Author Archives: ulises

Looking at things through a new Prism

Are we all Muslims now? It used to be that some people justified the “special” treatment of Muslims (detaining them without trials, monitoring their activities, or proposing that they carry a special ID) because, you know, we Muslims are all potential terrorists. But if leaked information about Prism is correct, it seems as if the US government is treating every citizen of the world as a potential terrorist. If the sign of a true democracy is that even the rights of the criminal, the foreigner and the dissenter are respected, what does that say about a system that violates everyone’s rights because they could be potential threats to the system?

surveillanceWe should begin by trying to understand why something like Prism exists today. It is not because all other options to make this a safer world have failed. It is simply because certain kinds of information have become extremely inexpensive and profitable to collect. Intelligence agencies have borrowed algorithms and models from the corporate world–sometimes collaborating with them directly, in a perfect marriage of surveillance, fear and profit–and applied them at a global level, collecting and analyzing vast amounts of what they claim is “only” metadata (data about our actions, but supposedly not the actual content of our electronic interactions with others). The reasoning is that if person X turns out to be a troublemaker, records of his or her exchanges with others might prove useful. Fair enough. The problem is the notion that in order to be able to go back and examine those records, authorities need to collect all the records from every single individual, which for the first time in history is relatively cheap and easy to do.

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“Off the Network” finally available

My book, Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World, is finally available from the University of Minnesota Press.

You can pick up a paper copy from your favorite bookseller. Thanks to both Minnesota Press and SUNY Oswego, the book is also available in an open access format, so you can read or download the whole manuscript right now — for free!

You can share the news by using the link offthenetwork.info (which redirects you to the publisher’s page).

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From the back cover:

“This is an extraordinary book. The ‘paranodal’ critique made in Off the Network demands that we look at the social spaces that lie between, and are ignored by, network nodes; at the material basis on top of which supposedly immaterial networks rest; and at the vertical structures of political economic power that control the apparent horizontality of networks. In doing so, Ulises Ali Mejias delivers a devastating intellectual slam against conventional thinking about the Internet from both the left and the right.”
— Nick Dyer-Witheford, coauthor of Games of Empire

Off the Network shows us that centralization of online services is not accidental. Take a look behind the social media noise and read how algorithms condition us. Ulises All Mejias carves out a postaffirmative theory of networks. No more debates about whether you are a dog or not; identity is over. Power returns to the center of Internet debates. Off the Network disrupts the illusion of seamless participation–it sides with the resisters and rejecters and teaches us to unthink the network logic. Its message: don’t take the network paradigm for granted.”
— Geert Lovink, author of Networks Without a Cause

Off the Network is a fresh and authoritative examination of how the hidden logic of the Internet, social media, and the digital network is changing users’ understanding of the world–and why that should worry us. Ulises Ali Mejias also suggests how we might begin to rethink the logic of the network and question its ascendancy. He argues that the digital network, touted as consensual, inclusive, and pleasurable, is also monopolizing and threatening in its capacity to determine, commodify, and commercialize so many aspects of our lives. Mejias shows how the network broadens participation yet also exacerbates disparity –and how it excludes more of society than it includes. The result is an uncompromising, sophisticated, and accessible critique of the digital world that increasingly dominates our lives.

 

SOAP: An Alternate Reality Game Engine

I am pleased to announce the release of SOAP v1.0.

The [S]UNY [O]swego [A]RG [P]ackage is an alternate reality game (ARG) engine. Built on the open source platforms WordPress and BuddyPress, it is a bundle of pre-existing plugins and custom modifications that allow anyone who can install and host WordPress to run “what if” simulations and collaborative storytelling exercises.

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SOAP is free software, released under the GPL v.2.0 license.

SOAP was developed with support from a 2012 Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG)  from the State University of New York’s Office of the Provost, plus additional support from SUNY Oswego. The programming was done by Ithaca Content Architecture and Design. Special thanks to Gary Ritzenthaler, Randy Belcher, Lisa Dundon, and Tim Perry.

To learn more, visit the SOAP site: http://soap.ulisesmejias.com/

Justice for Guatemala?

Efraín Ríos Montt, former president/dictator/army general of Guatemala during the 1980’s, has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role during that country’s civil war. This cannot begin to redress the suffering and loss of the Guatemalan people, nor does it do a sufficient job of holding accountable all the individuals who played a part in the genocide (including those in the U.S. government who provided arms and support). But it is a symbolic gesture. Too little, too late — but still something. (UPDATE: Scratch that. His conviction has been annulled. Said Ana Caba, an ethnic Ixil: “The powerful people do what they want and we poor and indigenous are devalued. We don’t get justice. Justice means nothing for us.”)

The trial of Ríos Montt has revived old memories, particularly around a documentary film project I produced as a student at Ithaca College in 1994. The film, titled Fight to Return, Return to Fight, follows a group of Guatemalan refugees in Chiapas, Mexico, as they make their way back to their homeland after a 10 year exile. Recently, I dug up the U-Matic tape and had the film transferred to DVD. It is not particularly good (it is, after all, a student film — although it did win the Best Documentary Award in my class). But I suppose it has some social and historical value.

(for best results, view video in latest version of Firefox or Safari)

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Some production and background information:

The idea for the film emerged after talking to a Guatemalan liberation theology priest I met in Mexico City. He put me in touch with the necessary contacts. In December 1993, I traveled to southern Chiapas and spent a few weeks living in various refugee camps, talking with and interviewing Mayans. Even though life in the camps was hard, I remember how warm and welcoming people were. I accompanied this group back to a communal ranch they had acquired in Chaculá, Guatemala, where they were planning to start their lives anew.

Interestingly, I was in Chiapas in January of 1994, when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation began its uprising in Mexico. While we were close to the action, the refugees and I were probably the last to learn what was going on. I remember the fighter jets flying above us, and later listening to the radio in the middle of the jungle to try to figure out what was happening.

The film was shot in 8mm video and 16mm film (this was before the age of HD), and was edited on 3/4″ video (before the age of digital non-linear editing). One interesting anecdote is that I purchased the cheapest 16mm film camera I could find at the time, a Russian Krasnogorsk (less than $300, I think; the film and processing were donated by Ithaca College). As I was making my way back to Mexico City after filming, the military presence in Chiapas was substantial. So I am traveling in a little truck with various campesinos, and we get stopped at a check point. I am a chilango traveling with a Russian camera, so needless to say I stand out and the suspicious soldiers start asking me questions (there were all sorts of conspiracy theories about comunistas going around). I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but I guess I talked my way out of what could have been a nasty situation.

I hope one day I can go back to Chaculá to see what has become of the people I met. I did find this online report that seems to be talking about the same community.

 

 

Brave New Learning

libraryHigher Education’s “Napster” moment is quickly approaching. Soon, saying that learning can only happen in accredited classrooms in exchange for a hefty sum of money will be like saying that music should only be listened to at expensive concerts, and telling those darn kids to stop downloading all those songs illegally. What follows is neither utopia nor dystopia, but simply a half-serious prediction of where things might be headed… quickly.

In the near future, college degrees will become unimportant. It won’t matter where you went to college, or even if you went to college. That the Internet will make this possible by making quality content available at a low cost hardly merits debating at this point.

These things have been said before, of course, but not much has been said about what will replace a college degree. It will be this: the job interview. We are no longer talking about your grandad’s job interview, however, or nothing we are familiar with today (i.e., filling out a form and meeting a couple of people). Instead, the job interview will become a week-long contest where applicants show what they know, what they are capable of doing, and are ranked accordingly. It will include lengthy exams, personality tests, group exercises, creative assignments, detailed simulations, and an army of tests intended to measure everything from know-how to moral character (I’m not saying those tests will be accurate; I’m just saying they will be treated as such).

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Survey on Liberation Technologies and Global Protest Movements

I am conducting a comparative study on uses of the Internet in protest movements around the world. One of the ways I am collecting data is through an online survey. I would appreciate your help in distributing this information and getting people to fill out the survey. Thanks!

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IMG_2151” by Mosa’aberising, 2012, Creative Commons.

 

Liberation Technologies and Global Protest Movements
We need your help in collecting information about the use of the Internet in global protest movements. The survey should take 30 to 60 minutes to complete. The survey consists mostly of open ended questions that will require you to compose a written answer. Participating in this study may not benefit you directly, but it will help us understand how activists across the globe are attempting to create new forms of organizing to promote social change, and how the nature of activism is being transformed by the programmers who design Internet technologies and the journalists who report on their use. All the information you provide will be kept confidential (see the survey website for a complete Informed Consent form). The survey can be accessed here:
http://survey.ulisesmejias.com/index.php/survey/index/sid/223715/lang/en

 

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http://survey.ulisesmejias.com/index.php/survey/index/sid/223715/lang/ar

 

Tecnologías de Liberación y Movimientos de Protesta Globales
Necesitamos tu ayuda para recolectar información sobre el uso de la Internet en los movimientos de protesta globales. El cuestionario tomará de 30 a 60 minutos en ser completado. El cuestionario consiste principalmente en preguntas abiertas que requieren que formules una respuesta escrita. Participar en este estudio tal vez no te beneficie directamente pero nos ayudará a entender cómo los activistas alrededor del mundo están tratando de crear nuevas formas de organizar cambios sociales, cómo la naturaleza del activismo está siendo transformada por los programadores que diseñan tecnologías de Internet, y cómo los periodistas reportan sobre su uso. Toda la información que nos proporciones se mantendrá de forma confidencial (ve la declaración de Consentimiento Informado en la página web del cuestionario). Se puede acceder al cuestionario aquí:
http://survey.ulisesmejias.com/index.php/survey/index/sid/223715/lang/es

 

More languages coming soon.

 

English version of the P2P Networks and Processes e-book

The English version of the 4th Inclusiva-net Meeting: P2P Networks and Processes e-book is finally available (Spanish version has been available for a while). The book contains my chapter “Peerless: The Ethics of P2P Network Disassembly,” as well as other excellent chapters from Juan Martín Prada, Michel Bauwens, Andrew Whelan and more. Click the image below to download the PDF (13MB), or go to this page to access Spanish version, videos, etc.

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Grant for Alternate Reality Simulations Project

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I received an Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG)  from SUNY’s Office of the Provost. The project is called Osw3go.net: Alternate Reality Simulations as Learning Tools, and the grant amount is $20,000 (plus $5,000 campus matching).

Below is some information about the project from the proposal. [Update: Here’s a Campus Update item about the grant.]

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