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  • Introduction

last modified September 22, 2010 by strypey

Paper for FreeCulture2010


"Heard you come in, through the back door, how did you get there, do I mind?" - Tadpole, 'Back Door' 

In 2003, I began meeting with activists around the country to promote the citizen journalism website created by Aotearoa Independent Media (AIM), the local section of the global Indymedia network. I quickly realised that inviting people to read the website was not going to work. Activists were plugging into the internet in large numbers, and they were swimming in information overload. The last thing they needed was another website to read, particularly one with such a broad mission as being the collective mouthpiece of the movements against corporate globalisation.

However, it was just as obvious that they could see the power of the web as a form of speech, and they wanted to be able to speak in that form, without having to become programmers first. So, instead of asking activists to read the site, I encouraged them to publish news stories about their concerns and campaigns, and where possible, walked them through publishing their first story. While they were using the site to publish, they would also have a browse over the front page, might read some of the other articles, and perhaps comment.

When the first open-publishing Indymedia site was created in 1999, it was an alliance of activists from different movements, including free culture geeks, who wanted their free software tools to serve humanity, and slow culture greens, who saw open-publishing on the internet as a means of waking humanity up to the ways the dominant economic systems are reducing the carrying capacity of the biosphere, and involving them in alternatives. The lesson I took from my experiences with Indymedia is that it is possible for technophiles to become bright greens (environmentally-aware technologists), and dark greens to appreciate ethically-motivated uses of information technology, and for members of both to cross-collaborate on ground-breaking projects.

However, this is best achieved by creating projects that genuinely fit the values of both groups. This is far more motivating than being lectured about a perceived moral obligation to help information freedom, or environmental regeneration, or anything else. Perhaps this is why open source, with its focus on software quality benefits to developers and users, and organics, with its focus on the health benefits of eco-friendly farming, have been more effective at recruiting people than free software, and permaculture with their focus on ethics and principles.

In this paper, I investigate the ethics, principles, and activities of both geek and green communities of practice, and the practical and political issues they face. I hope to shed light on what the free culture and slow culture movements can learn from each other, and how they can work in synergy towards free, co-operative, and regenerative human cultures. In doing so, I hope to demonstrate why I believe there is a question of principle that is equally important to both camps. Which is more important way for humans to be free; free to know, or free to own?

(Please note, this paper includes some basic explanations of concepts in both slow culture and free culture, so as to be comprehensible and useful to activists from both movements, regardless of their level of knowledge about the other. I also think it's helpful to restate assumptions, so contested definitions within each movement can be explored by reference to proposed parallels in the other.)