The Digital Prepper Toolkit (Sarah Grant, Rosa Menkman)

Rapid Response Fellow 2020 - 2020

Sarah Grant is an American media artist and educator based in Berlin. She is the Visiting Professor of New Media at Kunsthochschule Kassel with a focus on radioart and computer networking. In her practice she researches and develops open source software, artworks as educational tools, and workshops that demystify computer networking and radio technology. She also organizes the Radical Networks conference in New York and Berlin, a community event and arts festival for social justice activations, critical investigations, and creative experiments in telecommunications.

Menkman’s work focuses on noise artifacts that result from accidents in both analogue and digital media (such as glitch and encoding and feedback artifacts). The resulting artifacts of these accidents can facilitate an important insight into the otherwise obscure alchemy of standardization via resolutions.

The standardization of resolutions is a process that generally imposes efficiency, order and functionality on our technologies. It does not just involve the creation of protocols and solutions, but also entails the obfuscation of compromises and the black-boxing of alternative possibilities, which are as a result in danger of staying forever unseen or even forgotten.

Through her research, which is both practice based and theoretical, she uncovers these anti-utopic, lost and unseen or simply “too good to be implemented” resolutions — to produce new ways to use and perceive through and with our technologies.

What do you plan to do during Phase 1 of Rapid Response?

The first phase of the Digital Prepper Toolkit is research oriented, geared towards a formulation and redefinition of “digital crisis.” During this research stage, we will define and identify a breadth of possible digital crises on a practical, theoretical and a technical level. Practically, this requires us to ask which crises can or should we prepare for?

By collaborating with a selection of organizations from all over the world, specifically also outside of the global West, we wish to formulate what types of digital crises we (so us and the collaborating organizations) can imagine. We would like to answer if there is a way to categorize these different types of digital crises, from those caused by natural and man-made accidents or power outages, to targeted surveillance, censorship, or even astroturfing, that we can we take into account?

How does your work relate to the theme of the open call?

New, online public spheres

When digital crisis strikes, we need alternative, non top down platforms to take over. The kit will come with extensive documentation with suggested deployments and how-tos, tailored for different kinds of digital crises taking place in different spaces. This is how the Digital Prepper Toolkit supports will help support self-reliance in times when there is no other infrastructure or social platforms to rely on, or to be trusted.

Ethical or values-driven technology

The Digital Prepper Toolkit intends to deal with a wide variety of digital crises for a broad audience. The documentation of the project will be free and open. While we are offering a template for what a digital prepper kit might look like, we will finally engage in a collaborative process that allows the kit to be customized and extended in a way uniquely meaningful to the organizations and communities we end up collaborating with.
The other goal is to ultimately transfer ownership of the work, while still offering support where needed, in terms of troubleshooting, clarifying documentation, or running workshops

Creating space for imagination

Practically, the toolkit requires us to ask for which digital crises we should or can prepare? Is there a way to categorise these different types of digital crises?

We wish to facilitate conversation about what crisis has become in the digital.
Digital crises are not just defined in terms of access, geographic space, or digital platforms, but also in terms of privilege, wealth, and access to support or protection.

Every crisis and crisis space requires different considerations and modes of preparation. We recognize that needs greatly vary between, for example, the home prepper or the community centre. In order to tackle these complexities, it is important to develop a shared vocabulary with collaborating organisations. To finally develop a more integrated consideration of digital crisis in the realms of crisis or disaster management.

Individual autonomy & Democratic engagement

The Digital Prepper Toolkit offers a set of tools that promotes self-reliance and therefore self-authority and less dependence over top down, imposed platforms. Our toolkit will offer an emergency first aid kit for dealing with times when online access is compromised, at least providing local connectivity ideally peer-to-peer connections and applications for staying in communication and sharing information. The closer we get to truly decentralizing critical communications infrastructure, the more resilient our methods of communication in times of crisis.
In a sense, the toolkit allows to flip the power relationship in which the //creator// becomes the user.

What does the future look like to you?

During this global pandemic, it has become clear how dependent we are on platforms and communications infrastructure in order to avoid complete social isolation. Not to mention the latest threats from Trump to social media platforms. Despite how problematic these platforms are themselves, many of us still rely on these platforms to stay in touch with each other and get information. Since our everyday reality is no longer separate from our digital reality, a better digital future actually just means a better future and although we are not entirely optimistic, we do want to offer ways to empower and prepare for this.

What is your grounding ethos?

Better digital futures == better futures.