In May 2016 artist Louise Ashcroft set off a rumour that the internet was going to be re-built from scratch, in the unlikely tech-hub of Exeter. A video trailer was exhibited at Exeter Phoenix to catalyse discussion about how and why we might want to remake this global information network in a local, fairly rural context. The idea of a community reaching a consensus and cooperatively remaking the Internet was a contrast to way the Internet itself evolves disparately; a cacophony of discordant international voices fighting for clicks.
The project itself involved Ashcroft working with different local community groups: tech-savvy children from Code Club, the artist collective Preston Street Union, students passing through a foyer space at University of Exeter, drop-in participants at Exeter Phoenix, and the people of St Sidwell’s community centre. By thinking about how we could remake the internet, we considered what it is about digital culture that we value, and what we want to change.
Each workshop gave participants access to craft materials from Exeter Scrapstore, which they could fiddle with and use to model their ideas for our new, local, organic internet! One of the workshops also involved a group walk around Exeter town centre, noticing cultural details relating to digital processes. But perhaps the most important material of all was conversation; the bulk of the research and idea-sharing was generated through discussions, which Louise archived in note form. The absurd paradox of remaking the internet in analogue ways helped to deconstruct digital culture in order to discover its essence. Louise translated the notes she made in the workshops into a series of diagrams which can be viewed HERE.
Concepts such as adding eyeholes to all the screens, a Netflix for dreams, a local yodelling subculture, ‘eye-contact walks’, or an experimental ‘front-door theatre’ where people peer into one another’s private spaces; use humour to explore complex subjects such as voyeurism, loneliness and empathy. The diagrams are recipes for ways of being and relating to one another, perhaps parodying Internet culture as a means of understanding the primal, core human traits that technology appeals to, accentuates and transforms.
Louise now hopes to encourage local people to enact some of her diagrams in real life (and send her pictures) as part of her forthcoming talk at Exeter University.