How To Build a More Organic Internet (And Stand Up to Corporations)
Panayotis Antoniadis , 3 Feb 17
       

Using a DIY network, activists and researchers can broadcast the interviews they conduct with their visitors. Andreas Unteidig, CC BY-SA

Internet access has become such a necessary tool for participating in society that it has been declared a “human right” by the UN. Alas, it is a human right not granted to 60% of the world’s population.

To bridge this gap, big corporations such as Facebook or Google portray themselves not only as service providers, but also as internet providers. Facebook, for example offers free internet access in disadvantaged areas of India, or at least access to a small part of the internet considered “basic” (including access to Facebook, of course).

At the same time, Facebook has the ambition to “connect the world”, to “understand intelligence and make intelligent machines”, and even to “cure all diseases in our children’s lifetime”.

The platform is making a new map of everyone in the world, while experimenting with the possibility of manipulating people’s feelings through the curation of their news feeds.

Towards an organic internet

In a previous article, I described community networks that provide alternative networking solutions to megaprojects such as Facebook’s free basics, offering internet access to refugees or communities outside the reach of traditional internet service providers.

These DIY networks could be seen as “organic”: they are created by local communities, reflect local culture, and the data they use can be generated and consumed in the same place.

The ‘Can you hear me?’ art installation in Berlin. Christophe Wachter & Mathias Jud

DIY networks can also bring people together, face-to-face, instead of keeping them online all the time.

Artists and activists have been experimenting with different types of networks, such as LibraryBox, an e-book sharing network, and the “Can you hear me?” installation of temporary antennas pointing to the US embassy in Berlin, broadcasting anonymous messages from nearby pedestrians.

Yet we need to explore the important reasons why such networks should also be promoted as infrastructure for hosting local services, built and used by local communities.

The wooden structure inside the garden acts as a ‘neighbourhood academy’. Marco Clausen

The Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin is a good example of a place where DIY networks are designed to operate “outside the internet”.

Activists from the Neighbourhood Academy have created a place inside the garden that aims to transfer the principles of organic and collaborative farming to the realm of networking.

The Neighbourhood Academy is a self-organised open platform for sharing knowledge, culture and activism. Its founders, Marco Clausen, Elizabeth Calderón Lüning, Åsa Sonjasdotter and the Foundation Anstiftung came up with the idea of a local wifi network accessible only inside the garden.

They collaborated with the Design Research Lab to build the “organic internet”, a local network attached to a physical construction, Die Laube (The Arbor), which hosts workshops, seminars and assemblies.

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