Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Past, present or tense?

Recently I had a stray thought. Suddenly I remembered my old schoolbook in Latin, and one of the most peculiar things about it: its seemingly random fascination with the word "circumspecto". At the time, it was just another Latin word, but with a bit of hindsight it has taken a rather strange turn.

It was one of those nicely laid out books, which introduced one thing at a time. Which is a phenomenal way to ease people into a language, but which also portrays the poor Romans in a rather strange way.

For one thing - didn't the Romans do anything else than just look around in general?

Page after page, the only thing that happened was something like this: Roman1 entered the stage and looked around (with successively increasing degrees of grammatical complexity), and after a while started talking to Roman2 for a bit. Exit stage. (If you are thinking the words "lazy writing", you are indeed reading my mind.)

If one based one's view of the Romans on this reading alone, one would quickly conclude that the most important aspect of the roman way of life was the activity of looking around at things. The political structure was based on this activity, and the constant expansion outwards was a direct result of the desire for new things to look at. But it was a very hands off process - they just looked at the barbarians until expansion happened, and then talked about it. Which, also, is the reason they loved rhetoric so much.

I am very tempted to turn this into a game. If only to be able to use the title  MYST - ROMAN SUPERVISION.

For obvious reasons.

Now, this ex post facto reconstruction of what I read back in the days is not very original. It may be rather contrary to common sense, and there is a slight possibility that I'm the only one to ever have thought about the Romans in that way. Yet I'm still not very original in my method.

This is, after all, how it always works with our human memory processes. When things happen, they just happen as they happen, and are transformed into memories by way of magic. After a while, these memories start to morph. One thinks about them, integrates them into one's new worldviews, and massages them to fit the more present tense.

That internal monologue is quite a remixer. Especially when we tell others about what happened in the past, since we like to add a few details to our telling tale. Spice it up, make it more exciting, take the drudgery out of how it really was.

Like the Romans, out past slowly becomes supervisionary. Or, rather, revisionary.

Depending on one's point of view.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The levers of no power

There are skills which have a rather limited number of applications. While sometimes brutally useful within these contexts, under any other circumstances the usefulness is zero. Literally zero. You don't even get the side benefit of having learnt things on the job - you just know this one thing, end of story.

The prime example of this is the skill of pulling a lever at just about the same rhytm for a solid eight hour work day. At the assembly line, this becomes a profitable skill to master - anywhere else, not so much.

Make no mistake - many a town has been built around the mastery of lever pulling. Limited as it might be, it's still brutally useful within the contexts that make them useful.

A side benefit of being able to ride a bike is the ability to go and explore places. Like, for instance, the still inhabited ruins of factory towns, where production ceased long ago but the inhabitants remained, living among the (sometimes very literal) ruins of a time long past.

Sometimes they don't even bother to replace the locks on the even older doors. And there's usually no lack of evidence of others who have paid a prior visit.

There is no lack of old, abandoned factories around this place where I live. And, moreover, there is no lack of lever pullers, who for one reason or another, overspecialized in the art of pulling to the point where all skill points were spent. Which might or might not be a problem - if I ever need a lever pulled, I know exactly where to go.

A bigger problem is that their kids go to the same schools as they did. Sometimes literally the very same school building (these are small places, after all), but more often than not in the very same type of school. The school until you work, where the prime objective is to produce workers with the skill set needed to work the job, pull the lever. Sometimes in the very same factory the parents worked in.

The sad part is that these young soon to be unemployed don't need me to tell them that the levers are broken beyond repair, and that the context where their hard earned skills were valued is even more broken beyond repair.

They know.

They, after all, live most of their lives taken out of context. Where the streets once had names.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The War on Terror, and why you have already lost it

At first glance, the war on terror might seem like a good idea. Keeping terrorism at bay, keeping us safe, building a safer tomorrow for us all!

First impressions are, more often than not, deceiving.

The thing about terrorism is that there is no such thing as "terrorism". No one is born a terrorist, there is no country by the name of "Terrorism", and unlike diseases it cannot be vaccinated out of existence. It is a tactic, a mode of operation, and as such it could happen literally anywhere. And thus a war on it would be a war on anyone who might resort to this tactic, which is pretty much everyone.

The war on terror is a war on people. Plain and simple. And you, my friends, are people.

Just think about it. Terror is not a proprietary tactic - you do not need a license, permission or even special training to use it. Anyone anywhere could potentially use it, and no increased safety spending can ever change that. If someone really wants to cause mayhem, they will find a way. And more often than not, the very measures taken to prevent terrorism provides ample opportunity to do it more effectively.

It is, for instance, far more effective to bomb the queues to the TSA inspection units than to bomb an actual airplane. The net result is more people hurt, and more latent fear in the air. Which is the whole point of the terrorist enterprise.

And the constant reminder that there is reason aplenty to be afraid only serves to help the terrorists in their endeavor.

The war on terror is, in effect, the best thing any terrorist could hope for. Not only does it make it easier to cause terror, it also makes it more likely to happen. Each and every effort to increase security by removing rights or freedoms is one more reason to resort to terrorism in the first place.

Those who make peaceful change impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.

And whether or not that revolution comes, you lose. One bit of liberty at a time. Not in a potential future, but today. And every day that public policy is based on fear of the people, instead of the welfare of the people.

You lose. Your move.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The production of space

Space is a funny thing. You would think it was something that just was, in general. Something that just was, in order for other things to move through. The precondition for things, moving and the intersection of the two.

This view of space makes a phrase like "the production of space" seem somewhat absurd. How can you produce something that is already there? How can you produce something that is needed for things to be in the first place? Indeed, for the first place to be at all?

We can get out of this headscratcher in two ways. The first is the IKEA solution - just think about all the ways you, somehow, can transform your living area into a giant storage facility in disguise. With a lot of anger, assembly time and frustration that there is one screw missing - space happens.

It would be rude to call it effortlessly. But space happens - because we made it happen. Produced it.

The second way space is produced is socially. The clearest example of this is when a theatre is built, and a stage is defined. Only certain people can occupy that space at certain times, and at these times the people occupying that space take on a very certain meaning.

Remember what Shakespeare said about the world? All the world is a stage! And all those places we visit every day follow suit, as stages. Or, rather, as produced spaces, with certain meanings at certain times. Schools, factories, work places, public places - all produced spaces, constructed with more or less intention to them. They are more than just space in general, and follow different rules then, say, an abandoned parking lot.

Which, incidentally, is also a produced space, with its own rules.

Whis is, of course, not a radical thought. Anyone who behaves differently in a bar and in a library know this, and it would be rather radical to not know it. Though I will refrain from speculating on whether it is worse to bar-behave in a library or the other way around.

What has made (and makes) the Occupy movement so effective is its brutal remixing of public space. We all know how public space is, and we all know that despite its name it more often then not is all but public. By breaking unwritten (and sometimes written) rules, they bring to light the conditions under which we make use of our not so-public spaces, and forces us to ask ourselves - who owns the city? Who is this public whose space it is?

The biggest crime of Occupy is not the destruction of space, but the production of it. And it is my hope that it will continue to produce open, public and most of all new spaces.

It would be a rude awakening indeed to find that there are no possible new spaces. Let's make sure this does not happen, shall we?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sharing

Sharing is telling someone about something.

Sharing is creating an experience with someone.

Sharing is cooperation.

Sharing is the making of friends.

Sharing is linking.

Sharing is helping those in need.

Sharing is expression.

Sharing is the freedom of action.

Sharing is the act of freedom.

Sharing is the essence of the art exhibition.

Sharing is exhibiting essence.

Sharing is the eternal moment of now.

Sharing is giving.

Sharing is recieving.

Sharing is both of the above, at the same time.

Sharing is what makes the world go 'round.

Sharing is right, right now.

Sharing is caring.

We share this world.

Share it with care.

Small Conspiracies

It is somewhat of a secret, but every day there are thousands of small conspiracies going on around us. Small groups decide to do things together - be there at x o'clock, bring that particular item, and do that thing! Oh, and say hi from me!

A slightly larger secret is that it is easier than you think to conspire. All you need is two people getting along, and the conspiracy is in action.

Most people think of grand schemes and large scale machinations when the word "conspiracy" is used, but that is just the dramatic version. Most conspiracies happen in day-to-day life, in circumstances where people such as you and me can play the head role. And since we can play the head roles in our conspiracies, we just might also be able to pull them off.

One of the most common of these small conspiracies is, of course, when a group of friends comes together to surprise someone on their birthday. Birthdays are days when the rules of normality are not as strict as they use to be, and thus it is socially permissible to conspire a tad bit more than any other day of the year.

They are days when everything conspire to come together.

Most people think of grand schemes and large scale processes when thinking of conspiracies. Powerful people lurking in the shadows, pulling invisible strings and making things happen as if by magic. But a conspiracy doesn't have to be grand to make things happen. A small conspiracy can have effects just as big - if not bigger!

Like, for instance, a conspiracy to go out on a date with someone.

A date is a smaller deal than many make it out to be. One usually do things that one would have done anyway, with the only difference being that there is this particular person present. A small change, a small conspiracy - which just might have large changes in its wake.

You need less than you think to change the world. Usually all you need is a small excuse to get you going. Like a birthday. Or a date. Or - you name it!

A conspiracy doesn't need to be large. Change doesn't have huge either. Nor does it have to be a big project with massive preparations. Sometimes, it's enough to just be a couple of friends setting out to play the lead role in their own conspiratorial drama.

Life is a story where you and your friends are the protagonists. And all those things you do when you conspire - that is, after all, life.

New optimism, February 6, 2011

Read/write/power

Writing is a strange thing.

It transforms the world. Once you get to a certain level of proficiency, things don't mean what they mean anymore. They rather start do mean what you make of them - they bend to your will, if you only know how to bend them.

Which, of course, means different things, depending on if you are the person writing or the person reading.

Being a writer, you can take just about anything and remix it into a new context. Which, once you figure out you can do it, is a powerful tool to use and misuse. Suddenly, things are not what they seem, and even the seeming can be remodeled with the addition of more words. Whatever is, is not as given as mere acceptance would have it to be.

It is not out of place to call it a sense of power.

Being a reader, you do not feel this, in any sense. You are, as it were, left to others' literary or rhetorical devices. Text is something that comes in packages, and that has to be processed as is. They confront you, rather than the other way around.

It is not out of place to call it a sense of powerlessness.

Replace 'writer' and 'reader' with 'producer' and 'consumer', and strange things happen to the way you look at the world. Not only when considering that many politicians have gotten into the habit of calling citizens consumers, but also when considering that many citizens have gotten into the habit of writing.

Back in the olden days, when the conditions for those who wanted to write with any amount of readership were such that any aspiring writer had to go though endless hoops and tribulations to get anywhere, the distinction between producers and consumers made more sense. The rift was large enough to exclude most people from the act of writing in public, and made even larger by the mindset that it is useless to put effort into learning to write because of this rift.

Only people who can get readers have any use of the skill, after all. And why waste time on something that won't benefit you?

Now, of course, things are a tad bit different. The fact that you are reading these words, right here, right now, is proof enough that the act of public writing is far easier done than said nowadays. But that mindset, that way of viewing writing as a skill that only certain professions and weirdoes have a need to master - it prevails. Lives on.

There are many walls that need to be torn down. Some are brute, physical, like the one in Berlin. Others are more subtle, social, and need a more recontextualizing approach.

Fortunately, the writing is already on the wall. Unfortunately, writing on walls is still considered a crime.

 In oh so many readings of the word.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Copyrighted shortness of breath

There is no shortage of the world. And, with the internet, we are able to discover more of it, faster. And, moreover, we are able to tell people about what we've found.

Lots of people. Fast.

These two things might seem somewhat unrelated at first. There are many things in the world, and people can tell each other about them. What's the connection?

As with so many things, there is always a connection. In this case, you only have to think about what it means to live in a big world. With emphasis on the word "big".

So big, that it is very possible to go through life not knowing about things in it. In fact, it is more than likely that most of us will die without knowing about most of the things in it - much less spending time with these things.

People are, therefore, rather picky when it comes to these things. Not by choice, mind you, but by underlying design - they simply die before having the chance to get the full experience.

Which, of course, is why marketing exists. Marketing is a way of telling people about something they might not be or even become aware of. Because it is a very real possibility that they haven't got the faintest idea about the particular thing being marketed. Which is brutally bad for business.

Connection established. Big time.

With this in mind, we might want to rethink how we understand certain new developments, such as file sharing. There is no lack of people who are up in arms about how artists, writers and other creative/creating persons are not getting paid when people are listening, watching or beholding their work for free. Which makes intuitive sense - the traditional model has always been that paying customers make things happen, after all.

The thing is, though, that with this internet thingy around, it is suddenly a whole lot easier to get a hold of things. Even if we eliminate piracy completely from the equation, there is still enough free stuff around to last for at least a lifetime. Blogs are aplenty, YouTube exists, and if you ever get tired of that you can always play with this thing called "social media". And the world outside is still as large as it ever was.

Suddenly, the question is not whether or not people will pay. Rather, it is whether or not they can be bothered to care.

As a general rule, people who can't be bothered to pay attention are not very likely to pay anything else either. Time is, rather literally, money.

The upside is that it is also a whole lot easier to get a hold of people, too. And that they are more than keen to get a hold of each other, and - even better - tell stories about that awesome new thing they just happened to find. Which, given the size of the world, probably isn't that awesome new thing you just created.

But it could be. If they knew it existed.

Give people a reason to care. Give them time to care. Give them your work for free, and then provide them with ways to give back to you. Through Flattr, Paywithatweet or - best of all - an offer they can't refuse. An offer to buy more of what they've just seen and loved.

Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short. Use it or lose it.

Regarding Flattr

We all travel across the internet. The mode of transportation is, of course, teleportation via hyperlinks, yet we travel anyway. Hopping. From site to site, page to page, in search of whatever gem of interest our minds may have conjured up.

Sometimes we even find what we are looking for.

More often then not, though, we find something else. Most of the times, this is somewhat of a disappointment - we were, after all, looking for something else. But on rare occasions, this something else we just found is so awesome that this doesn't matter - the sheer combination of awesomeness and serendipity more than makes up for our misplaced expectations.

Now the question is - now that we've found this piece of awesome, what do we do with it?

There are of course the basics. Giving it the Facebook thumb of approval, the Twitter (re)tweet of sharing, and the it of Reddit. But these things, while natural and rather straightforward, are still only the staple wares of the social media environment. While important, they still don't convey the sense of "oh my god this is so awesome I could like it THRICE!" that the more awesome things stir in us.

Enter Flattr.

There are two ways to describe Flattr. One of them is that it is an easy-to-use tip jar, for universal use all over the internet. Any page that supports html - which is to say just about all of them - can sport a Flattr button. And any page that sports a Flattr button can receive a virtual tip from users who find that page good enough to have earned it.

This description is problematic. For one, it's real money that changes hands. But moreover, it places the focus on the money, and not on the most important aspect of it all.

The people.

The other way to describe Flattr is to say that it's all about people. People like you and me, who teleport around on the internet in search of things. Who sometimes find good stuff, stuff good enough to warrant a more generous thanks than ye olde facebook-like. Who, when we do find these gems, would like the option of pulling out the big gun when it comes to social liking.

Pulling the social trigger, so to speak.

Now, these two ways of looking at it are of course at work at the same time. It's not just a oneup of the other like-buttons, it's also a way to integrate passive income into the lives of people who do good things without necessarily selling their services. Like bloggers, for instance.

There is an old saying that simply being famous doesn't pay the rent. Which it doesn't. But with the internet, and the ability to connect people with each other, it certainly helps - especially if there is an easy way to say "here you go" when you stumble upon someone who's made something awesome.

Pull the trigger. Tip the jar. Make a difference for those who made a difference to you.

The Name of the Game

There is a new religion on the block. And it does not want your money. It does not want you obedience. It doesn't even care about whether you have sex or not.

It only wants you to think. Not about anything in particular, but the world in general.

The central tenet is that there is no shortage of the world. While there may be shortages of various kinds in the world, the world itself is in a state of abundance. As you will find out pretty soon if you try to walk from point A to point B, instead of taking the tube or pedaling a bike.

It takes forever, doesn't it?

And during this taking of time, you may find yourself discovering all manner of things in the spaces between points A and B. You may, for instance, find shops, caf├ęs or forgotten places. Places that you on any ordinary day just rushed past, preoccupied with the telos of B. Places only discovered by the act of slowing down and paying the world some much needed attention. And, if you happen to have time to spare, you might even pay these places an unexpected exploratory visit.

Given time, the world is rather large.

The thing about the real world, we are often told, is that its prime feature is scarcity. There is never enough x - never enough money, food, time, you name it. And, should you believe the spokespersons of the marketplace, the only thing there is no shortage of is things you want but don't have.

Think about this. Is it so very strange that the discussion about file sharing - and about the ability to instantly copy just about anything an infinite amount of times - so very often degenerate into the discussion about how some marginal corporations are going to make a living?

When confronted with abundance, a culture overly focused on scarcity will find ways to make the abundant scarce.

There is a new religion on the block. Kopimism is its name, and its central tenet is that there is no shortage of the world. And that the highest purpose in life is to take of this abundance, remix it, and share of it to all who would listen.

To remix it to the streets, as it were.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Transitions

It is an open question whether it is easier to start something new, or to transition into it. On the one hand, getting started is always a challenge in its own right - social and/or psychological inertia has its way to slow things down before they are even started. On the other hand, the same goes for a transition, with the added worry that established habits tend to stay established.

In my case, we have the good fortune to witness both at work at once. In more ways than one. Three, to be precise.

The most obvious transition is, of course, the language. It is not a barrier as much as a matter of practice - and as we all know, practice is skill. Writing in one language is pretty much like writing in another. Structure, planning, research and all that is pretty much language-neutral. But the nuances, idioms, turns of phrase and subtle shiftings in expected grammar - these are things that need to be learnt by doing.

So doing is the first thing on the agenda. Followed by learning.

Another obvious transition is this new blog thingy. Every blog is a new context, and over time it matures into somewhat of a genre of its own. While there are similarities between blogs, no two blogs with an intention behind them are alike - even when written by the same author. The collective weight of previous posts makes demands on the writer, in part because of what the readers have come to expect of future posts. And, in part, by the habits the writer has created in the course of writing.

It remains to be seen which habits will carry over from previous blogs, and which will have to be abandoned during the learning and doing.

The third transition is not only obvious - it is also the whole point. Switching from one language to another is not only a stylistic matter, but also a switch in who will be able to read. Lokalspeek has, in the grand scheme of things, a very limited number of readers, and if my intentions were to keep writing just for my existing readers I wouldn't have to change anything at all. But now, I will have to rethink my relations with my new audience.

Which, for all intents and purposes, is you. Whether you read it while this is hot off the virtual press, or in some distant future we have yet to invent.

Hi. Nice to meet you.

Valentine's Day

The thing about humans is that we create communities. And traditions, both communal and personal. Sometimes these traditions coincide, sometimes not.

Interesting things tend to happen in either case.

In my case, I have this tradition of starting a new blog every year on Valentine's Day. Whether the world needs one or not - it's a ritual of love for the written word as much as it is a continual process of renewal.

If being is doing, then doing the same thing year in and year out is maybe not the best thing to be.

Which takes us back to the roots of tradition. Tradition is, in part, doing the same things year in and year out. With proper variations on theme, of course - people, circumstances and the world changes over time, and it would be asking the impossible to ask them not to. But in principle, a tradition is a present rendition of the past.

The key point is how we vary these themes. And how much we allow our fellow human beingdoings to vary their presences.

Many prepare for Valentine's Day by sticking to the script. Doing the bare minimum, going through the motions, getting it over with. Every year. Which might be the limit of what's possible, given people, circumstances and the world. Not everyone has the time, the means or even the motivation to make it grand on this particular date each year. Sometimes, you just find yourself in that big project and can't release yourself of its grip in time.

Such is life.

The thing about Valentine's Day is that it's more of an excuse than a must. Any day can become a day of love, after all, and having February the fourteenth marked in the calendar doesn't change this.

But then, every day can become a day of sticking to the script. Doing the bare minimum, going through the motions, getting it over with.

Don't just settle with remixing today. Remix every day -  like it's the last variation of the theme of life. Or the first.

This post is crossposted in two languages. You can read it in lokalspeek here.

Hello world

I recently began a rediscovery of my wardrobe. It contains clothes from many previous incarnations of me - and if you know what to look for, you can read between the seams. See what was used when, and probably where and how too.

If you know what to look for.

If you don't, it probably looks more like the random assortment of clothing that it actually is, casually put together during the not all too planned passing of lifetime. And a casual perusal would not reveal any semblance of order, progression or - indeed - sensibility whatsoever.

It just is. Ready to be put to use in a new now, or to be put away yet again to that inevitable later. Most of it will.

I had no taste when I bought most of it, after all. Though I had to be tasteless for a worryingly long time to find out.

Such is life. And such is blogging.

And as a blogger, you do indeed collect quite a wardrobe of experiences. If you stick to it long enough, you might even get a sense of taste - of how, what, why and when. And when life throws a situation at you, you know what garments to unpack from the dark, forgotten interior of your past. And, more importantly, what to wear to be dressed for that success that may or may not deign to happen.

Most of my outfits so far are distinctly local. The seams are sewn in lokalspeek, one of those very obscure techniques of word weaving whose very obscureness makes a hipster cry. Of joy or pain is, of course, not all too clear, but it is enough to rip open a tear in the flow charts. One simply cannot go with the flow when one is standing on the beach, and one cannot fish weaving a net result.

So - here goes. Leaving the safe shores of terra firma, taking with me only a ridiculously oversized wardrobe of remixable clothes, getting into new situations and finding out what the locals find appealing. And, possibly, getting some new additions to the unsorted mess of me - maybe even trying on a couple of wings, just for the heck of it.

Hello wardrobe. Hello world.

It is very much time for the two of you to meet each other.