I now live in Medellín, Colombia, since 7 months. I came here because life put a lot of hints in front of me, one of them being love. But also because investigating about this city I realized there’s a bunch of interesting processes going on in this city.
Medellin went through a undeniably special period in the 80s and 90s during which drug-related violence was ravaging, on top of the known events of colonization, independence processes and following convulsions in the access to power, more or less common to the reality of the whole continent generally. This and socio-economic issues with inequality, access to resources, education and markets resulted in that creativity became a major quality with which to stand out from the masses as an individual in order to make a living. In my observation Medellin is full of extraordinary and highly creative people.
In the meanwhile, the design of society as suggested by the West is in severe crisis; the EU for example is on the verge of collapse. The abstract model of perpetual growth is crashing into physical realities, revealing intrinsic limitations. Apart from serious problems of pollution, lack of sustainability, inequality, exploitation and injustice, an important characteristic of this model is the tendency towards fragmentation and isolation of human beings, which comes with profound social and psychic stresses. It does not surprise at this point that other tendencies towards collaboration, collaboration, sharing and community start to appear: people go back contemplating the ontological essence of being a human. Modern science is also undergoing transformation, from going into bisecting everything into ever smaller distinct and smaller pieces towards relationships and commonalities. Quantum physicists express themselves more like eastern philosophers as we are used from science lingo. We are rediscovering what ancient wisdom always promulgated: that everything is interrelated and that separation is only a lense of perception.
Electronic media have facilitated for people to re-introduce ancestral practices of communication in their lives, practices which went forgotten with the consumption mantras of the markets. Individuals restart communicating directly, to share freely, to collaborate, work together. All this goes against market logic as conceived by mainstream economists, and according to these economists, for example, a computer operating system like linux, free and jointly produced, should not be possible. What these new media allow is to amplify and extend our innate propensities to relate to others towards the whole globe. We can communicate with anyone on the other side of the world. We can form networks with anyone and share information with people with affinity to our passions, interests or study focus. Notions of time and space get diluted.
In parallel to this, there’s a revaluing of the physical meeting. Finally – we can assist to the expansion of the “lab” phenomenon – laboratories of techno-social experimentation, where folks meet up to share knowledge, learn together, and feel part of a group, creating community. In these communities things get produced, created and shared freely for the simple wish of wanting to do it, and because it confers to participants a feeling of belonging and satisfaction – let’s say it, of happiness. Not by chance a very symbolic periodic event happening twice weekly in Medellin has been named “Lo doy porque quiero” (I give it because I want: a series of talks, presentations – whatever really – in which anybody can stand up and talk about something).
The practice of producing open source software revealed to the world what is possible to achieve with the commitment of a few individuals with a shared goal. This also inspired and stimulated the exploration and experimentation with open source principles in other areas of human activity. There are already communities which consecrate themselves to themes such as open hardware, open government, open data, open university, open science, open cities, open business, to name just a few.
Thing is, many brains coming together generate many more ideas. And not only more ideas, but every contribution can be seen as a piece of lego for a bigger edifice, a more complete vision, a more holistic approach. Collective Intelligence.
We are confronted with tremendous challenges. And global ones. Too big to be solved by only a few individuals, singular entities or nations. On the other hand, ideas do not know frontiers nor barriers, knowledge flows freely, it is immaterial. Thanks to Internet, ideas, knowledge, information and wisdom can be divulged easily in their digital form, getting to whatever device being capable of presenting it. Digital technologies we have today at our disposal, contrary to massive conventional media like television and print, are bidirectional, and allow participation. We thus have at our reach the possibility to combine and let confluence knowledge of ever more souls.
Also, the majority of human beings flourishes in community with other humans, being in company, sharing. The first European cities grew on the base of areas of convergence in which distances were of more or less 20 minutes walking. In Latin America the life in “barrios”, neighborhoods, is still very alive and tangible. It is the natural configuration of human beings.
In contrast, current economic life does not respect these configurations. It creates an incessant flux of materials and people displacing themselves constantly, causing congestion and contamination. Decision processes are governed by criteria of finance and profit, resulting in apples being grown in New Zealand be sold in Switzerland which is replete of apples; that cocoa is shipped from Latin America to Europe for processing and sold back to the continent at much higher cost; and that natural resources are extracted from the earth and garbage deposited onto the earth itself labeling environmental and polluting costs as “externalities”. The market lives from advertisement, which incites us to more and more consumption, nourishing itself from the need of keeping us always unhappy, creating more and more wishes and converting more and more corners of the world to this religion, generating more and more expectations and with it again more consumption, resources extraction, and pollution. The mantra going with all this is the one of “growth”.
But there are a growing number of individuals which are realizing that this cannot go on like this indefinitely. They are looking for alternatives.
And if we’d go back to organize ourselves more akin the natural configuration of human being, like pondered before? If we go back forming communities, fulfilling most of what we need locally? If we’d take advantage of the qualities of digital technologies, which would allow to divulge information freely, spreading what we have learned, at the same time assimilating contributions by others, synthesizing everything into new knowledge, new realizations, creations, advancements, innovations? Transforming this knowledge into local adaptations, to solve local needs, creating artifacts locally?
That’s where I envision the confluence of the emergence of labs with the potential of technology. Local production based on the free flow of global knowledge. We already do not need gigantic production facilities for everything, and this tendency, with technology, is going to consolidate. Fablabs, spaces of collaborative creation, 3D printers, can lead to provide for many necessities locally, on-time, on-demand, personalized, without the need to inundate a market and producing unnecessary garbage. Labels and designs circulate freely, fostering new solutions, produced in the lab of the corner of our neighborhood. In a not-so-distant future I may be able to “print” my smart-phone there; the needed resources for that are sourced locally, by the local people, in a commons-managed way, thus not under foreign exploitation by entities insensible to local effects. Likewise, organic agriculture, in symbiosis of urban and rural, creating systems of bioregional supplying, covers food needs. Energy is generated decentrally, many buildings and constructions generate their own energy, feeding a local smart-grid; bio-hackerspaces provide us with indispensable modern products, like biodegradable products; many artifacts are assembled reusing and recycling materials; and economic questions are organized for the benefit of the community, not of speculators.
The first cities grew weaving an ecosystem of local entrepreneurship. The socio-economic fabric is more resilient by the measure of relationships which constitute it. With more diversity of production and artisanry, and interdependence of the local actors, a community is more strong and resilient, can thus bounce back much better from outside stresses. A community based on local business links and local resources then becomes stronger, resilient and independent from global market turbulences. This does not mean that there would be no interregional, international, or intercontinental trade. This always existed and will continue to exist in some form. Nevertheless, by strengthening local actors first, fostering local exchanges and building on local relationships first, communities consolidate their identity and coherence and are less susceptible to outside perturbation.
I think this postulate is not anti-progress, nor anti-business, not anti-anything. It is a proposal which is being built step by step. It is a proposal in which Medellin and South America in general can emerge as a model for the future, with all the creative potential initially mentioned. Also I think that community and cooperation, epitomized by the ancestral processes of the “minga”, or communal work, are still more alive and present on the continent.
I think that Medellin can play a exceedingly important role in the urgent transformation of society, towards a sustainable, just model impregnated with joy of living. Nothing is perfect, and not by chance right here very worrying factors continue to exist, like violence, exploitation, and oppression. Nevertheless, for those who are fed up with all the dismal of this world, we don’t have other options as to continue trying to create new realities.
This is why I want to participate in the processes currently unfolding in Medellín, I want to contribute the way I can, linking with active people and projects, interchanging thoughts, knowledge and ideas. I want to see what is possible to be birthed from things we are pondering collectively, to give life to longings of a society which instead of destroying itself treating their very nourishing base, the earth and its people, very badly, matures towards a society which cooperates to resolve huge challenges, and which resolves to care and even to enrich the cycles of life.