Critical Decentralisation, Open & Libre Hardware for and with Monero

The ever-growing popularity of mobile devices, ubiquitous technology and (digital/global) real-time communication introduced challenges for technology appropriation and technology-based production cultures. The “smart devices” (tablets, smartphones, etc.) introduced an interface structure that is more intuitive, more easy to use, but also much more closed and opaque. Jonathan Zittrain criticized the dominance of smart devices, describing them as “tethered appliances” (Zittrain, 2006) - a way of tying end-users to the manufacturers. The principle of “closedness” that defines these tethered appliances refers to the hardware itself, which cannot be changed or used in another way than designed (and in some cases cannot even be repaired) as well as to new unprecedented levels of control. The consequent rise of the appstores signals the “decline of the World Wide Web” (Anderson & Wolff, 2010) and the transformation of free culture into a commercialized ecosystem (cf. Schäfer & Tarasiewicz, 2013). In addition to the closure and commercialization of smart devices, data surveillance has become not only very easy to conduct but a pervasive strategy of social control. Although decentralisation presents itself with an impressive history of “revolutions” (the “maker revolution”, “blockchain revolution”), these developments get commodified at an accelerated pace. While Bitcoin is said to have been introduced as a critique on the banking system (“Chancellor on Brink of Second Bailout for Banks” Nakamoto, 2008) it currently appears “as cryptoanarchistic as a car” and “provides all the tools to f* you” (Smuggler at HCPP, 2018). Critical Making and Repair Culture challenge the Maker Culture as unreflective and hedonized practice (cf. Hertz, 2012; Ratto & Ree, 2012). Open Hardware scraches the surface of which degree of “Openism” (RIAT, 2017) is acceptable to critical end users and developers. Convenience always beats security. Decentralisation is a process, and has to be constantly challenged. In this talk i will present the current status of the Open vs. Libre hardware discussion and will outline why this is important for the larger Monero ecosystem. I will also draw parallels to the debates and context of the 35c3 (decentral. community) which I have been co-organising. Matthias Tarasiewicz is the director of RIAT (Institute for Future Cryptoeconomics) in Vienna, an independent research organisation with focus on open hardware, privacy tech and the future of decentralisation. Matthias also is board member of the Open Source Hardware Association OSHWA.

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