social movement

Tactical Media

Pattern ID: 
740
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
740
Alessandra Renzi
OISE/ University of Toronto
Version: 
1
Problem: 

Activist information campaigns and protests aimed at sensitizing the public to issues of social justice and politics often fail to reach an audience. In some cases, this is due to a reticence on the part of the mainstream media to tackle controversial issues. However, this can also simply happen because inadequate communication tactics prevent the public from identifying with or understanding the language used to convey the intended message. In other words, many actions organized by activist organizations go unnoticed, either because they do not succeed in showcasing their cause through means that cannot be ignored by the media, or because their lines of argument cannot be easily connected with the ways non-activist audiences experience the world.

Context: 

Tactical Media (TM) are a loosely defined set of practices that can be used by activists and community groups seeking to engage with the production of counter-information, as well as with its modes and possibilities of dissemination. In fact, the tactical circulation of information is a fundamental aspect of political intervention in the informational environment.

Discussion: 

"Tactical media are media of crisis, criticism and opposition. This is both the source of their power, and also their limitation. Their typical heroes are the activist, Nomadic media warriors, the pranxter, the hacker, the street rapper, the camcorder kamikaze..." (the ABC of Tactical Media)

Because of their ad-hoc character and their adaptability to different contexts, TM are hard to define. Hence, instead of “what is TM?” a more useful question is “how does TM work?” The following three examples are helpful to illustrate some of TM’s possible uses and outcomes.

Example one: During the last US presidential campaign Bush’s official website was cloned, with the alternative site featuring a critique of Bush’s agenda to become president. This site was set up by the Yes Men, a group of actors who impersonate representatives of important organisations at official meetings in order to subvert their messages in the mainstream media. Their stunt prompted Bush to announce on television that “there ought to be limits to democracy”.

Example two: Several labour activist groups in Europe, fighting against unstable working conditions use TM for their campaigns. The Italian group Chainworkers invented Saint Precario, the patron saint of precarious workers. His statue appears at demonstrations, public events and in public spaces, constructing “precarity” through familiar symbols, and leading the public to make its own connections between the procession, common people’s problems and today’s world market. Through San Precario and other similar games and actions, the issue of precarious labor has gained visibility within the EU and is now being discussed even outside of its borders--while more sustainable forms of social struggle against precarity are the background on which such actions rest.

Example three: Telestreet is a network pirate television stations run by activists and community groups who use free UHF frequencies and simple, low-cost technological devices to broadcast their video productions into Italian households. Telestreet programming is not solely aimed at counterbalancing Berlusconi’s monopoly on the mainstream media with alternative content, but also at experimenting with the medium of television as a space for cultural production and community building.

Generally, TM rely on artistic practices and "do it yourself" (DIY) media, created from readily available, relatively cheap technology and means of communication. A tactical medium is devised according to the context where it is supposed to function. This means that it is sensitive to the different sets of communicative genres and resources valued in a specific place, which may vary from street theatre and banner-dropping to the internet or radio. For this reason, TM actions they are very effective and can take on a wide variety of forms. For instance, they can mimic traditional means of information while circulating alternative content; they can subvert the meaning of well-known cultural symbols; and, they can create new outlets for counter-information with the help of new media.

In many cases, TM practitioners borrow from avant-garde art practices (e.g. linguistic sabotage and detournement), politics and consumer culture to trouble commonly held beliefs about every-day life. Such techniques–also called culture jamming–involve an appropriation of the language and discourses of their political target, which is familiar to the non-activist audience. Therefore, the subversion of the message’s meaning pushes the audience to notice where some strategies of domination are at work in a given discourse, raising questions about the objectivity of what is believed to be “normal.” TM actions creatively reframe known discourses, causing the public to recognize their limits. According to TM theorist David Garcia “classical TM, unlike agit-prop, are designed to invite discourse” (Garcia 2006), they plant the seeds for discussion by operating a fissure in what is considered to be “objective reality,” requiring a form of engagement to decode their message.

Despite many successes, TM practices like the Yes Men impersonations have often been criticized because their short-term interventions expose the weak points in the system but do not attempt to address them. However, TM should not be seen or employed as an isolated form of protest but as one tool for groups to reach wider audiences in a broader network of political struggle. In fact, even when they hijack the attention of the mass media, the Yes Men stunts and Saint Precario do not constitute an emancipatory practice in itself. Yet, they are a great example of how to bring topics to debate. As part of an organized campaign centred on a specific issue, such stunts can give resonance to voices otherwise unheard, and hopefully open up some space for a dialogue between minority and majority groups–or between minorities.

Moreover, TM practices can help make transversal connections between context-related social, cultural and political problems, and various organized sites of resistance. For example, the Telestreet network enables different activist groups and coalitions to use their space to support or showcase their own cause. Similarly, TM practices can be useful to create new memes that raise awareness of unjust social conditions, as in the case of Saint Precario.

Ultimately, it is important to maintain TM’s emphasis on experimentation, collaboration and the exchange of knowledge as part of a broader cartography of organized social struggle. For these reasons, there is a need to create more conditions where TM exploration of new possibilities for resistance can take place. Such projects can range from media literacy teaching to culture jamming workshops in schools, to festivals and temporary media labs where people can come together and develop creative ways to engage in protest and critique of the systems which govern their lives from an ever-increasing distance.

Solution: 

TM practices are marked by an ongoing attempt to experiment with the dynamics of media dissemination of information, searching for the most effective way to bypass the obstacles created during the diffusion of such information, in order to reach an audience. Thus, TM actions can help activists attract the attention of the mainstream media, as well as enable them to convey their message in a way that is intelligible to the audience.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: www.insutv.it

Pattern status: 
Released

Online Anti-Poverty Community

Pattern ID: 
126
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
126
Penny Goldsmith
PovNet
Version: 
1
Problem: 

Anti-poverty advocates and activists are isolated in their own communities. They often do not have the communications and education and training resources they need to do their work. Poor people do not have the information they need in order to take control over their lives and get the resources to which they are entitled, or to advocate effectively for themselves. Lack of access to communication severely limits the opportunities for building communities where poor people can help themselves access the resources they need and where advocates and activists in the anti-poverty community can be involved in organizing for social change locally, nationally and internationally.

Context: 

The players in this online movement include poor people and advocates involved with community advocacy groups, settlement workers, multicultural groups, seniors organizations, disability groups, legal aid, test case interveners, labour organizations, public libraries, women

Discussion: 

Poverty is a debilitating worldwide problem that affects poor people directly, and society at large. Although access to information and resources is critical to overcoming poverty and alleviating the problems of people living in poverty, poor people and anti-poverty advocates traditionally have less access to the internet and other communications technology.

Although poverty and computers do not make for an obvious alliance, it is clear that the two worlds have to connect unless we want to have a society where access to information and resources is only for people who can afford access to the technology. Public access sites are rarely adequate to feed public need; users need people to help them do online research, and free printers to print out forms and information. Hosts of public access sites need money to keep equipment up-to-date and tech support to keep computers and internet connections running smoothly. Lack of access to communication makes it difficult to connect communities in the anti-poverty world outside their local regions.

PovNet is a non-profit society created in British Columbia, Canada in 1997. It is an online resource for anti-poverty advocates and poor people, created to assist poor people and advocates involved in the communities identified above through an integration of offline and online technology and resources. PovNet works with advocates and activists across Canada involved in direct case work and social action and justice. Some of these groups include: * Canada Without Poverty (http://www.cwp-csp.ca/), a national voice for poor people, working to eliminate poverty in Canada * The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/), a left-wing think tank doing research for change in social policy * Canadian Social Research Links (http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/), an all-inclusive resource for social policy information about poverty in Canada.

PovNet is an online home base for advocates in BC and across Canada. Its web site provides regularly updated information about issues and policy changes. Using PovNet resources is an interactive process. Advocates learn the tools because they find them useful in order to do the social justice and case work that they care about; poor and otherwise marginalized people find the web site when they need the information on it that is relevant to their lives.

For example, PovNet email lists have grown over the years to be an invaluable resource for specific campaigns (for example the Raise the Rates campaigns in both Ontario and British Columbia to raise welfare rates). They also provide an online support network for advocates working in sometimes quite isolated areas in British Columbia or in other parts of Canada. As one advocate put it: "I love the PovNet list - on the lighter side there's the kibitzing going on amongst the subscribers which often brings me to laughter - always a good thing in this job. On the serious side - the exchange of ideas and generous sharing of experience is a huge boon to those of us who often don't have time to pick up the phone to seek advice from our colleagues." Another PovNetter says: "The lists that I am a subscriber provide me with first hand current information on what issues are affecting BC residents and/or newcomers. I am able to provide useful information and referrals to some of the requests coming through PovNet lists. They are an invaluable and efficient resource for community advocates, settlement workers working with immigrants and refugees, especially those issues that are time-sensitive and need an immediate response."

Other PovNet tools include online education and training courses on PovNet U for advocates ("Introduction to Advocacy", "Disability Appeals", "Tenants' Rights", "Employment Insurance", "Seniors Residential Care Advocacy", "Dealing with Debt"). 

PovNet is a flexible tool in that it can adapt to needs as specific campaigns emerge. For example, we set up an email list for a  campaign to raise welfare rates, and created an online hub for papers and press releases when a group of anti-poverty activists travelled to tyhe United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of poor people in Canada on social and economic rights.

Building a successful online movement in anti-poverty communities include, first and foremost, the people who are involved in the movement. Start by finding local community workers who want to broaden their connections, getting together key people (without computers) to talk about what is needed and identify the technological limitations, communicate with advocates and activists in diverse anti-poverty communities including urban and ural, First Nations, aboriginal, diverse cultural communities, disability groups, women, youth, seniors, workers, human rights and anti-poverty workers, and international anti-poverty workers. Then identify the barriers, which could include access to the technology (education, money, literacy, language), how to share information, resources and skills between "have" and "have-not" advocacy communities (e.g. community advocates and advocates in funded agencies, etc.), researching how to provide online resources in languages other than English and how to provide an online space for poor people to communicate and access information via public access sites and web based interactive resources.

Barriers for advocates and activists using PovNet tools have changed over the years. Initially, fear of technology was a big factor. But as advocates saw the use of it as a communications tool, they taught and continue to teach each other. Money for computers and printers is an ongoing problem; as the technology demands higher end equipment, advocates in rural communities with dialup get frustrated with attachments that take up all their dialup time, for example. The anti-poverty work gets harder as governments slash social services; the advocates have fewer resources to do their work. Technology can't help that. But in spite of the difficulties, the network continues to grow, make links with other organizations both in Canada and internationally, and exchange ideas and strategies for making social change.

Solution: 

The most effective online anti-poverty communities are constructed from the bottom up rather than the top down. Their resources are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address the need for online anti-poverty activism as they come up. Electronic resources can provide additional tools but they are activated and made useful by the underlying human and locally based networks where the work of advocacy is actually being done.

Pattern status: 
Released

Activist Road Trip

Pattern ID: 
611
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
134
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

It is surprising how little people really experience and learn when they travel. They often seem to be in a hurry to get to a certain place where their friends or relatives live or where the media or other "expert" has told them they should go. Many people would like to see and learn about how people live and the challenges they face, but it’s often difficult to do. Since there is apparently scant profit in trips that would help bridge cultures and encourage understanding, there is little support for it. Also, for most people in the world, travel is costly, is sometimes perceived as dangerous, and there are lots of borders that can block our progress.

Context: 

In an era of globalization, problems are no longer confined to local areas. Also, in an era of heightened fear-mongering, paranoia and suspicions about others, the importance of building bridges individually and in groups can't be stressed enough. One of the best antidotes to propaganda is first-hand knowledge and personal ties to people in different regions.

Discussion: 

Travel offers immeasurable insights if people are receptive to them and have meaningful experiences while on the road. The trouble is, of course, that "it's possible to travel all around the world and not get anywhere at all." The Activist Road Trip pattern is designed to prevent that from happening.

Lori Blewett and I just returned from a trip to Venezuela with twenty-five students. Our ultimate destination was Caracas, Venezuela, one of the three locations of the "polycentric" World Social Forum in 2006, but we visited Barquisemeto and the small hillside village of Sanare. Our tour was conducted by Global Exchange, a non-profit organization located in California, that leads "Reality Tours" to nearly 30 countries including Afghanistan, China, Ireland, Mexico, India, Iran, the Mexican-US border, and Cuba. We visited a number of community centers, health clinics, educational missions, agricultural cooperatives, and housing developments set up by the Chávez government. Also, during the bus drive from Barquisemeto to Caracas our guide briefed us about recent Venezuelan history from the point of view of Chávez supporters as well as detractors. Global Exchangeset up numerous presentations including one from an economics professor (with opposition leanings) who explained some of the particularities of the Venezuelan economy. We also had ample opportunities to converse with people at the forum.

Activist road trips can provide more meaning than standard, non-activist, road trips. But how is the pattern employed? At a basic level, people can simply go on an activist road trip. This means pursuing activist activities — especially learning — while "on the road." The preferred mode of transportation is by foot, bicycle, or car; possibly by bus or train; and probably not by airplane where unscheduled stops and flexible timetables aren't allowed. This is not to suggest that the trip should be haphazard or random — just that serendipity is likely to come into play (and chance favors the prepared mind). Thinking about the trip ahead of time, planning for it, arranging to meet with various people and organizations in advance is very useful — just don't over schedule or otherwise become slave to your plan. A simple way to "ground" the trip is to attend events at the destination and at points along the way. Events could include anything from a mass rally to a simple breakfast with friends of friends. And don't forget to record your impressions during the trip and debrief and discuss upon your return.

People can always elect to go on an Activist Road Trip but the concept itself must be institutionalized to make it easier for people in general to go on these trips and, ideally, to build active networks of people who are interested in similar issues. As with other patterns we concentrate on how to promote this incrementally, with little pieces that organically build towards larger networks or assemblies, rather than through a grand, top-down, plan. Therefore we must build upon the basic components: physical locations, activists (hosts, guest, and guides), information and means of getting from one place to the next. Many “pieces” of this pattern now exist. When, for example, punk rock aficionados, travel they often share information with each other — who’s cool in the next town, whose couch is available, etc. This works—at least to some degree for the punk community, but what if a non-punk (like me?) wants to meet with some punks or if a punk wants to find out more about a non-punk group?

The chore is to help promote processes and ideas to build a thriving alternative to existing approaches to travel that are disconnected and disengaged. Ideally each visit helps to build the network while advancing positive social change. How can the network promote people from different communities getting together? Some of the pieces that we can envision include integrated calendar of events and atlases specifically designed for this type of trip. These atlases would necessarily be dynamic — events as well as the non-profits, infoshops and other host organizations — are often short-lived.

Of course the above discussion suggests that the point of the road trip is to visit activist sites along the way. Another approach is going on a road trip as activists. The Bee Hive Collective that travels throughout Latin American and develops intricate and beautiful murals that illustrate indigenous issues and struggles, and the Miss Rockaway Armada that traveled down the Mississippi River in the summer of 2006 to share art, music, environmentalism and an anarchist perspective with everyone they met, are great examples of this. In both of those cases, the groups essentially brought their activism with them. The ultimate activist road trip in the U.S. would have to be the Freedom Rides in the spring of 1961 where activists traveling on buses from Washington, DC to various towns and cities in the deep South to publicize their fight for civil rights were met with racist violence that was only quelled after federal intervention.

A person implementing this pattern should expect a number of challenges. For example, people working in one activist destination could be overwhelmed by large numbers of people “passing through.” It is incumbent on the traveler to make sure that the host is not taken advantage of. Visitors must be sensitive to their host's situation and aware of their responsibilities as guests. Encounters between visitor and host, important as they are, have several potential complications. Who knows that the “field trip” to, say, a worker's collective is not to a "Potemkin village" that has been carefully "staged" in order to convey certain impressions to the guests, perhaps in a bid for funding. And how do we ensure that the visitors to a favella in Rio De Janeiro, a township in Capetown, or to the South Bronx, are not simply treating what they're witnessing as a spectacle.

The possibility exists that when any destination is made public, in an “atlas,” for example, hostile townspeople might choose to harass the travelers or the host. There could also be other types of vexing side-effects. If, for example, people in the hosting situation were serving food to visitors, the local health department could decide to pay a call on an “illegal dining establishment.” Also, the network is built on social relationships and the ones encountered in an Activist Road Trip are more likely to be dynamic than more established venues.

There are dozens of possible places to visit on an Activist Road Trip: activist organizations, collectives, shelters, migrant camps, small businesses, reservations, encampments, sanctuaries, labor halls, organic farms, conferences, concerts, environmental disasters, prisons, community media centers, barrios, refugee camps, etc. Ideally the travelers could stop at "World Citizen Travel Bureaus" along the way or at "People's Embassies" or, even a "Museum of Civil Society" — if people create them!

And People can add an Activist Road Trip to another trip. Rather than fly in to their destination, dropping in out of the sky as it were, people could explore the region en route to, or returning from, the event to observe first hand the realities that the forum examines. This can even be done within the city itself. One doesn't have to travel very far — physically — to find unexplored regions. The Activist Road Trip can be done in your own region or city.

Note: The photo above is from The Miss Rockaway Armada activist road trip.

Solution: 

References: Bridging the Global Gap; Global Exchange web sites & other literature

Categories: 
orientation
Categories: 
engagement
Themes: 
Digital Divide
Themes: 
Research for Action
Themes: 
Education
Themes: 
Community Action
Themes: 
Social Movement
Themes: 
Case Studies
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Travel offers immeasurable insights if people are receptive to them. The trouble is, of course, that it's possible to travel all around the world and not get anywhere at all. The Activist Road Trip pattern is used whenever activism is combined with travel. Activist Road Trips can be long or short; meditative or obstreperous. One doesn't have to physically travel very far to find unexplored regions sometimes in one's own region or city.

Pattern status: 
Released

Peaceful Public Demonstrations

Pattern ID: 
434
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
133
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Governments and large companies often ignore the will or well-being of the people. An election can be stolen a war can be illegitimately launched, an environmental disaster can be caused — all without significant challenge from legistatures, the courts or other designated "guardians of the people."

Context: 

When "normal" dissent is being ignored; when imminent, possibly catastrophic, initiatives are being undertaken such as an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country. In these cases "traditional" ways of registering dissatisfacton aren't appropriate.

Discussion: 

Although crowds of people can be — and are — denigrated by politicans, the media, and other powerful institutions, their existence is somtimes the most profound expression of a population whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. People must sometimes take to the streets to visibly express their dissatisfaction.

Large public demonstrations are probably the most overt form of protest. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands of people, in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, noisemakers and other devices that have been spontaneously and individually designed. Though often portrayed in the media as marginal and/or dangerous, mass demonstrations (such as those in the Ukraine in December 2004) are generally peaceful and, indeed, suitable for the whole family. As a matter of fact, the presence of families and older people helps ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful. Through their visibility, they also help to legitimize the protest by showing that the concerns aren't limited to one demographic use, youths, for example.

In February, 2003, the world witnessed the largest expression of this pattern in history. People gathered in over 600 ciites in over 40 countries worldwide to protest the invasion of Iraq by the world's only superpower. Although the Bush administration was undeterred by this unprecedented display of disapproval, the idea of peace as an ideal was brought forward by civil society worldwide and held aloft as a universal idea — one that citizens must not allow governments to pursue — or ignore — according to their own calculations and motivations.

Mass peaceful demonstrations don't take place in a vacuum. They need to be tied to broader strategy. This often involves engaging with the media and with established governing (or intermediating) entities. It is often helpful to have a clear set of demands. Finally, although this doesn't always happen, measures like gathering names and contact information can be used to help build a large activist network that persists beyond the duration of the protest itself.

I was dreaming in my dreaming
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleeping it was broken
But my dream it lingered near
In the form of shining valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people / have the power
To redeem / the work of fools
Upon the meek / the graces shower
It’s decreed / the people rule

   -- Patti Smith, "The People Have the Power"

I think that the photograph of the demonstration in Los Angeles (early 2003) against the US invasion of Iraq used above is from a web site that helped promote the worldwide peace demonstrations.

Solution: 

Peaceful, mass public demonstrations both large and small, in combination with other forms of dissent are sometimes necessary.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although demonstrations are disparaged by politicians and the media their existence is sometimes the deepest expression of those whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands of people in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, and noisemakers. Peaceful Pubic Demonstrations need to be tied to broader strategies that include building activist networks that persist beyond the protest itself.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wiki commons

Media Intervention

Pattern ID: 
427
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
132
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Corporate media exists to make as large a profit as possible; responsiveness to the public interest is secondary at best. Like a drumbeat, its endless repetition presents an unremitting pulse to our lives. Corporate media is scripted by people far away from the "ordinary" people who spend their time with it. Alternatives to corporate media exist of course, but the audiences are substantially smaller; the alternatives generally have lower "production values" (due to fewer resources) and are much harder to find. Consequently they are enjoyed only by the more intrepid among us. People and organizations who struggle to interject alternative messages into the public consciousness via the media — even with paid ads — will be soundly rebuffed. For example, the AdBusters Foundation has repeatedly attempted to get their "Buy Nothing" piece aired on television in the US. only to be turned down by the major networks. MoveOn's "Bush in 30 Seconds" was also rejected by the networks. Environmental organizations have trouble getting their messages aired but corporate ads on the same themes are aired without questions.

Context: 

When access to media is blocked...

Discussion: 

Until fairly recently, it was a commonly held notion in the United States that "the people owned the airwaves." Although that notion has apparently vanished from the minds of many politicians and government regulators, people periodically reassert this right when other routes have failed.

With few exceptions, access to media is generally blocked to citizen and, especially, alternative viewpoints. The choices of media often boil down to state-run media (often propaganda) or purely commercial (or a combination of the two) or none at all.

In the US particularly but in other countries as well people are bombarded with images and ideas that are generally cut from the same cloth. Whether news, "reality" shows, police dramas, talk shows, or commercials television is a seamless and impenetrable wall that is assiduously protected from invasion. Media Intervention is one tactic to fight this particular and ubiquitous form of censorship. In this case, the media truly is the message: while the content itself is commercialistic, addicting, intellectually and psychologically (and emotionally? and politically?) stultifying (debilitating?), the sheer immensity and second order effects of the media as a societal phenomenon make it impossible to ignore. It's a problem for everyone when the "vast wasteland" grows vaster.

Media intervention comes in many guises and new approaches are devised fairly frequently. There are vast differences in the ways that this pattern is employed — all the way from the most polite and prescribed to the most overt and officially prohibited. This pattern is general enough to encompass Culture Jamming (Lasn, ____), Textual Poaching (Jenkins, ____), subvertisements, "disciplining the media" and "Billboard Adjustment."

Randolph Sill carried out a brilliant Media Interventio with aplomb in Seattle in the summer of 2003. He attended a televised Mariner's baseball game with a sign that was adorned with the number of Mariner star player, Ichiro Suzuki, and some writing in Kanji. Unbeknownst to the non-Japanese speakers at the game and, in particular, the people who were televising the game who captured Sill and the sign that he enthusiastically brandished whenever Ichiro was at bat, the Kanji on one side read, "President Bush is a monkey's butt" which was complemented on the other side with the claim that "Americans are ashamed of their corrupt president" (Jenniges, 2003).

In the late 1990's, the Barbie Liberation Organization engineered a similarly clever caper which ultimately was covered with bemusement on the television evening news in a number of U.S. cities. The intervention began with the purchase of several ultra-feminine "Barbie" dolls and the ultra-masculine "G.I. Joes" "action figures" (not dolls). Back in their secret laboratory, the BLO surgically altered the dolls, performing a gender swap (or "correction" as they called it) of the voice boxes of the two stereotypical avatars. Then the dolls were repackaged and placed ("reverse shoplifting") on various toy store shelves around the country where they were purchased by unsuspecting shoppers. Back at home, the young recipients of the dolls were surprised when the he-man Joe professed a love for shopping while the wire-thin Barbie newly masculinized wanted to "take the next hill" presumably with a hail of hot lead. One intriguing postscript was that at least some of the recipients of the transformed doll/action figure preferred the new version to the old.

Finally, the techniques of (1) trying hard to get one's issue injected into the media and (2) disciplining the media for content that people find objectionable (and, less frequently, praising the media for appropriate coverage), form the traditional "bread and butter" core of this pattern and are not expected to go away or lose their importance in the face of the other approaches discussed earlier.


NY Act Up Activists Make an Unscheduled Visit to the CBS Evening News.
More information can be found at: http://www.actupny.org/divatv/indexN.html

Solution: 

Sometimes it becomes necessary to intervene in the media to nudge it into new avenues that it might not have taken without the intervention. This can be done cleverly and effectively but it's not easy. The tactic and campaign should be carefully tied to the aims and the particulars of the situation — but it still might not work!

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Whether news, "reality" TV, police dramas, talk shows, or commercials, corporate media is a seamless and impenetrable wall that is protected from citizen intrusion. People and organizations who struggle to interject alternative messages into the public consciousness via the media are often ignored or rejected. By nudging the media into new directions, Media Intervention is one tactic to fight this particular and ubiquitous form of censorship.

Pattern status: 
Released

Tactical Media

Pattern ID: 
781
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
131
Alessandra Renzi
OISE/ University of Toronto
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Activist information campaigns and protests aimed at sensitizing the public to issues of social justice and politics often fail to reach an audience. In some cases, this is due to a reticence on the part of the mainstream media to tackle controversial issues. However, this can also simply happen because inadequate communication tactics prevent the public from identifying with or understanding the language used to convey the intended message. In other words, many actions organized by activist organizations go unnoticed, either because they do not succeed in showcasing their cause through means that cannot be ignored by the media, or because their lines of argument cannot be easily connected with the ways non-activist audiences experience the world.

Context: 

Tactical Media (TM) are a loosely defined set of practices that can be used by activists and community groups seeking to engage with the production of counter-information, as well as with its modes and possibilities of dissemination. In fact, the tactical circulation of information is a fundamental aspect of political intervention in the informational environment.

Discussion: 

"Tactical media are media of crisis, criticism and opposition. This is both the source of their power, and also their limitation. Their typical heroes are the activist, Nomadic media warriors, the pranxter, the hacker, the street rapper, the camcorder kamikaze..." (the ABC of Tactical Media)

Because of their ad-hoc character and their adaptability to different contexts, TM are hard to define. Hence, instead of “what is TM?” a more useful question is “how does TM work?” The following three examples are helpful to illustrate some of TM’s possible uses and outcomes.

Example one: During the last US presidential campaign Bush’s official website was cloned, with the alternative site featuring a critique of Bush’s agenda to become president. This site was set up by the Yes Men, a group of actors who impersonate representatives of important organisations at official meetings in order to subvert their messages in the mainstream media. Their stunt prompted Bush to announce on television that “there ought to be limits to democracy”.

Example two: Several labour activist groups in Europe, fighting against unstable working conditions use TM for their campaigns. The Italian group Chainworkers invented Saint Precario, the patron saint of precarious workers. His statue appears at demonstrations, public events and in public spaces, constructing “precarity” through familiar symbols, and leading the public to make its own connections between the procession, common people’s problems and today’s world market. Through San Precario and other similar games and actions, the issue of precarious labor has gained visibility within the EU and is now being discussed even outside of its borders--while more sustainable forms of social struggle against precarity are the background on which such actions rest.

Example three: Telestreet is a network pirate television stations run by activists and community groups who use free UHF frequencies and simple, low-cost technological devices to broadcast their video productions into Italian households. Telestreet programming is not solely aimed at counterbalancing Berlusconi’s monopoly on the mainstream media with alternative content, but also at experimenting with the medium of television as a space for cultural production and community building.

Generally, TM rely on artistic practices and "do it yourself" (DIY) media, created from readily available, relatively cheap technology and means of communication. A tactical medium is devised according to the context where it is supposed to function. This means that it is sensitive to the different sets of communicative genres and resources valued in a specific place, which may vary from street theatre and banner-dropping to the internet or radio. For this reason, TM actions they are very effective and can take on a wide variety of forms. For instance, they can mimic traditional means of information while circulating alternative content; they can subvert the meaning of well-known cultural symbols; and, they can create new outlets for counter-information with the help of new media.

In many cases, TM practitioners borrow from avant-garde art practices (e.g. linguistic sabotage and detournement), politics and consumer culture to trouble commonly held beliefs about every-day life. Such techniques–also called culture jamming–involve an appropriation of the language and discourses of their political target, which is familiar to the non-activist audience. Therefore, the subversion of the message’s meaning pushes the audience to notice where some strategies of domination are at work in a given discourse, raising questions about the objectivity of what is believed to be “normal.” TM actions creatively reframe known discourses, causing the public to recognize their limits. According to TM theorist David Garcia “classical TM, unlike agit-prop, are designed to invite discourse” (Garcia 2006), they plant the seeds for discussion by operating a fissure in what is considered to be “objective reality,” requiring a form of engagement to decode their message.

Despite many successes, TM practices like the Yes Men impersonations have often been criticized because their short-term interventions expose the weak points in the system but do not attempt to address them. However, TM should not be seen or employed as an isolated form of protest but as one tool for groups to reach wider audiences in a broader network of political struggle. In fact, even when they hijack the attention of the mass media, the Yes Men stunts and Saint Precario do not constitute an emancipatory practice in itself. Yet, they are a great example of how to bring topics to debate. As part of an organized campaign centred on a specific issue, such stunts can give resonance to voices otherwise unheard, and hopefully open up some space for a dialogue between minority and majority groups–or between minorities.

Moreover, TM practices can help make transversal connections between context-related social, cultural and political problems, and various organized sites of resistance. For example, the Telestreet network enables different activist groups and coalitions to use their space to support or showcase their own cause. Similarly, TM practices can be useful to create new memes that raise awareness of unjust social conditions, as in the case of Saint Precario.

Ultimately, it is important to maintain TM’s emphasis on experimentation, collaboration and the exchange of knowledge as part of a broader cartography of organized social struggle. For these reasons, there is a need to create more conditions where TM exploration of new possibilities for resistance can take place. Such projects can range from media literacy teaching to culture jamming workshops in schools, to festivals and temporary media labs where people can come together and develop creative ways to engage in protest and critique of the systems which govern their lives from an ever-increasing distance.

Solution: 

TM practices are marked by an ongoing attempt to experiment with the dynamics of media dissemination of information, searching for the most effective way to bypass the obstacles created during the diffusion of such information, in order to reach an audience. Thus, TM actions can help activists attract the attention of the mainstream media, as well as enable them to convey their message in a way that is intelligible to the audience.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: www.insutv.it

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The circulation of information about social struggles is a fundamental aspect of successful political interventions and deserves careful planning. Tactical Media are practices that engage with the production of counter-information and with its modes and dissemination possibilities. Examples of TM range from Do-It-Yourself radio shows to humorous pranks used to spark discussions about social issues.

Pattern status: 
Released

Citizens' Tribunal

Pattern ID: 
610
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
129
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Powerful countries — such as the US or the UK or others — are seemingly free to ignore international law and other recognized norms of acceptable behavior when it suits their government. If other countries and international organizations are impotent against such transgressions, NGOs and other civil society groups (who have even fewer resources) face almost insurmountable hurdles for legally challenging these actions.

Context: 

Non-governmental organizations or other citizen groups with few to no means by which to challenge what they perceive to be moral wrongs are the main users of this pattern. Unfortunately the use of this pattern is limited generally to democratic societies or other places where its confrontational approach is tolerated. There are countries, for example, where a tribunal directed at the United States could be convened, while a tribunal directed against the government of the host country would be strictly prohibited. Unfortunately there are few, if any, public or legal means where citizens of countries like North Korea, Uzbekistan and other countries that are isolated from the network of international relations, can challenge their government's policy without fearing for their life and liberty.

Discussion: 

Civil Society faced with what they perceive as serious crimes that are being perpetrated by governments, has devised the concept of a "Citizen's Tribunal." Part legal proceedings, part theater, part publicly speaking "truth to power", the concept has been expressed most strongly with the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI) condemning the invasion of Iraq by the United States.

According to Richard Falk, professor emeritus from Princeton University, "The WTI was loosely inspired by the Bertrand Russell tribunal held in Copenhagen and Stockholm in 1967 to protest the Vietnam War, which documented with extensive testimony the allegations of criminality associated with the American role in Vietnam. The Russell tribunal featured the participation of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and other notable European left intellectuals. It relied on international law and morality to condemn the war but made no pretension of being a legal body, and its jury contained no international law experts." The World Tribunal on Iraq had its specific roots in a session of the Permanent Tribunal of the People that was held before the war in Rome. The sessions of the WTI began in Brussels in March 2004 and finished in June 2005 in Istanbul. Sessions were also held in Berlin, Stockholm, Hiroshima, Rome, New York, and Barcelona.

The work of the WTI was divided into a Panel of Advocates and a Jury of Conscience. The role of the Panel of Advocates was to document the charges against George Bush, Tony Blair, and others through analysis and testimony. This body would then present the case to a Jury of Conscience which was "composed of distinguished moral authority personalities from around the world, to pass judgment on the actors and their actions from the perspective of international law."

One question is how does the "other side" participate — if at all? Can they submit evidence or provide testimony? In other words, how does a tribunal differ from a trial? For one thing, the U.S., for example, the U.S. would undoubtedly skip a Citizen's Tribunal since it has declined to appear before the World Court as a defendant. A Citizen's Tribunal is not a court (it obviously has no powers of enforcement, for example) and is not obligated to emulate one. At least in the case of the WTI, a Citizen's Tribunal "is self-consciously an organ of civil society, with its own potential enforcement by way of economic boycotts, civil disobedience and political campaigns." It is not designed to find the truth but to bring the truth to light. As Falk points, out, the WTI as an instrument of civil society: "proceeds from a presumption that the allegations of illegality and criminality are valid and that its job is to reinforce that conclusion as persuasively and vividly as possible.

Legitimacy, however, as in the legal system, is a very big issue. If the tribunal does not seem legitimate, it can more easily be portrayed as a charade. Legitimacy can be maximized by providing unimpeachable authorities and by providing strong corroborating evidence including documentation and expert testimony.

As a direct and public challenge to power and authority the Citizen's Tribunal faces numerous challenges in addition to difficult task of establishing legitimacy. One of the most important of these challenges is irrelevance. The unequivocal repudiation of the powers-that-be is unlikely to be covered in any serious way by the media. Additionally, the possibly marginal nature of the group sponsoring a Citizen's Tribunal places it far from the centers of power and is thus questioned about the legitimacy of its actions.

Since the power of a Citizen's Tribunal relies on its symbolic nature, publicity is important. One approach is to bring in a broad coalition to organize the Tribunal. It is important to get people to the event and to send out publicity afterwards (through, for example, the web and DVDs). The WTI submitted its report to the United Nations. On the other hand, exposure and publicity can be risky — counter demonstrations, arrests, intimidation and thuggery, in addition to media condemnation, might be in store for the conveners.

Many challenges present themselves while organizing and conducting the event: Who will participate? How is the agenda organized? Where will the funding come from? How will security issues be handled? And of course, the idea of multiple venues, however attractive the idea is, increases the magnitude of the logistical challenges considerably.

Although Falk's statement below (from a WTI press release) is associated with the World Tribunal on Iraq, the basic approach and philosophy of that effort can serve as a basic model (that can be modified) for another tool for people without extensive resources who are struggling with issues of state violence and other urgent issues of our times.

"The WTI is opposing aggressive war, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It is not opposing the governments or the United Nations. Indeed it hopes to create pressure from below that will encourage law-abiding governments and the UN to do their proper job of protecting weaker countries and their populations against such illegalities. And beyond this protection we are promoting a world movement of peoples and governments to realize a humane form of globalization that is equitable with respect to the world economy, legitimate in upholding the human rights of all, and dedicated above all else to creating the conditions for sustainable peace based on justice for every nation on earth."

Solution: 

In certain situations, civil society organizations are moved to protest perceived crimes of sovereign nations. The Citizens' Tribunal has the potential to become a powerful tool to raise issues to more visible levels than governments or the media are likely to do on their own.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Powerful countries sometimes ignore international law and other norms of acceptable behavior. NGOs and other groups face tremendous hurdles when challenging these actions. Citizens' Tribunals, such as the World Tribunal on Iraq condemning the US invasion of Iraq, are part legal proceedings, part theater, and part publicly speaking "truth to power." In spite of many challenges, a Citizens' Tribunal can be a powerful tool.

Pattern status: 
Released

Open Source Everything

Pattern ID: 
614
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
127
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Commercial interests in the form of large multi-national corporations strive to fulfill only the most profitable needs or wants. In many cases, the highest or easiest profit aims at wants that may not ultimately be in the interests of the targetted consumers (let alone the workers or the environment). For instance, many food companies focus on high fat, high sugar, high salt products that humans find tasty based on an evolutionary history in which these substances were difficult to find. For people in the developed world, however, having access to such foods is unhealthy. Furthermore, the way these foods are produced, transported and marketed involves unaccounted for costs to humanity. This is just one example. In general, corporations are not only motivated, but legally required to maximize profits, not meet actual human needs.

Furthermore, the economies of scale lead large companies to focus efforts on those wants that are best met by mass-produced goods and services. There are a huge range of very specific needs that much smaller groups or individuals have which do not provide suffficient inducement for large companies to provide.

Thus, the corporately created world both fails to meet many human needs and even when it does produce value, it tends to focus on wants rather than needs and do so in a way that has many undesirable side-effects.

Context: 

In a variety of arenas, including publishing scholarly work, the development of educational materials, and the development of useful, robust software, an "open source" process has shown itself to be very effective. There are a variety of reasons why such a process is now timely. First, there are a large number of people globally with access to the Internet. This allows global communities with common interests to work together without the necessity of physical travel (which can be expensive in time and money). Second, there are worked examples of people from many fields volunteering their efforts to create value for the common good of their community. These examples serve, in turn, as models for other communities. Third, there are a critical mass of people with time and knowledge to add value to such collective efforts. Fourth, although it has been common in the past for those in power to use their power to keep their power, in modern times, a series of social and legal processes have been put in place to consolidate power into structures that are no longer effectively regulated by countervaling forces such as local governments or community pressure. The first three factors make the use of Open Source feasible and the last makes it manditory. In addition, Open Source has the capacity to personalize and customize value to much smaller groups than is feasible for large companies. Thus, by offering Open Source materials, people may collectively fulfull a greater proportion of human needs and wants. This is currently referred to as "the long tail." There are a very large number of people wanting a few common things and a very small number of people each wanting something different. Open Source is much better positioned to fulfill those different things wanted by only a relatively few.

Discussion: 

Perhaps the most articulate introduction to the general concept of open source is the introduction to Eric von Hippel's Democratizing Innovation:

"When I say that innovation is being democratized, I mean that users of products and services -- both firms and individual consumers -- are increasingly able to innovate for themselves. User-centered innovation processes offer great advantages over the manufacturer-centric innovation development systems that have been the mainstay of commerce for hundres of years. Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfact) agents. Moreover, individual users do not have to develop everything they need on their own: they can benefit from innovations developed and freely shared by others. The trend toward democractization of innovation applies to information products such as software and also to physical products. As a quick illustration of the latter, consider the development of high-performance windsurfing techniques and equipment in Hawaii by an informal user group."

Probably the most notable and widespread success story of "open source" is the development of open source software. The "source code" of any computer program is the complete set of instructions that the computer follows to provide its functions. There are two competing philosophies that determine the rules regarding the distribution of software "source code."

The basic business orientation dictates that, above all, the source code should be kept private and that only people who are allowed to make changes to it -- either to add functionality or fix bugs -- are the people who are authorized by the company that owns it. Although there are several variants, the "free software" or "open source" model if more-or-less the opposite of the corporation model in nearly all respects. Anybody can obtain the source code without cost. Anybody can make changes to the source code. And anybody can distribute the code without restriction to anybody.

Besides its desirable price (nothing!), the open source model offers many advantages over the closed, corporate model. One is that many eyes can identify and fix many bugs. Software flaws such as bugs or security holes are more readily found and exposed. (This is the reason why fair voting advocates are generally in favor of open source voting software.) Another reason is that the open source model promotes innovation by allowing anybody to implement new functionality. Although many of the modifications may be unwanted, some may provide a foundation for desirable features. Although the open source approach has its own disadvantages (as do all approaches), it offers surprisingly stiff competition against deep-pocketed corporate behemoths. Linux, for example, is more robust, less buggy and on a faster release cycle than well-funded corporately engineered operating systems.

Although computer programmers have been at the forefront of this intellectual revolution, computer programs are certainly not the only complex artifacts that could be designed, built, maintained and improved through an open-source collective effort.

One obvious artifact to think about moving into open source development is the development of vaccines and other medicines. And in this arena, medicines that could reduce suffering caused by the worldwide HIV-AIDS epidemic come to mind readily. Of course, in so-called "primitive" societies, knowledge of how to find, prepare and use medicinal plants was a precious gift handed down from generation to generation.

With oil prices skyrocketing, open source automobile developers could work together on developing automobiles with super high mileage and other environmentally friendly features. Already (NY Times August 2005) hobbyists are modifying Priuses and other hybrid vehicles to pump up the mileage.

Because corporations are driven primarily to maximize profits, they tend to focus efforts on the very popular and tend to ignore small niche interests. For example, the open source music movement now allows individuals to create music collaboratively and globally. Probably the most popular of these, adding 200 users per week is MacJams. (See links below for general home page and to see what an individual's entry looks like). Albums can be built and distributed on a one-off basis without the high up-front costs of using a recording studio.

Similar avenues exists for poetry, stories, photographs, video and artwork. Examples may be seen at lulu.com, Xlibris, and publishamerica.

Solution: 

Use the mechanism of Open Source to meet needs that are not well-met by large institutions and corporations as well as areas where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the value provided.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

High profits for corporations can mean low benefits for consumers, workers, and the environment. In many areas, including scholarly publishing and the development of educational materials and software, an "open source" process can be an effective alternative. Open Source Everything can be used to meet needs where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the benefits.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ligeti Stratos

Socially Responsible Video Games

Pattern ID: 
605
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
126
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Video games are frequently violent, sexually explicit and exploitive and commercialistic. Whether their use leads inexorably to social exclusion or anti-social behavior and attitudes, the fact that their use occupies the minds of millions of people for billions of hours in a given year might make anybody question whether this is wise.

Context: 

Video games draw people in but people don't get much in return. Is it possible that this medium can be re-engineered to good purpose? Gamers and game designers should explore these possibilities as should policy-makers, NGOs, and other people interested in new educational possibilities.

Discussion: 

The idea of using computer games for socially responsible purposes has some intriguing arguments in its favor. One is that people are already spending enormous amounts of time doing mindless virtual driving (at least they're not wasting gas!) and shooting virtual villains, etc. If they're going to spend that much of their time gaming why not have them do something of value? (or so that argument goes.) On the other hand, it's not clear that it would work. Perhaps shooting is more fun than learning for some (or many or most?) people (but then according to the Harper's discussants, you can always trick them by giving them points or the right to use the virtual laser guns only after they did the "educational" thing, like adding the numbers or spelling the word.) But it's not obvious that even if people like playing an educational or socially responsible game that it would have any positive lasting effects.

Models and simulations provide ways for people to explore situations that can't be experienced directly — like the future. At the same time we must acknowledge that these tools aren't as compelling as they could be. Well-designed interactive games have the potential to be educational in that people learn about the world as well as compelling — they thrust the gamer into the scenario.

Certain types of video games are, on some level, not unlike simulations in which the computer extrapolates certain plausible outputs — both expected and unexpected — based on user selections or decisions. Simulations, however, are "serious" while games by their very nature are frivolous — or so it would seem.

What, in theory, could socially responsible video games achieve? One possibility is that they could improve cognitive skills including memorization of spelling and multiplication tables, as well as deeper skills such as analysis, interpretation, or evaluation. Another possibility is that one could learn a general feel or understanding from the games; just as people get some type of general knowledge from visiting foreign countries. One could, for example, get an impression of what it would be like to, say, deliver relief food to refugees in a remote war zone.

A video game, like a movie, book, or, even, a story told aloud, is not "real." It's a creation of a parallel artificial world, or a world "once removed" from "reality." In the early 1960s Yale psychology professor Stanley Millgram conducted a bold experiment that demonstrated (or was widely perceived as having demonstrated) how people were naturally inclined to follow orders from perceived authority figures, however illegitimate and immoral the orders might be. In those experiments, a "doctor" with official-looking garb tells the subject (misleadingly) that he or she are going to be involved in a memory experiment. In the course of this experiment, the subject will push buttons that purportedly deliver increasingly powerful electric jolts to an unseen person in the next room, a confederate who doesn't seem to be able to master the memorization of a few words at a level that sufficiently pleases the experimenter. After the hapless person with the poor memory cries out in [feigned] pain, the real subject understandably balks at delivering more pain to the person in the next room. After the authority figure explains that they "must continue" with the experiment, the vast majority of the subjects elected to continue their regiment of electrical shocks to the unseen victim. A notable exception to this excursion into a morally dubious zone were people who had spent time in German concentration camps during World War II. Many of them simply refused to deliver the punishment.

One plausible explanation is that the survivors who had actually witnessed situations in which blind obeisance to power led to barbarity, learned about its pitfalls, while those who had not been in such a situation had not. This suggests that video games could provide a type of rehearsal for situations that might arise in the future, serving much the same role as it is believed that play does for children.

It is the possibility that video games could provide meaningful instruction that inspired Paul Rogat Loeb to propose a video game based on former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" movie that explores the looming prospect of global warming and massive climate change: "The game could build on Gore’s existing movie, slide show, and website, adapting whatever elements were useful, but also making the process more interactive, more engaging for an audience for whom games are a prime language. Why not put people in the role of climate scientists assessing the evidence, governmental and corporate decision makers, citizens trying to keep our society from driving off a cliff? Why not let them try out different ways of acting? (Loeb, 2006).

Video games could (at least theoretically) help society learn how to deal with various problems that people might encounter: emergencies, stolen elections, loss of civil liberties, etc, The fact is that our globalized, mediated, interconnected world thrusts a multitude of issues into our face that reveal our impotence: although they demand a response, individually we have nothing in our experience that helps us truly grapple with it ‐ let alone determine what that should be done about it.

Several video games have been released, and several more are in planning, that are intended to teach people about real-world issues in ways that television new reports and formal education are unlikely to emulate. One game, "Food Force" developed by the United Nations World Food Program, puts players in the middle of a dangerous food relief mission on Sheylan, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean suffering from drought and civil war. Players airdrop food, drive down mine-infested roads, buy and distribute food and help rebuild. Surprisingly, the game has been downloaded by over three million of people and is second in the number of free downloads only to "America's Army," another "serious game," this one a recruiting tool for the US Army (Rosenberg, 2006).

There are several new games with socially responsible orientations. One is called "A Force More Powerful" and designed to teach non-violent strategy. Others are based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (PeaceMaker), genocide in Darfur, and Adventure Ecology in which two kids, Dash and Bay fight eco-threats and villains like Agent Waste and Professor Ignorance and the environment is represented as a "a highly complex and interdependent system in which every life-form, air molecule and pebble plays a part" (Snoonian, 2006).

While video games are often damned because of their total disconnect from the "real world," this separation may also have its virtues. According to Raph Koster (Wasik, 2006), there is a " magic circle" surrounding games and "it has to be a circle games of no consequence." Formal education, on the other hand, generally does not have a "magic circle of no consequence." In other words, failures — both small and large — at school have consequences that vary from minor annoyances and embarrassment to not being able to attend college or find meaningful employment after high school.

Solution: 

Will Wright, the designer of SimCity and other simulation games, commented on the goals he has for Spore, a new video game now in development: "I want people to be able to step back five steps, five really big steps. To think about life itself and its potential-scale impact. I want the gamers to have this awesome perspective handed to them in a game. And then let them decide how to interpret it" (Johnson, 2006). While we can't know how valid this perspective is and how his new game will promote those ways of thinking, it's clear that it represents a step up in relation to the majority of the other games that people play.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Video games can be violent, sexually explicit, exploitive, and commercialistic. Whether or not they lead to anti-social behavior and attitudes, the idea presents intriguing possibilities. Ideally they could help teach people about real-world issues in compelling ways. And models and simulations provide ways for people to explore situations that can't be experienced directly — like the future.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Faust_und_Mephisto_beim_Schachspiel_19Jh.jpg

Environmental Impact Remediation

Pattern ID: 
603
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
124
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Jim Gerner
Free Geek Olympia
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Although information and communication are often conceived as abstract, intangible and immaterial, the systems that maintain them are, of necessity, constructed with solid things such as paper, lead, concrete, rubber, glass, mercury, cadmium and silicon which are fabricated into the delivery trucks, wires, library buildings, computers, chips and CDs. The manufacture (and ultimate retirement) of all of these things is often accompanied with environmental damage, as the 23 "Superfund" sites in Silicon Valley will attest, In 2005, 63 million computers in the U.S. were replaced with newer models. Up to 80% of the waste is then sent to developing countries where it often contributes to environmental and health hazards. Additionally, energy is consumed — often in immense quantities — throughout every stage in the life-cycle of a product. As devices are made with shorter and shorter life-spans and the uses of ICS increases worldwide, this problem will become more critical unless something is done.

Context: 

Vast numbers of people are affected by the increasing "informatization" of the world. This includes people who are fortunate enough to capitalize on the new technology and those who are unfortunate enough to live with the refuse. This pattern can be used by people who have some control over the situation, including those who are in a position to develop laws and policies, producers who can lessen the effects of their products entering the waste-stream, and local communities who can develop policies and programs for responsible treatment of discarded technology. Community activists, health professionals, local governments, and neighborhood organizations will need to organize and work together in this effort. Other possible participants include computer geeks, social activists, environmental activists and those wanting to learn more about computers and new technology.

Discussion: 

The use of information and communication systems is expanding enormously in countries like the US as well as in countries like China and India. This is causing immense demands on their infrastructure and on the environment. Computer technology has grown increasingly more sophisticated in a very short period of time. During that same time, the costs have dropped in relative and absolute terms, thus resulting in a massive number of obsolete computers and other technology much of which has been dumped somewhere where toxins like lead, cadmium and mercury can leach into the soil and water.

In addition to the new intellectual and social spaces that the new technology helps provide, we need to think about the impact that information and communication systems are having on the environment. Although we associate physical spaces like libraries and auditoriums with energy and resource use, the creation, storage, and distribution of information requires energy and resource use as well. Some of this use doesn't square with conventional wisdom. Computer use, for example was supposed to lower the consumption of paper because everybody would simply read the computer screen. The amount of travel was also going to decline because business could be conducted electronically, thus substituting communication for transportation. The electronics industry was also celebrated as an environmentally friendly industry yet there are 19 "superfund" sites associated with high-tech industries slated for environmental remediation in Santa Clara county, home to more of these sites that any other county in the U.S. IBM and Fairchild Electronics were disposing their waste products in underground tanks which subsequently leaked trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, Freon and other solvents into the drinking water of 65,000 people. There also seems to be an unhealthy link between the waste producers and the people who must deal with it, specifically prison inmates who work with inadequate protection and no health insurance working in for profit prisons.

Why pick on information and communication systems? After all, other sectors use energy and cause pollution. One reason is that "electronic waste is the fastest growing part of the waster system," according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Another reason is that it's important for people to realize that information and communication technology is not a utopian, magical answer to all problems. Obviously we need to consider the entire life-cycle of all products — including those related to information and communication. (While this task is not trivial, thinking about the "second order" effects while extremely important, is even more difficult to do meaningfully. The effects of the automobile on all aspects of life, including attitudes on sex, as well as the effects of the size of the weapons industry in the U.S. on foreign policy are both intriguing examples of unforeseen side-effects.) Understanding the entire "cradle-to-grave" (and beyond! as in the case of toxins that can reach out from the grave to poison air and water) is critical, but what should be done with the information? It may be easiest to require that every manufactured or imported product is covered under an ecologically-sound "Take-it-Back" (SVTC, 2005) policy that requires the manufacturer or importer to pay for recovery or safe sequestering of hazardous materials.

Free Geek was started in Portland, Oregon in 2000 by members of the open source software community to bring resources to bear on the problems of e-waste and the digital divide by helping "the needy get nerdy." The Free Geek approach combines participatory education and environmentalism. Free Geek addresses the problem of discarded computers and other electronic e-waste can be diminished by reusing and recycling. Free Geek uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology. Volunteers are eligible to receive a computer after finishing a tour of service which educates the volunteer about computers and about the environmental impacts of ICT. The city government in Portland, as part of their effort to reduce e-waste helps support the project. A broad range of people are working together to cross the economic and social divides by working towards a common goal. The Free Geek concept has quickly spread to other areas including Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The Free Geek approach is not the only way to address the problem of lacking a community recycling program. There are many similar projects throughout the country that may or may not use open source software. But Free Geek is worth mentioning here for many reasons. First, Free Geek was developed by civil society; second, Free Geek is a partnership between several sectors and thus helps bring all sectors of the local community into a common struggle; and, third, Free Geek is an innovative approach that deftly addresses a multitude of issues within a common set of principles, assumptions and actions.

Starting and running a Free Geek or similar program requires a variety of skills and activities. The pattern can only be implemented by a group of people. To start that group one would post meeting announcements and invite members from local Linux users groups, college students and others. Since the overall environment for this approach will vary from community to community it's important to find out what's happening in your community and who's involved. The success of the project is likely to depend on how well you understand your community and can work with people in the community. Beyond that, there are many "nuts and bolts" issues including finding space and funding and developing programs. Associating with Free Geek is probably a good idea because of its network of dedicated people, useful documents and software for running an community recycling project.

The environmental problems associated with information and communication technology are severe and no mutually agreed-upon long-term, sustainable solution has been identified. People are developing a variety of creative and thoughtful responses to the problems of ICT-related pollution but more are needed. Information and communication technology can probably be part of the solution — but part of this involves stopping be part of the problem.

Solution: 

As a necessary part of stewardship and responsibility, it's essential to come to terms with the environmental impact of information and communication systems and devise suitable strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. Some combination of policy, consumer education, habits of consumption, social and technological innovation and recycling will probably be necessary for this take place effectively.

Introductory graphic located at http://freegeek.org/volunteer.php

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although information and communication may seem abstract and immaterial, the systems that support them are built with solid things whose manufacture and disposal is often accompanied with environmental damage. We must acknowledge the environmental impact of these systems and devise strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. One group, Free Geek, uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology by reusing and recycling.

Pattern status: 
Released
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