Today (36 °C) I was at the [tbd] NOTACAMP gathering at Het Groeneveld in Amsterdam Noord. It was less technology and more anarchy than I expected. For the most part I hang around in the SILO, where all of the talks took place. Topics ranged from solarpunk technology, to immunology, chat over IMAP, IPv6, permacomputing, and collapsology
A clear theme were the ecological considerations surrounding our use of technology—now and in the future. There is the very solarpunk-y perspective of trying to minimize your electricity consumption as much as possible because, for example, you live on a sailboat and all the electricity you use becomes very tangible once you have to haul a hundred kilograms of battery on board. And this of course brings with it the fair point that the current pattern of energy consumption is definitely not scalable to the global human population. Let alone the fact that worsening impact of climate change will make people want to use more air conditioning, something that slurps a ton of energy, causing the rollout of electricity lifestyles modeled after Western countries to cost disproportionately more. It is therefore a worthy endeavour to first explore and invent all the personal solutions that make off-grid living easier, and only then start to bring about the revolution. After all, it is disingeneous (and very hard) to get people enthusiastic for systemic change if you cannot offer them any alternatives or solutions.
Permacomputing focuses more on maximization of hardware's lifespan and reuse of materials. The discussion we had in the SILO started veering off into what permacomputing meant for software, and how it can be made into an analogy for the permaculture its ideas are based on. But this very much felt like the wrong way to approach it. Where permaculture emphasizes working with the environment and soil, because modifying and industrializing it too much will kill it in the long run, computers don't inherently suffer when you kill a virtual machine and spawn a new one. So to my mind, there is much merit in permacomputing, but more in the area of inspiring common knowledge on the consequences of our current levels of resource usage (among which all the metals and mineral of course, also see the Groene Amsterdammer's series on (chemical) elements for the future). Then there is the way we use technology ourselves. In The Netherlands, the use of technology is hyper-individualized. Most everyone has their own computer, laptop, or mobile phone. All households buy their own separate internet connection from an ISP, even though there is no clear technical reason for why this needs to happen. Uplinks are often shared between tens of households already anyway. Hyper-individualism is mostly a marketing ploy to extract more money from citizens. There is little to no timesharing anymore. A woman from Spain brought up that this is actually a very privileged position to be thinking from. Many parts of the world don't have such a high-ratioed rollout of personal technology. And those people will share their devices and internet data bundles out of necessity. It is again about our relationship with technology, and the realization that there exist many cultural differences in that aspect.
Collapsology is a new concept that we explored in a knowledge-building round-group. There is the idea that collapses stem from built up catastrophes from varying categories; natural limits (resources), biosphere, and complexity. Many collapses are of a negative nature, but people also told about collapses they perceived to be positive (i.e., fall of the Lehman brothers). The session kickstarted with the statement that large change must wait for a collapse before it can take off, though the most recent big collapse of the covid pandemic delivered on none of those promises. Many collapses might feel dreadful and negative. A Russian woman spoke about the suffocating feeling of collapse after hearing about the invasion in Ukraine. And the weird juxtaposition with Dutch society, where normal people were just going about their normal days, while the woman's world was perceived to be collapsing. The multitude and differentiality of human subcultures and lives as a basic fact of humanity's sheer scale remains amazingly unintuitive on a personal level. Relatedly, we established that many collapses play out on a much longer timeframe than we can intuitively understand.
The collapse of seeing a crate of avocado's in the Albert Heijn in winter.
I've thought more often about how amazing it would be if we evolved some organs to experience time more intuitively as humans. Alas, for now we sometimes "wake up" into a higher consciousness and actually experience that the collapse is all around us. The slow collapse of global industrialization.
Tessel talked about three actions we can undertake in the face of a collapse:
- Mourning (accepting our new reality)
- Storytelling (creating new narratives; though also heard someone mention that there are already plenty of narratives in the world, and it's all nice and well to do another round of intellectual stimulation, but at some point we should really get to the phase of doing shit)
Niels brought up the philosophical question of whether the human condition is to be collapsing. Are we collapsisms? If you'd replace collapse with change in all of these discussions, I'd certainly be inclined to say that this is indeed the human condition. Without the temporal dimension there are no stories. Stories and myths are currently the main way that our human cultures assign meaning to life. Practicing the experience of meaning derived from pure existence alone is still a fringe hobby.
To end on a practical note; one clear conclusion from this knowledge-building session was that you as an individual can start to experience meaning again after a collapse by picking a small subset and starting to work on solving it together with a community. The direct feedback and discussions from peers bring many positive rewards in our human brain, and the collapse is no longer unfathomably large. No need to wait with your revolution, the collapse is already here, and the best way to tackle it is to start doing stuff with friends.