The OurNet program taught middle school youth the key components of network infrastructure by enabling them to develop their own private internal networks that are independent of the Internet. These lessons introduced how technology works, providing core language and concepts that serve as a solid base of understanding for further exploration. OurNet was developed by alums Joanne McNeil and Dan Phiffer.
Through workshops, students learned how to create a website with shared hosting, where students can learn how simple it is to start their own social network and edit pages with a shell account. Furthermore, they learned how to create a “darknet” or private network independent of the Internet. Using a simple wifi router that the students name and design, students were able to communicate with each other in an anonymous forum.
The goal of this project was to make network infrastructure less scary for people without technical backgrounds. OurNet aimed to develop a new conversation around technology and ownership because it is so essential to understand how much independence you have — or don’t.
Dan Phiffer, creator of Occupy.here and a volunteer sys op at Tilde.club, and Joanne McNeil, former Eyebeam Resident, lead students through the process of understanding online privacy, understanding the history and origins of the internet, and building their own networked environments. Students built and experienced a networked environment similar to online spaces from the 80s and 90s when early internet users took anonymity and privacy for granted. The youth then compared their experiences with the networks of their own creation to their experiences with the World Wide Web and commercial social networks like Facebook. Students left the workshops with enhanced digital literacy, an understanding of privacy on the internet, and knowing the history and origins of the internet as we know it today.
Following the initial success of the workshops at Eyebeam, the OurNet team considered the expansion of the project. They worked on materials to distribute at further workshops and considered new ways of instruction and presentation.
On November 5th and 6th, 2016 at the International Center of Photography (ICP), Dan hosted a public OurNet workshop in collaboration with Machine Project. It was part of an exhibition called Public, Private, Secret curated by Charlotte Cotton, featuring work by Jill Magid, Martine Syms, Zach Blas, Trevor Paglan, and others. Concurrent with the OurNet ICP workshop, there was a conference in Brooklyn called Radical Networks, “three days of speakers, panels, workshops, and an art exhibit designed to introduce the community to DIY networking.”