In Cuba, the Internet has another name, and it fits in the palm of your hand. It is a hard drive called “El Paquete Semanal” (the Weekly Package)—a collection of one terabyte of information: shows, movies, music, PDFs, downloaded onto hard drives and distributed door-to-door and operated by its users. In the rest of the world we have Facebook. For the past thirty years, social networks have demonstrated their power and usefulness to link us together and place communications in everyone’s hands. At the same time, they have matured from being operated by the people who use them (e.g., Cuba, the WELL, BBSes), to large-scale commercial organizations operated on those users’ behalf (e.g., Facebook). As Nicholas Negroponte said: in the early days of media, the users were the inventors—now they are two separate classes.
The central question addressed in this thesis is whether the design and underlying technology of entry points to a network change the way people interact with it and the experience they have. To explore this question, we designed and engineered a set of playful physical objects which function as nodes of a hyper-local network. Information bestowed upon this network remains within these nodes, cryptographically secure, and accessible only to local community members who are aware of the network's existence and mode of operation. This network was tested by deploying the node-objects in four real world locations, where participants could leave and retrieve audio messages from and to the nodes.