We are proud to present the first of three interviews on digital life, conducted in February 2015, in Bogotá, Colombia. This time we asked Offray Luna Cárdenas, a member of the local Hackers Community “HackBo”, about life as a Hacker, focusing on the positives and negitives of the digital revolution.
What is HackBo?
HackBo, as a Hacker-Space is a collective of friends. The goal is to create spaces where we can create logic of the pro-common of this virtual world. It is a space for issues such as free culture and shared knowledge. We ask, how much of this pro-common may be carried to physical locations. HackBo is many things to many people. It is polysemic, and because of this it is important for different people.
You see yourself as a programmer?
No, no. Some people say I am something like the philosopher of the community – a term I don‘t particularly like. They call me this, because of my theoretical reading and formation, and because of my tastes. I started my theoretical work in computational models. Then I created descriptive models of cognitive phenomena. So I do not do much programming as such. To me, programming is a way to express, in this case computational ideas, through a medium. Like writing or singing, programming is as a way to express oneself. I think we all need a formation that allows us all to program as a way of saying things. We require more such approvals here in the global south.
Is this the motto of HackBo?
No, but it is a concern of mine. One of the coolest things at HackBo is that we do not share these concerns. Other people may think differently, or they are more interested in 2D animation, mobile applications, free Hardware, techno politics, or Internet activism. We have many causes around here, but we don‘t have to agree on everything. Some theorists would call it a “plurarchy”.
Yeah, it’s cool. Look at this space, the office of HackBo, it is very eclectic in the sense that everything is cluttered, all built in pieces. But I like this aesthetics. I like that there is no one person responsible for the architecture of the space.
And how HackBo is financed?
Some people come and ask us about the business model of HackBo, and we reply that it doesn‘t exist. Each of us has a productive life outside of HackBo. I like that it doesn‘t work like a company. There are no hierarchies, and we must not care for anyone. Everybody has his or her life apart from HackBo. What we have here is a third space. We want something other than “work” or “home”. And for me that’s fine.
To you, what does it mean to be a Hacker?
Some people criticize that the free culture reinvents the old. For example Wikipedia, where encyclopedias are all compiled in one place. This attitude is good to support what already exists, but it does not create any new things.
I say that Hackers are solving problems in a different way. Yes, we have invented an encyclopedia already, but not among 4 million people. And yes, we have already invented an operating system, but not among 10,000 hackers. Or we have had meeting spaces before, but not without hierarchy. Hackers are approaching answers to old questions in a different way.
Okay, I understand. But what does this mean in practice?
Facing the plural construction of the world is important if we ask how we build solutions among bigger groups of people and in non-hierarchical ways. For me, HackBo is a way to develop and bring these methods to solve problems to other contexts such as business, government, academia etc. HackBo then becomes a lab and a third space to resolve questions in different ways.
Do you have an example?
We did a project in community management of medicine. The question was: what would happen if we take the dynamics of the hacker culture and transfer them to the world of drug management. In particular it was about thinking how we create free software, or an open knowledge platform, or a database of health statistics that we could give to the people. And, we charged for this.
How you see the so-called digital revolution? What are the good and bad aspects of these developments? What possibilities are still untapped?
We live in interesting times – times that create fear. I try to live calmly. Although one can say, the only way to live in a world like this is to be paranoid. But the problem is, if one becomes too paranoid, one doesn’t live anymore. Daniel J. Boorstin once said: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” Because, one who knows that he doesn’t know is going to try to know, but one who thinks he knows, won‘t even try.
I think right now what is happening is that the real enemy of participation is not non-participation, but the illusion of participation. Particularly the social networks where people are creating hashtags or a group on Facebook, and are really trying to emphasize certain policies or bring decisions forward. Rarely will this achieve anything. Someone said that we have to change “Like” to “I commit myself“. And I think that the new technology is being used for that.
What are the dangers aligned with technology and communication? How would you describe them?
I think we have to be aware of a certain dehumanization of the world. And I think that doesn’t start with digital technology. “People go, but institutions remain” – a famous political saying. It may be true, but what a trivial truth. The more important thing is the people. For example, universities do not understand the people within the university have ideas. And for me this idea of the supremacy of the institutions was the beginning of the dehumanization of the world. So the alternative is the hacker-space as the pro-common place in the physical world. I said that is the bandwidth that gives hugs. And that’s what we are trying here at HackBo.
What role does digital communication play?
This idea of dehumanization it is passing through the digital because it empowers it greatly. I do not like this idea of themass – that one is nothing more than a gear wheel of Facebook, Twitter, or Wikipedia. I think it is a very rough perspective. Because yes, there are still communities that unify people, meet, and interact with each other, but you have to start to deconstruct the digital. For me, the value of free software, of hackers, and hacker ethics is distilled in the question “would it work otherwise?” This is a permanent question. And we have to ask the digital revolution, “what if we do it another way?”
And what do you think, why people are afraid of a culture of sharing?
There are good arguments on both sides, of the promoters and opponents of the culture of sharing. I never thought I would buy a book as a PDF, instead I found the torrent that allowed me to download everything – information wants to be free. Well, that’s a little bit the hacker idea. I’ve been approaching a pair of authors who have changed this reading (especially Jaron Lanier). First, information is a thing it has no intention or desire. We are those who want. Secondly, I really like the idea that information is people in disguise. So, when you have 10,000 tweets or 5,000 “likes”, you have five or ten thousand people. Or a thousand selfies are people. We usually do not see it like this. But it is a very important point; it describes a kind of humanism in new clothes. And it is the idea that ultimately what matters are the people. And this is clear.
And the future?
Where are we going with this new humanism? In this time of transition, our generation has to pass and design the change from the capitalist system to models of the pro-common and build bridges. I think this dynamic of sharing is very nice, as long as one understands that the one, who created what I am sharing, is a person. And one can find a way to articulate this practice of sharing what one believes is pro-common, which creates reciprocity.
And how this is achieved?
Look, some people create a pro-common structure, but as soon as it develops into an expansive movement it is sucked into a capitalist structure. Short after, the pro-common is tied up and strangled until it dies. The only way to fight this, is building pro-common and expansive structures that can resist this (see Michel Bauwens and the p2p foundation). Because otherwise all pro-common will be strangled. And I think this type of transition involves a set of enactments and experiments.
Isn’t it a utopian idea, the pro-common system?
What works to expand the pro-common better? I like the idea of the economic value of keeping promises: that future is no longer anything, it’s the one that people is commited to, and anyone – anyone can commit himself to it. And for me this new economy has the ability only is everyone keeps their promises; of course we must also broaden the possibility of promises to increase the capacity of promise. Like if you’re a farmer and you produce better products. Then it is a most valuable promise. As a student, if you have more knowledge, it is most valuable. I mean such things. Well, we at HackBo have been thinking about some special (crypto)contracts. And one feature of each of those special contracts is about knowing that each one fulfilled it and with what quality. It is an experiment. It may not work but it is worth thinking about.
And this is already happening?
There is a risk in the dynamics of sharing. It is the expropriation of surplus value, people create the value but that value is left to Facebook, or twitter, or Wikipedia anonymously, afterwards there are no people to be found anymore. So, yes, there is a danger in the expropriation of the goodwill and the added value of these dynamics of sharing. Airbnb, for example, it‘s the people. But in the end it is a company that mediates things that can be mediated by the people. We can find these great gateways. We all went to look for a house where to stay at Airbnb. But, it should work like torrents; everyone is his own client and provider. We need to recover the network architecture: the ability of each to stick to ones promises. And I think we need experiments of this type.
And how do we get from the experiment to this new reality?
This is a difficult transition and we have to see where it happens. But I do believe in the economy of the commons. Capitalism attacks the established commons, but is also in danger of being captured by them. So, it is not only about those who believe they are sharing, or who believe that they knew. But is also about those who are able to explore in what ways the illusions of a widened pro-common can be turned into reality. I think people are already thinking of other ways of reciprocity that are much more mandatory.
Offray, thank you very much! Hope to see you soon in Berlin!
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About Offray Vladimir Luna Cárdenas
Offray Luna is a member of HackBo. He is academic, teacher, researcher, activist, and deals with issues like free software and activism in terms of technology and power, free culture and knowledge as a common good.