O.V. High

Man w/ a Movie Camera Tattoo I have to thank my friend and colleague Clayfox for comparing (positively) the vibe at this weekend’s fabulous Open Video Conference to High School. The optimism, diversity, and composition of the crowd was really inspiring.

In some ways, this conference might as well have been called the “Independent Media” conference, but of course, if it was, the right people wouldn’t have attended. Somehow they managed to attract people involved with every layer of the stack needed to create independent media.  Subcultures representing hardware, html5, metadata, content, law, production, funders and more were all represented.

To make independent new media, you either need to understand all of these details, or know someone who does.  I don’t think I have ever been in a room with this particular blend of expertise and interests before.

The networking was great, and my office was closely involved in making the education stuff at this conference happen (I have a great job). At the conference we announced the liberation of a great piece of software – VITAL is free! Run, VITAL, Run.

The highlight of the talks had to be Amy Goodman’s inspiring speech. I had seen her introduce Chomsky last week, and was left a little bummed out by his talk since it was blow after blow of what’s broken in the world, with very little vision, and no call to action. You don’t hear too many female preachers, but Goodman has really mastered an hypnotic cadence – speeding up to fit in alot of ideas, but slowing down for emphasis.  Her soundbytes are eminently tweetable (twitter essentially  replaced irc at this conference, and there was an incredibly active backchannel around the #openvideo tag/frequency/channel).

Benkler also opened with fresh material – he has clearly been thinking about journalism in the wake of this year’s collapses (and maybe even our CDPC conference?). It is amusing to think that between Benkler and Moglen (and his metaphorical corollary to Faraday’s law), it might be the sociologically-inclined lawyers who arrive at a theory of creativity (instead of the cognitive scientists).  And Zittrain covered for the missing Clay Shirky, and pulled of a funny and intelligent talk.

Many other highlights which I hope to curate once the video is all posted and I have a chance to decompress. I know I should have gone to more talks that I didn’t belong at, but I kept getting pulled in to great conversations…

Kudos to the organizers for pulling off a small miracle. I’ve been to many conferences that cost hundreds of dollars to attend, and don’t even offer lunch.  They managed to pull off a beautiful space, food, and even video djs and an open bar.

I wonder to what degree freeculture’s networked proximity to techies and lawyers simplifies some of the logistical nightmares that often plague organizers. It just sems like they are able to organize with relative ease, as the communications media and social capital are intuitive and readily available. Good thing for everyone they are using their super-powers for the greater good 😉

In terms of the longer term, they were consciously trying to create something bigger than a one time event. I was impressed at the purposeful scaffolding of the infrastructure meant to sustain this conversation now that conference is over.  Many gatherings only figure out at the event that they want to keep talking afterwards.  THe OVC crew did a great job of setting up, and using a wiki, and some sensibly divided mailing lists to seed a healthy after-party.

Faith’s Transmission

Message in a BottleWell, its been 2 months since I participated in MIT’s Media in Transition (MiT6), but the event is still vividly fresh in my mind.

The conference was really amazing. It attracted a really diverse mix of theorists and practitioners, academics and professionals, and folks from many walks of life. This conference I tried to go to talks where I “didn’t belong” – hoping to learn from disciplines I don’t regularly encounter. It was a great strategy, as I often gravitate towards talks that I know something about, wanting to hear the presenter’s take on it, but venturing beyond my usual horizons was much more fun.

Aram Sinnreich and I presented a paper on Strategic Agency in an Age of Limitless Information (abstract, slides), and I am really happy with how things turned out. Hopefully, we’ll work on polishing this paper up to submit to a journal soon, though I don’t really know where we should submit yet.

The videos for the main plenary events are now up and I am looking forward to clipping the little hand grenades I remember throwing during Q&A.

This panel on Archives and History (my question starts @ 1:35:15) wasn’t the only conversation about archiving, but it was fairly representative of the perspectives. It’s too bad MIT World does not provide me with a mechanism to address a point of time in their videos (like our recently liberated VITAL tool allows), so you’ll have to advance the playhead manually to hear me out. It’s basically a riff on – Why Archive? – The beauty of the Sand Mandala and the effort required to actually delete something….

The conversations were very similar to some that we had back in May ’07 at the Open Content conference, but not I think I can finally articulate what’s been bugging me about these conversations. With the help of Ben and John Durham Peters (we shared a bus ride to/from the conf), I realized that archiving can be thought about as a transmission, for anyone, into the future.

I also realized that ordinarily, when we look to the past, we use history to help us understand ourselves better. The presumption that future generations will actually care about us for our own sake, strikes me as narcissistic (narcissism and new media has surfaced on this blog before).  I imagine they will want to use the messages that we send them to help themselves, understand themselves better.  So, to archive purposefully the question becomes – how can we best help the future?

To the archivists who claim we don’t have any idea what questions the future will be asking, so we better save it all – I think I know what the future will be trying to understand about us.  They will likely be trying to figure out what on earth was distracting us while we let the planet die!  We were busy devoting our resources to saving every last copy of American Idol and Big Brother while Gia screamed in agony for help.

So, how can we increase the signal-to-noise ration of the messages we send into the future?  Without somehow reducing the message to the critically problematic golden record on the voyager spaceship, or its successors?  I guess the Long Now Foundation is thinking along these lines, and I have always envied David Vakoch’s job title (Director of Interstellar Message Composition)…  The conference helped me realize that Vakoch and the Long Now have a really similar task – but I don’t know how many archivists conceive of their task as Intergenerational Message Composition.

Perhaps we need to spend even more time curating?  Indicating in our archives why we think they were worth saving? And what’s the most important message we can send into the future? Not like it matters much longer, as I really do believe we are embarking on The End of Forgetting (see our conf paper for more details).

Shifting frames for a moment, what if the ancients had a really important message to send us? Their Theory of Everything, or the equivalent of E=MC^2.  How would they have attempted to transmit it?

When I discussed these ideas w/ my friend Rasmus he recommended I start up a consulting firm specializing in Future Relations. 😉

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