DeepMay: Experiments in Tech Autonomy

Developing new technics for new worlds

Everywhere we look, technology fuels the madness of capitalism. Alexa infiltrates every home as Amazon shares facial recognition data with ICE. Each smartphone app stakes claim to the personal data you signed away under the implicit threat of losing access to the world. Rare-earth minerals for computing are extracted with exploited labor while landfills are filled with thousands of consumer electronics past their planned obsolescence. Cures and therapies promised by biotech remain inaccessible at best and cleverly marketed poisons at worst. Meanwhile food systems collapse and climate catastrophes are dealt with by fantasies of atmospheric shields and the resurrection of murdered ecosystems, as if we were recolonizing a foreign, inhospitable planet. Technology seems irredeemable in the face of this horror. DeepMay is not an attempt at a redemption of technology – we are far more ambitious than that. 

The DeepMay vision of “autonomous polytekne” refers to a radically different cognitive and bodily process than what is currently associated with technology. If this seems only rhetorical, consider some common experiences of working in tech. Like any craft, it is seeded by curiosity, an obsession with an enjoyable problem, or a desire for new functionality and the decision to build it oneself. Students are often routed into some variation of institutionalized schooling or certification, perhaps with hefty debts attached. Even those who are largely self-taught must market their skills to make a living, or accrue funding for their vision. We find ourselves selling our labor to make websites we don’t care about, or branding products to imply a better world can be bought. Your craftsmanship is laid to waste as your well-written piece of code gets integrated into a machine you’d rather break than buy. From the university to the start-ups, avenues of inquiry are explored insofar as they create a market advantage. The dominant technological episteme progresses by mapping complex landscapes, reducing uncertainty, and demonstrating control as rapidly as possible in order to capitalize on the results. This continued acceleration has acute mental and physical tolls – long hours in front of a screen, unforgiving deadlines, and the systematic transmutation of our passions into exploited labor. Liberating ourselves from this progression requires a new operating system and a different set of collective practices. DeepMay is a sincere attempt to realize a new technics altogether.

The DeepMay format is an immersive bootcamp in the mountains of North Carolina with tracks in Data Science, Design, Web Development and, this year, Hacking. Ten days provides enough time to build a significant foundation in a chosen track, while creating a sprint for intensive study and focus. The size of the camp is capped at approximately fifty students to facilitate a greater depth of connections. We came to know each other well – our shared needs and desires continuously invoked a different world, and our fledgling skills began to unveil how we may build it together. The neoliberal ethic of a work-life balance creates perpetual oscillations between fragmented realities – eating healthy, hitting the gym, maintaining a social life, while always maximizing productivity. At DeepMay, a consistency between these otherwise discrete spheres was established through the rhythms of communal life. We exercised together each morning and took turns cooking for the camp. Late into the night people could be found huddled together in front of a laptop solving a problem, or returning refreshed from the wood-fired sauna. Taking a long hike together did not feel like a side activity or a distraction, but as aligned with the purpose of the camp as time spent coding. A general ease of spirit facilitated spontaneous creations: a Javascript application that produces psychedelic visualizations, a network map to visualize our mutual relations, and quality DeepMay memes continuously shared over the cloud of our mesh network. We know we are on the right track if our greater aspirations find expression through the mundane joys of daily life.

The DeepMay tracks reflect skills highly relevant to developing autonomy. Social movements and community initiatives often find themselves using platforms that limit their ability to freely share ideas, communicate securely, and realize sophisticated coordination. It is crucial for us to relay compelling narratives, destitute the currency of information, build our own platforms, subvert the logics of existing systems, and create an effective presence. Examples of initiatives that emerged from the first iteration of DeepMay include design for a community food distribution network in Atlanta, an ongoing project called AirBnBusted that maps development and gentrification, and materials to aid the development of a prison abolition website and database. This year we are placing greater focus on pre-work to lay the foundations of the curriculum before the camp, as well as micro-projects to allow students to pursue what they find most interesting and organically develop collaborations. 

DeepMay is steadily working towards building its own autonomous infrastructure, from an on-site wireless mesh network, to messaging platforms enabling remote coordination on this project. With over twenty programmers, designers, academics, developers, and hackers organizing a bootcamp over five time zones, methods for project management are continuously revisited and experimented with. Beyond the bootcamp, we anticipate regular Build Days – virtually coordinated DeepMay meet-ups in various cities. These are the first steps towards building a network of highly skilled co-conspirators that can rapidly prototype the tools required to pursue Path B at the scale we need to defect from our current trajectory.

We want to give the future a fighting spirit. Join us by signing up at deepmay.io.