States are attempting to consolidate their control over the Internet, turning it into an instrument for minute surveillance, whilst a handful of tech-corporations seek to use it as a means to manipulate human behaviour toward their own objectives and siphon off the wealth from local and national markets. In response, alternative technologies have arisen, aiming to restore the Internet’s initial values of net neutrality, distributed control, freedom of speech, and self-organization. Community networks, offline networks, darknets, peer-to-peer systems, encryption, anonymization overlays, digital currencies, and distributed online social networks appear today as examples of alternative technologies aiming at emancipation, redistribution, and maximal autonomy. However, these tools are as ambiguous as the contradictory values and claims that have been invested in them. We can therefore expect alternative infrastructures to be appropriated for ends deemed illegitimate, such as tax evasion or arms trading, thus renewing the calls for restoring “law and order” on the Internet.
Can we learn from the past and avoid the transformation of the utopian promises of these technologies into a dystopian future as, arguably, is happening to the promises of the early Internet?
In order to address such concerns, this special JoPP issue seeks to document and critically assess past and ongoing efforts to alter the commercial development process of mainstream Internet technologies in order to build viable alternatives. What are the futures awaiting these alternatives, which contradictions and ambiguities will they undergo, and which steps can be taken today to avoid failures and disappointments?
Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:
•Technical, social, political, economic and legal hurdles faced by alternative projects.
•The evolution of utopian imaginaries when mediated through socio-technical artifacts and the conflicting interests of multiple stakeholders.
•The strategic trade-off between “voice and exit”: going off-grid, developing offline and online alternative networks, or engaging in the public sphere on mainstream platforms.
•The politics of self-organization: actors, local and global institutions, trust, design, regulation, ambiguities. What is an “alternative” imagined to be, how is it concretely realised?
•Lessons learned from the history of the Internet and other communcation networks.
•Utopias, dystopias, and pragmatic imaginaries of the future Internet and its role in society.
•How market or state actors develop their own visions of alternative Internets to foster business interests (e.g. the proposition for a tiered Internet by dominant telecom operators) or facilitate social control (e.g. Iran’s “halalnet”).
•Hijackings and détournements of existing infrastructures to serve purposes other than those first intended.
•The environmental challenges raised by communications technologies and possible responses for ensuring their sustainability and resilience in the face of the mounting ecological crisis.
Submission abstracts of 300-500 words are due by February 8, 2015 and should be sent to email@example.com. All peer reviewed papers will be reviewed according to Journal of Peer Production guidelines. Full papers and materials (peer reviewed papers around 8,000 words; testimonies, self-portraits and experimental formats up to 4,000 words) are due by June 31st, 2015 for review.
While the issue will be mainly comprised of academic papers, we also welcome 1-page poster-like “visual”, more or less artistic, submissions, without format restrictions, on stories from the past (alternatives to the current Internet that didn’t survive), today’s alternative technologies, real-life experiences and case studies, as well as future imaginaries. These contributions which could range from diagrams and cognitive maps to paintings, photos, installations, even poems, will be included as an appendix to the main volume. The deadline for submission is June 30st, 2015.
This special issue originated in the AlterNet seminar (London, 15-16 September 2014). For more information and inspiration, you may refer to the website.