Do you still think that the Internet and the access to information is free of charge?

The art residency Next Things 2014 is awarded to Sam Kronic’s proposal to creatively alter the data flow that we receive through the wi-fi routers.

Published: Apr 21, 2014
Do you still think that the Internet and the access to information is free of charge?

One of the routers re-designed following the proposal of The Consortium for Slower Internet. Foto: Courtesy of the artist

By Marta Lorenzo Jaudenes, (@MartaLorenzoJ) My Art Diary

In a society where technology gurus forecast the arrival of a fourth great digital revolution driven by the growth of the so-called internet of things, we must take some time to reflect upon how it would impact our everyday life like, for example, tv or digital photography once did. The debate is not far from us, as last February the Mobile World Congress was celebrated in Barcelona and there it was forecasted that the social impact of the Internet of things would be ten times greater than the impact that Internet itself had.

Internet in things is as simple as equipping with technology and communication objects of our everyday life, for example, our refrigerator, that would tell us whenever we are out of a certain food that we had chosen as if it were an alarm. The top one of “objectification” is led by the famous Google glasses, whose prototype was sold last week in just one day in the United States, in order for its fans to try them on, or rather based on the will of the Internet giant to know into detail the experience expected by its users.

Internet en las cosas

Example of Internet in things. Picture: www.enriquedans.com

This challenge of combining art and technology, giving freedom to artists to explore the huge potential of open hardware technologies, results in the call Next Things 2014, organised jointly by Telefónica I+D and LABoral. In his third call, the artist, designer and technologist Sam Kronick has been chosen winner among 31 candidates. He is already at LABoral starting his 6-month art residency, two of them at the Centre and the remaining four at the headquarters of Telefónica I+D in Barcelona. This year, participants where requested to explore the implications, compilations, use and dissemination of personal data, from the point of view of M2M and of the Internet of things. The winner project is related with the latter.

The proposal of this artist, trained in Art and Architecture in Engineering at Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), bears the title Slow Internet Café and proposes to alter the information of a series of wi-fi routers with a firmware that catches the information flow and changes the way we would normally see it on the Internet, i.e., apparently free.

Actually, according to the research of 2013 by the EMC, 40% of the data obtained in the network needed some kind of protection but, only 20% were actually protected. In other words, are we aware of the great flow of personal information that we give away with just one click, for example, when accepting geolocation and free wi-fi connections? Facebook, Apple or Google are just some examples of how the Internet is not free, and neither does it serve only its original purpose, communicating, but rather it conceals an infrastructure that we see as something familiar just because we have it at home, like the wi-fi router. What if we would be the ones that re-programmed this infrastructure at will? We must not forget that the one that controls the infrastructure, controls also the information flow or currently, Big Data. Sam Kronick proposes to alter the router not only at logical level, but also at physical level, turning its housing into an appealing object to be showcased in our homes. This last action was already started with its series The Cybernetic Meadow Collection where he would take technological elements, like in the picture below where three seeming stones concealed three USB memories. The idea behind this is, as indicated, to deprive technology of its very physical essence to identify it with our traditional environment and make it less invasive.

sam kronick

Sam Kronick. Heirlom Jpegs. The Cybernetic Meadow

As Kronick explains: "If we re-design and manipulate the infrastructural components that we have at home, such as routers, working with the layer that supports the network as if it were a malleable substance, we could start considering our data as really ours ".

On this occasion, the American artist intends, through the organisation that he founded in 2013 The Consortium for Slower Internet aimed at researching on computing and communication, to create an expanded version of the Internet under the following premises:

- The parallel version of this network will only catch contents from servers located at a distance from the user, in other words, this way it breaks the concept of the Internet as a virtual space without borders.

- Any mention to money will be eliminated, in a clear wink to the beginning of the Internet when it was considered a space for the transmission of common knowledge and where there was no room for the ubiquitous capitalisation. Moreover, the system will get rid of any image that does not contain the face of a white man as an irony to tip the balance for so many years of inequity of those who are unfairly marginalised.

- It will offer the possibility to see any information deemed dangerous and therefore, censored in countries like China. Do we actually know everything that is censored on the network? Did we think that the Internet has no limits nor it is watched?

- The results of our searches will be displayed on the screen of our computer but at a slow pace. Death to the fibre optic? Return to a slower and less cosmopolitan rhythm of life?

-Images will be replaced by similar images according to Google, but never the ones we are looking for. Thus a pseudo-reality will be created. Moreover, all movements and complete content that we search, will be stored filtering our data in an open way.

In summary, Sam Kronick like many artists that work with the new media tries to make us reflect upon the way to see the world that has been imposed to us, by changing the parameters of how we see it through something as familiar as the Internet. If we think about how other artists have used data flows to reinterpret reality, we should mention, for example, the radio capsule of Museo Reina Sofía with the title Institución_RS>>/dev/dsp by Oscar Martin. In this work, by means of digital processes and the use of open software –a common feature of artists who work with new media -, Martin carried out a process of transcoding the images of the web site of Museo Reina Sofía in a transformation of HTML code simultaneously sonificating the files of the images. Both artists, although with different results, try to gain ownership of the network in order to make it ours. And this is because we move forward so fast that we do not stop and take the time to reflect upon and question its status quo. As a matter of fact, I am thinking of the sentence that Marshall McLuhan, considered as the main theorist in the so called communication science, said: “We are on a car driving towards the future using only our rear view mirror ".

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