In the spring of a not so distant year, I will return to my hometown to visit the Server Farm. It’s a cheeky title , as the “farm” is just a shed in the center of a garden. In between the rows of community allotments — beans growing up the strings of homemade trellises and tomatoes ripening beneath protective mesh — sits a stark, wooden hut. Its eastern wall displays a calendar against a soft paper-like screen. Its roof is covered in solarpanels reflecting back the sky.
Inside is an eclectic set of computer towers and old laptops. There are bright, plastic bins holding wires and parts, a pegboard of handtools and pamphlets, and a bundle of wires snaking neatly through the machines to a ceiling junction.
This is one of the larger nodes in the town’s network, a condensed form of the town’s cloud. Each node has built up its own personality through the last couple of generations, and this one celebrates the earth and active hands. They’ve set up a tool library in the gathering house next door, and here they host its digital counterpart: a p2p library of downloadable software, schematics, and plans.
Outside is a group of orange-vested children circled around an adult with her hand in the air, holding a spade. It’s the first day of sudo club, a program to keep kids busy during school breaks, where they learn all types of community gardening: from growing a plant from a seedling to installing a mesh repeater on their neighbour’s roofs. It’s a multi-year program of increasing complexity that’s ended up quite popular with the kids. They like the big feast at harvest and leaving funny comments in each others code. It’s rumoured that they’re also using the skills to build their own private network, where they post embarassing memes and talk with fake confidence about drugs.
There’s a café downtown — popular with college freshmen — with homemade lavender shrubs and an ornately decorated Scuttlebutt pub. Here, they can onboard to the town’s social network while they read the “disorientation guide”, with its evocative descriptions of the best local sites, each with its own dumb, regional pun as a web address.
But my favourite node is in the old synagogue by the post office, now the headquarters for our most famous record label. The top floor has the recording studio and a row of flat file cabinets holding every poster of the shows held in town. In the basement is the performance space and server room, a concrete floor with a tower of raspberry pi’s in one corner. This tower, covered in stickers and white-markered tags, holds every album ever made in my town and is the best sync point to the global punk2punk stream: a decentralized, digital, international pop underground.
The label is known for its bravely messy, femme twee sound, but also for creating a tone-based querying language (patched into the punk2punk protocol) that makes it possible to follow a guitarist through the notoriously incestuous band lineups of small-town scenes. Among certain circles, it’s pretty huge.
Each summer, they have a music fest that people come to from all over. On the last night, the label hosts a sleepover in the server room. I will fall asleep beneath the blue glow of our tower, listening to the full sonic history held in its hum. A travelling band plays a droning ambient piece, connecting us to something larger.
Each of these town nodes are small, requiring little more than half a morning’s sun to stay running. They’re more a point of pride than necessity, since the townfolk can connect directly to each other, through personal servers held in all our homes.
In my family’s place, we have a couple servers. One is up by the bay window and hosts a pub, a couple chat servers, and an archive of local comic strips. It connects us to the main town mesh and the greater internet. The other node is at our home’s western wall. It’s on a small altar surrounded by family pictures, placed between a selenite pillar and the St. Christopher’s medal my grandma had clipped to the visor of her car. This server holds the memoir my grandmother wrote, and all the pictures, recipes, sound, and stories we have of her. This node connects to a small, locals-only network, a memorial space created in the air between our houses. I will remember the swell of peace I felt when I uploaded her memoir, knowing it would soon criss-cross over all her favourite places, in the loving mesh that hovers over her old town.
In the not-so-distant future I will have new, inarticulate feelings — moments that feel obvious in the chest, but foolish to say. Like how there’s something in the air here that feels different from anywhere else, a radiance in the radio waves that feels like home.