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Sharing Interviews

This is the fourth interview in a series about creators sharing work, with an emphasis on open source, media art, and digital communities. The interviews are edited and backed up on GitHub after being conducted on PiratePad, where you can walk through the interview history as it was written. All content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

with Kyle McDonald interviewing Dan Paluska

###Who are you and what do you do?

i'm a very fortunate human being. i believe myself to be 1 out of 6 billion or so currently sharing this wonderful planet. i practice thankfulness each day. in practical commonplace terms, i am some part artist and some part systems engineer. i'm a partner at Plebian Design (with Jeff Lieberman), i'm an artist in residence at MIT CSAIL, i play in the band electric laser people, i'm filming some timelapse movies at a couple farms in concord ma, and i maintain a couple static and mobile information appliances in the cambrij and boston area. i practice stretching and breathing awareness each day. biking is my primary mode of transportation. every day, i'm being the boranj that i can be.

###You're constantly experimenting with different ways of sharing your life with others. For example, with "One Minute Per Day" you post daily timelapses straight from your computer -- one screenshot every 20 seconds. These experiments would make most people intensely uncomfortable. What drives you to experiment like this?

whether i like it or not, i'm sharing my computer use with lots of people. every time i load a webpage, that information is going to that website and an ISP, so at the very least, 2 companies are always benefitting from time i spend online. every time i make a phone call or even have my phone on me as i roam the city, every time i make a credit card purchase, etc.

do i want to hide in the darkness and trust these corporate or government entities or do i want to sit in the sun in the middle of the park?

by sharing this "private" information, can i give the advantage to the general public rather than giving it to a commercial entity? it's my belief that all of protections and privacy concerns tend to consolidate power which eventually leads to towers that topple over.

i also do these things simply to observe myself. i'm easily taken in by the internet and all it's wonderful distractions. can i turn my slacker time into a more meaningful observation? how can i see my own behavior in a new light?

###Is there anyone else you know like this? Who would you identify as influences?

street artists(street performers and graffiti) and homeless people share a lot with the world. road construction workers, cafe servers, chefs in an open kitchen, and plenty of others do all their work in the presence of others. but as someone who does computer and lab work, i spend a ton of time out of public view. so how do i keep myself in check?

i am a human being and a mimic. i am influenced by all the media i have consumed but also by all the people i spend time with.

parents, family, and friends are of course the first. my parents were always very giving to my brothers and i as well as the community. i grew up in a small town where people often leave the doors to their houses unlocked. this seems totally crazy if you're used to living in a big city.

as a robotics grad student at the mit ai lab, i was in the basement of the building that also housed richard stallman, tim berners lee, and other famous pioneers of computer openness. at the time i wasn't really thinking about these things but i've been steeped in the culture a long time. i certainly appreciate the long tradition of openness and sharing that permeates *NIX culture. and now with the web, there are lots of people who lifelog in ways beyond what i am doing.

i feel super fortunate to be friends with all the people from the creative coding and digital arts communities. living both in boston and new york, i've been able to interact with a huge array of super inspiring people.

###In one of my favorite blog posts, you suggest the possibility of all private information being made public. Just the information, not the control of that information: "your bank statements are public but not the bank password". What about information created with others? I've seen crazy arguments between friends trying to decide on how to license the code they wrote together. Or during "One Minute Per Day", what about all the emails people send you, the pictures, the video chat sessions?

i consider all my input to be public domain but i'm happy to let a collaborator choose a license. so far, that has never been an issue. I think the OMPD videos are fast enough that anyone else's content that passes through is sufficiently abstracted, i promise a special edition with song that will be uploaded later today or tomorrow.

i believe in small steps and regular practice. we've seen it time and time again, some set of secure or locked down information gets let loose, or a levee breaks, or an oil tanker spills, or red toxic sludge, or nuclear reactor meltdown occurs, etc.

i think it's healthy to assume that i have less control of my physical and informational possessions than i believe. if i follow the "release early, release often" mantra, pressure and toxicity are less likely to build up.

at best, security is an illusion. inhale, exhale. the air is gone from my lungs and i have no control over it. i am swimming in this ocean, i am living on top of this land, none of this is mine.

###Practicing the radical openness you regularly discuss on your blog, you have a lot of "personal" and "private" information in public places. For example, your passport is publicly available on Flickr. Have you ever had problems with this?

no problems so far. i think it helps me realize how insignificant i am. when you got nothin, you got nothin to lose, you're invincible now, you got no secrets to conceal. how does it feel?

it may simply be because i am american, white, and well educated that i can afford to take these risks. it's not lost on me that i am in a position of advantage over the vast majority of the rest of the population? or maybe not? maybe it's easier to be happy when you have less? maybe as a "rich" westerner, i'm obese with my possessions and project plans.

###What do you see as the biggest argument against openness and sharing? For all your hopefulness, what still worries you?

before we(euro-americans) were here, there were a lot of people living mostly peacefully in villages. small tribes living sustainably off the land. our european ancestors began to show up and enslave, kill, take over, etc. what does this mean? that i/we should be building protections?

i think both evolution and god agree, the meek shall inherit the earth.

sometime in the future, all this civilization will be over? the plants and cockroaches and rats will still be doing their thing. where does my contribution show up? a rusty robot turned into a rodent house? maybe sustainability is placing oneself lower in the food chain. how do i imagine myself as a smaller player?

###What are some things you've learned from actively sharing that you couldn't have predicted?

by sharing everything online, i began to feel an urge to share more things in public space. i have recently began to think about shared experiences vs shared media. despite my sharing of a piece of media, if it lives on my personal flickr or youtube, then is it still mine? does it still count as a possession? what about when i sing a song with a group of people? that is a transient form of sharing without external record that i have become more appreciative of. this is the practice i'm working more on now.

i've begun to do some small street art actions and painted a mural on a legal wall in central square recently. the nice thing about street art is that you are giving it away as you are making it.

###You firmly believe the intellectual property is a bad idea. That it's an "inefficiency and it slows us down", and that it's based on an outdated understanding of the market. For someone who spends so much time dreaming up new ideas, how is this possibly a sustainable model? How do you pay your bills without owning your ideas?

i have gotten some art commisions but they are generally tough to come by. i often pay bills by doing part time consulting work for small robotics companies(recently heartland robotics and hstar technologies). i save a couple months of stuff up, and then i do art for free for a couple months. right now is art time.

what do i dream as my sustainable future?

something like a pizza shop or barber shop is sustainable. small business. face to face service work. no residuals on ideas, just paid for my hours of work. the rest i am happy to give away. let's say we pass on the street, i have a sandwich in my hands. you ask me for the sandwich, i might not want to share it with you, but if you ask me for directions, i am happy to tell you where the sandwich shop is.

but what is my sandwich shop? some version of a school or farm or artist retreat or public access cable station or church in a small town. this is currently a point of research. i'm open to stealing ideas from others. ;)

i think that you, zach, and memo have some version of this already. you do your contract art work, installations, teaching, etc. and along the way you develop some new pieces of code. after the project is over, you add that code to the openFrameworks or other open source repository. this is awesome and very inspiring to me!

###The only license I've ever seen you use is "public domain" -- that is, forfeiting your copyright. I can understand why something like the GPL would be too restrictive, but what about less restrictive licenses if only to guarantee your release from liability? What happens when someone installs the "One Minute Per Day" script on someone else's computer, and they trace it back to you?

release from liability? i've never thought of it. but i'm pretty sure i don't have enough money to be worth a suit.

public domain seems important to me. i like plants. how about fruit? that stuff is amazing. plants don't place residuals or credit on things like seeds. i find a fruit tree or berry bush. i eat some of the fruit or berries. either i throw the pit away or the seeds pass through me. if the pit or seeds end up in the right spot, then voila! another plant bearing more fruit for me to eat. that is some seriously advanced technology.

i found religion confusing as a child, so many rules to follow and then this concept of faith. but now i understand faith. it's simply the idea that there is something inside of me telling me to do this. that inside certainty is the most important thing for me to act upon. and that says no rights reserved. that inner voice says "let go". is that the voice of god? or the voice of 13.7 billion years of evolution? or the voice that was planted there by some tv show i watched as a kid? or brain control waves from an alien race? should i be wearing a tin foil helmet?

###You seem to share things in every space you can find, real or virtual. Photos on Flickr, videos on Vimeo and YouTube, doodles on chalkboards, notes on post its, scribbles on receipts posted on office walls and inside public elevators. And the work itself fills whatever space you can find: your words evenly fill rectangles, your letters are capitalized to fill the words, and your lines are drawn as squiggles that fill the letters. Why do you believe it's more helpful to fill space, providing an overabundance of information, than to carefully pick and choose what you share? In other words: how can you make an impact with 600+ YouTube uploads when most of them have fewer than 10 hits?

to keep my numbers moving up, here's a chalkboard doodle i made monday while thinking about this interview.

between all the youtube channels i have started for various timelapse and videobooth appliances, i would guess that is closer to 5000 uploads with most fewer than 10 hits. ;)

it's a practice. space filling algorithms. patterns of growth. at any given point in time, i have to choose a constraint to embrace, the boundaries of the page are an easy starting point.

what is the supreme pleasure in life? is it sex? what is sex? sex is when i let go and give away my most important set of instructions, the set of instructions that can make another one of me. slightly mutated of course.

i am the one sperm that made it. what am i doing now? am i a salmon throwing myself upstream against the current in hopes of spawning? if i stand beside a big oak tree at the right time of year, i will see that it drops a lot of acorns around. it seems to me that the practice of publishing is the key. how do i make the practice rewarding? only one seed or sperm will actually make it, the rest will turn into mulch.

but maybe i'm not even making sperm or seeds, making i'm just taking a pee all over the place. dogs do it. bees do it. ants do it. these objects and shared "things" are just a part of this social structure. chemical communication. bread crumbs on the trail. tags on the street. posters on a public bulletin board, notes on a chalkboard, bear claws on a tree.

###Besides experimenting in your own life, you're regularly introducing others to these concepts. There are a number of other "broadcast" stations you've set up that allow for people to instantly publish short videos to YouTube via a kiosk. Other stations auto-upload timelapses, ambiently surveying shared spaces. While you were living in Brooklyn, you regularly took a cart out to the street where people could pay a quarter to upload a short video to YouTube. What kind of responses do you get from people who spend time in these spaces? And what kind of changes do you see in the space after the stations are installed?

most people have ignored them but many are truly happy to engage it. people aren't used to being listened to in public spaces. media(especially video) is seen more as a tool to catch someone in the act than it is to allow someone to be heard. sometimes these things take a generation. we simply have to imagine all the TVs and print ads in our public spaces replaced with web2.0 style read/write appliances. public domain media atms.

it's too early i think to really notice any changes but i would hope that eventually these parallel read/write access devices would cause a shift from the personal ownership (encouraged by our current consumer culture) to a digital consciousness that is defined by lots of small open conversations in our public spaces.

right now i'm taking part in a private individual action by typing on my computer screen that only i can see and chances are you are reading this in a similar fashion. what if more/all access to digital media was in a group setting?

i look around and notice the trend in personal devices. i have a phone and laptop. can i expect everyone else, all 6 billion to eventually own a phone and laptop? will they own them forever or will they be replaced every couple years? how many giant holes in the ground and how much toxic waste does it take to produce the metals and energy for such things?

how about learning to share physical things as easily as we share digital things. in this case i'm not talking about making copies of physical things, i'm talking about shared usage of single devices. to me, this is the only version of a sustainable future. something like a native american philosophy. this technology is part of the land. shared. not owned by anyone. we are all stewards. it's very important to give all of this away as quickly as possible. when i come to a new piece of land, do i place a stake in it declaring it to be mine? or do i send a call to others so they may come sit and enjoy?

go tell it on the mountain,
over the hills and everywhere
go tell it on the mountain
that information is free.