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Empire Records




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Guantánamo Diary’s missing passages connect it with the US empire’s deeper history of far-flung capture and detention networks

من كوّةِ زنزانتي الصغرى

أبصرُ زنزانتكَ الكبرى

-سميح القاسم

From the window of my little cell I can glimpse your even bigger cell

—Samih al-Qasim

Thirteen years after the spectacle of men arriving at Guantánamo first transfixed gazes around the world, a literary voice has finally bypassed the shackles, blindfolds, and muzzles to reach us. A 466-page manuscript handwritten by detainee number 760, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, has finally been declassified after seven years of litigation and was published in January under the title Guantánamo Diary.

Ould Slahi, a 44-year-old Mauritanian, has now spent nearly a third of his life behind bars without charge. He composed the text in 2005 in the English he learned from his captors, who in turn sought to yank back the “gift” of language by redacting 2,500 words and passages before releasing the manuscript. The published version faithfully reproduces the censor’s black marks.The United States government considers all statements by detainees at Guantánamo to be presumptively classified. Letters, attorneys’ notes from client meetings, and videoconferencing testimony must all pass through government censors to reach the public. During a recent visit to the prison, Ould Slahi’s lawyers were prohibited from giving him a copy of his own book.

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The Union Jack and the Southern Cross

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Symbolic erasure of the indegene is a major promise on New Zealand’s campaign trail

In 2014, Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand, called for the end of history. New Zealand’s history had lingered for too long: 174 years too long, to be precise. The history Key referred to centers on a number of unresolved breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed in 1840 between a number of tangata whenua and the British Crown, and which—for all state purposes—is understood as New Zealand’s founding document. When Key campaigned for election in 2008, one of his promises was to achieve “full and final” settlements between the Crown and all iwi in New Zealand, who claimed that the settlers “large-scale theft of land constituted a breach of the terms of the Treaty.”

“Full and final” is a legal term used in debt settlement cases, generally when it’s a case of settling for less. Rather than continuing a protracted relationship, the owing party offers a lump sum and a chance to tie the matter up, call it quits. In the New Zealand case, achieving full and final settlements for all iwi means that no further “historical” claims against the Crown may—theoretically—be made. Māori views on this matter are as varied and complex as its practical ramifications are for iwi and hapu. But in the eyes of the settler, full and final settlements suggest a squaring of the balance sheet of colonialism. No longer indebted to his place of settlement, nor to its indigenous inhabitants, he is no longer a settler at all, simply a citizen. A happy zero. “We are impatient to stop looking in the rear-view mirror at grievances past,” Key said, “and to instead shift our eyes to the challenges of our shared future as New Zealanders.”

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Nostalgia for the Future

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Images of Palestine circulate globally as long as they don’t picture return

In 1969, Hany Jawhariyya, a filmmaker and member of Fatah, contacted Jean-Luc Godard to produce a film tentatively titled “Until Victory.” Jawhariyya, along with his colleagues Mustapha Abu Ali and Sulafa Jadallah, had produced numerous short documentaries while participating in armed struggle, many of which were screened at international festivals. “Until Victory” would focus on daily life in the refugee camps and Fatah’s political education activities. Years later, upon meeting these filmmakers, the Cuban documentarian Santiago Alvarez hailed their importance, saying, “You are the first among all revolutions who had cinema during the struggle.”

Although Godard quickly accumulated significant footage from the camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and the West Bank, revolutionary time for the avant-garde filmmaker runs at a slower pace than revolutionary time for the avant-garde guerilla-filmmaker. What was a state of crisis for Palestinian filmmaker-fighters was a stage for representing “global” crises. Godard did not speak any Arabic and relied on Fatah’s interpreters, who translated only parts they imagined were relevant to the film. His strategy of doing multiple takes of a shot was at odds with the logistical realities of guerrilla warfare. The flashpoints of Godard’s political evolution were absent from  his Palestinian comrades’ chronology. Godard even requested that the Palestinians stop their training exercises so he might film them reciting passages from Mao’s Little Red Book—a text none of them had heard of. The Palestinians’ telos did not include Mao and, ultimately, neither did Godard’s.

Godard returned to France, hoping to create multiple, hour-long documentaries of footage he took in a language he did not understand on the vitality of the Palestinian liberation movement. Instead, he lived incognito for months, fearing reprisal from the Israeli government for his film. (At the film’s first screening years later, the theater received a bomb threat from Zionist groups.) Black September quickly ended the lives of his Palestinian colleagues in Jordan.  Godard then decided to have the Arabic retranslated by a UN employee, and learned he possessed rare footage depicting the aftermath of battles, strategy sessions among the leadership, and endless jokes, laughter, and singing—all of which contrasted the slogan-heavy, laconic “translations” provided by his Palestinian fixers. These revelations did little to challenge or disrupt the filmmaker’s desire for personal mastery of that place and time.

The resulting film, Here and Elsewhere, is a painful, distanced account of Godard’s difficulties as a French leftist to make anticolonial films (or “dead corpses” as he once described them). His voiceover unironically criticizes the performative and staged quality of leftist political films and mocks Fatah’s makeshift attempts to create its own media. The necropolitical undertone of scenes featuring Palestinians signals a disavowal of that period of “time out of time,” of revolutionary urgency in favor of the belated, inevitable knowingness that characterizes the cinema of those who could live elsewhere.

At a small DVD store in Amman, I noticed a copy of Here and Elsewhere hidden behind a row of Hollywood B-movies. The initial feeling of excitement and dread I’d had when first learning of the film returned to me again. I tried to imagine risks they took to afford Godard access to their worlds, the depth of faith they had in his abilities and access. But I also recognize as a film editor that the Palestinians’ creativity and resourcefulness could not have been the film’s story, in spite of all the steps they took to make it so. Knowing this does not mean much; it does not stop me from searching again for those things, here, in this patronizing “essay film” I’ve seen countless times, or elsewhere, in conversations at this DVD store.

“I’ve been trying to get rid of these old, old films,” the shopkeeper said, insisting, as he packed my bag of DVDs, that I do not pay for it.

Early Palestinian cinema and its consequent visual culture sought to give, to the world, an image of Palestinian life that Palestinians themselves could recognize. These Palestinian filmmakers provided a vital, immediate response to geopolitical conversations that deliberately did not address them—a defining feature of Palestinian image-making. Mustapha Ali’s They Do Not Exist, one of the most significant Palestinian films ever made, is a direct response to Golda Meir’s speech in which she denies the reality of Palestinian lives. Inflected with the same sardonic tenor, titles of other films (With Soul and Blood, Children Nonetheless, No to the Surrender Option) also sought to respond to political statements or assumptions while addressing the Palestinian public. After Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, the archive containing the vast majority of these films went missing. But the need to create images that give meaning to Palestinian life did not.

The global optics through which Palestine is visualized changed dramatically during the Oslo years. The iconic Arafat-Rabin handshake produced a set of responses that were repeated on loop when “the Palestinians” were invoked. In the absence of a coordinated left, a legacy of the economic and political limitations of the Oslo era, a potent fantasy emerged: that the needs of Palestinians could be addressed without reparation of past trauma or the projection of a politically solvent future. National priorities shifted, with the entry of international patronage, from collectively addressing the “question of Palestine” to addressing so-called global stakeholders regarding the Palestinians in question. Palestinians still lacked autonomy over land, water resources, and life chances, but were given boundless opportunities to feature in dissertations, film projects, artwork, and magazine articles. Palestinians found themselves holding nearly infinite social, political, and cultural capital in relation to the international community, provided they exercise “strategic” and “cooperative” disavowal of a Palestinian future. That is, Palestinians were granted “permission to narrate,” provided they police their imaginations well enough to steer clear of the more vexing, “divisive” questions of Palestine (i.e. resistance, return).

While the ways that Palestinians have negotiated this demand have been complex and evolving, it has come to permeate every aspect of Palestinian life. What was once a “search for a state” has been forcibly molded into a wish for “future co-existence” and “national rights.” What was once a Palestinian nation, seeking autonomy and liberation, has been rebranded, in the parlance of international development, as “Palestinian civil society,” a curious entity that many speak of but to whom no one speaks. Capacity-building projects have abounded for a society built in tandem with its patrons and refracted through the elite futurities of those “not here.” Relationships among Palestinians have been shaped and re-shaped through monetary development schemes, produced and dismantled through “anti-terrorism” provisos. Those who were once activists, organizers, socially-engaged artists and social workers have found their work sustained primarily via international funding, which carefully shepherds Palestinians away from movement-building and presumably toward the more nebulous task of “civil society building.” To borrow from Lacan, the objective of the immediate post-Oslo moment was—rather than find ways for “both parties” to “speak the same language”—to bring Palestinians in sync with a particular way of speaking.

Fortunately, innovations in digital camera technology arrived on Palestinian time. The first prosumer digital cameras became available in 1993. The anxious lust for “facts on the ground” provided an uneasy, messy counterpoint to the demand for visual evidence of the “both sides” narrative. As the post-Oslo architecture of expanded checkpoints, settlements, and militarized communities carved its way through Palestinian communities, the demand for greater access to image-making technology increased. Palestinians began providing footage of gross human rights abuses and war crimes, particularly for Israeli human rights organizations and journalists. B’tselem famously provided cameras to Palestinians living in close proximity to constant violence; their citizen-journalists produced crucial documentation on violent incidents that would otherwise go unmentioned. Yet the context through which such media accrues meaning is radically different. The advocacy videos of B’tselem’s citizen-journalists target the Israeli public and are used to lobby its courts, police, and military for accountability and procedural reforms.

The visual culture of Oslo demanded that Palestinians give the international audience an image of Palestine that it recognizes, yet the act of producing this image has been fraught. Palestinianness became a form of capital, one that could threaten or legitimize a media project; for example, the strategic use of Palestinian fixers during the Intifada foregrounded the use of fixers throughout “high-conflict” zones in Arabic-speaking societies. While many courageous solidarity activists, such as Rachel Corrie, sought to protect Palestinians from violence with their own bodies, the transnational visual culture of the era placed value on Palestinians’ proximity to risk.

The documentary A Death in Gaza is a troubling example of the conflict between Palestinian realities and post-Oslo fantasies. Focusing on three Palestinian families in Gaza, the film attempted to explore the “origins” of Palestinian “martyrdom culture.” During a curfew in Gaza, director James Miller and another cameraman ignored his subjects’ warnings and left to shoot footage of the army. Inevitably, they get fired on. While in shock, his colleagues are told by army officials that “a Bedouin,” not a Jewish Israeli shot him; they find this oddly consoling. Later, his crew reveals that Miller had initially hoped to make a film on the plight of both Israeli and Palestinian children, but decided this framing would not be fair to the Israelis. In a bitterly ironic moment, some Palestinians created a poster, to the dismay of Miller’s crew, commemorating his “martyrdom.” The dissonance between the world of the film and the world it purports to document is so jarring as to resist language. And so I am reminded of Jean Genet’s words: “If the reality of time spent among, not with, the Palestinians resided anywhere, it would survive between all the words that claim to give an account of it.”

At the nexus of activism, occupation tourism, brand-making, and war journalism lies the current transnational visual production of Palestine. The Israeli security industry’s pathetic efforts to police virtual space have only amplified the global desire for those elusive “facts on the ground.” Google Earth completely omits parts of Palestine or prevents visualization from a particular proximity. The clinical, relentless deletion of Palestinian referents, including names of towns, pages commemorating particular events, and Vines of protests, compliments Israel’s recent habit of declaring war through Twitter. Aerial videos of Gaza’s destruction appear on the army’s YouTube channel while reservists live-tweeted massacres during the last siege on Gaza.  Settlers even arrived on hilltops, carrying lawn chairs, popcorn, and binoculars, to relish the ‘theater’ of the Gaza’s latest war. The army’s total control over air, water, and land is paralleled by its virtual control over digital representations of Palestine.

Unsurprisingly, images of suffering Palestinian bodies, depicted in photographs, memes, posters, and gifs, have become ubiquitous on social media platforms. Such representations have been used to shirk the confrontational aesthetics of the Intifada years and the banality of Oslo-ized humanism, and invite neoliberal forms of solidarity (i.e. “Not this cause, but this person—or NGO—should be supported.”) Some photographs documenting physical confrontations with the occupying military are branded with the photographer’s signature before they are shared on social media platforms. Others depict Palestinians, subdued, broken, ambling through their own (destroyed) homes.

One recurring meme, which appeared during each raid on Gaza, depicts a Palestinian boy jumping in the air. The text states that the boy could not sleep for weeks, “waiting for the Israelis,” until they bombed his house, killing him. The boy is smiling in the photo and staring at the viewer, as though our witnessing posthumously fulfills a secret wish. Another theme, during the last three wars on Gaza, includes photographs of Palestinian fathers carrying their dead or dying children—a kind of anti-Pietà. The figures in such pictures, unlike the Virgin Mary, rarely face the viewer and demand neither rescue nor recognition. Their images appear to be have been procured quietly, surreptitiously, through doorways, hospital corners, as though these fragments of stillness could only be accessed through the trick of the camera. Fathers carrying toddlers with blasted faces, fathers tending to families without hands or legs, fathers holding IVs in the air—all are bathed in chiaroscuro lighting. Indeed, this is the light of divine time, whose accounting lies just beyond the grasp of human intervention.

What is occupied time? What burden does it place on those under its watch? In Nabi Saleh, a village that the army has raided once a week (at least) for over five years, the Tamimi family has created a vital community media project, a cinematic testament to their survivorship. The Tamimi family is, at once, producer, fixer, editor, shooter, distributor, and interpreter. With cameras from B’tselem, they have documented nearly every tear gas-infused raid, as well as the arrests, murders, and beatings of many community members. They are also survivors of forcible displacement and imprisonment. Manal Tamimi, one of the lead organizers, hosts tour groups who come to watch videos of the latest atrocities against her family; some of the videos are uploaded the day before. If tour members wish, they might join the village in the protest. Others, from a distance, will watch the army arrive and enact in real time what they just viewed on screen. Occupied time must contain many multitudes; Manal has even learned to make vegan food for activists from abroad. On one tour, someone asked her what sustains her family. “The cameras,” Manal said, “are like a weapon. And like a kind of therapy, too.”

Once tied to Palestinian futurity and return, the act of waiting evokes nostalgia for the future.

 

Mapping the Sneakernet

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Digital media travels hand to hand, phone to phone across vast cartographies invisible to Big Data

I stood at the corner of Market Street and 4th Avenue, at the edge of San Francisco’s technology-startup neighborhood. An older Chinese woman—let’s call her Fei—approached my friend and me, asking for directions in her extremely limited English. In her hands was a piece of paper with directions from Google Maps, to a location somewhere much further south in the city.

“One second,” I said. “We’ll check the address.” My friend pulled out his phone and punched in the English language address of her destination into a maps app and received a few public-transit options for how to get there.

I asked Fei if she had a phone so I could send her the information, but she said, “I just have a pen.” I ended up writing down the directions on the back of her printout and wished her luck, pointing her in the direction of the bus she needed and double-checking my orientation with my phone’s compass app.

In traditional tech parlance, a phoneless woman like Fei would be considered one of the 4.3 billion who are said to be unconnected to the Internet. The International Telecommunications Union, a branch of the United Nations, measures connectivity via fixed landline, mobile, or broadband subscriptions. Cisco’s Visual Networking Index measures global mobile data traffic to gauge growth in usage. McKinsey and Co.’s research defines the offline population as those who haven’t gone online in the past 12 months.

Following the implicit logic of such statistics, it can be easy to assume that being unconnected means having no exposure to the Internet at all. Phrases like “connecting the unconnected,” “the next billion,” and “the digital divide” all suggest this binary: One either has access to the Internet or doesn’t; one lives on the wired side of the tracks or one doesn’t. But as tech ethnographer Jan Chipchase wrote recently, “Connectivity is not binary. The network is never neutral.” Between those who’ve never touched a computer and those who get a feed of data directly into their Google Glass sits a vast array of modes and methods of connectivity.

The most commonly-discussed of these is shared access. Just as a family in the rich world might share a television, families in the developing world often share devices and telecom accounts. In rural Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines, I’ve seen groups of people access the internet via Facebook. One person—the one who is formally connected and counted–has the account, but many others are able to see their feed, access web sites, hear and tell stories from abroad and around the country. Shared access is often overlooked in connectivity studies but has been documented in India, Peru and many other countries.

Beyond shared usage, there are other, more informal methods of accessing what the web has to offer, extending through urban areas in developed countries through rural areas in the global south. Fei’s ability to navigate the city depended on the Internet—a printout from Google Maps, and then my friend’s Internet connection to update it. Chances are, if she got lost again, a non-Chinese speaker with machine translation software could try to help her figure out what was going on. To call her unconnected would be to ignore the many forms of connectivity and social support around her that effectively enabled her to access data from the web. And there are countless others like her, extending across “unconnected” parts of the world.

Both informal communities in urban areas and rural locales in developing countries often feel like the edge of the Internet, where the next billion are just starting to come online. But, first, to understand the edges, it helps to understand the center and how the concept of “connectivity” is constructed.

* * *

The Internet can feel ubiquitous in both developed and developing parts of the world, but those who access the web directly are a privileged minority. For many people reading this essay, the Internet looks like a wi-fi icon in the upper right hand corner of their screen or an ethernet cable with one end plugged into a computer and another plugged into a wall. But what happens after the wall is unclear, presumed to be in the hands of professionals.

In Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, author Andrew Blum focuses on the other side of the wall, beginning with a simple anecdote of a squirrel that chews a wire and cuts off his Internet in Brooklyn, leaving him effectively unconnected until the repair technician could come to his home. From this experience, he moves on to detail the server farms, exchange points, data engineers, and construction workers that maintain the world’s connectivity.

Despite the ridicule heaped on Senator Ted Stevens’s now infamous description of the Internet as a “series of tubes,” the Internet, Blum demonstrates, is actually filled with tubes: fiber-optic tubes, Ethernet tubes, power tubes, transatlantic tubes that mirror the telegraph cables that were strung between London and New York in the 19th century. “The undersea cables,” he writes, “showed how that new geography was traced entirely upon the outlines of the old.”

Blum reveals that the web is made not of spider’s silk but miles and miles of machinery, each part built as a result of complex decisions and layers. He illustrates how the forces of geography, politics and economics combine to affect the world’s access to bandwidth:

Undersea cables link people—in rich nations, first—but the earth itself always stands in the way. To determine the route of an undersea cable requires navigating a maze of economics, geopolitics, and topography. For example, the curvature of the planet makes the shortest distance between Japan and the United States a northern arc paralleling the coast of Alaska and landing near Seattle. But Los Angeles has traditionally been the bigger producer and consumer of bandwidth, exerting a southward tug on earlier cables. With TGN-Pacific, Tyco solved the problem the expensive way, by building both.

Tubes, of course, are not the only way data travels on the Internet: The electromagnetic waves of mobile and wi-fi networks pass invisibly through us, broadcast by towers powered by electric wires or diesel. Tubes highlights how much of the Internet consists of very physical data handoffs, storage and routing, all powered by human decisions and relationships. Blum’s writing soars when his earnest fascination with this comes to the fore, as when he describes walking around New York City:

I was captivated by the idea of the light [of fiber optic cables] pulsing beneath the streets. Climbing down the steps into the subway, I’d imagine the red lights sticking out of the concrete decking. This was the municipal corollary to what was going on inside the [network] router. But it wasn’t the realm of egghead engineers, their glasses reflecting with strings of numbers. It was about thick bundles of cable and dirty streets—an even heavier reality. I started to wonder just how that light got in the ground.

Still, it can be easy to assume, after reading Blum’s book, that where no tubes or electromagnetic waves flow, no Internet goes. But just outside the book’s scope, the connectivity binary begins to break down. The very story he starts with—a squirrel nibbling away at his tether to the larger world—misses the alternate ways he had to get a message out, to download movies, to access a map. He just had to ask his neighbor, assuming he couldn’t get online through his phone. And if his neighbors didn’t have Internet access, they could have asked their neighbors.

Data spill forth from the tubes, carried along on USB drives or through word-of-mouth exchange, mobile Bluetooth handoffs, and “sneakernets” of data transferred hand to hand, foot by foot. If there was a sequel to Tubes, it might be called Sticks, Mouths, Teeth, and Sneakers.

* * *

In the dry season of 2013, I visited Aber and Atura, small villages tucked away between Gulu and Lira, the two largest cities in Northern Uganda, each with a population of a few hundred thousand. Accessible via an hour-long bike ride from the nearest paved highway, Aber and Atura have a few hundred people each and, like much of the region, they have no running electricity or water (electric wires are strung along some roads but are not connected to the grid). Young women hike miles in each direction to pick up water for their families, and as night descends, families light torches and campfires to prepare food by mud and wattle huts.

Satellite photos of the region show darkness, but satellites can’t capture the soft glow of a mobile phone. Many residents use their phones to text their friends and keep in touch. Mobile-phone towers dot the landscape, providing 3G Internet access to those who can afford it (a small minority) and SMS/voice access for the others (a larger minority). They power their phones at mobile charging stations set up by enterprising families who invest about $100 to $200 for a solar panel manufactured in India or China.

Nor can satellites hear the music. At night, residents turn on their radios, and those who can afford Chinese feature phones play mp3s. One day, I heard familiar lyrics:

Hey, I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
So call me maybe

I turned my head. A number of young people gathered around a woman rocking out to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” a song that owes so much of its success to the viral power of YouTube and Justin Bieber. The phone’s owner wasn’t accessing it via the Internet. Rather, she had an mp3 acquired through a Bluetooth transfer with a friend.

Indeed, the song was just one of many media files I saw on people’s phones: There were Chinese kung fu movies, Nigerian comedies, and Ugandan pop music. They were physically transferred, phone to phone, Bluetooth to Bluetooth, USB stick to USB stick, over hundreds of miles by an informal sneakernet of entertainment media downloaded from the Internet or burned from DVDs, bringing media that’s popular in video halls—basically, small theaters for watching DVDs—to their own villages and huts.

In geographic distribution charts of Carly Rae Jepsen’s virality, you’d be hard pressed to find impressions from this part of the world. Nor is this sneakernet practice unique to the region. On the other end of continent, in Mali, music researcher Christopher Kirkley has documented a music trade using Bluetooth transfers that is similar to what I saw in northern Uganda. These forms of data transfer and access, though quite common, are invisible to traditional measures of connectivity and Big Data research methods. Like millions around the world with direct internet connections, young people in “unconnected” regions are participating in the great viral products of the Internet, consuming mass media files and generating and transferring their own media.

Indeed, the practice of sneakernets is global, with political consequences in countries that try to curtail Internet access. In China, I saw many activists trading media files via USB sticks to avoid stringent censorship and surveillance. As Cuba opens its borders to the world, some might be surprised that citizens have long been able to watch the latest hits from United States, as this Guardian article notes. Sneakernets also apparently extend into North Korea, where strict government policy means only a small elite have access to any sort of connectivity. According to news reports, Chinese bootleggers and South Korean democracy activists regularly smuggle media on USB sticks and DVDs across the border, which may be contributing to increasing defections, as North Korean citizens come to see how the outside world lives.

Blum imagines the Internet as a series of rivers of data crisscrossing the globe. I find it a lovely visual image whose metaphor should be extended further. Like water, the Internet is vast, familiar and seemingly ubiquitous but with extremes of unequal access. Some people have clean, unfettered and flowing data from invisible but reliable sources. Many more experience polluted and flaky sources, and they have to combine patience and filters to get the right set of data they need. Others must hike dozens of miles of paved and dirt roads to access the Internet like water from a well, ferrying it back in fits and spurts when the opportunity arises. And yet more get trickles of data here and there from friends and family, in the form of printouts, a song played on a phone’s speaker, an interesting status update from Facebook relayed orally, a radio station that features stories from the Internet.

Like water from a river, data from the Internet can be scooped up and irrigated and splashed around in novel ways. Whether it’s north of the Nile in Uganda or south of Market St. in the Bay Area, policies and strategies for connecting the “unconnected” should take into account the vast spectrum of ways that people find and access data. Packets of information can be distributed via SMS and mobile 3G but also pieces of paper, USB sticks and Bluetooth. Solar-powered computer kiosks in rural areas can have simple capabilities for connecting to mobile phones’ SD cards for upload and download. Technology training courses can start with a more nuanced base level of understanding, rather than assuming zero knowledge of the basics of computing and network transfer. These are broad strokes, of course; the specifics of motivation and methods are complex and need to be studied carefully in any given instance. But the very channels that ferry entertainment media can also ferry health care information, educational material and anything else in compact enough form.

There are many maps for the world’s internet tubes and the electric wires that power them, but, like any map, they reflect an inherent bias, in this case toward a single user, binary view of connectivity. This view in turn limits our understanding of just how broad an impact the Internet has had on the world, with social, political and cultural implications that have yet to be fully explored. One critical addition to understanding the internet’s global impact is mapping the many sneakernets that crisscross the “unconnected” parts of the world. The next billion, we might find, are already navigating new cities with Google Maps, trading Korean soaps and Nigerian comedies, and rocking out to the latest hits from Carly Rae Jepsen.

 

Memory and Preservation

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The monuments in Jalada’s Afrofuture(s) Anthology

It is hard to overstate how hotly anticipated the January launch of Jalada Africa’s third anthology was. Afrofuture(s) called for stories and poems that would subvert the traditional frames of science fiction and speculative fiction by looking for (and finding) African futurity. If science fiction has often shown us a future stripped of African people—while fantasy so often shows a similarly whitewashed past—the poems and stories in Afrofuture(s) ask and speculate about African futurity. What landscapes will exist in Africa’s future, and where will that put us, as Africans or people from the African continent? How will the artefacts from the past and present be interpreted in the future? How can the artefacts of the future be recognized from the past?

That the stories and poems are speculative doesn’t mean they take place in a vacuum, however, or come from nowhere. They’re all grounded in possible worlds and the possibilities of those worlds come from familiar places. But for all the creative imagination of place, the anthology’s primary interest is time, which would seem to offer some sort of relief from the present. “We know we will be vindicated in time,” as a character declares in Suleiman Agbonkhainmen Bokari’s “Discovering Time Travel,” for example. In Sofia Samatar’s “Brief History of Nonduality Studies,” characters “preoccupied with the problem of time” want to know “[w]as time created before or after creation or simultaneously with it?” 

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