Anne Wizorek has actually managed to make a living from her passion for communication while at the same time applying her skills to the things she believes in. Here she explains how:
Anne is a freelance consultant for social media, online strategy/project manager for mainly online projects. Her studies have nothing to do with any of that, she dropped out of university, although getting the diploma is still very important in her native Germany. Anne was always working, even when studying and realised that to finish her studies she would have to stop working, which would mean a student loan – something she didn’t want to do. She wanted to do something real, get something done and a degree in German literature wasn’t about that.
She became an online editor for one of the most popular German blogs and as part of that job became a curator/co-organiser at one of the most important social media conferences in Germany, Re:publica. She really enjoyed that job and it enabled her to explore what had started out as a hobby, a passion – blogging, using social media networks, and eventually she did an art project called PaperGirl Berlin – doing the event management as well as the blog and online communication. Anne had always done this stuff because she loved it but figured out, “OK, this is something that not everyone can do, it’s a very special way of communicating and not everyone can do it, although the tools are really accessible,” so decided to make a profession of it.
After those gigs finished she was working as a freelancer but was still craving the security of being employed. She says she was lucky because at that time she learnt a lot about communication and PR through being part of the team that organised SlutWalk in Berlin, doing the online communications and a lot of public relations which helped her a lot although she didn’t get any money for it – but gained experience which was much more valuable, even in terms of self confidence. After SlutWalk she got a job at an agency but realised it wasn’t how she wanted to bring her skills to people or help clients. She quit and luckily just after that was offered a big contract as a freelancer, a project she is currently working on.
Right now she is trying to decide if she wants to found her own company, apply for funding, look for an agency which is closer to what she wants to do or maybe team up with friends who have great skills. Anne was surprised to find out that there are people who need the things she was enjoying doing as a hobby. She doesn’t feel there is a way to educate people to do what she is doing so she realised she had a skill with which to help clients.
Personal networking has become very essential in getting jobs, and being recommended by people has been important too. She couldn’t make a living without both online and offline networking. She has found that networks are distinct in different places – she has just returned from New York where, as a feminist activist, she met many of the people whose books and blogs she reads and she had the feeling that the community there is closer and more supportive than in Germany. This made her think that she could change the situation as she thinks there are probably more people here who feel the same way. She wants to initiate an event and forge a community to get this kind of environment going in Berlin as well.
Taking to the streets
I asked her to tell me more about SlutWalk. It started in Toronto, Canada because at a security training session on the campus a police officer said women would be less likely to be raped if they didn’t dress like sluts. Students were so appalled that they initiated the SlutWalk – they wanted to provoke with the name but wanted to make visible that they are the victims and that society should, finally, be blaming the perpetrators. The event spread all over the world, to around 80 cities. It was a huge topic in blogs and finally Anne realised it was something that was missing: people spend a lot of time talking about things that are problematic but never take action, never “take it to the streets”. She did some research and found a few people in Berlin who wanted to start it, so she got in touch with them and a few weeks later was in complete SlutWalk mode. She says it was very intense but she learned a lot, also about herself and considers it a really great experience.
Anne feels that the Internet means that anyone, anywhere will always be able to find some sort of information about these issues and in the best case can make you more comfortable with whatever problem you have – you see there are other people who feel the same way. Before you feel completely alone and it is now easier to get in touch with people and give each other support. For her this development is one of the most important things that has evolved during her time online.
She feels that most of the policy makers and institutions are really far away from understanding the experience of people who have grown up with the Internet as a normal part of their lives. She sees a generational clash around some things like privacy – with warnings about not sharing too much information, for example, although she feels sharing can be very valuable, even if it’s painful, because then you can reach out to people who feel the same way. “We have to make sure, especially with all this paranoia going on in the newspapers and the media that by sharing information you are doomed, you’ll never get a job…..actually this is more about making visible what makes us human,” she says. It’s labeled as being a failure, she continues, so we need to make sure that people are not curating their online personas so much that only the positive things are shown. Anne gives the example of people whose Facebook timeline makes you think they must be really happy but when you talk to them you discover they’re having a bad time, even though they are posting about happy moments.
She still finds it incredible that she can just get in touch with people all over the world and have both global and local networks and points out the importance of “this way of bonding and empowering people is eventually always the reason for change”
I met Gerard and Raul in Linz, Austria last year at Ars Elektronika – they were setting up their project and I heard them speaking Catalan, it turned out that we all lived in Barcelona. Their presentation was hilarious as they explained how different technology is the most important technology depending on the situation – so one of those pens with many colours is the best tech on a Friday night as it enables people to copy the entrance “stamps” of a disco on their arms when they have no money. These guys are true “lifehackers”… they also made the “Golden Nica” I’m holding in my avatar picture.
(btw the video was recorded on skype over their mobile after all other attempts failed…)
Gerard Rubio and Raul Nieves are part of the blablabLAB collective and are currently Artists in Residence at Hangar in Barcelona. They formed the collective about 4 years ago. Gerard says that they have a cheap life, but have a lot of time, which is like their financial currency. They invest that time in acquiring knowledge which they then use to create projects and also to hold workshops to transfer the knowledge. Their latest workshop is on how to build a 3D printer, a printer which can print another printer. This workshop comes out of a project blablabLAB did on Las Ramblas in Barcelona called Be Your Own Souvenir which, unlike most of their projects, has given them the chance to earn some money.
Their projects are normally funded but most of the money goes on production costs. For example Haberlandt – “a vending machine for food crops, a bio-reactor for growing a superfood—Arthrospira platensis micro-algae—and an automated avant-cuisine machine”, had funding of 650€ but later it, and Be Your Own Souvenir, won honorary mentions in the prestigious Prix Ars Eletronika which funded a trip to Linz to exhibit the projects with further production. Haberlandt became very well known online and they received lots of offers to exhibit and began travelling and made some money from the project, something which normally doesn’t happen in Spain.
Any money they get goes back into the projects, so the aim is to break even. They usually begin with little or no investment, using materials from the trash like broken 3D printers. Although it is a limitation, it has created an ecosystem for them and meant that they learned new skills and gained new knowledge. blablabLAB is not a hobby, Raul says, but at the moment they have time and don’t need to earn a living from it. For now they are supported financially by their parents, do some jobs and get scholarships so have time to grow in exactly the direction they want. Later they will try to make a living from blablabLABs, although they think it will be hard. Both feel that the time they’ve invested in learning, acquiring skills and experimenting is beginning to pay off and they are getting more workshops and offers.
Reusing materials means that production costs are lower but they also see it as a political choice – reusing before recycling before trashing. I asked them about how far the Haberlandt project had come, it being an example of the blablabLAB ecosystem. They explain that the algae they generated in Linz was eaten by Gerard and during the winter they had about 3 litres of a hibernating culture which now needs to be grown. They are in contact with an active network of Spirulina growers in Catalonia but the main idea is to keep a little algae in case they need to take it somewhere for an exhibition. Raul explains that they have a meeting scheduled with the El Bulli Foundation of the renowned chef Ferran Adrià to talk about Haberlandt as well.
I asked if the crisis in Spain is creating more interest in the kind of things they do. Gerard replies that he thinks there’s more interest in the way they produce because it’s very economical and more people are going to be reusing stuff because they won’t have enough money to buy new things. They both feel there’s going to be a return to how things were done in the past – things that our grandparents did and ways of living, these ways of doing things disappeared, probably due to people having money, but they are coming back. They don’t feel that have set a precedent, more that things are becoming more like the way they work. So far the crisis hasn’t affected them very much, but they are more excited than scared about it. Things were already bad, but now people are seeing it and there is a chance for change – things like consumers cooperatives organising and buying produce direct from farmers and cutting out all the intermediaries, “these things are accelerating and being pushed very far”, says Raul. They are “very interested in the structures, human relationships, sociology and economic structures that can emerge.”
They see that the use of 3D printers can make a change in manufacturing and production, although it’s hard to predict how large, and point out that it’s important to create self aware communities of users who understand the issues around the use of the printers and don’t just create more environmental problems. Many manufacturers of 3D printers just want to sell large volumes and they see that open-source producers have more interest in the larger issues. They hope that someone will start a small business with the printers maybe creating jewellery or something similar.
Both Gerard and Raul admit that they do not have a good social media “policy”, citing the amount of blablabLAB things and other commitments such as studying and work, and feel they should take more advantage of the opportunities social media offers. They are heavy users of the Internet, checking out and following RepRap 3D printer developers for real time updates for example. Usually when they are working on a project they are just too busy and stressed.
(photo of Alison testing streets on her scooter by Linda Spurdle)
I first met Alison when I was presenting Citilab at an event in Birmingham, UK about building digital districts. Alison was sat on the front row and afterwards we were talking and she was looking at my face very intensely – finally I realised she was lip reading. At that time I was involved in a lot of stuff about digital inclusion as well as participatory events, but meeting her made me realise that we weren’t even close to social inclusion of people with disabilities and led to me questioning much of what I was doing.
(text transcript of of whole video at bottom of post)
Alison runs Pesky People which started off as a blog to rant about disability access from a digital point of view because it was being completely ignored. The Digital Britain Report mentioned the word access in terms of getting people online, but nothing about about the fact that 99% of websites are completely inaccessible, and as we are now moving into the continual steam of videos and pictures and websites steaming events live it is becoming more inaccessible. What Pesky People does is try to keep the issue visible. Alison says that, “the peskiness of it is really challenging companies to get things right by blogging and sort of naming and shaming them”. She started phoning the PR department of companies saying, “by the way there is this blog post about your company and this is how bad is about it and er, what are you going to do about it?”
The idea of Pesky People is really to flag up issues, and it started with a personal experience. Her first blog post was about being miss-sold a mobile phone from Orange and she called it “The Future is Not Orange!” “The worst thing was I got a mobile phone that didn’t work with my hearing aids and my mac. And then every time I went back into the shop about four times within 3 days I was getting worse and worse customer service and to the point I was surrounded by four members of staff screaming at me and basically having a go at me and I was trying to say “I have a PUCK code you will cancel this contract, you will … basically it was a 2 year contract”, she explains.
“The blog post then got picked up by Radio Shropshire and I became the main news item at 12 noon on the radio and that really got things sorted out.”
The impact of social media
From this experience, Alison realised that blogging and social media could really have an impact and then it snowballed from there to the point of taking on issues and giving other disabled people a platform to blog about issues. There is economic sense to it as disabled people are worth £80 billion a year but, “we get treated really shoddily by businesses and websites (being inaccessible) … so I’m sort of a pain in the backside to the issues and going ‘I can’t access any of the online steaming of events and webinars because they are NOT subtitled! “.
“Without my hearing aids I am profoundly deaf,” she continues, “So I have to find ways of accessing this information whether it is by twitter or reading lots of text …I am also dyslexic so that throws it further.”
Pesky People doesn’t make her a living at the moment but she has had funding to take the whole access/digital issues beyond a space where, instead of trying to search all the kinds of access information about all various spaces, with the development of GO GENIE they are trying to find a way of getting it all on one page, on a mobile or online and the idea is to crowdsource that info.
She is trying to keep digital and disability really connected and trying to use technology to move forward. “So the way I have been employed is through the funding to do this project, but it’s been really hard and all what I do as blogging as Pesky People I do off my own back voluntary and it … people have a big perception that because it is disability we are quite happy to give you all our advice and knowledge for FREE!! Quite frankly it really pisses me off we are treated like this!”, she says.
Alison is trying to talk to the Arts Council, NESTA (who both gave funding for the prototype of Go Genie which Pesky People is developing) and Technology Strategy Board to ask why isn’t their content accessible and why they aren’t putting out any guidelines to make sure that anything which is built includes that audience. 20% of the population is disabled, 1 in 3 people know somebody who is disabled and 10% of the UK population are carers. Disabled people feel they are going to be locked out of everything to do with digital technology she says.
“I started Pesky People off because I was applying for jobs, getting shortlisted and not getting them and I thought I cant find work, well I need to find ways of getting me work!” she explains.
Her background is in Disability Arts and she was Artistic Producer and Site Manager of DaDaFest in Liverpool in 2008, dealing with the council, health and safety as well as the production side. She has worked mainly with disability arts organisations, particularly in community engagement as well as Programme Manager for a contemporary arts producers, where she went from being in an organisation with an annual budget of around £60,000 to an organisation where each project budget was about £50,000, which made her realise that there was a lot of money being put into contemporary arts but, “if you were in disability or anything to do with social exclusion we were not seen to be important.”
Alison has been personally criticised for raising issues such as an exhibition which didn’t list disabled access to the many venues used. If she wants to go to events she has to negotiate with the organisers to discover if they will provide access. “If you go to an event, you just get booked up, have a cup of tea and you’re in…I have to wait till the last minute to know whether or not I’ve got a place because they’ve sorted out the access and then I have to scrabble around for accommodation and travel.” She points out that there are only 200 British Sign Language interpreters for the UK, but 70,000 deaf people who use it as a first language. She herself uses it as a second language as she was born hard of hearing and became more deaf in her 20’s. All this makes it difficult to go to events but it’s also hard to get people to understand that disabled people are good at what they do and she asks why she shouldn’t be given the same level of respect as a consultant? It’s very hard to make a living and she’s been very close to just giving up many times.
Pesky People got good funding from the Arts Council, Nesta and Nokia most of which has gone into development costs but the support and infrastructure to make it into an organisation has been really hard to get. People don’t get involved because they need to be paid, so she asks how she can she take a project with huge potential like Go Genie and make it work. Policy makers should take a holistic approach – funding around a project, not just paying the bills but providing expertise in things that she can’t afford to do such as business advice, funding help etc. Disabled people are at a disadvantage for funding none of the TSB (Technology Strategy Board) information is accessible, often leading to the missing of deadlines.
She wonders why, if so many people love the Pesky People project, she isn’t getting more support such as mentoring. She has had great mentoring including from the organisation who gave funding for the accessibility of the Pesky People website and are still giving mentoring support although the contract has finished. She finds it hard to fund raise for her own position while she is doing so many other things in the project.
I ask Alison if she’s investigated crowdfunding. She has, but it’s yet another thing she needs to do and she mentions her problems of dyslexia within the context of research and project writing. There’s a problem of coming across opportunities by accident, which means that you miss many.
Both Sides of the Network
We talked about the impact of cuts to benefits in the UK which are aiming to remove disabled people’s entitlement by declaring them able to work. Alison answers that, in the first place there are no jobs and that secondly employers won’t employ disabled people as they see it as too much hard work, despite statistics showing that disabled workers work much harder. The scaremongering around the cuts is pushing attitudes back to how they were in the past. She describes the difficulties for getting benefits currently while the press is portraying easy access, but the disabled are seen as easy targets.
I asked Alison about the effect of Internet access and social networks to disabled people, if they are useful or another obstacle. She thinks they are a combination of the two. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do for Pesky People if it wasn’t for Twitter for example. That got me my networks & connections and ironically in the early days it was the people who weren’t disabled but who really wanted to understand the issues and wanted to support the issues; that was invaluable for getting me known.” She explains how Twitter has enabled her to get changes made by mobilising networks and engaging with organisations, highlighting specific problems and suggesting solutions. However, the flip side, as she sees it, is that the more social media is used to raise issues, the more people may switch off due to the image from the media of the disabled being benefit scroungers anyway. She also points out that trying to use the Internet and social media to make a living has been scary and feels that people expect everything for free.
“In future, the policy makers have to challenge and on the one hand you have public open data and involve different elements that are free online and they have to be paid for and the people who are doing the work – have to be paid. So there has to be a way of properly supporting projects and doing it holistically.” Without a proper foundation she feels many people reach a stage where they give up.
I asked about the importance of her network, whether it is mainly through Twitter or from other areas too. She answers that it’s mainly Facebook, Twitter and going to events that make her network, and that in the early days she was lucky to go to a lot of digital events which gave her the knowledge and understanding that she needed. “And what I love about using Twitter especially is that I can have direct contact with someone quite senior within an organisation that you wouldn’t have if you went through the usual channels,” she notes, giving some examples of how that has worked for her. She adds that Twitter is also accessible from a Deaf point of view, she has instant access and is on the same level as everyone else.
Mostly people respond to her when she approaches them this way. “Most people are very approachable and I think it is because I’m raising issues and trying to get a balance on how I’m contacting them so I’m not just going ‘you did this!’ It’s like ‘you really need to sort this out because it’s a big problem.”
Go Genie aims to help by making it easier for people to find the access information and facilities to places they want to go to easily, and facilitate contact with them without a lot of hunting around for the information. It is a website, mobile app (on iOS and Android) and it’s a downloadable app on the Symbian platform. “The whole thing is around having all the short cuts for access information so you have got the access symbols, you have got contact details, so you can email, go straight to the web page with the access info, contact them on Facebook and Twitter or looking at OpenStreetMap, print it all off – you can add to it, you can say exactly what the access is like. So an organisation might say that their access is fantastic but then someone visits and sees the lift is broken and they can’t get up to the first floor. So there is a way of saying “I’ve been here 10 times now and the lift has not worked once.”
It’s trying to capture that information and actually provide a really good way to know where you are going from an access point of view, but the objective of it help is to help everyone, “its not just about disability access, its about family friendly, is there a lift, is there parking close by and answer all those things”.
We finish off with her explaining her current situation: “We are in the Race for Apps competition and I have got no doubt (you know) competitions like that are important to raising profile and HOPEFULLY find a way of getting investment and further support.
The flip side is we have run out of money as the funding has come to an end, I’ve got no developer, there is just me and trying to find another way of getting more resources to make it really happen.
It’s there, its live it works. You can even go onto the website on your laptop and reduce the screen size and it will turn into the mobile version, so it has got some nice features about it.
And we are going to be hopefully working with OpenStreetMaps so they are going to start documenting access to come up with some sort of guidelines to how we can put access onto all their OpenStreetMap so that is going to be opening an new door, like getting all that information more widely available and how we can use it within Go Genie.
Trying to keep going and just get that next phase going and (money).”
Full video transcription provided by Alison:
Chris: Hi err… Who are you? Where are you? And how do you attempt to make a living on the edge?
And it really started off as a blog to really to rant about disability access from a digital point of view because it was being completely ignored (em) and Digital Britain Report mentioned the word access’ in terms of getting people online but absolutely NOTHING about about the fact that 99% of websites are completely inaccessible (em) as we are now moving into like the continual steam of videos and pictures and websites steaming events live and what have you it is becoming MORE INACCESSIBLE so, what we are doing is really trying to keep the issue up there and and at the same time the peskiness of it is really up is really challenging companies to get things right by blogging and sort of naming and shaming them and (err) what I started doing … was phoning them up … phoning their, their PR department up and saying “by the way there is this blog post about your company and this is how bad is about it and er, what are you going to do about it?”
So for example The BBC Doctor Who Experience, a visually impaired woman went down the, the, Doctor Who Experience in London, told them she was blind, got handed an Itouch with subtitles on it(!) She’s standing there with a white stick! Got asked for her driving license and it so of went worse and worse. So I saw some tweets about it what she was saying on twitter and contacted her and She did this FANTASTIC blog post about what went wrong but also what they needed to do to to make it right.
So I thought hang on I need to tell the BBC! This it is really important there are lots of Doctor Who Fans and em she’s a big Doctor Who fan there’s got to be a way of sorting this out. THREE phone calls later I’m talking to the Head of BBC World Wide branding! Em to be honest (Philip Flemming) he was brilliant I emailed the blog and within three days got a really really good response and then they sorted out the access and invited Samantha (@dalekette on twitter) back to to see what they had done and really give her a brilliant experience of being there – which is the way it should have been in the first place!
And em …
Well the whole thing of Pesky People is really to flag up issues, and it started with me personally em, my first blog was about being miss-sold a mobile phone from Orange and I called it “The Future is Not Orange!” (Chris giggles) Alison: thanks. Chris (giggles).
The worse thing was I got a mobile phone that didn’t work with my hearing aids and my mac. And then every time I went back into the shop about four times within 3 days I was getting worse and worse customer service and to the point I was surrounded by four members of staff screaming at me and basically having a go at me and I was trying to say “I have a PUCK code you will cancel this contract, you will … basically it was a 2 year contract”
The blog post then got picked up by Radio Shropshire and I became the main news item on the 12 noon on the radio (giggles) and that really got things sorted out.
I then realised hang on … blogging, social media can really have an impact and then it snowballed from there to the point taking on issues like Samantha’s and giving other disabled people platform to blog about issues means that we find a way of sorting them so … there is an economic sense to it as well we are worth £80 billion a year yet we get treated really shoddily by businesses and websites (being inaccessible) … so I’m sort of a pain in the backside to the issues and going ‘I can’t access any of the online steaming of events and webinars because they are NOT subtitled!
Without my hearing aids I am profoundly DEAF!! So I have to find ways of access this information whether it is by twitter or reading lots of text …I am also DYSLEXIC so that throws it further.
The whole thing Pesky People and it makes a living (giggle) – in a sense … at the moment it doesn’t, but I have had funding to sort of take the whole access digital issues and take it beyond a space where instead of trying to search all the kind of access information about all various spaces with GO GENIE we are trying to find a way of getting it all on one page one, one thing, so you just link and press it where it is on your mobile or whether you are looking at it online so tying to crowdsource that info.
So I’m trying to keep disability, digital and disability really connected and trying to use the technology to move forward. So the way I have been employed is through the funding to do this project, but it’s been really hard and all what I do as blogging as Pesky People I do off my own back voluntary and it … people have a big perception that because it is disability we are quite happy to give you all our advice and knowledge for FREE!! Quite frankly it really pisses me off we are treated like this!
So I’m trying to talk to Arts Council, NESTA (who both gave us funding for the prototype of Go Genie) and Technology Strategy Board to say:
Why isn’t your content accessible? Why aren’t you putting any guidelines to make sure anything is built has that audience? I mean 20% of any population is disabled … 1 in 3 people know somebody who is disabled … 10% of the UK population is carers, you know it is a really HUGE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE and yet we are going to be locked out of everything to do with digital technology, the new products that are coming online and even as basic as watching BBC iPlayer or ITV iplayer the subtitles for me are never working right. I stopped watching THE VOICE because the subtitles were about 10 minutes behind everything that was on screen (distorted) … continually a message coming us saying that the subtitles would appear again in “52 seconds” which to seem to coincide when where every anybody was singing … you know it really ruins the viewing experience it it really makes me think well they don’t care about us because otherwise they would .. and they would think about access at the very beginning!
Even the programme Space Programme, The Space Arts Programme I’ve been … had a Skype conversation with them … they were like ‘oh we have a very limited budget and two developers’ so I said well what are the BBC and Arts Council doing to make sure there were standard to make your content accessible for your audiences?
Well in a way what I’m doing campaigning and for what I’m trying to do in a practical way is get things to happen and that is being a big challenge as well as actually earning an income form it. I started Pesky People off because I was applying for jobs getting shortlisted and not getting them and I thought I cant find work well I need to find ways of getting me work!
My background is in Disability Arts and I have done everything from being Artistic Producer of DaDaFest in Liverpool 2008 City of Culture where we shut off 4 roads and I was Site Manager as well dealing with the council all that side of things health and safety as well as the producing side…
My whole background is in working in with mainly disability arts organisations particularly community engagement so everything from running a national programme of creative writing workshops and performances in Scotland England and Wales for Survivors’ Poetry, to trying to set up a Disability Arts Forum in Northumberland … to being a Programme Manager for a contemporary arts producers where I went from being in an organisation with an annual budget of say £60,000 to an organisation where each project budget was about £50,000 and it you know it was a real eye opener it made me realise that there was a lot of money being put into contemporary arts but yet if you were in disability or anything to do with social exclusion we were not seen to be important and em that was quite an eye opener.
With Pesky People I’ve found, I’ve gone from doing a blog that was very personal and putting myself at being very open to being criticised which I have been quite directly that I was jeopardising an arts organisation funding for raising access issues.
All I was trying to do was say why was the Home of Metal Exhibition not displaying the access information for all their venues then they were expecting me or anyone who was disabled to go FIFTEEN different websites to find that info! And all they needed to do was put it on one page on their website.
To (em) being at Hello Digital where … the organisation forgot to book sign language interpreters so I couldn’t access any of that day’s event I think the interpreter turned up at half past one!
It just if I book for an event I have to negotiate these organisers whether or not they will provide my access. If YOU go to an event you just book, turn up get a cup of tea and you are in.
I have to wait to the last minute to know whether I have got a place because they have sorted out the access, then I have to scramble around to sort out my accommodation and travel!
And … there’s only 200 interpreters for the whole oft he UK there are 70,000 Deaf people who’s use BSL (British Sign Language) as a first language.
I use it as a second language because I was born hard of hearing and became more deaf as I went into in my 20’s… my hearing went worse in my left ear went down to match my right ear.
That makes it quite difficult about going to events but) to get people to understand that you are quite good at what you do.
I shouldn’t have to ask you to give me the same level of respect as a consultant
I’ve even had an organisation … trying to say that because the length of time on the project why don’t I not claim the last quarter of the money they owed me …
So em, it is hard enough earning a living. It is bad at the moment, quite frankly I’m not really earning.
The amount of times I’ve been THIS CLOSE to giving up – even recently is really really hard
With Pesky People (it’s me) I got funding from Arts Council, NESTA and even NOKIA
So within just over a year and half I had £ 25,000 from Arts Council, followed by £20,000 from NESTA, followed by £25,000 from NOKIA and most of that money has gone into development costs (it is so expensive).
But the support and infrastructure to help me do this and become an organisation has been really, really hard to get.
I still need money – people obviously don’t want to get involved because they need to be paid. So how do I take something that has the potential to be absolutely massive with Go Genie and the whole thing around it becoming a disabled version of Get Satisfaction. It has got huge potential and yet I can’t get infrastructure in place to make that happen quicker.
Go Genie ideas are getting taken by other people! There are accessible apps out there – good on them but – there but I know what we are doing with the crowd-sourcing will got a lot further because of the flexibility and agility of it.
It has been really really hard be just one person driving this and I have been getting burnt out.
If you look at what policy makers should be doing it should be a whole list of support to do. If you are going to fund an idea or prototype fund around it not just about the builds! And that way issues from about intellectual Property-right Trademarking – things I can’t afford to do.
To the whole business infrastructure being able to pitch at events and being able l to go to the right funders and investors.
And (inaudible) me doing pesky People from a disability point of view I am at a complete disadvantage because none of the TSB (Technology Strategy Board) information is accessible for me to work out what I need to do to apply for funding!
You have to jump through so many hoops just to register and by the time you have done that you have missed the deadline.
… The lack of building in the criteria … involved so accessibility has been taken at it’s heart.
So its a real combination of things for me. It about … if I talking about Pesky People people say its great we love what you do and we think it’s really important – then why aren’t I getting more support?!
Mentoring – I found my own mentors in the early days of setting up Pesky People, Nick Booth gave me really invaluable advice. I got mentoring support from Unltd which was only £4,500 that actually included £1,000 access costs and that helped me make Pesky People website really accessible – that funding was in 2010 and they are still giving me mentoring support today and that makes a huge difference but I’m not getting it from anywhere else!
So unless … doing fundraising stuff like everyone else but if you are trying to say right ok I need to do this for myself and that is really hard when I’m trying to
> Keep the build going so that Pesky People and Go Genie really happens;
> find a way of networking and crowdsourcing element of it;
> finding the investment and fundraising opportunities;
> trying to network at events and really get known so people can connect up with me and then I find … as one door closes another door opens
All those sort of things take time and effort and that is a team and I am one person.
Chris: You were talked about crowdsourcing have you looked at crowdfunding?
Alison: I need to do that … part of the problem has been my dyslexia everything is up here and you need to get it down into a structure order on paper. I need to get that done, but yes I need to do crowdfunding, and the big question for me that I have been trying to find the answer to lets say we need X amount of money what do I give in return? Who do I get that advice from? Mmm Or do I just do it take the risk and see what happens.
I really need to look into it.
That is the other thing …
You come across opportunities by accident then on the other hand you sort of missing them because there is so much going on.
I’ve missed applying for funding opportunities because things have been so busy and then I forgot about the deadline … you know …
Chris: What is the effect of the cuts in the UK, the cuts in disability, how bad is that? How is that affecting your community?
Alison: Em the, reform … the welfare rights bills reform in particularly in taking HUGE numbers of disabled people off and saying that they are eligible for work. One there is no jobs out there, two employers wont employ a disabled person they will see us as too much hard work, they wont see that we can actually do the job when even statistically research has proven that we will work five times as harder than anybody else. Never mind we have these disability and access issues.
Both Sides of the Network
The welfare cuts are scaring people its not just about cutting the money its the attitudes and scaremongering in the press. I think attitudes have been shoved back 40 odd years.
I know as a kid anything around disability you were OVER there, in a corner in an institution! Em, I even remember my dad saying, trying to get support that it means would be classed as disabled what do you think about that, I was nine at the time.
I didn’t understand what the big deal was and now it’s like … they’re (disabled people) are challenging what’s coming out from government – they are trying to say there is this huge fraud less than 0.05% and yet they want to get 20% of disability people off Disability Living Allowance!
As a Deaf person looking at their new criteria I won’t get Disability Living Allowance and when I did get it before it before it took me FIVE years to get it, FIVE years of appeals. So they say these benefits are easy to get it is utter rubbish!
But that is what is going into the papers, that is what people are reading and that is what people are believing!
So for me being a disabled person and being very public about being Disabled and Deaf – that I have also have hidden disabilities I’m not just deaf (em mean that in a nice way!)
That there needs to be a way of balancing an all they are doing is seeing us as easy targets …
It is cutting education, its going to cut support in the communities, its going to cut organisations that are supporting disabled people. An and it’s like so what do they want us to do get back into the workhouses!
I mean that’s what a lot of us are thinking. That … we are NOT seen as being valuable enough to be a completely in society especially if people are on benefits.
Chris: Is the internet any … has there been a change in anyway … is it a way out could it be a way out for disabled people (depending on the disability of course)
Alison: What in terms of the way of using the internet?
Chris: Yes you began Pesky People as a blog and saw you could make it bigger and hopefully make a living out of that … er … is internet access, is social networking – are those thing of any use to – is there a future there or are they just more obstacles.
Alison: A combination – em … I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing with Pesky People without twitter for example – that got me my connections and networks. Ironically in the early days it was more so people who weren’t disabled who really wanted to understand the issues and also wanted to support the issues.
Em … That was really invaluable in getting me known em you know to the point … a brilliant example is the National Digital Inclusion Conference which is happening at the end of the month.
When I contacted them (in 2010) and said I wanted to attend … they weren’t going to … I got an email back two weeks before the conference eventually with a reply even though I applied before Xmas and they eventually got back about March (2010).
There weren’t going to book BSL interpreters because their deaf access would be restricted to induction loops and plantypist (speech to text transcription on a screen).
So I got on twitter and just said ‘national digital inclusion conference is not accessible is in … doesn’t include deaf people!’
Getting that to the attention o the funders and attention of people going and there was an outrage about it. I wasn’t just thinking about me I was thinking about anyone else wanting … not just about me.
They had to backtrack! And they had to get book interpreters at very short notice which fortunately they did.
When I got there the first morning it was like … you are streaming live why aren’t you streaming it live you have got a plantypist that can go straight on to the internet, you have got BSL interpreters you can put them on the internet!
I am glad they took me up on that! So that 2010 conference was the FIRST digital event that was fully accessible with online streaming from a Deaf point of view! With Audio Description that is another kettle of fish so any video content whether it’s audio described.
That was a really massive boost to us it was like hang on it is just as simple as telling people about it very publicly!
So then wasn’t just stuck at home an complaining to your friends you have got a huge platform to really get issues out there.
But now the flip side of it because of the welfare reform bill and all the issues around that how do we … how do we get the issues out there and get the attention it deserves without it being like ‘here we go again!.
And that is a challenge!
I mean the all the stuff going around the Spartacus Report is fantastic and really proven how WRONG the government’s been on things and how their own research has been hiding fact.
But the flip side the more it’s out there are people just going to be switching off from the issues because we are just a bunch of benefit scroungers anyway! You know?
Alison: Em I mean, the big thing with making money point of view … from earning a living side… quite frankly I’m NOT earning a living properly.
It’s been very scary and it’s hard to find a way to get that big step forward and really I really do feel there is a big perception level is that people expect you to do it for FREE!
Alison: I mean, that is the great bit about social media is that we help each other but we all need to be able to keep the roof over our head.
And I think that is something that, in future, the policy makers have to challenge and one the one had you have public open data and involve different elements that are free online and they have to be paid for and the people who are doing the work – have to be paid.
So there has to be a way of properly supporting projects and doing it holistically.
Not just about doing the build, you are funding the infrastructure of the build but you are also funding the infrastructure of the organisation or the people around it, And whether that also includes mentoring support it gives a proper foundation to … otherwise, things stop n and people give up! You know I’ve been that close so many times even recently.
Chris: How important is your networking and that?
Chris: Your network is mainly through twitter or it’s from other area?
Alison: Its mostly Facebook, well twitter and more so now Facebook, em … going to events. I mean, I mean I was … lucky in the early days of Pesky People I got to go to so many digital events it really did give me the knowledge and understanding that I needed.
And I mean see now when I look at arts organisations looking to do things in digital and its like they DON’T have that foundation … em so for me all my networks are, its a real mix its not just disabled people it’s also organisations and community groups and charities it’s a real mix mix bunch.
And what I love about using twitter especially is that I can have direct contact with someone quite senior within an organisation that you wouldn’t have if you went through the usual channels.
I went to a Futuregov event which was around, the whole issues around the benefit system and how that could be improved.
And the idea was it bit of sort of a hack … lets see what we can pull together and em met the guy responsible for introducing universal credit and then I told him oh by the way I’ve been contacted by a Deaf woman who has just had her benefits cut because she didn’t phone the job centre yet there is no minicom number or email number for her to contact them! She is profoundly Deaf with two kids!
So he was like ‘oh you can contact your job centre by … whatever’ … that doesn’t happen!
So being able to have that contact and email him direct and go by the way that this has happened again…
I got no doubt that her benefits got reinstated so much quicker
(Chris murmurs in agreement)
than it would have had if she had to try and the person saying ‘you didn’t come in!’ and ‘I was ill, and I couldn’t contact you and you don’t give me … the best means for contacting me for my disability!’
If they can’t get it right on that level what hope have you got if the government going right all benefits, claims online, everything will be done online but they have no infrastructure in place to really take on the access issues at the same time.
So … with twitter for me especially means I can have direct contact with people that I would never have been able to!
And it’s also its accessible obviously from a Deaf point of view, I have got instant access and I’m on the same level as everyone else.
That social media and the internet … when it works and it’s accessible.
Chris: When you contact these people … through twitter or Facebook people that you would never normally reach do they respond to you?
Alison: Mostly, yeah my golden rule is I treat people with respect, I don’t think I’ve ever sworn on twitter if I find somebody offensive I unfollow them!
If I get things wrong I apologise straight away em … and I have had happen a couple of times!
Most people are very approachable and I think it is because I’m raising issues and trying to get a balance on how I’m contacting them so I’m not just going ‘you did this!’ It’s like ‘you really need to sort this out because it’s a big problem’.
At sometime today I’m going to be on the warpath about the fact that Coldplay … Coldplay are performing for the end of the Paralympics and the big issue is that none of the ticket online ticket providers like Ticketmaster and See Tickets have a really easy way of if you are disabled to book tickets – you have to phone them!
Or in the case of Coldplay at Arsenal Football club (in June 2012) you have to wait FOUR HOURS after the tickets are sold out to see the access information come up on Arsenal Football Club website! Then you have to fill in, download a form, fill it in sign it and return it. You can’t even book your tickets over the phone or by email! Everybody else just tick! a couple of buttons and got them!
In the case of @dalekette who is going to see them in London at the Emirates Stadium they have put her … allocated her a seat within the wheelchair accessible spaces, bearing in mind she is partially sighted she can’t even the stage even with the equipment she uses!
So what she should have done (as she told me) is paid DOUBLE the price for the tickets so not just paying for herself but paying for her PA so that she could be in the standing area at the front with everybody else.
They (Arsenal Football Club) would not allow her to get tickets for that area!
So Coldplay are really big supporters of disability issues they have got a number of band members who are disabled … its like well they are really supporting and really raising profile of disability access they do a lot of gigs with Scope (note should be Mencap) and yet when it comes to going to their gigs the infrastructure behind it like the promoters and the stadiums and venues … are completely letting us down. You can’t just physically book tickets easily like everybody else!
So there is going to be place for Pesky People! Because issue like that coming up so can flag it up and get things sorted then it has a bigger impact all round.
Like, One Call Car insurance refusing to give a Deaf woman car insurance and after doing a blog post on Pesky People the publicity was enough for them to say we will give you the car insurance and make sure that there is a we have a national system so that you can contact for breakdown service using a text message system.
I mean it is not difficult!
But you know..
It would be nice to get that funded and supported in some way it wouldn’t just be one or two issues it would be quite a lot and that is what I hope Go Genie will help do.
It won’t its not just about the access information all down in one page it will be about .. here is what we can do to sort it out report it! it will go straight to them.
So if 30 people are complaining about the same issue then they realise hang in it is a problem … if there are 30 people across 30 stores complaining about the fact they can’t find the wheelchair accessible changing room as it has been used as a store room for example as NEXT does.
Then it’s a real issue that can then … people power that whole crowd sourcing stuff comes into play again.
Chris: So Go Genie is an app you are building? What is it exactly?
Alison: Its a website, mobile app (on OSX and Android and it’s a downloadable app on the Symbian platform.
The whole thing is around having all the short cuts for access information so you have got the access symbols, you have got contact details, so you can email, go straight to the web page with the access info contact them on Facebook and twitter or looking at OpenStreetMap, print it all off you can add to it you can say exactly what the access is like.
So an organisation might say that their access is fantastic but then someone visits and sees the lift is broken and they can’t get up to the first floor.
So there is a way of saying “I’ve been here 10 times now and the lift has not worked once.” for example.
I go to see gigs at the Glee club in Birmingham I know to sit in the first three rows to the right because the lead singer’s mike is always in the same place and I know where I can to sit to lipread.
So it’s trying to capture that information but actually provide a really good way to know where you are going from an access point of view but it sort of it helps everyone its not just about disability access its about family friendly, is there a lift, is there parking close by and sort of answer all those things.
And mostly use crowdsourcing to get the content in.
Chris: How far developed is that:
Alison: It’s live!, its’ a prototype! It works! It gives me grey hairs!
It’s, yeah it’s working.
We are in the Race for Apps competition and I have got no doubt (you know) competitions like that are important to raising profile and HOPEFULLY find a way of getting investment and further support.
The flip side is we have run out of money as the funding has come to an end, I’ve got no developer, there is just me and trying to find another way of getting more resources to make it really happen.
It’s there its live it works. You can even go onto the website on your laptop and reduce the screen size and it will turn into the mobile version so it has got some nice features about it.
I’ve got some great ideas about how it can move forward and how it can be used.
And we are going to be hopefully working with OpenStreetMaps so they are going to start documenting access to come up with some sort of guidelines to how we can put access onto all their OpenstreetMap so that is going to be opening an new door like getting all that information more widely available and how we can use it within Go Genie.
Trying to keep going and just get that next phase going and (money).
I love Instapaper and (to a lesser extent, now that it is Pocket) Read it Later – “simple” apps that do what they say on the tin, saving stuff you want to read on the Internets for, well, later, formatting text in an easy to read way, and giving offline access to them. Great for the school run on the U-Bahn or the smallest room, those places where I get most of my reading done. What I don’t love is that my reading list is stored on a server somewhere that I have no control over, to be data-mined, sold off or cross-referenced to build a picture of me. Also these apps change constantly and require upgrades to operating systems and hardware.
So I’ve realised that I want the functionality, but I also want the information stored somewhere I have access to, not in the nebulous third party cloud. In fact, as much as possible, I’m moving all my stuff to somewhere I control as more and more attacks and takedowns happen, and as services are bought, sold or disappear taking my data with them or simply getting rid of it. Pete Ashton created his own “version” of Tumblr for similar reasons, but I guess doing an “Instaper” would be a bit more complex. I guess I’m looking for something like *diaspora or status.net
I’m enjoying talking to people about how they (try to) make a living creatively. Recently I talked to Susanne Stauch, a product designer & goldsmith who has a diploma in collaborative product design and has studied mass customisation & open source. I’m working with her and Nadia on something called Cookies’n’Code which is all about “hacking” your life – more on this to follow, so watch this space…
The always inspiring Jon Bounds needs no introduction to anyone who’s been around cataspanglish – my chat with him for the series enabled us to get down and dirty in depth about what he’s been up to for the last few years and talk Conversational Psychogeography, Networks, Strong vs Weak Ties, creativity & cash.
Jon Bounds is without doubt one of the most creative people I have ever met. Any conversation with him throws up more concepts than you could work through in a lifetime and I’m lucky to have participated in his pantomimes performed on Twitter and sat alongside him as he’s carried out real time sentiment analysis for Civico, a company that is largely based around another of his ideas. He’s bloody hilarious too 😉
I talked to him about the issues of making a living from his own work in this skype conversation.
Jon has been working, doing anything that anyone will pay him for on the internet for about 5 or 6 years. He did a computer science degree, but decided that he didn’t like computers in the time just pre-internet – internet was on campus only as research tool and he was not taught anything about it. He became unemployed, played in bands and then did a government funded journalism course and tried writing for a living, discovered that he could do it but didn’t have the discipline to fill x number of pages a day. After that he did freelance work and worked in bars before being lucky to fall into a job with a local technical publisher right at the start of the internet boom, doing a lot of internet books. He explains that he had a lot of freedom and time to explore internet technologies, research as opposed to just messing around on the internet, at the time when internet was reaching normal people.
Birmingham: It’s Not Shit
The “famous” thing Jon did which propelled him into working and doing internet stuff for a living, as opposed to as a sideline, was a website about Birmingham with “an amusing and probably rude or offensive name which got a bit of attention. It’s called Birmingham: It’s Not Shit and is still going, coming up to 10 years as a local website and blog”. The main reason behind it was not, as he often explains, that Birmingham was getting a raw deal from the national media, but that the national media could not be very grown up when talking about things – when September 11th happened, the media on the internet died, the BBC website went down, online newspapers went down so the only place online he could have a discussion was on Popbitch.com, a celebrity gossip site, and there people could have a sensible discussion with facts and be darkly humorous and not fall into shock! horror! or default positions. That made him wonder if media could be adult, independent and without a default position. When he was made redundant he had the time to set up B:iNS and although he had done many jobs on the internet, he had nothing to show anybody, so if he wanted to get a job doing internet stuff, it was a good excuse to do something. Because of the name and stance, it got well covered which wouldn’t have happened without the shock and outrage of the local mainstream media. However he didn’t get any direct work from that straight away.
Jon fell into a technical job at a new BBC broadcast centre which opened in Birmingham, something he feels which wouldn’t of happened without the blogging. It meant he could avoid the normal route into that type of job. He “learnt loads there, mainly about how the media works and made a lot of good contacts but 4 or 5 years later the government cuts brought it to an end”. He could have tried to to get other jobs but is not really qualified to do anything, although he has done lots of stuff but has no qualifications which lead directly into a job and his computer science degree is obsolete. He hoped people would pay him for doing internet things and was lucky to get a couple of Arts Council contracts to work on the network side of things straight away, again due to the experience built up doing his own things. “… 6 years ago people knew social networks existed but nothing about them, so anyone with experience of them and who could talk coherently in a meeting could find work”, he says.
He did that for 2 or 3 years, without having to look for work, when only a few people were doing it. Sometimes there was too much and he turned down some lucrative contracts which in retrospect he feels he should have taken. He was enjoying exploring the space, it was a new space, and he knew enough technically and journalistically to “do some weird things, spending maybe 2 or 3 days a week working and the rest of the time taking what people were putting online and cutting and analysing that in different ways to see things which couldn’t have been analysed before”.
Jon was calling it “Conversational Psychogeography” but that’s now been formalised into what is called Sentiment Analysis and large media organisations will now sell it to you – and he considers it an example of how this kind of thing works: “If you want to be independent and find work and still have a bit of free time, you’ve got to stay right on the edge of what is happening with technology – the bits that are not yet viable for the big organisations to explore, because everything I’ve done over the past 6 or 7 years has been caught up, commodified. You get forced from two ends of the spectrum – the large media organisations, the web design and development companies and the PR companies push downwards into this space because they think they understand this; there’s also a groundswell of people who really don’t know what they’re doing at all, but they’ve heard about it and they set up small companies in local areas….and I can’t compete with that, I don’t have the morals to allow me to knock those (websites etc) out so quickly, I can’t compete with the pitching and process driven things that a large agency can, so anybody independent gets squeezed out of that and has to move on to another kind of centre and some people are doing that through their own ways… forming companies that can compete or drifting to education….or finding niches – the weird generalists are getting squeezed out.”
Things have been very difficult the last year or more and it’s been hard for him to find enough work to survive on. He claims that he’s not very good at networking in a money sense and feels that many things that he and his contemporaries came up with have not just been co-opted, but stolen by companies and organisations with no recompense. “We have a culture of getting ideas out there…all those things we worked on dissipated and diluted by, capitalism, essentially.” That becomes disheartening so made a decision that he no longer cares, that the battle for this social technology revolution has been lost. Since then he has split professional and personal interests a lot more and will do uninteresting things for money, but the interesting stuff he does now has almost no commercial potential, moving back into the esoteric arty world of literature or publishing.
Consequently he doesn’t expect to make money from writing/publishing. He and a partner are writing a book on the English seaside and needed to travel around the coast of England and Wales, but couldn’t afford to, so crowdfunded it and raised just enough to cover costs. That would’ve been impossible without their knowledge of networks and the media coverage they got comes from knowledge of how media works. He is worried that lots of people think that funding in the age of austerity is going to come from individuals, because that is finite both in money and trust. Projects that get funded are usually from people with demonstrable experience and networks. The ability for people to live from their artistic or research practice is being really squeezed and although he and his contemporaries had the the possibility to do that for 5 or 6 years, he doesn’t think people in the future will have that.
How do thinkers get space to think?
“How do (the brightest) thinkers get space to think without the commercial pressures?”, Jon asks. Historically it has only has been for academics but that’s only one type of thinking and there is huge pressure in academia to produce tangible monetary results. If you look for advice from any government agency, the advice is always how to bend your will to where the money is coming from, how to expand, create growth.
He created a social enterprise 4 years ago to use social media professionals and train them to train young people rather than teaching teachers a syllabus because, “this moves so fast that you can’t teach it unless you are doing it”. The interest was always there, but never the money. The enterprise has been shuttered and there are now other people selling that model now but they are not social media people, but have spotted a gap in the training market.
He considers that a big network is needed to enable support to have creative space. Some people in the UK & US have chosen to live on as little as possible to have that space, as artists always have. The problem he sees then is the disconnect between them and those their ideas might affect – if it’s all outsider, how does it influence the inside, the “normal” people? The danger is again: ideas splitting off from commerce, splitting off from reality, he considers there are huge problems with that.
A good example of a network supporting creative work is that of Birmingham industrialists called the Lunar Society who gave a monthly stipend to Joseph Priestley. He isolated oxygen among other things. Jon wonders if there is an internet or crowdfunding model for “mini-Priestleys”. He would love the idea of a trickle down capitalism rewarding people that have ideas but that doesn’t exist, so he asks is there a kind of trickle up internet socialism? Perhaps, for a few people, but how many people could that sustain?
It’s the Network
Jon claims that for any freelancer it’s who you know that is really important and it’s a cliché because it’s completely true and in his opinion if you are artistically or morally driven, your network needs to larger still as the possibilities are reduced. The network is also important to him as it’s part of what he’s interested in. He feels that It’s necessary not just to have a network but to understand how networks function, especially if you need funding or social capital. Things can travel incredibly quickly through weak tie networks but it’s the strong tie networks which actually help you. “The network is essentially all we’ve got”, he says.
I asked Jon about the recent internet legislation battles. He considers that every piece of legislation which controls the free network is worrying – it is the free exchange of ideas that help it, and the idea that you don’t need to ask to do something with those ideas. While these pieces of legislation are often well intentioned, there’s a knock on effect that people sometimes don’t realise. He doesn’t disagree with copyright per se, but thinks anything that is heavy handed and can shut down a network will be abused by large corporations and large organisations. He is particularly interested in fair parody legislation especially with reference to politics.
He has got networks from prior work but the more artistic networks have come first through the internet, but then offline meeting with those people A lot of the network is from around Birmingham which he says seems incongruous with the idea of the global village and interconnected networks – but it is from building trust offline. There was a time just pre-recession where there were a lot of spaces where you could organise things for free – it’s not the cost as much as the risk, if you’re organising something with people you don’t really know who is going to take the risk of hiring a venue or finding sponsors, selling tickets and collecting money? Easily accessible third spaces were incredibly important and Jon genuinely believes that meeting physically strengthens ties.
I wanted to see how somebody who creates physical things can make a living on the edge so I spoke to Susanne Stauch, a product designer & goldsmith.
Susanne is selling her skills by the hour for jewellery or designs, trying to sell her own work in galleries and starting to use online platforms although she says that she needs to improve in that area.
She has been trying to survive this way for a couple of years now after finishing university in 2008 and small jobs come in – selling her own work is quite difficult – so Susanne is usually happy when she has something to do for others.
Although she has a website, Susanne considers the big thing is to be more interactive, have an online store for products and she’s investigating things such as twitter. She hasn’t considered the web as a place to buy jewellery but thinks it works – she thought people needed to touch and wear jewellery before spending – but that’s referring to expensive jewellery, which is what she learned to do – now she is switching to more affordable pieces.
The website isn’t an online shop, at the moment it’s only possible to order or contact by email, so it’s more of an online portfolio. She hasn’t connected the two worlds so far: Susanne uses internet but hasn’t sold via it although it seems to work on platforms such as etsy and is now looking at http://monoqi.com which does auctions of pieces by designers, which she considers to be “a nice approach as people like stuff which has been pre-selected… and they start to research you if they like you.”
Her diploma is in collaborative product design and she has studied mass customisation & open source. The question, she feels, is how to remain designers but share knowledge and designs? Uploading designs to be remixed is a strong opportunity and is the idea behind an event she is planning with Cookies’n’Code, called Create Your Own Future which wants to “bring together people from all kinds of backgrounds… to share skills, knowledge, ideas and needs and try to think about solutions and approaches of how we can live differently in the future and of how we can have more of this collaborative thought instead of competition.”
I asked her about an event in Berlin called makerplatz and she explained that the idea was that people could come and build their own things in a day with people who have planned & prepared it, so they get guidance through the process but they put things together themselves. It’s not something everybody wants to do everyday with all things but it’s a growing desire, to have another relationship with the objects they are surrounded by, in her opinion.
Create Your Own Future will be an ongoing thing – so many things happen on the web and people don’t really meet in the physical world so the idea is to bring them, with their ideas, to one place in the physical world so they can start to work and build and create things and from that, to build a community and a platform that can be working on the internet but new gatherings can be organised.
Making your own unique pieces is nice, Susanne feels, but she doesn’t need to do it and is much more interested in enabling people to discover their own creativity and possibilities, getting away from the “I can’t do this” and “I’m no good at this” into “let’s try it because it’s fun!” She continues, “we can build everything by ourselves and everyone can learn basically anything, probably not rocket science or medicine, within in a day but there are a lot of things that, if there’s the proper guidance and it’s prepared, people can really have a lot of fun and learn something and feel proud of themselves – the future role of a designer will shift from the taste giving specialist for an object, to much more design a process in which things can happen.”
(Full disclosure: Cookies’n’Code is a loose network of creative people in which I am now collaborating)
So, been quite a while since posting here, that’s what moving to a new city/country will do to you…
Right now I’m doing a gig for Edgeryders which is a joint project of the Council of Europe and the European Commission, led by the Social Cohesion Research and Early Warning Division at the Council of Europe. I’m investigating how people make a living on the edge, or if they do at all – very pertinent (and personal). Here’s what I’m working on:
How can people make a living on the edge as technologies change quicker than regulations and new business models disrupt old standards? While young (and not so young) people are defining a new society through their networked interactions and processes, often the obstacles to their ability to make a living are bureaucratic or outdated ways of doing.
How can people make a living on the edge as technologies change quicker than regulations and new business models disrupt old standards? While young (and not so young) people are defining a new society through their networked interactions and processes, often the obstacles to their ability to make a living are bureaucratic or outdated ways of doing.
However, those that are making a living are finding innovative ways to harness their networks and skills and are creating new methodologies, often unknowingly. The sharing of these experiences can contribute enormously to a knowledge base. of use to individuals as well as institutions and policy makers.
We want to aggregate and distribute these stories and create a repository of useful, practical information which can be updated in real time. Through the Edgeryders site and social media channels, we aim to bring together many initiatives and experiences from within their own networks, to discuss and synthesise them on the platform, giving them a wider distribution.
In this way we can amplify the conversation, reaching all stakeholders and bringing the real and practical experience of those living on the edge into sharp focus.
The first story is up on Edgeryders, where Pete Ashton explains his experiences through a video – and we want to hear your experiences too: through videos or blog posts tagged #maledge . The format does not have to be the same as the Pete interview i.e can be shorter/without text etc
So how are people making a living on the edge? I wanted to find out so to begin I asked Birmingham, UK based Pete Ashton to tell me about his experiences.
Pete hasn’t had what many would consider a “real full-time” job since 2003 and since 2007 he has made a living based around his online activities.
He has a lack of formal education, describing himself as not academically proficient, and drifted into various jobs but when seeing his future as a retail manager he quit work and began exploring ways of doing something more fulfilling. A period of volunteering on an organic farm as part of the WWOOF (Working Weekends on Organic Farms) programme taught him how to live frugally and he began began doing temporary jobs to pay the rent while spending the rest of his time doing what Pete calls “stuff”.
This stuff was mainly doing fanzines, blogging and taking photos and through this he began to blog more about the city and participate in flickr groups, participating in days taking photos around Birmingham. The city blogging led to him meeting Stef Lewandowski and together they began the Created in Birmingham blog. The blog was about awareness boosting initially, but finally became about providing a grassroots style media outlet – with a subtext of DIY media. Pete ran it for a year, joint-winning the Guardian Media award for best blog in 2008.
The success of Created in Birmingham meant that Pete began to get paid 500 pounds a month, meaning he could stop doing temporary work and could do full time blogging. This then led to consultancy gigs in 2007 where he was paid to talk about blogging and run training workshops, something he still finds surprising. The main takeaway of the workshops was that social media relies on the personality of the people using it.
Since then he has been living off his own work, doing it or talking about it, and even has the choice of turning down work, enjoying it more than anything he has ever done for money before. “It would be difficult to return now to regular work”, he says.
I asked him where his ideas come from and what made some successful:
“if you don’t have enough ideas you’re doing something wrong, if you have to protect your ideas you’re doing something wrong. It is not the idea that is valuable but doing it”. He throws out ideas because if he can’t do something with it, wants to see someone do something with it and considers that shared ideas are more valuable and Intellectual Property is not valuable.
We talked about how the Social Media Surgery, recent winner of the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award, came about. Pete was getting lots of questions about social media so he decided to sit in a cafe and people could come and ask him there, like a doctor’s surgery. If people came along it was fine, and if they didn’t he would get on with work. Pete did the surgery for about 3 or 4 months and then Nick Booth took the idea and turned it into global movement. He is happy to take credit for the idea and beginning it, but gives Nick the credit for where Social Media Surgery is now. For Pete the Surgery idea came from a real need, blogging is a necessity for him, enabling him to work through ideas and problems, almost like therapy.
His personal situation helps in trying out ideas, he has no dependants and because of his system of 3 months money in the bank or 1 big job per month to cover costs, he doesn’t have to worry too much if ideas turn into work. Ideas establish him as someone interesting and worth working with, he does “crazy” ideas for fun but they lead to paid work like making websites or consultancy, which is not always particularly interesting but pays the bills.
Tools & books
As far as tools go he mainly uses the Internet, to connect with people, share ideas around and share other people’s ideas.
Pete considers his most valuable tool is his ability to write – he is self taught after failing in school and has handwriting issues, but computers saved him in that respect. He developed his writing through fanzines and writing for pleasure, developing a unique style. “Internet tools are trucks to deliver content, blogs are so easy to set up that having a blog is meaningless and having a blog with great content is the hard part, that’s hard and takes time so experience is important.
Being an early adopter = more practice, not better but you’ve had longer to figure out how to do it.”
I asked him why he is now experimenting with books:
Form is interesting, blogs are restrictive for what he wants to write, you can throw stuff at a blog & narrative evolves. Book publishing is going through an epic change similar to magazines & newspapers and he is interested in the effect of tablets/kindle’s – technology creating ways around the bottlenecks of the publishing world. Now people are selling large quantities of genre work very cheaply and he sees it as similar to the origin of the paperback in the 20th century. It’s no longer necessary to sell huge quantities to break even, micro-audiences mean it’s possible to have a relationship with your readers, which is the way Pete has made a living, having a relationship with an audience and then someone from audience employs him, for him any new development that allows that scale is interesting & books are reaching that now
He says that blogging was great in the beginning but it was just tech nerds, it became really interesting when ordinary people began to blog about their daily lives, an unmediated voice not able to happen before. It was not possible for someone like Pete to communicate globally before, but it is scaleable now to write books for 50 readers although the general mindset is still that it is not worthwhile unless it’s for huge numbers of readers.
Pete has the same self-employment category as consultant as when he was a cash in hand gardener in the past. He will investigate whatever the next buzz term is as it’s always interesting when something is given a phrase, name – he didn’t want to be known as blogging consultant as all bubbles burst, so best thing to be he thinks is to be Pete, the Pete brand, “This is Pete & this is what he does” which is hard but not important that everybody understands that, just that sufficient people understand it to make it sustainable.
We talked about the nature of On/Offline projects in relation to the Created in Birmingham shop. This was a pop-up shop in the Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham which “became ridiculously busy, got a lot of attention and made a lot of money for the artists”. In Pete’s opinion the nice thing about doing stuff online is if you fail, you can just switch it off, but when you do things offline you have “things”: infrastructure, furniture, shutting things down, payments, electricity bills, it stops being fun. People tend to think “it worked online so we can do it offline” but it’s quite a leap from chatting on twitter to going out and committing to something, there’s a lot of similarities and Pete says that he doesn’t believe that offline relationships are more important than online relationships, but they are different, different barriers to entry, different filters. There’s “lots of euphoria about meeting wonderful people on twitter, we can do it, but when you take that offline, to do something, you realise that takes hours in the day, it takes time, it takes commitment and everybody thinking along the same lines”.
We moved on to the effects of Internet legislation on his life and ability to make a living. Pete says that he’s very aware of legislation to “control” the Internet but also that a lot of the large cloud services such as youTube, tumblr fly in the face of the DIY publishing thing Pete is interested in.He thinks that at some point legislation will probably break the Internet and maybe the Internet will fix itself or maybe it won’t, maybe we are in a golden age which will never be repeated. But he’s reasonably confident that, “the genie is out of the bottle that even if the Internet is shut down or crippled, some new technology will help people communicate and share stuff because that’s the inherent need.”
Where’s Pete heading?
Dabbling in art, and doing a photography school which has been publicised just by word of mouth and is doing well. He’s guided by what he’s interested in and what people will pay for and feels lucky, “there is no right way, so I’m a guide – a lot of what I do is interpreting what people want and need.”
His network was built up by accident with people who can help to turn ideas into revenue generating things, it’s partly a personal marketing/branding thing and he’s not a big fan of that but aware of the importance of it. “It’s about taking control and responsibility for your activities and presence and not complaining that the system doesn’t let you do that – forget the system, I’ll make my own way. Thankfully I’ve been born in a situation and a country where I can do these things – and after 35 years flailing aimlessly like somebody who doesn’t really know where they fit and what they are doing, I’ve finally landed on my feet.”