Co-opting and Saturation

I read this study recently, about the inequality of online contributions. You should go read it as well, and then come back here. It’s easy to digest, and a quick read. You can even just skim it.

The first step to dealing with participation inequality is to recognize that it will always be with us. It’s existed in every online community and multi-user service that has ever been studied.

I wonder if there are studies on off-line communities, and if they show a similar trend. If you know of any, please post to comments.

Imagine if we could push people up this pyramid. What an incredible world we would live in, were more people to be creators, or at least to actively contribute in some way! Or at the least, we would be less fucked. I sincerely believe many of the problems facing humanity could be addressed if more people took an active role in their lives. Blame my socialist upbringing if you like. It’s why I worked (and continue to work) so hard at Jigsaw – creating an entry-level environment for n00bs to get their hands around a soldering iron before facing what can be rather intimidating robotics and the like. I gave a talk at Berlin-Sides in 2010 about hackerspaces being extroverted, and how it was an absolute necessity. Not for every group, but for at least some. We can’t just serve the people who already know, and request, what they want. We can’t just create a new class of elite. We have to welcome, and actively invite, lurkers to become editors; and editors to become creators. (Or do we? I am sad to question this assumption)

So while this pyramid might hold true for online communities, what about communities which simply do most of their interactions online? Makerspaces have become A Thing. Tech conferences are blowing further and further past their capacities (On what feels beyond an expected progression. I would love actual numbers on this if anyone has them). What is causing this? People wanting to have an active role in their lives? Is consumption finally not enough? Or is it just the new shiny?

Insert plug for the totally rockin’ Brainmeats podcast on Co-Option of Subcultures here. (Download mp3)

Regardless of the reason for the shift, one of the strengths of these movements has been that we all KNOW each other. We’re engaging in things that, while sometimes not inherently dangerous themselves, bring upheaval and unrest. And now that things are gaining traction and the public eye, we’re gaining mass like some sort of burgeoning star. How do we encourage the engagement of more people while not diluting the vision of what we are? As Johannes said at HOPE, “isn’t being elite part of being a hacker”? So how do we balance that necessity and functional form of seclusion with a wider vision of the world? How do we infect memetics without turning into homeopathy? Meaning: how do we actually change larger culture as it gobbles us up, while holding onto our ethos? Becoming diluted will not increase our impact.

This was my third DEFCON. Saw old friends, actually went to a few talks, and got into bed before 3a both nights (no lie!). This year was massive – over 10 thousand people. And we talked a lot, in continuation of HOPE, about what to do when your community gets huge. We’ve been way past Dunbar’s number for awhile now, but still broke into manageable group sizes. But now… there’s a worry, just like at Congress… what is “too big”?

Something I’d like to see: specialized, smaller conferences happening in tandem across a city. See the tracks that interest you, speak to the people who share your background. But at night, visit the people you know well and share what you’ve learned. You likely already work closely with friends who share your interests. Now see what patterns exist across interests.
Another thing I’d like to draw on: there are now more medical journal articles coming out than anyone could ever read, for many individual fields, and still have time to work. So what’s started happening is there will be academics who just read a bunch of those papers and pull out the meta aspects of them. Then practicing folk read those meta articles.

A small group of friends and myself hope to try out these methods next year in July. I’ll post about it soonish.

One of my favorite things is to meet someone who is inspired, brilliant, driven.. and realize that we have no overlap. That we aren’t going to be working together. I love that because there are so many things that need to be worked on, and I am but one person. That someone I can grow to trust, and who I respect, is working on one of those myriad aspects gives me a bit more hope for the world. We can continue to break down silos through communication, sharing, and transparency. We can balance that with diving deep into our specialized areas.

When conversing about all this with a dear friend, this was their response:

Profitable problems will always explode with magic-seekers. Computer hacking is now a profitable problem, and participation is accordingly weird.

There will always be too many interesting problems in the world and never enough people connecting to solve those problems. Valuing hacks over hackers helps, as does creating opportunities to gain social status by teaching others. I’m not worried about losing a unified vision because I don’t think there should be one. As for maintaining a community, decentralized networks of curious and creative people scale well. – Kaleen

Chaos Camp and What’s the Point?

20+ hours into travel (LAS->TXL), I watch the sun set over German forests. Two new friends sleep hard in the seats next to me, our luggage tucked under the seats. Cellos in my ears. Camp tomorrow.

Sitting in the woods, aircraft from WWII the Cold War (thanks, Skytee!) surrounding us. Chill acoustic music over the quality sound system (likely being played live a short walk away). Mate in hand, disco balls in trees. Every person I have met here is exceptional. Ever talk I have heard has been interesting.

As camp closes down, I feel like I’m doing the walk of shame back home from The Future. Unwashed, same clothes as the night before, the people I pass and I smile knowingly at me.
I’ve been walking and walking and walking. Finding tiny pockets of projects I hadn’t yet seen. The crepe robot. The lamayed fighter jet. The ammunitions bunker tiny rave. I haven’t slept yet since last night: there was a flash mob dance party that lasted 6 hours followed by a celebration party for going so long. There was Chinese tea service and stories in the Metalab tent in the wee hours.
I think it must be the sleep dep – people speaking moon language and wandering around in thongs and with bloodied eyes. There are fighter jets whose bombs have been yarn-bombed and a lounge on top of a tank.

But no.. It’s just Camp.

It’s not all party tho. I learned about electronic waste and more about bitcoins. I learned about my new favorite activist group, Telecomix. A lovely gent walked me through how to use sonar to make me brighter as people get closer to my bike. We’ve cooked, we’ve lugged pallets, bridged politics and hacked badges.

Was asked today what I’m taking away from life. Here are my thoughts on it:
Most mornings I wake up and I have to watch Carl Sagan videos on youtube. We’re all monkeys in clothes with language and illusions of grandeur. We have no purpose, but we can give ourselves purpose. I don’t know what answers are, but I can push to empower individuals in such a way that also makes stronger communities. I don’t think the biggest dangers will come in my lifetime, but I can help prepare for them. Shoulders of giants and all that. Ella and I get in fun conversations all the time about fighting for the survival of the species, or fighting for the advancement of the species, or just fighting for the diminishing of suffering while we’re around.
So.. taking something away? I don’t know about that. I’m learning. I’m fucking up. And I’m meeting amazing people who are far smarter and kinder and powerful than I am. And that’s an entirely enjoyable existence.

Something I love about Berlin and the European hacker scene is that there is an assumption of competence AND people tend to be much more politically minded. Of course you know what’s going on. You have an opinion on it. And you take action about it.

I could get spoiled about this.

Train Station!

even the train stations are awesome

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence

I made a post to Twitter last night about how I was thinking more and more that Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintencence is a crock of bullshit. Which sucks, because Sirus got me a copy with lovely graphic art on the cover7. While I summed up my response to “but why?!?!!!@” with a <140 character "Main Character Complex", here is the longer explaination. First, a disclaimer or two: I’m “reading” this via Audible, which I love. I do not have page numbers, but I can get you minute markers. And I have not finished it. One of my greatest joys of no longer being in school is that when a book sucks, I can put it away – I don’t have to finish it. So if he learns some great lesson, or the focus shifts or something, let me know and I’ll actually keep reading.

What at last did me in, so far as not being able to listen to any more: his discourse on Science. About how all science is ineffectual because (as his “ghost” narrative device discovered) so many hypothesis are born as you test the first one, and there’s no way to test them all, so you create this whole set of unknowns. And as science is about creating truths, and you can’t test all of them…
Wait, what? Science is about creating truths? Someone hasn’t been looking at science. Science is about proving things false. Something is considered true (but not a law) until you’re able to disprove it. Laws (like gravity) are so morally independent, so long established (ie, tested against), and so universal that Scientific Law basically equals Taken As Granted.5

This is just one example of the underlying viewpoint that upsets me about this book. “Oh, look at this insight I have. I am so clever. You should examine your world, too. Question things!” Which yes, you should constantly be questioning the things around you, but for fuck’s sake, the “insights” provided are bullshit, and unless you spend as much time (if not more) examining your own assumptions, questioning the world around you just becomes a wank session. And one that ends in loneliness and The Crazy, not what wank sessions should end with, IMHO.

So this brings us closer to my own insight about the book, and the narrator1. He’s a narcissistic piece of shit. Oh sure, he speaks about different methods of inquiry, but his language and approach are seeping with judgements about those methods. His “inquiry into values” is always in relation to his own set of values, and there is always implied (or stated) moral high ground.

And maybe this wouldn’t bother me so much, but for recent life interactions, and a long-lived pet peeve of mine: Main Character Syndrom. This is my own way of explaining narcissism without bringing up that loaded word. People with this syndrom believe that they are the main character. Anyone they interact with is simply filling a supporting role. Every interaction, every discussion, -everything- has to do with them. Because why else would it be happening? Common symptoms include taking everything personally, being confused when people act “out of character,” or having unreasonable expectations.

A sub category of this is what I lovingly refer to as Narrator Syndrom, where an individual realizes they’re not the Main Character but still imparts their world view on the interactions they have with others. Symptoms include imposing moral values3 and assuming purpose/projecting omnipitence4.

A solution:
Realize everyone is full of stories. Their own. That range from completely —completely— to mostly not about you. At all. Have nothing at all to do with you. An individual – one individual – has lived an entire life of experiences. Their life is just as (if not more) complicated as your own. Each individual is (mostly) internally consistent, has a set of values and goals which are legitimate (to them), given those experiences. Now think about how many other people live in your house, your apartment building, your neighborhood block. So many stories! AND YOU GET TO SHARE WITH THEM. We get to interact, to use that wealth of experience, to build our world. And that is what makes that individual insignificance so phenomenal. We are so much greater than the sum of our parts, as individuals and as a super organism.

1. I accept that the narrator might be the author’s own way of trying to get people to come to the realizations that I speak about here, so far as the meta level, narcissism, and examination. But if that’s what he’s going for, I already get it, and listening to someone experience it just hurts my fucking faith in humanity.
2. (Yes, I know there’s no 2 up there). I also hated Catcher in the Rye. Self-involved bitchfest. Whine whine whine with no constructive action in site.
3. Morals as opposed to ethics, which are malleable and socially based as opposed to dogmatic. One of the few things Freud was not completely bat shit about.
4. The assumption of knowing where the plot is going/all the factors in any interaction, so any other viewpoint is null.
5. I am not at all saying science should not be questioned. That is, after all, what it is for6. It is imperative to question the cultural assumptions which support some scientific analysis. And what we as a culture value of course dictates what we even DO science to.
6. Well, actually it’s for describing things which exist, but whatever.
7. <3 to Sirus, who gave me the disclaimer that he hadn't read it, but liked the art and thought it might be about motorcycles, which I do like.
8. (Yes, another footnote without a reference to it). All the individualism in my last paragraph is not to get postmodern on you. Through SCIENCE (also see above) we are able to know we have a shared reality and that we must interact within it. The point I’m getting at there is that all the individual pieces are separate but interactive. There’s a reason I have “we are the machine” tattoo’d down my back – we are all interconnected, and through that interconnection, our superorganism is self-guided.

And since this post is already so incredibly long, here is a video to make me not be so ranty, which beautifully sums up a lot of that wonder and interconnection. Thanks, melodysheep!