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Ecosystems of Dissent

On 33 Thomas Street, a 29-story windowless telecommunications building is the source of many debates and suspicions and stands as the embodiment of telephone system architecture: anonymous, brooding, and forbidding.

The building’s exterior wall sandwiches cables in layers of concrete, terracotta, and granite. Through this wall detail, many narratives unravel the political complexities and constructs that operate for the sake of the system.

As corporate telecommunication buildings evolved around the world, infrastructural systems have gradually been concealed through methods of black-boxing, limiting them to the realm of experts. By eliminating entire material narratives that carry accountability, these corporations became active participants in the production and centralization of secrecy and power.

However, cracks within the system exist and, historically, opportunities for dissent have emerged.

A series of techno-social fictional interventions around New York City allows for alternative ways to engage with data infrastructure. These independent scenarios act to undermine the centralized hegemonic system of communication. They do so by rethinking adjacencies to infrastructure, what it means to maintain it, rewriting contracts, and expanding dissenting initiatives.

An installation accompanying this abstract serves as a tool to visualize the multiscalar relationships in which the ecosystem operates. The material is meant to be physically explored around the map and with the handheld guiding pamphlet.

For the sake of un-detailing, an ecosystem of dissent emerges as a form of contestation. It is not meant to resist but to undermine the monopolistic control of everyday life. With Lack Racks, communities have transitioned to independent internet networks, drafting new agreements and relationships between their neighbors, infrastructure, and space. A public library archives servers and data produced by its community while old nooks are repurposed to house technological equipment. Neighbors collectively renegotiate terms with their internet provider or create grassroots systems and regain access to their rooftop after opting out of major providers. A community takes control of its infrastructure’s maintenance and shares it with ice cream. A space without cellular service becomes a cherished moment of disconnection. A school district trains students with technical knowledge on how to maintain their local data infrastructure.

By generating these small moments, interventions are aggregated and alliances are formed. While corporations like AT&T are built for optimization, these moments challenge control over infrastructures. The regime of communication is slowly dismantled to give room for networks of empowerment. Through these independent forms, relationships with infrastructure unfold in different ways — they use redundancy, disconnection, and inefficiency at different scales as tools to undermine the system of centralization and power.

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