By: Maame Akua Kyerewaa-Marfo
The fast pace of technology has often made it synonymous with the concept of progress. New Technological developments often came with the presumption of neutrality. They were widely thought of not to have the the weaknesses of human prejudice, just simple–clean–algorithms. Technology could be–at least conceptually–blissfully neutral. However in its implementation it became clear that technological developments often mirrored the people doing the developing and left out, inadvertently or not, those who lacked the privilege often needed to gain the skills necessary to claim digital real estate. The Decolonising the Internet conference, held in Cape Town, wanted to re-imagine an internet where the real estate was owned by all. An internet where everyone had a voice, an opinion and a story.
Decolonising the Internet was a conference organised by Whose Knowledge? as a precursor to WIKIMANIA 2018, the Wikimedia Foundation’s annual conference. Each WIKIMANIA brings together volunteers and free knowledge leaders to celebrate all the various free knowledge projects hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation. This year’s theme– “Bridging knowledge gaps: the Ubuntu way forward,” focused on the spaces and moments that Wikipedia and all of the other free knowledge products of the Wikimedia foundation, had missed. As an organisation that already does the work of reconstructing the internet so that more of it’s users are included within it’s landscape, Whose Knowledge?’s two day, Decolonizing the Internet pre-conference provided a lens by which to interpret and untangle the WIKIMANIA conference. They created a space where participants could participate in this reconstruction and re-imagining of an internet which would truly belong to everyone.
The first day focused on imagining. What would it truly mean to rethink the internet–and how could all of the different voices in the room find a space in this collective re-imagining? What did it mean to be in a room full of people doing interesting and often times revolutionary work in spaces that the western world normally wouldn’t consider in its construction of the digital landscape? What would this reclaiming of space look like? The answers to these questions had a wide range, from new ways of archiving information and new knowledge systems to rethinking the concepts of labeling that are prevalent within library systems and how even those categorisations can be limiting and exclusionary. The first day served as a way of getting participants to both conceptualise the internet and free knowledge spaces they want to see, and start the difficult work of imagining themselves within those landscapes.
The second day focused on the doing– now that we had re-imagined wild– important futures. How could we transform the spaces we occupy now to usher them in? For some the answer was to look at the landscape of Wikimania–and Wikipedia itself. How could we get rid of common limitations that we had experienced trying to populate the space with information from marginalised communities? What were the first steps to our glorious, liberated, decolonised digital future in a space that prides itself on being accessible to all? How could we, in our own ways, ensure that it is? Several different answers sprang up in response to this question and the day was spent working out our places and our starting points. The focus on small, manageable starting points meant that the follow up actions were simple–doable things that linked clearly to our overall goal. We would be doing something small–but tangible and foundational like exploring the possibility of a feminist commons, to becoming more involved in editing and updating Wikipedia.
Over the next few days of WIKIMANIA itself, it became clear how important the space offered by Decolonising the Internet was. It allowed people working in different ways to link hands in a space where knowledge was de-centralised. This meant that for those who had been in the bean bag filled break away rooms there was a lens, an action plan and a reason to engage, beyond a passion for free knowledge. It allowed inputs to be important and poignant, and though the overall achievements of that space are hard to map now– the connections between people doing incredible work, who were pushing for more space for marginalised knowledge were powerful, tangible things.
Whose Knowledge called into question the rethinking of the cannon. An internet for all would mean rethinking concepts, categories, what is considered a source and who is considered an authority. Although Wikipedia questions these tenets by its simple existence– it was clear from both the conversations and the theme for this years WIKIMANIA that this question, this probing, this revolution is incomplete. Whose Knowledge took that theme and that questioning further, and provided a space of liberation. One were we could deconstruct and reconstruct.
Whose Knowledge provided not only space to question and imagine– but also incredible people to do this important imagining with.
For more information on Whose Knowledge please follow this LINK.