Decentralization and its Discontents

(Loosely connect thoughts after reading : Protocol by Alexander R. Galloway)

What about manufacturing moving toward a decentralized model?

Being a industrial arts teacher keeps me in tune with all the developments around building and manufacturing.  There’s lots of talk about how CNC machines, 3D-printing, low cost robotic assembly is and will provide a more decentralized design and manufacturing environment.  The model, as it’s presented, is one where you design your own domestic desires and then seek local manufactured to quickly produce a “one-of-a-kind” customized item.  This is the antithesis of the models of oversees mass production that we’ve been forced to accept over the past 50+ years.  The current model relies on deciding what people want or need to produce it in huge quantities, utilizing mass automation and cheap labor to make cheap standardized goods that optimize economies of scale.  Optimists say that we will soon be able to make massive customizations to everything we buy.  The process will involve sending our ideas via the internet to a local manufacturer who will produce these items and deliver them right back to your door.  While still based on a consumer model, the level of control provided to each individual is in line with many of the values listed under the “Emancipatory use of Media” (below, form Galloway’s writing) and is far more environmentally friendly as there tends to be less waste in some of these these systems (at least in the consumption of energy).  Companies like Shapeways, Ponoko, OSHPark and Thingaverse are already offering huge varieties of services that put design and manufacturing in the hands of anyone with a basic understanding of 3D modeling and some $$.  This is not unlike the idea proposed in the reading of a radio that allows everyone to also be have their own transmitter.  The question becomes: What tools need to be in place so that people are happy with their radio station (or creation)?  If we are all transmitting, who’s listening?  Does it matter?  Do people need to be versed in design to be satisfied with their own needs?  Will they be happy with these items over the long run or will they be more items that move to a landfill?

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What are the pitfalls/benefits of horizontal political organizing?


The majority of people who are not deeply entrenched in the machine of political power (and maybe some of those that are) have felt discontent and hopelessness toward changing a system that does not benefit their vision and daily needs.  The voice of a politician is almost always monolithic speaking to a huge range of people, with very different experiences pursuing very different goals, in hopes of convincing them to support or follow a common vehicle of power.  The requirement for a broad generalized approach on most issues to succeed at all in politics or any sort of large scale electoral  leadership is and has been a major source of discontent for the entirety of documented history.  The idea of horizontal organizing at least offers the idea that more different kinds of ideas have a voice and more people would theoretically have the opportunity to find a way to organize around issues they truly care about.  This seems highly desirable and the goal of many “grassroots” organizations.  Moving toward a more horizontal system does make sense.


Issues arise in the subtle rejections of new systems especially by those that do not have any interest in changing current systems but also in the deep rooted psychological habits of individuals.  Many people, for example, do not see themselves as free agents with a desire to participate in a non-hierarchical structure.  They may not believe it is the best system for their needs, they may feel uncomfortable with this type of system, and in some cases people may even be morally opposed to it.  As mentioned in the Galloway article “Humans seek continuity.”  Even in a horizontal structure humans will seek continuity.  Galloway points out that the internet is an example of the emergence of continuity in a system that would seem to lean away from it.  One could argue that humans cannot know enough about all the aspects of society in order to make all the important decisions in all aspects of it.  We have our daily sphere that compels us to pay attention to what it is we find most urgent.  I have trouble, for example, trusting that unqualified individuals would decide that it’s time to organize around repairing a hidden urban system, like a sewer line, without that system being exposed or failing.  If horizontal political organizing is about removing the power of specialized leadership, I can see a number of chaotic situations arising.  


Some of the biggest barriers to a horizontal experience with Technology:


  • The planned obsolescence model / the high cost of getting and staying involved in the latest developments.


  • The increasingly closed system applied to much of the most popular software and hardware (it has become increasingly difficult to repair one’s own computer for example).


  • The control over the basic architecture of the computer processor by just a few companies.


  • The reliance on electricity and mechanical devices / antiquated and centrally controlled infrastructure


  • The digital divide = locally, nationally, internationally


  • The dependence on monetary exchange to facilitate long term and/or specilzed projects


  • Methods for human interface with the hardware (keyboard, mouse, screen)


  • Technology fetisization


  • Lack of (good) training