Title: Vamos a Resolver: Collaboratively Configuring the Internet in Havana
Human-Centered Computing Ph.D. Candidate
School of Interactive Computing
College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology
Date: Thursday, June 6, 2019
Time: 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. (EDT)
Location: GVU Cafe, Technology Square Research Building (TSRB)
Dr. Amy S. Bruckman (Advisor), School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Neha Kumar (Advisor), School of International Affairs, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Rebecca E. Grinter, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Michael Best, School of International Affairs, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. David Nemer, Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia
Dr. Mary L. Gray, Microsoft Research; School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, Indiana University
Globally, nearly four billion people do not have access to the World Wide Web (WWW), and efforts to expand this access are growing rapidly. Despite these initiatives, local and international barriers along political, economic, and social dimensions continue to limit meaningful Internet engagements for individuals in resource-constrained contexts. Scholars have highlighted the innovative and creative mechanisms by which individuals and communities negotiate constraints in their pursuit of Internet access. I focus on the case of Havana, Cuba, where, until recently, WWW access was limited to 5% of the population. Drawing on fieldwork and qualitative research conducted throughout 2014-2018, my dissertation provides an empirical study of how increasing access to the WWW interoperates with locally-configured information networks to form a “Cuban” Internet.
Against the backdrop of international media narratives that frame Cuba as an “isolated” country, I investigate the emergence of grassroots-driven information networks for knowledge-sharing through content sold on USB thumb drives (“El Paquete”) and an intranet custom-designed by citizens (“StreetNet”). I also examine the introduction of government-sponsored WWW access initiatives through select workplaces and public WiFi hotspots. In Havana, the imagined potentials of the WWW collide with the realities of scarcity and barriers to access, as people collaboratively configure an Internet sustained by a human infrastructure. I draw on traditional perspectives of Internet appropriation to examine and complicate the tensions between arduous work, cultural and individual values, rewarding outcomes, and moments of exclusion or unfair treatment. Incorporating the Cuban ethos of resolver (creative problem-solving amidst scarcity), I uncover the collective enterprises and negotiations that go towards the production of the Internet in Havana, thereby challenging established notions of what an (or the) Internet “should” look like in more and less connected contexts.