At home in the storm. The strange solace of being Edgeryders

My company, Edgeryders, was born in the wake of a crisis.

It was 2011. Like many others, I struggled to navigate a difficult situation. It was not just the tight money, the hollow punditry, the self-importance of myopic leaders. It was the sudden questioning of basic building blocks of our societies. Is debt bad, after all? “Every child is born with tens of thousands of dollars in national debt”, admonished financial journalists. Or is it good? “A web of reciprocal debt is society, without mutual obligations people will turn their back on each other”, observed anthropologists. Is economic collapse fundamental? What do we know about it? Do we need all the stuff we buy, anyway? If not, what it is we need?

What should I do, I wondered? Support reformist candidates at the next elections? Are there any, or are all political agendas different finishings of the same basic mix? Rebel? And what to think of all these new movements, with strange names like Occupy Wall Street, M-25 or Los Indignados? What of the sudden wave of tech activism, with crypto parties at one end and infrastructure for massive untraceable leaks at the other?

“What should I do?” was the wrong question.

No one cares what I do. This is the real world, not some hero fantasy. And the real world is a set of interlocked complex adaptive systems. All important dynamics are collective, emergent. My personal choices make zero differences.

What made sense was to listen, and try to learn. This was likely to be the best investment, for three reasons.

First: people are smart and resourceful . Confronted with a crisis, they tend to step into the breach, invent, improvise. And they were. Alessia spun a web of small businesses who refused to pay protection money to mobsters. Matthias was producing a monumental collection of open source knowledge for autonomous living, from the scale of the household to that of the planet. Anthony was creating an open source protocol for producing human insulin. And on it went, idea after idea, project after project. Sharing economy. Crypto currencies. Urban agriculture. Network bartering. Co-living and co-working (which I now do myself).

Second, people are generous and well-meaning . Rebecca Solnit’s magnificent work confirms it: in a disaster, cohesive, super-efficient mutual aid communities come instantly to life. Though often struggling themselves, the folks that showed up at Edgeryders’ digital door went out of their way to support each other, give hard-won knowledge away, help others to learn.

And third, there is a specific locus in society where most of this happens . At the center of society, where most of the power and the money, there is little incentive for systemic change. Everything is going great. At its outskirts, where the poorest and most vulnerable people live, there is little capacity. When you live hand to mouth, it is hard to invest time and energy in anything beyond immediate needs. But between the two, there is a liminal space where people struggle, but maintain some agency. They have both the incentive and the capacity to attempt systemic change. We call this “the edge” of society.

So, Edgeryders came together in 2011-2012 as a listening exercise in a crisis-ridden Europe, underwritten by the Council of Europe. We found the expected resourcefulness and generosity. But we also found something we had not been looking for: a shared sense of opportunity. In a crisis, the center becomes weaker, softer, more permeable. At the same time, the people of the edge, more rugged, find themselves with more agency. Suddenly, people were listening to us. We could try to use the crisis as a raft, to carry us from the broken old world to a better, saner one.

That attempt failed: the old world is still here . But in 2013, as the crisis started to recede, a core of dedicated contributors had emerged. I was no longer alone: there was a “we”. And we decided to spin it off into its own company. We structured it as an utopian experiment. No debt, no central command (“no plan is the plan”), no office, no work hours. Digital workspaces accessible to everyone on the web (“working out loud”). Relentless do-ocracy (“who does the work calls the shots”). To its founders’ surprise, the company is still around, and growing. And it is doing work that feels meaningful, studying (and trying to influence) community health care, European populism, the Internet’s evolution. We are working on a project of semi-sufficient urban co-living, The Reef, and on a space for experimenting with completely different new economic systems, the Sci-Fi Economics Lab.

Now we are in a new crisis, even more disruptive than the one that birthed us. On a personal level, we are all affected. But, as a collective, it feels like coming home . Edgeryders-the-community looks the same, though it is much larger now. The same sense of feverish grassroots activity; the same aspiration to a fairer, saner world. The same tools – cheap tech, knowledge sharing, and above all reliance on each other. The same disenchantment with the powerful structures of the center – governments, business, politicians.

But Edgeryders-the-company is very different. We are more experienced, more battle-tested than in 2011. We have better tech, better processes, better access and a way better team. The pandemic did not even slow us down much: we were already native to distributed collaboration. And so, amidst the fake news fury, the posturing of politicians and pundits, the longing for loved ones we cannot see, some of us feel a strange solace . Grim as it is, this is where we are meant to be. Work needs doing, and we can help, in the company of people we love and respect. What more could we ask for?

Photo credit: Mark Iocchelli


Such interesting times,
It feels so hopeful to have people to check in with every day, and a level of online sociality that is a constant.
It’s also why this crisis has been affecting other parts of the working life for me than for other of my friends. No office to go to? Ok, but my workplace stays pretty much the same, and if anything it provides added layers of much needed support and solidarity in these times. I’m so appreciating all of the conversations about the world these months with co-workers and kindred spirits :kissing_heart:


Have you stayed in your apartment this whole time? Do you also go over to the Reef as things ease up?

Speaking of easing up, here in the USA, which now has by far the most cases and the fastest spread and the least amount of overall agreement as to how to deal with it, and the worst leadership imaginable, states and counties are beginning to open back up entirely for economic/political and not medical reasons. Very dangerous. Trump has more or less declared his willingness to sacrifice people in order to have the narrative he wants for the upcoming election. I have never experienced a more evil leader.

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I don’t go to the reef other than if I need to print something outside hours when I can get it done in the stationary shop around the corner which is increasingly rare. We are supposed to have a meeting there on Monday with @alberto and @andreja but this depends on whether the weather will permit us to hold it in the garden (outdoors). If not, it’s no office for me - am being very thorough with the social distancing thing.


Am reminded of something a friend said when we were discussing gestures, more specifically whether there are universally shared ways of describing certain concepts without time. Like if you would ask people to show you without words “future” and “past” - do we show it the same way everywhere?
How would you show it? In the West I am guessing most would point forward to indicate future, and backward to indicate past.

Apparently there is some research on this that had come across a group, cannot remember where, for whom it was the opposite. When asked why, the answer was that you can see the past, but not the future. Seen from here it looks like how society is wired follows the former. Walking into the future as though it were possible to see what lies ahead.

Seen like that it’s not odd how so many seem to be afraid of/unsettled by chaos. Especially in more affluent parts of the world - people freak out a lot faster about things than in places where life overall is a lot tougher, institutions barely functioning/functioning differently etc.

Am currently compiling material for our first outward facing website to present what we do as an organisation. After spending significant time trying to aggregate and organise key materials a few things stand out.

Firstly the chaos is very much part of what makes edgeryders so interesting. It looks like what we have been doing is really running a kind of open distributed R&D lab with all kinds of experimental work happening in all kinds of directions. The poor man’s equivalent to the kind that people working in Bell labs, IBM and universities had in the early days when they would be given a lot more creative freedom before processes and management culture constrained it. Have heard alot about this from an older generation of technologists.

The second is that in spite of the chaos there is a strange coherence in the work. It was fairly easy to find a structure if you think about it in terms of clusters and constellations of people who choose to stick around one another around some shared interest over time.

Finally, the importance of memory. Yes, you can have all the structured documentation of information that you want. But in a living system it takes human mind to filter stories - to know which stories offer valuable wisdom in different contexts for different people. But much like the elders who are the keepers of the collective memory of a tribe, we need our own elders to be able to see what to pack for future journeys.


Thank you for this, I believe that coming together in communities and supporting cooperation is perhaps the strongest response we can have to crises, so this seems absolutely fitting and necessary. After all, isn’t collaboration the superpower of our species? Excited I get to play a small role in this community in times like these!

Super interesting, my first instinct was to point right, since the time axis in most charts I look at follows the writing direction, so time moves towards the right. But yes, thinking of the future as behind me is an interesting reframing!


Nope, not going to the office, but working online.
Probably will not go until June unless something cannot be done otherwise.

Yeah, I think ‘behind’ is the keyword - the reason why I would also point to the past that is behind me, and future as what is ahead of me (when my body is standing and walking I walk ahead, I don’t walk behind).

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isn’t collaboration the superpower of our species?

Good one!


Hi there @alberto.

@MariaEuler kindly pointed me to your topic, and I can see why.
I’ve been aware of EdgeRyders for a long time, but never approached the community.
There are probably some differences I still cannot fathom. I see from your text that we certainly have some interests in common, but yet, something remains off from where I sit.

I totally disagree here. Every step we make in this world makes a difference, especially when we choose where to go, what to do, and in particular: what to not do. And what better examples than the ones you give a paragraph later, with Alessia, Mathias, and Athony?

This is not to say each individual is responsible for change – I also disagree with the neo-liberal injunction that individuals must take charge of the change (for example the despicable game the packaging industry is playing with telling people they are not good enough and should take care of their trash, while they produce the plastic packaging in the first place, in collusion with the oil industry.) But keeping individuals out of the picture does not help either. In the bright words of Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This sounds much like it. Yet, from the edge of society to digital workspaces, my intuition is that people from the actual edges are not really here. Not those edges you mention, barely above survival – and these have been existing much earlier than the Internet: they organized already. I’m thinking of the famous example of the Balinese water rituals that Elinor Ostrom mentioned in her Drama of the Commons.

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Welcome, then, @how, nice to meet you. :slight_smile:

Don’t worry, I’m used to that. And I would never propose ER as a general model. It works for some of us. It does have a large advantage: in general, our ethos does not require an alignment of world views for us to be able to work together with others. It only requires an alignment of action (and coordination modes). Alice could be planting trees to restore the carbon balance of the planet, and Bob could be planting trees because he wants to glorify his god, and Camilla could be planting trees because she is just plain crazy and has a compulsion to do so. Still, they are creating a forest together. There is no need to agree on why. In fact, any attempt to agree is arguably a waste of time and energy (unless it’s fun for the people involved).

As I said, it’s not so important that we agree. However, I enjoy discussing these things, so let me explain myself a bit.

If what we do makes a difference depends on the scale at which you view the picture. My personal choices clearly make a lot of difference, to me (and hopefully people close to me). But if I harbored the ambition to “change the world”, as so many people used to say only ten years ago… well, different story then. As you zoom out, the small islands of sanity, health and beauty that I might be able to create disappear into the bigger picture. In the early days of Edgeryders, we had to reconcile the outstanding smarts, generosity and successes of so many people here with the hard fact that the larger systems were unchanged. The initiatives of Alessia, Matthias, Anthony and many others have left the world fundamentally the same as they had found it.


this. Unless, that is, what we are individually doing joins in with what others do, and these small islands join with each other.

In my personal choices, I try to make “no regret” moves. These would be moves that work at the local level, with no need for system change, but would also work well as part of a fairer, better, more humane system. If system change comes, I win big. And if it does not, I do not lose.

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