November POV

I had a professor in college who, having been living in a crappy apartment at the time, lamented about his landlord on a regular basis. It wasn’t so much that his landlord was cruel or mean, or even that he was overly unfair, it was that he had a grave dislike for what he had dubbed “dirtworld.” Apparently this landlord enjoyed entertaining himself with online gaming (as well as walking around sans pants), and preferred it to the real world—or “dirtworld” as he called it. That name always stuck with me and eventually got me thinking, “What if there was a Dirtnet?” Could we create a more analog version of the Internet? Something that isn’t necessarily as restrictive as our current model? Aram Bartholl thinks so. He started installing devices in brick and mortar buildings all over New York City. They’re essentially a USB port that sticks out the side of a building. Is it graffiti? Or is it simply an answer to the growing concern over the future of the internet?

This “dirtnet” could be the first step toward a more organic Internet—a more analog version of the Darknet, the part of the web that is not searchable. It’s free from security of any kind and is the ultimate underground filesharing network. Instead of trying to fight the organizations and the law, we would just cut them out all together. Yes, you could get the most horrifying computer virus known to man, but what if this paves the way to people taking new strides in creating new avenues for content distribution like radio being broadcast not through traditional technology but as an airborne podcast, or even one easily picked up from one of Bartholl’s ports. Any Wi-Fi-ready device in the area could pick it up. Cities could eventually have Wi-Fi territories—floating clouds of information and entertainment all being created and accessed by anyone with enough know-how.
The Dirtnet could be an avenue for filesharing in most urban environments and create a much more stable infrastructure for information swapping—a network without the network. I love the idea of people walking around with homemade USB-PDAs, just jacking in to the sides of buildings and swapping files. It’s hi-tech graffiti with content.
With this thing being low-tech, affordable, and easily replaceable, people all over the world could begin installing their own digital drop boxes. You could create a global, analog Internet. People could start hooking them up to small Ethernet ports, or even Wi-Fi hotspots. It’s a chance to build if not another Internet, then the biggest cloud for cloud computing ever—a giant information resource free of the restrictions of physical servers. Of course, then businesses will take note. They’ll start branding the ports, creating cute little apps that are themed with their business that can be downloaded; or maybe digital coupons (which honestly isn’t that bad of an idea).
Think of it like Public Access Cable for Generation Y. Generally you won’t know what you’re going to get from one hour to the next, but one way or another it will be brilliant and completely new; someone sat at home and took the time to make it, and then upload it into the side of a building after all. The least you could do is take a look.

Adam Hails

Senior insights officer and cultural/behavioral analyst at Culturewaves.

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