An other internet of educational environments
In Autumn 2022, Other Internet and Leave Room for Thoughts, two young learning institutes, came together to cultivate a new fellowship program named Campus Complex. It was a month-long educational experiment that unfolded across the City of New York.
The program turned a disconnected group of private offices and studios into a traversable network of learning environments for three builders, artists, and researchers. Each fellow received a passport, called a Learner Card, to our constellation of spaces and educators. Their mission was to use the tools and affordances of the Campus to further their educational endeavors.
Today we’re launching a documentary website, sharing the journey and our toolkit for creating similar educational networks. We call these networks schoolscapes.
We define “schoolscape” as an association of local organizations that augment their spaces with educational infrastructure, and encourage learners to explore freely across their network.
We put our Autumn fellowship schoolscape together by going to friendly spaces in our network—startups, studios, and creative spaces—and asking them to join the Campus. Each space got an onboarding kit, and in each a space steward provided office hours and access to materials for Fellows.
Between learner cards, the compass app, and campus-in-a-box, there are tons of wonderful interface design details that made this other internet come to life. We won’t spoil them for you here—you should explore them in the Placemaking section on our documentary website. But before closing, we wanted to share a few thoughts about the social form of “schoolscape” and how it fits into our work at Other Internet.
On Other Internets and Social Forms
When OI was first getting started, the other internet we were inspired by was the internet of ownership, value, and community-owned finance. Now, after a few years of immersing ourselves in the cloud-based institutions of crypto-networks, many of us at Other Internet have been feeling the need to grow more roots into the ground. From exploring local governance to investigating institutional metaphors inspired by syntropic forestry, we’re finding ways to fully live and embody our research practices. We always return to the name when we’re soul-searching. What “other networks” can we weave in embodied reality? The Campus Complex project is an early expression of these impulses.
Campus Complex emerged out of ideas generated in an art residency at Other Internet, growing into a fully fledged Fellowship Program, equipping three fellows, a dozen spaces, and many more peer apprentices. This is testimony to the generative, permissive power of the “art residency.” The residency is a social form—a pattern—that anyone can make use of. There are as many variations of residencies as there are handshakes. Digital residencies, self-made solo residencies, residencies from the biggest art institutions to home kitchens, multi-year to single-day. The magic of working with social forms is that they are open source by default: meant to be shared and spread, they are owned by nobody and everybody.
Schoolscapes are also social form—and a literal other internet. While the digital internet obscures its own physicality, schoolscapes are a network you can readily visualize and be inside of. Learner cards and compasses show you where you are and where you can go. If the digital internet wants to get more cozy, well, the coziest thing of all is to make a place-based internet of your own and invite your peers into it.
As with residencies, we can imagine many different versions of schoolscapes. Some will be formal, some will be monetized, others won’t. While working on Campus Complex, we met and were inspired by projects like Powderhouse, City as School (a NYC institution), City as a School (a London startup), Polaris Fellowship, The Neighborhood SF and NYC, and more. What we want to do by sharing schoolscapes with you is to show how these other internets can be created and operated easily. We put the Autumn fellowship program together in about 6 weeks on a very small budget. If we can do it, you can too.
While Other Internet has a history of composing new concepts, this is the first new social form we’ve been involved with creating. The closest we’ve come is squad wealth. While not directly related, schoolscapes have the potential to bring squad energy to educational experiments. We can go from “students” sitting in front of “teachers” to roving squads of peer apprentices; from “schoolwork” to learning by employing leisure. Issuing learner cards like the ones we designed created opportunity for shared time and space, and collective learning experiences.
In this moment of moribund and debilitated institutions, we think that creative experimentation with social forms can be a powerful home remedy. How can we learn how to maneuver while we’re stuck inside bullshit jobs or in extractive relationships with platforms or cities? In a recent post, Alice Maz aims to remind us that “you can just do stuff,” a call to feel the agency at the tips of your fingers and lean into challenge and intensity. But sometimes it’s easier to give yourself permission to do new, challenging things when working with the constraints and affordances of a social form. The “residency” is permission to devote oneself entirely to a creative project without interruption; the “sabbatical” is permission to be free from the asks of workaday life. The “schoolscape” is permission to explore what’s around us and learn from it. Working with social forms—and inventing them—enables us to ask how we want to be and designing a container for that.
Beyond the micro-scale, experimentation with new social forms and other internets might be a source of institutional rewewal. We’re not alone in this idea. Venkatesh Rao and the Ethereum Foundation recently put out a call for scholars who want to study social protocols:
protocols form an unusually nebulous category of social reality constructs. The term is applied to everything from handshake norms and dinner etiquette rules among individual humans, to climate treaties among nations and cryptographic consensus mechanisms among computers.
And in private correspondence, Other Internet friend Chris Beiser says that “social forms are key to the structure of society and production, but because the value is (historically?) hard to capture, we don’t incentivize the production of new forms—which has led to skew as our social situations have stayed stuck or regressed even as the needs have evolved.”
By trying on new social forms for size, we’re also trying out new ways of relating to each other; new ways of interfacing with organizations; new ways of collectivizing. Some forms will fit just right, and maybe these will drive new institutional behaviors. Experimenting is low pressure. Nothing is permanent, everything is an experiment. Work is a feeling, and when working with social forms, you have permission to play.
We’re inviting you to join us in playing with Schoolcapes.
If you’re creating a schoolscape in your city or town, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to get in touch with the Campus Complex steward, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to find out about future schoolscapes created by Other Internet and friends, subscribe to the dedicated email list here: https://campuscomplex.place/subscribe.
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