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Second interview to key players of the social and technological innovation world, on the themes of education, school, and open-source. This process serves as incipit to our co-design, an open and shared reflection on the current state and on the horizons of the near future.

Today we interviewed Salvatore Iaconesi, hacker, artist, engineer and designer from Rome (although born in Livorno and with some years spent in the US), one of Nefula’s founders.

Salvatore, how has your experience with school been? (as a student or as a teacher)

My school experience has always been very unusual. My family often moved because of my dad’s job, so I had to change school every three or four years, from nursery till secondary school and to change friends, teachers, professors and janitors. That could be difficult, but I also found it interesting as I had not to rely on a stable and constant reality, otherwise I looked for stability and happiness into passions, hobbies and all the things I love to do.
In “ordinary” school this was good and bad at a time.

On one hand I was really bizarre: books, comics, encyclopedias became my best friends as I was always able to carry them with me; and that was a constant presence in many families in the 70’ and 80’, as well as toys and later computers.

On the other hand I was not able to establish a good relationship with my mates and teachers. I actually wanted to do what I was interested in, and not what was “in the programme”. I was not bad at school, generally my grades were 7 or 8; but doing exercises, homework, memorizing dates, learning by heart was all a huge exertion to me, almost a torture which teared me apart from things I liked the most: Lego, comics, videogames, programme experiments, whatever! I still remember my first computer, the Aquarius by Mattel, its horrible blue rubber buttons and its BASIC language that I used to produce the early little programmes by creating compositions and short generative animations by the types.

My passions were the real moments where I felt to learn something, by finding it out.

I used to learn a lot by myself. I remember I was fascinated by comics. I had got thousands of them and as a kid I tried to find explanations about their meaning, shops where to buy rares, people who could teach me more about them.

Those ones were very strong passions: they were all I had.

School generally did not instill passion in me. Except rare cases, through few specific persons.
For instance my Maths teacher in Rome, at secondary school. After the junior high school I attended in the United States, in Philadelphia, I came back to Italy and I chose Accounting in Ostia, simply as I knew someone there, near home, the only ones I knew indeed since I was back.
The Professor Pallotta was there. Engineer and information technology pioneer. He was not considered a classical “good professor”. He essentially used not to do “the programme”.

He came in and we talked about whatever we pleased, from history, to architecture, to technological innovation.

I adored him.

The programme didn’t exist, as well as the homework, oral texts, written tests. Our desires, they did exist!

It was like we could “employ” him in order to be helped as much as possible in fostering what we loved, what we were interested in and what we aimed to explore.

Many of my mates did not understand much, they just did not get the point. So they used to go to smoke to the toilet or just took care of jokes, flirts or messages on the day book.

For the few ones who understood, it was a brainwave, instead. Having on our hand a well-educated person, capable and longing to sincerely help us with some basics we should have forgotten as soon as we go out of school, but to fully realize what to do or have in our life, who to be, by using books, newspapers, computers, discussion, journeys: that was all we needed. Some of us used to visit him at his engineering studio (for, indeed, he was a successful expert, I suspect he broadly teached for passion, rather than he needed it economically): there we experimented with “serious” computers, with workstations, which at that time you could neither find at school nor at home as they were very expensive.

He has been a fundamental person to me, a person who has changed my life. And yes, he also teached me Maths as something “alive” by which I can solve problems, create graphic animation, discover paradoxes, comprehend the world and its functioning, ranging from the marvellous maths recursion in Nature, to the computation of the mortgage payment, to the functions you should use to make sure bridges do not collapse.

Through him and some other few people I also learnt to love teaching, and to have a huge respect for those who are, to me, good masters.

I.e. those people who don’t mind to expose their knowledge or to have power over someone, but who want to dedicate themselves to one’s curiosity and skill in spite of how difficult is to track down that, on equal terms, in a cooperating performance aiming not to learn this or that, but to live and enrich one another.

Today I still exactly do that when I’m teaching.

I work on unconscious, on curiosity, on beauty and legibility of knowledge, on being a lively platform on which discussion, dialogue, emotion and sensation could arise. I do that in order to let the people in front of me (who are not my “customers”, as many institutions and organizations of University education system tend to suggest us) feel inspired, aim to analyse, study, learn, make, when the class is over. That is why I use to tell my students that “the lesson never ends”. Because the contrary would be stupid.

Time spent in the classroom (as well as in other spaces classically dedicated to education) is but a tiny part of learning process.

Learning has to be continuous, made of a continual relationship among people, objects, cultures, languages, ways, various contexts. So much various that they could be dissonant; that is the moment when you see that conflicts are main parts of knowledge: you have to keep them, understand them, accept them and take them into serious consideration in your human, professional, creative, artistic, imaginary behaviour.

Tell us about your dream school…

“My dream school” is based on four main ideas.

The fact that “it never ends”, the imaginary plays a primary role, a non- disciplinary framework and the legibility, accessibility and wishing of knowledge.

My dream school never ends.

In space, time and relationships. It is not a building. It is not a limited space and time. It does not take place in a limited set of people. It is a ubiquitous school. A wood, the supermarket aisle, a road, the track on which we wait for the train, our workplace, a dinner with friends, and even a school building: all these (and other) sites/contexts can (and should) be a school. In all these places, times and contexts it should be possible for us to access to and express the knowledge, to discuss, create, transform them, and derive new ones, making themselves accessible, legible and desirable.

That is why technology is useful, but also the possibility to establish relationships able to cross cultures, contexts and subjects.

Then comes the imaginary.

In my opinion, a school’s goal should not be “learning things”, but to stimulate those processes and let people understand the several opportunities and chances in the real world, by keeping an open mind manner; people should wish to know and learn on their own, according to their attitudes, and establishing meaningful links with other people.

That is why we need new kinds of teacher: performers of the imaginary, poets and knowledge artists, persons able to open new worlds and make them perceivable. They should become platforms allowing people to learn how it is wishing to learn. And that is why we also need a new aesthetic, a new beauty: we have to stimulate the perception of beauty in what is possible, multiple, different, unknown…

As a result we need to overcome the traditional discipline limits. In order to arouse the desire of exploring the different and the unknown we need movement, narrative, and the ability to deal with topics from many different points of view. Chemistry is history, philosophy, economics, anthropology, narrative, eating, entertainment, spirituality, society; it is not just learning methods and techniques. And this idea can be applied to every discipline.

That is why we need a new concept of school, something that combines different strategic and tactical approaches, a “third space” of learning, where the various branches of knowledge could mix and become hybrid continuously, through the relationships between people and the fulfillment of“authentic” projects. I mean projects participating the world, with the people, the society, the desires, the expectations, the conflicts of the world.

A space where if you study maths you are required to understand the philosophy and anthropology which is behind, around, across, sideways it, too. So that maths is not just made of data, variables and formulas, but also of people who relate and interact in and with the world, with all its complexity, from many points of view, cultures, conflicts and diversities
Then, there is the idea of legibility, of knowledge accessibility and wishing.

This is, in my opinion, a huge problem. Today, we use to restart continuously. There is no memory, no legibility, no desire. We reinvent all the time, without learning from the past and present, in a narcissistic manner. We run, we innovate, we stay awake, we produce, we create, and we do all this endlessly. We don’t look out much at what others did or do. Most of the times discoveries, actions and innovations die at birth, no one will - directly or indirectly - benefit from them. This happens for many reasons, including the huge amount of creations and innovations, but also for the way we relate to time: it is too much linear, inching, present. We never stop, switching from an emergency , a project, an opportunity, a goal, a relationship to another.. Breaks, sleeping, free and spare time disappear. But sleeping is important: we need it to dream and to restore the neural connections. We can survive long enough without eating, but not without sleeping: we would go mad and we would die very quickly.

For this reason we need: a different scan of time, non-linear, subjective, personal, relaxed; the creation of a new aesthetics of reflexivity, conversation, conviviality, the importance of the useless, of a party without lens, of retirement, of sleep, of dream. These new ideas must be joined with all the tools (technological, methodological or relational) to ensure that the wonderful kinds of knowledge that we produce (consciously or unconsciously) are legible, accessible, and especially desirable to other people, different from us.

Perhaps, this is the most important idea among the ones I listed above, and it is the biggest limit of the makers/ hackers movement as well as of creativity in general.

How do you envision an “open source school”?

An “open source school”?

Well, now you are going to hate me, but it doesn’t matter. In my opinion an “open source school” does not exist. According to what I've said above, an “open source school” should coincide with the whole world. In an Open Source School new aesthetics, new beauties, new desires and new relational opportunities, and even a new kind of awareness should join new tools and methodologies, so that they will change the way we consider time (more Kairos and less Kronos) and the wish to make perceptible, legible and available knowledge.

A third space between Apollo and Dionysus.

An “open source school” should be ubiquitous. It is a mental state, not a project.

It is magic, telepathy, poetry, body.

We talk a lot about hackers, makers, creative people. But we rarely wonder which role magic, poetry, telepathy could play in social innovation and change.
We must realize that hackers, makers and creative people are already part of the industrial economy and, therefore, they are at the service (mostly unpaid) of other interests.

A friend told me that the only last and real freedom left is going crazy. I think it's a remarkable statement, and it must be taken in serious consideration.

Me and my friend/brother Alex Giordano, for example, got it very seriously: we thought to make something that could be called "Basaglia Hub", a hub that applies the great Basaglia's innovations to the current life to bring back innovators into society.
The “open source school”? It is definitely a mental space (That’s why, for instance, I love talking of “telepathy” when we reach these issues).

What would it change if an “open source school” existed?

If an “open source school” would exist, we would dream more, maybe together with many other persons.

Networked dreams.

If you were given the opportunity to change the way knowledge is transmitted at school, how would you imagine it?

As I stated before, transmitting knowledge is just a part of school. There are thousands of instruments and methods to convey knowledge branches: they can be formal and informal, technological or traditional, conscious and unconscious. This is not what is lacking.

What is lacking is wishing, awareness, mental space and time (and its perception) for the transmission of knowledge. So I would work on these concepts.

In this vision, considering school as an "entrance to the world of work" becomes a problem. I mean that the "world of work" is changing irrevocably. It has already changed. It would take a lot more space to have a serious discussion on this issue. Luckily, the discussion is wide and rich, and you just have to look around to see the results. I am only saying that the idea of work is increasingly fluid and indistinguishable from that of "life" and "leisure".

For these reasons we seriously need to think about our freedom, our autonomy and our ability to create relational ecosystems, able to support each other in a mutual way, on a wide range of different economies.

In this sense, the best advice I can give is to relate to people instead of doing it to companies or organizations, by learning to communicate and to establish relationships between bodies (no matter if they are digital, physical or hybrid), in a sincere , mutual and open way. Beyond the narcissism and the need for financial resources, embracing the possible, the imaginable, the beautiful, the true, the sustainable, the ecological ( not only in an environmental meaning)
By doing that, we may realize to be surrounded by people, not by companies, organizations, percentages and statistics. By bodies. With their desires, aspirations, dreams, cultures. This is, in my opinion, one of the more perceptive interventions that a school should implement.

What does “researching” mean to you?

Doing research is like dreaming.

It is a dreamlike-state in which one asks questions, then he/she looks for answers in the strange world around. Telling about your research is like telling a dreams.

As such, it is important for the research to be free, just like dreams are.

And it is crucial to deeply think again of the freedom of research, beyond reasoning about usefulness and productivity which too often generate sterile, unadventurous, unfree, ugly and individual results (rather than plural, i.e. able to explore all possible worlds, beyond any strategy - unique and singular - of the few individuals who can afford funding research.

In which way do you think technology can help us building a better world?

I think this is not the point. I mean: technology is not something apart from the rest of the world. It is a part of nature, of culture, of life. In the same way the "scientist" is not an impartial observer out of the system, as well as in this age of Big Data, there are not “objective” data or their "real" representations, but just choices we make to interact with the world in a certain way (eg. selecting specific parameters and variables) and interpretations.

Translated by Silvana Pollice and Leonardo Zampi

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