Life is too short 生命太過短暫

P1040899

令人震驚地今天收到一位長輩、也是好朋友過世的消息:Steve Cisler。2001 年一個試圖要在台灣建立 nettime-zh 的計畫雖然失敗,但是卻意外促成 blog 台灣部落格運動的興起。讓我跟 nettime 這個國際大家庭維繫的幾個重要關鍵連結,Geert Lovink、Ted Byfield 與 Steve Cisler 就是那少數我們後來發展出長期同志戰友情誼、長期關懷與支持一個遠在亞洲台灣的年輕人的地球好朋友。跟我視為一個網路社群的掌舵者、在阿姆斯特丹大學網路與文化研究中心教書、歐洲風格的 Geert Lovink 相比,在美國紐約的 Ted 與加州的 Steve 更像是一路上一起走一段艱辛但是有趣的路途、欣賞不同風景的親切好友。

我跟 Steve 最早是在 Culture Survival 雜誌的原住民與網際網路專題上相遇。1996 年我當時還是東華族群所的研究生、跟同學們一起投入反亞泥還我土地運動,跟他這位 Culture Survival 邀請的客座編輯,我們透過 email 來交流台灣原住民與網際網路的各種故事。幾周前我還收到他轉寄來,關於 culture survival 在台灣召開國際原住民會議的信件;那個要回覆的 todo item 還記在我的黑板上。

在 1999 年阿姆斯特丹的 N5M3 Next 5 Minutes 3 第三屆戰術媒體研討會(Tactical Media Conference)上,我們正式相遇。他是一個 50 多歲、溫文儒雅的知識份子。在參與網路運動社群活動之前,他是一個資深的圖書館專業人士,早年在 Apple 公司先進科技小組、參與過 Quicktime 、 HyperCard 等影響深遠的計畫;自己則負責過「明日圖書館計畫」(The Library of Tomorrow);在支持全美各地關於圖書館的優秀想法之際,他也因為早期機緣跨出美國所看見的世界,了解了世界各地的資訊科技技術應用發展情形。

1999年他寫的會議報告 N5M3 Conference Report 是我第一次跟他一起共同參與會議。從那時候開始,我知道原來可以透過這樣的方式,跟一個前輩與一群共同瘋狂、熱血但是又謹慎、開放的一群朋友,共享一個全新的世界。2003年我們在阿姆斯特丹 N5M4 會議、日內瓦世界資訊高峰會一起共度時光,同時我也閱讀他在不同會議當中勤奮寫就的心得筆記、分享他帶著全世界的好朋友、全世界啪啪走參與資訊科技計畫所養成的寬廣視野。從 Google 甚至 nettime 裡面,你就可以搜尋到他的足跡。

他寫的既多、又深入,彷彿從文字裡面你就可以看到一個高大的身影,總是微笑著,然後皺著眉頭、邊想邊說話的神情。那些年當有人說網際網路、網路運動是年輕人的專利時,我總是想起他的身影。他的深思熟慮讓歐洲的這些飛揚批判的運動者無一不折服。在一些開創性的議題當中,例如 Post-Globalization Organization、localization、international development industry 等,他的見解總是讓人反覆思索,並且一定扣連到這個世界上某一個具體的角落。

2004年他閉關後,我到美國去看他,住在他家中並且跟他共渡了兩天的休閒生活。我把一些拍過的照片放在 flickr 上,並且成立了 In The Memory of Steve Cisler 這個群組,以表達自己對他的思念與感謝。我也邀請各位讀 Ted 所寫下來的,他的紀念文章(我會找空檔翻譯的):包括我自己所寫的這些小小的片段,只是想要讓各位知道,生命可以因為碰到了地球的另外一端的另一個人,而產生巨大的化學變化。那樣的巨大,可以是溫暖的、堅定的、如沐春風的巨大而深刻。

他在 2002 年曾經寫過一篇文章,叫做 Life is Too Short。生命太過於短暫了;生命應該花費在美好的事物上。那就是他在網際網路上、在朋友之間、在家人間留下的感動的意義。

Life is too short
To: nettime
Subject: Life is too short
From: Steve Cisler
Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2002 07:50:13 -0700
Reply-to: Steve Cisler
On one of Silicon Valley’s more congested stretch of freeway, the
regional telco, SBC, has a large billboard. At rush hour you usually
have about 5 minutes to read the message:

“Life is too short for dialup" (so order DSL pronto).

Using Google I thought I’d find out some other reasons that life was too
short (other than war, inadequate nutrition, disease, or natural
calamity):

Life is too short for boring music
Life is too Short to Live in the Wrong Place!

.

LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO WASTE TIME HATING PEOPLE
Life is too short…to smile
Life is too short to be miserable…
Life is too short to be Ordinary
Life is too short for average food
Life is too short to drink bad wine
Life is too short to drink out of ugly glasses
Life is Too Short for Mediocre Sex T-shirts
Life is Too Short to Spend it with an Ugly Gun
“Life is too short to be without a Pinzgauer"
Life is too short to wear tight shoes
Life is too short for boring hifi
Life Is Too Short for office politics
Life is too short to play by the rules
Life is too short to read cheap mail
Life is Too Short To Work With Jerks

Steve Cisler
4415 Tilbury Drive
San Jose, California 95130
http: home.inreach.com/cisler
1-408-379-9076
cisler {AT} pobox.com
“Go on the country, not on the map."
-Axle in Tim Winton’s “Dirt Music"

Resent-From: nettime@kein.org
From: tbyfield@panix.com
Subject: Steve Cisler
Date: 2008年5月20日 下午12時15分46秒
To: nettime-l@kein.org

Steve Cisler passed away on Thursday 15 May, from a medical condition he’d
known about for several years, which had worsened over the last several
months. His wife, Nancy, said that he was with his entire family — which
had grown in the last few years — and that he was relaxed and accepting as
his health faded.

Steve spent much of his life in what’s become Silicon Valley, and he
sometimes talked about how he had seen it turn from almond groves and dusty
roads into an intricate suburban sprawl. He lived there when computing was
a small scene, and, I guess because of his curious and easygoing style,
became sort of famous among Silicon Valley’s famous — not that he ever
showed any interest in fame. On the contrary, he cared very deeply about
everyday settings and people, and he had a knack for finding the exceptions
and difference on the fringes of computers and networking.

These interests led Steve into the delicate, nebulous field of community
networking. At its best, it was guided by the some of the fine ideals that
shaped the rise of computing: mainly, the hope that new technologies could
enable organic forms of social mobility. Though he’d probably chuckle at
the idea that he was a pioneer, he was — of the kinds of values and
approaches that, happily, have become familiar as “appropriate" and
“sustainable."

It seems strange to say so, but I don’t think Steve was an idealist. There
were only a few times that I ever saw a hint of tragedy in his thinking.
For example, I remember him talking pointedly about how new forms of media
were driving misdirected urbanization as people (especially the young), led
by grotesquely glamorized images of urban life, conclude that rural life is
“intolerable" and abandon it. But dystopian trends lay far beyond any
difference he could hope to make, so he mostly reserved his skepticism for
community-oriented projects and initiatives that had gone awry. When he
talked about them, it was with a hint of frustration — and patience for
the people who he felt had lost their way. He usually balanced that out by
talking about what he loved most, idiosyncratic projects and settings where
people had pieced together new and old techniques and technologies in
engaging and creative ways. But these weren’t ideals, they were examples.
If anything, Steve was a pragmatist.

A few years ago, I joked to a friend that Steve was a “walking Wikipedia":
not a heroic project to redefine knowledge but an endless reservoir of
impressions and observations. But it wasn’t really a joke. Steve had an
amazing range of experience from his work across several continents, much
of it in developing areas (very much including the rural US). He thought
very intently about what he’d seen and heard, and he appreciated most of
all the idiosyncratic people and settings that triumphalism and
transformationalism have no time for. Given the context that defined much
of his life — the rise of networks small and large — his ways of working
had a quietly contrary or even polemical side; but he won’t be remembered
for that. Everything he said took a very genial form — a friendly chat
about some friendly chat he once had. Stories — hearing them, telling
them, it didn’t matter — were a big part of what he did and how he did it:
informing, guiding, encouraging. If “small is beautiful" is a cliche, then
he was a walking cliche; but it isn’t, and he wasn’t.

For all his stories, though, he never seemed to present his own life in a
narrative form, so there are a few odd things I know about him, but I don’t
know where or how they fit in. At some point and in a surprisingly early
context, he advocated to Native American tribal elders that they develop a
“.ind" top-level domain — a hilarious idea that could have had enormous
impact. He worked as a librarian for Apple’s speculative Advanced
Technology Group, which did incredible work — various QuickTime
technologies, HyperCard, and advanced in speech recognition and synthesis
as well as handwriting-recognition software).

As a young man, he served in the US Coast Guard; I think it must have
whetted his appetite for travel, and showed him a world that, in an age of
airlines and the internet, fewer and fewer see — of disparate small worlds
joined by the sea they share. And he enjoyed traveling around the western
US; I think those landscapes also shaped his view of the world — expanses
where you see how small you are, how small everything is, and how immense
the sum of it all is. In the last years, somewhere between few and several,
he’d taken to bringing an inflatable kayak when he traveled to conferences
and paddling around cities all over the world.

Steve’s involvement in nettime dates back to a time when the list was still
a family of sorts, and one that he enjoyed very much. His involvement in
the list tapered off around the Next 5 Minutes 4 conference as his interest
turned to what eventually became his last major endeavor, the Offline
Project: an effort to understand why, or maybe how, many people and
organizations “that are not directly using the Internet to learn about them
and how they cope in a world that is increasingly interconnected." I won’t
pretend to know in any detail what he learned through his research, but two
things he told me have stayed with me. First, that many people have
positive reasons for living as they like, with no regard for the clatter of
technical advance; and, second, when he stopped using email and the like,
how quickly many of his connections and friendships dissipated. For someone
who dedicated much of his life to community networking in remote areas,
this fragility must have said a lot — but I don’t know what, because he
never elaborated on it.

Beyond years of emails, which now seem strangely immaterial coming from
such a material guy, I have a surprising number of physical objects he’s
given me over the years: a few bottles of wine he made with family and
friends, some seeds for some curious local kind of squash, a vanilla bean
(from Uganda, I think), and a few recipes — for a West African stew and a
ciabatta that turned out really well. These came over a period of several
years, simple gifts of whatever was at hand, but together they say a lot
about who he was and how he lived.

I was lucky to be able to get together with him a few times a year. In
times past, that, and a bit of correspondence, would have made for a normal
friendship; but in a time when communicating is so much quicker and easier,
it seems like very little.

I’ll miss Steve very much.

Steve’s friends were very far-flung, so feel free to forward this. If
anyone sends me messages about Steve, I’ll assemble them and make sure
they end up in the right place.

Ted

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