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Autolabs

Autonomously created with the help of local communities, the Autolabs are thought to be laboratorial prototypes of media literacy and technical formation in new technologies and media. All based on tactical concepts, Autolabs use cheap DIY media, allowed by the digital revolution accessability, promoting the development and improvement of independent individual and/or collective media production, in a creative way and using free sofware/open source operational systems. Autolabs are centers of orientation, documentation and self-education with free and open access, where human mediation prevails in the process of accessing knowledge as a generalized exchange of wisdoms, stimulating participation and collective work.

Reaching the center - as opposed to the peripheries, since it`s a local and cultural dichotomy very present in Sao Paulo - is part of a tactic to rethink the much debated digital divide. In Brazil, the establishment is used to believe that the antidote to the digital divide could be what they call "digital inclusion". A very Brazilian expression, "digital inclusion" is a concept pervaded by very obscure, paternalistic and demagogue allusions. By merely meaning "to give digital access to those who don`t possess computers", the "digital inclusion" itself reflects the same historical social problems that it refers to. Implemented in a one-way policy by the State and usually lacking a deep comprehension of the everyday life practice, uses and local needs of the communities, the "digital inclusion" policy faces the consequences, not the causes, and generally creates more problems than solves them. It reinforces the belief that providing hardware is the only solution and gives emphasis more on mere consumption than critical/creative production.

The new global economy and new technologies demand renewed skills, competences, forms and practices of writing and reading. In this sense, through hypermedia use and integrated systems in a network of cooperative learning more and more connected to independent professional formation, Autolabs intend to supply a literacy on media development and production for those who cannot afford it, teaching sound, radio, graphic and web production, uniting various autonomous social initiatives, mobilizing actions based on collective strategies of creation, and having a lively, organic and nomadic dynamics.

Among other things, Autolabs are planned to generate new practices, new forms of work, teaching how to use new media as means of action and transformation of worlds, opening a space for cultural, artistic and media interaction, instructing individual or groups excluded from the new paradigm raised by the technological revolution, proposing useful ways of integrating informational technology and the needs of a given community, promoting the exchange of experiences (ideas, perceptions, insights) and collectivization of information, creating new spaces for political participation on the territories explored by this very formation, developing visual, sonic and textual sensitivities, thus making social actions of collective utility possible.

Conclusions: And after Autolabs?
Autolabs [SP] is a pilot project to a long-term study/plan development that comprehends the building and maintenance of 5 media labs in 5 different cities around Brazil (são paulo, tibau do sul, belém, fotaleza and altamira – cities mostly from the north and north-eastern region of Brazil) for a period of 5 years.

The project as a whole aims to form a cooperative network of independent media for community knowledge that aims to stimulate education, social interaction and media awareness by a regional cultural production combined with new forms of production and distribution. It is also a project of applied education between local and translocal communities.

How?
Each Autolab will be constituted and run by different groups from these 5 localities. Groups that are already working with the practices of community and participative media in Brazil. Those groups will work as autonomous nodes of social and cultural information in socially deprived areas of the country, implementing tactical/community media labs at these areas and maintaining these labs working and producing material through, for, and out of the web.

Trough the maintenance of the virtual network (server/site) and the management of the local production, Autolabs is always looking for collaborations, being local - providing structural space for similar media projects that are already happening or about to happen, all around Brazil - or worldwide.




Autolabs Project vs. ProCAJU by Tatiana Wells

But how will it concretely be done? Pilot project: Autolabs [SP]
The Autolabs workshops are going to be run from January to July 2004, being applied to 300 youngsters between 17 and 21 years old from three poor districts of Sao Paulo's periphery: Sao Miguel Paulista, Ermelino Matarazzo and Itaquera. They are divided in four different unities teaching:


A. Technical Nucleus: Recycled Computers Maintenance. Technical learning of computer maintenance and assembly of recycled hardware;

B. Support Nucleus: IT for Independent Media. Computer literacy for independent media, mobilization and online collaboration through dynamic content websites and mailing lists as well as the knowledge of the principles of free software and copyleft;

C. Digital Media Nucleus:
Graphic Production/Publication and Digital Stories. Digital media production through design experimentation and graphic publishing as well as production of content through digital storytelling;

D. Sound Nucleus:
Free/Web Radio, DJ-ing and Music Production. Sound production, free radio/web radio programming and edition/finalization of CDs.

The groups and partners running Autolabs
The groups below range from basic independent media organizations to musical producers:

1) Technical Unity: METARECYCLING (METARECICLAGEM), an initiative of Metafora Project (Projeto Metafora) to recycle discarded hardware for local poor communities, all running free software with operational systems, specially adapted to the specific reality of each machine and communities targeted, teaching technical maintenance for recycled computers.

2) Unity of Support: Indymedia Brazil (CMI), teaching "free computing for independent media" and notions of copyleft, and Metafora Project, a network of decentralized development for the democratization of technological access and formation of social networks digitally mediated by the use of free software, teaching online mobilization and colaboration.

3) Unity of Digital Media: Digital Story-telling Collective (Coletivo de Historias Digitais) and Museum of the Person (Museu da Pessoa), both devoted to collect everyday histories of ordinary people, teaching digital storytelling, and Base V, a collective of experimental design, teaching graphics publishing.

4) Unity of Sound: Submidia/Radio Mute (Radio Muda FM), a free radio collective dedicated to studies and practices in radio and web-radio, teaching free radio/web-radio programming; Interfusion, a group that promotes events like street parties and free raves on the periphery of Sao Paulo, and Radio Cipo, an independent musical community devoted to low-tech music production, both teaching sound production.

Main Organizer
Giseli Vasconcelos

Current Partners

Unesco
La Fabricca do Brasil
Governo Eletrônico/Prefeitura de São Paulo
Metareciclagem/Agente Cidadão

Autolabs [SP] workshops and events

All the described unities open a possibility of dialogue between themselves, through the integration of workshops and the results of each of them. This process is articulated by a monitor who comprehends the whole set of actions and manages the process of avaliation, allowing this conjuction to compose the tactical media lab. This organic colaboration and integration is made through the interactive and avaliation systems applied, all developed by the unity of support. As a result, a general product will be generated: a website. This website is the online ambient that concentrates and mobilizes the information and results of the lab, and contributes to the development and research of the projects aplied for the orientation and formation of the young apprentices. The interactive and colaborative systems as well as all the resulting products will form the body of the project, providing the development of the methodologies proposed for the labs. That website will give support for the replication of the subjects and experiences raised during the process and will also serve as a device for research and orientation at a distance, allowing many others to have an open access to learn with the material available online. It will contain all the audio-visual material produced in the workshops as well as being itself an online multimedia archive.

By way of summing up, local people from peripheric communities will create their own Autolabs since its very beginning, that is, recycling discarded computers and learning how to keep them, setting a laboratory in a local decided by a leadership from their own community, learning how to actively use the machines to produce their own media and showing the results with a website and planned events to happen along the course that will integrate all the results - movies, music, radio programs, zines and the storytelling archive. Those events, will happen both in the middle and the end of the course and comprise a week of lectures, debates - with national and foreign theoreticians and mediactivists - and a festive weekend held in one of the targeted peripheric districts.


Tactical Media From The Masses? - A Case Study by Ricardo Rosas

Can tactical media be used as an instrument of education? How can a means of media empowerment for minorities (or silent majorities), for those who cannot express their own voice, become a form of practical and critical pedagogy?

This was one of the many questions raised during and after the Brazilian Tactical Media Laboratory, Mídia Tática Brasil, held on last March in Sao Paulo.

Even though it may be a very local context in which this question has arisen, the fact is that it was asked by media tacticians having a much broader interest behind, who thought about introducing such a doubt into an amplified field, other than one restricted to the
dichotomies of theory and practice.

It may be no novelty to europeans that the situation in Brazil is one of a country full of social inequalities, hunger, problems on access to education as well as lots of homeless and landless people. Such are extreme problems, for which social movements arise and spread in different intensities, trying to answer and confront a situation which the powers that be many times attempt to render as insoluble. Besides, one may find a mediascape dominated by great monopolies that obviously defend the very interests of these elites to mantain the apparent order and a complacent consensus towards a social situation which sometimes dares to show its angry face and explode in eventual riots, as it has happened some months ago in the conflicts between the police, the drug mafia and civil population in Rio de Janeiro. Plunged in a consesus reality populated by the stars of "telenovelas" (Brazilian sitcoms) and variety shows, Brazilians tend to have a very tiny, if inexistent, critical view of media.

However, independent media undertakings are not something new in Brazil. During the last dictatorship, in the 70`s , lots of alternative magazines, the "imprensa nanica" (small press) produced uncountable zines, samizdats and culture magazines against the established government, which produced a sort of a counterculture. Anyway, from the 80`s onwards this movement was gradually reduced to a pop market of fandom publishing. The renewal of agit-prop-like media only happened on late 90`s, following the worldwide wave of the so-called "anti-globalization" protests. Our Tactical Media Lab was also thought to portray this very recent change in Brazilian independent mediascape. Interesting as it could be, this new mediactivism is still very small and little effective for any significant change. Although very technically skilled, mediactivists might see themselves reduced to a mere elitist minority of politically active citzens if they don`t actually dialogue with society and teach it how to produce media in an independent and critical way.

Could that situation be changed or, at least, challenged? Such a gigantic task would demand great efforts, for which media tacticians could only do a small, if significant part, in order to minimize the devastating aspects of this almost entirely dominated mediascape. This dilemma was the main reason for one of the Brazilian TML organizers to take a very clear position. Believing in media autonomy for the masses, Giseli Vasconcelos, an artist and tactical media projects coordinator, is the creator of the Autolabs, a project for labs of tactical media to be taught to young people on the periphery, poor districts and slums in São Paulo.

Autonomously created with the help of local communities, the Autolabs are thought to be laboratorial prototypes of media literacy and technical formation in new technologies and media. All based on tactical concepts, Autolabs use cheap DIY media, allowed by the digital revolution accessability, promoting the development and improvement of independent individual and/or collective media production in a creative way and using free sofware/open source operational systems. Autolabs are centers of orientation, documentation and self-education with free and open access, where human mediation prevails in the process of accessing knowledge as a generalized exchange of wisdoms stimulating participation and collective work.

The new global economy and new technologies demand renewed skills, competences, forms and practices of writing and reading. In this sense, through hypermedia use and integrated systems in a network of cooperative learning more and more connected to independent professional formation, Autolabs intend to supply a literacy on media development and production for those who cannot afford it, teaching sound, radio, graphic and web production, uniting various autonomous social initiatives, mobilizing actions based on collective strategies of creation, and having a lively, organic and nomadic dynamics. Among other things, Autolabs are planned to generate new practices, new forms of work, teaching how to use new media as means of action and transformation of worlds, opening a space for cultural, artistic and media interaction, instructing individual or groups excluded from the new paradigm raised by the technological revolution, proposing useful ways of integrating informational technology and the needs of a given community, promoting the exchange of experiences (ideas, perceptions, insights) and collectivization of information, creating new spaces for political participation on the territories explored by this very formation, developing visual, sonic and textual sensitivities, making social actions of collective utility possible.

But how will it concretely be done? According to Giseli, the project was conceived to last from 6 to 9 months, and it had already begun on July, being actually applied to 300 youngsters between 17 and 21 years old from three poor districts of Sao Paulo's periphery: Sao Miguel Paulista, Ermelino Matarazzo and Itaquera. The workshops are divided in four different unities teaching: 1) technical learning of computer maintenance and assembly of recycled hardware; 2) computer literacy for independent media, mobilization and online colaboration through drupal, wikies and mailing lists as well as the knowledge of the principles of free software and copyleft; 3) electronic media production through design experimentation and graphic publishing as well as production of content through digital story-telling; 4) sound production, free radio/web radio programming and edition/finalization of CDs.

All these unities open a possibility of dialogue between themselves, through the integration of workshops and the results of each of them. This process is articulated by a monitor who comprehends the whole set of actions and manages the process of avaliation, allowing this conjuction to compose the tactical media lab. This organic colaboration and integration is made through the interactive and avaliation systems applied, all developed by the unity of support. As a result, a general product will be generated: a website. This website is the online ambient that concentrates and mobilizes the information and results of the lab, and contributes to the
development and research of the projects aplied for the orientation and formation of the young apprentices. The interactive and colaborative systems as well as all the resulting products will form the body of the project, providing the development of the
methodologies proposed for the labs. That website will give support for the replication of the subjects and experiences raised during the process and will also serve as a device for research and orientation at a distance, allowing many others to have an open access to learn with the material available online. It will contain the musical and all sound material produced in the workshops as well.

The development of the website will be done in phases, accompanying the process of constitution of the laboratory, covering its assembly and the previous approach proposed by the groups. In the first phase, the site's content will refer to general information about the project and all the institutions (partnerships) involved in the process. As the workshops start, the colaborative online systems will be concomitantly available, constituting the second phase. The last phase will refer to the avaliation process, results and production of each class, and, at that moment, the content (manuals, tutorials, FAQs) provided by the workshops will also be available on the website for public use.

It's important to emphasize that each methodological project, as part of the tactical media lab, is proposed and done by individuals, groups and collectives that develop theories and practices related to an independent media allied to new technologies, as well as initiatives in support of social organizations.

The groups involved range from basic independent media organizations to musical producers. Such are:

1) Technical Unity: METARECYCLING (METARECICLAGEM), an initiative of Metafora Project (Projeto Metafora) to recycle discarded hardware for local poor communities, all running free software with operational systems specially adapted to the specific reality of each machine and communities targeted, teaching technical maintenance for recycled computers.

2) Unity of Support: Indymedia Brazil (CMI), teaching "free computing for independent media"and notions of copyleft, and Metafora Project, a network of decentralized development for the democratization of technological access and formation of social networks digitally mediated by the use of free software, teaching online mobilization and colaboration.

3) Unity of Electronic Media: Digital Story-telling Collective (Coletivo de Historias Digitais) and Museum of the Person (Museu da Pessoa), both devoted to collect everyday histories of ordinary people, teaching digital story-telling, and Base V, a collective of experimental design, teaching experimentation and graphic publishing.

4) Unity of Sound: Submidia/Radio Mute (Radio Muda FM), a free radio collective dedicated to studies and practices in radio and web-radio, teaching free radio/web-radio programming; Interfusion, a group that promotes events like street parties and free raves on the periphery of Sao Paulo, and Radio Cipo, an independent musical community devoted to low-tech music production, both teaching sound production.

Those groups compose the independent pedagogic staff that will prepare the 100 youngsters - as most of them haven`t even seen a computer in their lives - to know, understand and create, express themselves through computers.

By way of summing up, local people from peripheric communities will create their own Autolabs since its very beginning, that is, recycling discarded computers and learning how to keep them, setting a laboratory in a local decided by a leadership from their own community and the sub-major office of the district, learning how to actively use the machines to produce their own media and showing the results with a website and planned events to happen along the course. Those events, two of which are being planned now, will happen both in the middle and the end of the course and comprise a week of lectures, debates, with national and foreign theoreticians and mediactivists, and a festive weekend held in one of the targeted peripheric districts.

Of course, such a big undertaking and events demand not only technical and specialized support, but also fundings and a social network to help its implementation. That said, as a tactical media action, it was thought to be an autonomous practice of critical pedagogy, hosted in a public policy plan. That happened because since its creation the Autolabs were linked to Youth Action Centers (Centros de Acao Juvenil, better known as CAJUS). The CAJUS were idealized as independent social projects by the NGO La Fabbricca, which is funded by FIAT. With La Fabbricca entering as a partner in the Autolabs project, both CAJUS and Autolabs will work together to generate independent political agents in the peripheries. While CAJUS provide the students for the workshops - all selected from families in a very poor situation - and find the places to set up the media laboratory with all its equipments, the Autolabs come with the workshops, the planning and development of the project and its results. La Fabricca is a NGO that raises funding for social projects created by other NGOs or institutions, and embraced the Autolabs project as an inovative action to combat media illiteracy of poor populations.

Once the project was formated and La Fabbricca provided a part of the fundings, the Autolabs project was submitted to the UNESCO, which only subsidizes educational projects. The project was aproved, with its rubric and certification, that will be given to both workshop intructors and apprendices. That was really good news, but the most important achievement was proving that autonomous and independent projects of education could also work, be developed and have fundings from established institutions.

As such, the story does not end here. The Autolabs were planned to have each one a sound production equipment (a mini-studio) for radio/musical creation and 20 computers. Initially, they were going to use low bandwith. And here comes more good news. Sao Paulo city`s government section for technology, called "electronic government" (Governo Eletronico), also decided to enter the project as a partner.Worldwide known by the "telecentros" (Internet free public access rooms running Linux), its initiative to combat the digital divide, the "electronic government", along with their organ dedicated to provide technological infrastructure, Prodam, will give technical support by supplying the Autolabs with high bandwith connection. Besides, after the courses end , the labs will also become "telecentros", with the "electronic government" absorbing the structure, personnel and material left and created by the Autolabs. And the fact is that the model of the Autolab workshops called Sao Paulo government`s attention and got their interest in order to form more participative and active monitors for the "telecentros", as well as editors, content providers and manteinance techinicians.

Even though Autolabs have become a host project inside a much wider plan of informational policy, its core intention is to keep on being an autonomous way of organizing, educating and creating media labs. Installed and kept, as they are, by members of the local community, and with its workshops given and provided by independent and tactical media practitioners, those Autolabs then become sort of hybridized "telecentros", much different of the original prototypes of "telecentros", that lacked a more active and autonomous use of the possibilities offered by new media technologies. Such autonomy says more about the practice and use than about the content itself. There is no clear ideological proselytism focused here. What really counts is the access to knowledge by the apprentices, and experience for the groups that give the workshops. Free Software and hardware recycling make the basis and the whole project is itself copyleft. That means they`re self-replicant, since the project's manual with its methodology of management and implementation will be available to anyone who enters the website and wants to make it by him/herself. That manual will contain not only the principles for setting up the lab, but will explain how it works and why it works in that way, that is, its premiss.

By the end, Autolabs are intended to reach not only the periphery but also the very center. Communication here plays a fundamental part of the process, once apart from the website and the planned events, two magazines - comprising essays, articles, interviews and such - are also being planned to present the results to the wider public as well as journalists, intelectuals, media producers and activists, and opinion makers.

Reaching the center - as opposed to the peripheries, since it`s a local and cultural dichotomy very present in Sao Paulo - is part of a tactic to rethink the much debated digital divide. In Brazil, the establishment is used to believe that the antidote to the digital divide could be what they call "digital inclusion". A very Brazilian expression, "digital inclusion" is a concept pervaded by very obscure, paternalistic and demagogue allusions. By merely meaning "to give digital access to those who don`t possess computers", the "digital inclusion" itself reflects the same social problems quoted in the beginning of this text. Implemented in a one-way policy by the State and usually lacking a deep comprehension of the everyday life practice, uses and local needs of the communities, the "digital inclusion" policy faces the consequences, not the causes, and generally creates more problems than solves them. It reinforces the belief that providing hardware is the only solution and gives emphasis more on mere consumption than critical/creative production.

Autolabs, on the contrary, were thought to be critical models of learning how to use media, to produce it and even recycle the hardware through which they create this media. Although inside a wider public policy for technology, those are autonomous communitary media labs, being themselves sort of an "alien" host project. In other words, they implement a "practical subversion" at the same time funded and supported by big institutions. Like viruses, Autolabs are also self-replicant and may be replicated, since the model and its instructions will be freely available on the net. The results are yet to be seen, but the project has just begun and it's going on. The virus, then, has been inoculated. Ready for a tactical revolution?
The periphery is the core - Celebrating the day that become the cry of the excluded by Adriana Veloso - September 7th, 2003*

An article about how only the connection of the extreme points of the network can make the libertarian root to be auto-sustainable.

Cidade Tiradentes, Ermelino Matarazzo, Casa de Cultura Tainá, Jurubatuba, Itaquera, etc. - in a while, maybe even in every post office!· These only some are examples of places where there is a public Internet access in the city of São Paulo (Brazil).

Tele-centers, info-centers, autonomous groups getting spaces, places where there are initiatives of "social responsibility" that involve many sectors of the modern Brazilian society; University, govern, civil society, NGOs and the communities in which these projects of "digital inclusion" are held.

There is a real mobilization towards the virtual democracy coming from many places. There is some work being carried out with Brazilian culture, software development, professional training, etc. Some people believe in e-solutions for the inequality created by the fact that the power is concentrated in only a few hands. Digital Divide and e-democracy are concept that come from outside and are applied as "digital inclusion" here in the South.

However, it happens that the term 'digital inclusion' is being used in order to characterize several contemporary initiatives that work in the social part with a technological infrastructure with no coherence. It's unbelievable... But it is even worst to realize that behind these initiatives of technology, information, education and 'democracy' there are many interests. There is the Micro$oft lobby as well as the corporate penguin. There are millions of dollars circulating in this digital inclusion market.

Therefore, the social activism is becoming a product. Probably because that the term digital inclusion has been applied in such different and even opposing situations. Or even because the experiences of "access and inclusion" have shown confusing initiatives with few results.

This happens because nobody owns the answer to so many changes. Technology just gets into people's life even though they do not want it. There is no methodology in times that this man's extension, the simple instrument that is Internet, is influencing so much in the living networks of the non-virtual society. There is a simple example: the University of São Paulo asks new students for an e-mail address to register them.

Brazilian society is facing the banalization of inequality. The product resulting from "social responsibility" did not yield so much to investors.

Perhaps this is happening because the local communities, where such projects are being developed, are aphonic in this process of inclusion and access. The revenues do not come at the expected level due to the fact that the most interested, the people directly involved to the process of construction and maintenance of the technological inclusion space, do not have voice in the decision making process. Local communities cannot decide how the resources will be spent.

Meanwhile, alternative media is growing and spreading out subversion. However, there is a model reigning in the corporate media industry. The filter of 'Fantástico'** still seems to be the official voice of Brazil. And the oppressed were never listened, as if their misery was soothing to hide. And in the case of the 'digital inclusion' this vicious circle repeats itself. The young ones being trained with these initiatives of education through technology cannot give an opinion. The projects start with the official and closed proposal, the work is done and in the evaluation time, everybody is asking what went wrong. So much o help to the marginalized to get the room burglarized and the computers stolen after the project was finished?

The peer to peer of these communities connected via virtual and social networks is missing. There is the need to integrate the peripheries without having a center, a totality represented by the State, the Money, the Market, or any other contemporary Powers.

Dreaming about a free system for information exchange.

There might be a time when all these marginal voices will be talking through the virtual network. And then, the noise will be so high that mass-media communication will be deaf, will no longer have the only voice, simply because the model, the pattern will be the diversity of cultures. The Paulista Avenue might be taken by a multitude. People will be able to celebrate the public state of Anatel***. When this agency that controls communication in Brazil becomes public will be the same cry of the excluded that is asking for the end of the external debt.

After all, the case of the frustrated media coup d'etat in Venezuela proves us that revolution will not be televised.

* September the 7th is the independence day of Brazil and become a day of protest in the last years.
** Fantástico is a TV show that is shown in Rede Globo every Sunday night.
*** Anatel is the agency that controls telecommunication in Brazil and it is autonomous from the federal government.