Cade Diehm of SimplySecure/New Design Congress and I had a chat, and would like to propose a (short?) series of ‘commons.hour’ specials, with a broadly historical context but specifically focused on what kinds of practice count as ‘radical’ in the design and deployment of digital infrastructures and relationships with digital infrastructures, at this point in history - and in the local history of meet.coop, as an organisation with some kind of design base and ethos.
This is against a background of ‘radical’ tech movements going back 50 years, and even further to the 1940s’ and to the emergence of design itself, as a distinct kind of professional practice at the turn of the C20. Already in the 70s is was plain how well some of the earlier ‘radical’ and ‘Left’ waves had been absorbed into the mainstream of capitalist development. At the same time it can be seen now how some ciritical insights in the punched-card era of the 70s - which still have relevance today - were sidestepped or lost in the vision of alternative movements at the time and were not cultivated (perhaps bcos they were too tech, perhaps bcos they were too rad).
Individuals in design professions and occupations (which broadly includes tech fields like sysadmin and network architecture too) may often wish to make radical contributions, and to critique mainstream current practice. But simply to do ‘good works’ makes little impact on institutions and the basic architecture of technology infrastructures. To evolve ethical frames, or ‘design methods’ is popular, but again may make little impact on the overall force of design, or the role of designers as detail-workers, tweaking interfaces, configuring tools for small populations, or uncritically making things thoughtlessly simple for users who are seen as (and encouraged to be) naive consumer-users. A current test case may be ‘design justice’ in the field of digital infrastructure and in UX design.
Since the 90s a systematic practice of ‘infrastructuring’ has seemed possible in digital tech, and ‘participatory’ and ‘human centred’ design strategies have existed - many of which may be little known to present generation of designers and UX practitioners, who re-invent the wheel on an individual or ad-hoc or sectoral basis. It seems helpful to consider how this history bears on the possibility of design justice in the development of the meet.coop infrastructure of network and tools, and other infrastructures of digital tools (radical platforms, radical network architectures) being developed and advocated at the present time.
Current locations for this kind of thinking might lie for example in the relationship between provision for laptop/desktops on one hand and smartphones on the other, or between audio and video as channels for meetings; etc.
There’s an initial set of thoughts here Nextcloud. In this thread we invite comments on the broad issue, and thoughts about what kind of framing could be good for a series of ‘specials’ which feed back into meet.coop strategy.