We need to talk about the social media silos

O Jaraguá é Guaraní

The photo displayed above is from a protest in São Paulo on August 30. The protest was because a federal court in São Paulo has decided to strip the area called Jaraguá of its status as indigenous land, effectively expulsing 700 men, women and children from the land they’re currently occupying, no doubt to satisfy hungry developers and real estate vendors in their dreams of seeing soy fields and shopping malls wherever clean forests and rivers can still be found.

The Guaraní will, as may be appreciated from these photos and from this video, not be taking this lying down, in fact the Jaraguá’s designation as indigenous land in 2015 was the result of decades of struggle on their part. With the current Brazilian government, however, and the possibility of the arrival of an even more right-wing one with the presidential elections next years, the prospects might be very bleak indeed.

The aspect of this case which I want to discuss stems from the fact that the photo above as well as the album it links to was taken by my friend Rafael Frazão, an active member of the technoshamanism network who has been instrumental in establishing a collaboration with the Guaraní in Mbya, Pico de Jaraguá (see here, in Portuguese, for an example of this collaboration). As many members of the network use Facebook to communicate, everyone posted the photos of the videos there – and something strange happens: The photos and videos from the protest got much less attention than everything else the same people were posting, as if Facebook was deciding that some things are best left unsaid and consequently declined to show this very protest to anyone.

I’m guessing that the reason is that Facebook’s algorithms figured out the pictures are about a protest and that protests are given low priority because they don’t sit well with ad buyers, e.g., they fall afoul of the algorithms that maximize ad revenue. All in all, a non-political consequence of some people’s reaction to this kind of material.

The effect, however, of this algorithmic decision is highly political. I apologize for speaking in all caps here, but effectively, and especially for those millions of people who use Facebook as their main communication channel, this means that Facebook SPECIFICALLY silenced news about a protest against more than 700 people having their land STOLEN beneath them as just one small step of an ONGOING GENOCIDE against the indigenous population in Brazil. Censorship hardly gets any more serious than that.

But what would the company’s general attitude to that kind of controversy be? Well, in his highly readable review of three books about Facebook, John Lanchester notes that

An early experiment came in the form of Free Basics, a program offering internet connectivity to remote villages in India, with the proviso that the range of sites on offer should be controlled by Facebook. ‘Who could possibly be against this?’ Zuckerberg wrote in the Times of India. The answer: lots and lots of angry Indians. The government ruled that Facebook shouldn’t be able to ‘shape users’ internet experience’ by restricting access to the broader internet. A Facebook board member tweeted that ‘anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?’ As Taplin points out, that remark ‘unwittingly revealed a previously unspoken truth: Facebook and Google are the new colonial powers.’

This kind of censorship, and Google’s and Facebook’s arrogance and colonial attitudes, would not be a problem if these companies were just players among players, but they’re not. For a large majority of Internet users, Google and Facebook are the Internet. With the site itself, Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp, Facebook is sitting on a near-monopoly on communication between human beings. It’s come to the point where the site is seriously difficult to abandon, with sports clubs, schools and religious organizations using it as their only communication infrastructure.

During the twelve years I’ve followed the free software movement, I’ve seen the movement go back and forth, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, never gaining much ground, but never losing in a big way either.

I suppose with the rise of Google and especially Facebook, this has changed: Free software has lost the battle for nothing less than electronic communication between human beings to a proprietary behemoth, and it is already – exemplified in a very minor and random way by the Guaraní – doing serious damage to democracy, to freedom of speech and to civil society in general.

So, dear lovers of free software, how do we turn this around? Ideally, we could solve the problem for ourselves by creating interoperable platforms built on free software and open standards and convince everybody we want to communicate with to follow us there. So easy, and yet so difficult. How do we do it?

Technoshamanism at Aarhus University

by Fabiane M. Borges

(originally)

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Conversation around technoshamanism in the center of Digital Living Research Commons in the Department of Information Studies & Digital Design at the University of Aarhus.

We talked about the traditions of festivals before the festivals of technoshamanism, such as Brazilian tactical media, Digitofagy, Submidialogy, MSST (Satellitless Movement), etc. We presented the Baobáxia and the indigenous / quilombola struggles in the city and the countryside. The aesthetic manifestations of encounters of technoshamanism as well as ideas about free or postcolonial thoughts, ancestorfuturism and new Subjective territories.

Organized by Martin Brynskov and Elyzabeth Joy Holford (directors of the departament and hacklab) and colaborators as Kata Börönte, Winnie Soon and Kristoffer Thyrrestrup and students of the departament. Connection and introduction of Carsten Agger, with the participation of Fabiane M. Borges, Raisa Inocêncio and Ariane Stolfi.

Facebook of DLRC: Digital Living Research Commons

Facebook event: Technoshamanism at the DLRC

PHOTOS

VIDEO

Technoshamanism in the Dome of Visions, Aarhus – review

by Fabiane M. Borges

(originally)

DCIM100GOPROG0181439.

In 12 of August of 2017 we did the second meeting of technoshamanism in Aarhus/ Denmark, here is the open call “Technoshamanism in Aarhus, Rethinking ancestrality and technology” (2017).

The first one was in november of 2014 with the name “technomagic and technoshamanism meeting in Aarhus“. It was made at the Open Space, a hacker space in Aarhus.

The second one was made at Dome of Visions,  a ecological geodesic located in the region of Port of Aarhus, supported by a group of eco-activists. The meeting was organized by Carsten Agger with  Ariane Stolfi, Fabiane M. Borges and Raisa Inocêncio. With the participation of: Amalia FonfaraRune Hjarno RasmussenWinnie Soon and Sebastian Tranekær. Here you can see the complete programme.

First, we did a radio discussion, after performance/ritual presentations, in the end a jam session of voice, noise with analogical and digital instruments, Smoking and clay bath.

AUDIO (by Finetanks): https://archive.org/details/II-tcnxmnsm-aarhus

PHOTOS (by Domo of Visions):

 

 

 

VIDEOS (by tcnxmsnm):

Part 1

Part 2

 

“The venue was really beautiful and well-equipped, its staff was helpful
and people in the audience were friendly and interested. Everything went
completely smoothly and according to plan, and the final ritual was
wonderful with its combination of Arab flute, drumming, noise and visual
performance. All in all a wonderful event.” (Carsten Agger)

“I think it was really instructive and incredibly cool to be with people who have so much knowledge and passion about the subjects they are dealing with. Communication seems to be the focal point, and there was a great willingness to let people express their minds.” (Sebastian Tranekær)

“The meeting was very diverse, the afternoon with speeches and discussion of some topics linked to the network of technoshamanism, such as self-organization, decolonization of thought, then we discussed technology and future cyborg and at the end we talked about noise and feminism. Ritual open with the participation of other people and was very curious to see the engagement, – it was a rite of rock!! ” (Raisa Inocêncio)”

It was so nice to see Aarhus again, this dome of vision is really special place, thank you to all of you!! We did just one day of meeting and we could not listen everybody, but I am sure it is just the beginning!!! I agree with Raisa, it was a rite of rock-noise. (Fabiane M. Borges)

Technoshamanism in Aarhus – rethink ancestrality and technology – PROGRAM

FREE RADIO
Moderated by Carsten Agger
14:00-14:45    What is technoshamanism? How does it work and what does it want?
What political issues does it raise? Introduction by Fabiane M. Borges, input from various participants
14:45-15:15    What and how may we learn about Chinese text censorship with machine learning? (Winnie Soon)
15:15-15:45    Decolonization and self-organization (Carsten Agger and Raisa Inocêncio)
15:45-16:30    Immigrating ontologies, recovering ancestralities (Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen and Amalia Fonfara)
16:30-17:30    Sonora Network – Collective Feminism in music and gender study (Ariane Stolfi)
17:30-18:00   BREAK
PERFORMANCE
18:00 – 19:00 Workshop: Invisible Drum (Amalia Fonfara)
19:00 – 19:30 Political Bath (Raisa Inocêncio)
19:30 – 20:00 Open Band (Ariane Stolfi)
20:00-21:00 BREAK, preparations for ritual
21:00 – 24:00  A collective DIY ritual created by the participants.
For the ritual, please bring musical instruments, clothes, whatever props are adequate for your contribution as well as inspiration and ideas.
EXHIBITION
Throughout the event, the installation Hyperelixx by Samuel Capps will be exhibited and can be perused by visitors.
The event will take place in Dome of Visions, Aarhus on August 12, as announced in the Open Call.
BIOGRAPHIES
Amalia Fonfara: (Greenland 1985) Artist and shamanic practitioner based in Trondheim. Since 2010, Amalia Fonfara has lived in Norway. She holds a bachelor of fine art (2013) and  an international master of fine art (2015), from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Fonfara has studied different esoteric practices, including spiritism, shamanism and contemplative healing practices. She is currently doing a one year study prg. at Scandinavian Center of Shamanic Studies in Sweden. In her artistic practice the perception of reality, imagination and spirituality are closely connected and intertwined. Will present the Invisible Drum project at this event. www.amaliafonfara.com
Ariane Stolfi: Architect, composer, programmer and musician, transits between languages. Doctorate candidate on Sonology (ECA-USP), researching interactive interfaces on web technologies, has made installations and performances such “Hexagrama essa é pra tocar” and “Cromocinética”. Joined festivals such Submidialogias, #DisExperimental, Virada Cultural and Dissonantes, mantains finetanks.com experimental netlabel and collabotates with Sonora feminist collective.
Carsten Agger: Software developer, activist and writer, active in social movements for free software and civil rights and against racism and colonial wars, for twenty years. Trained as a theoretical physicist he works as a free software developer, contributes to the Baobáxia project and co-organized the LibreOffice Conference 2015. He wrote a book about the Qur’an and is currently studying Norse religion and language for a comparative project. Served two years on the board of the hackerspace Open Space Aarhus and co-organized the II International Festival of Technoshamanism and technoshamanism events in Aarhus and Berlin. www.modspil.dk
Fabiane M. Borges holds a Post PhD in Visual Arts and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in São Paolo (Brazil) and works as a psychologist, artist and essayist; organizes events relative to art and technology and social movements; authored two books, Domínios do Demasiado (Hucitec/2010) and Breviário de Pornografia Esquizotrans (ExLibres 2010); coordinated two books with the media, art and technology network Submidialogia (Ideias Perigozas, 2010, and Peixe Morto, 2011). She is one of the organizers of the I and II International Festival of Technoshamanism – http://technoshamanism.wordpress.com/en Blog: https://catahistorias.wordpress.com/ – e-mail: ca t a d o re s@gm a il. c om
Raisa Inocêncio: Brazilian, born in 1989. She studied philosophy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Visual Arts at Parque Lage School. Now studying at Toulouse University (France) in Erasmus Mundus Masters Europhilosophie. Research on the aesthetic-political practices of post-porn movement through performing actions and references such as artists Anne Sprinkle, Diana Torres, the collective Coyote, Ju Dorneles among others.
Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen:Graduated from the University of Copenhagen with an MA in History of Religions and Anthropology, which included two fieldwork periods in Brazil and two in Uganda. He has self-published a book on the role of traditional songs in Capoeira, and has collaborated on documentary film work on the role of religion in Ghana (2002). He worked for two years in humanitarian work removing land-mines in Angola and the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, and he has worked and published on anti-trafficking. He is currently finishing a PhD on ritual technologies in Afro-Brazilian religion.
Samuel Capps is a British artist whose work, among them the recent show ‘Relics from the De-Crypt’, work around themes similar to technoshamanism. He also runs the gallery Gossamer Fog in London. www.samuelcapps.com
Winnie Soon: Winnie Soon is an artist-researcher who resides in Hong Kong and Denmark. Her work approach spans the fields of artistic practice and software studies, examining the materiality of computational processes that underwrite our experiences and realities in digital culture. Winnie’s work has been presented at festivals, conferences and museums throughout the Asia Pacific, Europe and America, including but not limited to Transmediale2015/2017, ISEA2015/2016, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Si Shang Art Museum, Pulse Art + Technology Festival, Hong Kong Microwave International Media Arts Festival, FutureEverything Art Exhibition. Currently, she is assistant professor at the Department of Digital Design and Information Studies in Aarhus University. More info: www.siusoon.net

Technoshamanism in Aarhus – rethink ancestrality and technology

OPEN CALL

On August 12, 2017 from 14:00 to 22:00 there will be a technoshamanism meeting in Dome of Visions, Aarhus, Denmark.

The purpose of the meeting is to unite people who are interested in the combination of DIY technologies such as free software and permaculture with ancestral, ancestorfuturist and shamanistic practices. We are calling all the cyborgs, witches, heretics, technoshamans, programmers, hackers, artists, alchemists, thinkers and everyone who might be curious to join us and explore the possiblities of combining ancestorfuturism, perspectivism, new and old indigenism im middle of the climate changes of anthropocene.

If you feel attracted by the combination of these terms, techno + shamanism and ancestrality + futurism and if you’re worried about the destruction of the Earth and the hegemony of capital and neoliberal ontologies, this event is for you. In view of Aarhus’ slogan as European Cultural Capital of 2017, the theme of this event could be: Rethink ancestrality and technology!

We welcome all proposals for rituals, musical and artistic performances, talks, discussions and technological workshops. Please send your proposal to xamanismotecnologico@gmail.com.

The proposal needs to be short (250 words) with your web site (if any) and a short bio.

PROGRAM

FREE RADIO

The verbal talks will be structured as roundtable discussions with several participants which are recorded and simultaneously live streamed as Internet radio.

Topics:

  • TECHNOSHAMANISM – What is it?
  • Ancestrality and ancestrofuturism
  • Experiences from the II International Festival and other events
  • Immigration and new ontologies arriving in Europe
  • Self-organizing with free software and DIY technology
  • Your proposal!

PERFORMANCE AND RITUAL

A collaborative DIY ritual to end the event – bring costumes, proposals, visual effects, ideas and musical instruments.

We welcome proposals for all kinds of performance, rituals and narratives along the lines of this open call – all proposals to be sent to xamanismotecnologico@gmail.com.

NOTE

When we have received your proposals, we will organize them and publish a detailed program around August 1, for the discussions and workshops as well as for the rituals.

ACCOMODATION

If you don’t live in Aarhus and need accomodation, that can be arranged (for free). Bring your sleeping bag!

WHO ARE WE?

This encounter is organized by Carsten Agger, Beatriz Ricci, Fabiane M. Borges and Ouafa Rian.

TECHNOSHAMANISM – THE NETWORK

Tecnoshamanism is an international network for people interested in living out their ideas in everyday life while focusing on open science, open technology, free and DIY cosmological visions and feel the necessity of maintaining a strong connection to the Earth as a living, ecological organism.

In recent years, we have had meetings in Spain, England, Denmark, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Germany, and Switzerland. In November 2016, we had the II International Festival of Tecnoxamanism in the indigenous Pataxó village of Pará in Bahia, Brazil. The purpoose of this meeting is to discuss technoshamanism as outlined above and to strengthen and grow this network, hopefully reaching out to new partners in Denmark and beyond. The network is based in Brazil but draws inspiration from all over the world.

You can find more information on technoshamanism in these articles:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This event is supported by Digital Living Research Commons, Aarhus University.

Technoshamanism and Wasted Ontologies

Interview with Fabiane M. Borges published on May 21, 20171

By Bia Martins and Reynaldo Carvalho – translated by Carsten Agger

Fabiane M. Borges, writer and researcher

Fabiane M. Borges, writer and researcher

Also available in PDF format

In a state of permanent warfare and fierce disputes over visions of the future, technoshamanism emerges as a resistance and as an endeavour to influence contemporary thinking, technological production, scientific questions, and everyday practices. This is how the Brazilian Ph.D. in clinical psychology, researcher and essayist Fabiane M. Borges presents this international network of collaboration which unites academics, activists, indigenous people and many more people who are interested in a search for ideas and practices which go beyond the instrumental logic of capital. In this interview with Em Rede, she elaborates her reflections on technoshamanism as platform for producing knowledge and indicates some of the experiences that were made in this context.

At first, technology and shamanism seem like contradictory notions or at least difficult to combine. The first refers to the instrumental rationalism that underlies an unstoppable developmentalist project. The second makes you think of indigenous worldviews, healing rituals and altered states of consciousness. What is the result of this combination?

In a text that I wrote for the magazine Geni2 in 2015, I said this: that techno + shamanism has three quite evident meanings:

  1. The technology of shamanism (shamanism seen as a technology for the production of knowledge);
  2. The shamanism of technology (the pursuit of shamanic powers through the use of technology);
  3. The combination of these two fields of knowledge historically obstructed by the Church and later by science, especially in the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Each of these meanings unfolds into many others, but here is an attempt to discuss each one:

1) When we perceive shamanism not as tribal religions or as the beliefs of archaic people (as is still very common) but as a technology of knowledge production, we radically change the perception of its meaning. The studies of e.g. ayahuasca show that intensified states of consciousness produce a kind of experience which reshapes the state of the body, broadening the spectrum of sensation, affection, and perception. These “plants of power” are probably that which brings us closest to the “magical thinking” of native communities and consequently to the shamanic consciousness – that is, to that alternative ontology, as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro alerts us when he refers to the Amerindian ontology in his book Cannibal Metaphysics3, or Davi Kopenawa with his shamanic education with yakoana, as described in The Falling Sky4. It is obviously not only through plants of power that we can access this ontology, but they are a portal which draws us singularly near this way of seeing the world, life itself. Here, we should consider the hypotheses of Jeremy Narby in his The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and origins of knowledge where he explains that the indigenous knowledge of herbs, roots and medicine arises partly from dreams and from the effects of entheogens.

When I say that shamanism is a technology of knowledge production, it is because it has its own methods for constructing narratives, mythologies, medicine and healing as well as for collecting data and creating artifacts and modes of existence, among other things. So this is neither ancient history nor obsolete – it lives on, pervading our technological and mass media controlled societies and becoming gradually more appreciated, especially since the 1960s where ecological movements, contact with traditional communities and ways of life as well as with psychoactive substances all became popular, sometimes because of the struggles of these communities and sometimes because of an increased interest in mainstream society. A question arose: If we were to recuperate these wasted ontologies with the help of these surviving communities and of our own ruins of narratives and experiences, would we not be broadening the spectrum of technology itself to other issues and questions?

2) The shamanism of technology. It is said that such theories as parallel universes, string theory and quantum physics, among others, bring us closer to the shamanic ontology than to the theological/capitalist ontology which guides current technological production. But although this current technology is geared towards war, pervasive control and towards over-exploitation of human, terrestrial and extra-terrestrial resources, we still possess a speculative, curious and procedural technology which seeks to construct hypotheses and open interpretations which are not necessarily committed to the logic of capital (this is the meaning of the free software, DIY and open source movements in the late 20th and early 21st century).

We are very interested in this speculative technology, since in some ways it represents a link to the lost ancestral knowledge. This leads us directly to point 3) which is the conjunction of technology with shamanism. And here I am thinking of an archeology or anarcheology, since in the search for a historical connection between the two, many things may also be freely invented (hyperstition). As I have explained in other texts, such as the Seminal Thoughts for a Possible Technoshamanism or Ancestrofuturism – Free Cosmogony – Rituals DIY, there was a Catholic theological effort against these ancestral knowledges, a historical inhibition that became more evident during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance with its inquisitions, bonfires, prisons, torture and demands for retraction. The technology which was originally a part of popular tradition and needs passed through a purification, a monotheist Christian refinement, and adhered to these precepts in order to survive.

In his book La comunidad de los espectros5, Fabián Ludueña Romandini discusses this link between science and Catholicism, culminating in a science that was structurally oriented towards becoming God, hence its tendency to omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience. Its link to capital is widely discussed by Silvia Federici in her book Caliban and the Witch6, who states that the massacre against witches, healers, sorcerers, heretics and all who did not conform to the precepts of the church was performed in order to clear the way for the introduction of industrial society and capitalism. So two things must be taken into account here: first, that there has been a violent decimation of ancestral knowledge throughout Europe and its colonial extensions and secondly, that the relationship between science/technology and the wasted ontologies was sundered in favor of a Christian theological metaphysics.

Faced with this, techno + shamanism is an articulation which tries to consider this historical trauma, these lost yet not annihilated leftovers, and to recover (and reinvent) points of connection between technology and wasted ontologies, which in our case we call shamanism since it represents something preceding the construction of the monotheisms and because it is more connected to the processes of planet Earth, at least according to the readings that interest us. But there are several other networks and groups that use similar terms and allow other readings such as techno + magic, cyber + spirituality, techno + animism and gnoise (gnosis + noise), among others, all talking about more or less the same issues.

The result of this mixture is improbable. It functions as a resistance, an awakening, an attempt to influence contemporary thinking, technological practices, scientific questions as well as everyday practices. These are tension vectors that drive a change in the modes of existence and of relation to the Earth and the Cosmos, applied to the point where people are currently, causing them to associate with other communities with similar aspirations or desiring to expand their knowledge. These changes are gradually taking shape, whether with clay or silicium technology. But the thing is crazy, the process is slow and the enemy is enormous. Given the current level of political contention that we are currently experiencing in Brazil, associations and partnerships with traditional communities, be they indigenous, afro-Brazilian, Roma, aboriginal or activist settlements (the MST7 and its mystique), seems to make perfect sense. It is a political renewal mixed with ancestorfuturist worldviews.

You’ve pointed out that conceptually technoshamanism functions as a utopian, dystopian and entropic network of collaboration. What does this mean in practice?

Fundamentally, we find ourselves in a state of constant war, a fierce dispute between different visions of the future, between social and political ontologies and between nature and technology. In this sense, technoshamanism manifests itself as yet another contemporary network which tries to analyze, position itself with respect to and intervene in this context. It is configured as a utopian network because it harbors visionary germs of liberty, autonomy, equality of gender, ethnicity, class and people and of balance between the environment and society that have hitherto characterized revolutionary movements. It is dystopian because at the same time it includes a nihilistic and depressive vision which sees no way out of capitalism, is disillusioned by neoliberalism and feels itself trapped by the project of total, global control launched by the world’s owners. It sees a nebulous future without freedom, with all of nature destroyed, more competition and poverty, privation and social oppression. And it is entropic because it inhabits this paradoxical set of forces and maintains an improbable noise – its perpetual noisecracy, its state of disorganization and insecurity is continuous and is constantly recombining itself. Its improbability is its dynamism. It is within this regime of utopia, dystopia and entropy that it promotes its ideas and practices, which are sometimes convergent and sometimes divergent.

In practice, this manifests itself in individual and collective projects, be they virtual or face-to-face and in the tendencies that are generated from these. Nobody is a network, people are in it from time to time according to necessities, desires, possibilities, etc.

This network’s meetings take place in different countries, mainly in South America and Europe. Can you give some examples of experiences and knowledge which were transferred between these territories?

Some examples: Tech people who come from the European countries to the tecnoshamanism festivals and return doing permaculture and uniting with groups in their own countries in order to create collective rituals very close to the indigenous ones or collective mobilization for construction, inspired by the indigenous mutirão. Installation of agroforestry in a basically extractivist indigenous territory organized by foreigners or non-indigenous Brazilians working together with indigenous people. The implementation of an intranet system (peer-to-peer network) within indigenous territory (Baobáxia). Confluence of various types of healing practices in healing tents created during encounters and festivals, ranging from indigenous to oriental practices, from afro-Brazilian to electronic rituals, from Buddhist meditation to the herb bath of Brazilian healers, all of this creating generative spontaneous states where knowledge is exhanged and is subsequently transferred to different places or countries. Indigenous and non-indigenous bioconstructor’s knowledge of adobe, converging in collective construction work in MST’s squatted lands (this project is for the next steps). Artistic media practices, performance, live cinema, projection, music, and so on, that are passed on to groups that know nothing about this. In the end, technoshamanism is an immersive and experiential platform for exchanging knowledge. All of this is very much derived from the experiences of other networks and movements such as tactical media, digital liberty, homeless movements, submediology, metareciclagem, LGBTQ, Bricolabs, and many others. In the technoshamanism book, published in 2016, there are several practices that can serve as a reference.

Technoshamanism arose from networks linked to collaborative movements such as Free Software and Do It Yourself with the same demands for freedom and autonomy in relation to science and technology. To what extent has it proposed new interventions or new kinds of production in these fields? Can you give an example?

First is important to say that these movements of free software and DIY have changed. They have been mixed up with the neoliberal program, whether we’re talking about corporate software or about the makers, even though both movements remain active and are still spaces of invention. In the encounters and festivals, we are going as far is possible, considers our precarious nature, lack of dedicated funding or support from economically stronger institutions, we rely mainly on the knowledge of the participants of the network, which come into action in the places. I also know of cases where the festivals inspired the formation of groups of people who returned to their cities and continued to do work related to technological issues, whether in the countryside, in computer technology, and in art as well. Technoshamanism serves to inspire and perhaps empower projects that already function, but which technoshamanism endorses and excites.

I think that a fairly representative example is the agroforest, the Baobáxia system and the web radio Aratu that we implemented with the Pataxó in the Pará village. It is an exhange and simultanously a resistance that points to the question of collaboration and autonomy, remembering that all the processes of this planet are interdependent and that autonomy is really a path, an ideal which only works pragmatically and to the extent that it’s possible to practice it. So we’re crawling in that direction. There are networks and processes much more advanced.

What we’d like to see is the Pataxó village Pará (home of the II International Festival of Technoshamanism), to take one example, with food autonomy and exuberant agroforests and wellsprings, with media and technological autonomy and very soon with autonomous energy. We’d like to see that not just for the Pataxó, but for all the groups in the network (at least). But that depends a lot on time, investment and financing, because these things may seem cheap, but they aren’t. We should remember that corporations, entrepeneurs and land-owners are concentrating their forces on these indigenous villages and encouraging projects that go totally against all of this, that is, applying pressure in order to take their land, incorporate them in the corporate productive system and turn them into low-paid workers, etc.

In May 2017 we met with the Terra Vista Settlement in Arataca (Bahia, Brazil). They invited the leaders of the Pataxó village to become part of the Web of Peoples8 which has this exact project of technological and alimentary autonomy and I see this as a kind of continuation of the proposals which were generated in community meetings in the Pará village during the preparations for the II International Festival of Technoshamanism. Everything depends on an insistent and frequent change in the more structural strata of desire. And when we understand that TV channels like the Globo network reach all these territories, we see the necessity of opening other channels of information and education.

Do you believe that insurgent knowledge and anti-hegemonic epistemologies should gradually take up more space in the universities or is it better for them to remain in the margin?

Fabiane M. BorgesIn a conversation with Joelson, leader of the MST in the Terra Vista settlement he gave the following hint, which was decisive for me: “Technoshamanism is neither the beginning nor the end, it is a medium.” His suggestion is that as a medium, technoshamanism possesses a space of articulation, which rather than answering questions of genesis and purpose functions as a space of interlocution, for making connections, uniting focal points, leveraging movements, expanding concepts and practices concerning itself and other movements – that is, it plays in the middle of the field and facilitates processes.

As yet another network in the “middle”, it negotiates sometimes within institutions and sometimes outside them, sometimes inside academia and sometimes outside it. Since it consists of people from the most diverse areas, it manifests itself in the day to day life of its members. Some work in academia, some in healing, others in a pizzaria. That is, the network is everywhere where its participants are. I particularly like it when we do the festivals autonomously, deciding what to do and how to do it with the people who invite us and we don’t have to do favours or do anything in return for the institutions. But this is not to say that it will always be like that. In fact, the expenses of those who organize the meetings are large and unsustainable. Sometimes the network will be more independent, sometimes more dependent. What it can’t do is stagnate because of the lack of possibilities. Crowdfunding has been an interesting way out, but it’s not enough. It’s necessary sometimes to form partnerships with organizations such as universities so the thing can continue moving in a more consistent and prolonged form, because it’s difficult to rely on people’s good will alone – projects stagnate because they lack the ressources.

Notes

4 Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, The Falling Sky, Belknap Press (2013).

5 Fabián Ludueña, La comunidad de los espectros: Antropotecnia, Mino y Davila (2010).

6 Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia (2004). Available here: https://libcom.org/files/Caliban%20and%20the%20Witch.pdf

7 MST, the “landless worker’s movement” is a social movement in Brazil that fights for workers’ access to land through demands for land reform and direct actions such as establishing settlements on occupied land.

Talk on nature and permaculture

STATE OF THE DANISH NATURE (AND SOCIETY)

Talk given at the technoshamanism encounter in Aarhus, November 22, 2014.

I wish to talk about the Danish nature, and I’d like to start by showing
you some pictures. The first pictures I’m going to show you were taken
by the writer and photogropher Rune Engelbreth Larsen who has been
working a lot on documenting the Danish nature as it is today.

Photo (c) Rune Engelbreth LarsenWhat you se here is of course a Danish forest with a lake, and if you
look at these pictures (which Rune Engelbreth has been dedicating
several years of his life to taking, making excursions and going to the
most remote corners of Danish nature) you’ll find that
many places in Denmark we actually have a rich nature
with very beautiful places, e.g. like this.

Photo (c) Rune Engelbreth LarsenSo if you visit a place like this and many others, you’d be forgiven for
thinking that if there are so many wonderful places here in Denmark
where you can go to meditate and enjoy the nature, we must have a
beautiful and very diverse nature in this country. And it’s true -
you can indeed find places where you can
take such pictures. You can find many such places, also e.g. like this:

Photo (c) Rune Engelbreth LarsenThese examples of Danish nature are places with a really peaceful
atmosphere. They are very green and very nice, usually with very
comfortable temperatures. If you visit some of the best places in Danish
nature, you’ll find that these are places that you can really feel a
part of, where you can relax and be happy and feel a strong sense of
belonging. As a Danish person I grew up with this kind of nature, and
I really feel at home in these tranquil spots. This is a landscape to
which I can really connect, spiritually.

Photo (c) Rune Engelbreth Larsen

In the photo above, you see one of our great oak forests, in Langaa.
Originally, Danish forests consisted mainly of oak trees; today, species
like beech, birch and fir are much more common. We don’t really
know why this forest has been conserved as oak, but in pre-Christian
times oak trees were connected to the ancient Nordic religion – the oak
is the tree of Thor. Thus, a very old oak forest like this one can also
help us connect to that part of our ancestral history.

However, if you look at other parts of the Danish landscape, a very
different picture emerges. The following pictures were all taken during a
walk that I took one day several years ago when I was living in
Solbjerg, a small town south of Aarhus. I walked around the lake called
Solbjerg Sø in one end and Stilling Sø in the other. There are, as you
can see, nice pastures along its banks that you can follow.

The trees that you see in the background are a small forest that’s also
quite beautiful once you get inside.

From there, you can go up a hill road and get a good view of the
landscape (click to see the full panorama image).

You have the hillside, the trees in the background, the
lake, and it’s all very nice, but: as pleasant as all of this might
appear, these pictures are actually lying. The first pictures I chose to
illustrate this article are truthful enough – they really do show some
very nice spots of Danish nature. But the pictures from my walk are
lying, all of them. Solbjerg Sø is situated in a completely agricultural
district, and the only reason there are green pastures at its banks is
that it’s too humid, so they can’t get their tractors all the way down
there. The trees at their edge form a hedge, and the corn fields start
right on the other side. In the autumn and winter, the pastures are
flooded and it’s nearly impossible to walk there. This is partly because
the lake’s water level is rising slightly, but mostly it’s because of
the drainage pipes that carry water from the fields on the hillside,
making them more tractor- and corn-friendly. This drainage water will
also carry excess fertilizer and pesticides which are sprayed on the
crop, all of which are flowing directly onto the pastures on their way
to the lake.

If you enter the forest on the other side of the lake – as I did that
day, since I walked all the way around the lake as close to the banks as
possible – you’ll se that it has been cut back and replaced with corn
fields as far down the slope as possible, right down to the point where
the ground becomes so humid that no matter what they do and how many
draining pipes they put in the ground, they still won’t be able to till
it and thus they can’t grow corn on it. The hillside is drained as far
down as possible, and the water from the fields is conducted to that
wood and makes it much too humid, creating a very bad climate in the
wood. The water from the fields is polluted with nutrients from the
chemical fertilizers used for the corn. This means that the wood by the
lake is overgrown with nettles, and otherwise the biological diversity
is nil. The high humidity does make it an ideal breeding place for
mosquitoes, though. As idyllic as that wood may look at a distance, it
really isn’t a nice place.

The area around Solbjerg Sø is a good example of a very idyllic but
completely destroyed Danish landscape. And this is the real state of
most of Danish nature these days.

On the other hand, if you look at the picture below, you’ll see a
typical Danish landscape. If you look at an aerial photo, you’ll find
that this is what Denmark is: Corn fields. You’ll see some tiny patches
of green dispersed in the landscape. These are forests that they haven’t
felled yet and some very few bogs that they were unable to drain
enough to sow corn.

These landscapes are really dreary. What few people know is that Denmark
is the most heavily farmed country in Europe and one of the most heavily
farmed – and most destroyed – countries in the world.

My assessment of the situation is that, financially speaking, we’re
doing all of this for nothing. The most important crop on Danish corn
fields is barley, which is mainly grown in order to feed pigs and other
livestock. The real reason for having all these corn fields is that we
have to feed the pigs in the industrial pig farms so that we can export a
lot of pork meat.

Meanwhile, in these pig factories the pigs are being overmedicated. All
of them are usually treated preventively with antibiotics. This is
creating new antibiotic-resistant bacteria which may also infect humans.
Right now, there’s a bacterium originating in pig farms called MRSA
(Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) which is actually killing
people. In Denmark, four people died of MRSA infection from 2012 to
2014. In order to protect the pig farmers from “harm” (e.g., in the
form of consumer boykot), the government is keeping the outbreak
locations secret. This means that school classes may and do visit farms
with outbreaks of this deadly disease. The teachers are not allowed to
make a informed decision not to visit an infected farm, since that
information is confidential.

So this is the dilemma: Our agricultural production is destroying Danish
nature and undermining the health of future generations by creating
penicillin-resistant strains of bacteria which are already lethal in
some cases. At the same time, we don’t really have to produce food in
that way, because we don’t need to use all this space on corn fields in
order to feed ourselves. Most of our agricultural production is
exported. Of course, one might claim that we produce all this grain and
pork meat for sound economic reasons. The agriculture lobby is always
emphasizing this claim.

But the fact is that agriculture as practised in Denmark is not
financially sustainable. The only reason that Danish farmers survive
economically is that they’re heavily subsidized. If it weren’t for
subsidies, they would quickly go bankrupt. In other words, the present
overfarming is pointless. We’re sacrificing our country’s nature and
biological diversity to the very short-sighted interests of one single
profession whose productions methods are not even economically viable.

This is the first of the dilemmas I want to address: We’re destroying
our country in order to produce far more food than we need, and society
as a whole is losing money because of it. Meanwhile, there are many
environmentally and economically sustainable ways to produce food.

A related dilemma is that today’s consumer society is moving faster and
faster. This means that we as people are constantly pushed harder and
harder to perform. You have to do well in school, you have to get good
grades in secondary school, you have to work hard at the university, you
have to get a good exam. Once you get out you have to get a good job.
You’ll often have to be there at nine o’clock in the morning and stay
until five. In most jobs, you must be there during these hours or
you’ll get fired. If you get fired and you’re eligible for unemployment
benefit, society has all sorts of rules so you have to go to meetings,
attend “courses” and turn up at eight or nine o’clock in the morning
anyway. Only now you won’t get paid more than you need to barely keep
you from starving, so you better find a job soon! In other words, our
society isn’t free at all: We’re forced to become parts of consumer
society and we’re not actually free to choose not to be a part of it.

One way in which we could become more free to choose how to live would be
to become less dependent on money.

I’d like to propose that the two problems I’ve described right now – the
destruction of nature by unsustainable and unnecessary food production
and modern society’s endemic lack of personal freedom – have one single
solution. We, as individuals, can obtain the means to sustain ourselves
and each other without having to work for money in the way we do now.
It is theoretically possible for us to create a sustainable life and a
sustainable production of food and other necessities in such a way that
our society is and remains in balance with nature.

If we were to organize our food production according to the principles
of permaculture; that is, if we were to produce what we need in forest
gardens and carefully designed multicultures, we could avoid the use of
chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels. In permaculture you
normally design your crops to balance and suplement each other, so you
don’t need to supply fertilizer – a careful selection of edible
perennials can help provide the nutrients they need and keep each
other’s pests and diseases away. The only monoculture crop we really
have to cultivate is wheat, since people do want bread. In order to
produce bread, we need about 500 square meters (organically farmed) for
each person, and that’s nothing compared to the area we’re currently
using for agriculture. Apart from that, we could organize our
agriculture entirely according to permaculture principles. We could
easily do without agriculture as an export industry, since it’s already
not actually making us any money, since it’s only profitable because
it’s subsidized. Giving up on the pig production, we could shrink the
agricultural land to a fraction of what it is today. Instead of using
60% of the country’s area for agriculture, we could feed ourselves with
just 10% of the space; and we could re-establish nature in the rest of
it.

That’s what we could do as a society if we want to transition to
something more sustainable. But we can also do something as individuals.
If we have the option we might, of course, shoot our proverbial uncle
in America and inherit all his millions – but most of us don’t have that
option. On the other hand, if we were to get cheap access to a garden -
I was lucky, as I was able to buy a house cheaply and I’m now building a
permaculture project there – we could put in a modest amount of work for
some years and afterwards we’d be able to get most of the food that we
need from that garden. It’s estimated that if you want to be
self-sufficient with food, you could get by with 400 square meters per
person, farmed very intensively. When I took my Permculture Design
Certificate, our teacher said that he wouldn’t try to do that himself -
he’d probably go for 800. But that’s still a moderately sized garden.
People could form communities with shared gardens – share the access,
share the cost, share the work, share the food – and you could have
communities of people who sustain themselves without ever spending any
money on food. So this transition is not just something we could do as
a society – we could do it ourselves and become vastly more independent
of having a job and being a part of consumer society. I’m not saying
this is the whole solution – there’s still some dependencies like how to
get the land in the first place – but it could be an important start for
many of us.

If you’re consuming pigs which have been produced by industrial
agriculture, then you’re also paying to have their fodder moved around,
you’re paying to have your fertilizers transported from abroad, you’re
paying to sustain a lot of carbon emissions. If you build a forest
garden in your own garden or help build a forest garden on a shared area
so that afterwards you can get most of your food from that forest
garden, you’re actually not emitting any carbon, you’re storing it. A
growing forest garden is actively removing carbon from the atmosphere
and storing it in the trees, in the roots beneath the ground and in all
the plants constantly growing in that garden. Calculations have been
made which show that if – and that’s a very big IF – we were to
transition to get a large part of our food from forest gardens and
sourcing that produce locally instead of having everything driven and
flown around, we would be able to take enough carbon out of the Earth’s
atmosphere to make a difference regardint the climate changes. I’m not
saying that this is going to happen because obviously it won’t, but we
could theoretically avert some of the dangers of climate change that
way.

Maybe we can’t save the world, but we can make ourselves more
independent and our lives freer and more fulfilling – and in doing so we
can at least try to contribute as little as possible to our own
destruction.

Installing Baobáxia at the II International Festival of Technoshamanism

A scene from a short film created as part of the festival's video workshop.

On November 9 2016, I and my son Johannes left Denmark for Brazil in order to co-organize and attend the II International Festival of Technoshamanism. You can read more about the background for this festival at the technoshamanism site as well as in previous posts on this blog.

Each participant in the festival was expected to propose an activity, and as one of the organizers I was no exception. The II International Festival of Technoshamanism took place in the Pataxó village Pará in the extreme south of the Brazilian state of Bahia, and my proposal was to install a working node (mucúa) of the Baobáxia system in the village. The purpose of this node is to act as an archive of the indigenous cultural production, a way yo protect and salvage the indigenous culture in electronic form for decades to come, and a way for the Pataxó to do so with complete ownership over the infrastructure as well as the content – independently of corporate and proprietary content-sharing sites such as Facebook and YouTube.

Who are the Pataxó?

Well, I’ve written about them before, after I participated in the first technoshamanism festival in 2014. The Pataxó are an indigenous people (what we sometimes call “Indians”, indeed they sometimes call themselves that) who live near the sea in the extreme south of the Brazilian state of Bahia. The Aldeia Pará (Pará Village) is located in what the Pataxó call their origin or Aldeia Mãe, the area from which they were all expelled in the massacre of 1951. It is situated far from everything in the middle of an indigenous reserve comprising some 8500 hectares and is home to some 69 families. The neighboring village of Barra Velha is located 5 km from Pará and has a population of about 400 families.

The Pataxó are an intelligent and open-minded people, and though they have not had much exposure to computers, they are very conscious of the potential of modern technology in the struggle for their culture and their land, which has been a constant factor in Pataxó life for several decades – not least given that many of their villages are threatened by expulsion. In October 2016, the village of Aratikum some 100 kilometers north of Pará was actually razed to the ground by the police in the service of local land owners.

Opening ritual in Akurinã Pataxó's healing space.

The Pataxó’s motivation for hosting the event was to be able to exchange knowledge – to learn something from all us urban hackers and activists with our experience in free software and art and social movements, and to teach us something in the bargain. Each participant would propose an activity – a workshop, an art installation, a ritual, a performance, a talk – and would be free to participate in the other proposed activities. Among the activities proposed by the Pataxó were the festival’s opening and closing rituals, a healing tent, traditional Pataxó cooking, traditional body paint, fishing and hunting methods, the cultivation of manioc and manufacturing of manioc flour, musical sessions and the jogos indigenas, the indigenous sports games which took the form of a competition between Indians and non-Indians.

As I said, my proposal was to install a node of Baobáxia and – just as, or even more, important – give workshops in how to use and maintain the system (running on a dedicated Debian GNU/Linux server) themselves so it could be useful also after we left.

Technoshamanism, ancestrality and the Destructor

But if the Pataxó’s motivation for hosting the event was to make friends and allies and gain new knowledge, then what was our motivation for organizing it? And by “we” I mean a large group of people in the technoshamanism network, mainly but (obviously enough) not exclusively Brazilian: Fabi Borges, Jonatan Sola,  Sue Nhamandu, Rafael Frazão, Fernando Gregório, Luiza Só, Rodrigo Krul and too many more to mention, apart from the many participants who arrived at the festival with similar motives and gave many outstanding contributions?

One thing is the connection of technoshamanism with reconnection  - reconnecting with the Earth, reconnecting with the ancestral worldviews of the thousands of generations of people who lived close to the Earth in a mainly oral culture. The Pataxó live in a reserve where they can live well off the earth, they have a strong connection to their ancestral way of life as well as, quite literally, to their ancestors and other ancestral spirits, who often show up at their rituals.  As such, the Pataxó have 500 years of experience in dealing with European colonizers and the usurping civilization, and they have developed an immense skill in navigating this kind of pressure without losing neither their independence nor their traditional culture.

As opposed to that, the norm in our cities is that of disintegration, not least of community spirit and ancestral culture. Traditional songs and tales which might have been handed down in subtly changing ways for hundreds or thousands of years are replaced with comic books and cinema, which are replaced with endless children’s TV shows, which as we grow up are replaced with “breaking news”, X Factor and a host of even more diluted and inane TV shows. Culture ceases to be something we do ourselves and do together, neighborhoods cease to be communities and the cultural divide even splits up the families, so that we end up as disjoint individuals in a sea of strangers who can only struggle to recreate something vaguely resembling a genuine community. Sometimes, of course, as in the case of many successful free software projects, genuinely succeeding.

In his recent novel “Jerusalem“, the  writer and comic book author Alan Moore metaphorically describes this phenomenon, which he has experienced first hand in his home town of Northampton, as “the Destructor”. The Destructor was a garbage incinerator which for decades was actually and physically located in the poorest neighborhood in Northampton, reducing people’s life expectancy with at least ten years, its location a daily reminder to the inhabitants of the Boroughs of how little the rest of the city cared about them.

And yet the Boroughs was actually the oldest neighborhood in Northampton and home to a bafflingly rich, orally transmitted ancestral working class culture which was, after World War I and under the impression of the Russian revolution, deliberately crushed by city planning. According to Alan Moore, the policies which have disempowered modern Europeans by stripping us of our communities were deliberately inflicted. Moore describes the destructive effect on the communities with these words:

He saw a hundred old men and old women moved from the condemned homes where they’d raised their families, dumped in distant districts with nobody that they knew and failing to survive the transplant. By the dozen they keeled over on the well-lit stairs of their new houses; in the unfamiliar indoor toilets; onto their unprecedented fitted carpets; on the pillows of magnolia-painted bedrooms that they failed to wake to. Countless funerals fell into the Mayorhold’s fires, and furtive teenage love-affairs, and friendships between relocated children sent to different schools. Infants began to understand that they would probably now never marry the classmate they had been expecting to. All the connecting tissue, the affectations and associations, became cinders. (p. 731)

The Northampton neighborhood known as the Boroughs descended into complete misery and insecurity, containing the points of trade that “supplied the customers who drew the girls, who brought the pimps, who dealt the drugs, which bred the guns that shot the kids who lived in the house that crack built” (p. 691). But there’s a point in that – that kind of misery is very common in urbanized Brazil as well as in Europe, and a contact with people who still retain an orally transmitted culture and whose communities were never fragmented by the Destructor could teach us something about reconnecting, with the Earth and its spirits, with our natural spirituality and with true community.

The Festival area

As we arrived in Pará about November 14, our first job was to establish a good contact with the Pataxó, organize food for the event and start rigging the computers and other technical equipment.

As everybody else, we were camping in what was at first quite precarious conditions due to the heavy rainfall before the festival started.

Luckily, the Pataxó were very helpful and we managed to secure everything against the rain before the start of the festival on November 22.

Installing Baobáxia

Community Radio sending from the Pataxó Kijeme Cultural, home of the GNU/Linux computers

Before our arrival, the Pataxó had built a completely new house for cultural production, in which they had placed four stationary computers they had received from the reservation’s Fisherman’s Association which originally got them from a government program. These four computers were quite old and had Windows installed. Our first task was to replace that with GNU/Linux.

At first, our attempts at setting up the computers were haunted by technical difficulties. First of all, we were unable to get them to boot from USB drives, which meant we had to buy burnable CDs or DVDs. When we got them, we realized they could not really boot from the DVDs either due to our images being 64 bit, and these trusty old computers were actually 32 bit. We couldn’t use the Internet for troubleshooting since there was no Internet yet – it was supposed to arrive during  the week before the festival, but the roads were closed because of the rain.

In the end, Pablo Vieira from the Assentamento Terravista near Ilhéus (with the microphone in the picture above) arrived, and as it turned out, he knows these computers very well; they can boot from USB if a rather obscure BIOS setting is enabled. In his pocket was a bootable USB with the most recent 32 bit Linux Mint, and everyone was happy and the computers were well prepared for the arrival of the Internet later that week.

The Internet arriving at Aldeia Pará. Pataxó warrior Txayhuã is painting festival organizer Fabi Borges while the operator's car has stopped at the new culture house. Half an hour later, there was Internet.

I was not alone in the task of installing Baobáxia and giving workshops about it – Vincenzo Tozzi from the Mocambos network, Sicilian and founder of the Baobáxia project, joined the festival as well. Vince is a programmer and computer scientist and wrote a major part of the Baobáxia system himself, but he is really a philosopher of networks with important insights in the potential of free software and offline digital communications, and his presence was an invaluable contribution to the festival.

Vincenzo Tozzi from the Mocambos networks explains Baobáxia to village chief Ubiratã. Also listening are Pablo Vieira and Arapaty Pataxó.


Our two workshops in Baobáxia were a huge success, and especially the younger generation of the Pataxó showed a great interest in working with this technology. The Baobáxia node we installed is still active in the village and is still not connected to the Internet, but you can see the contents in its present degree of synchronization here.

What else was in the festival?

A lot of things.

Some very beautiful rituals:
DSC07216-460

And video workshops, radio workshops, capoeira, samba in the church in honor of Saint Benedito, seed exchange, agroforestry, construction of dry composting toilets, radio production, discussions about the pros and cons of ecoturism, and much, much more. I might do a followup post on that, in the meantime let it be said that the festival was a unique experience and I’m very happy to be one of the people who made it happen.

Building Greenland’s new data infrastructure as free software

My company Magenta ApS is currently developing a data distributer infrastructure to handle all public data in Greenland and specifically to ensure their distribution between local authorities and the central government. I’m not personally involved in the development (though I might be at a later point, depending on the project’s needs), but I helped estimating and writing the bid. The data distributor must meet some quite high security and perfomance standards and will, as required by law, store data bitemporally according to the Danish standards for public data. As Greenland is a country of 2 million km² with a population of only 56,000, the system will be geographically quite distributed, and connectivity can be a problem, which challenges the system may also be able to handle.

The government of Greenland did not have a requirement that their new data infrastructure should be free software, but Magenta always delivers software under a free license, and we won the bid. The software will run on Microsoft Windows, since GNU/Linux skills can’t be reliably found on Greenland yet; it will be coded in a platform-agnostic way, using Java and Python/Django, so it could be switched to a GNU//Linux system at a later point, either to the government of Greenland or to possible new customers for this infrastructure.

As described on the EU’s free software observatory:

Next open source based, generation Public Records system for Greenlandic Agency for Digitisation

The government of Greenland wants to overhaul its current Grunddata (public records) system. According to the country’s digitalisation agency, one of the aims is to make it easier to share data between public administrations, businesses and citizens.

The modernisation should also increase public sector efficiency, by streamlining processes, deduplicating entries. The new system should also help to avoid requests for data that is already present in the public administration systems.

The new system is to provide high quality data, while passing on savings, and creating opportunities for growth and innovation, the Greenlandic Agency for Digitisation writes.

For Magenta, this is one of the largest orders in our history, and creating a new data infrastructure for an entire country as free software is an important opportunity – and responsibility. We’re looking forward to deliver this in order and hopefully keep working with the government of Greenland for years to come.

Working with free software

In 2012, I founded an FSFE local group in Aarhus. The intention was clear, I wanted to create a forum in Denmark for communicating politically about free software. There was and is a dire need for this – in a day and age where computers and computing become ever more pervasive, it is beginning to seem ridiculous that anyone can leave secondary school without at least a notion of the meaning of the GPL.

We got off to a good start with some quite successful meetings. However, in the course of 2014 and our campaign against the unitary patent and the EU patent court, I noticed myself becoming tired – and I realized that the group had still not accumulated enough momentum that the meetings would continue without me to drive the work. As a result we more or less folded in the course of 2015, with that year’s LibreOffice conference as the group’s final effort and call to arms.

So what happened? Well, for one thing, as a result of my interest for Bricolabs and the Dyne project I became involved in the Brazilian-based technoshamanism network, in the end co-organizing the second international festival in November. Obviously, all of that took its toll on my spare time.

However, that was not the most important reason. The most important reason is my day job. In my day job I work with free software – all the time. Specifically, I work as a free software developer, so my working hours are spent either programming new free software, fixing bugs or discussing the technical architecture of future projects. This is not, of course, the same thing as working politically to increase people’s understanding of the necessity of software freedom, but it’s close enough to make it difficult, at least for me, to dedicate large swathes of my spare time to software also – after all, there are other things in life. To boot, I’m also involved as a volunteer programmer in the Baobáxia project, and my activity in that project definitely also suffers from my day job.

In a way, my present day job is a realization of the dream I had when I first realized the importance of software freedom, namely one day to be able to sustain myself by creating software under free licenses only – and since my company is an increasingly important supplier to the Danish public sector we are, as a matter of fact, furthering the cause of software freedom, though from a professional and commercial angle – supplying actual software – rather than from a political and philosophical one. Which is my reason for writing this and future posts about our work in free software: To share a bit about how free software and software freedom actually play out in a real-world setting.

The first thing I’d like to make clear is that when you’re selling free software to a customer, you’re not really selling “free software” and definitely not selling software freedom – you’re selling software. That’s not to say that the customer doesn’t know that your software is free and doesn’t care, but it is to say that the customer is working in an organization that needs some work done – a functioning web site, a dictionary with adequate performance, a well-designed web app – and will normally focus a lot more on getting something that works than on the license conditions. If they understand software freedom, they may err on the side of getting the “open source” solution, but if a proprietary vendor is significantly better and cheaper than you, you’re probably out.

Secondly, that means that working with creating free software for actual customers is very much about delving into topics that are specific to your customer’s domain. What functions on the audience PCs does the librarian need to be able to control from the GNU/Linux remote admin system that we wrote? How are the mindbogglingly complicated standards behind the Danish government’s standardized data services to be interpreted, and how much domain knowledge do we need in order to understand the customer’s demands? And so on …

In this and future posts, I’d like to tell a bit about how all of this plays out in our daily work at Magenta, the company that I work for. Magenta is, with its approximately 20 employees, the largest company in Denmark which is completely specialized in delivering “open source” software. The company is, as will be understood, not rigidly “free software” oriented, but its mission statement does say that its purpose is “to deliver open source software”, with “open source software” being defined as such software that is under an OSI-approved license. This basically means that our company is unable to deliver software under a non-free license to anyone. In reality, all of our software is released to the client under the GPL, the LGPL or the Mozilla Public License. As I said, in future posts I will try to share what it means to work with and deliver free software under these conditions, and what it means and doesn’t mean for the prospects of software freedom in Denmark.