Wednesday 17 July 2019 – Sonar+D – Barcelona

On the 30th anniversary of the www, Sónar+D 2019 looked forward to what the next three decades might hold. In this talk, hosted by We Are Europe, journalist Marta Peirano,, researcher and activist Xenia Ermoshina,“solarpunk” theorist Jay Springett, discussed how decentralisation, privacy and ecology will re-configure the use and the potential of the internet. Moderated by Ash Sarkar.

Me,  Marta Peirano,  Xenia Ermoshina, and Ash Sarkar 

My talk was quoted by The Long Now Foundation in their report from Sonar+D.

Talk Transcript

Introduction

My name is Jay Springett and I am a Writer, Theorist and Strategist and I write online at twitter, website, medium etc under the handle @thejaymo

I grew up in a small Brexity seaside town on the south east coast of England, close enough to see the lights of the french coast on a moonless night. At 18 I escaped for London but left the pro LGBT, anti-racist and anti-fascist DIY Hardcore Punk scene I was involved in throughout my Teen aged years behind. A formative community experience which still influences my politics to this day. 

At university I equally split my time between philosophy and music coming away with a degree with the title ‘Philosophy of the Arts’. As a consequence I still identity as a musician to my core and that informs a lot of how I think creatively.

After university as many do. I feel into an accidental career in HR tech and consulting firms lately shifting to working in tech startups doing Business Operations.

I now have a weekly podcast, write, and work freelance with firms that need to scale fast. I tend to focus on the company’s future culture, tools and processes strategy. 

Alongside this CV stuff. Outside of work I have always been adjacent to art, tech and theory worlds. 

I am (or was) perhaps best known for coining the term Stacktivism earlier this decade – a term that attempted to give form to both a critical conversation and a line of enquiry around infrastructure & the relationship we have to it. 

Drawn from a portmanteau of “The Stack” . The horizontally independent but vertically integrated set of technologies that keep us alive – combined with a critical activism towards infrastructure. This period of my life forced both myself and many others to confront the question

“Who owns the means of not dying”. 

I am also an Admin on solarpunks.net . A tumblr founded in 2012 by the American researcher-at-large and artistic troublemaker Adam Flynn after hearing of the first Anthology: Solarpunk ecological and fantastical stories in a sustainable world published in Brazilian Portuguese the same year.

Solarpunks.net is a tumblog dedicated to Solarpunk. A movement in speculative fiction, art, fashion and activism that seeks to answer and embody the question “what does a sustainable Civilization look like, and how can we get there?” Since 2012, Solarpunk has created a multitude of spaces for indigenous sovereignties, reproductive justice, and radical queer politics. Contrasting the popular grim futures of cyberpunk with a bright green optimism.

With both these topics front of mind. For the last year or so I have been working on a project called Land As Platform. A book that combines both: platforms and the road to utopia. As well as my long standing interest in environmentalism and regenerative agriculture. 

The project seeks to explore what Platforms are in the age of planetary scale computation and what can be learned from the existence and deployment of such large scale techno social projects whilst explaining the principles of permaculture and ecological systems to a wide audience as possible.

So this is where my mind is today. The brief for this panel was to talk a bit about our work, followed by our ideas, dreams and challenges of the future internet. I’d like to talk briefly on three subjects which are quite different, but I hope will prompt some interesting discussions.

The long view 

One of the things I’ve internalised whilst working on Land as Platform is that Humanity is extremely old. 

We are blinded as a culture by our use of the Anno Domini dating system. In 1993 Cesare Emiliani proposed a dating system that begins with the Holocene era. The geological epoch that also coincides with the earliest human experiments in infrastructure and agriculture . If we use this system then today’s date is July 17 12,019. 

It also I feel goes quite a long way to contextualising the so called quote unquote ‘Anthropocene era’ that we entering today. 

But we can go further back than 12 Thousand years. A date that would place us amongst the stones of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, a ritual site situated 20 miles from the current Syrian border 

The sculpture of The Lion Man found in a German cave in 1939 is between 35,000 and 40,000 years old. 

And as Troy Conrad Therrien points out in his 2017 essay ‘Social Soup’ 

Neanderthals were identified as the architects of a 177,000-year-old magic circle found deep inside a cave in France. No older ritual architecture is known. 

The base layer of our civilizational stack may have been inherited.”

Social Soup – Troy Conrad Therrien

It may seem strange in a talk on the next internet to bring up objects that live at such vast time depths. But it is important as there is a deficiency of long term thinking in western culture. It will be vital that we think at multigenerational time depths about everything from internet technologies, to tree planting given the challenges that humanity faces. 

Our modern world seeks to focus us towards the short term and praises quarterly growth. But in the real world, away from high frequency ledger entries and global capital flows. It takes 100-120 years for an oak tree to grow from seed to full canopy height. It takes three human generations to grow a tree.

This is real growth. And I’d like to propose that everything that occurs in the duration between the decision to plant an acorn to the trees full grown crown is short term thinking. Which places 12,150 is the medium term.

Indeed the Oak tree King of Limbs, in Britain is over 1,000 years old. It has been growing quietly in place since before the Norman Conquest. The King doesn’t much care about one iPhone model to the next. 

Millennia long scales of engagement with the world around us are almost unimaginable when contrasted with the 2 week long Agile sprints popular in the tech development world. 

And this is why I bring it up today given we are talking about the future of the internet. Given average age of an S&P 500 company is now under 20 years, down from 60 years in the 11,950s I worry that technology under capitalist logics just cannot respond to the challenges we face. 

As both the internet and open-source has gotten older, the earth has gotten more unbearable as time went by. Software engineers feel a sense of urgency to move much quicker than they should be.

It is relatively easy to talk about the short term, imagining and extrapolating the next 30 years of technological development out to 12,050, its possibilities, its dangers and the dark places that it could all lead. 

But what about the 500 year or 1000 year internet? Who ever heard of the 100 year website. This I struggle to imagine. And I imagine you do too.

I do sometimes think that perhaps all the chimes, bleeps and bloops on the starship enterprise are all stilled driven by MIDI. And Geordi La Forge being just as frustrated by how bad it is as musicians are today. A protocol today only at the grand old age of 38.

Zooming in from 1000 year internet view to the the media term I come to my second point.

How does software make us feel?

It’s my belif that in the near future a much larger focus will be placed on how software makes us feel. 

A question first sparked in me a few years ago after I developed intense bouts of synesthesia as a consequence of my meditation practice. 

A trend in surveillance technologies today is to make claims about how it can measure or extrapolate human personality data. perhaps best seen in the mess around Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. In addition I recently saw a company claiming to be able to measure emotional states in people based on wifi signal data. All of this of course is relative nonsense based on incorrect assumptions in psychology and statistics, anyway I digress. Because it really should be studying the problem the other way around. 

What do I mean by ‘how software makes us feel’? People sink hundreds of hours into mobile games like Candy Crush and clash of clans, as whilst playing it it makes them feel a certain way, separating temporarily from their commute or whatever else is going on in their lives. 

Some other examples are:

  • Chat apps like whats app or telegram feel to me like complicated emotional tennis volleys.
  • For me Music Software highlights the sweeping inevitability of the passing of time. Broken and divided artificially by bar numbers, time signatures and bpm. 
  • Or the machine like algorithmic coldness of complicated resource management strategy games like Civilization or Age of Empires. 

A great deal has been written already on the gamification of metrics inside web apps like Twitter. Yes this world is full of terrible people but the software design itself makes them worse.

In the medium term future systems should adapt to us, not the other way around.

The first glimmer of hope for me can be seen in the Jobs to be done framework gaining traction in the software development world. As a framework for UX it is quite interesting as it focuses on the desires of the user. “How will using this software better my life”. 

Because at the end of the day software and the internet is a tool. You wouldn’t keep a hammer or a kettle around in your house for long if it actively made your life miserable. We shouldn’t tolerate it with software, or the internet. A technology that is increasingly more and more deeply enmeshed in our day to day lives.

More sympathetic emotional software is vital in very short term which brings me to my last point.

Enmeshment

Moore’s law seems to have slowed with further advances in silicon production bumping up against the edges of material science and physics. Unless you have the money and the space for a warehouse full of coolant systems and physicists, quantum computing isn’t coming to you any time soon.

However miniaturisation of existing technologies continue apace. In the last 10 years we have seen a revolution in this regard. Military grade technologies and now be found in all out phones.

  • Proximity sensors.
  • Ambient light sensors.
  • Infrared.
  • Blood flow and heart rate sensors.
  • Camera sensors and their lenses.
  • Accelerometers.
  • Gyroscopes.
  • And compasses. 

To name a few. 

Many of us walk around with biometric sensors that were science fiction only 15 years ago.

All these combined with looming ‘Print to chip’ technologies that remove the need to compile code signal the end of general purpose computation as we’ve known it to date. The logical end point of all this is sensors…. sensors everywhere. 

Print to chip custom silicone will increase power efficiency and reduce costs of these passive sensors immeasurably perhaps even to the point that they can be run like a victorian coper and zinc earth battery. Coinciding (I hope) with humanities grandest project. 

The regreening of the world. 

These sensors will be in every field, in every tree,and listening from every bush and canopy for sounds of returning insects and a resurgent biosphere. This however, if shepherded by evil and malicious souls, may very well produce a nightmare world 

So we are faced with a choice. Total surveillance for short term financial gain and political domination, resulting in a sort of “free range” totalitarianism for the population of the world.

Or we could think along longer and grander timescales. And if you would all permit me, I’d like to read what I consider to be the UR poem of solarpunk texts”

 All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace by Richard Brautigan:

{Watch the video to see me read it. I won’t reproduce it here}


I was invited to Sonar+D as one of We Are Europes 64 Faces of Europe . If you would like to to speak at your event etc – please get in touch.