Decolonising the network, reconquering thought

The piece that Sam Kronick is producing for NextThings 2014 resumes the postcolonial debate with the current media

Published: Jun 03, 2014
Decolonising the network, reconquering thought

Router modified in Sam Kronick’s project

By Semíramis González (@semiramis_glez), Semíramis en Babilonia

The post-colonial debate, that began in the 1980s with theorists such as Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak or HomiBhabha, suggested the need to rethink the hegemony of Europe over the colonies, particularly in terms of thought.

When the feminist theory started to deconstruct the dominant model according to which everything stemmed from the white, middle-class, heterosexual male, they paved the way for alternative ways of understanding reality: Post-modernism, cultural studies and the post-colonial theory were some of these by-products. If the physical map was changing, colonies where disappearing…Why not try and break the pre-established thought exported from the West all over the world? It was time to question what was being imposed as a model and also the information channels through which this hegemonic thought was disseminated.

From the 1980s the critical postcolonial theory has evolved and changed a lot. The communication media have changed, therefore our way to question what we communicate must change. The internet is one of the most widely used tools now-a-days to learn what is going on in the world. It is increasingly common to follow a demonstration on the networks. Demonstrators then sell the photographs they have taken with a cell phone to the press. Information flies, travels faster. By following a hashtag on Twitter we receive hundreds of comments by the second. The speed of the medium and the possibility for anyone to take part in the debate are key to understand this change.

However, there is an ongoing debate around the actual “freedom” that the Internet offers. Can we really participate more? Espionage cases are increasingly common, the personal information that we provide when accessing a public wi-fi connection, or a social network that has rights over the contents and images. Is there more freedom in this network spaces? Do we actually participate more?

The piece that Sam Kronick is producing at LABoral after winning the call Next Things 2014 (LABoral  and Telefónica I+D) deals exactly with this. Kronick’s Slow Internet Café consists of a series of wi-fi routers that run a firmware that intercepts and alters in a creative way the information flow that flows through them. Moreover, the shape of the routers is also modified and designed to make them look more appealing for our daily use.

Marta Lorenzo has discussed the piece and its implications in a previous post.

If access to the Internet is granted to everyone, but the means for access are in the hands of a few, it seems that this freedom is not so free. Kronick proposes to choose a whole network world different to the one we are familiar with. He states that he does not think that we should accept the Internet the way it is presented to us, as other worlds in the network are possible.

According to Kronick there are multiple media: A feminist Internet where the computer algorithms would delete the images of white males, a non-commercial Internet that deletes any mention to prices and trade, an Internet that allows access only to sites hosted in the country where you are connected, a fake Internet where images are replaced by a similar one that is the following one in the Google list of results …

There are as many possibilities as people using the network. Kronick thinks that it might be possible to choose more accurately what we access and what we receive, according to our profile.


According to Kronick, the degree of verticality of the Internet “pilars” (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon), as well as the revelations about espionage in the United States and the United Kingdom proves that the “Internet” is far from being a perfect and stable network. It is rather a fragmented collection of systems subject to continuous manipulation, negotiation and re-design. Network protocols are not used only to facilitate smooth communication, but also for self-interests that conceal certain information. This power is exercised from the infrastructure: It defines who can communicate with whom, and what travels from one place to another is controlled and carefully managed. We are objects acting under the forces of the Internet infrastructure with few opportunities to define the nature and the limitations of the network of today.

This basic idea started in the 1980s: The need to re-think what we receive as seemingly neutral and impartial. However, the speed to transform everything in our time, in the age of the networked information, implies new ways of questioning, in line with the changes in technology and communication.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder about the success of such a project: Will we be actually able to control what we receive from the network? Is Kronick’s proposal a utopian dream? May be this is what it is, an illusion, but at least it allows us to imagine other possibilities, which is always the beginning of the change.

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