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Where is the Tech-Media Spring now?

Anyone remember the Arab Spring? You know where the various peoples of generally Arab North Africa had their erstwhile pro-democracy uprisings taken over by western media as the soon to be salad days of when all government bowed to Silicon Valley's subsuming cloak of power. Anyone remember that bit? The silence from the the manicured campuses of Northern California on the subject is deafening. Sure, people did take things into their hands and people did vote with their tapping fingers, but also with ballots, bricks and bullets to get what the majority of the people there wanted - which was either political Islam or another dictator. Not very Silicon Valley friendly, techno-libertarian or cyber-utopian is it? Oh those pesky ideas from 1392 years ago that a 1/5 of the entire world's population seem to follow. But I’m sure there’s a startup and an app for the intractable shitstorm going down right now. Nothing a couple fusball tables and a Kickstarter couldn’t sort out I’m sure.

Syria and Iraq now are chock full of tweeting, posts, and snaps - but of calls for jihad, snuff beheading and grooming of 15 year old kids to move to a warzone for a death cult. Talk about ‘game changing’. If the Valley wants to claim credit for tech-enabled hypercapitalism masquerading as something akin to the civil rights movement, then it should claim credit for the ensuing aftermath of roughly 30 million people being pulled out of the frying pan and plopped into the fire.

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So in a couple of short hours, or probably less, last week I've managed to get my work that I'm doing for the Spomenik project on no less than ten Slovenian news outlets, thanks in large part to the brave and media-savvy work of our partners at the Study Centre for National Reconciliation. I've never been on the news and considering that there were a load of people in the room at the commission for the 2nd Anniversary of the Opening of the Huda Jama Mass Grave (in Slovenian but Google Translate does okay for English) have been quite a bit, it was a weird experience. Granted, as of yet, I haven't managed to kick up as much dust as Jože Dežman or anything, but I think that there might be something to this media thing.

Quick breakdown of the situation: Slovenia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991 at which point most of the former Communist Party decided to rebrand as Social Democrats. They still more or less run things in a lot of scary ways like back in the day and don't like people like us making light of the crimes of their predecessors.

To keep in line with the uncannily recurring theme of 'realness' (without any direct reference to Mob Deep mind you) however a pain in the ass things like this might be, you have to get in touch with the world somehow, and no matter what anybody tells you Twitter, Facebook, etc. aren't the way to get to a lot of real people. Things as unsexy as broadcast television and radio are.

The thing that keeps on creeping up with my work on this massive beast of a project is that a lot of it is about being real. Whether ditching all the iPhone malarkey and sticking with just regular phones or being on the news in a country that SXSW or Facebook probably don't care about, we're trying to design for real people with real problems. On top of that, most of our demographic is literally quickly dying off.

The thing is, is that the best thing we could do is make a big documentary and get it on TV and have kids watch it in schools. This however isn't really our brief with the project as it is supposed to be a pervasive monument and be on technology that is 'everywhere' including out in the woods where these mass graves are. So the realness comes into play I imagine into how exactly you chuck this technology at people. You make it simple and you try to make it relevant, and you try to make it partially for kids who's history book has the big massive hole in it and taking them out in the woods and asking them difficult questions in the classroom and also partially teach them that life is very real, often times very cruel and very messy, but the best way to deal with reality is head on.

Spomenik: for Students

If you're among the few and exclusive who aren't related to me, follow this site and can read Slovenian, here's some links: "Danes mineva dve leti od vstopa v Hudo Jamo" "Štrovs: V Sloveniji od 600 prikritih grobišč ni niti eno urejeno kot vojno pokopališče žrtev komunizma" "Mednarodni simpozij: "Huda Jama je primer genocida iz leta 1945" "Dežman o Hudi Jami: Ne bo več mogoče tiščati glave v pesek" "Dežman: Huda jama - obup titofilnega dela slovenske družbe" "Odgovorni hočejo zločine pomesti pod preprogo" "Huda jama je primer genocida iz leta 1945"

Phone calls and Big Promises

"So what are you up to today?" asks curious fellow designer person. "Oh, you know, a little genocide in the morning, a lot of emailing people that probably don't care, and then I have to do expenses," I respond.

The curious fellow designer person usually responds with an uneasy silence and a quick change of the subject.

So this is pretty much how things go with a project that has been nothing but an uphill battle emotionally, mentally and even morally for very little reward since 2006 when it was just a school project. That's also when I swore to someone on his deathbed that I would do it. That's it plain and simple - I'm doing what I can to make this project real, not only because its the right thing to do, but because I swore to a dying man that I would.

Design is a lot of times an unkept promise. Nine times out of ten you don't make it real, because, well, real to a lot of people isn't very exciting. The company has too much to lose, or the managers just need to make HQ happy, so they say a lot of stuff that will never happen and then call it design. To make something real, to keep that promise that this thing that looks like this will be a reality for you, you have to make compromises. Often times, you have to make it less fancy, less awesome high-tech, and it really does pain me to use this word, less sexy. For Spomenik, what was initially thought of as some high-fallutin', ubiquitous computing spectacle seems to have become something pretty damn simple. This is not only okay, this is pretty damn good, because we get to keep our promise. We're figuring out that you can really make something that works everywhere. You can basically recreate these tragic events in the woods extremely cheaply and effectively by just giving a mass grave site a phone number.

Calling the Dead

By calling our project Pervasive Monuments we're making a promise. We're making a promise that this thing will work as good or better than a bunch of concrete and steel plopped down on a hunk of land. Spomenik has to work with 80 year old ex-guerrillas, diaspora communities scattered across four continents with truckloads and decades of resent, school kids as well as in the remote forests of a small central European country. Working is something that this thing has to do. That's the promise that a monument makes - that you can take part in history, in remembrance, and in commemoration. A monument makes a promise it will be there, and that it will work.