Coronavirus and the Digital Divide

Going into the gradual UK lockdown, two weeks ago, we expected to feel scared, worried for our relatives scattered across the world, and, after a few days of forced inactivity, bored out of our wits. We knew that there was not a lot we could do about the first two, but thankfully our core members had the luck and privilege to be well stocked of craft supplies, books and videogames. However we hardly had a chance to touch any of that.

In fact, most of us in the core team have the privilege to be able to work from home for most of our regular work activities and we have found that without a clear break between work and reproductive labour, the two blend in seamlessly in a continuum of tasks to complete, leaving hardly any interstice to sneak in an hour or so of creativity. This has been the source of a large amount of frustration among our members and we still haven’t found a way to build a new work-life balance. Perhaps time will tell, but we’re open to suggestions.

Like for most people, our social life has moved to the web. We’ve been using various video calls to contact family, meet with colleagues and organise with fellow activists and solarpunk creators. Physical distances have been simultaneously made impassable and immaterial. If all places are equally impossible or impractical to reach, there is no reason why collaborating with someone across the ocean would be any harder than doing the same with someone only a few miles away. Endless possibilities are open before us who have a good connection to the web: we can give seminars to faraway universities and collectives, attend lectures from esteemed colleagues five time zones away, reconnect with relatives we’ve not seen in a decade.

This is all well and good, however this crisis has highlighted how much of a privilege this is. For the people caught on the other side of the digital divide, the shift of all social life, education and services to the web is inevitably another source of stress as it becomes completely inaccessible to them.

When politicians and activists call for net neutrality or even for free internet connection for everyone, they are not trying to “pander to the millennial demographic”, but recognising that the internet has become an extension of the public sphere and an essential tool for daily life, and as such it should be treated like a common good with no access barriers.

Between this and the huge surveillance and data ownership issues raised by the recent controversies regarding most social platforms, there has never been a better moment to discuss and design a better way of building and managing the internet, one that centres people’s digital rights and privacy instead or profits and is built around democratic self-organisation, free open-source software and cooperativism.

Our hope for the future is that we will collectively learn from this stressful, exceptional experience and build a new, better digital normality.

 

—April 24, 2020

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Author: Commando Jugendstil

Commando Jugendstil is a small collective of Italian solarpunk creators who aim to conjugate green technology and art to make cities a better place to live in and build creative communities. So far they have written short stories for Mamut Magazine no. 6 (Eco-logos), the independent UK publisher Bear With Me Books, and the anthologies Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers and Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters by WorldWeaver Press, and designed artwork for Mamut Magazine no. 6 (Eco-logos), Optopia Zine vol. 1 and Ecología Política no. 57 (Las artes y la ecología política), among other things. Their members are invested in climate justice activism and are part of Earth Strike UK. They have recently won an EU grant to use solarpunk speculative design to help communities plan and enact their sustainable futures—if all goes well, then a solarpunk reality may not be too far away.

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