design research

tools ecosystem

An ecosystem of tools
> for collective (and individual) work
> for organization
> for sharing (hybrid publishing)
> for thinking

Tools can be useful, stimulating, multipurpose, specific, easy, instinctive, surprising, complementary, vital, complicated, daily, conditioned, hand-made, machine-made, digital, analog, in•dependent, DIY, mainstream, alternative, forbidden, dangerous, controversial, self-destructive, shared, overwhelming...

Consciously or not, we are all using/creating/reproducing ecosytems of tools, made of the different devices and protocols that we are using on an everyday basis.

This is a reflection on the politics of such ecosystems, and a proposition of an ecosystem of tools to work and share as a group composed of different entities (humans but also things, objects, space, time). The following proposition is strongly informed by critical, political, social, intersectional feminist, anticapitalist, decolonial, free/open source, hybrid and artistic approaches - which in different ways can help us address how the tools we use shape our practices, which in return shape our tools!

Visual made for a workshop in Sint Lucas Antwerp in the Master lab in SocPol.

Working in different groups (more or less activist but all somehow alternative and collective) and in pedagogical teams (big responsibility), I recently realized how hard it is to surround ourselves with digital tools that correspond to our working ethics, and more particularly to our needs of sharing while keeping a certain agency on our data and respect for our privacy.

For instance, while most people know that giant companies such as Google are trading free services in exchange for the storing, using and selling of our private data, most groups in which I work still use these very slick services. They have become a sort of gentrifying ecosystem, gentrifying our computers and our minds to find anything else “complicated”, “ugly” (I did too!). Stepping out of these dominant ecosystems proves to be quite difficult. In fact it shouldn’t be that complicated, because alternatives exist, but because most people use the dominant services, when someone starts to use alternative and more ethical tools this person is often forced to stay attached to such companies to continue working with others — which in the end I too find more important.

sharing tools and knowledge in an empowering way

The point here isn’t to be patronizing or dismissive of the many great projects that do what they can with the tools they can afford to use, but rather to share tools and knowledge that were shared to me by others, and continue passing them on further in an empowering way! It is not about “challenging yourself” or “going out of your comfort zone”, a common expression in some open-source/free software communities. I personnally feel already quite challenged by a violent society, and not everybody lives in a comfort zone. I’d rather communicate it as sharing empowering tools and thoughts to build a safer environment.

The visual above is trying to map an ecosystem of tools that respect their users’ privacy, identifying different spaces in order to better understand a few important concepts and their political implications. The most urgent and problematic one for me at the moment is the online digital space and its tools.

A few months ago I made this other visual to understand better how things work online, and what kind of agency we can have:

Visual made for the event “Herstory Sunday cyberfeminist tools for our archives & stories” at Mothers & Daughters, A Lesbian Bar, 2019, download the PDF here

Two important things I learned and could formulate back then:

Coming back on the notion of “challenging”, it is clear that when we are used to tools like the ones proposed by “Big Tech”, the alternatives can seem weird, less efficient, not as fast, slick and powerful. It is indeed sometimes the case (not always). But I’ve learned to try to find a balance between my activist emergencies and a safer environment for the groups with whom I work. Also, we live in a capitalist society, in which it can be useful to return the question: why do I need to be that efficient/fast? Why do I need more server space, faster connection, slicker outcomes? At least on an ecological level, most of these incentives (faster connections, more space on “clouds”) aren’t having the best impact… What is their impact on working conditions? Even in a urgent activist project, it can be useful (and time saving) to stop a moment and think about our wider working ecosystem.

a hybrid ecosystem

The proposed ecosystem is hybrid. It identifies tools that range from analog to digital, online and offline, self-hosted and service-based, in a complementary way. The software are free/open-source, which means you can use them (for free), modify and redistribute them.

The proposed set of tools is of course not perfect, it is an incomplete and partial work in progress, and it needs to be accompanied by questions and conversations, that link tools with crucial political questions.

A few questions (see also the “Hacker Questions” by Allison Parrish below):

References that this proposal builds upon:

Allison Parrish, Programming-forgetting.
Thanks to Wendy Van Wynsberghe for sharing
OSP Open Source Publishing, LGRU Libre Graphics Research Unit

·

A method to make a local server with your computer:

Visual made for the event “Herstory Sunday cyberfeminist tools for our archives & stories” at Mothers & Daughters, A Lesbian Bar, 2019, download the PDF here

·

Loraine Furter, September 2019 (work in progress).