FreedomBox at Elevate 2012

On October 28th 2012, I hosted a workshop titled “FreedomBoxing” at the Elevate festival in Graz.

If you haven’t heard about it, Elevate is a successful and extremely well organized festival about contemporary music, arts and political discourse. Each year, the festival picks an overall theme that accurately captures the most pressing topics of our time. This time, that theme was “The Apocalypse”, and festival activities revolved around the question of whether we as a species will be able to cope with a growing number of seemingly insurmountable challenges that threaten us, such as economic crises, failing governments, or ecological destruction. In answering this question, one central consideration was whether our current global political, economic and social systems can even provide the tools to address such problems.

Without falling back into a cyber-utopian perspective of the early Internet days, it is still true that the way we communicate with each other may play an important role in our ability to address our planet’s challenges. Finding the right balances in the online world between economic value and civil society use, between verified identity and anonymity, between individualism and communities, etc. is still key to our quest of using the Internet and related technologies for positive change.

The FreedomBoxing workshop had about 20 international participants, some with rather extensive prior knowledge about the FreedomBox project, and some newcomers who were interested in discovering what it was all about. We had quite a bit of hardware to experiment with, including 2 Dreamplugs, 2 Raspberry Pis, several Guruplugs, and networking equipment. We successfully set up a “Freedombox” Wifi network via a Dreamplug and its freedombox-privoxy service, through which workshop participants could surf the Internet free of certain advertising and tracking technologies. We then went on to demonstrate how a FreedomBox could act as a “personal data store” and run Unhosted apps, which means that you use applications on the web the way you always do it, however with the difference that your data remains on your box. One such Unhosted app is Friends#Unhosted, a decentralized social networking service. Several participants who brought laptops or smartphones were able to try it, and people were able to establish “friend” links and share posts with each other, while all this data was stored on one of our Dreamplugs.

My impression was that everybody understood and identified with the general idea, i.e. that we are working on a vision in which our personal data is not stored in the cloud and our communication is not handled by (often unknown) intermediate parties, but is rather kept on a box in our home and therefore fundamentally under our control. There were many questions during the workshop, and we had great discussions, switching between German and English language as needed. Finally, ten minutes before the workshop ended, as a highlight and to everybody’s surprise, a member of the FreedomBox Foundation‘s advisory board walked into the room and was able to provide us with some first-hand information about the current state of the project and about the foundation’s thinking on some of its technical developments. In total, I felt content that the workshop was a success.

Unfortunately I was only able to partially attend Elevate, but I was still impressed by the atmosphere of this event. Considering the theme of the “Apocalypse”, at times there was a sense of pessimism and hopelessness. However, and this is also my main takeaway, the prevailing spirit was one of an optimistic view into the future. One panelist mentioned that we have to embrace “courageous resistance”, another that we have to move “beyond fear”. And instead of tackling problems with “incremental repairs”, we should rather develop “positive scenarios for the future” which we can work on with all our energy and determination. This will require much strength, but anyone who has been to Elevate has felt that we have this strength.

Looking forward to Elevate 2013.

About admin