Why Cicadas Matters to Me

First off, Cicadas is the name of the hypothetical cooperative which is publishing this post. It is the height of cicada season as I write this. They are everywhere droning, the soundtrack of summer evenings. In Lakota, the literal translation of the word for cicada is “she watches over her field”. I like to imagine that members of this imaginary coop are sending out their communication waves like the cicadas do each night, and are “watching over the fields” to ensure the liberty of one another.

I can't speak as to why a cooperative around “tech” is important for everyone. So, I thought I'd write about why cooperative tech is important to me. Its doubtful I'll have time to properly write this as an essay, but at the very least I can enumerate a few things that may make sense to you.

Community Service Venue

I've spent a lot of time teaching myself how to “do stuff” with computers. Mostly it was an accessible hobby, spun out of my desire to make music with electronics. But it also came from seeing computers becoming ubiquitous in everyone's lives. It was a bit scary, so I wanted to understand it. My interest in computers always came with an interest in serving the humans who use, or are used by, the devices all over our lives.

Now, I do it for a living, and feel quite disconnected from the community in which I live. The pandemic hasn't helped. I don't trust social media applications. So in this day and age of electronic 24/7 connected-ness, I feel very disconnected.

I admire the people in my community who produce tangible good for others. I know people who can grow and prepare delicious food or concoct an elixir or build a house. Those who can raise spirits with art, music, and mystical practices. I can build a website or maybe fix your computer, but it doesn't feel very much like a tangible good.

Cicadas co-op is a hopeful effort for me to offer my services to the community in which I live, and foster the electronic relations within and around it.

Doing It Ourselves / Self-Reliance

This is an extension of what I mentioned above, I live in community with people who have practical skills and a desire to do-it-themselves. There is freedom that comes with self-reliance, when I can fix my own clogged sink or rewire a dryer. But one can only do so much, and it takes a community of people to provide for all our modern day needs.

Cicadas would serve the community by assisting with digital needs, from web pages and email services to custom software that grows directly from relationships between people. It would be one aspect of “doing it ourselves” within a self-reliant community. Additionally, it would support those with an interest in gaining new skills.

As an example, a friend was expecting a large influx of visitors to their online store. They reached out to me, knowing I do “computer stuff”, because there were some minor tweaks that would improve the experience for site visitors. Through in person dialogue, we were able to hash out the specifics of what was needed, and I was able to do the work in much less time than it would have taken my friend to figure out. But rather than playing the part of expert, I was simply the one with skills to meet a deadline. My friend was the one who identified their needs and came to me as a resource. Cicadas can be the resource to not only “do the work” but also to enable others to do-it-themselves.

This is important to me because it is an opportunity to participate in my community as a teacher and a resource for greater self-reliance.

Practical Democracy

I feel like I don't often have the opportunity to practice democracy in my life. I can vote in elections now and then, but I don't currently participate in democracy that feels close to me. I envision Cicadas to be run in a truly democratic way, where members would participate directly in decision making for the group, ideally through a consensus model. It also feels pretty low stakes, so it seems like a safe place for me personally to be an active participant in a democratic process. Success and failure can be shared among other groups, and a spirit of democracy can grow.

Freedom and Privacy

This is a big one. I won't go too deep into the philosophy here, but I strongly believe in free software and the user freedoms it promotes. Additionally, I believe only free software can truly provide users with the privacy they have control over. I hate to sign away my rights to use some seemingly trivial internet service or piece of software. I miss out on a lot of the “social world” because I do not want to use non-free, non-privacy respecting software. Granted, I'll play non-free video games, watch shows on non-free DRM controlled services, and I am no “purist” but... Things could be much better.

In fact, the software used to compose, revise, publish and share this post is in this class of liberty and privacy respecting software. All that was needed was for my fellow co-op member to give me an account. There is a lightness to interacting with the internet in this way, knowing I'm not subjecting myself or any fellow reader to disrespectful and non-free software.

Cicadas gives me the opportunity to choose and deploy software that provides freedom and privacy for not only myself, but a the whole community, even beyond co-op members. In this age of rising fascism and impending catastrophe, I strongly believe this is vital for us to maintain our freedoms and privacy.

Model of Human Trust & Relationships

That being said, the co-op members are the ones with the “keys” so-to-speak. It can feel more secure to just trust a faceless corporation with your photos, communications, and every other bit of digital life.

Cicadas is an opportunity to trust one another. It is a chance to grow relationships in response-ability to one another. Again, maybe it is “easier”, lower-stakes to do this with something like our digital lives than it is for something like food-security. This is important to me as a way to build trust and relationships I feel I'm often missing.

Philosophical Reasons and Inclusivity

Using cooperative tech won't require signing away one's rights with a EULA. In my opinion, this makes it much more inclusive. As a personal example, agreeing to a EULA can feel similar to the bad-faith treaties the US government made with Indigenous nations. Hyperbole aside, it is truly dehumanizing to agree to these monstrous and chimaeric licenses.

Cooperative tech should never ask a person to give away their rights. In fact, it has the potential to enable digital rights that may otherwise be difficult to come by on ones own. I am often not personally motivated enough to do what it takes to have truly anonymous browsing of the internet, but through the efforts of a cooperative of people I trust, perhaps it would be within reach.

Deeper into the philosophy, “the medium is the message” as Marshall McLuhan famously preached. Electronic media is literally our central nervous system extended outside of our bodies into the wide world. Electronic media has created a “global village” for better or worse. This is a great responsibility and something unprecedented in human history. I feel that it is irresponsible to engage with it lightly, and yet most of us (including myself) engage with it habitually. Cicadas is an opportunity to recognize the depth of our electronic entanglement and to have some conscious control over it. We owe it to ourselves to be in control of the medium, rather than being controlled by it.

I hope you've enjoyed this cicada's droning...