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Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
I have come to regard the system of an occupation as consisting of two major subsystems. The first is an infrastructure, consisting of tangible community resources (a kitchen, supply of housing, medical supplies) and also a shared community nomenclature (community guidelines, their declaration of occupation and motions passed through their general assembly). The second part of the occupation, the superstructure, is the social system based on top of the shared infrastructure. The infrastructure and superstructure interact with each other at a number of points where their system boundaries intersect, but the point most relevant to the evolving complexity of the infrastructure is the occupation’s general assembly.
The general assembly is the point at which the social system, contained in the superstructure, assembles to determine precise patterns of information to be transmitted across its system boundary to join the (not necessarily tangible) assembly of logs and records of previously passed motions, contained in the infrastructure. This process varies from occupation to occupation and city to city, but they all utilize some form of defined consensus process to determine the relevancy of the message to be transmitted to the infrastructure (the motion being proposed to the GA) against the overall system of the occupation.
The infrastructure is the long-term memory process of a democratically organized social system. The superstructure is the short-term memory process. This model of a democratic system fits into the same guidelines as Norbert Weiner’s models of the short-term/long-term memory processes of the animal and the machine, and can be measured with similar methods.
The General Assembly
A facilitator stands at the front of the Occupy DC general assembly in November, 2011.
The general assembly is the point at which information relevant to the occupations infrastructure is compiled and transmitted from the community superstructure to the community infrastructure via a customized consensus process. The Occupy DC general assembly consensus process follows these basic guidelines:
1) A proposal is read to the assembly.
2) The facilitator gauges the community’s opinion of the proposal (the “public opinion”) by asking for consensus among the group (gauged by hand signals).
3) If consensus is not immediately apparent, a stack is opened and a discussion begins. First, the facilitator would ask participants to raise their hands if they have any clarifying questions in regards to the proposal, selects a few of them and assigns each a number between 1 and n (the “stack”). Each person on stack waits their turn to ask their question and have it be answered. If there are more questions, another stack can be filled, or the facilitator can decide to move on to the next step.
4) A stack is opened to address major concerns about the proposal.
5) A stack is opened to address any friendly amendments the assembly has.
6) A stack is opened to address things people really like about the proposal.
7) The facilitator once again gauges consensus. If consensus is found, the motion passes and the proposal becomes part of the infrastructure.
The decision the GA makes is that of a simple yes/no; a binary decision. Through the social guidelines for communication and control of the predefined GA process, patterns of information are gauged for their relevancy against the system of the community infrastructure. Through this process the community infrastructure of the occupation is built up bit by binary bit. The voting processes utilized by the US Senate and other democratic assemblies are very much akin to this process, and build upon their national infrastructures in very much the same way.
As time has progressed, technology has brought the means of information mass production to the people, and with this has come higher and higher densities of information throughout the media environment. As the information density increases, the potential relevancy between any two messages also increases. When signals relevant to each other come in contact with each other they produce a pattern of information new to the overall system (as an individual learns, they put pieces together to make new ideas). These new patterns of information, concepts and ideas new into the media environment, are what fuel social, technological and scientific advancement. Of particular import to myself, however, is their ability to fuel the development and evolution of our democratic processes.
Members of the 4th estate record for broadcast information on Occupy DC’s erecting their “Tent of Dreams”, a massive tent in the center of McPherson Square and my home for a week.
As more Americans gain access to the means of information production - the American 4th estate - citizens are enabled to communicate more with both each other and our elected. The American electorate, with the technologies of the Internet, have grown accustomed to being more socially enfranchised and having their voice heard across social networks, and in my opinion it was only a matter of time that a major movement in this country erupted in this country embracing direct democracy.
Our 4th estate is constituted from these means of information production, Through our 4th estate, America is able to communicate with itself and share relevant information. Up until the inception of the Internet, most of the modes of information mass-production (most of the 4th estate) were controlled only by those with the capitol to support a printing press or broadcast tower.
With the Internet, the modes of information mass production are available to most of America. It has enabled us to provide more feedback into our media environment through social interactions online, but more importantly it has given us a voice in the discussion of how our society is structured and governed. As technologies enabled more and more feedback, Americans became more and more accustomed to having their voice heard. This finds itself aligned to the American ideals of democracy, and so in my opinion it was only a matter of time before a movement in America erupted to demand move voice in our governmental systems. The 4th estate is that of the Citizens Estate, responsible for transmitting information from the people into our overall democracy. In my opinion that is exactly what Occupy is about: addressing the disproportionate levels of disenfranchisement in our country. The ‘occupy’ conversation started with wealth inequality, but the issues we are facing in this country run far deeper than just the economic.
We are one nation, indivisible under our flag. The ideal of an American democracy is for every citizen to have a fair share of influence upon their government, and recently this nation has seen the birth of a movement who believes they have been disenfranchised from this ideal. They believe that agents of our federal government have consistently acted without regard for the citizenry and they have begun to demand reform. Their love of our country’s democratic processes & ideals of the freedom of speech has spurred them to peacefully assemble & manifest the roar of their masses to influence the course of this country away from what they see as the destruction of our American ideals. Their efforts have changed the American discourse.
In the beginning, they had to fight for attention from the mainstream media. At first they were ignored. Then they were laughed at. Finally, the potential force of their movement upon our American democratic system was realized by the media, and they are now a common topic of discussion in houses across America; they have successfully altered the American discourse. I am talking of course about the Tea Party; an assembly of democratic citizens manifesting the collective roar of their voices to sway our governmental representatives.
A member of Occupy Cincinnati sings a solidarity chant at the top of her lungs after being arrested for refusing to obey Cincinnati Park Board regulations.
Discovering what it means to have a voice, to be enfranchised in a democratic sociopolitical system, has been my primary focus through the lens of cybernetic theory. Through a combination of my readings of theory, my upbringing in humanity’s new digital era, my studies of journalism and my experiences with political activism I have come to hold a number of very precise beliefs and theories in regards to the systemic control mechanisms which govern the path of our nation and lives.
There is an already established base of digital social media amongst our media environment. The social profile site Facebook has over 500,000,000 active profiles as of 2011 and the social news site Reddit maintains 100,000+ subrreddits, over 8,400 of which maintain a subscription base of 100+ members. Google reports processing over one billion queries per day. Systems and technologies theorist Kevin Kelly has theorized that the complexity of our digital media environment surpassed that of the human mind in 2007, serving 100 billion clicks a day and consisting of over 1 quintillion individual transistors. Five years later, this system growing ever more complex than the human mind is growing eyes.
Since the 1960’s the mass television broadcast has been commonplace in the American environment. This corporation-controlled technology has brought events as inspiring as the moon landing and as dirty as wars abroad to the living room of middle class America. In 2001 this technology conveyed live the terror which the 9/11 terrorists had intended to inflict across every attentive screen in the country.
The livestreamer is a new form of journalist emerging from a mesh of political activism, digital technology and social networking. They are live videographers broadcasting via laptops, cell phones and mobile 4G hotspots, streaming across the Internet and acting as a visual proxy to tens of thousands of viewers at a time. The livestreaming network Ustream has surpassed 10,000,000 unique viewers of 30+ minutes. Livestreamers spend their majority of their time holding a web-cam or cell phone, responding to live comments from their viewership and answering any questions they have about the streamers environment.
The low cost of the equipment means that it takes only $200-300 to become your own live video producer with the potential to reach a sizable market. The small footprint of a livestreamer's rig provides them with a level of agility far beyond that of the traditional broadcast videographer, and I often find livestreamers right beside me on the riot line ready to dodge whatever comes their way. This allows livestreamers to abide by my personal top rule of journalism far more than someone carrying a 3 foot long, $60,000 satellite connected rig ever could: “be there”.
A livestreamer broadcasts the arrest of two protesters during a relatively small anonymous action of Occupy DC (with less than 10 participants). By the time of this photograph, two and a half hours after the action began, the livestreamer had over 450 viewers after midnight local time.
As with the burst of informational complexity throughout our media environment that came with the introduction of the Internet and decentralized access to the means of mass social text publication, we are currently experiencing another burst of complexity from the decentralization of access to the means of live mass video broadcast. Citizen journalists are able to compete to convey stories in real time, and viewers often have easy access to watching multiple unique streams from a single event simultaneously. At one point in January I was plugged into four streams coming out of Occupy Oakland and one from Occupy Denver and the only problem I had was managing the audio from 5 sources.
All a person needs is a smartphone.
The night before, on New Years Eve 2011, President Obama had signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, a highly controversial bill undermining major components of our national infrastructure such as the writ of habeas corpus and the 4th amendment to the US constitution.
The input to this graph is a composite of tweets from hundreds of individuals all across the world connected only by an Enter key. With a bit of practice, it becomes easy to use this entirely decentralized source of information to find out what is going on in real time. As another step towards information access, livestreamers often tweet their broadcasts attached to relevant keywords, their streams normally available in the list of tweets visible underneath the streamgraph itself (not shown). The way I read it, a higher amplitude on the streamgraph is equivalent to a higher informational relevancy to our social system.
The application used to generate streamgraphs was created by Jeff Clark, a data visualization artist. Its not very accessible in its current state: users are unable to view a period of time other than the period across the past 1000 tweets, each graph takes 20-30 seconds to generate, and a lack of guides make it hard to gauge scale and quantity. The streamgraph also has a flaw which unless somehow remedied or amended may serve to be close to fatal to its ability to act as a source of live news: the input can consist of false reports. While following the eviction of Occupy Denver, that police were setting tents on fire pinged with the highest frequency on the streamgraph. It turned out to be the occupiers themselves. Whether the misinformation was intentional or not, it permeated the public opinion of what was actually happening at the eviction.
That given, as soon as I found this application it instantly became my primary source of real-time news for the Occupation. Searching the keywords “#occupy” or "#ows" a few times a day kept me current on all major events, evictions, actions and arrests related to the Occupation movement. It utilizes the amalgamated signal of information to build a visual representation in alignment with the systemic bias of “the public opinion” of the Twitterverse.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Officer Doweny of the DC Metro Police maintains a police line outside of a bank across the street from McPherson Square as protesters rr. to erect a tent in front of the building.