[iDC] The Social Machine of Events

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Wed Feb 1 20:01:19 EST 2006

On 1-Feb-06, at 4:04 PM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> Paperism!

This is the fundamental problem, not just for new media activists but 
for all activists seeking to transcend the stranglehold of literate 
capitalism, which prescribes social expectations within the covers of a 
book. As speakers, we talk as if our audience were disembodied absent 
readers. We act as if we were alone, scribbling in a garrett or typing 
on a laptop, and not enacting ourselves in the living, sweaty, 
twitching presence of actual people in need of food, smoke, love, 
meaning – not abstractly but here, now, this very moment. Paperism is 
the literate condition that privileges knowledge products over 
knowledge processes, seeking to turn every event into an artifact, a 
disembodied, decontextualized book on a dusty shelf rather than a 
communal psycho-kinetic collision. New media activists – situated as we 
are within the post-literate realm, have particular reason to reject 
literate epistemological parameters. That we haven't quite figured out 
how to effectively replace antique top-down ideals at conferences and 
festivals with collaborative catalytic networks isn't surprising, for 
we remain stuck in our highly literate skins. But I do think that we 
are getting there, even if Digifest, the festival I myself co-directed 
for several years in Toronto, suffered miserably from the ailments 
Trebor so aptly describes. (Despite which I must stick up for those 
presenters who are worthy of our collective attention, who are neither 
predictable, phony nor dull but who speak with confidence, clarity and 
inspiration. They are few and far between but best of all.)

> Event formats sculpt their content.

Literacy features fixed schedules, fixed topics, fixed locations, fixed 
relationships (i.e. speaker-audience) and fixed events. Oral and 
digital cultures feature fluid schedules, fluid topics, fluid 
locations, fluid relationships and fluid events. The problem is paper. 
And the mindset that it inculcates in its dependents.

> Results of events matter a great deal.

> Likewise, pre-event discussion is critical!

The key here is the the recognition that context is everything. 
Literate epistemology is acontextual. It is oblivious to the who, the 
where, the when, the how much, the how long, the why. But we are people 
not books and these things matter to us. Before. After. During. Context 
design is far more important than one's lineup of speakers if one's 
goals extend beyond serial monology, or securing future funding. 
Knowledge shared within the most potent contexts is most likely to 
ignite transformation.

So who do we turn to to learn about experience design, about 
context-dependent knowledge sharing, about collaborative 
meaning-making? The event management principles historically – and 
currently – employed by oralists, have been honed over countless 
millennia. I suggest we pay attention to those principles and event 
design strategies for starters (example, sitting in a circle where 
people can acknowledge each other's presence rather than in blind 
impersonal rows like books.) Not for nostalgic reasons, nor simply 
because they remain effective, but because oralists and digitalists 
share crucial dialogical values that exist in stark opposition to the 
literacy's monological hegemony, and that require – for their mutual 
benefit – intelligent and proactive alliances.

Do I ever like this list!


bluesology • printopolis • digitopia

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