“Xerography—every man’s brainpicker—heralds the times of instant publishing. Anybody can now become both author and publisher. Take any books on any subject and custom-make your own book by simply xeroxing a chapter from this one, a chapter from that one—instant steal!
As new technologies come into play, people become less and less convinced of the importance of self expression. Teamwork succeeds private effort.“
—Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the MESSAGE
This book was written in a collaborative Book Sprint by six core authors over a five-day period in January 2010. The six starting authors each come from different perspectives, as are the contributors who were adding to this living body of text.
Six months later a new group of collaborators convened in New York City, while several of the first group also contributed simultaneously from NYC, Berlin and San Francisco. For the most part it can be said that the second sprint brought a fresh set of eyes and a critical perspective to the material produced by the previous group.
Coming together. Coming politics! Let us try to proceed with the book as thought—and continue to have a living body of text and follow a certain politics to come.
“Intellectuality and thought are not a form of life among others in which life and social production articulate themselves, but they are rather the unitary power that constitutes the multiple forms of life as form-of-life. In the face of state sovereignty, which can affirm itself only by separating in every context naked life from its form, they are the power that incessantly reunites life to its form or prevents it from being dissociated from its form. The act of distinguishing between the mere, massive inscription of social knowledge into the productive processes (an inscription that characterizes the contemporary phase of capitalism, the society of the spectacle) and intellectuality as antagonistic power and form-of-life—such an act passes through the experience of this cohesion and this inseparability. Thought is form-of-life, life that cannot be segregated from its form; and anywhere the intimacy of this inseparable life appears, in the materiality of corporeal processes and of habitual ways of life no less than in theory, there and only there is thought. And it is this thought, this form-of-life, that, abandoning naked life to ‘Man’ and to the ‘Citizen,’ who clothe it temporarily and represent it with their ‘rights,’ must become the guiding concept and the unitary center of the coming politics.”
—Giorgio Agamben, Means without End: Notes on Politics. [University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, London: 2000]
To begin looking at those futures, we look back to others who have looked into the future. Marshall McLuhan’s quote above, from “The Medium is the MESSAGE” give us our first clue about all of these assumptions we are making. We are talking about media, we are talking about freedom, we are talking about technologies, and we are talking about culture.
McLuhan’s prophetic utterance, several decades before the photocopier fueled the punk cut-up design aesthetic, or the profusion of home-brew zines, is still unmet. We are still chasing it. Mainstream culture continues to consolidate around block buster films, books, and music. Copyright restrictions make it harder and harder to exercise the creative power of these reproduction tools without breaking increasingly restrictive intellectual property laws.
But one thing is unanimously true: “Teamwork succeeds private effort.”
Human beings have always collaborated; collaboration is not a recent development, nor is it rare. The key assumptions we are making in this text are that we are talking about new technologies, that technology is not necessarily computers, that digital media makes it easier to collaborate across distance. We are focused on collaboration that shares similar progressive social goals, and collaboration that is ‘free’ or ‘open’ rather than hierarchical production models. We also see a potential threshold between teamwork and collaboration, and between sharing and collaboration.
We are interested in new forms of social organization through online networks. We are excited by the possibility of digital technology to bridge distances: we had collaborators writing this book with us from many corners of the world.
The proliferation of communication networks allows this, as does the invention of new tools for collaboration, but we are also quick to assert that the removal of distance makes other barriers more apparent.
Despite the fact that the term ‘collaborative’ has been a buzzword in the art world in recent years, we dedicated little time to it.
Given the complex history of collectivist movements, and the web of relationships present in artists studios and workshops, this was probably advisable.
Collaboration also lies at the heart of the firm, but given the dominance of money in determining participation and the involuntary aspect of work, this aspect is often neglected.
Today the language of ‘communities of practice', organization in ‘teams’, ‘self-organised clusters’ is ubiquitous in the corporate sphere, as are attempts to enable or capitalize on end-user participation in the production cycle. But this book is not about that.
Finally, collective political movements formed a key force of the twentieth century, and embodied vital instantiations of collaboration. What is to be learned from that history, and how movements are adapting to, or challenged by, the new techniques and organizational forms, represents a vast domain of research beyond the reach of what follows.
This book is not finished.
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