Karen Banks is a young keyboard player from Melbourne and in an Afro-reggae band. And yet, she knows so little about Africa and its people. Determined to find out more, Kare leaves Australia in the early 90s to follow the music – but finds that there is more to do. There, she establishes GnFido, an international computer gateway. Back home in Australia a Chinese-Malaysian student from Sydney discovers Pactok, a similar gateway system that gives a voice to the marginalised communities in East Timor and Sarawak. Both GnFido and Pactok are based on a decentralised data flow model consisting of nodes and hubs that serve independent journalists, human rights workers, rainforest timber campaigners, and many other social change advocates across Southeast Asia. To gain access to international email gateways, Pactok is routed through Australia’s first independent ISP, Pegasus Networks, and GnFido through the UK-based GreenNet.
Today, digital rights campaigner Lizzie O’Shea is calling for the need to adapt existing digital infrastructure to decentralise data flows and take back power from companies and governments. How will Lizzie respond when she finds out that such infrastructure had been placed prior to the internet that she knows? Can Karen and Pang’s experiences inform us how we can mitigate the unintended consequences of the internet and the use of 3.8 billion smartphones today?