<Off-Grid-Traces> Discussions @ IAM Weekend 2020

IAM Weekend 2020: The Weirdness of Interdependencies
20 March 2020

Event Page

The workshop router hub –> http://iam.compiler.zone

Welcome to <Off-Grid-Traces>, a drop-in workshop for reimagining digital interaction after an ecological disaster. The lights are out, the water is rising, the internet is down, and for a brief moment, the power is in your hands. Equipped with ‘the wrong’ tools, leave your digital trace for a decentralised world.

In March, we took part in a weird, experimental and fully remote Internet Age Media Weekend 2020. We ran a virtual  <Off-Grid-Traces> Discussions workshop with 20 participants from all over the world, in collaboration with the Digital Learning team at Tate. 

This workshop was previously presented at the Late at Tate Britain: Solstice in a drop-in format aimed at young people. Late at Tate is a monthly event curated by Tate Collective Producers, which aims to introduce the gallery and its collections to non-traditional museum-goers, particularly focussing on BAME, 15-25-year-olds and first-time visitors. For the IAM Weekend, we proposed a 90-minute iteration of the workshop for a more specific tech-focused and digitally literate audience. Initially, the workshop was supposed to happen IRL in Barcelona, but due to the COVID-19 crisis, our idea had to be adapted to work in an online format.  

Taking inspiration from the offline WiFi router pavilions of The Wrong Biennale, in which we curated the exhibition Off-Grid <On-Tour>, PirateBox software and DIY practice, we aimed to instigate change and enable practical engagement with the core themes of IAM’s The Everything Manifesto. Participants enter a post-ecological disaster scenario, learn about the role of digital development in the climate emergency and have the opportunity to reimagine digital communication, collective learning, the internet and alternatives.

We used Zoom chat and shared slides showing the current topic of conversation. Restricting the conversation to text chat only, without video and sound, we hoped to show what a more energy-efficient conversation felt like, and enable a different and more inclusive kind of communication than people are used to with video calls. We hosted the practical part of the workshop on a modified version of PirateBox on a Raspberry Pi (a variation of our The Wrong router project) installed in our studio in London → http://iam.compiler.zone/. Participants could access the router remotely and share their drawings, photographs, gifs, short videos and sounds on the theme of reimaging digital communication in a post-ecological disaster scenario. 

Following a prepared transcript, we guided the conversation in the chat and asked participants to reflect on the three core themes: Imagining the next PirateBox, The Climate and The Internet, and Communication and Collective Learning for the Future.

Please see the chat highlights below.

Although no one had heard of the PirateBox and only two people had heard of The Wrong, the information provided on the slides and their engagement with the overall subject meant the discussion of how to reimagine a technology beyond the PirateBox was still productive.

There were also suggestions of similar projects: DeadDrops, Bibliotheca, Firechat and Fonera Routers.

The outcome was to think of reworking or hijacking existing technologies. For example, building an independent network upon a smartphone’s grid; use every smartphone as a beacon. They discussed how this could reduce environmental impact as local file sharing would keep the processing power down, as well as the undesired consequences of becoming free labour for data.  

Through our questions, the discussion turned to the large amount of digital content being created and stored – and if it is all worth keeping? And if not, who should be in control of the deleting content?

This sparked a conversation about worth and usefulness. For example, if an account or media is unused for a certain length of time, it is automatically deleted. If users had a culture of decluttering their digital space routinely, consciously making a decision to keep or discard something. However, there was a counterargument that everything should be archived, turning the internet into a contemporary Library of Alexandria. This would be a resource for future generations/other entities to understand our history. JumboPrivacy was suggested as a useful tool for putting this into action within your own phones now. 

It was agreed, however, that the Internet itself is not bad for the environment, but people are and that we should take responsibility ourselves rather than blaming our tools. Human consumption is what we might need to interrogate. 

After introducing the idea of Tsunami Stones, participants highlighted that current generations often feel detached from each other as everything is moving so fast, we can no longer relate to even the generation before us. However, if we could reach an acceptance that values, beliefs and differences can hold people together, we could productively learn as a collective. This article about the difficulty of creating universal symbols was an interesting one, as in the case of Tsunami Stones the things we most want to communicate from generation to generations are warnings of danger.

All these discussions keenly bounced through the topics, with interactions between the participants as well as just direct answers to the questions from us as Compiler. We started with current tech, collecting ideas of how we can move beyond these. Questioned our production of physical and digital waste and responsibility, linking the climate and the internet. Thanks for leading us to look both back to the past and to the future! 

Despite being scattered all around the planet, there was an amazing feeling of collective connectivity and knowledge sharing achieved with the help of online tools. Throughout the workshop activity, participants were encouraged to discuss the physicality and environmental impact of digital networks and consider the potential usefulness of localised fragments of the internet. The workshop created a unique open space for generating collaborative ideas, asking questions, and, above all, shared learning and play. As practical or impractical as new ideas and models come, the act of their creation transforms participants into proactive citizens and designers taking agency, actively finding solutions for their future on Planet Earth.

Hopefully, see you in Barcelona next year! ???

Other links suggested by participants: