Computing Reviews

The human infrastructure of El Paquete, Cuba’s offline Internet
Dye M., Nemer D., Mangiameli J., Bruckman A., Kumar N.  interactions 26(1): 58-62, 2019. Type: Article
Date Reviewed: 04/29/19

Cubans do not have online access to the Internet, nor instantaneous communication with people outside of Cuba. Even cellphone technology inside Cuba is limited. Responding to that void, an informal network of information workers has cobbled together a slow motion “sneaker net” that trickles worldwide information down to offline participants. El Paquete Semanal, or EP for short, is an example of human ingenuity overcoming a resource shortage in ad hoc and impossibly complicated ways.

On the one hand, it can be seen as raw capitalism, an almost black market enterprise (that avoids government offense at present) where high demand makes intense labor profitable. But as the investigators reveal, there is self-sacrifice and nobility at all levels that deny a simple profit motive. The weekly EP segments provide entertainment, but they also provide information and education. From “the masters” who ingest the source material, to “the packagers” who distribute it, to the end users who consume and exchange it, there is ongoing curatorship. Each update is limited to just one terabyte (TB) of material, requiring a severe compression of the worldwide information stream. I was almost jealous of their handpicked diet, compared to my undifferentiated and overwhelming fire hose of a data buffet. In our society, we pay extra for curation, more for less.

The article is short, casually written, and serves as a teaser. The authors are studying EP as a sociotechnical system, an alternate form of information networking, as they investigate computing in marginalized and underrepresented communities. I look forward to hearing more about El Paquete and its global corollaries.

Reviewer:  Bayard Kohlhepp Review #: CR146550

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