Guest Post: Hacking and Alt Economies at ISEA2012

Upon entering the ISEA2012 main  exhibit venue, the Albuquerque Museum, I felt as though I was in a more intellectual, less drug-addled 1960’s. No psychedelic guitars, instead sounds of beeps from the solar birds and the blooper music machine from Mark Hosler of Negativland.

Hosler was the first keynote speaker. He went through the history of Negativland, a hacking sound-collage collective mostly dealing in social criticism and humor, or “culture jamming.” Most noted for lifting the music and look of a U2 CD, resulting in a far reaching lawsuit, with implications to this day.

This was the first of many forums that brought up issues of intellectual property, creativity, sharing, and by my thinking, issues addressing trust. In this case, when one artist “heists” the work of another where does the remuneration begin or end?, what license does an artist have to borrow and manipulate from other sources?, and who really has ownership of culture?

Copyright is a model to insure fair use and compensation. However when copyright gets managed by huge law firms, creating monopoly and stifling creativity, whole new issues arises. Monsanto owns seeds to vegetables, Disney owns any image they generate, Facebook owns any photographs you post to it, possibly forever. Fairness and trust come into play at all sorts of levels.

For the open-source programmer copyright also gets in the way of the robust possibilities. Open-source simply defined is free redistribution and access to source code, and is a hint of the new economy already upon us.

It also brings up new definitions of community and mechanisms for vigorous science. Huge amounts of data are taken about us already; perhaps it is our duty to trust and contribute to that data. Open-source programmers derive their trust in being compensated on a sort of “build it and they will come.”

Or, ultra idealistically, open-source trusts that what is made could be the game-changing paradigm that says invention belongs to all. A final point in this discourse might be Sir Isaac Newton’s quote that, “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” (Or: good artists copy, great artists steal?) All innovation and invention have precedents. Where do we support those precedents and where do we need to stop them?

Much of the conference was dedicated to discussions of other more open and transparent alternative systems of economics and exchange. We see ourselves surrounded by myriad potentials of systemic failures. With that in mind I paraphrase the Ben Wactenberg quote offered up by ISEA speaker Edward Shanken , …”individually intelligence, societally stupid.”

Trust is necessary to participate in any commodity exchange program, whether it be international banking, barter, or gift economy.

There was much discussion about ethical and philosophical ways of interacting in our communities. Articulation and definitions of questions surrounding the concept of value were addressed. Approaches for forms of production, distribution and collaboration to be more sustainable and humane were suggested. So too were gift and free economies, new systems for barter, and online currencies, like bitcoin.

Throughout the lectures social values were inevitably addressed if not put first. Utopian, idealistic?… well what else do we have?

I walked away from ISEA, my mind spinning with information, potentials, more questions, and fear of forgetting the highlights of the conference. The dendrites in my brain were rubbed raw.

Some links I culled from a few of the speakers focusing on economic issues.


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