08 November 2010

A Tale of Two Conferences

I was invited to give a talk at two recent conferences, the Berlin Commons Conference, and FSCONS 2010. It's generally a pleasure to accept these invitations, although I must confess that I found two major conferences with only two days between them a trifle demanding in terms of mental and physical stamina.

Indeed, both conferences were extremely stimulating, and I met many interesting people at both. However, more than anything, I was struck by huge and fundamental differences between them.

The Berlin Commons Conference was essentially the first of its kind, and a bold attempt to put the concept of the commons on the map. Of course, readers of this blog will already know exactly where to locate it, but even for many specialists whose disciplines include commons, the idea is still strange. The conference wisely sought to propel the commons into the foreground by finding, er, common ground between the various kinds of commons, and using that joint strength to muscle into the debate.

That sounded eminently sensible to me, and is something I have been advocating in my own small way (not least on this blog) for some time. But on the ground, achieving this common purpose proved much harder than expected.

In my view, at least, this was down largely to the gulf of incomprehension that we discovered between those working with traditional commons - forests, water, fish etc. - and the digital commons - free software, open content, etc. Basically it seemed to come down to this: some of the former viewed the latter as part of the problem. That is, they were pretty hostile to technology, and saw their traditional commons as antithetical to that.

By contrast, I and others working in the area of the digital commons offered this as a way to preserve the traditional, analogue commons. In particular, as I mentioned after my talk at the conference (embedded below), the Internet offers one of the most powerful tools for fighting against those - typically big, rich global corporations - that seek to enclose physical commons.


I must say I came away from the Berlin conference a little despondent, because it was evident that forming a commons coalition would be much harder than I had expected. This contrasted completely with the energising effect of attending FSCONS 2010 in Gothenburg.

It's not hard to see why. At the Swedish conference, which has been running successfully for some years, and now attracts hundreds of participants, I was surrounded by extremely positive, energetic and like-minded people. When I gave my talk (posted below), I was conscious that intentionally provocative as I was, my argument was essentially pushing against an open door: the audience, though highly critical in the best sense, were in broad agreement with my general logic.


Of course, that can make things too easy, which is dangerous if it becomes routine; but the major benefit of being confirmed in your prejudices in this way is that it encourages you to continue, and perhaps even to explore yet further. It has even inspired me to start posting a little more prolifically. You have been warned....

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10 comments:

PV said...

I enjoyed reading through both sets of slides, but though you do mention this yourself, what's the point of preaching to the choir? Wouldn't it be more productive to give these presentations to organizations on the fence about these issues?
--
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

glyn moody said...

@PV: absolutely; in fact, I am sitting by the phone even as I write, waiting for the phone call....(still)

PV said...

I say "on the fence" because I know that organizations opposed to the idea of the commons (e.g. RIAA, MPAA) are never actually going to agree to discuss anything like mature adults. Mike Masnick of TechDirt has tried repeatedly to get an audience with them, but they've always refused for *undisclosed reasons* (i.e. they know their position is indefensible yet they still instinctively and viciously defend it).
--
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

FleaStiff said...

I am not certain about the Digital Commons being used to check the powers of those who would encroach upon the Physical Commons.

I am reminded of the university students who in the sixties sought to circulate petitions regarding a boycott of some corporate entity they then viewed as warmongering. It was pointed out to them that the pen, the ink and the paper which they had purchased in an attempt to lessen the corporations profits all contributed to the profits of that entity's subsidiaries.

Have you considered that a similar situation might exist in that access to the Internet, Internet traffic protocols, are largely determined by entities and interlocking corporate directorships that are generally related to the corporations which would seek to debase the physical commons. Even the digital commons itself, or at least the means to transmit the data relating to the digital commons, are of vital interest to various corporate entities linked to those thought likely to encroach upon the physical commons?

glyn moody said...

@PV: but even for those not completely unable to accept change it's difficult to get an entrée....

glyn moody said...

@Fleastiff: this was pretty much the view of those involved in the traditional commons. But I don't think it's true that the protocols are tainted in this way: they were mostly drawn up by engineers independently of their companies (the main ones at least.)

What *is* true is that our shiny computers and smartphones do use lots of resources - rare metals and above all energy. In that sense they are part of the problem.

jaromil said...

Thanks for your keynote at FSCONS, it was truly inspiring and providing very useful references; be sure people were listening and it was all worth the effort.

glyn moody said...

@jaromil: many thanks for that feedback; let's hope we can all work together to change the terms of this debate to something fairer and more rational...

Anonymous said...

You rock!

glyn moody said...

very kind...