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Audrey Tang:
I would like you to firmly resist your weakness

Audrey is a poetician and Taiwan’s first Digital Minister. She sees herself as a digital migrant, having moved into the internet when she was 12 years old. The early makers of digital democracy in the 21st century, she says, are like the makers of reflecting telescopes in the 17th century. They are building digital spaces that are transparent like glass and reflective like mirrors, helping us blend our individual feelings into shared reflections – the practice of democracy.

Audio is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 licence.

Made by Jo Barratt. Conceived by Jo Barratt and Gemma Mortensen, with Iris Andrews and Lily Piachaud.

Music is made for New Constellations by Art School Girlfriend.

The Audio uses a recording made by sonnyestufa in Yuanlin City, Taiwan, a recording made by LG beach in Taitung, Taiwan and a recording of a Market in Taipei, Taiwan made by xserra. All are licensed under a creative commons attribution licence.


I see the seashore of the Pacific Ocean at a northmost place in the main Taiwan Island. It’s called Laomei.

That’s the place where my dad and his siblings grew up. I learned swimming there. Playing sand, just floating sometimes, being one with the ocean, the seaweeds, the waves. It’s beautiful. The past that we came from is ocean. Life on earth came from the ocean. It’s vastness remains with me. It’s a source of my daily contentment. The beach there is no longer surrounded by buildings though, it’s converted into a public park and now, I’m just a few minutes drive from there, we’re in Taichung now. It’s where my grandparents are, on both sides of the family. They have settled in along with my parents, and I still hear the sound of wind blowing. It’s beautiful.

A type of technology which I call democracy, namely making sure that people of very diverse backgrounds and positions nevertheless agree on what’s important to the society or to the civilisations involved. I think that’s a pro-social type of technology. As much as, for example, voting – which is a very slow and small bit-rate implementation of the democratic idea – is fundamental to many parts of the world we can nevertheless improve the bit, rate a little bit more.

To me wisdom, just like trustworthiness, does not belong to a single individual or a single fictional person, corporate or government, but rather it belongs to a particular relationship. A relationship may be trustworthy. A relationship may be wise, but that’s because the energy that the participants in that relationship choose who imbue into the relationship and have that relationship essentially take form in us as kind of its vehicles of its avatars, it’s projections. And then the wisdom emerges, from this constellation, or patterns. Just like a constellation is probably not an attribute of a single star is the wisdom to, in my imagination, something that’s entirely fluid, in the pattern in the moment and also temporal. So I’m not just talking about the number of people or beings involved, but also the temporal relationship with the sustained attention that we put into it.

We’re at the eve of the lunar new year. Tomorrow my extended family is going to communicate with our ancestors and tell the ancestors of the very eventful and also very safe year. And I feel the contentment. I feel it in my body for, I am my body. I also feel the contentment in my surroundings, for we are our surroundings. The kind of love that I experienced when I was a young child, swimming, playing sand, it’s from the family and also from the people who live in the same village. Just like the sea itself they were endlessly inclusive.

To me, the commons is something that everyone can add to in a way that’s replicable and conflict free. So that’s, that’s the, uh, feeling of commons to me, I’m not talking about a technical definition. The two properties here, replicable and conflict-free, are equally important because if a commons is not replicable to the people who were not aware of such a commons or not even comprehensible, then it becomes an exclusive club of sorts. Not necessarily by malaise or hostility but simply by revealing itself only to a small handful of people. So something that could disseminate, be approachable and accessible, uh, I think is the most important thing about commons to me. I emphasize the access first because it’s very easy to be very explosive and then have good governance principles, but that’s hardly a commons. Similar to that is the idea of a governance structure that actively makes conflict free structures and if such a governance norm is there, then the commons sustains itself, regardless of who happens to be tending it. But if such a norm is not in place, then as soon as the first major conflict arises the commons may splinter or in the jargon of internet governance may fork.

We use such structures practically every day. All the collaborative documents are built on, operation transformation or other conflict free, automatically, resolvable strategies. And, even when people are faced with occasional malicious actors, the idea of a Bizantene fault tolerance, uh, data structure can always, merge or heal those conflicts as long as a majority of the people are benign. As long as people commit to an idea of rough consensus and not insist on the kind of fine consensus like a unanimity on all things, then the system can repair itself much more easily using the already quite well understood principles of the CRDT, the conflict-free, and replicable data types.

I would like you to firmly resist your weakness,like a chrysalis holding back a butterfly, a maple leaf resisting the autumn, a newly splashed droplet resisting breakup

I would like you to
balance your inner beauty,
like the structure of a snowflake, the four petals of a finger tree flower,
a quatrain on a yellowed paper scroll:
“a still night, an empty spring mountain”

I would like you to
tolerate the secrets of a narcissus
forgive the twists of a moonlit river
look straight at the murky sky as rain falls down
just like listening to a naked prayer
like the ocean
embracing the absolution of a storm.

Then, maybe you would be willing
to walk through a declining border town
through a prosperous metropolis
see life, see death
see all the personal and transience
dignity and code lifelessness.

Sometimes, life is
as quietly beautiful as a poem, as desolate as a vine
as intense as a soaring eagle
as lonely as a dust-covered stele 

And so time passes, places alter, faces change.
It has been a long journey
we returned to the room we set off from
origin and destination curl into a perfect ring

I shall recognise the look in your eyes after calibration:
clear, unswerving
like steel beads that do not rust
roundly, in a dark room
reflecting pure light

‘Like a Larva Holding On for Transformation’, a poem by Chen Yi wen, translated by Audrey Tang.

Imagine A plus B, like two numbers adding together. It doesn’t really matter whether you first get the first number or whether you first get the second number. The sum is going to be the same. Even though you may get the sequences of the puzzle very differently from the other person who gets the sequence of those pieces of the puzzle, the constellation, the picture that you make is going to be the same or very similar at least depending on which fraction of their piece puzzles that you get.

Radio and television, one person can speak to millions of people. Now for the first time, we can listen to millions of people through the internet. Like many of you, I was a digital migrant. 22 years ago, I moved into the internet, when I was 12 years old. In cyberspace, as in the physical world, new migrants and natives have much to learn from one another. And our particular approach is through open data and open space. Open data turns raw measurements into social objects. People gather around budgets, laws, and regulations. They become topics of discussions, just like today’s weather, and open space blends our individual feelings into shared reflections within a reflective space we gradually become aware of ourselves and forming a crowd that demos in democracy. Transparent like a glass and reflective like a mirror; these are the two democratic properties of digital spaces. And we, the early makers of digital democracy in the 21st century, are like the early makers of reflecting telescopes in the 17th century – full of innovation and eager to explore the stars. Only through learning from each other can we truly enter the age of science and eventually go beyond it into the age of reflection.

Civilization can only perceive part of the world that’s more aligned, I guess, with their ways of thinking, but now, with the more pluralistic way of communication and, augmented vision of, (I’m talking about telescopes and things like that), then there really is no excuse for leaving some part of the world behind. I would definitely say that the old one is more about a few people speaking to millions of people and the old one is not quote-unquote “natural”. It’s there because of the invention of the printing press, radio, television, and things like that. To me, many of the features of the new constellation, which is about multi-stakeholderism, which is people who care about the commons, contribute to the commons without climbing up or down the hierarchies, is in many ways more natural. It’s almost a restoration of what feels natural, before the intervention of the unilateral, one directional scaling technologies of the previous centuries. 

I think that the knowledge, the, episteme of the age of science is quite useful. So keep knowing it. I’m not saying unlearn or forget about knowledge, that’s not the direction forward, but on the other hand, a certain modesty, I think helps a lot. Definitely early internet governance, uh, communities and talking about, the internet society, specifically the idea of, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Free Software Foundation, and later on the open source initiatives, Creative Commons and so on, all share the same strength of being humble, being open to future generations. Almost assuming that future generations are smarter than us as designers. And so we want to design so that we maximize the potential of future generations, even though that means that we must be more parsimonious, or be more conservative in what we do currently in our current generation. 

People would prefer if they could think it through or be given time or be given a safe space, before opening up before deciding which part of themselves they’re willing to connect to and by connecting to, sharing it, uh, verbalizing or painting, or, um, just sharing it in a form that they feel comfortable, externalising. So I think it’s an interconnectedness issue and I don’t think rushing it actually helps. I think by having a safe space and, uh, nice music, food and drink and things like that. And before long people will be safe enough or feel safe enough, comfortable enough in sharing more.

Knowing man and staying woman, be the riverbed of the world. Being the world’s riverbed of eternal unfailing power is to go back again to be newborn.

Knowing light and staying dark, be a pattern to the world. Being the world’s pattern of eternal unerring power is to go back again to boundlessness.

Knowing glory and staying modest, be the valley of the world. Being the world’s valley of eternal inexhaustible power is to go back again to the natural.

Natural wood is cut up and made into useful things. Wise souls are used to make into leaders. And just so, a great carving is done without cutting.

Be a pattern to the world, from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

Dreaming is where I do my main work. The daytime is really just to share and also to enjoy each other’s presence. But only in my dreams, do I actually get an interrupted chunk of attention that could be turned into new insights and possibilities otherwise it will be mere repetition of one day, uh, from the previous day’s patterns. So that’s the importance of dreaming. Imagination I think frees us from the practicality of applied patterns of thought. If we could be more in the sense of a reverie, floating attention, then, what used to be hidden, what used to be, a dark light, or a mysterious power, shows itself forth. And we become aware of what’s already there but hidden in plain sight. And that’s what imagination to me is truly important. It’s not to imagine something that’s out of this world, but precisely to connect to something that is of this world that was previously unconnected. If I dream of something, I wake up with a full energy and spirit, then I can turn that reality into something that’s practically useful. But if I do not have sufficient amount of sleep, then I am actually aware of what really is in a dream. And I’m then doomed during daytime to repeat the patterns of yesterday. So have a long enough time for dreaming, but, also, keep a full awareness, during the daytime, I think that’s the important part. 

As a child that I see myself who switched three kindergartens, six primary schools rotating through a different school every year and the summer vacations were always a time of change. But when I visited the ocean in the summer, no matter if I was 12 or just five years old, it’s always there. It’s the emotion of a playful sense of peace. And this playfulness and peace have remained with me. By being playful we turn the sense of peace into something that could moderate the change, so it doesn’t have to be disruptive. I think as long as we are being inclusive, sharing with one another, this sense of village, small changes and big changes alike well, just like the ocean and its tidal waves, they’re all fine. It’s all okay.