September 29, 2006

More on the Silences of SV

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 8:11 am

There are some good comments on the Borsook piece, that rightly point out that the silences to speak of failure were perhaps more of a function of the moment she was doing the research (it just was too early to uncover it) and not necessarily due to a deep culture of shame that permeates high powered Silicon Valley executives (though I like the idea of the later for some reason :-) )

Josh Greenburg also provided a link to the The dotcom archive, which collects the stories of that time period. Really, we are in the age of the archive, aren’t we? Stilt it seems more than ever worth exploring what silences are built into these archives, especially since everything appears to be so accessible and transparent.

This discussion also raises the interesting point, however, of the importance of time and distance to assess the significance of economic trends, new technologies etc. Recently I did a few media interviews with Canadian journalists on the impact of new technologies on political campaigns and advertising. While I have some thoughts on it and it is possible (and important) to think about these topics, my initial reaction is to be highly qualified and cautious because things are too emergent to really say anything firm. I want to tell them, “so give me a call back in like.. 5 years and I may have something to say…”

It is like one of my advisers at University of Chicago said, now that we have pervasive Internet shopping, it is now the perfect time to really understand the significance of the mall… And by unearthing objects of the past, it will help us ground understandings of the present.

September 28, 2006

The Silence of Failure in Silicon Valley

Category: Academic,Anthropology,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 2:11 pm

After about 6 months of initial research in the Bay Area, I had to make a choice over the future direction of my more directed fieldwork. Would my project be on Silicon Valley, its religious fervor for the exuberant technology start-up, with the geek entrepreneur (probably with some affiliation with Standford) at its center stage, or would it be more broadly about free software and the culture of geekdom? I chose the later, for various reasons, but I think I wanted to write a dissertation that did not bleed with cynicism but instead flowed and flowered with a lot more joy than could have been possible if I had stayed within the grasp of the start-up and the venture capitalist.

That said, I learned a lot about SV, took a lot of notes, and read most anything I could get my hands on whether the work of San Jose Anthropologist,Jan English-Lueck or published in magazines like Mother Jones, Harpers, and even the National Geographic. One of the luminaries that writes about SV from a cultural perspective is Paulina Borsook. And she is fine writer who admittedly has ticked me of on occasion (to be precise because she collapsed too much of geek culture into that of the specific SV world in Cyberselfish, which at the time I found almost personally offensive, probably more than it should have).

Today I just came across a short, older but very illuminating piece of hers “The Disappeared of Silicon Valley (or why I couldn’t write that piece)” which is as much about the limits of historical representation in general as it specifically about the failings of start-ups in SV at the end of the recent boom and bust cycle.

So her goal was simple enough: To find people involved in starting new high-tech whose companies had died.. and to find them to get a more visceral and cultural window into this experience. But it was a near to impossible task. Despite her impeccable record with confidentiality and a far flung social network, she could not get anyone talk about these ostensible “failures.”

There has been a good amount of writing on the limits of historical representation because the archive or what comes to be the archive is a function of power and it is usually the powerless who are left out, as the work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot has so eloquently shown. But while it is true that some CEO of a dethroned corporation may be “powerless” in some sense of the word, it is not what we associate with the word.

But in fact, the power of stigma of failure in a region that magnifies an already well-develiped cultural fetish of success (especially, I imagine, among male graduates, of places like Stanford Buisiness School), is enormous, so much so, that it seems one can only write about the experience, as Barsook has done so well, through the reality of a lack, through silence.

September 27, 2006

Debian In Venezuela and Psychiatric Survivor Archive

Category: Debian,Mad Movement — Biella @ 8:49 pm

The first psychiatric survivor archive has kicked off in Toronto and Debian Venezuela is soon hosting a MiniDebconf. The word on the streets is that Chavez uses Debian.. Now that would be a great picture to see.

September 26, 2006

The Long Fire Of Political Action

Category: Academic,Mad Movement,Politics,Psychiatry — Biella @ 1:59 pm

All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

I have made it back from NYC after a pretty intense few days spent at the Open Minds Conference and Icarus-hosted workshops, “Get Your Freak On.” Both were incredibly interesting and I felt the ambivalent rush of excitement and fear that follows the prospect of working on a new project. While I have spent some time researching critiques of psychiatry, I have not spent all that much time with the people involved, academically and personally, in the various movements. And there is nothing like seeing in the flesh and blood some very passionate political work to get the intellectual excitement brewing.

The first time I went to a survivor conference and protest I was living in San Francisco, deeply involved in my hacker research. I learned about the movement from a civil libertarian John Gilmore, who drew inspiration from psychiatric survivors to develop his free speech arguments for drug legalization. I had never heard of them and was intrigued so I naturally poked around the web. And I was fortunate to find out that their conference was being held the following weekend less than 10 blocks from where I was living at the time. I made time to go and unsurprisingly, it was a powerful event, perhaps the most stunning conference I had ever been to. There was something awfully inspiring about a political movement in which the members had experienced heavy doses of trauma, often through heavy “doses” of “treatment” and yet found the energy, will, and life to engage in political action, and in a society that does most everything to dampen the fire of politics.

This weekend was no less inspirational. Even at the academic conference, the personal stories of trauma, survival, and the complex ethical decisions of “choice” in a landscape dominated by one medical model, erupted frequently. These were important eruptions that sometimes probably for some felt out of place in an academic setting where such outpourings are discouraged, buried deep away never to disturb the “calm” and “rationality” of talks. But without them, the conference would have felt dry, staid, and sterile, which would precisely have been the most disappointing atmosphere to have created for this environment.

All the talks were engaging and illuminating and it was great to see and hear many folks working on these topics and especially working to carve out a different political and somatic reality. For me, the talks by David Oaks and Jackie Orr were the most electric and hopefully I will soon get the videos of them as well as most others (as I (tried) to tape most of the conference) up for those who are interested. In the meantime, David Oaks has already
released his talk, which is worth checking out.

One of the more interesting parts of the conference was that it gave a clear indication of one of the great successes and strengths of the mad movement, which is its staying power, its ability to survive (even if not necessarily known to wider publics) generation after generation, which is more surprising given that the vitality of so many of the political movements of the 1960s and 1970s, vanished or languished. This continuity was marked by David Oaks keynote speech entitled “Unite for a Nonviolent Revolution in the Mental Health System: What 30 Years in the Mad Movement Have Taught Me” and just by the fact that he and Celia Brown were there, both who have been involved for decades.

Beyond that, it was also the new faces, the new groups, that include Icarus, and the
Freedom Center, that attest to the ability for this Mad Movement to thus far escape the cruel ravages of time and its intervention, often causing rifts within and across generations.

Sasha Dubrul who gave a talk during the activist panel and founded Icarus four years ago talked about the deep alienation he felt when he first had encountered the rhetoric of psychiatric survivors and, even despite his deeply critical stance against psychiatry. He wanted to create an organization and a message and a place that “resonates with our actual experiences of “mental illness” rather than trying to fit out lives into a conventional framework.” It is a message that swoops into many territories that includes a stiff, unrelenting critique of psychiatry and the pharma industry all the while admitting that not everyone can survive without pharmaceutical drugs (and being deeply grateful for this), all the while also providing pathways to alternatives. It is not easy territories to navigate, due to the and cracks and crevices between positions but then again, most of life is filled with these bumpy textures and not a smooth plane free contradictions.

If Icarus was born in part because existing organizations did not adequately address existing needs and desires, it did not grow and move away from existing organization but moved closer to them and is now is in alliance with
MindFreedom. And this is key. Difference in a political movement adds vitality, depth, opportunity but this can only be brought into healthy fruition with alliances. Otherwise, deep fragmentation follows, which given the already deeply fragmented nature of our lives, and of the political landscape, can end in political stasis. But so far, the Mad Movement has over years taken “mad anger” to fight a mad system, and given the last 30 years, I am sure will provide many more decadesof mad pride.

September 21, 2006

Open Minds

Category: Academic,Politics,Psychiatry — Biella @ 8:28 pm

Barely 3 weeks into my time in Edmonton, I am off to NYC, so that I can attend the following conference: OPEN MINDS: CULTURAL, CRITICAL, AND ACTIVIST PERSPECTIVES ON PSYCHIATRY. I resisted going, in part because I travelled plenty this summer, in part because traveling is such a pain now, but mostly because it somewhat preverse to hop over to NYC in a day for 3-4 days when it took me a week of non-stop driving to get out here in the first place! But the allure of the conference was too strong, so back I go, down south and out east.

Patterns of Life (and email)

Category: Debian,Hackers,Tech,Uncategorized — Biella @ 4:22 pm

Joey Hess from Debian has come up with a pretty nifty analysis of thread patterns in email. This is a great example of the geek technique to transform what seems like chaos (and can surely be experienced as such) into something more categorical, segmentable, and thus manageable.

September 18, 2006

First Drug for One Health

Category: Health,Pharma,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 8:14 pm

There are not many non-profit pharmaceutical organizations. In fact there is only one but now that they have recently announced that India approved a drug, Paromomycin IM Injection, to cure Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL), that they developed, it is more likely there will still be at least one, and perhaps more of these in the future.

September 14, 2006

Drug ads from the past

Category: Politics,Research,Tech — Biella @ 10:02 am


Originally uploaded by stylishnoodle.

These drug ads are simply not to be
missed. They are somewhat eerie for their familiarity and strangeness. They seem more fabricated and “less scientific” that today’s ads, yet just as fantastical and culturally audacious, in the sense that they promise SO MUCH, in so little.

September 13, 2006

On E-Town

Category: Edmonton,Tech — Biella @ 3:07 pm

I am nearly done with the marathon move. After a small hold-up in Canadian customs (for no apparent reason except I got a border official who had incorporated the role, a full 110%), my stuff is here, unpacked, and in decent order.

In between unpacking, I have been able to experience some of Edmonton–from the nightlife to its administrative face (signing up for health insurance and a Social Insurance Numbers, for example, both of which were easy as cake) and I have to say E-town gets a far far far worse rap than it deserves. Ok, the weather is nothing to swoon over, and it is already getting far colder than I am used to but bracketing that detail, it is a pretty neat city. Now I tend to like the mid-size cities (Minneapolis, Madison, Philadelphia, Portland are some of my favorites in the U.S) over the mega-gargantuan-city and Edmonton fits this bill with just under a million people. And perhaps it is also just that I am digging some Canada-wide features (affordable and immediate health care, “licensed” cafes, a saner pace of life, the pleasant and earnest character of many folks) but there are Edmonton-specific attributes that are pretty nice too.

Before I get to them, it is worth noting that every time I have told people that I was going to Edmonton, they would either: 1) admit that they did not know exactly where it was and thus could offer no opinion whatsoever (and I was one of those folks until I looked on a map) or 2) blurted some negative reaction like: “do you really have to go there!” though most of those people had never been, but had a sense of its northernly location.

Perhaps my favorite reaction came from a blackberry forum where we posted a question about good data plans in Edmonton/Canada. Most of the replies stuck to the topic, but one person decided to spew his unadulterated thoughts on Edmonton:

i feel sorry for u going from NYC to Edmonton “Edmonton sucks” you’ll be happy to go back to NY..
You go from a city that has life to a dead one.. from having good bb plans to sh*ty ones..

hope your getting paid good

Ok, admittedly, the data/cell phone plans are lackluster but I think this person either has had some terrible times in Edmonton (and holds an unhealthy grudge), has never lived in NYC or has a warped sense of what the good life in a city means. Sure NYC is an amazing place, and is my likely future home, so I am not going to trash it but, like any city, it has its shortcomings.. like unfordable housing

But time will tell as to how I feel about Edmonton after the winter. Perhaps when it reaches freezing temperatures, it does turn a leaf, and become dead but then you hit the mountains, no? But for now I am digging the HUGE pine trees, rivers, and ample sun of E-town.

September 11, 2006

“Warcraft is the new golf” (only better)

Category: Tech,Virtual Worlds — Biella @ 1:07 pm

Last spring I was invited to join an academic guild on WoW, but since my computer runs on, with, and through pure freedom (and I was too lazy to run an emulator and my computer does not have the processing power for it anyway), I did not join.

But reading Steven Levy’s recent piece Living a Virtual Life makes me wish I had a more powerful computer or had sacrified my morals… Because hundres of naked gnomes protesting, is well, just worth it.