Local networks for local interactions: Four reasons why and a way forward
This paper frames the role of community (wireless) networks, and other forms of grassroots DIY networking models, as complementary to the Internet communication infrastructures hosting local services for facilitating local interactions, as drivers for a more convivial and sustainable life in the city. Today, only a few Internet-based global corporations mediate our everyday online interactions, without respecting our rights to privacy, freedom of expression and self-determination; they depend for their own sustainability on the exploitation of the immense collected information and design power toward private, commercial and political objectives. But when communication is meant to take place between people in physical proximity, local community networks can provide an alternative infrastructure owned and designed by those concerned. The paper analyses four key reasons, practical, social, political, and scientific, why such DIY networks should be considered as a viable complementary infrastructure for local communications even when Internet access is available. Through analogies with other relevant domains of local action, namely complementary currencies and cooperative housing, I conclude by addressing the dichotomy between local action and global coordination. I advocate for the co-creation of convivial ICT tools for building local communities, or better hybrid spaces of local cooperation, which are larger in size than the small in “small is beautiful” and smaller, but in many cases more diverse, than recent imaginaries of the “multitude”.