Improvising The Internet: The epistemic cultures of Hackers, Snowboarders and Jazz performers

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The reception was quite stunning when I presented this at http://www.aoir.org/2002/
Now, the theory, and PhD that followed has been turned in to a leadership book, Leadership From Below, see http://www.leadershipfrombelow.com

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Improvising The Internet: The epistemic cultures of Hackers, Snowboarders and Jazz performers

  1. 1. Improvising the Internet The epistemic cultures of Hackers, Snowboarders and Jazz performers Trond Arne Undheim, dr. polit. Norwegian University of Science and Technology AOIR, Maastricht, 13-16 October 2002 http:// aoir .org/2002/
  2. 2. If you aim to talk about hackers, why this detour?
  3. 3. The still emerging Internet <ul><li>A highly advanced information infastructure, whose backbone is a material network of fiber, satellite, and copperwire communicating through the IP protocol </li></ul><ul><li>The material network has emerged largely through the vision of its founders, the experimentation of its first adopters and the continuing improvisation of its users </li></ul>
  4. 4. Proposition <ul><li>Technical innovation is often discovered by chance, that is, by engaging in work, play or experiments around related phenomena </li></ul><ul><li>Improvisation starts with rules that are then systematically broken to test their limits </li></ul><ul><li>Let us therefore play with the connection between hacking, showboarding and jazz performance – some common improvisational activities that occur both online and offline </li></ul>
  5. 5. The theory of Epistemic Cultures <ul><li>Knorr-Cetina (1999): epistemic cultures among scientists vary between settings, professions, and countries. Technology mediates, shapes, and transforms epistemic impressions </li></ul><ul><li>Undheim (2002): place making is the logic by which knowledge is mobilized and made </li></ul><ul><li>Cziksientmihalyi (1996): flow, a state of sustained concentration, is the way intensive work occurs </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Epistemic practices are both: </li></ul><ul><li>non-social (isolating, thinking, concentrating) </li></ul><ul><li>social (thinking, pushing, pitching) </li></ul>
  7. 7. epistemic ”place making” <ul><li>Domestication </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(Silverstone 2000; Sørensen 1998, Undheim 2002) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Mobilization </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Acting upon your insight </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Convincing others </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Creating facts (knowledge) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Inscription </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Providing scripts (instructions for use materially manifest in the artifact or document you produce) </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Towards a theory of p lace making <ul><li>In knowledge work, online and offline spacemaking occurs simultaneously. Castells calls this process ”spaces of flows”. I prefer to talk about ”place making” </li></ul><ul><li>We are merging the two experiences and information gathered into one </li></ul><ul><li>This process occurs in physical and mental places, not as systems and structures beyond us as cognitive and creative individuals </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>While a non-place (Auge, 1995) is a waiting area, with no real experience attached to it, places contain spaces </li></ul><ul><li>Humans tend to produce meaningful connections to feel safe and ”in place” </li></ul><ul><li>Place making activates ephemeral knowledge through pitching initiatives, convincing and stabilizing </li></ul>
  10. 10. “ place making” <ul><li>Place making is based on all six senses and serves to re-translate the relationship between information, capital, ideas, people and material resources in order to produce </li></ul><ul><li>(1) identity, safety, local preferences </li></ul><ul><li>(2) insight, knowledge, actions </li></ul><ul><li>(3) fusion between place and space </li></ul><ul><li>It seems to be a generic human process </li></ul>
  11. 11. In short <ul><li>Place making, flow and technology evokes, sustains, and stabilizes epistemic practices into separate cultures </li></ul><ul><li>Hacking, or experimental programming, goes on by ways of binary coding, algorythms and computer languages, but also occurs as face-to-face discussion and straight talk </li></ul>
  12. 12. Hacking evades description <ul><li>Charles Simonyi: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(father of Bravo X for the Xerox Alto computer and coordinator for Microsoft’s work on Word and Excel) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>” programming is art, just like high-energy physics is art ….actually, it is a mix of science, art and skill” </li></ul><ul><li>” the first step in programming is imagining … I try to imagine the structures that represent the reality I want to code” </li></ul>
  13. 13. Please consider Jazz quartet Snowboard group Software firm Dave Brubeck Quartet Totten Happy Campers Opentech* * Fictitious name Jazz performers Snowboarders Hackers
  14. 14. Methods <ul><li>Ongoing fieldwork </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Participant observation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In-depth interviews </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Focus groups </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Use of secondary data </li></ul><ul><li>Norwegian doctoral dissertation on Snowboarders, Christensen 2001 </li></ul><ul><li>Annfeldt’s (2002) work on jazz, improvisation and gender </li></ul><ul><li>Available texts on Dave Brübeck, as well as his CDs </li></ul>
  15. 15. Hacking the Hacker <ul><li>Driven by the desire to develop code </li></ul><ul><li>The Open Source movement – has roots in the 1960s’ computer science departments </li></ul><ul><li>Informationalism , a fundamentalist ideology (set information free at all costs) </li></ul><ul><li>Opentech* – Open Source software firm trying to balance the extremes </li></ul><ul><li>*fictitious name </li></ul>
  16. 16. Hacker code (i) <ul><li>” code is ready when it’s ready. Deadlines are stupid and an obstacle to developers” (programmer) </li></ul>
  17. 17. Hacker code (i) <ul><li>” Our code is simpler than its competitors” </li></ul>
  18. 18. Hacker code (i) <ul><li>” meetings are useful to distribute tasks that nobody wants … deep talk of a few individuals over a couple of beers combined with thought through written proposals via email are certainly more efficient. Meetings are a bad way to get work done … fellow workers talk to each other whenever this is needed” (leading programmer) </li></ul>
  19. 19. Hacker organizing (ii) <ul><li>Programmers do their best work when they do what they want to do, not what they are told to do. </li></ul><ul><li>Occasionally, there are boring tasks that just have to be done. These are distributed across the organization </li></ul><ul><li>” Things become too ad hoc sometimes. Customers propose some things, it seems interesting, and we [look into it]. We might find out it’s even bigger, and ask who wants to contribute. But unless our programmers want to, we don’t do it” </li></ul>
  20. 20. Hacker motivation (iii) <ul><li>” I am never bored. I rather have to be pushed to go home. Time flies. My primary motivation? Being able to work on a product that is so free ... you can bring in yourself so much. We have no real conditions from the outside. […] So I don’t have the feeling that if I fix something or write something new, that it will vanish somewhere in some proprietary product […] But we’re free as long as we’re still making profits with it” (programmer) </li></ul>
  21. 21. Hacker work places (iv) <ul><li>The office is silent, no disturbances must be made, because the software developer is king and needs peace in order to work </li></ul><ul><li>Programmers share offices in pairs. Extreme programming means intense collaboration on the same project </li></ul>
  22. 22. Hacker newbies (v) <ul><li>” I wasn’t really aware of the Open Source movement when I joined [the company]. It’s really interesting to see how it will develop in the future, because it’s been management by anarchy in the past […] My weakness is on the technical side. What I’m working on right now is a coctail party level of knowledge” (newly hired Sales Manager) </li></ul><ul><li>To do this he walks around asking the programmers ”stupid questions” when customer work has brought up issues he doesn’t understand </li></ul>
  23. 23. Company epistemics <ul><li>Characterized by network sociality </li></ul><ul><ul><li>non-disruptive flow of textual communication </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>silence rules the floors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>face-to-screen work dominates </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>customer contact mainly email-based, though undergoing change as company moves beyond early adopters </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Work is inspired by mentors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>[x], their überhacker and technical director </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>the Open Source movement, Eric Raymond and Richard M. Stallman </li></ul></ul>
  24. 24. Hackers meet reality <ul><li>The rules of big business </li></ul><ul><li>The law of large numbers (organization, coordination, bureaucracy, repetitive work) </li></ul><ul><li>Idealism meets professionalism </li></ul><ul><li>Structuring work </li></ul>
  25. 25. Snowboard data (i) Christensen (2001) <ul><li>Totten Happy Campers is a group of 40 snowboarders, most in their late 20s, and 80 percent are male </li></ul><ul><li>Snowboarders emphasize three things: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Play – expression and experience, not sport </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Opposition – enjoyment, kick, belonging </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Risk – extreme stunts, steep hills </li></ul></ul>
  26. 26. Snowboard data (ii) <ul><li>Media plays an important part in snowboard epistemic culture: live events, advertising, web sites, magazines, videos </li></ul><ul><li>Video plays an important suggestive, not only symbolic role. Seeing snowboard on the screen brings back strong bodily experiences </li></ul><ul><li>Playboard magazine (www.playboard.no) </li></ul>
  27. 27. Jazz performers <ul><li>Dave Brubeck Quartet is known for their improvised counterpoint and rapid rhythm changes , yet brought jazz to the masses </li></ul><ul><li>Brübeck was a 1954 Time cover story </li></ul><ul><li>” everything has to be just right for every man in the group if the intire concert is really to come off …a good piano, good PA-system, good acoustics” (Dave Brubeck about the February 22nd 1963 Carnegie Hall performance) </li></ul>                                               
  28. 28. Jazz improvisation (i) <ul><li>Dave Brubeck went through the conservatory of music without knowing how to read music </li></ul><ul><li>He was the best student of counterpoint </li></ul><ul><li>Studied with French composer Milhaud, who became his mentor </li></ul><ul><li>Survived from gig to gig for a while </li></ul>
  29. 29. Jazz improvisation (ii) Joel Simpson http://www. allaboutjazz .com/bios/ dxbbio . htm <ul><li>“ After more than a decade of experimenting with odd time signatures Brubeck decided that the jazz public was ready for an album which focused on them. Jazz was so overwhelmingly stuck on 4/4, descended as it is from ragtime and the march, that Brubeck wanted to shake things up a bit, open new perspectives. He met with resistance from his label, Columbia, as he tells it: </li></ul><ul><li>Even in the late 50s when we recorded Time Out , there was a lot of controversy over whether to ever release the album. We broke all the rules. An album with all originals. An album with a different concept, exploring odd time signatures. Using a painting on the cover. I wanted to use Joan Miro. Everything I was trying to do the sales people and the art people were all afraid of. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Jazz epistemics <ul><li>Playfulness </li></ul><ul><li>Risk </li></ul><ul><li>Outsider position </li></ul>
  31. 31. Online Jazz <ul><li>Websites </li></ul><ul><li>Share experiences, exchange information, buy CDs </li></ul><ul><ul><li>www.jazzcorner.com , www.jazzimprov.com , </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The performance online is limited </li></ul>                                               
  32. 32. Jazz and the contemporary <ul><li>Jazz is now taken seriously as a model for business – workers are expected to improvise, and leaders are expected to be more like conductors ( Barret, 1998) </li></ul><ul><li>Jazz performers still see themselves as outsiders somehow – or want to </li></ul><ul><li>This might be related to hegemonic masculinity (Annfeldt, 2002) </li></ul>
  33. 33. Taking it all together
  34. 34. Common ground <ul><li>Epistemic practices (scratch an itch, silence, inspiration, technique) </li></ul><ul><li>Frames, rules, rigorous technique </li></ul><ul><li>Counter culture </li></ul><ul><li>Global environment </li></ul><ul><li>Regarded as trendy, yet still creative </li></ul><ul><li>Male dominated </li></ul><ul><li>Commercial wrapping </li></ul><ul><li>Embodies freedom </li></ul>
  35. 35. Similar epistemic practices <ul><li>Has a certain playful seriousness about it </li></ul><ul><li>Only full immersion is accepted </li></ul><ul><li>Activity sessions are characterized by flow – an experience of sustained concentration </li></ul><ul><li>Technology, instruments and artifacts mediate the experiences and provide additional meaning </li></ul><ul><li>Members have autodidactic careers, based on intrinsic motivation, inspiration from a larger group of insiders, and on watching and practicing with mentors </li></ul>
  36. 36. Conclusion <ul><li>Improvising the Internet is based on quite striking epistemic practices </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mentor learning </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clear frames of reference </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Flow experience </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Physical closeness of practicioners </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Place making </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Through loooking at other improvised practices, we might gain perspective on how hackers operate </li></ul>

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