On Collaboration and Digital Materials
by Paul Harrison
Free. Online. Radically. Collected. Education is an online entity consisting of a motley group of creative animals seeking to reinforce the web’s potential for supporting new and healthy politics. Grounded in the belief that to maintain a free internet we have to work as a community that values every voice rather than kneeling to the rule of law a sell your labour and sell your self attitude. That is screaming: me, me, me, me, or I, I, I, an I- consciousness rather than a you and an ours. Amidst this false love of self and dogmatic capitalist oppression of anything that may be remotely common or communal, it is hard to maintain an active resistance to the intoxicating lure of mass produced images. How then are we to maintain an optimum amount of lucidity when it is so easy to become ‘plastered’ with all the LARGE information and BIG data, we have parked on our eyeballs? Our question then is how to collaborate or share, to communicate, and to have communal ownership over what we are posting and what has been posted. A goal we should be striving for this however is under threat, make no mistake that the freedom we have in communication in our social networks and digital platforms is not universal it is very much a habitat of the west. These past years we have experienced mass civil unrest as usual the same lines are being drawn poor are poorer the rich are richer – a story which this time is different because of collaboration. Authentic attempts in democratic activism are what inspire F/O/R/C/E; this essay explores the strange environment and character we seek to call the home for our work.
To avoid misinterpretation lets use two examples of selflessness that are now interwoven into digital attempts at activism. The internet would not be what it is today without it’s culture of open source (a free form of collaboration whereby developments in code are shared freely regardless of author) this method of working had it’s champions foremost of which stood Aaron Swartz, a man who championed free communication and a freeing up of access to online education. His suicide is something that should deeply trouble America because he was ruthlessly prosecuted for spreading digital documents for free, bearing in mind that this is the individual who developed RSS 1,0 web syndication, the structural component that enables websites to share information. That alone is a great legacy however Aaron was incredibly productive from a very early age he co-founded the company Creative Commons and will remain an icon for advocating for access to free information and its tools of digital distribution. In the face of his abandonment by the then spineless Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the prosecution and charge of a million dollars and thirty five years in prison, his final decision to end his life. Has to be seen as containing very unsettling questions about the nature of economic control and influence over online behaviour, look at the way in which the need to expand to have ownership comes often with catastrophic consequences – phone hackers don’t get such a level of disrespect?
Thats because they where journalists (apparently) and just doing there job, of course highlighted by the failed takeover of Bskyb, by the Rupert Murdoch owned farce of a franchise called News Corporation. If this English example of the tension between capital and new online conversation is not enough for you to begin pondering your position then lets delve further. Let’s look at another individual who whilst working collaboratively at Bletchley Park during World War Two, as a member of the code breaking team deciphering Nazi messages that turned the face of the biggest of conflicts, Alan Turing worked on concepts that literally resulted in contemporary cybernetics and technology. It is stupendous that her royal highness took so long to pardon this innocent genius from the idiocy of then homophobic laws. The fact that both of these characters committed suicide after being illegally pursued by their respective governments after being core members of communities that worked towards positively shaping how we now live our life’s should never be forgotten. As it appears to us that their achievements where solely off their own back, however what is really highlighted is the question of what madness happened or took place around these chaps that ostracised them to the point of despair is this the limits of any collaboration? Are we to believe that these similarities are not to be found lurking feeding of long worn out capitalist patterns, are our collaborations of the future to carry these sad occurrences?
No, they are not because we are not going to forget what these two would have more than likely described as the most important process in the realisation of their perspectives and concepts. That is ‘collaboration’ without it the accidents, disagreements, and ideas that will shape present experience may never see the light of day, an otherwise wondrous discourse then has to die. As a discussion Blogging or ‘Web Logging’ has been around for many years but its core structure is a chronological process of allowing, a clear unbridled transmission of a logical use of public reasoning. Today it is second nature to blog, it is an extension of our daily behaviour and it will become ever more important as an attack on the notion of private intellectual property is coming, it is still in the pipeline. Politicisation of digital material has been slowly developing in tandem with shifts in our understanding of our current situation, on the one hand starved off the promise and premise of consumerism. Which is the practice of defining one’s existence through the products and brands that you support and buy into, rather a statement of ‘I am what I own’. Whilst turning to the other palm we discover events such as the use of google maps by activists and student protestors to avoid aggressive police kettling (herding) techniques by using satellites to swiftly avoid the cops, the speed that digital matter can travel has altered any possible politics! The scenes of the crimes of those wanting inequality who desire a superiority are to be overcome.
The manifesto of the Occupy movement was never written down it did not need to be, the call for action resonated around the globe powering through the blockade of all the imperialist media. That is because it was a cross platform meta-emotional demand for a dis-functional, disrespectful, and parasitic economic structure to be altered in the image of the new digital ‘# generation’. To actualise this claim we have to divert, convert, and subvert or uproot perceptions on digital material. This is a hard task to visualise and entertain but we have to because the fact that the occupy movement sang a loud epitaph for capitalism, a bi-product of which was the axiom of the 99% against the 1%. This thought derived from revolutionary moments like Tahir Square in Cairo, revolutionary in the mass mobilisation of all classifications of the public and revolutionary in how the impetus for action was generated. Through digital networks the denouncing of illegitimate governance has been ignited but it has been burning slowly, worryingly so, and if we are to come to the conclusion that we are living through a failed revolution. Then the haunting words of the Frankfurt School thinker Walter Benjamin should be seen in a serious light ‘every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution’. This is not to suggest that here in the United Kingdom fascist tendencies like those found in Ukip will solidify and accumulate, resulting in real political influence but it is a fact that this evil is on the increase. It is only kept at bay if we keep engaging in discussion that is an open and free flowing madness.
So how do we keep this pressure striving towards emancipatory positions aimed at creating a more just community and a functioning system? We use our digital materials and the new environment we grew up with, the digital environ which is known as the Blogosphere, to directly combat perverse attempts to manipulate the technology we are becoming more and more attached to. Make no mistake the digital mirror (internet) of real life events is the reflective material that we should acknowledge as the battle ground for the ‘rule of all for all’ (democracy). This ever elusive experiment in equality that is so easily blurred by an increasingly greedy society of oligopolies that are busy attempting to infiltrate government to gain more influence over markets. Such is the antithesis of all that is needed as we move towards new problems that have been created by mis-collaboration, a shadowy process, the financial manipulation of people. You can see a huge disenchantment with this currently online with the rise of the hacking group Anonymous, who whilst operating under the iconic anti establishment mask of Guy Fawkes demonstrate new modes of resisting. Although you will not see F/O/R/C/E with such deep mascara our path is less aggressive but equally as radical in that it’s still an attack on value. Our project is about redefining the very idea of intellect because we deeply understand that there are huge devisions in education both student and teacher are working with a strong unhealthy value.
The value of set curriculum non fluid test based modes of educating human beings no longer hold any substance for us. This can be summarised under the question what value does education contain outside of collaboration? It is the process of collaboration that provides the moment of understanding the missing component in the politics of the mass struggle for meaning. When your overburdened with debt it becomes difficult to imagine starting a new blog which will somehow make life more meaningful beyond finance and monetary problems. However the thing is it will and what is even better is that you can invite people from anywhere on the planet when you post a review and a thought it is also an invitation, your action carries a suggestion. It says I feel and think this, what do you think? This is what needs to be thought of as a healthy definition of collaboration which both maintains an individual amongst a multiplicity of voices. This is what puts our reliance on the digital realm as a col-laboratory of re-thinking the channels of legitimate authentic demands such as free education and an open political public, into thought. A channel that we are focusing on is the video channel our agenda is to occupy Youtube and Vimeo, maintaining what we today shall label the Ourtube. So it is F/O/R/C/E’s implicit goal to create the most open, eclectic, diverse, mad, bad, rad, sad, upbeat, on beat, uplifting archive available today; we face difficult hurdles ahead of us that is why we push for mass collaboration.
The barriers to this are not primarily philosophical however we have new notions that are barging their way into our collective perspective like the strange idea of the Post-human. Some reaction to Postmodernity losing its buoyancy in contention with Slavoj Ẑiẑek’s idea of ‘there is no Big Other’ you have to be your own master, this statement can be used to further grasp what one is blabbering on about. This call for self mastery is the philosophical bar, from the ancient greeks through all of the greatest of ponderers: Nietzche, Hegel, and Descartes encourage this aspiration. How does this relate to collaboration? Well it is good to understand that these thinkers came to their realisations because of collaboration, this is to say that whilst in conversation (in communion) with someone and something. A wonderful thing happened that is essential to successfully collaborating, they fell into disagreement, disagreements create thoughts, enthusiasm and energy. It is in this spirit that we attempt to function as an entity of moving parts never at home in dogmatically interpreting cold academic jargon tied to capitalist interests. Adopting a Cartesian vocabulary as human beings we are neither res extensa (extended thing) or res cognitas (thinking thing). It is these two behaviours that F/O/R/C/E is swimming amongst, it is a spectrum and a frequency to be also found online. You can see this when the internet changed from centralized one-to-many systems to the decentralised many-to-many topography of network communications.
Lets then make sure the internet remains so by collaborating?
The above text was published & edited in Issue Collaboration: Temper Press, Manchester, 2014.
Image, taken from the image bookmarking site fffound, author unknown.
This work was submitted by Paul Harrison on 8 August 2014.