A project for "Socially Engaged Art and Digital Practice." Our assignment was to create something that addresses the materiality of the internet. We talked a lot in class about the environmental cost of data centers and other internet infrastructure. So I decided to make that discussion tangible by setting up a hand-crank powered WiFi network. I configured a spare WiFi router that I had to connect to the NYU network and broadcast its own LAN. Then I modified a compatible power cable so that it will hook up to a hand-cranked generator.
In class, everyone will be asked to connect to the router's network, and then to surf the internet, stream music, etc. One class member will have to keep the crank running at all times, or else the WiFi will go out, interrupting everyone's online activity. Hence the constant, invisible energy consumption of the internet is made tangible, in the form of constant physical exertion required of the participants. Of course, the WiFi network is only the "last leg" of the data transportation, storage, and processing, so it only represents a small fraction of the total energy consumption.
I'm interested to see what the reactions from the group, and from the participant running the crank, will be when we try the exercise as a class. I'll update this post with results and documentation once we do.