Seasons of Social Possibility
What happens when a computer hibernates? Does it hibernate like an animal? Open your computer and you are back where you left it. Is there any difference? Perhaps a little less battery if it's a laptop, but not much else. Hibernation only in name. Bummer.
What if a computer could actually hibernate, turning itself off for a long period of time only to turn back on some time later? What would that look like? What would happen after it turned back on? What if it were to adopt seasonality?
Such a hypothetical question whirls in my head after reading a particular stretch of David Graeber & David Wengrow's The Dawn of Everything. Therein they describe how seasonality in human social and political life took many forms in Prehistory as well as in particular indigenous peoples. One example they mention is 20th century anthropologist Franz Boas' research of the Kwakiutl of Canada's Northwest Coast:
Here, Boas discovered, it was winter – not summer – that was the time when society crystallized into its most hierarchical forms, and spectacularly so [...] Yet these aristocratic courts broke apart for the summer work of the fishing season, reverting to smaller clan formations – still ranked, but with entirely different and much less formal structures. In this case, people actually adopted different names in summer and winter – literally becoming someone else, depending on the time of year.
Sure, a holiday can nudge me to be more generous or gregarious, but is that the same as shifting an entire social system and your identity? Probably not. Even if we are “stuck”, as Graeber & Wengrow put it, unable to adopt such seasonal shifting due to our 21st century day-to-day, perhaps we can find something on the web. However, does seasonality exist even there? I adopt an online persona, usually on a platform, usually with many. Does that platform change its structure, its social system, seasonally? New features or designs? Superficial window dressing. What I mean is that a forum is run by one admin during the Summer, but delegates admin control to 5 members of the forum chosen by lot during the Winter. Something like that. It could already exist out there, but I wonder why there isn't more of this experimentation. Even on a personal level, to take on a new identity depending on the season. What would that look like? Perhaps one uses social media during the Summer but then uses only email during the Winter? I'm not sure.
But why even take on such an effort? For Graeber & Wengrow, seasonality in identity and social life creates what they call “laboratories of social possibility” where we can “step outside the boundaries of any given structure and reflect; to both make and unmake the political worlds we live in.” That strikes me as being alive, of changing with the seasons as they change the world around us, of being more with the world, of not being stuck.