The small things Manifesto
This is a work in progress, a living document.
Small is good, small is all (The large is a reflection of the small)
small technology, small economy, small community
Many of the major technological and cultural innovations of the last several hundred years have served to flatten the world, eliminate or obviate distance, and bring us closer together as people. Printing, transportation, telephone, radio, television, home video, and the internet have each, in their own way, made our impact on the world bigger, and made parts of the world smaller.
But this came at a price.
Technology is not a net good, or even a neutral force. Technology is a Force Multiplier. It reshapes the world to fit the vision of those who design it, regulate it, and wield it. Oil companies poison our lakes and rivers, slowly boiling our planet. Facebook tracks everything we do online and uses that data to make us miserable. Disney owns an outsized portion of modern folklore. The FCC decides who gets to launch a radio station, and under what circumstances. Television turns reasonable people in to rabid fans of raving monsters, and turns raving monsters in to celebrities, politicians and thought leaders.
It does not have to be this way.
It is this way thanks to a combination of factors, most of which can be summarized as “The Profit Motive.” For some companies, making people angry is a surefire way to drive Engagement, and driving Engagement is a surefire way to make money. For other companies, the money lies in controlling our access to our own culture, gatekeeping who is allowed to tell stories, and when, and how. For these major corporations, there is no incentive to Help, to Improve. There’s no money in making the world a better place.
It will not be easy.
Most new technologies, but especially Digital technologies, experience a period between inception and corporatization during which they florish as a result of a bunch of disparate people with distinct goals who Explore the space that the technology creates, often without regard for profit of any kind, or at least with some motivation beyond pure profit. Then there is, usually, a period of contraction and consolidation around the things that have made the most money (or, in the case of television, have had the most Regulatory support from the corrupt FCC) and you’re left with HBO/DISCOVERY, Disney, Facebook, and Joe Rogan.
But we can reject the profit motive!
Local theater still happens, in spite of the fact that it stopped being profitable ~100 years ago. Local music still happens, in spite of the fact that only 1 band in 100 is going to make their living making music, and significantly fewer than that are ever going to Make It. Small creators make video games in their spare time because they enjoy it. Hundreds of people work together to run free and open alternatives to major social media networks, funded out of their own pockets.
Ars Enim Mutare; Art for change
These things happen in isolation, from creators who make things because the want to make things. They toil, often in isolation, for little reward. This is a call to action for solidarity, and support and intentional creation. We can reshape the world, and support one another as we do it. We can opt out of activities that enrich corporations that seek to make us suffer or to destroy us. We can (and must) become our own media.
What are small things?
Small things are art, media, technology, and culture created by People who are treated fairly, for people who are treated fairly, shared freely and sustainably. There are no corporate overlords, no gatekeepers, no Web Scale Technologies, and no ways to get rich.
Why are small things?
Because, in a world where Creation and Communication are heavilly commercialized, the act of Creating a Thing or building a community that doesn’t enrich our corporate overlords is a radical act.
Because big complicated communities and systems are hard to manage without the resources of a government or corporation. If we keep things at the Human Scale, rather than the Global Scale, we stand a chance of being successful at the Human Scale (that is to say, surviving and sustaining, building relationships, etc.)
Because 4 corporations control 90% of our news and entertainment media, three corporations control the vast majority of online communication, and no corporations give a single damn if we live or die. Too much power is consolidated in the hands of too few.
They buy off our politicians, influence who gets elected, write some of our laws, and ignore the ones that are inconvient. They’ve rigged the game such that they’re the only ones big enough to play.
We, as individuals and small communities, need to work together.
We must carve a new path.
a Small Society
This is a political document, describing the intentions, motivations, and views of a small group of people practicing community scale creation. Following these artistic, social, and technological principles might help lead to more fair and just societies.
We live in an era of unparalleled abundance, unevenly distributed. The Abundance created from our labor, from our creation, from our communities, is stolen from us, bundled up and smashed against the abundance of our neighbors, and sold back to us.
They leave us with artificial scarcity, while they feast on the abundance of our labor. This Large abundance enriches a powerful few at the expense of a disenfranchised many. The few and powerful have convinced themselves, or pretend among themselves, that the abundance they steal from us is something that they create, and that it can Grow Forever.
This is, of course, nonsense. Nothing can grow forever. Indiscriment growth is harmful and destructive, and the consolidation of wealth and power in to the hands of so few is both destructive and useless. Capitalism, in it’s current form, is a cancer that will consume and destroy everything
This large abundance goes to waste, and those who create it are forced to make do on the scraps that remain. Every dollar in the pocket of a billionaire, not being spent, gathering dust, collecting interest, is a dollars worth of food that is not on a worker’s table.
We do not have to accept this. In fact, we cannot accept this. We must reject the illusion of infinite growth, support one another, and embrace our small abundance.
We are building a movement, but we are building a movement Made of People. Small groups of people form communities. Groups of communities form networks. Networks of small communities can accomplish more and make decisions faster than one large group.
We can and should care about our neighbors, our community members. We look out for one another. We tell our stories. We protect our community, and make sure everyone is fed and housed to the best of our abilities.
Big technology is extractive, oppressive, and a tool for indoctrination and radicalization. Small technology is technology for People. Human scale technology. Understandable, implementable, respectful. It does not spy on you, it does not steal from you, it does not seek to manipulate you.
Small Technology is a Big Topic that deserves more words than I’ll give it here.
Write a blog, start a newsletter, maybe use the fediverse. Whatever you end up doing, avoid Facebook and google wherever you can.
Send an email, run an element server, don’t let Gmail and Facebook control your communication.
Host your own website. Use wordpress or neocities or some other platform. If you don’t want to pay to rent a server, run something like yunohost on a raspberry pi in a closet in your home. It won’t be available 100% of the time, and it won’t be fast, but it’ll be Good Enough and you’ll learn a lot along the way.
Make things because you like to make them. Share things because you want to share them. People have done this since the dawn of time. Members of the Arts and Crafts group the Roycrofter were self publishing zines in the 1890s using letterpress, Lainsville TV and The Videofreex were producing independent television with the first consumer video cameras.
You don’t need budget, you don’t need technology, you just need something to say.
This is a list of things that are small. Not every thing on this list will conform to every principle of the small things manifesto, but they all have a similar flavor.
Zines and comix
By their very nature, Zines (self published, DIY magazines) are Small. They’re usually hand made. They’re usually distributed freely or cheaply. Go embrace Zines and Comix from your local book or record store.
The slow/small/indie web
The internet does not have to belong to Amazon and Google and Facebook. Projects like Gemini imagine a new kind of web. Projects like the fediverse (see Mastodon or Hometown) create an alternative to Twitter and Facebook. Tilde servers, and places like SDF provide a place for communities of tech enthusiasts to get together outside the control of a massive corporation.
Email is, outside of gmail and yahoo mail, still Federated and peer to peer.
Services like Peertube (which powers New Ellijay TV) allow sharing even videos from underpowered simple computers on home internet connections, and projects like yunohost simplify the maintenance and deployment for self hosting on simple cheap computers.
Most podcasts are Small Media, even if they don’t consider themselves to be. They’re independently produced media distributed using small technology (RSS). Corporations like Spotify and Apple and Google have attempted to gatekeep podcasts, but anyone can go to most podcast’s website and download and subscribe with any podcatcher.
Many podcasts lean in to this, distributing under an entirely open license.
Most podcasts start real rough around the edges, not only is that Fine, it’s also Good. Embrace imprefections. Reject perfection.
Lots of small music gets made every day. Most DIY/Punk is small music, but to my mind there has never been a more perfect example of the Ethos of Small Production than All Hail West Texas by The Mountain Goats. Recorded on the internal mic of a boombox, it’s a Deeply emotional and absolutely perfect record that lives in, reslishes in, its flaws. “Hail Satan, tonight.”
It’s not CC licensed, but it predates the entire concept, so I can’t fault it.
Principles of Small Creation
- Scale and complexity are traps;
- It doesn’t have to be scalable to 10M concurrent users if it’s only going to be used by 10 people.
- It’s better to work okay every time than to work perfectly one time in ten
- There is freedom in a lack of professionalism, in doing things incorrectly, and in doing things poorly
- A lack of commercial prospects is not a reason to prevent yourself from Coding or Singing or Drawing or Writing for the joy of the doing.
- We build things for people
- Specific people, small numbers of people, knowable, manageable groups.
- Include people
- We strive for the things we make to be Understandable when they need to be understood; Usable (and useful), when they need to be used; Enjoyable, when they are meant to be enjoyed; Discoverable, so that they can be found.
- Level editors! User Generated Content! Customization! Permision to remix and reuse and cover and sample and to do all the things.
- Respect our audience (users, viewers, consumers, etc.) and our artists (coders, videographers, musicians, etc.)
- Credit your collaborators
- Protect the vulnerable in our communities.
- Compensate people as fairly as is possible.
- Don’t track users or harvest data
- No “Proof of work”, if you hear the word “blockchain”, slap someone.
- Do offer options for customization when possible
- Try to build things that will last.
- Consider the impact on your community when you no longer exist to provide the thing. How will The Thing outlive you, if it can outlive you?
- Consider the impact of your work on your community, strive to do no harm.
- Share, and make sure everyone else does
- This means licensing clearly, and making attribution easy
- We use CC-BY-SA for media and (a)GPL for software.
- More permisive licenses are fine, more restrictive licenses aren’t.
- “CC-ND” limits the ability for others to transform your work, perpetuating the worst parts of our current copyright system.
- “CC-NC” prohibits those who share your work from monetizing in any way. Including CC-NC content in a magazine or web page with advertisements is a license violation, this can quickly lead to unsustainable situations.
- The licensing thing scares a lot of people off. CC-BY-SA means Share it with other people, credit me for it, and if you decide to make any changes or incorporate this in to another work, release your stuff under the same terms.
- This lets us distribute Small Media through lots of disconnected networks, while making sure that anyone who wants to can find the creator (and pay them!), and ensuring that a company like Disney won’t swoop in and profit off of our hard work.
- Know your neighbors
- Physical or digital, get to know your community. Makes it easier to look out for one another.
- We’re all real people, after all.
- Make it quick, make it cheap, stop when you hit Good Enough
- No one is going to be upset that your low budget, anti-capitalist disaster movie doesn’t have billion dollar special effects. Tell the story and move on.
- Quick doesn’t mean “Go as Quickly as you can”, it means “cut out any steps that won’t help you finish the thing.” Don’t burn yourself out making a small thing! But also, don’t spend so much time polishing the thing that you never finish it.
- Don’t give power and money to those that seek to destroy you, when an alternative is available
- Disney, Comcast, Fox, Sony.
- Provide community based alternatives to the things that major corporations create
- We can make our own News, entertainment, social media, music, art, games, toys, clothes, and food at various capacities.
- Support one another
- If you can afford to pay a creator who made a thing you enjoy, do.
- If you enjoy a thing, tell soemone about it.
- If someone needs help that you can provide, consider helping
- If you need help that someone else can provide, ask
- Forget the social norms that prevent you from asking for help, or that lead you to disparage those who do
- If you’ve got nice gear, share it
- We help us.
- Don’t let Gear stop you
- Use what you have.
- Nearly any cell phone can produce Good Enough video. Steven Soderbergh shot Unsane and High Flying Bird on iphones.
- “All Hail West Texas” was recorded on the integrated microphone on a cheap, barely functional boombox, and it sounds like it. It sounds bad! It’s still a wonderful, award wining album.
- Dozens of award winning documentaries were shot on the first consumer video cameras. These cameras produced some of the worst video footage imaginable. It’s fine, anyone who cares more about the Fidelity of your gear than about the quality of your work is missing the point.
- Most of our gear is second hand and a lot of it is 10+ years old. Keep it out of landfils.
- If you want to and can buy some gear, find something good enough, and stop thinking about it
- There’s nothing wrong with using something nice, if you have it or have access to it, but Diminishing Returns are real.
- It’s better to have a finished thing that’s lo-fi than an unfinished thing in perfect fidelity
- Every dollar spent on gear, is not spent on the people involved, the sets, the costumes, etc.
- Use what you have.
- Not everything has to be a Small Thing, but the best big things start small.
- Don’t burn yourself out
- Take care of yourself and, if you can, help your neighbors
Other Small Things
People are always making small games, small software, small art. This is good! We’re going to compile as many small things as we can in to a regular feature in the analog revolution zine, and on our website.
Small Things are the next big thing.
Find something someone else made, and tell your friends about it.
Lift one another up. Reclaim the future. Ignore the Megacorporations. Start something worth doing.