Putting the Love into Networked Systems

Under the auspices of the 18th Web Residency »Magical Hackerism or The Elasticity of Resilience,« artist Chidumaga Uzoma Orji’s research was led by Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, resulting in Achebe’s Internet(AI). His project envisions the dismantling of the compression of time, beyond the speed of broken digital technology. Proverbs as protocols will resist imported systems to create and hold space for future technology with slow consideration and expansion, through having community at its core.

Uzoma Orji in conversation with Neema Githere — Mai 31, 2023

Neema Githere: Could you tell me a bit about what youve been working on in your Magical Hackerism residency?

Uzoma Orji: I’m working on what I call Monday information systems that are creating technology derived from the wisdom and philosophies that inform traditional ancestral African technologyproverbs in particular. It takes the form of a project called Achebe’s Internet, which grapples with this question or idea of what the internet would look like if it were made by Igbo people, in accordance with our precolonial ways of thinking. I don’t even want to define it in terms of colonialism – it almost feels like the way we see the world is embedded in our DNA. So if we were to design tools and systems, frameworks, and protocols for creating and making sense of information around us, what would those look like, according to our worldview?

NG: What do you feel is present in Igbo proverbs and worldviews that is lacking in modern informational systems?

UO: I think in one word, I would say slowness. And the space the Igbo make for really taking into account a deep understanding of the environment, context, and community. They take those things into account before creating any sort of interpretation, and I think that is missing today. There’s an obsession with speed in lot of the ways the internet has currently manifested. Efficiency is read as the speediness of the network and the speed at which a thing can be done. But in our context, it was the other way around: the efficiency was about – quality. It was about depth, and depth was the product of slow consideration and expansion.


NG: How are you working to embed that slowness in your practice, both in this residency and beyond it?

UO: I’d say through community. The things that we’re developing and designing in our practice have community at the core. And if that’s done right, it ensures that same level of slowness that guarantees depth. Also through protocol itself – but protocol that departs from a place of having a communal system – it’s just a way to facilitate communal sense-making, and the ability to think as a cohort rather than individually. So, during this residency and in my practice beyond, I’m very interested in holding space for groups of people to come together and think through things collectively. And I think that’s what a modern information system premised on Igbo philosophy would look like. There would be more collectivism.

NG: Thats beautiful. Could you share more about this idea of proverbial protocols? I’ve also seen you discuss the idea of conversational energy, which I find fascinating.

UO: Did the internet cut out?

NG: Hello, hi okay, you’re back. Did you hear the last question or should I repeat it? 

UO: Hello hello. Can you hear me?

NG: Hi, sorry. Yes, I can hear you now. I was saying – did you hear the last question, or should I repeat it?

UO: I don’t think I did. No.

NG: I was asking if you could share more about this idea of proverbial protocols and conversational energy. How does conversation emerge as a technology – software or hardware? What technological lens are you looking at conversational energy through, within this informational system?

UO: I’m very sorry Neema, this thing is going in and out. Can you hear me now? Okay?

NG: Yeah. I can hear you.

UO: Hello, can you hear me? Okay, can you hear me now? Okay. Okay. Yeah. Sorry about this janky connection.

NG: No worries, such is the way when we’re trying these tests. My question is about what structures you are referring to when you speak about proverbial protocols. And how does conversational energy play a part in these proverbial protocols?

UO: So my understanding of value for proverbial protocols – and again, this is always evolving with the project – is a familiarity with proverbial thinking. We need to create new proverbs. And conversational energy fits into that because it is the process through which these proverbs are made. Conversation is a big part of this. Part of this thinking is the understanding that proverbs are derived from daily living. They have validity through the day to day, and this validity is found in a shared understanding. So it’s very important that the group – whatever group, in whatever context – is in on how they come about and how they are derived.


Akademie Schloss Solitude - Putting the Love into Networked Systems

NG: What has your process been in compiling these proverbs? Are you in the process of compiling your own proverbs?

UO: So the project is called Achebes Internet because it departed from a study of Chinua Achebe and his book Arrow of God, which feels like one big proverb. You’re almost immersed in a different mental space in terms of how people navigate the world. Reading the book, you really get a sense of how these societies that came before us understood themselves, understood time, understood their relationship with one another, and they see their relationship to nature. Theres a particular sense and feeling that book evokes – it was very profound in terms of compiling the notions of proverbs from there. It also paints a picture of the system through which these proverbs were created, and the world in which they existed. And so it started from a sort of compilation of the proverbs in Arrow of God.

The origin of this project was trying to see if we could reverse-engineer how proverbs are made, which we’re still trying to do. But I wouldn’t use those terms anymore. It’s less about reverse engineering and more about holding space and creating. So we started from gathering the programs that were in that book, and then others that we came across, and along the way we realized – okay, this is almost like AI. It’s like language training models. Supplying the AI with information that it then uses to develop its neural network and its way of interpreting further information. That’s kind of how we’re looking at this. We have this database of proverbs that already exist. The question were asking ourselves is how will it seed? How will they help us create programs going forward? How will they help us define a system or how can we draw from this in the practice of creating programs so we’re not limited to a pre-existing set, but we have this self-generating system that can produce an infinite number of Proverbs for navigating life and the various circumstances we find ourselves in.

NG: If an infinity of proverbs is possible and if slowness is the aim, then what is the relationship between this idea of infinity and the pace at which this project is premised on?

UO: Infinity is possible, but it’s not the goal. It’s not something that we’re actively thinking about or concerned with. But it’s possible in the sense that it’s possible. But it doesn’t inform the projects goals. It’s not a guiding pillar for this framework, so to speak.

NG: You brought up AI, which I love, because Achebes Internet shares the same acronym (AI). Fast forward three generations: how does Achebes Internet show up in day-to-day life?

UO: Hmm. There are so many valid ways this question can be answered, but I think the thing that jumps out at me is a reconfiguration of how people move in the world. It takes root – the way the system works changes the way you work as a person. Because again, it’s so embedded in an embodied perception. The system is about connecting to intuition, and connecting to self knowledge. So I think that in Achebes Internet world, in three generations, people will move with the ways that the system encourages. So there’s more slowness; there is more of a consideration for the people around them. There’s more of an investment in the natural world, as something to create with or create against. There’s more slowness in speech. Particularly, there is this sense of wisdom – embodied wisdom. Everybody has this deep-seated awareness that they carry a wealth of wisdom within them, and they can also outsource this from the people that they’re in community with. And I think in a nutshell, there is more love. Ive been thinking about love a lot.

I’m going on a bit of a tangent here about love. A bit of history: this is a conversation were having from different places. Navigating day-to-day Nigeria, its like man, were people who don’t do well with systems, right? You go to the bank and everything’s just all over the place. We don’t come »on time« to stuff. I went to the restaurant the other day and the manager of the restaurant was chatting with his friend in the area where customers were eating. And I’m like, Yeah, it felt like a very Nigerian way to behave. This is how we as people move. It’s almost like there’s no regard for systems and structures. And the conclusion that my friend and I reached was that it seems like we’re trying to create our world to conform with this idea of systems that we just imported. The idea of time is an imported structure, or the idea that the banks would work in a certain way with tellers and this and that are imported structures. So how do we create systems in a way that actually works for us?

And as I thought about that, the word that came to me was love. As African people, people of African sense, I think love is our body technology. Love is our system. And I think that the creation of any society that we are going to attempt to build with any sort of success is going to have to have love at the center. And love is all those things that I said earlier that we need more consideration for – earth, environment, other people. We’ve talked a lot about science, but I actually see the internet as creating the conditions for that love to really take hold and manifest within society and the structures that we have today. So to answer your question, Achebes Internet will show up through love.

NG: I love that! One closing question for you. How does Achebes Internet resist surveillance? And in what ways is it encrypted?

UO: That’s a good question. I say in my work generally, this is something I’m figuring out. Because even as a technologist, most of the tools that I use are easily surveilled. And I like reappropriating the concrete digital tools, like tools for code, tools for digital architecture. I’m repurposing them for my own intentions around Achebes Internet. But now I’m starting to think you know, what would it look like to build these tools from the ground up? Actually? And I don’t know. One thing that’s coming to my mind again is just going back to community and building situated internets, that are actually rooted in local contexts and in community. And that going against this idea of the way the commercial internet or current Internet architecture, which is considered central and anybody anywhere can connect to it. And all this traffic is feeding into one space that then disseminates information back to all the other places. That makes surveillance super easy. So I’m trying to think about what it means to circumvent that sort of dynamic. That will be the second phase of this research project. Right now I’m interested in just creating a material manifestation of this thinking, and from there we can continue to think in some of these pathways.

NG: I love that. I admire that you were able to answer with »I don’t know,« because so much of the challenge of technology is this idea of absolute truth and knowing. That’s why the technologies we engage with are so broken – they didn’t acknowledge when they didn’t know or see everything. What you were saying about love as technology is a huge part of my practice, too. And the thing about love is that it’s wide open, but it also exists in such subtlety and contextualization that the encryption is effective. It lives within the body, and the body cannot be hacked. I mean, we talk about body hacking in the context of fitness, but in the context of the spirit, the body cannot be hacked. The culture, the blood memory, cannot be hacked. Anyway I’m gonna call you on Telegram so that we can continue there outside of this transcription AI.

UO: Please include that in the transcript. We’re ditching the AI.

NG: On to Achebes Internet.

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Putting the Love into Networked Systems

Neema Githere and Uzoma Orji

Chidumaga Uzoma Orji is a visual/digital/web artist and creative/spiritual technologist. His work is concerned with unpacking postcolonial crises of identity, fueling imagination in service of progressive African futures, and exploring ancestral spirituality through a contemporary lens. He lives and works in the serene hills of Abuja/Nigeria.

Neema Githere (they/she) is an artist and guerrilla theorist whose work explores love and Indigeneity in a time of algorithmic debris. Having dreamt themselves into the world via the internet from an early age and subsequently traveled to more than twenty countries researching Black cultural production, Githeres practice investigates digital Africanity through experiments that span public lectures, community organizing, curation, performance, and image-making.

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