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What on Earth is the internet?

Date Published: 03 December 2021

PETRAS was in Newcastle on the 25th November launching an exciting new project: “What on Earth is the internet?”.

This first creative workshop, led by Civic Digits theatre company (www.civicdigits.com) brought together academics and members of the public to explore how we think about and visualise the internet, consider what it will become and how it will change our lives.

Participants first discussed their own use and relationship with the internet. Some reflected on the way it is changing their home, both their sense of privacy and security, but also the way they were embracing smart devices in the home as a way being able to ensure it was a place that was safe and comfortable for them in their old age. One participants spoke about what their digital footprint meant for their death, what would their legacy be and can they control it? Others commented on the connections they make with others through the internet and the emotions involved, whether these were equivalent to non-digital emotions and connections.

“The internet is a world of private joy and public shame”, Participant

Small groups then created physical models of the invisible processes behind the internet: Malteser delivery systems represented sending messages of love; delivery bikes made of paperclips explored how the messages are sent and responded to in disaster zones; and various networks were represented by pipe cleaners and string, with sweets acting as binary. Where participants didn’t know how something worked they were encouraged to use their imagination.

“The e-mail travels through a cloud in my home then goes down my driveway to the box I’ve seen the man fixing. Then it goes up the hill down the road and up into the atmosphere”, Participant

Finally, the workshops imagined what the future looked like: Participants anticipated data being more in the hands of the everyday user, for good and bad; imagined new types and layers of internet with different ownership, rules and geopolitical boundaries; and, questioned the effect the internet will have on the social habits and human emotions of the future.

 “Changes mushroom; things get very big, very fast”, Participant

These workshops were the first activity in a larger project which will engage artists and creatives in capturing the ways different people understand the workings of the internet and the risks that it poses. By co-creating new metaphors and images of the invisible aspects of the internet and internet of things, the project aims to create resources which can engage new audiences in considering innovations in the internet, the cybersecurity risks which are emerging and how we build systems which are secure for all.

To get involved in the project or follow its progress please contact PETRAS Synthesis Fellow Joe Bourne.



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