Prefactious: The Invented Voices of a Unique and Unrepeatable Autism
Prepare yourselves to read a book where cryptography-obsessed activists lay bare their organization, and the digital communication that has totally or partially accompanied your existence in recent years under the banner of media activism, literally materializes and even gets nicknamed, repeatedly.
If you are compulsive users of Autistici/Inventati’s or Indymedia Italy’s grassroots servers, this is the right place to figure out the mechanics that underlie the Italian media activists’ digital communications. The unveiling of these mechanics will surprise you, but most of all, it will necessarily change you and allow your consciences to evolve (from the current state of things), thus impacting upon your perception of how the world, not only the digital, works.
+KAOS. Ten Years of Hacking and Media Activism
This book has been surprising to me, who belongs neither to Autistici and Inventati’s generation nor crew, but consider myself – genealogically and ideally – their elder brother. After the preface I wrote about Mela Marcia,1 I welcome the opportunity of writing a new, factious preface, or a prefactious. In fact, you have to be partly a partisan if you want to fully appreciate this book, whose merits include the ability to turn the greater part of the people who decide to read this book into partisans, even if they are not fans of Italian media activism. One of the worthiest aspects of this book is its narrative approach, revealing the real nature of the relationship between politics and media (be they digital or not), between real powers and temporary forms of counterpower.
I gobbled up this book; its narrative literally overwhelmed me – a wild stream of voices tracing back a decade-long history of passion and rage, gaffes and ideas. These feelings characterized the activities of a large collective of digital activists who became talked about the world over. The greatest merit of this choral story – a virtual transcription of many oral underground subcultures that have emerged like an underground river – is its ability to humanize a certain kind of digital communication; knowing that behind a service, an acronym, a blogging platform, an anonymous remailer, there is a certain nickname, a person in flesh and blood – with her character, gender, age, and opinions – certainly adds an extra value to what we have enjoyed through our laptop screens during these long, hard years.
Hard, that’s what they were – hard, painful, and demanding. That’s how they appear in this book, and that’s how they should be described by someone who has had the will and resolution to talk on the web about an Italian movement that in the last few years has witnessed killings, arrests, and jail, as though a revolution had exploded or a ghost was haunting the world… But the voices of the movement against the high speed train or of the anti-globalization protests deserve(d) a lot more attention, also in view of the latest developments and especially of the policies – often unreasonable and socially useless – these struggles try to resist.
Over ten years these folks have had to face the G8 and the TAV, as well as the fierce attack by the recording industry and the Italian copyright enforcement agency against the free sharing of information online. During this decade businesses and political organizations have reacted with violence to counter-information2 efforts they found offensive. There has been a series of trials and server seizures. Privacy has melted like snow in the face of Facebook’s sun, and our digital lives have been swept away by the tsunami of globalization, by the airbus of the financial crisis. Our world has been devastated in just one decade. So don’t be astonished if you see them in their dark clothes, with their suspicious gazes and their sharp tongues. They’ve kept their crude, direct style in order to stay focused during these hard, challenging years.
But the underlying tone of this book does not carry a sense of sadness, nostalgia, or defeat. What prevails throughout the whole story is humor, a good friend of cleverness and critique. This is actually the last resource we can use to survive under siege, when we feel the techno-control breathing down our neck… They’re watching us, even if we’ve only set up a network of encrypted communications for food recipes!
This book is full of stories, but it also leaves a lot untold. Perhaps this is the important part of its fundamental message: while motivations and justifications are often hard to explain, the guiding thread is extremely sober – it is made of reflections and actions which are undeniably aimed towards a notion of common good, and of improvement of individual and collective perspectives. The red thread of this book is the movements that fight for an alternative to the current state of affairs.
As you read this book, you will hear the hissing of The Matrix in the background – the parallel history of the technical evolution of online communication, as seen from the uncomfortable vantage point of a willing, self-declared avant-garde. Having had the opportunity of experimenting with a range of technological potentialities for the first time, these people enjoyed the privilege of turning into high-tech Cassandras, of saying repeatedly ‘I told you so!’ to smaller or larger audiences who were mostly reluctant to understand and challenge the latest developments.
In a handful of years, we went from listening to night time radio transmissions of weird sounds like bzz... scrthcchh… ftbleehh…, recording them on audio tapes (!?!) to be properly modulated and demodulated (wow! that’s what the name ‘modem’ comes from!), and using them as software for our friend’s ZX Spectrum (because he was the only one who could afford to buy it), to the wonders of the social-networked world. But in between there were the bulletin board systems (BBSs), the birth of the web, newsgroups, Internet-relay chat (IRC) channels, mailing lists, email, blogs, online videos, and all the social media… A decade seen through the multiple lenses of a collective engaged in counter-information about the most diverse and extreme situations. This has created a host of tech-savvy people who are now facing (until the next generation appears) who knows how many new adversities and technical innovations at the same time. A/I means Autistici/Inventati, but it could just as easily refer to artificial intelligence. At any rate, temporary autonomous zones (TAZ) are still very much needed, and tools for online communication will still be useful in the future, without distracting our attention from reflecting on the contents and ideas that need to be disseminated.
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