Virtual and physical p2p spaces as a policy against the meltdown

What do you do when you find yourself with a lot more time and a lot less money on your hands than you’re used to? That may be the most important question of 2009.

Dougald Hine has been thinking about how social media can be a tool for coping with the effects of the current Great Depression, and comes up with a dual strategy:

1) using social media as resource management tools for those with less money and more time

2) using a new type of physical spaces where one can remain productive

1. Social media as a resource network

“What follows is not a particularly structured list, though there are a few themes.

The basic idea is that we’re talking about digital resource-maps for people who have lost access to the market as a source of resources, with an aim to be an enablement tool for all levels of the participant community:

* Information sharing for dealing with practical consequences of redundancy or job insecurity. You can see this happening already on a site like the Sheffield Forum.

* Indexes of local resources of use to the newly-unemployed – including educational and training opportunities – built up in a user-generated style.

* Tools for reducing the cost of living. These already exist – LiftShare, Freecycle, etc. – so it’s a question of more effective access and whether there are quick ways to signpost people towards these, or link together existing services better.

* An identification of skills, not just for potential employers but so people can find each other and organise, both around each other and emergent initiatives that grow in a fertile, socially-networked context.”

2. Creating physical spaces

“If the aim is to avoid this recession creating a new tranche of long-term unemployed (as happened in the 1980s), then softening the distinction between the employed and unemployed is vital. In social media, we’ve already seen considerable softening of the line between producer and consumer in all kinds of areas, and there must be lessons to draw from this in how we view any large-scale initiative.

As I see it, such a softening would involve not only the kind of online tools and spaces suggested above, but the spread of real world spaces which reflect the collaborative values of social media.

Examples of such spaces already exist:

* Media labs on the model of Access Space or the Brasilian Pontos de Cultura programme, which has applied this approach on a national scale

* Fab Labs for manufacturing, as already exist from Iceland to Afghanistan

* studio spaces like TenantSpin, the micro-TV station in Liverpool based in a flat in a towerblock – and like many other examples in the world of Community Media

Again, if these spaces are to work, access to them should be open, not restricted to the unemployed. (If, as some are predicting, we see the return of the three day week, the value of spaces like this open to all becomes even more obvious!) In order for this to work, such spaces would need to be organised with the understanding that hanging out can be as valuable as more visibly productive activities – both because of the resilience that comes from building social connections, and because of the potential for information sharing and the sparking of new projects. There would also be a need for incubator spaces for projects that emerge from these spaces and are ready to move to the next level.”

4 Comments Virtual and physical p2p spaces as a policy against the meltdown

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Via Nathan Cravens, by email:

    Hi Michel,

    Thanks for making this call.

    What I have to present addresses the three questions asked by the author of ‘Social Media vs. the Economic Recession’. Housing may need to be manufactured out of Fab Labs at first until rent based vacancies are too rampant, lowering prices down to practicality. Our contact to solve the housing issue is Larry Sass. From

    * practical/financial (e.g. how do I pay the rent/avoid my house being repossessed?)

    * emotional/psychological (e.g. how do I face my friends? where do I get my identity from now I don’t have a job?)

    * directional (e.g. what do I do with my time? how do I find work?)

    Here’s an idea package to add to the TO DO NOW list:

    The Open Cafe / Community Supported Agriculture / Fab Lab Alliance

    Open Cafes:
    The physical hub for activity. A place where meals are prepared by people for people to eat for zero money. Its hip and empowering to dine/work/have a chat here.

    Community Supported Agriculture:
    Enough participants work in DIY gardens or community farms and donate the produce to the Cafe and or from government issued food cards. (I play both sides for the same aim)

    Open Source Fab Labs:
    Cafes align with OS Fab Labs to fill out the resource necessity gap to further save financial cost.

    Wikis provide only an example for the communications medium used until better mediums are made: easy to use and easier to organize. For now, let’s work with the communications we have ready-made: e-mail and wikis.

    Here are a few, but hardly all, hoops to jump through to make this Alliance a reality. This is just to prime the creative pump.

    The Cafe is the focus:

    * A space and resources are donated for this purpose by those that see the benefit. It can begin in your home and branch out. In urban settings, it can begin with what is already public domain, the local park.
    * Food and beverage donation. Donations for the day/week can be viewed in advance on the Cafe’s wiki. Most everyone will want to participate in production because everyone can go here for free. There are no consumers here, rather, this is where producers are born willingly. There is not much difference between consumption or production here.
    * If money is needed, a wiki shows expenses that need to be met and what is generating them; those in the Fab Lab then have something to make to reduce or eliminate that cost.
    * Event planning. This too is done in wikis and is a place for people to perform or have specific discussions at the Cafe or elsewhere (like at the CSA or Fab Lab) to benefit the Cafe and the people that go there. The Cafe is our focus, because its where all of our interests can unite: in putting food literally on the table.
    * Elaborate and replicate the Cafe as needed from here:

    Other than crowdsourcing, here’s another way the Trio can receive additional funding until its less or no longer required. If one part of the trio has more surplus funds than another, these funds are tapped by the Cafe or Community Farm as needed based on the Open Source Pact or publicly viewable and revisable mutual agreement. (when necessary) Ideally, this pact works very well as a wiki. The establishment of a wiki contract shows in itself how well the contract works.

    The Sell Stuff to Get Stuff Business Model

    I want to produce a Fab Lab to make ‘almost’ anything, but first need money to build one, but I’m not interested in profit so much as getting these labs up globally for abundant access so people can make what they want to have (rather than purchasing it / bashing me over the head for one). In prospect, once these labs are ubiquitous, I will ask “how can I make this?” rather than “where can I buy this?” Later it will only be “where can I make this” as desired. Knowing this foreseeable reality makes the presentation of Open Business plans like this one even more relevant and necessary.

    I then go to the market and see what’s selling for a high return that’s easiest to make with as few tools and resources as possible. Once I’ve reverse engineered (open sourced) the thing and simplified the production process (potentially ignorant of patent law) I can now build it in our feeble lab and sell it for a return (like on Ebay) in order to put more tools in the lab which are then reverse engineered and resold to produce more fabrication tools and so on until a fully replicable Open Source Fab Lab is in every town around the world.

    The Fab Lab is only an example presented in the story found in the preceding two paragraphs. The basis of this model can work for a CSA and Cafe as well, but I suspect OS Fab Labs will be the bread winner financially for these groups, even if the bread comes from the CSA and made at the Cafe by real people with real machines. I say OS Fabs will be the bread winners because the stuff made there are more difficult than replicating Cafes or Farms. Argument complete.


    My presentation and prose may be a fault, but I believe the general ideas are sound. If you disagree, its only based on my presentation. With your help or without you even knowing it we will amplify and attenuate a version of this proposal into practicality before generating something better. This can begin by further refining the ideas described here to better assist: viable application.

    Support Michel and P2P Foundation, Factor e Farm and Appropedia, your local OS Fab Lab, CSA, and start an Open Cafe. MIT, can you spare a dime? We’ll be fine given our persistence toward the aims touched on here.

    Nathan Cravens
    Effortless Economy

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    From Vinay gupta, via email:

    I think you’ll find many links there that describe *relatively* closed human systems with all kinds of attendant problems and undesirable properties.

    Similarly, closed loop industrial ecologies do exist: your technical nutrients stay in the *closed* system, and do not leak out into the environment. Things like this really exist – closed loop coolants in various kinds of industrial processes, closed vs. open cycle OTEC systems… closed has a technical means: crap, often toxic crap, does not escape into the world.

    Closed is a useful property of systems which contain things you do not want to spread. Things which are toxic-but-useful – *solvents* are a great example – stay in closed systems under ideal conditions.

    This is a real engineering term. It is used, every day, in industry, in science, even in ecology, to describe a property of systems.

    You might not *like* the word “closed” because of one ideological stand or another, but I think that if you are going to do any *actual systems engineering* you’d do well to actually understand what the term “closed system” means and learn to recognize where and when to apply it.

    Similarly, if you want to discuss societies, the “open society” vs. “closed society” model is one way that people discuss the issues, although it’s not a way of discussing the issues that I have a particularly deep allegiance to, but it is common enough in the field.

  3. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » P2P Answers the Meltdown: Nathan Cravens

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