Looking at the clouds. Thinking of the cloud. About art, drones and the Internet.

On June 1 Sam Kronick carried out in La Providencia (Gijón)the action The eyes in the cloud, where he invited to reflect upon neocolonialism on the Internet and our dependency on the network through the flight of a drone.

Published: Jun 09, 2014

By Montaña Hurtado Muñoz (@zapatosrosas), zapatosrosas.com

Some days ago, as I was in Gijón visiting Sam Kronick, I read an article about the use of drones in filmmaking. The use of this unmanned aircrafts is still not regulated for flights with commercial purposes. However, in the United States there will be an exception for seven companies, an exception by which new points of view will be made available in filmmaking, as well as saving significant budget in the productions. The article points out, how, paradoxically, the filmmaking industry itself has accomplished this new advance in the legal framework, after fighting over the last years important and hard battles against the use of drones by the paparazzi. The fact is that these small flying objects bear with them, still today, a strong controversy about their use.


Despite the benefits drones can bring to fields such as agriculture or fire fighting, among others, the fact is that drone control by governments show the darkest side of this technology. Specifically, the most controversial aspect is the military use of these unmanned aircrafts, especially, by the US army. Attacks with drones by the American army have killed more than 3000 civilians over the last ten years just in Pakistan and it is precisely in this country where a group of local artists, with support of other artists like the Frenchman JR, have developed the art project #NotABugSplat , that refers to the jargon used by drone pilots when civilian casualties occur.

#NotABugSplat consists of installating large canvases visible from satellites with the image of a girl who lost her family due to a drone attack in Pakistan. The aim is to empathise with the drone pilots that, thousands of miles away, fly this flying aircrafts towards some specific coordinates and give them instructions to carry out a specific action. What would be their reaction if, in the location where an attack is to take place, they find a large-scale image of a girl and with a tiny spot? Can images like these be able to raise awareness among governments of how disproportionate and irrational are their military strategies with drones?

Following with the dark side of these unmanned aircrafts, we have recently learned about Google’s and Facebook’s plans to take the Internet to Africa and Asia by means of balloons and drones. This seemingly altruistic initiative might conceal dark and obscure commercial interests related with avoiding to pay taxes for operating in these territories, something that other companies like Orange and Nokia are already doing, and, especially, with the control of the personal data of millions of users.

Entrevista a Sam Kronick (en inglés) from zapatosrosas on Vimeo.


As Marta Lorenzo explained in a previous post at LABlog, the main Internet services that we use to communicate are not free, although we do not pay for them with money, but with data. Our data. And also with our files. Millions of documents in several formats that we upload to “the cloud”, a virtual storage space, unlimited and free-of-charge where we will be able to open them whenever we want. However, this is not completely true.
We tend to think that we own certain pieces of the Internet space: Our facebook wall, our youtube channel, our cloud. Actually, we do not own any of them. We are entitled to use them thanks to the personal data and information that we provide to the companies that control them and, for this reason, we can find out that one of our pictures in facebook or a video on Youtube is censored. It can also happen that it is impossible to recover a file that we have uploaded to the cloud if we are in a country where this service is not available due to censorship or commercial interests.

Are we really aware of who are we providing our personal data and information to in exchange for using certain services or connecting to a free wi-fi connection? Do we know who stores our work files, our videos and our photos?

Due to our dependency on the Internet we do not take the time to reflect in a critical way upon this matter, and on many occasions we are not able to look at what is going on around us, beyond our smartphones.

Could this be because we are so immersed in the cloud that we have forgotten to look at the clouds?

This question could be the point of departure of the action The eyes in the cloud, that Sam Kronick carried out with a drone last June 1 in the park of La Providencia in Gijón. On this occasion, the action was not aimed at denouncing the use of drones or making us reflect upon them, it was rather about using a drone to raise awareness of the nature of our relationship with the Internet.

This American artist, designer and technologist flew a drone modified by himself in fabLAB with a router that offered a free wi-fi connection in a limited area and a camera that captured images of the clouds. The public of the action that connected to the wi-fi network received in their smartphones the images of clouds captured by the drone, but they were not able to do any other thing. They could not use the Internet freely. Only looking at the clouds to stop and think about the plans of the Internet giants to colonise third-world countries with drones, the drones that each year kill thousands of civilians indiscriminately and the drones that governments use to carry out their espionage plans. Looking at the clouds to think that a drone might be flying over our heads without us being aware of it. Looking at the clouds to think of the implications of having to live permanently connected to a cloud.

Sam Kronick is very critical about this. And when we are all looking for a faster connection, he has created a consortium for a slower Internet and compares our way of connecting to the Internet with our eating habits: you can get fast food whenever you want, but slow food is easier to digest.

Kronick’s interest to develop new ways of connecting to the Internet lays, precisely, on the relationship between the phrase “surf the web” and one of his favorite hobbies, surfing. As he explains, when one is in the water, sitting on the surfboard, he cannot control the waves, he does not know when they will arrive. He must wait and when they arrive, they arrive in series.
What would happen if instead of receiving immediately the information that we request by typing an address in our browser or clicking on a hyperlink we would have to wait for it, like the surfer awaits the waves?

This is precisely what “slow internet” is, and also the one that we can experience if we connect to the surf model of his routers modified both in codes, that he will modify during his residency at Telefónica i+D in Barcelona starting this week, and in their housing, made out of wood and marmor, in the FABlab of LABoral. The modification of the programming code of the router shows us that, as Kronick says, “other connected worlds are possible”, and not only the one we have known until now.

 

We already know that The Internet is not free-of-charge but, is it free? And at this point, the concept of freedom is not necessarily linked to censorship. Do we use the Internet the way we want or the way that it is imposed to us by certain companies?

 

 

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