The Viridian Design Movement

From: Bruce Sterling [] Sent: Monday, July 01, 2002 9:03 PM

Viridian Note 00320: Global Civil Society Design Contest

Key concepts: Viridian design contests, trusted computing, global civil society, Mary Kaldor

Attention Conservation Notice: It's another in our series of Viridian design contests.


Newsweek: "Trustworthy Computing jihad"

Anti-Palladium FAQ: "When you boot up your PC, Fritz takes charge."

I, Cringely: "a militarized network architecture"

"Why Intel Loves Palladium"

"Trusted Computing" Platform Alliance

Hunt Terrorists on Net, Earn Big Bucks From Grateful US State Dept.

"Trusted systems" are a hot topic this season, given that the Internet is swarming with spammers and Microsoft viruses, and maybe one or two terrorists. Who better to solve this Microsoft problem than Microsoft? Except they probably won't.

As you can see from the resentful, gushing acrimony in the many links above, Microsoft plans to wire itself permanently into the substructure of the planetary operating system. "Palladium" might not be all that bad a scheme if it had any democratic political legitimacy deriving from the consent of the governed. But, alas, it doesn't. Nobody's even considering that approach.

One needs to look at this particular design problem from a global perspective. Why would any sane computer user (even an American), trust the "trusted system" of a ruthless commercial monopoly with such a long history of abusive practices? One might well be forced to do such a thing at the point of a bayonet or a search warrant. But how much "trust" does that involve?

Then there's the spy and dirty-tricks angle, always a show-stopper for American-dictated networking solutions. If trusted Microsoft is not writing in nice large trusted doors for the trusted FBI and trusted NSA, then they're not very patriotic. If they are wiring-in the FBI and NSA, then they have the same basic problem as the long- forgotten Clipper Chip.

Frankly, it's just bonkers for any French, German or Chinese person, or, really, any human being, to use a device which is so transparently designed as an asset for American espionage. You are supposed to hide UK/USA Echelon, and all the rest of that stuff. It's secret, that's why it's called "espionage." You can't just slop espionage like pork-and-beans onto a paper plate and expect everybody to swallow it. Even the British will balk.


So, we have a serious social, political and economic problem here. However, a Viridian solution beckons. What we need is a genuinely trustable, cheap, well-designed, rugged, sexy, accessible computer system that is owned, manufactured and operated for, well, Global Civil Society.

This machine shouldn't be some commercial for-profit business gizmo which has been wrenched over (unwillingly and kicking all the way) to some few of the many noble purposes of citizenship and global democracy. This computer needs to be a primarily political and social computer. When you open it up, it shouldn't display the creepy logo and suspicious agenda of "Microsoft, Compaq, HP, IBM, Intel" or any of those "trusted computing" jaspers. It shouldn't even say "USA," "France," "Germany," "G-8", "U.N.," or "NATO" == it shouldn't say anything, really, except "Global Civil Society." Think globally, act globally!

And none of this shady ICANN nonsense, either.

"ICANN Squeezes Out Regular Folk",1283,53546,00.html

The software and communications protocols in this device should be transparent. Honest. Aboveboard. Public. Public-spirited. Fair. Inclusive. Multi-culti. Legitimate. This Is What Democracy Looks Like. All that stuff that computer hardware and software never, ever is.

Thus, our latest Viridian Design Contest: the Global Civil Society Design Contest.

As longtime slashdot readers, we know perfectly well that the mere 1,750 people (and counting) on Viridian List can't possibly build a global computer operating system fully suitable for human rights orgs. Therefore, what we want from you is a Viridian Imaginary Product. It's the graphic screenshot of such a system. Imagine what that device might look like, and what it might do. Then show that to us by putting it up on the web and emailing the web address to the Pope-Emperor, We will place your entry onto our customary websites.

Viridian Design site.
Viridian Contest Archive

Here's the basic pitch. Let's imagine you are Joe or Juanita Global-Civ. There you are, a selfless, activist policy-wonk, one civilized soul in a darkening world where ethnic throat-cutting is rising sharply and trust in the biz community has plummeted.

You're at Rio, eloquently moaning over the dead coral reefs. You're at the WTO and you brought a rational argument. You're cataloging landmines in the Balkans or Kashmir, you're logging-on in Alternet and Indymedia, you're the daring token feminist at the Kabul loya jirga....

Then, in that classic wonk moment, you pull your Global Civil Society Designer Laptop from your ballistic- nylon shoulder bag and you boot it up. "Whoa!" is the instant response from a stunned and impressed public. "Where'd you get that?"

"Oh, this? We've all got these now! They're everywhere!"

That's our conceptual victory condition. Now here are some operational details.

I will not be judging this design contest. I am judging another design contest run by somebody else.


Instead, there is a Special Guest Judge for this highly global Viridian Contest. Her decision is, of course, globally final. She is:


Dr. Mary Kaldor, C.B.E.,
from the Centre for the
Study of Global Governance
at the London School of
Economics and Political Science!

Dr. Kaldor literally wrote the yearbook on "Global Civil Society." Better yet, Dr. Kaldor agrees with me that she needs a much cooler and more appropriate computer.


Note these typical Dr. Mary Kaldor stomping grounds: Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Kosovo Commission, documenting the arms trade, "organized violence in a global context," etc etc.


I ran into Mary Kaldor at a conference called "Technologies of Anti/Counter/Terrorism." Mary Kaldor is certainly the most globally with-it Commander of the British Empire that I have ever met. If there's such a thing as global civil society, well, here she is. Viridian designers, knock yourselves out.


In our last Viridian contest, the "Enron Logo" contest, the winner received 100 shares of Enron stock. That's now worth, I dunno, literally less than the paper it's printed on, but at least it's a collector's item.

That was pretty generous by Viridian standards == but it's nothing compared to this. Because even though the Global Civil Society Design Contest is relentlessly noncommercial, we are upping the Viridian ante by offering, for the first (and probably last) time ever: COLD HARD CASH!!

That's right! The prize is cash! And none of that flaccid, green, American funny-money, either. Instead, it's this season's rapidly escalating, crisp, brand-new, supranational, global-standard currency:


Yes indeed! No fewer than 150 Euros, a staggering one hundred and fifty of 'em! And that's not all! Because if Microsoft (like so many other large American companies) turns out to have some major accounting skeletons in its closet, the value of these Euros could skyrocket overnight.

Furthermore, these Euro bills represent an intriguing state-of-the-art in high-security, trustable, paper-money design. Unlike feeble old dollars, they've got uncopiable color schemes, state-of-the-art security strips and big embedded holograms!

Win this contest and this cash will be mailed straight to you!

This contest expires August 15, 2002.

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