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Saturday, June 10 • 2:30pm - 3:15pm
How About Talking to Neighbors

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How About Talking to Neighbors is an on-going series, including research on distributed knowledge and usage of the internet, and a design project utilizing "small" technologies -- protocols and services in contrast to "big tech" -- in search of surveillance protection within small networks. As our digital spaces become highly centralized and surveilled, this series thinks back on physical proximity (“neighborhood”) as a digital communication framework, experimenting DIY creation with small-scale wireless protocols that are independent to large infrastructures as a form of radical resistance.

The project comprises three parts.

First, an interactive presentation titled "Networks 101 for the People", an open-access educational artifact both as a website hosted on a Raspberry Pi single board computer, and printed as paper zines. This is a lecture and a narrative on the history, topology, and landscape of the Internet, as well as examples of centralized, decentralized, and distributed networks. Starting from asking: How much knowledge about the internet is enough for people living and creating within the wide reach of the web? I share research and writing on distributed knowledge of the internet, using collective learning as a segway for collective imagination of a techno-future that's built around surveillance resistance, minority safe spaces, and decentralized communication.

Second, a couple of networked, battery-operated DIY devices I designed and created as a study of alternative communication protocols, a critical making artifact, and a speculative use case of “small technologies”. Inspired and grounded by the creativity of youths in revolt, subcultures and resistance movements, these devices were designed and assembled by hand as my attempt to process through my family in Shanghai living under strict COVID-lockdown and state surveillance. The open-source walkie-talkies each have a small microcontroller connected to LoRa, a low power, long-range radio network open to use by the public. This protocol connects two or more devices wirelessly in a small group over a free radio frequency, and allows them to communicate without relying on cellular or internet services, completely away from mass surveillance infrastructures.

Lastly, a collective writing and sharing session that invites the participant to share and compare their neighborhood memories with internet memories, and imagine neighborhood future alongside internet futures. Through understanding the techno-nostalgia for early internet sites as a sideways path* in times of a global crisis, I was inspired by premature web protocols that fostered community-wide communications that afforded potentiality in using, morphing, and interpreting through interaction, where users were also moderators of those spaces. Connecting these experiences to discussions within culture studies on community organizing, neighborhood watch, and network topologies in municipal communities, we're able to explore correlations between digital structures and physical, social connections, as well as ways to hack rules of communication to become safe and equitable for decentralized communities. Living through a time when, according to Chinese anthropologist Xiang Biao, the “nearby” is slowly dissolving, what “neighborhood” means to us nowadays is deeply entangled with our imagination for our digitized future: the longing for alternative structures, third spaces, cultural intimacy, variety, adaptability, potentiality, versatility.
This project is intended to present as a workshop. The workshop will cater towards artists, scholars, and makers who use the internet – we’ll use part 1 and part 2 as introductions for contexts and technologies involved, and focus on the writing and sharing of part 3.
* “Sometimes nostalgia is not directed toward the past either, but rather sideways. The nostalgic feels stifled within the conventional confines of time and space.” Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia


Viola He

School of Visual Arts

Saturday June 10, 2023 2:30pm - 3:15pm EDT
ARC E-11