Distributed Web of Care
by Callil, DWC fellow
When I was young I lived next to a Biodynamic farm and intentional living community in upstate NY. I was able to freely roam through orchards, cropped fields and small gardens. As I spent time in these environments, unbeknownst to me I was brushing up against embedded knowledge by proxy. In the biodynamic context, the soil, plants and animals are seen as interrelated and dynamic. A farmer or gardener becomes steward of plants with the goal of creating a healthy and holistic system. Biodynamic stewardship comes through not only in caring for the plants,but also in the social structures that makes this approach possible.
It’s important to note that the Biodynamic framework was never explicitly taught, only implicitly discovered by participating in the farming. These abstract teachings were discovered mostly by stumbling on to the day of harvest. Now, years later this implicit knowledge, and the methods used to disseminate this knowledge is re-emerging for me in the context of my practice.
My garden this morning
Recently, I have been working on my garden here in Brooklyn. In many ways, I still carry with me a lot of the knowledge from the biodynamic context. One method I’ve been experimenting with is called the Three Sisters, a technique I was exposed to by hearing this story…
Corn, the oldest sister, was said to grow strong and proud. Squash, the youngest sister, crouched at the feet of the other two, keeping them protected from predators. Beans, the middle sister leaned on her older sister for support and twined the three together. source
The act of seeding the Three Sisters is an act of stewardship & guidance that plays with the inherent strengths of each plant and the ecosystem it is part of. Recognizing these symbiotic structures is something that is important in the context of both farming and organizing social structures - so too is the practice of care and maintenance.
Lately I find myself in our current digital context seeking the spaces and communities where new narratives can be written that feel more like biodynamic farming or methods passed down through oral traditions. Maybe together we can make spaces where implicit knowledge is conveyed through the cultivated expression of a holistic point of view. One concrete example of a space where there is potential to create these new narratives is within the distributed web.
Even though the usefulness of extending the metaphor of gardening to the distributed web can only take us so far, here are a few elements of the holistic practice of gardening that we might learn from to stretch the boundaries of the normative patterns in our digital spaces today.
- The notion of time and seasons as a forcing function for growth, death, rest and rebirth. Maybe as a rejection of the vectorized ideal of technology (uni-directional and totalizing)
- Slowness and patience in waiting for the development of one’s self and people around you.
- Seeding and cultivation as an intentional act with a clear understanding of the substrate in which it happens.
- Sanctuary and reflection related to spaces of calm, quiet and safety.
- Sustenance related to the growth of communities and knowledge.
- The relationship between social structures and knowledge, especially knowledge that is embedded in practice.
Seeking out these patterns within a tech centered practice is one way of putting into practice some of the ideas above. This might take the form of using tools that ask different things from you or designing systems for your self. It might also look like organizing events and communities where ideas for a different kind of web can be experimented with and embodied.
Recently I helped organize an event called Peer-to-Peer Web NYC at SFPC - for the event my friend Phil Cao created this poster that uses plants, and flowers in bloom to represent our point of view of what the distributed web might be. During the event, we invited a wide range of local participants to share their projects and practices to illustrate how concepts of seeding, leeching, pollination texture and more can become profound ways of looking at what it means for diverse expressions of the web to form.
I’ve also been participating in and organizing for groups like NYCMesh. These groups serve as a fertile place to think about new approaches to technology; imagine if the distribution of knowledge was more like a folk tale rather than a singular post.
Only recently have I been able to begin asking myself questions like: What are the materials we have to explore and what does it mean to view our digital spaces holistically? What are other disciplines beyond the digital sphere we might look towards?
When considering the concept of the distributed web, we might look towards both the metaphor and practice of gardening and farming. I hope that we can show how building for digital spaces requires respect, patience, and a real awareness of the environment around you.
Maybe we can write some new folk tales together.
I was walking through a new garden. As I passed each plant they turned to me and smiled - the corn, being tall, had to bend down and said to me: “Come sit and while. I’ll tell you the story of how far my pollen has traveled, the bees that visit me and the minerals that help me grow. They are all connected and we can be too.”
A seeder set up by Louis Center
Thanks to Taeyoon Choi, Tina Nguyen, Livia Huang and Alexander Singh for their fantastic feedback and edits.
Distributed Web of Care is an initiative to code to care and code carefully.
Distributed Web of Care Party July 29, 2018 at the Liberty Hall, Ace Hotel New York
Distributed on Dat and GitHub
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