People are kicking back against systemic oppression. Those hard days, marching against deaths in police custody, I wondered if this day would ever come. Technology has networked our minds; the internet has folded experience in on itself and allowed us to share our experiences – and practice. Hashtags allow us to connect our experiences, to join Walter Scott and Eric Garner to Rekia Boyd and Sandra Bland. The struggle is the same as it ever was, but we can more easily compare notes. We know what to do, now. That’s the difference.
It’s the weekend! You’ve gone to the cinema. Got popcorn? Check. The lights go down, a silence descends… If Moss Code were a Brit flick, what kind of film would it be? A trailer from the award-winning film production company Riverhorse TV about our mission.
“Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to get through this thing called… Life.”
Prince, Let’s Go Crazy (1984)
Life After Death
I had a terrible weekend. Didn’t everyone? It’s not all bad, though. There are some lovely write-ups around the web, so won’t repeat what’s already been said. How many times can one say “genius” before it gets old?
Great artists are fearless. Prince wandered through the same politically-aware, sexually-charged waters that the great Marvin Gaye did a generation before.
Stories will surface, like Questlove?’s crushing-but-hilarious tale:
Maybe Prince was important to me because he allowed me to dial-in to Hendrix, re-connecting rock music to my identity. I couldn’t believe it to see him in Purple Rain; my hero re-incarnate, reborn, resplendent. Black cultural production is nothing if not constant innovation and a breaking with the old, although there may be darker reasons for such creative fury.
For the eagle-eyed, nuggets like this will turn up alongside, perhaps, the vault of unreleased music he is rumoured to have in the basement at Paisley Park. Here’s a wonderful interview from 1985. I love it.
Mostly though, I’m going to dance my arse off and party like it’s 1999. Thanks for the music, brother.
I felt a right mardy bastard filling in the feedback form after the show – after all, everybody had worked so wonderfully hard, bless them! The fizzing volunteer who’d asked me to do the always-boring paperwork was visibly deflated after talking to me, making me feel a killer of tiny, gorgeous creatures. My review was unsparing – but she did ask.
What’s The Issue, Buzzkill?
Well, let me tell you the issue. This year’s theme was climate change, but what kind of host throws a party and fails to invite it’s most important guests? Bar the inclusion of Lemn Sissay as Magical Negro, both panels and audience were overwhelmingly light, bright and damn-near white.
There Was Not A Single Black Woman Delegate In Attendance At The Entire Event
Need I say more? Not one. I find it astonishing that one can organise an event tackling issues of sustainability and climate change, but those who make up the majority of the planet’s population – the dreaded “people of colour” – are not represented in significant numbers – or in any numbers at all. Did they think nobody would notice? How can an event like that be relevant?
Technology conferences are displays of white European power and as such, serve their constituents flawlessly. Those constituents are white people. The panels are white people. The event was full of white people talking to other white people about the rest-of-the-world-as-object. We’ve seen this story before.
Diversity: Eat Your Greens
the hush following @lemnsissay’s plea for diversity at #futr16 was like the awkward silence of an outlaw walking into a bar in a western…
I’m tired. I no longer want to be included. I’m not here to make up the numbers. I don’t want to turn up at opportune moment: a “Magical Negro”, like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, designed to help white people find their moral conscience, only to disappear again at the end, usually through design or death.
To my friends at FutureEverything, I say: “Don’t worry about it. Everything’s cool.” You’re not any better or worse than any other technology company, festival or media platform in the space. You all perform abysmally – but it’s all good. I’m still that guy you can let onto at a party. I’m still the one-Black-friend you know. Eeeveryone knows me. You’re not like those other white people, who only know that one Black guy – John, I think his name is – the cleaner. Or is he security? It’s so easy to get these things mixed up! Modern life, eh?
White people mostly hang out with white people, and only know other white people. My god, there’s even a documentary that talks about this in brilliant detail called (you guessed it!) White People:
I don’t do funny speeches, won’t do a star turn to exit stage left and leave everybody with a warm, fuzzy feeling. What if you’re about to organise a tech event in 2017 but feel really bad after reading this rant? I have the answer.
The government has thrown public services to the dogs. Adult education – so key, so vital – has been cut to the bone. This is the scenery. Is it possible to rock up in Moss Side with a laptop and big ideas and expect it to run smoothly? Is it?
What is the role of a computer science lab in a community where there is no scientific base at all?
When I first realised the anti-science whispering that proliferates on social media is taken seriously by many, I bristled – but who should take a bullet? Not ordinary people, struggling to make sense of the world while on the run between benefit sanctions and food banks. I have asked:
How does a community that had really been the object of scientific and medical scrutiny for generations — with really negative outcomes — come to see science and technology as a positive thing, or something that can be used for self-knowledge and liberation?
“I had a terrible education and, to be honest, I’ve learned more from Facebook than I did at school,” said one brother last night.
It has always fascinated me that women were so well-integrated into the fabric of computing from its very inception. Famously, the first computer programmer was – shock! – female. Programming was seen as unimportant “women’s work”, while the business-end of this emerging, embryonic technology was inside the hardware and integrated circuits – wrongly, as it turned out. They dominated the ranks of the field then and played storied parts in the celebrated code-breaking team at Bletchley Park.
Honeywell Kitchen Computer concept from 1969`(via Wired)
These photographs are a fascinating window into the late 1960s – all Polaroid pastels and cute hairdos – but evoke in the imagination the possibility of what equality looks like in our computing future.
Something is afoot. Ideas are on the run. The seed I’ve planted is starting to take hold. We’re starting as a class to have broad, free-wheeling conversations in-between the practicals. We had a special guest in – a neuroscientist – and it was nice to see the young ones light up in her presence.
So, what is actually going on? I do suppose it would be useful to devise some kind of syllabus, but there is rough plan growing even if I’m winging-it just a bit.
“Can we create a nanotechnology to create clean water in polluted environments?” came a question. That’s a good question. Code is glue. It binds ideas together like an intellectual plasticine, and people are beginning to see it. I’m excited.
I’m not suggesting a new mathematics regimen that makes learning hard sciences even more generally joyless than they already are. Rewinding to Black History Month, all 28 days (the shortest month of the year!), Bey dropped wax that set pop culture alight with “Formation”.
Beyonce just came back and clocked all the haters with this pro-black anthem during Black History Month. #BHM
I’ve always wondered how hip-hop culture could leverage rhyme, repetition and rhythm to augment the learning experience. It could make remembering gnarly bits of boring detail quite fun. The brain has mechanisms for the acquisition of language – is the same true for learning?
Somehow, seconds into the opening bars of long-forgotten pop songs, I manage near-perfect recall of the most obscure lyrics. They somehow manage to surface seconds in, clinging to the cracks of my memory. Can the same process be used as a way to retain useful information for study? It can be the basis of a new kind of culturally-driven learning.
Miles Davis used to sign off his albums with the curious expression “Directions In Black Music”. I have always imagined that this meant musical exploration at the edge of the known universe, like Voyager 1 drifting out beyond our solar system and tumbling into interstellar space. In that free-wheeling spirit of enquiry, Florence Okoye interviewed me for How We Get To Next.