things to include

  • Bayo Akomolafe Podcast and creating cracks and space for rupture
    • how can computing activate activism?
  • how do you create a better or healthier “agent”

Kernel 3 pitch

In 200-300 words, what will the piece be about? What will the main argumentative threads be? What sort of research do you [plan to] draw on?

Technology is rewarded for launching new products and innovating, not for tending to existing spaces or maintaining what already exists. Innovation focuses on how to empower the individual. For example, popular discourse around AI swarms with advice on how to best leverage this new technology to get more done faster. Mastery of the technology means exponential gains for you (and left unsaid is the downstream effects of people whose jobs are eliminated).

In response to this dissonance, the notion of exit is attractive. People move out of the cities, disconnect from social media, get phones where “connecting” is impossible. But while this is an attractive path, it is an insufficient one because it fights hyper-individualization with more isolation from the rest of the world.

Instead, I believe we can find a sustainable path forward if we turn towards people.

In the peak of COVID-19, we found salvation in communal spaces and practices, filling every cranny of digital space (Among Us rooms and board game simulations and livestreams) and mutual aid practices for food and protective equipment. These gathering places demonstrate how maintenance and care work cancan uplift an entire community while providing directly for individual needs. If we come together using technology, can we make or use existing technology towards these ends?

I will examine existing technologies and computing practices that draw on communal philosophies to demonstrate how they bring people together and use that foundation to explore speculative extensions towards a more interdependent web of maintenance, including:

  1. community-moderated forums and social platforms -> gathering digital locality - forming digital-native neighborhoods based on your interests (extending on subreddits, custom feeds via new social protocols)
  2. open-source software -> community-source software: open-source software where users are also maintainers (taking inspiration from https://open.janastu.org/about)
  3. data co-ops and local servers -> computing “garden” infrastructure: the services of AWS provided by your local community (extending solarprotocol.net/)
  4. flooded markets with manufactured reviews -> exchange, gift economies, and local brands seling

Technology is fundamentally human, and we have the power to make it a vehicle for strengthening our interdependence and cultivating a practice of maintenance and care towards our communities

platforms have demonstrated how companies can exploit people’s labor and everyday activities by converting them into data for marketers. In return, they offer services that have become people’s livelihoods that have fallen into disarray due to conflicts of interest. The ability to broadcast important news to people around you should not be subject to the whims of a billionaire. We need to support more forms of computing that are communal-owned and are able to have the community’s interests at heart first rather than invisible and disconnected shareholders.

defensive strategy how do you avoid abuses?

Neighborhood mutual aid practices have continued to grow across America, including communal gardens, community fridges, and food co-ops.

  1. computing “garden” infrastructure
  2. what is digital locality
  3. community-source software - open-source but also all users are maintainers?
    • email app?

Free community gathering places flourish in the physical world. . While they may not always be Food co-ops reward members with cheap, fresh produce for volunteering their time, while educating the community about the lifecycle of sustainable food. These sites of mutual aid and collective ownership all feel like unusual “win-win” situations in a world of increasing prices and stagnant wages. What kind of technology might cause a similar stir in the digital world, empowering a community to take care of itself and its technological dependencies?

Many have turned to regulation to solve this predicament through curbing technological powers (https://futureoflife.org/open-letter/pause-giant-ai-experiments/). And as important as this movement is to prompt public discussion of the topic, the approach is ultimately reactive. I argue that we, as technologists, can complement this movement by proactively pushing for a more communal, care-oriented future.

On our screens, we have little capacity to show care for one another or gather in spaces of our own making. Even in communal spaces like community-moderated forums, the burden of maintenance and care is distributed unevenly and invisible to most users.

On the other hand,

I’d like to examine some existing examples of technologies that point towards this kind of future, including:

  1. comments sections
  2. community-moderated forums
  3. open-source software
  4. data co-ops
  5. communal search engine / index (https://wiby.me/about/guide.html)
  • speculative communal technology. what would it look like if we took these concepts to the extreme? and leaned on successful examples from the physical world like food co-ops, communal gardens, and community fridges
  • there’s a reason people feel nostalgia for the “old web” because it didn’t use to feel like this. when the internet was first invented, the greatest “innovations” that people cared about were how people were inventing new ways of using “social media” to express themselves, form relationships with others, and invent entirely new cultural norms. The innovation that was happening was mostly human rather than technological.
  • we understand now that technology is political, but we haven’t made the leap from how political levers are inherently communal. Technology is a vehicle for communal action but our communal computing spaces have not functionally changed much from what they were like in the early days of MySpace.
  • But technology is political and political things are inherently communal. They are vehicles for collective action and agency. So what technology focuses on these aspects?

Ever since the origin of the “personal computer,” technological innovation has mostly focused on empowering the individual. Outside of the initial burst of excitement around communal spaces from the popularization of the internet,

It’s relatively well-understood now that technology is political. Debated proposed regulations are designed to curb the capabilities of technologies to do bad and protect individual liberties. In this piece, I’d like to argue that not only is technology political but also communal.

  • tool for communal action? The fact that it is political can be a power..

I’d like to examine the best current examples of technology used for communal gathering centered around maintenance and care. From mutual aid technology to data co-ops to open-source software.

I want to argue that we have not taken the communal nature of technology far enough on its extreme. For too long, we have focused on the ”personal” in the ”personal computer”. What would it look like if we focused on how computers could be used to bring people together to share gifts and cultivate space together?

relating to theme? This piece is about how technology has been trending towards innovation and empowering individuals and how technologists can turn attention towards imagining how technology can aid maintenance work and empower communities towards a sustainable relationship with tech.

**What is your background? Why are you excited to write this piece? What will you bring to the topic? **

After 3.5 years creating creative tools towards the end of anyone being able to create the apps for their particular communities (e.g. the dream of https://www.robinsloan.com/notes/home-cooked-app/), I’m currently applying those skills to conduct independent research around communal computing, technology that empowers us to flourish in interdependence and embrace plurality. My research is founded on the belief that the future of computing is the story of the future of humans, that technology founded on the internet is a medium for human expression, that the ultimate form of technology is one that allows us to shape it for ourselves and the ones we love.

Personally, I have a vested interest in finding out the answer to this question because I found my community in the internet growing up when I didn’t fit in at the school I was in. It’s popular now to have a yearning nostalgia for the old web, and with the latest upheaval of social media, it feels like the energy for speculating of and experiment with new alternatives is growing. I would love for this piece to be an arrow pointing towards possibilities forward towards these energies.

I’m excited to write this piece because I have recently learned a lot about mutual aid practices through “Solidarity Infrastructures” (https://sfpc.study/sessions/spring-23/solidarity-infra), a class I’m taking at SFPC, where we have learned about and experimented with communal and solidarity-based technological practices. Simultaneously, in my independent research, I’ve been experimenting with what digital-native gardens might look like (https://htmlgarden.spencerchang.me/) and function as gathering spaces with novel ways of relating to other people (https://we-b.site/). With these experiences, I think I’ll be able to bring a unique perspective that joins that of a technologist who has experienced the endless push for progress as well as a researcher and artist who is actively imagining ways to subvert that.

In my research, I’ve noticed two trends:

  1. digital gardens have become to mean an independent place for people to gather their thoughts and grow idea seeds, which feel very different from real-life communal gardens and food co-ops, which are gathering places for service and maintenance. The maintenance work of a digital garden is to “ideas” while the maintenance work of communal gardens is food for other people.
  2. a lot of people have this yearning nostalgia for an “old web” even if they never experienced it because of the unsettledness from the “modern web”


Technology is political and technology is communal. Computing is a medium for developing agency broadly. Technology, as well as individual and collective as a way for the common person to affect change in the world as a radical form of participatory action technology as a tool that can not only help us think better, but also feel more not only do more but see better it’s not only a come more into ourselves, but also come more together.

I imagine a Playground and imagine an art gallery imagine a Playground gallery of computing open to the public a space where anyone can wander in and discover agency through computer space that offers energy like HTML energy.

things to incorporate

  • make the analogy
    • food co-ops are more sustainable, better, cheaper
    • space for reflection and challenging the norm and changing your perspective
    • can this be a win-win?
  • seed ideas
    1. computing “garden” infrastructure
    2. data co-ops
    3. what is digital locality
    4. community-source software - open-source but also all users are maintainers?
      • email app?
    5. communal search engine / index
  • practices you can do to practice agency
    • cultivating lists
    • coding
  • how to ground in real life example?
    • tiny social network?
    • your own twitter?
    • talk to new_public?
  • facilitate live brainstorm to follow-up as the CTA
    • speculative design + values alignment brainstorm
    • toolkit


  • “the power of social media mall thus rests on a strange kind of sovereignty: the sort that pretends it doesn’t exist.“- Internet for the People
    • what sort of social media “hub” could be more powerful the more it is known that it exists? community is only real because of the people that believe in it.