The feel of the Infrastructure: Engineering New Economic Spaces
Report by Lisa Gerzen
The workshop ‘The feel of the Infrastructure. Engineering New Economic Spaces’ was hosted by around half of the Economic Space Agency (ECSA) team: Jonathan Beller, Erik Bordeleau, Fabian Bruder, James Foley, Pekko Koskinen, Joel Mason, Akseli Virtanen and Jackie Vu. ESCA stands for the belief in ‘a programmable economy, which allows the design of new systems of value creation and distribution’ and enables users to set their own rules for Economic Spaces (read more here).
Akseli Virtanen started the workshop by introducing the team, their work methods and how they would like to run the workshop. He explained the division of ECSA into five nodes: the Development Node, which is responsible for Software development and architecture of the ECSA Stack; the Accelerator Node, which launches new economic spaces, creates economic relationships and designs economic forms; the Finance Node, which is responsible for bridging different value forms/ network derivatives, creating new value forms/ network derivatives and making market; the Bootstrap/ Genesis Node, which creates new Economic Space and spins off the necessary nodes to accomplish it and the Research & Development Node (check ECSA’s website for information on members).
For the workshop, Akseli Virtanen proposed the format of Open Office and explained the rules to the ‘game’: Each of the attending members of ECSA gets five minutes to talk about their part of the topic, two of which are for them to give a quick presentation and three to discuss and answer questions of the other workshop attendees, who were encouraged to use the introductory talks as an opportunity to find out which questions and interest they have and who they would like to discuss them with. Even though he earlier announced that ECSA was very experienced with this form of working together, Virtanen, who officiated as the game master who reminded everybody when their speaking time was over, more than once had to take vigorous action to stop the enthusiastic members of ECSA from speaking, much to the joy of the other participants. Virtanen insistently asked every attendee to bring their own problems and challenges to discuss them openly in the workshop.
Jonathan Beller started the Open Office by talking about the main agenda the ECSA is following with its projects and stated that platforms and smaller entities should inflect value systems and money should be delinked from national forms. One of the key considerations that resurfaced was that technology is not just something that happens in computers. Virtanen added to this that the ECSA can only offer derivatives and the offer itself is a central concept of their work.
Pekko Koskinen picked up on the concept of the offer in his introductory section, which he divided into three parts: The question of protocol organization and how it can be utilized in a more expanded sense, the question of organization and the fetishization of tokens and the structure of the offer which is “saying something that isn’t yet but defining what could be”. He made sure to explain that he understands the offer as an expression that sets the limits and leaves everybody free to decide what to join. An in-depth explanation by Pekko Koskinen can be found in this video.
James Foley proceeded by talking about Gravity (more information here), an infrastructure the ECSA developed for the crypto-economy. It quickly led the participants to wonder about the relation of Gravity and Space—an organizational expression layer developed by ECSA, which James Foley called a big innovation. Fabian Bruder explained how the dynamics between Space and Gravity differ depending on the perspective from which one looks at them. One of their main efforts, he mentioned, is to follow the principal of decentralization: ‘We really take it to heart, from top to bottom levels’.
Joel Mason’s part about protocols for self-defense stimulated a vivid conversation about responsibility and new opportunities for design that emerge for society. Whether members of ECSA are just hallucinating collectively or whether what they work on is actually possible to achieve, is irrelevant to Geert Lovink, who participated in the workshop, because this opportunity, that appears for the first time in history, definitely must be seen and taken seriously: ‘Nowadays we are designers and that is a very different approach. That is the feel of the infrastructure’. He added that this opportunity consists of the freedom to rethink, the freedom of not being stuck in a closed environment of a specific grammar. Koskinen stated that this very same urgency actually was one of the initial triggers for ECSA to get their work started.
Erik Bordeleau took up the point of the feel of the infrastructure and proceeded to address the issue of formalization by saying that we need to watch out for excessive idolization of formalization and be careful about how to invest powers of it.
Even though their general idea is often seen as immensely unrealistic (to such a degree that someone thought the ECSA was a parody, which they address here), Virtanen thanked the team for their hard work and for making it possible to turn their vision from a dream to a possibility, pointing out that the whole team is already working with the ECSA token (more on this can be found in the preview of their White Paper). He defined some of the ECSA’s key features to be liquidity, stability, self-issuance and risking something together. Liquidity equals connectivity, Virtanen clarified after Bordeleau questioned what he said for seeming to be too close to sense- and money-making.
There was a broad agreement at the end of the workshop about the essentiality to empower the structures. Stability, community and communication—on the inside as well as on the outside—must be constantly worked on.
All throughout the workshop questions of possible uses of Space popped up. Could Space be a potential model for specific issues/ situations, for instance, for artistic involvement? Virtanen and Koskinen tirelessly used these opportunities to emphasize again and again that Space is not a system, but rather a grammar for expressing systems and an open-source language that can thus be used without enforced restriction.
Overall, the workshop seemed to answer participants’ questions about ECSA’s work and at the same time give ECSA input with regards to wishes, perspectives and possible issues in the research community.