Nestor Siré and Steffen Köhn
This project explores SNET through an individual participant’s lens of experience: that of a maker of its material infrastructure, that of a user, and that of a game administrator. Each video has a slightly different aesthetics.
The first screen walk takes place on the laptop of K3mpactchi, one of SNET’s founding members who guides us through his collection of photos and videos that document the network’s emergence and expansion over the last decade. Delving deep into his personal archive, he discusses SNET’s physical infrastructure, explains how to spot the hidden WiFi antennas on Havana’s rooftops and shows the elaborate housings administrators built to protect their gear from theft and the tropical climate. As WiFi uses of the 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum, waves that are easily absorbed by buildings or trees, the network’s nodes had to be linked via long-directional antennas that were mounted on poles. Pointing out their locations on OpenStreetMap, he describes how SNET’s main regional pillars that connected various neighborhood subnodes were joined by fixed wireless links, so that each pillar peered with at least two other pillars and a central backbone, thus forming a distributed infrastructure in which all nodes participate in the relay of information.
The second screen walk was performed by (DJ) ☠The Big Boss☠, a user from Centro Habana who navigated us through SNET’s various offerings. He explained how TeamSpeak, in addition to offering text and voice chat, also served as a link repository to SNET’s different websites, an important service because the network does not consistently use the Domain Name System (DNS) which means that users have to know a page’s IP address and cannot just access it by typing its domain name in their browser. From there, he took us on a guided exploration of the digital spaces within the network that were most important to him, such as SNET’s modded version of the massively multiplayer online first-person shooter Battlefield 3, the classifieds website Qbarato, the web radio where users could live-stream their DJ sets, as well as the various platforms for filesharing.
In the third screen walk, KZKG^Gaara and !Casey002!, a couple who are part of the administration team of Republic of Gamers, the main game-hosting pillar, revealed to us how SNET looks like and functions from an admin perspective. They guided us through the software back end of their pillar’s gaming servers and described their various responsibilities and interactions with users. KZKG^Gaara is one of the developers responsible for maintaining and updating World of Warcraft, by far the most popular game in SNET, which had to be heavily modded so it works without connecting to the Internet. He single-handedly created a bug tracker, which allows the community to report errors in the game. During one of the tours she gave us, his girlfriend !Casey002! suddenly began to reflect on her trajectory from helping out with online support to becoming the only woman in her pillar’s developer team, something not everyone in SNET’s disproportionately male user base had digested yet.
For the presentation in Multimedia Encounters we created a realistic 3D model of one of the computers of a SNET user, through which we presented the three videos in the virtual exhibition.
Multimedia Encounters, UCL, Multimedia Anthropology Lab, London, UK