Digital Colonialism

Free Basics, Facebook’s free, limited internet service for developing markets, is neither serving local needs nor achieving its objective of bringing people online for the first time.

“Facebook is not introducing people to open internet where you can learn, create and build things,” said Ellery Biddle, advocacy director of Global Voices. “It’s building this little web that turns the user into a mostly passive consumer of mostly western corporate content. That’s digital colonialism.”

Read more: How Facebook’s free internet service has failed its users.
Previously: How to build a low-tech internet.

The Screenless Office

Current interface culture is dominated by a few large corporatate players: google/Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft. For many of us who spend countless hours working, socializing and amusing ourselves while using technical media, these powerful players have a huge influence on our experience of everyday life. Our perception of the world around us and how we see ourselves in, it is mediated by the decisions of a few privileged managers, programmers and designers, mostly male and white on the west coast of the United States. To suggest any other way of living in a networked society is to risk being percieved as blasphemous, uncool, out-of-touch, escapist or simply absurd. These interfaces have become so embedded in our conception of reality that we now have a crisis of the imagination, where it is difficult to even think of anything different.

Removing the screen is a radical gesture denying conformity to the dominating forces of contemporary interface culture. By getting rid of the display, we force digital text and images back into the old conventions of print culture. While this might have a superficial, nostalgic appeal, more importantly, it puts us into the role of acting like amateur media archeologists, investigating the history of modern visual, literary and bureaucratic systems both technical and social. At the same time, by taking newer forms of digital media and packing it into the old container of print, we open up a new experimental field of analog-digital hybrid forms. Our goal is to discover and invent novel ways of living in the digital world which might be more informal, expressive and embodied.

The Screenless Office is a system for working with media and networks without using a pixel-based display. It is an artistic operating system. The office presents a radically alternative form of everyday human interaction with media. It is constructed using free/libre/open hard- and software components, especially for print, databases, web-scraping and tangible interaction. Currently, it exists as a working prototype with software “bureaus” which allow a user to read and navigate news, web sites and social media entirely with the use of various printers for output and a barcode scanner for input. While our existing software allows for interesting new ways of consuming media, we are currently working to expand the system to make it capable of publishing content and thereby, enabling a provocative possibility for active participation in contemporary social life.

Quoted from: The Screenless Office. Via Jeu de paume espace virtuel, May 2017.

Rebuilding, Testing and Documenting Self-Made Wi-Fi Antennas

Pretty Fly For A Wi-Fi revisits the histories, origins and uses of self-made Wi-Fi antennas. Many of these designs were once shared through home pages that no longer exist and are now only partially accessible through the Internet Archive. It is a combination of pots and pans, dishes and cans through which people from around the world give shape to their collective dream of making an alternative internet.

This project tries to revive these designs by rebuilding, testing and documenting them. The antennas serve as an interesting point of departure to think about the internet’s infrastructure and how day-to-day users could potentially influence its shape and use.

Most of the antennas result out of the idea of wireless community networks, an idea which emerged shortly after the commercial introduction of Wi-Fi equipment in the early 2000s. These grassroots initiatives aim to build alternative network infrastructures, often on a peer-to-peer basis and without the need for costly wires. Such network infrastructures can be found on rooftops, balconies and windowsills and can cover large distances by broadcasting from building to building.

They are built for a variety of reasons, sometimes to provide broadband connections in areas where there are none, to make censorship free alternatives to the internet or to share the costs of a single internet connection.

More: Roel Roscam Abbing’s website (pictures) & Lídia Pereira’s booklet (drawings, PDF).

Previously: How to Build a Low-tech Internet.

The Pirate Book

The Pirate Book offers a broad view on media piracy as well as a variety of comparative perspectives on recent issues and historical facts regarding piracy. It contains a compilation of texts on grass­roots situations whose stories describe strategies developed to share, distribute and experience cultural content outside of the confines of local economies, politics or laws.

These stories recount the experiences of individuals from India, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Mali and China. The book is structured in four parts and begins with a collection of stories on piracy dating back to the invention of the printing press and expanding to broader issues (historical and modern anti­piracy technologies, geographically­ specific issues, as well as the rules of the Warez scene, its charters, structure and visual culture…).

The Pirate Book. Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, 2015. Picture: a code wheel, a type of copy protection used on older computer games.

Thanks to Melle Smets.

Capturing Indigenous Knowledge


A Kwakwaka’wakw canoe in 1910. Picture by Edward S. Curtis.

Engineering4Change highlights a video series about indigenous knowledge. From their article:

Thirteen video interviews in a YouTube playlist and a research paper expound the value of indigenous knowledge, the knowledge gleaned from the world throughout millennia that is not formally enshrined in academia. Ignoring indigenous knowledge can cripple engineering projects, and learning from it can enhance them, says Khanjan Mehta, Director of Penn State’s Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship Program.

Carolyn Sachs tells a story of women tending maize fields in Swaziland who ignored the advice from visiting agricultural scientists. The consultants said the farmers should weed their fields, but what looked like weeds to the visitors were actually dietary staples and a source of Vitamin A that the visitors did not recognize.

Bruce Martin explains how Ojibwe fishermen in northern Minnesota read the water to predict the location of the catch and the day’s weather forecast, sometimes better than fish-finding sonar and the local weather channel.

In another video, Audrey Maretzki tells the story of a woman in a nutri-business cooperative in Kenya who described the nutritional values of two grains. Boys raised on maize are fat and boys raised on finger millet are wiry and will beat the maize-fed boys in a fight, the woman said.

“That hit me like an ‘aha’ moment, because I knew that wimby [finger millet] was a more nutritious grain than corn. And to have her tell that in her own way was a recognition on my part that in fact there was a lot of knowledge there that we needed to figure out ways to capture,” Maretzki says in her interview.

The Internet in a Box

internet accessLow-Tech Magazine and No Tech Magazine have given permission to the WiderNet Project to distribute all of our content via the eGranary Digital Library to people lacking Internet access.

The WiderNet Project is a non-profit organization affiliated with the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill that promotes low-cost information and communication for underserved populations.

The eGranary Digital Library, also known as “The Internet in a Box”, is an off-line information storehouse that delivers educational resources to people living in underserved areas of the world.

  • In developing countries, many of the universities, schools, clinics and hospitals have no Internet connection.
  • Institutions that are connected to the Internet have such limited bandwidth that they cannot offer free Web browsing to the majority of their staff and students.
  • Bandwidth in Africa can cost up to 100 times what it costs in the U.S., so for some organizations a slim Internet connection can consume the equivalent of one-half their operating budget.
  • Even for those individuals who have the wherewithal to pay for Web browsing, the experience can be frustratingly slow — it can take hours to download a single audio file.

The eGranary Digital Library addresses these issues by moving a large assortment of educational Web documents onto the subscriber’s local area network (LAN) so that the documents can be made available to everyone within the institution freely and instantly.

Related article: How to Build a Low-tech Internet.