A workshop with Varia and The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest
Infrables make negative use-cases and un-fixing bug reports as a solidary praxis. They are articulations of what extractive digital infrastructures are, and what they are doing. What infrables can we tell to take-down Big Tech narratives and undo their violences? Generated through narrative and extra-narrative accounts, infrables identify oppressive infrastructures or tools, but they also make space for other technological attitudes. Between January and July 2021, the Institute for Technology in the Public Institute conversed with people experiencing infrastructural shifts, and together we tried to grasp their implications. These infrables are here to be reworked and retold.
From anecdote to infrable
How can we follow and understand infrastructural shifts through shared experiences? To what extent do individual experiences stand for a larger whole? What happens when you share, retell, adapt, rewrite someone else's experiences? An exercise developed in collaboration with Varia (Manetta Berends, Cristina Cochior).
- Bring an instrument. Maybe you find yourself in a room with a piano. Or someone has a guitar, some pots and pans or other objects that can make variable noise.
- Each participant picks an anecdote from the list of infrastructural anecdotes and reads it out loud. One or more listeners accompany the readings with dramatic sound effects.
- Once the reading is done, take 10-20 minutes to each write down an infrastructural anecdote. These anecdotes will become part of the materials for others to work with in future sessions.
- Form groups of 3-5 people.
- Each group picks an anecdote, and if remote, gathers on an etherpad page, or around the table if IRL. If you want, you can also mix several anecdotes.
- Choose a format, and some elements.
- Re-write/change/re-tell the infrastructural anecdote into an infrable together.
- Shared BigBlueButton whiteboard + motto
- Pad writing
- Spoken story
Infrabling ✨ elements
- Make the intention (instead of the "moral") of the story explicit: what is the intention for the "public interest"? (connected to the line below)
- Introduce a maxim, "concise expression" or motto
- Introduce fictional agents, such as talking plants, inanimate objects or other creatures (e.g.: the tortoise and the hare, grasshoper and the ant, etc.)
- Make space for natural phenomena, machinic agencies, other animacies
- Scale the timespace of the story
- Infrastromorphise (instead of antropomorphise) agents: attribute infrastructural characteristics, motivation or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena
- Use rhyme and repetition to rewrite/retell the anecdote
The National Number
I needed to get a covid test for travel , so I could return across the border back to the UK. I had been called by the contact tracer earlier in the week and they said to me don't worry you can use your day eight prescription for your test because you need a neg test to enter the UK again, won't you? And so I visited the website to book a test but it clearly stated that if yo9u don't have a nn, you should just turn up at any of the testing centers with your prescription. It had also an option to book a paid test for travel, but this one you could not book without the NN either. So my friend who I was with looked up on the map the closest in Molenbeek, she said it will be quiet, no-one travels abroad from there. [canals] we walked there it was just across the canal, they pointed out that there were three new bridges across the canal while before the canal was used as a border between two parts of the city, when there were uprisings. My friends explained that they were worried about the gentrification with this extended infra in place. My friend is also also an adorable typist. We arrived at the test center in FR my friend explained to the guy for the door and he asked is it for staying or leaving and when we said for leaving he said you can't do it here, and he sent us to another test center and gave us the details printed on a paper slip that he had hand-cut himself. When we got outside, we realised that the address he had given us was a 45 m drive, which would cost 6o euros each way in a taxi.
So we spent half an hour between on our phones looking at the codivtestbelgium.be site and the lab, we even called two numbers on the website and one no-one picked up and the other was non-existent. and we even considered using one of their NN numbers to book the test but we realised it might connect the results to the wrong id. All the time we were sitting by the canal. Eventually after a few arguments and exasperation, we decided to take a chance and take a tram to the midi station because we thought this is where people come and go and we thought they might have more information about how to deal with it. Because all the website said was that it was OK to turn up at the testing station.
So we arrive at the midi station and there were no signs of where the test center would be but because we knew the place we thoughts it probably in the old post office building because there are many empty office there and indeed it was there. There was a sign on the door saying covid test centre and below three logos one for the European security agency with a fascist eagle, one with a curly font was BE event organisers and the third logo was the red cross so we we went inside the there of us and on the way we had decided to stay inline with the advice that the contact tracer had given my friend to use prescription for arrival to not say that she was actually leaving. So we turn up in this entrance space which was quite dark with a reception desk with a beefy guy sitting behind it and another guy standing around, and my friend started explaining in English while showing her phone to the guy at the reception the guy looked at me saying I don't speak English and he wanted me to explain what was going on but at that moment my partner cut in because he had not understood we were going to say she was arriving and that created a bit of a confusion because he felt we shouldn't lie. on the side of the room was a woman crying and they kept asking her are OK. Once I got attention of the guy again I explained to him without saying leaving or going that we needed a test for my friend and the first thing he said was we cannot guarantee the results will be here and the moment you need them, and then he kept repeating in french it doesn't make any sense to come here crying and looked over my shoulder at the girl crying and I asked does this happen a lot and he said it happens every day. But once he had established that I had gotten the message he said there is no problem we can get her a test and we asked how to pay for it as all over the entrance there were A4s saying no cash and then he said upstairs they will give her a national identity number and I didn't know what to say because I was pretty surprised the other guy who was standing next to the crying girl gave us a green piece of paper on which a homemade form was printed in french that asked for name address date of birth so we went outside to fill it in. We were all pretty surprised about the proposal to give a UK citizen a national identity number, because is a national reference number a unique number for paying taxes and accessing health care normally for residents or citizens, but all around us were people with the green slip pocking out of their pockets.
So with the green slip in her hands, my friend went inside and follows the taped arrows on the floor and they said to go upstairs. I went up the first flight of stairs and turned the corner and realised I had four more floors to climb on a spiral staircase. The lift was taped off and the arrows kept on pointing at the next level. When I got to the top, there was another security on the first door and a small queue. It seemed every person entering was having a heated discussion. And every where were laminated signs suggesting to download the tracing app from the google play app store with a QR code. The first guy sees my green slip and ushered me to the next person in the office space. There were no lights on and garbage bags everywhere and a security person, wearing all black, looking like bouncers were at every stage. It did not look like a medical facility. The women in front of me was having a huge argument with the bouncer in front of me to get to the next stage because he said she had to pay for the text but she said she did not have to because she had the prescription. She was not from Belgium. Tan he came to me and I said I need the NN and he seemed really angry, and it was the last straw of his bad day. In the mean time the woman in front came to me and she said are you traveling and she said his guy is off the street he does not know what is going on I was here earlier this week, he doesn't know what is going on. And she said it is definitely free but than she said are you from the UK. All this time he was letting other people through. Eventually she demanded to let us through. Finally we were entering the next room where someone was registering peoples details and she asked me if I had an appointment and I said I needed the NN and she was fr speaking but we could communicate. She called the angry guy to tell him he was wrong and that I had to go to the doctor. I came out of the room, and was channeled to another room with barricades, into the room with the doctor. Up to this moment, everyone I had spoken to had in the process had acted as if the issue of receiving the NN was a bit of a mystery, difficult or impossible, or if they did not know anything about it.
I then saw the doctor and hes poke English. He asked to see my passport, and why I was going to the UK, he was a bit confused because I did not have the earlier test so he assumed I was living in Belgium. This part was straightforward, he photographed my passport on his personal phone (it had a family picture on it), which I felt was strange but by this time I just wanted to get my identity number. I probably should have asked about it ... it was clearly for logging and I was not asked for a signature. It was super hot, I was getting tired and there were probably some ill people in the rooms and I had only 7mins of battery on my phone so I was ready to comply with anything to get my id number. He gave it to me and he said that's fine, you can book and pay for your test online. The security guy came and got me and lead me to what he called the holding area and it was just a few chairs. He said you can sit here and pay and book for your test, and then have it.
I went on the website and went through all the familiar stages and used my new NN and that went fine. This NN was handwritten on another green slip of paper. I thought I better at this point and say that I was traveling outside the country. I was than able to select the test centre and the test day and this took me to a payment page which was facilitated to google pay, you could pay with visa mastercard but not paypal or with your linked google account. I paid and put in my creditcard number and I got worried because I only had 4% left and knew I would need to show the r etcetera at the next stage. So I just used the autofill to put in the creditcard, my name and the email and hit pay. I used my banks authentication so it definitely went through but it came back to the covidtest.be website and it took me back to the vendors website. Nothing downloaded. no PDF, confirmation. I was getting worried and thought I am going to try use my prescription since I now had my nn. When I went through the process again and this time it was a bit different, it offered me timeslots and said the first one would be at 18.45. That would have been four hours from then. I clicked and booked and it gave me a qr code immediately. This meant that I now could get back to the angry guy and show him the qr code which was what he expected from me from the beginning. And then he was showing me into the back of the testing room to the person who would take my details. On the left hand side of the corridors and it looked like someone was testing or packing samples, again in a derelict office room.
Now there was a new person on the shift, a young student, speaking English to me and her English was very good. She first starts getting my details and is checking them against the information on the QR code. It turns out that the auto-fill has spelled both my email and my name wrong. So I realise this may be the reason I did not get any info about the one I paid for and I am thinking ... shit! She says no worries and corrects until the right info is there and she hands me a blue tube to give to the nurse. But then she asks: 'you are not going to travel with this, are you?' and just before this she has noted my nn. She explains that with the free test you only get a text message but the paid ones have your id number and passport number and a PDF. She says to me you will need this for getting into the UK. She says, you can get the free one, I'm OK with that. And I explain to her that I did buy the test -to travel one and if she could look it up and she is sympathetic to this because she just corrected the wrong email and she ask me to show the transfer on my bankaccount. Now I have 2% left. I go into my banking app, my banking is all on the phone. I put in my security details and there is a last payment of 56 pounds and assume that this is the last payment and should be for the test. It says Farm Meyser next to it and I show it to her through the window saying this is definitely it. She says that is fine, later I realise it was a payment for food two days earlier in a supermarket.
Trying to get vaccinated but failing
I patiently awaited my turn to get vaccinated, and after many months of being impatient, I was finally old enough. I visited the website through which to register, entered my year of birth and got the message that it was not possible to get vaccinated. Many of my birth year friends did manage to get an appointment. I tried calling and hurray, success. Later it was announced the website of the government had a bug that stayed uncrushed for weeks, leaving many willing people unable to make an online appointment. It has since been crushed.
When I arrived here at Rotterdam I remembered a friend of mine from long ago was living here somewhere. I have shut down my Facebook a few years ago but I had to reopen it cuz I had no other way to get in contact with her. When I did it, I found my profile intact, outdates and it creaped me out, but worst was to see and decide if I should read or not old messages from friend and colleges, job offers, favors and happy birthdays hanging there unanswered. I left as soon as I could.
What if I was not fit?
I remember that every time I wanted to register for a COVID test via the website I would always get options to get tested in random places, often far away from where I live. That was despite the fact that I marked the option that I cannot get there by car. Even though I did not always feel fit to get to the test location, I am a young and able-bodied person. I kept wondering what happens if you are not as fit? Why were there no more options presented? it was different when you registered for a test by phone.
A best friend from high school passed away many years ago. We both used Xanga as a blog/journal during our high school years, and used the private messaging system essentially to joke at eachother back and forth - empty chats. Xanga messaged me when they were shutting down in probably 2014... or earlier? asking if I wanted to download the text code of my page. I did, and in the bundle was also included my and Stephanie's private correspondences, hidden comments, hidden posts. This is a moment of tension, perhaps grief (two years after her death), but also sentimental.
The phone I use is quite old and so I could not download the national tracing app. I therefore could not access some locations as I could not "check in" digitally. This was during the first lockdown, but it seems that since then venues have been told they could not discriminate against people without the app and to offer alternative (paper) check-in processes.
In the work that I do the organisation uses Microsoft Teams. In the first meetings we had I didn't want to install the app or program on my laptop, and so I joined straight from browser. It took me some meetings to realize that that was the reason why I couldn't see my colleague's faces, because the software allows you to see other people's faces only if you install the program.
A string of spam
This and last year I’ve visited both Luxembourg and Germany for projects which during covid brings along a string of tests. I noticed after my visit last summer that my spambox of the old email I filled in at a corporate test center filled up with German spam. (unsurprising, but still sucks). Freedom of movement seems more than ever directly related to how much information you give. Last month public spaces opened up again in both countries but under the conditions of an antigen test. Restaurants etc can be entered but only by providing some spit, sometimes in combination with name, address, phone number and a show of ID.
Out of curiosity and of enthusiasm, I am running a small chat network from the meter box in my home. It actually is connected to an electricity plug right under my bed, so sometimes when I hover the bedroom and I touch the plug, the whole network goes down. A small form of domestic vulnerability. But anyway, the network runs most of the time.
My flatmate received COVID support during the early months of COVID, since she was unable to work in either of the two jobs she had. She applied for it, unsure about the conditions, even though she was fulfilling the conditions. At some point we received a letter from the government that was unfortunately misplaced & buried under some newspapers we receive from our neighbours when they are done with them. Because she hadn't seen the letter within 2 weeks and because she hadn't responded she had to give back the entire sum. We assume the reason why the letter wasn't also sent digitally was to check if she was home during this time.
During the pandemic my laptop is suffering so much. It is getting a bit old (not even that old), but videoconferencing is so tough on it. I am not a professional participant in video conferences, not being able to use background images, sometimes accidentally logging off because my laptop got overheated.
Paying with Amazon Vouchers
When we were setting up a research project 'infrastructural interactions' - I think it matters what it was for - we thought it was really important to pay participants in the conversations we were organising but the project it was administrated between two different universities so we ran into many different problems with paying participants. Part of the issue was that it was felt as unethical to pay participants I guess becuause of fear that it would influence the research results, but another part was that we were not able to pay participants based in the UK because the university had decided this could only be done by giving them Amazon vouchers, we guess this was because it would not set up a financial relation with them, wouldn't be seen as payment and also would not be showing up as a financial dependency but as a gift. Of course this is also in the interests of the participants; they would not have any registered income which would interfere with their benefits or taxes, but we really did not want to spend any project money that is critical about cloud computing on Amazon vouchers, even if we were sympathetic to people not wanting to mess up their benefits. So what we realised is that because the university using these vouchers, they were siphoning public money into Amazon on the one hand but also using Amazon to in a way support tax evasion, to support creative bookkeeping in an attempt to optimize their financial operations in the sense it was easier for them to give out the vouchers than to actually take care of a proper payment of someone who had contributed to project. The other part we can put in here, is that they clearly assumed that the participants were on benefits. It also has to do with ... a big part of it is because of the Universal Credit system, which is how benefits are organised in the UK at the moment, are designed people from making claims. It is highly aggressive towards having any additional payment outside your benefits; you will lose your benefits completely if a payment shows up. UC aggressively discourages people from staying on benefits. It is a system that is micromanaged.
So people doing sexwork were saying to me, "do you have the vax badge on your profile", and then others were asking "have you seen the taglines on grindr", people are labeling themselves as big bear Pfizer, as Moderna otters, some said they saw a profile that was labelled, let me check it was ... yes: "Grindr profile of a “vaccinated top” with the foreboding caption, “It has begun.” It’s inevitable: the antibody bro is about to become the vaccine bro".
With the first Corona aid, you could get 5,000 euros and there were people who got that. There were also people who took money fraudulently. That's why people had to give it back. Most of the people I know have actually transferred the money back. Because it is not clear at all. And there is so much stress. It's so unclear. You are being criminalised very quickly. People then immediately make a case of fraud. At the beginning it sounded as if it was available to everyone and you had to apply for it very quickly. You only had a certain amount of time to do it. I think it was 10 minutes or so and then the page closed. But the problem is, only if you received a number, you can get to this page, you've been waiting for days until you can get to the webpage. And I also have to confess, I didn't read the small letters, I just saw "I can get money". So they asked "Do you need more money?" and I of course said "Yes!". I wasn't entitled to that much help, because it was only for operating costs. But I didn't read the instructions. I was just trying to get my turn before Berlin said they had no more money. Because after that there was a time when it was stopped, because there was no more money. And now it's like this, you need to pay it back in one go. But it's not clear who pays back or not. And every tax advisor says something different about it. It's the same with friends. But then you are criminalised. As if you did it consciously. I was in such a panic because it was clear that we wouldn't get any money for 4, 5, 6 months, that at first I just clicked, I need money, I need money, I need money. But it's already true, the billions that are paid out to the big companies and what is then made out of these small amounts. It's all pure neo-liberalism.
Self-managing a demonstration on Eventbrite
So normally I try to participate in the 8th of March activities either go to march, or join a demonstration but this year it was not allowed to go out onto the street in groups. So I was looking on-line if there were any activities planned and then on one of the websites that normally has calls for the demos, there was an announcement that the organisers had permission for gathering a hundred people and that you would have to sign up on Eventbrite so that the tickets could be distributed. Actually, it wasn't Eventbrite, but I think for the story it doesn't matter. So I clicked on the link and of course all tickets were 'sold out', like already they were 'sold out', of course. So in the end I joined another activity and ended up on the same square on which these 100 ticketed people were supposed to gather. I realised they had blocked off with tape ten areas for 10 people to gather, and had rented metal barricades - the cattle thing, they had a made a circle with these barricades so inside there were these sections for ten people each so it meant that the organisers of the feminist or women's march had self organised this idea of checking who had signed into the Eventbrite, maybe they would have a barcode scanner at the entrance to this zoned off area. But what had happened is ... I had joined a less official feminist bike ride, we were so many we flooded the square so the whole setup crashed - people were crashing through the gates, broke the tape, there was a mess of bikes and people, it was a mess, there was no way the organisers could have kept with their promise of managing their crowd. So the worry about the barcode scanner being put in place, the fact that everyone participating in the official march had given their name, address and email, is really scary and the fantasy of becoming its own police force that the organisers held was really scary -- from the setup you could see they thought they could manage it -- and then the white punk girls just crashed it.
Spitting with couriers
I was traveling - trying to travel to Brussels to see my comrades and I was very anxious. I had ordered the COVID test and downloaded the app. There was a technological hitch and so it arrived two days late. I was anxious about the test not being testable, that it would be a non-viable sample, so I rang the company and they said "It is good to keep the sample as fresh as possible", and so I could book in a courier between 08:00 and 18:00, that would come and take my sample to the lab. But they could not give an exact time. As fresh as possible! They told me to wait until the courier arrived, knocked at the door and to spit into the tube whilst he waited. He arrived at 13h and knocked on the door and he waited while I watched the video, and spit in the tube. Wait, I had to go through the app stages. Open the tube, scan the barcode, watch the video, whilst he was waiting. I then sealed the sample and had to put it in a transparent bag that I handed over to him and at that moment we had eye contact, as I passed him my tube of spit. At that moment I thought: is he my nurse?
We're invited to participate in a large funding project on "Democratic AI", which is managed by a group of people working at a university in The Netherlands. The first meeting I attend to, happens of course in MS-teams. I never used teams before, so I ask the secretary for a separate test, to find out whether it actually works without an institutional account. After meeting the other partners of the consortium, I am invited to contribute to the 45 page application. The secretary of the project sends me a link to a Google drive but I cannot access the drive without signing in. For a moment I doubt whether to propose the consortium another on-line storage solution, but I don't feel confident enough nor have energy to manage it. Instead I tell the secretary that I don't have a Google account and ask if she can give me access without it. She sends back an email with a link to "seniorenweb" which explains how to make an account without signing up for gmail. When I make a joke about her considering me part of the elderly constituency, she replies: "I am a practical person. Just pick the site with the best explanation." I give in and sign up for a Google account for the first time in my life.
┻━┻︵ \(°□°)/ ︵ ┻━┻
In the work that I do the organisation uses Microsoft Teams and Zoom, no it was Teams I think, whats the difference? In the first meetings we had I didn't want to install the app or program on my laptop, and so in first meetings I joined straight from browser, the Teams, or Zoom, house party, Jitsi or was I on Tiktok? I dunno... In the first meetings I was just staring at the icons, wondering why everyone was refusing the camera. In the first meetings even the head of the organisation didn't have a camera. In the first meetings I was still working but I gradually just relied on no camera too, taking the meetings from bed, from the floor, from wherever i felt the fuck comfortable. It started to really change the work I was doing, and i started to dream of the abolition of work, I mean before when we all had to sit in those team meetings and see each others faces, all encouraging each other too work. I mean I started to build like a beavers den or a like a badgers burrrow near where my desk would be, at one point I just took the desk broke it down, and burnt it outside. I mean I started to do my spreadsheets as if I was a beaver and before long I pretty much realised beavers don't care about spreadhseets. It took me some meetings to realize that that was the reason why I couldn't see my colleague's faces, because the software, that I think it was Zoom, or Jitsi, or was it that time i got invited to queer haus on mastadon no sorry it was Team I guess , allows you to see other people's faces only if you install the program. I had only Facetimed with my mom once a week until that day and she could see my burnt desk. You know when your mum answers the videocall and you still cannot see her face because the phone is so close to her face. what if I hadn't seen their straight faces for the last 12 months? - I think I rather not have seen my colleagues faces all semester, sleepy or full on make up on and showing of pajamas and eye bags, but mostly my own nap face was there. During the months of not seeing my colleagues faces, their faces slowly changed. After the installing, trading space on my device for faces, their motion changed. What ever happen to phone calls?! No file to safe after, no records, tracks... Im so paranoid this days, it really freak me out. I never got the invite for fucking Clubhouse. ◕ᴥ◕
Melting your CPU, one meeting at a time!
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Melting your CPU, one meeting at a time! A stab in the dark at team building __..--\ __..-- \ __..-- __..-- __..-- __..-- | \ o __..--____....----"" \__..--\ | \ +----------------------------------+ +----------------------------------+ +++++ micro ++ soft ++ protest +++++ + against the unequal distribution + +++++ of terms and conditions ++++++ Join us in the blackout room! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Once upon a time, a device who was relied on heavily began to age. It took them longer to feel a tap, even longer (more forever) to use an app. And even worse, (access to THE SPACE denied)
Other phones that were also aging, had other issues but felt more and more annoyed and frustrated, so they met up one day for a big cup of coffee... With cracked screens and lint-filled ports, they decided together that they needed a new kind of power: PROXY POWER.
- The Old device
- The Newer device
- The hero (a caring relative)
- The villain (state employee)
- The user (may or may not have covid)
- The space (the user is trying to access)
- The digital infrastructure
"Addressable targets do not always receive what they deserve"