The Referendum is not about software, it’s about hardware

Let’s talk hardware.

You might like Better Together 2.0 which includes the No Thanks expansion pack or the Yes Scotland Beta Testing or the Radical Independence Wiki or anything else but these are all forms of software.

What we’re being asked to decide on the 18th of September is,what hardware do we want to use?

What No Thanks/Better Together and Yes Scotland are offering us is software. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself – you don’t buy hardware to do nothing with it – but it’s just software. It’s temporary, unpredictable and will need updating. The software we download in May 2015/2016 will be vastly different to what the developers are telling us now. That’s not because they’re being disingenuous (at least not all the time) but because that’s the nature of software. There are all sorts of factors and bugs and patches.

Marshall McLuhan famously said ‘the medium is the message.’ His point is that when we analyse media we miss the point when we focus exclusively on the content. The carrier of any given message is never benign. The way we encounter something changes us and transforms us before we even get to content. He argues that media are ‘extensions of man’ as each medium represents an hyper extended sense. Media transforms the way we think over and above what is ‘on’ or ‘in’ that medium.

McLuhan describes ‘content’ as being like the juicy meat that’s thrown to the guard dogs. Of course we run to it – it’s designed to distract us. But the real transformative changes are going on when we are chomping down on the steak.

What hardware, what carrier, are No Thanks/Better together and Yes Scotland using? Broadly speaking NT/BT are using a more top down, less interactive, more expensive and centralised way of communicating. It is by and large homogenous and unsurprising. YS on the other hand, while also having a centralised often predictable base has in addition a more pluralistic, grassroots, unconventional and interactive movement. Often YS is at its best when it works as a curator, a conduit for the creativity and biodiversity of campaigning that’s out there. The media that NT/BT are choosing seem to me, to be less empowering and involving. YS on the other hand seems to communicate in a way that opens up the conversation.

But am I stuck in an echo chamber? Does my social media lock me out of the creative and surprising Better Together offerings? My great friend Dave showed me a compelling article about a man who decides to ‘Like’ everything he sees. Before long he is inundated with promotions and the humanity leaves his social networking. My fantastic Mum told me about another article where a woman decides not to ‘Like’ anything and only comment. Before long her social networking feels like an eclectic dinner party almost devoid of adverts. Maybe there’s a world of alt NT/BT stuff out there? Does anybody know of any? Startling and life affirming contributions from the rank and file who are imaginatively and good humouredly making the case for No?

Back to the hardware. Maybe you don’t like the software that’s on offer from anywhere. Maybe you want to design your own app. That’s cool. We’re not being asked to choose a software. We’re being asked to choose a hardware.

Some people might tell you that our hardware choice is between an Apple and a Microsoft. Indy is the cooler, edgier and more humane option while Union is clunky, out of touch and takes ages to update.

But I don’t think that’s the choice.

I think at the moment with the primera, segona, tercera, quarta and cinquena estates we have a mix of Microsoft and Apple and other big corporations options out there.

A Yes vote offers a chance to change scale, direction, portability and flexibility. Regardless of what software you want to run. A Yes vote offers a new unchartered territory where we are going to have to collaborate and experiment. We don’t know the scope of what is possible. All we know is that there isn’t an establishment in control of it – that ties it to any proprietary software yet. It is an open source, ground up, open to all, easy to grasp, challenge to master – opportunity to get stuck in.

Perhaps on the 18th we have a choice between the credit card sized, totally malleable Raspberry Pi and the rock solid wall of the latest Microsoft/Apple programmed machine.

And you might say that the Raspberry Pi is fantastic for schools and refugees in war torn countries and start ups but surely we can’t build a nation on it? The Linux systems it runs on however under girds a lot of what is in the background of everyday life. Linux keeps the world going. It’s ticking away in the background. It can hold down the fort and its flexible and responsive.

I am a very strong advocate of local representation.

In Lesley Riddoch’s fantastic Blossom she talks about how in Scotland we are one of the least well represented on the local level in Europe.

In Scotland we have 32 municipalities with a median population of 115,000 and 990 square kilometers. In Sweden there are 290 municipalities with a median population of 15,039 and sq km of 372, in Germany there are 12,013 municipalities with a median population of only 6,844 and sq km of 15!

Riddoch says

The political and social consequences of distant democracy are profound. According to the latest Scottish Household Survey, only 22 per cent of Scots think they can have any impact on the way their local area functions. That’s a terrible condemnation of Scottish democracy. Local should be the most important dimension in our lives. And yet almost four-fifths of Scots their their neck of the woods is run by other people – not folk like themselves. And they’re absolutely right.

We have become alienated from local government. Can Independence give us an opportunity to re-engage with local politics? It’s not the only way there but is it the quickest? And does acting quickly matter given our current standards of living?

What’s going to produce the most democratic, life affirming results? You can watch iPlayer and play music and all the rest of it easily on the Pi. The difference is you can also learn to get invovled and get coding yourself, right from the off. We’re allowed to get directly involved and develop our own software.

What hardware do we want?

This is from the close of the above linked to Guardian article…

The world our children will inherit is one that will be shaped and controlled not just by physical realities, such as climate change, but by computer software. And the choice they will face is the one expressed in a recent, sobering book by Douglas Rushkoff, entitled Program or Be Programmed. “Like the participants of media revolutions before our own,” he writes, “we have embraced the new technologies and literacies of our age without actually learning how they work and work on us. And so we, too, remain one step behind the capability actually being offered to us. Only an elite – sometimes a new elite, but an elite none the less – gains the ability to fully exploit the new medium on offer. The rest learn to be satisfied with gaining the ability offered by the last new medium.”

Is that what we want for our children? The answer has to be no, which is why we need to teach them computer science. Raspberry Pi offers us the chance to do just that. Will we have the courage – and the vision – to take it?


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