The Dark NET and the Cozy web, reflections on the NETworkshop

By Zane Kripe, April 2013

The Networkshop organized by Dorien, de Waag Society, Netwerk Democratie and Veenfabriek and run by two media artists and hackers Julian Oliver and Daniil Vasiliev was a week long attempt to learn more about the basic infrastructure of the Internet. For the organizers understanding networks is crucial in empowering oneself to break out from the position of consumer and become a creator. So during this week we learned how to control our computers via command line, set up networks and monitor internet traffic as well as some basic principles of how to protect ones privacy in the virtual world. As we were learning the ins and out I felt excited, exhausted and fascinated at the same time.
Yet, when the workshop ended, I left it with mixed feelings. Do I know some more now? Yes. Do I understand some more now? A bit. Do I feel different about the Internet? Yes and No. For me the workshop highlighted that what I understand with the Internet is something very different than what our mentors Julian and Oliver understand with it. For me, the Internet is the Web. Just like it is for many (I would say most) people and there is a reason why in common speech the two terms are used interchangeably. Even though I gained a small peak at the world of networks, that space is foreign to me. It even feels somewhat hostile- all those rules I don’t know, all those languages I don’t speak and all those dangers I am barely aware of. Talking to server is no fun unless you have known each other for long.
Where I do feel cosy, however, is the web. That is where my journeys for years have been facilitated by all different services without which I would see little use of going online. Colorful icons and images of company logos simple enough to be drawn by children greet me in familiar ways. I know how to respond, whats expected of me and how I can make my stuff happen (click, drag, type and click some more). Sure, I’m paying for it- with my eyeballs, personal information and occasionally with my credit card as well. I am being profiled, classified and sold 10 000 times over. But I don’t know any different, really. Stuff happens automagically here.
During the public discussion on Thursday night one of the questions raised was wether all people should have a deep technological knowledge about the internet. To be honest, I don’t know. What I know though is that the world (both virtual and physical) would be a different place then. And there will always be differences in how much one knows or how skilled one is in creating. For my dad making a Skype call is already empowering. I am not saying that he shouldn’t go further, but I also know that it has taken him years to become somewhat comfortable with keyboard, mouse, screen and browsing.
However, what I definitely feel strongly about is that we all should become better informed, more reflexive and responsible consumers. In Understanding Media McLuhan argues that people who use technology without understanding that the technology changes them are numbing themselves, entering a narcotic state where they are unable to be aware of themselves. In Chapter 7 (Challenge and Collapse) he writes that “Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous system to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left.” And indeed, rights are not given, they must be claimed. So thinking before using something, asking more transparency and responsibility from companies that run services we use would be the first step to become more responsible consumers (thinking here also along the lines of project VRM).
To conclude I’d like to say that I agree with Julian when he says “Ignorance has a significant market value”. However, I think transparency, fairness and responsibility have even higher market value, its just that we haven’t been shopping in those aisles yet.

Other participant reports on the NETworkshop.