unPC

I am really taken by this piece by Shafali Jain called “Until the Cows Come Home” from issue 01 of COMPOST magazine (which you should take a look at if you haven't already). Shafali is a part of a group called Janastu. I'll let her describe what the group does:

We, at Janastu, build decentralised Community Owned Wi-Fi [COW] mesh networks to provide low-cost last mile internet connectivity in remote areas. We raise questions about technology and different learning mediums for communities, and develop hypermedia annotation tools for archival needs of communities for inclusion of low-semi literates as first-class internet citizens, and not as next billion users.

In the piece, Jain writes about the Aamne Saamne Pi (ASPi) and how it's used in the rural Indian village of Mirzapur.

We have been hacking together more of an unPC: a not-so-personal computer, with a Raspberry Pi core, called the Aamne Saamne Pi. It is a community-owned white box laptop which facilitates the creation, discovery, and re-narration of community expressions. It also enables the use of personal devices as extensions of community-owned network devices. We introduced ASPi to a group of girls in a village called Mirzapur [Uttar Pradesh, India] as a platform to aid in social, decentralised, and divergent self learning. They were called Garima Girls — aged between 16 to 22, they are adversely affected by the pandemic and struggling against the stigma of even owning a phone on account of patriarchy.

Our primary objective was to encourage rural women, students, young women in traditional labor and skill contexts — typically low literate, as well as unconnected or unable to discover or publish useful content on the internet — to find purposeful online communities to actively engage with for their collective needs of skill development and entrepreneurial aspirations. Our engagement was complemented by online sessions and supportive activities to spur coworking spaces, and witness emergent experimentation in rural settings rather than the prescriptive ‘training.’

I was able to find a great video from Janastu demonstrating the ASPi in action.

The important work Shafali and the folks at Janastu are doing challenges the Western conventions I take for granted every day — the always connected, literate web. There are rural & low-semi literate communities that a huge chunk of the web unrightfully leaves off. How to bring them on in an empathetic, empowering way?

I am also fascinated by the idea of personal devices as extensions of community-owned network devices. This is something I don't think about when using the web in the West. The most community-owned network device I can think of is the router at local coffee shops, and even those aren't so much community-owned. There should be more consideration on that part. What do community-owned unPC's look like? I think the not so distant year Zach Mandeville lays out in his COMPOST piece offers such a perspective.

Shafali should rightfully close this post, so here's more from her piece:

In a world driven by stereotypes and discrimination, can technology challenge the biases of our physical world instead of deepening them? Can we imagine a space that reflects and produces the richness of our world’s multiple forms of knowledge? This project is an attempt to subvert the bias of the text heavy internet, break away from western notions of digital technologies impacting society, and come up with alternate vernacular narratives with community-owned devices and mesh networks at its heart.