Saturday, February 07, 2009

Inventing the Future

Last night I went Los Angeles Eco Village to hear Chris Carlsson speak about his new book "Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclers, and Vacant lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future." Carlsson has long been a leading figure in the California underground/counter-culture.If you want to know about the California underground check out Carlsson's website and the book:

http://www.processedworld.com/carlsson/nowtopia_web/index.shtml

Carlsson and his merry friends put out in the 1990s an infamous magazine Processed World, which was the voice of San Francisco's unhappy bike messengers, disgruntled financial workers, and subversive computer workers. The magazine proudly called themselves the magazine with the bad attitude. Actually, Processed World, which also put out an anthology, is hilarious as if Charlie Chaplin were running amuck in information processing jobs. I was a fan.

Next, Chris Carlsson and merry friend started Critical Mass, the monthly bike rides in San Francisco where thousands ride en mass; last night he showed us slides on how Critical Masses' bike rides have spread around the world.

As he spoke to a rapt audience, he explained about the bike culture he helped to build with it's huge bike rides and its non-profit bike repair shops. Residents at LA Ecovillage, a large group living in an apartment house near downtown Los Angles, started Bicycle Kitchen which helped people for free make and repair bikes. The Bicycle Kitchen grew so successful it moved into a storefront near Los Angeles City Garden. God knows Los Angeles needs less cars and mass bicycling.

Carlsson told us about the revival of urban gardening happening across the United States as well as the past history of U.S. urban gardening. Los Angeles has had a huge struggle over Southcentral Farms, a large urban garden which was destroyed. Now a film about this struggle called "The Garden" is up for an Academy Award in the documentary section.

What was also fascinating was Carlsson's telling about ground-up science and popular interventions in scientific culture: perma-culture, a grassroots science about biology and agriculture; the 1970s women's health movement which was grassroots women starting clinics and improving women's reproductive health care; and the 1970s anti-nuclear movement which helped stop the building of U.S. nuclear power plants; the free software movement where programmers developed and then gave away free software. He tried to empower the crowd that we all can do science and make our voices known about science and technology that affects our lives.

Carlsson is talking about the non-consumer society and people regaining skills such as gardening, fixing bikes, etc that we once have. Now that the country is in a recession, these ideas are even more important.

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