever more apart on the shiny slipstream of algorithmically driven interfaces, we can come together, we can all choose instead to be warm, and messy, and bend technology to our will. Our delinquent telephone activity can help to shape the present and the future.

Under the big black sun

Drew Austin considers our online alignment during the pandemic, and NFTs through Dean Kissicks phrase “we’ve voluntarily assumed the logic of the systems we’ve created, and organised our lives around them. We live in an algorithmically generated culture, and we are the algorithms.” As “everything” happens online and through apps, everything competes with everything. See the last quote below for the other part of his argument, and it’s a short read so if this line of thinking resonates, take the time to read.

As GameStop helped to clarify a couple of months ago, everything is simultaneously a game, an investment vehicle, and “content,” and domains that haven’t yet been pulled into this vortex soon will be. […]

When everything happens not only online but within the same apps and sites—when finance, art, politics, and friendship unfold on the same gamelike platforms—the remaining barriers that kept them somewhat separate fully dissolve and everything that had already been abstracted as content flows together in highly promiscuous ways, ultimately fungible even when it’s theoretically non-fungible.[…]

[I]f the internet itself is just a highly refined abstraction of culture, an accelerated and distorted image of humanity, we have to consider the possibility that all of this is just us being our vulgar selves—a truer representation of who we are than we’ve ever seen.

Outgrowing software

More and more, I’m walking away from very “business analysis of tech” content like this one by Ben Evans—for this newsletter anyway—but as a pair with the above, it’s an interesting representation of where we are in terms of software eating the world. Basically, tech companies used software to disrupt and replace existing titans, now we have new ones. Initially startups were “tech plays,” they turned into the same industries, just operating differently.

It’s useful to compare this to electricity, or cars and trucks. Walmart was built on trucking and freeways (and computers), but Walmart is a retailer, not a trucking company: it used trucks to change retail. Now people do the same with software. […]

But again, tech will change everything, but once the dust has settled the questions that matter will mostly be retail questions, not tech questions. What’s the product, how do you know about it and how do you get it? […]

The car industry probably created more millionaires in retail and real estate than in the actual car industry – making cars was just one industry, but mass car ownership changed everything else.

Unlikely Union Between Hackers and Indigenous Peoples

Great story in this article adapted from Ramesh Srinivasan’s (Professor of Information Studies and Design Media Arts at UCLA) book Beyond the Valley. In Oaxaca, Mexico, a community-owned organization installs telecommunication access in many remote villages, managing not only to reach them, but to offer cheaper pricing than the telecom giants. Also have a look for the sister organization, Rhizomática which I love for the two ideas behind its naming, and how the two orgs align with local culture, Mayan history, and the great metaphor of the snail.

What if, instead of thinking about user communities as customers, we were to elevate and humanize them as creative agents, innovators, owners, entrepreneurs, and designers of their own communication networks and technologies? […]

Can the rhizome help us imagine alternative technologies that balance power, warn our neighbors about hostile threats, respect the sovereignty of diverse communities, and allow us to learn from one another? These are questions that motivate Rhizomática’s efforts. […]

This cultural touchstone inherited from Mayan ancestors poetically captures indigenous ways of being and knowing — slow, circular, reflective, concentric — central to the lifeways and histories in the region.

Asides

  • 🤔 The notion that [the] future is a commons, and one that is best cared for in the present is both fantastically thrilling but also nerve wracking. Stewardship of the future is one of those things that’s non-deferrable. You carry the yoke, now, today. You build it now, today.” (One tweet)
  • 🇷🇺 📸 🤩 Gorgeous photography! Life at a Remote Russian Weather Station. “Vyacheslav Korotki is a man of extreme solitude. He is a trained polyarnik, a specialist in the polar north, a meteorologist. In the past thirty years, he has lived on Russian ships and, more recently, in Khodovarikha, an Arctic outpost”
  • 🇮🇹 🇯🇵 🧱 Why Roman Concrete Gets Stronger Over Time. “The way Roman concrete has been able to survive millennia is thanks to seawater dissolving the volcanic ash within its mixture, which leads to the formation of aluminous tobermorite. As this rare material is a crystal, it makes the concrete much stronger and more chemically stable.”
  • Oh my. 📚😍🤩🇳🇴 Kengo Kuma designs timber library dedicated to playwright Henrik Ibsen. “It will be built on a small park in central Skien alongside the Ibsenhuset – the city’s cultural centre and concert hall that is also named after the playwright.”
  • 🤯 😎 Cue David Caruso. “Enhance!” From the ACR team: Super Resolution. “[A]n advanced machine learning model trained on millions of photos. Backed by this vast training set, Super Resolution can intelligently enlarge photos while maintaining clean edges and preserving important details.”
  • 🇨🇳 🧱 China’s rural revolution: the architects rescuing its villages from oblivion. “We think of it as a kind of architectural acupuncture strategy, [i]n each case, we have tried to make something that restores the villagers’ pride in their local identity, as well as bringing in visitors and creating a local economic network.”
  • 🇦🇺 😍 Otherwordly pictures of the Reflective Saltscapes of Lake Eyre by Murray Fredericks.
  • 🇧🇷 😍 Illuminated Streaks Appear to Fall from Trees in Light Paintings by Photographer Vitor Schietti. “Each photograph frames the nighttime scenes in a dreamy, energetic manner as the glowing beams both outline and obscure the existing landscapes.”


Header image: Photo by Anastasiia Balandina.