OpenSourceHome is an arts event exploring the practical, creative and philosophical challenges of living in a bus, by geek nomadic artist Fee Plumley. Part Symposium, part installation and part live artwork featuring special guests Dario Vacirca, Emma Beech, Lubi Thomas, Jennifer Mills, Sean Williams, Thom Buchanan, Elliott Bledsoe, Sayraphim Lothian and Vicki Sowry.
In 2011 Fee Plumley sidelined her increasingly respectable career as a creative digital consultant to take up a new life as a bus-loving nomadic geek artist.
This winter Fee, and her beautiful big red bus #homeJames, will settle down to make temporary home in Adelaide CBD.
You are invited to join them and their special guests in a series of days and nights with a Nomad as they provide an insight into the practical, creative and philosophical challenges of reinventing both yourself and your home in a contemporary climate.
Date: 22-24th July 2014.
Location: Queens Theatre, Adelaide.
TUESDAY 22 JULY.
9-10.30am – reallybigbreakfast and morning constitutional, with Emma Beech.
12noon – Tug of War: Life vs Art.
2-3pm – A creative roadtrip through life as we know it, in conversation with Lubi Thomas.
4-5pm – Live Psychology Session.
7pm-late – Open Space Launch Party.
WEDNESDAY 23 JULY.
9-10.30am – reallybigbreakfast and morning constitutional, with Emma Beech.
12noon – Tug of War: Public vs Private.
2-3pm – Invitation-only party to thank crowdfunding campaign supporters.
4-5pm – #buslove working bee: mirror-tinting homeJames’ windows.
7pm-late – Thom Buchanan, Sean Williams and Jennifer Mills: The Subjects, escaped.
THURSDAY 24 JULY.
9-10.30am – reallybigbreakfast and morning constitutional, with Emma Beech.
12noon – Tug of War: Past vs Future.
2-3pm – Sayraphim Lothian: Slow activism workshop; the visible mending project.
4-5pm – Elliott Bledsoe: Demonising the Different; a presentation on the laws affecting Nomads.
7pm-late – Closing event: honouring homeJames’ namesake, James Mellor and screening of “The Internet’s Own Boy”, a documentary about hacktivist Aaron Swartz.
ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.
Random conversations with strangers; Contribute to the ‘where can I sleep tonight?’ wall; Drop in and record an interview with the Open Space Beach Truck; Screenings of Nomadic Village artists and the slow movement.
// OpenSourceHome is presented in partnership with Open Space. It has been supported via Arts SA‘s Unexpected City program and Adelaide City Council’s Splash Adelaide 2014 Winter season, both designed to create vibrancy in Adelaide’s city centre outside of the festival period.
It should not go unsaid that none of this adventure would have been possible without the astonishing kindness of my Pozible crowdfunding campaign supporters, Off-grid Energy, Jimmy and Craig at Roundabout Charter, Bridge8, the loving memory of James Mellor (my bus’ namesake) and all the friends, colleagues and random strangers who have offered me their hearts, minds, homes and, of course, cash. //
I love you guys x
Having been involved with (and some would say, partially responsible for) encouraging Australian artists and organisations to maximise their online and social media presence and engagement, I feel that it is important for me to now voice some of the increasing doubts and concerns I have been professionally – and personally – struggling with in this area.
My journey with online media is a long one. I have been building and maintaining online communities since I first started working in media arts in 1996 – long before the social media platforms we now depend on existed. All ‘free’ tools need to make money somewhere, which they do largely through advertising and data-mining (turning your data into “the product” – as Douglas Rushkoff points out in his book “Program or be Programmed” – that they on-sell to commercial partners).
Having spent a decade hand-building my online community spaces, I felt Facebook and Twitter’s entry into the scene offered an acceptable exchange. In return for giving them my data (which I didn’t deem terribly valuable or important) I gained a set of tools that enabled me to communicate effectively with the community I needed to reach, quickly, openly and at no commercial price. I knew full well that in using these ‘free’ tools I was accepting a contract which made me “the product”, but I was OK with that. These days, I’m not so sure.
Paying to promote the popular
You might have noticed that Facebook isn’t the same as it used to be. Don’t worry, this isn’t some whinge about how the layout is different, again. I’m not complaining about change-in-general, I’m voicing concerns about the reasons behind the changes that are taking place and what this reflects about current trends in online and digital culture more broadly.
Your Facebook News Feed used to consist of a chronological list, where any post (whether a personal message, photo, meme or link from another website, regardless of whether that was from a personal profile, group or page) would appear in the order they were published. Of course the more friends you have, or the more groups or pages you follow, the more hectic and noisy your feed would be. Since August last year new changes mean that any post with a lot of likes or comments is bumped back up to the top of the list again, prioritising the ‘popular’.
From a personal perspective, you’re probably not seeing quite the same number of updates from as many of your Facebook friends as you used to (with the same applying to groups and pages that you follow). Where have they gone, you might ask?
From a professional perspective (if you run a Facebook page for your business), you’re probably finding that each post is receiving less views than they used to. As well as being able to buy advertising for your page as a whole, you now (coincidentally) are invited to ‘promote’ each post – paying for a boost, essentially advertising each post you make – to increase your potential audience.
Technically both of these shifts are due to last year’s changes in Facebook’s algorithm which (in their words) are intended to “deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them”. Let’s look at the changes they outline:
The News Feed algorithm responds to signals from you, including, for example:
How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like an actor or journalist) who posted
The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world at large and from your friends in particular
How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past
Whether or not you and other people across Facebook are hiding or reporting a given post
What’s happening here is essentially the creation of a feedback loop, preventing you from seeing posts from people you don’t normally see (and here’s the catch22-clincher) because you don’t normally see them. You could try to counter that by actively going to the profiles/pages of people you want to hear more from, thereby setting the agenda for the way the new algorithm works with your preferences. But instead of making that easy for you or offering you that choice, they define it on your behalf. Even the least cynical amongst us should be concerned about how – and why – those pre-selections are made.
In this list we can also see the return of the old upvote ‘popularity contest’ so favoured by commercial channels. This assumes that if your friends like a post then obviously you will too, thereby further shrinking the visibility of any post which is more niche or hasn’t been commercially ‘promoted’.
My concerns with this are twofold:
- When you only see posts from the same people – and when everyone only sees the same few posts – you end up existing in an echo chamber, or “the digital flock” as MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman describes it. I love the diversity of conversations I have online as much as the random conversations with strangers I have on the street. What I feel I used to gain from social media was the added benefit of sometimes choosing to have those conversations within a more curated crowd. I don’t want to only have access to homogenised information streams – in fact I stopped watching television, reading newspapers and listening to radio a very long time ago for exactly that reason.
- If only ‘promoted’ posts reach your target audience, then eventually only those with marketing budgets will be heard.
Facebook aren’t the only ones moving in this direction; Twitter also went for IPO last year and accordingly are pushing a much greater prominence of sponsored posts. But in some ways these two were always expected to go down the revenue generation route; in internet terms they are but meagre children (ten and eight years old, respectively). What I find more disconcerting is the strategic shift taking place internationally across the internet as a whole.
The end of the open web
In an article posted by Scientific American in 2010 entitled “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality” (ironically published behind a paywall), World Wide Web [WWW] inventor Tim Berners-Lee outlines the simple yet profound intention of his 1989 creation: “that any person could share information with anyone else, anywhere”. Reflecting on these early egalitarian principles and the thousands of people who contributed their time and efforts to this vast knowledge-bank infrastructure, Berners-Lee outlines contemporary threats posed by key players within the upper echelons of the corporate digital world.
Whether visibly or not, we will all have experienced these control mechanisms. Internet Service Providers [ISPs] have commonly set traffic speeds according to whether or not a commercial deal is in place between themselves and the destination site, under the guise of maintaining ‘quality bandwidth provision’ to their paying customers. Paywalls have become the familiar toll-gate to mainstream journalism and (often publicly funded) academic research. Walled gardens such as Facebook use the facade of ‘privacy’ to assert the ‘value’ of closed-networks – after all sharing is relative, right? But how much power should these commercial players be allowed to wield in preference to anyone else’s right to share their information with anyone else, anywhere?
This corporate desire to control ownership of the digital landscape is not a new story. We have all heard of the ‘dreadful losses’ incurred by the all-powerful (and largely US-based) music, film and TV behemoths. Many (including myself) believe that, instead of adapting their business models to take advantage of the multiple global market opportunities the internet provides, these players have instead chosen to bury their heads in the sand, mounting various forms of legislative attack in order to protect their own corporate interests. Since the Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA] and Protect Intellectual Property Act [PIPA] failed to gain legislative approval following enormous public outcry, it’s hardly surprising that current Trans Pacific Partnership [TPP] negotiations – which cover far more than pure copyright concerns – are taking place behind closed-doors. It is not in the best interests of gatekeepers to let the general public become involved in such weighty decisions, after all.
The TPP is an international trade agreement which seeks to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs”. This all sounds pretty commendable, until you realise that its primary focus is to enhance the opportunities of the corporate American market through control over existing laws in member countries. A draft text of the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter released by WikiLeaks revealed that member Governments (including Australia) could be sued for foreign corporations’ loss of future profits when making laws in the public interest; be prevented from offering generic-brand medicines in protection of profits from (largely US-based) patent-holding corporations; bring in a ban on parallel imports (increasing the cost of imported products from overseas and adding geoblocks to downloadable material) and force ISPs to release the names of suspected copyright infringers without evidence (if you have ever watched an episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ through nefarious sources in Australia, that could mean you).
“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.” [WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange]
I must say that I am doubtful the current government will be justly serving the nation’s best interests when negotiating the TPP. Certainly when looking at the Liberal’s decision to “demolish” the National Broadband Network [NBN], you might wonder if there is any point us even attempting to keep up with online innovations at all. Their decision to delay the inevitable (applying a sticking-plaster approach by ‘repairing’ an outdated copper network and installing occasional fibre-to-the-node [FTTN] exchanges instead of continuing the rollout of fibre-to-the-premises [FTTP]) will be a frustrating and expensive mistake for all Australians to endure. Our patience will additionally be required twice; once while they make these repairs and a second time when they eventually recognise their error and start with the fibre plan all over again.
So yes, I am concerned with Facebook’s new algorithm and how it will affect the ability of artists and arts organisations to share freely (and for free) within our chosen personal and professional networks. And yes I am appalled by the Australian Government’s decision to restrict who has affordable access to high-speed internet. But far more, I fear deeply for the future of digital culture, net neutrality and the open web as a whole. Despite Tim Berners-Lee’s original altruistic intentions, it would appear that the web is increasingly not for everyone.
A version of this article was first published in Artlink March 2014 (ironically, behind a paywall…). Full article republished with permission on this the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Sign up to “web we want” a campaign to protect a free and open web including an Internet Users Bill of Rights for every country.
Well now. Some of you may have noticed I’ve been unusually quiet online of late. There are a few reasons for this. Partly I finally paid attention to some very wise advice, partly I’ve been overseas gaining inspiration and taking time to reflect on the absolute insanity that has been the last two/three years (since starting reallybigroadtrip), and partly ‘real life’ came knocking.
I’m aware that most of my blog posts are overly long (*understatement) so I’m going to try to (as briefly as possible, which isn’t so much…) provide an overview, a context, here and I’ll be more fully writing up specifics in due course. (Apologies in advance for the lack of images. Right now it’s hard enough to find the space to think/write clearly. If I go faffing with images this will never get published).
I set out to change my life with this project, and ohmyword… has that happened. Not to say I didn’t have a good life before, but for many many years most of my energies were spent in facilitating other people’s creative practice, not exploring my own. Knowing I was becoming a permanent resident in Australia gave me the opportunity to become free again – I’ve spent most of my life as a freelancer and no longer needing to work for organisations who could provide business sponsored visas meant I could go back to that.
I took the opportunity to take a long hard look at what I wanted my life to become, and set myself some quite large (*understatement) goals accordingly. I never expected the crowdfunding campaign to go viral (or even really be successful), and had no previous experience in the surge of interest that virality brings – I was a victim of my own success, however arrogant that might sound. Of course once I’d got the financial support I couldn’t back out even if I had wanted to.
This has been an absolute life change; it’s affected every single aspect of my world. I have had major personal, logistical, professional and creative hurdles to climb. I took on too much. Even at the start of this year the cracks were beginning to show. I dropped balls. I hate dropping balls. And then I got some advice. Amazingly, I listened.
My last Nomad in Residence was Edwin van Ouwerkerk Moria (a very smart/lovely developer from Holland working with Creative Nonfiction on Cockatoo Island Ghost Stories). He left his ‘residency’ with my first strongly directed words of advice:
“Slow the fuck down”.
Shortly afterward two very dear colleagues-who-became-friends pointed out a few more home truths. Some are too personal to share here but others might have resonance outside of my little bubble, so here:
Stop spending every moment online. You have little enough spare time as it is, and you fill every single other moment with social media and online engagement. You have no room in your brain to let anything else in.
You keep saying you need to learn new skills so you can make new art, but you’re 40 now. If at this stage in your life you can’t look inside yourself and see what meaning/message is already in there, you never will.
You’ve fallen into the same trap every artist does; you’ve let yourself become distracted by the technology and lost sight of your own meaning/message. [On this, I tell people ALL THE TIME not to start with the tech. I forgot to take my own bloody advice!]
Stop. Just stop. Take time to reflect, to just BE. Then – and only then – decide what’s next.
Funnily enough this advice came at exactly the time I knew I’d (once again) pushed myself too far. I was already asking myself those deep questions that come before a change. But I still needed the nudge, confirmation I was right in having been going wrong (if that makes sense). Damn I’m lucky to have such incredible people around me…
So I listened. I took this trip to Europe as an opportunity to let myself just BE. I reflected on my life, my own practice, dedicated effort to being offline (seriously, it took EFFORT), and let myself absorb inspiration from everything I saw and every conversation I had. And I stopped, I slowed the fuck down. Man, it’s been incredible. I’ll go into more detail in future posts about what I’ve learned from my reflections, but here’s a couple of tasters.
I use the term “tromboning” a lot these days and people ask wtf I’m on about. I most recently defined it as “the art of focusing in on detail and then zooming back out to gain perspective”. I don’t know if I ‘coined’ it or anything so clever, but it describes my process. I immerse fully in the minutiae of my life/my project (in film terms ‘the extreme closeup’) and then every now and then zoom back out to get the context (the ‘establishing shot’). The last three years have been the former – extreme closeups all round! The last couple of months have been very much the latter (actually I’ve been repeatedly tromboning within the last couple months if I’m honest – it helps me think through the whole picture).
Being offline more has been enormous. I started noticing some significant affects of this during The Subjects sleep deprivation residency earlier this year but was too close-up to understand it then. It sounds so silly to say it now, but it turns out that not sharing every single moment of your life with the outside world means you have more awareness of the nuances in front of you. You not only hear what people say but you observe the way their facial expressions change while they’re talking; you gain new insight into their meaning through their body language; your eyes connect more – you FEEL them more. You see the sky, the architecture, hear the wind in the trees and the fluttering of birds overhead.
Heh, maybe all I’ve done is discover my inner hippy, but the level of connection I have felt to myself, to others and to place has been astonishing. I’ll continue to use social media, of course (although I’ve been pondering what “post-social” would look like… one for another post), but I’ve reminded myself of another important life-fact: balance is everything. (And from this realisation I’ve made a whole new – non-digital – artwork, which I’ll write about later).
The ‘real life’ that came knocking was that my Mum (who suffers from Myelitis and Bell’s Palsy, amongst other things) has been in increasingly bad health, with more regular visits to the hospital. Living in Australia makes it very hard for me to be any real support for her or my sister. Since I was already in the Northern Hemisphere for work I extended my trip to spend time with her and work with my sis to help look for potential longterm healthcare solutions. She’s always been incredibly independent and she’s doing OK, for the most part. But it was time for my sister and I to step up and help, and it’s been really good spending quality time with her (I’m usually only back for a few days every couple of years). In being back in Wales I’ve had time with old friends and even gone back to the old haunts of my youth; it’s helped me re-contextualise what ‘home’ means to me.
I came to Europe thanks to an Independent Makers and Presenters Professional Development travel grant from ArtsSA. Mainly I was here to visit Ars Electronica and Nomadic Village but as always collected a few other bits of awesome along the way.
Here’s a brief taster:
Brighton Digital Festival – I only really skimmed the surface here as I was passing through, but I’d like to write a bit more about what I saw/read through twitter feeds. In the meantime check the sites for some smart/beautiful work and watch the Improving Reality recordings for some excellent discussions. Also keep an eye on The Lighthouse (one of BDF co-producers) since they generally do great things and have also just announced they’re one of the new Open Data Institute nodes.
Ars Electronica – toooooo many things blew my mind here, so I’ll blog that separately.
Randomly, while discussing storytelling, my sister introduced me to Kate Tempest, an amazingly powerful young spoken word poet from UK. I can’t embed this video sadly but I strongly recommend you take the time to go and watch “The Mouse Hiding Out in the Lion’s Hair“. Apparently Kate is coming to Australia soon – I’ve suggested she might want to consider being a Nomad in Residence, but who knows…
Nomadic Village – again this has a lot (*understatement) that needs explaining/sharing so will come in another post. But wow. So many beautiful people, from so many different places. This was the perfect blend of social politics and creative culture, and the first time all my conversations about being a nomad skipped straight past “why” so we could cut to the chase of “how”, “where” and “when”. I can’t begin to explain how important that was.
The big thing for my immediate future is that I’m going home soon, back to Adelaide where I’ll be mainly based for the next year. Back to my beautiful big red bus… although living in a metal tin over another screamingly hot summer has me a bit concerned. I REALLY need to get the next stage of busmod done (new insulation, tinting the windows and getting an awning, amongst other things) so I can have some hope of not frying, but there’s currently no money for this so we’ll see.
I was going to be part of this weekend’s Eurisko, holding a “Pimp my Bus” session with the wonderful hackers and tinkerers from HackMelbourne and beyond, but had to let that go (for now) due to the trip extension (more on “Pimp my Bus” another time…). I land back on Nov 12th, ready to give a (somewhat jetlagged) talk on crowdfunding for Guildhouse on 13th.
Then I need to deliver a project funded earlier in the year, Open Source Home. There was always a research element to that and the reflections I’ve had (not to mention actually returning to my early home for a while) have very much changed what I thought I was going to do by way of ‘outcome’ – again I’ll blog this, but soon since it happens in December! I mentioned research. I’m only a dabbler in academia, but I’ve been looking into historical/cultural contexts around what it means to be a creative nomad in contemporary society. Many of our predecessors lived nomadic lives, whether farmers moving pastures or merchant traders, pilgrims or travelling minstrels. I gave a talk earlier this year at the Haecksen miniconf at Linuxconf where I was starting to sift through my thinking (if you watch the video you’ll see it’s very rough). Since then I have started a Practice Based Research in the Arts online Stanford course so I can learn how to research properly. It’s so far working out well and I’m really enjoying the brain-expansion, although I long to have more time/space to read and report back on everything I’m finding.
Looking ahead, my biggest focus for the next year is something I’m currently calling “Niinamarni”, which means “Hello” in Kaurna, the local South Australian Indigenous dialect. I’ll be hosting the very brilliant Alex Kelly as my Nomad in Residence and have mentoring advice and support from Alex Reid (Group Executive Director, Arts and Cultural Affairs (including Arts SA, the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division and the Capital City Committee Directorate) in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, SA – what a long job title!) and Brenda L Croft (a member of the Gurindji/Malngin/Mudpurra peoples from the Northern Territory, Australia and a Senior Research Fellow at the National Institute for Experimental Arts (NIEA), College of Fine Arts (CoFA), UNSW) whom I had the very great fortune of working with during ISEA2013. Again, much much more on this to come.
OK. Well I failed at being brief, again. But I really wanted to get all that down before I return home and get caught up in the next stages of my ever changing life-landscape. If you got this far, thanks for your patience. As always feel free to drop me a line publicly or otherwise (here’s where you’ll find me) with thoughts/suggestions/advice/criticisms… anything. It’s always a pleasure to discuss these things with people who both share my ideas or disagree; it’s how I learn. And my deepest thanks to everyone who has helped me get ‘here’, whether through supporting my crowdfunding campaign, caretaking my bus, sharing advice or just by being generally there for me. Love you guys to bits. YOU are what makes home, for me x
I don’t speak French, but for anyone who does and who stumbles on my site because I’m listed at this event, here’s a press release (screen-grabbed below too).
For the English speakers, you can read about another of the artists who has walked from her home in Holland to the Nomadic Village site. I supported her on Friday 13th September and she wrote about ‘walking with me‘ – lovely project and I look forward to meeting her soon!
Thanks to ArtsSA for supporting this trip via a grant for Professional Development, Independent Makers and Presenters.