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  • Paper and drawing/coloring supplies
  • String
  • Devices with demonstration of alternate networks (modem for a WLAN, computer with SSB/Patchwork, two computers running a DAT browser like Beaker, the options are pretty numerous)


To conduct a differNet workshop, you need a space to sit together and move around as a group, paper for drawing and things to draw with, and some string or yarn. Snacks are optional but always nice. Ideally, a group of 5 or more is needed, but these activities are flexible. The first part of the workshops at this point is a five to ten minute guided meditation on networks. I’ve used this time to walk participants through visualizing the path that a message traces as it goes from their phone or computer, over the various intricacies of the network, and to the phone or computer of another. After the meditation exercise, I generally ask participants to draw one or two of several prompts. I’ve asked that they draw their idea of how computers networked before the world wide web, what the internet looks like, what their personal network looks like, how computers communicate now, and what the internet is, though there are certainly many other possible prompts. As everyone is drawing, I’ll offer a brief history of computer networking and talk about the well known histories but also the things that are less well known. Just before the most recent iteration of the workshop, Lori Emerson had sent me an image of a newsletter announcing the near-completion of The Computer Memory Project, and also outlining the philosophical underpinnings of the project, and so I read that in its entirety. I have also told the story of the IPoAC (Internet Protocol over Avian Carrier) RFC 1149 April Fool’s joke and the subsequent proof of concept trials proving that IPoAC is basically functional, and talked about the SRL Packet Radio van – it all depends on the mood of the room and the general interest indicated by participants. Anyone facilitating should be sensitive to the room, and should be prepared to answer questions and change direction as needed

When everyone or nearly everyone has completed their drawings, I ask for volunteers to explain what they’ve drawn and attempt to articulate their abstracted thoughts. The opportunity to share usually brings about the realization that networking is rarely conceptualized as the infrastructure. At this point, I hand everyone pieces of string or yarn (to represent wired or wireless connections) and ask them to recreate various network shapes, starting with the tree and moving to the mesh. The cooperative/collaborative physical effort reinforces the conceptual discussion of network hierarchy, shape, and structure. To facilitate this activity it’s necessary to be a bit like a cheerleader, encouraging silliness and welcoming playfulness. Finally, once the mesh network diagram has been achieved, I turn the workshop to technical demo & hands-on experience of alternate networks. Because I have access to a large number of OLPC XO laptops, I have used these to demonstrate mesh networking. I’ve also demonstrated P2P social media with the Patchwork app built on the Secure Scuttlebutt protocol, passed around a sneaker-net USB drive, and created ad-hoc local networks with a router and several Raspberry Pi computers. There are numerous other potential demonstrations, though, including using walkie-talkies and passing secret notes. Facilitating the tech exploration requires only setting up the tech and then encouraging self-guided exploration. While this is happening, the facilitator can spend time answering questions, having deeper conversations about specific technologies, and encouraging participants to do their own research into the alternative networking movements like DAT and distributed web, mesh networking groups, emergency response internet over radio, etc.