By R.U. Sirius
When Doug Rushkoff started planning the “Contact Unconference” it may have seemed like a “Hail Mary” pass taking place in relative political and social isolation. Contact would bring together a gaggle of edge culture social and technological hackers, makers, and theorists dedicated to many of the ideals and sensibilities that attracted so many of us to the net all those years ago — the flattening of hierarchy; the democratization of communications media; an uncensorable space; a public commons of minds uncontaminated by commerce or by mega-surveillance by government and those who want to commodify identity. In other words, as Rushkoff noted in his book, Program Or Be Programmed, this would be — in some ways — the net as it was conceived of (and participated in) by so many of us before the “Web” expanded and offered the opportunity for all aspects of the contemporary socioeconomic/political clusterfuck to locate in cyberspace.
Not that this was an entirely obscure idea. Any number of projects have been in process to liberate the internet from the last vestiges of commercial and state centralization. People have been working towards a net where each node was truly autonomous (no cable company or etc. between you and your access) for several years. Contact would bring together these sorts of projects with other projects aimed at those same goals: flattened hierarchies; transparency for systems and the powerful; privacy for the individual; free speech for everybody… you know the drill.
But between the conception of Contact and the event on Thursday October 20, something big happened. Occupy Wall Street. And as a result, Contact took on a new sort of intensity — seeming almost like “tech support” for a new political movement that was practicing these sort of left anarchist ideals a couple of miles away in Liberty Plaza.
The one day event, taking place in a beautiful old synagogue converted into a social center on NYC’s lower east side, was all a somewhat frantic cauldron of activity during which people formed three different work groups dedicated to actually making some projects that fit the model actually occur — something of a rarity in these days of easy ideologizing and constant distraction.
Being old and always meta-skeptical, I couldn’t help but smirk at the degree to which many of the participants had turned this broad ideology into an absolute. A particularly memorable moment during one of the larger public discussions illustrates this. Someone had suggested the development of a technology. From the stage, Doug Rushkoff narrowed down the proposition. Paraphrasing: “So you’re saying we should make thus-and-such for people.” Someone shouted: WITH people!” Doug amended it to “for and with people.” And the person still shouted insistently: “WITH people!”
Now that insistence is silly in so many ways that I don’t think I even need to explicate for my intelligent readers but it does stand as an example of what can happen when an ideal becomes totalistic and when people start believing that it applies to all things at all times in all place and in all situations. But I’ll not worry that for now since these ideals and projects can’t help but be a good influence as they engage with their opposites.
Go here to check out the projects that emerged at the top of the heap in a democratic process. I mean, you’ve gotta love “Kick-Stopper,” right?