Explorative Research into the Construction of an Alternative Net
This article briefly summarizes my practical and theoretical experiences as trainee at Transforming Freedom in Vienna, Austria and the conducted explorative research into the construction of an alternative net. It takes a different perspective on how individual activism deals with current political and economic interferences on net neutrality by choosing to self-define an alternative environment for personal data sharing.
The decision to follow a research internship in Vienna was threefold: First, my enormous passion for traveling and the discovery of other cultures; secondly, via Mirko Tobias Schäfer I got in contact with the co-founder of Transforming Freedom, Andreas Leo Findeisen; and finally, the combination of the location of Transforming Freedom in an enkindled city of cultural viability and Transforming Freedom’s ideals and activities concerning new media and digital culture have convinced me to stay for three months in Vienna.
Transforming Freedom is a non-profit organization that deals with the political and cultural waves of new media and digital culture, and replies by supporting the philosophy and ideals of freedom in the net through an establishment of an online archive. This online archive consists of selected interviews, lectures, conference speeches, and talks concerning cultural and political transformations of recent developments in new media and digital culture. Transforming Freedom offers a platform for documentation to create public awareness and to enable opportunities for future research.
With the support of my supervisor Andreas Leo Findeisen, Transforming Freedom members, and the online archive with documents on new media and digital culture, I could participate in research related activities and, most importantly, conduct my own research. My own research topic reflects my three months of trainee at Transforming Freedom encapsulating talks about Internet freedom and net neutrality from different perspectives. To enlighten these perspectives, I have used the Actor-Network Theory to describe activist, artistic, political, and economic engagement with net neutrality.
The reason for exploring artistic activism has to do with Transforming Freedom’s inspiration by the Fluxus movement in the 1970s when they initiated the first net culture server and introduced the free software approach. Future Fluxus is another project of my supervisor Andreas Leo Findeisen and deals with the unity of art and life in digital culture to encourage creative collaboration between individuals.
During the Coded Cultures Festival in Vienna that was held from September 21, 2011 till October 2, 2011 I became acquainted with inspiring and creative projects concerning the intersection of media, art, technology and culture. Examples of these projects are news manipulator device Newstweek (http://newstweek.com/overview), anonymous offline peer-to-peer file sharing network in public places, Dead Drops (http://deaddrops.com), and a German transdisciplinary platform called transmediale (http://transmediale.de/). In addition, Future Fluxus has given a talk and exhibition on the infection of art, culture and technology as a communication tool to raise awareness about recent developments on net neutrality and the values of freedom in the Internet.
I have had several talks with Andreas Leo Findeisen about the meaning of freedom in the Internet and what kind of transformation is in process. To keep in mind the freedom ideals of Transforming Freedom, Future Fluxus collaborative approach of “do-it-yourself”, and from several dialogues I have followed (including the ones at the festival), I have focused on the individual activism of transforming freedom that involves the construction of an alternative net.
Great examples of an alternative net are alternative social network sites Diaspora*, Tor, and Anybeat but the most important discussed project during my internship has been about the Freedom Box. The Freedom Box is a personal server that you can plug in a power outlet, and acts as an alternative server with privacy-respecting federated services. What the Freedom Box actually does is giving back individuals the control of their own data and the sharing of it. In short, the Freedom Box provides a secure and decentralized network in which encrypted data can be send to only for those who are intended to receive it.
The Freedom Box is realized due to two reasons: open source and free software as constructive actors. According to the Freedom Box Foundation, free software creates greater trust, opens opportunities for advances, and enables people to control technology. Richard Stallman refers to improvement of social cohesion of individuals using and sharing software and Doc Searls emphasizes the need for open source to produce improvements.
Several reason have led to individual activism of constructing an alternative net. After exploring the actors of the mainstream net (political, economic, and users as actors) I have concluded that the unbalanced relations between these actors in perspective of net neutrality dismantle the existence of a net that safeguards the principles of freedom, including privacy and freedom of expression, openness and neutrality.
Due to these unbalanced relations between actors in the mainstream net, individuals have taken action in an alternative way: to self-define an environment without political and economic interferences, and in which citizens are the righteous owners and controllers of personal data. An alternative net is pointing to some kind of exodus, a liberating force that breaks from the currently legislation and interferences of the mainstream net. In this way, freedom is transformed in terms of preserving initial freedom according to citizens beliefs and behavior in digital culture. According to Findeisen: “Transformation or not transformation is not really an option from my perspective. We, as society, will have to improve or reinvent it by taking the control of processes that should be ours to control, just so that the who, the what, the when, and the why will alter according to the context” (Findeisen 2011).
Transforming Freedom has given me the unique opportunity to become part of their activities, their philosophy and ideals in Internet freedom and to expand my knowledge in new media and digital culture. In addition, I have created a valuable network of people that have made a great contribution to my research, and personally to me as a person in becoming an academician.