Lucreccia and Suvani: Thanks so much for this elaboration. It really concretizes the space of the internet, and reiterates the point that instead of a »given« that we access, it is bound to concrete sites, material traces and physical labor. In that, the shift to thinking of it as a space of commons really can affect the way one participates in the World Wide Web. There are two instances that this makes me think of – the first is the project Anatomy of an AI, where an anatomical map of human labor, data, and planetary resources is traced out starting from a voice command given to the Amazon Echo.
Do you see your work as trying to make visible the operations of this opaque networked infrastructure, and for people to get closer to an understanding of what it takes to enable connectivity and access?
kirby: I don’t know that my work does that (yet); it’s certainly something that I think about in the ways that I make things, a set of awarenesses that I do my best to carry through my creative and production processes. But I don’t actually see it playing out in my work, at least in the ways that I present things to audiences/interactors. It’s something I’ll continue thinking about, though, and hope to forefront more in the future. Anatomy of an AI is awesome, thanks for the link! As a slight aside, I’ve just started reading Jane Hutton’s book Reciprocal Landscapes in which she traces materials like soil, seeds, plants, and fertilizers from »public landscapes« in New York City back to their sources. I’m so early in my reading of it so I won’t say too much about the book, except that it seems to connect up a number of the ideas we’re talking about here – materials, commoning, etc.
Lucreccia and Suvani: There is also the second instance of the ongoing communication blockades in Gaza by the Israeli state as a war tactic. Drinking water and electricity have been cut off for the Palestinian population in Gaza, phone and internet towers have also been destroyed. Devoid of communication and the internet, the civilians are in a state of blackout. It very clearly points to how the idea of »communication networks« is controlled by the dominant group and becomes a mode of exercising power.
In these deeply unsettling and grave times, your ideas of taking up processes of »commoning« in the ways we inhabit the Web become even more pressing and critical. I have been wondering about the power dynamics, unequal, and controlled access and contradictions that assail communication networks and their use, and also how we, as users and participants of the internet, can demand accountability for this and/or facilitate alternatives that circumvent it. What are your thoughts on this?
kirby: I’m responding to your question a week or so after you wrote it, and people in Gaza are currently experiencing their third communications blackout since the one you were responding to, and the on-ground conditions are getting more and more dire. I don’t feel equipped to speak on this, and I certainly wouldn’t want to use the experience of Palestinians as a way into speculating on ideal internet futures. Instead, I’m thinking about my current sources of information: news updates and on-the-ground coverage from social media (like a lot of people, I’ve been doom-scrolling and continue following incredibly brave journalists on Instagram); likewise on Instagram I’m getting calls-to-action and updates about local (Naarm/Melbourne) protests and solidarity actions; and in private messages I’m debriefing and organizing with friends; and on community radio I continue listening to voices who either aren’t platformed on mainstream media, or if they are it’s short and reductive sound bites.
I feel conflicted about my reliance on social media in what are, as you say, deeply unsettling and grave times. I don’t trust and want to be seeking alternatives to proprietary platforms like Meta that own and control so much data and flow of information. At the same time, such platforms have been vital sources of information and spaces for organizing. Ideally we would be able to continue these forms of listening without wading through shadow bans and dodging/combating Zionist trolls. But as it currently stands, circumventing online power dynamics is currently coming in the form of liking, sharing, and saving things, a hacking of sorts to train the Meta algorithm to update me when trusted sources share news.
I’m sure I’m going to forget some, but for what it’s worth: