gomma@iol.it on Sat, 26 Sep 1998 16:42:48 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Report: Hack it '98 - Informal informatics

Hack it '98 - Informal informatics. The last days of marginality.

Ermanno Guarnieri (Gomma)

A big storm happened at the end of Hackit-98, the first real hacking and
alternative informatics culture meeting organised on a large scale in
Florence (Italy). It seems the storm might symbolically underline the
liberation of an electric desire of being a community compressed for so
many years in the nets, at the end of the seminars, workshop, debates and
computer experimentations.

But today, just before the end of the event, aside from trying the
impossible effort of summarising in a few words the dozens of 'digital
events' that happened one after the other, I think it's time to try to
analyse the reasons for this success, and what certainly seems to be a big
improvement in all the scene. The alternative informatic scene in Italy
was born ten years ago, thanks to a flourishing of micro-groups that were
strong enough to sustain themselves and improve over the passing of time:
Strano Network in Florence; the group behind the unforgettable occupation
of Bologna's Isola nel Kantiere; the Turin scene; Trento; the Rome BBS
groups; "Decoder" (that I belong to); the Leoncavallo group and all the
other meeting points in other Italian cities such as Bologna, Rome and
others founded the European Counter Network. Small collectives, often
blocked in their action by the daily allocation of the fears of modernity:
mass-media, control, repressive organisations, institutional parties,
even, sometimes, some large movement areas that just didn't understand the
aims of the proposed social action, and in the end also the mainstream
informatic panorama that felt and that still sees as a bother the critical
position of these groups and scenes. All this engendered a sort of
isolation, even if in the early nineties, big events were organised such
as 'Piazza Virtuale' in Milano; 'Ink 3D' in Bologna; or the hacking
kermesse with high level debates at the Sociology Faculty in Trento; the
'mutant' meeting in the S. Arcangelo di Romagna Festival; and the meeting
at the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Pecci in Prato. Moreover, the watchwords
and lifestyles of fundamental importance for all these years are still
important today: the necessity of sharing information and knowledge; of
starting non-profit introductory courses; of creating network and digital
art directed from and to everybody; of working on the development of new
rights; and of writing analyses on the transformations of work.

Many people contributed to these initiatives or public opinion campaigns,
gaining press attention and very often the fears of secret services and
Ministry of the Interior - as their annual reports on the 'antagonist
telematics' from 1991 to today testify. But until now, even in the myriad
of proposals, or expectations of newly opened fronts, it seemed that even
in the embryonic stage the famous 'new person', more developed in some
European countries, was still far off from here. And the situation,
despite all the efforts, seemed not to move from the marginal zone in
which it was self-confined: marginality was the obstacle to the start of
dynamics that could go beyond themselves. Every event, in the end, became
in some way for the elite, the avant-garde, for the young, hard to
understand for the 'external observer' who was not already skilled enough
to see the real significance of the event itself.

The 1998 hack-meeting represents a turning point, giving clear signals on
how the national situation is evolving. Much first of all was due to the
great organisational abilities of Firenze's CPA, social centre that even
'under forced evacuation', in a totally self-organised way made available
all the necessary large areas for the debates, courses, meetings, the
full-time radio and TV pirate station, dozens of networked computers, as
well as food and eating locations. This great potential for self-organised
and financed telematics has no equa anywhere in the world, where the local
authorities don't make evacuations, but provide for free the needed
logistical structures. The event has been defined as an 'horizontal
event'. "There are no organisers, teachers, public or users, but only
people who take part". Notably, it was substantially built through a
collective discussion on the net, especially on the 'Isole nella Rete' and
in the mailing list hackmeeting@kyuzz.org.

Another winning point is the quality of the competencies shown: the
knowledge level was very high, equal to that of overpaid professionals,
but the Hackit strength is that, with the necessary interaction, all this
became collective. The market forces professionals to divide knowledge
into tiny parts, jealously protecting them, and fearing the users to leave
them in the dust in case of need. In the hacker-dome, on the other side,
the access to knowledge is expanded to the maximum, because everyone
teaches what they know to others. The gathering of knowledges, as Pierre
L=E9vy states, becomes a lot more the sum of the constituent parts. It's
something more, new, and with more strength.  The system can't emulate it
due to the anti-commercial nature of the sharing.

Another strong tactic has been realised in focusing on themes such as
making free and open courses on techniques available to everyone, but
often misunderstood by people as much too difficult and then abandoned.
Amongst others, the crowded daily course about personal encryption of
communications and the use of PGP, clarified how to defend ourselves from
intruders - a problem often discussed and feared by the attendants.
Finally, back to the people involved, these days showed that even here
something has started. The networked computer shed, was crowded 24 hours a
day with people who could finally experiments with the machines.  It
expressed a clear sign: technical competence, belonging to a work or
studying sector, will have to develop relationships with others and the
desire to meet face to face.  The wide space of the social centre was
always crowded with dozens of people that switched from the computers to
the debates.

These are the future perspectives: the event has to become annual,
possibly in Milan for the next year; start national initiatives, thinking
globally and acting locally, such as the 'Day for Free Programming'
against the world presentation of Windows 98; to create a coordination
about legal rights and to initiate a projected inquiry (survey) about the
working conditions within telematics in Italy. A group of initiatives that
seem to show that the days of marginality have gone.

Info + photos http://www.ecn.org/hackit98/pics/ Real Audio recordings

from 'Il Manifesto', June 21st 1998

Translation:  Alessandro Ludovico a.ludovico@agora.stm.it Neural Online -
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