Applying (emergent) permaculture ethics and principles to our life in the digital landscape.
At Het Kloosterbos we are concerned about the lack of critical/sceptical use of digital tools in the permaculture community. As far as permaculture practitioners and organisations choose to be online, they seem to be unaware or uncaring about the impact of commercial ‘platform’ operators and the services they offer. Convenience and popularity seem to be the decisive criteral, followed closely by inertia – sticking with whatever service presented itself first.
Where permaculture designers, teachers and private practitioners are conscientious and deliberate in their care for the earth, people and fair share, they exchange them for digital convenience in blissful ignorance of the consequences.
They wouldn’t want to be caught dead with GMO seeds or glyphosate pesticides in their pocket, but they think nothing of using toxic ‘social media’ platforms or the surveillance capitalist business models of ‘free’ email and cloud data storage providers.
Most disturbingly is that permaculture people are not alone in this. Most government and NGO agencies have embraced the surveillance economy without a second thought, even consider it a marvelous opportunity to finally get a handle on their fickle – and now effectively captive – constituencies.
Where did this come from and how does this work? How can we turn this back into harmony with (our) nature?
Triggered by our sense of curiosity and novelty, people were seduced by the potential and promise of a publicly funded Internet for free, unfiltered and unmediated communications and information sharing. Soon however corporations realized the potential for surveillance capitalist development of the medium and started offering ‘free’ services, like search engines, email and home pages to private consumers and businesses alike.
Then there was a wave of more blatant monetizing of web content and influencing of consumers. And finally the public got wind of the data mining and processing going on in the background feeding the profits of a new breed of surveillance entrepreneurs and shady agencies.
Escaping Surveillance Capitalist Industry
Liberating yourself from the mutual and delusional deathgrip of the commerical communication platforms is a major challenge in itself. But eminently possible with a range of current and emerging Open Source solutions available right now.
- Encryption and certification with OpenPGP and Let’s Encrypt;
- Self-hosted home network monitoring and filtering with Pi-hole and PiVPN or RaspAP;
- Self-hosted cooperative and distributed ‘social media’ like SSB-based Manyverse or Planetary, and Matrix or Mastodon;
- Self-hosted and cooperative cloud data storage with NextCloud or OwnCloud;
- Easily accessible (mostly) Open Source hardware and Operating Systems like Raspberry Pi and Beagle Board (Beagle-V).
Of course we won’t mention the underlying industrial complex for the moment 😉
Still missing in the equation is the integration of these tools into convenient packaging that is on equal footing or superior to the commercial platforms. Think: zero-configuration plug-and-play appliances, that at most should require customization to individual taste. Just plug it into your own internet router and communicate with your glocal community in confidence and comfort.
Rethinking the Digital Landscape
On the other hand, a huge remaining issue with the ‘social media’ communication platforms is the the fact that they are much better characterised as sociopathic anti-social media. The way they are designed for maximum engagement means they are intended to create a biophysical dependency and psychological isolation that belies and contradicts its naive and misleading name.
What we really want is tools for free thinking, independent and creative thought and action. Tools to create and develop ad-hoc communities on emerging issues as well as to satisfy the endless curiosity and generosity of people anywhere in the world. Tools to encourage critical and skeptical investigation and exploration as well as developing meaning, cooperation, compassion and living in harmony with nature.
This requires a complete rethink and overhaul of the suite of ubiquitous communication applications we now consider as ‘normal’. We must return to basic questions and needs. How do healthy people in healthy communities communicate with each other? How do they cooperate and coordinate their individual lives so the experience of the whole is much more then the simple sum of the parts? How do we make sense of the world around us? How do we respond with open minds and open hearts to its universal and unconditional hospitality. How do we discover, nurture and leverage our innate diversity to the benefit of the inclusively pan-species commons?
And: how can we be sensitive and vigilant against abuse of such tools, in a non-coercive way?
What a ubiquitous communications network seem to be eminently suited for is reaching out to distributed communities and staying in touch with your community while traveling anywere in the world.
How much fun would it be to deploy a mobile/ambulant network on your bike or in your backpack, spreading information throughout the world while adventuring into the wild, discovering new places, new people and new communities. Learning first hand what new landscapes lie beyond the horizon, what wisdoms and abundance other people are eager to share? The concept of ‘sneaker net’ comes to mind. As do the internet cafe and media bus.
Not as an occasional luxury tourist holiday but as a fulfilling ambulant lifestyle.
And once that is achieved, so many more urgent and existential issues with our dominance of the planet find an organic and inevitable solution. Well, that is my current working theory anyway 😉
A Path to Explore
Permaculture ethics and design principles could be a fruitful approach to design tools for a new, viable and regenerative digital landscape. We should start somewhere, so why not here?
It all starts with considering the ethics or permaculture design:
- Earth Care – or: pamper the soil and the planet as a whole;
- People Care – or: cherish your chosen community (of humans and non-humans);
- Fair Share – or: share the abundance of the unconditional and universal hospitality of nature, be a respectful and attentive guest and host.