27 November 2007

Truth or Dare

Yesterday, at the New Industrial World Forum, taking place at the Centre Pompidou, I attended the talk of Florence Devouard, president of the Wikimedia Foundation, in charge of managing and running Wikipedia.
The relationship between a tool, its aesthetics and the content created never seemed more obvious to me than when I heard her describe the many stakes of Wikipedia. As the service has been under the harsh fire of many critics for years, notably in the academic and media fields, the discourse of its representant was expectedly defensive. And I did agree with most of her arguments, it's hard to stand against Wikipedia when it's been so useful, simple to access and so open on the collective knowledge.
But one of her points was strongly worrying. As she described what was for her a great aspect of the tool - the openness on languages and cultures of the world (as in not everybody speaks English, Spanish and French and live in the Western world) - she supported her reasoning by saying that indeed every subject has many truths and that Wikipedia allows them all to be voiced. And then that's when it stroke me that the design of the Wikipedia tool and service was indeed supporting in its core that assertion. So in order to make her point, she used a specific example, underlying how Wikipedia can be used to offer a balance of views on a given subject, in particular when for instance French people have a say more easily than African people. In substance her quote was "I look forward to reading African francophones expressing themselves on Wikipedia, for instance on subjects like feminine circumcision and western Sahara" (implying that their opinions would be different than those of the French). Now with the 1st problem with this statement: there's an insinuation here that a point of view on a subject is submitted to nationality or ethnic belonging. Well, if all French people or all the African francophones would think one way and agree on everything, that'd be some piece of news! But more seriously, the way she phrased her reasoning could be easily understood that she meant that as a French person, I would voice arguments against feminine circumcision while an African person would advocate for it. Fortunately, we know it's not that binary.
The second subtext is even more problematic: one would tend to think that any opinion can be said on a subject - in itself, a reasonable point - and that they're all worthy and even necessary. Indeed, in the name of freedom of expression, and a currently trendy relativism, all "truths" are equal, all points of view are valuable and they all worth a space of expression. This is for me where the danger is. I don't believe you can wipe out historical context, experience and critical analysis.
Ironically, I think a part of the academic world, in order to play it very 2.0, is trying to get back in the race of demagogy: the recent invitation of the Balliol College of Oxford University made to the negationist David Irving, many times condemned in Germany and Austria, in a debate on the limits of freedom of expression is very revealing in that matter.
No, there aren't always many truths. It's not a science dissertation, where you could keep on questioning even that aluminium is a metal. I believe in making sense as you write an essay, and somewhat educating your audience towards an awareness of oneself as a human being responsible for others and for the ecosystem he's part of.
It's funny that in a forum addressing the "digitalization of design" in the light of the new uses of technology, the organizers didn't plan a time for questions from the audience, which in a way was an interesting echo to another of Florence Devouard's observation, that it's very frustrating for active Internet users if they're in a situation where they can't give a feedback (to what they read in the media for instance). So I went to find her at the end of the session to exchange thoughts on what seemed to me a big issue. She was quite receptive in general - a lot of people came to talk to her, sometimes passionately, about other things. I waited for my turn and exposed the problem I saw in her talk, we talked a bit and I like to think that she realized that some of her phrasing was inappropriate. Wikipedia has many great challenges, at the level of its ambitions. She told me for instance that one of the current problem she was facing was that in some articles, edits by women were systematically rejected by the male users. Now, how do you solve that?

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25 November 2007

Dorkbot #7

The next Dorkbot Paris is taking place the 1st and 2nd of december, during the festival Les Mondes Hors Pistes" (Worlds off tracks) which celebrates the 10 years of the tv show "Tracks" from Arte and it's taking place in the fashion designer Agnès b. gallery space.

Our program proposes various workshops, installations, and performances:

** Workshops **

- Mouse and keyboard hacking, by Jean-Baptiste Labrune and Vincent Roudaut

- CCTV cameras hacking by Karl Otto Von Oertzen and Alexandre Berthier

- Switch on, switch off, by Joëlle Bitton and Julien Dorra
Discovering the basic principles of interaction.

- Recycling audio tapes by Harold Schellinx

** Objects and installations **

Works by Claudia Mannigel, Emmanuel Ferrand, Stéfane Perraud, Armel Barraud, David Steinberg, Dana Gordon, Jean-Baptiste Labrune and LLND

** Performances **

- Bobby vs Predator by Benjamin Cadon

- Travelling (alternative dadaist version) by Joëlle Bitton and David Krutten

- Improvisation by Otso Lahdeoja

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24 November 2007

Back to basics

Users can't believe it's free.. the interface design is sleek and elegant, the game is an all time winner, the use is convenient: it's Quinn alias Tetris on your Mac machine.

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23 November 2007


Today marked the end of the strike, the subway runs pretty much as usual, nobody is complaining anymore. It's as if nothing happened. During the last 10 days, the TV news kept on showing us how unhappy people were that they couldn't go to work and how angry they were that a minority would go on strike to keep their privileges, namely an early retirement.
Contrary to common beliefs, a long strike like this one is pretty unusual in France. The last one of a similar importance was in december 1995, 12 years ago. It lasted 3 weeks and ended just in time for the Christmas shopping. Because if there's something that French people love to do more than to go to work is to go shopping. I was last Saturday at the Galeries Lafayette gourmet, full as ever, at the heart of strike period and somewhat people managed to come all the way down there, with all the nearby subway and train lines down, and there were no TV cameras to show that the strike was after all not so constraining for the French economy.
I can understand the arguments of the train workers, they're right - why would they want to keep doing after 50 such a tedious job? And also, I can understand that in the configuration of our economy maintaining early retirements is not really possible anymore. So why not using this opportunity to question the relationship to work itself? With the current president "work more to earn more" Sarkozy, the notion of work as the ultimate modern value is statufied. But the real revolution is to be able to choose a job that makes you happy or at least that you wouldn't want to leave "early" in your career or that maybe is not getting you at the end of the day to burn your life with alcohol, and anti-depressants and cocaine. The leaders of the economy are exploiting the need for people to get a job that will at least sustain basic expenses - all they care for is to make sure they are profitable, and that in a nice convenient loop, they can spend the small money they earn in a desperate gesture cynically called "pouvoir d'achat" (consuming power) which is the only power they will ever feel in their life: because when you've been spending your day feeling "you're nothing" at work, all you can do is buy and buy more at your turn to feel "you're something".
This actually puts the act of consumption at the heart of the next revolution, between ecological, political and economical awareness: what you buy, how you buy it, where you buy it, why, etc... More and more, I'm interested in alternative theories like "décroissance" or "degrowth". It's fascinating because it puts the problem upside down and for that only, I like it.
And finally, as it was the case in 1995, this strike was very valuable if only for one thing: rediscovering the relationship to the city, to the ways you move in it, to the ways you get from one point to another, and to time (for instance, instead of making sure I want the shortest time spent between the place where I am and where I should be, I have to think of what I'm going to do in the time that I wait - mainly walk - and through what part of the cities).

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11 November 2007

"The biggest twat in Manchester...

being played by the second biggest twat in Manchester” is what Peter Hook, New Order’s bassist, said, commenting on Steve Coogan’s casting as Tony Wilson in 24-hour Party People. Claire told me yesterday Wilson had died last summer - news travel very fast nowadays... It came up as we were wondering how it was possible the Happy Mondays survived from all the drug intake - they played this week at Festival des Inrocks in Paris. I remember when I saw them by chance like 15 or 16 years ago at a signing in the Champs-Elysée Virgin Megastore, I didn't have money to buy their records then but I had a George Harrison tape with me which all the band members signed, incredulous and amused at the object. Soon after, I got the "Pills, thrills and bellyaches" CD for free, as I called Barclay, the french label distributor, and told them I wanted to make a review for a school magazine we were editing in our high-school. Lisa, Cécile, Sophie L. and Sophie F. and I called the magazine "Fulbert" - we made 2 editions in total, wrote articles with hidden names and it had a little success of its own. Tony Wilson's death makes me think about the current music industry and how it is so far away from the way he dealt with his own label, Factory or the bands he helped (Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays) plus all the DJ's he put forward at the Hacienda, the club he opened as a way "to give back to the people". He was maybe a twat indeed, and a desastrous money manager but he made more things for the music than all the current label managers will ever dream to do, just out of passion and pleasure. If all the music industry is interested in at the moment is to find how to keep on cashing on all the rights that are being lost to downloading, then it's for sure going to die. But I'm not convinced it's a wrong thing after all.

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05 November 2007

Photos from Japan and Scotland

This year I mainly traveled to Scotland and Japan.
Here are selected pictures of those two trips.
"You got the look" shows digital color pictures from Scotland, my vision of the RockNess festival that took place last June near Inverness (I still have a folder of black and white pictures I took with my Contax throughout my stay earlier this year but I didn't have the time to make a proper selection - will take care of that soon).
"Summer stroke" is a look at the first part of my stay in Japan with hints at beach time in Kamakura, a beautiful day-walk in Fushimi-Inari temple in Kyoto with Julie and a short visit to Manabe-Jima.
"Looking for the shadow" shows the last days I spent in Japan between Takayama in the mountains and saying goodbye to friends in Tokyo.
For those 3 sets, I used the flash automated gallery from Photoshop CS3 for a change, it's quite a time-saver, but probably less satisfying because I couldn't really annotate the pictures as I usually do.


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