Echolocation in Online Spaces
I’m currently reading Undrowned by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. What I was prepared to read was a meditation about the connection we have with marine mammals and how that translates to Black feminism.
What I was unprepared for was a revelation regarding the functionality of online spaces. Gumbs writes: “How does echolocation…change our understandings of ‘vision’ and visionary action? Is social media already a technology of bounce, of throwing something out there and seeing what comes back?”
Social media is one form of online space, the most recognized kind that is saturated by colonialist practices. After finishing Logic School up last week, my concept of space in the virtual realm has changed significantly.
This is in part due to understanding that there are quite a lot of people who want to change how online spaces are used. In theory, I knew this - I’m a part of a neat Mastodon instance that fuels questions around repurposing technology in a way that breaks its inherently capitalist mold. I also am a part of a nascent co-design team for a new app, Plexus, exploring concepts around intimate thought and collaboration.
Reading this about echolocation and talking with non-developers about online spaces, though, sprung a whole new set of inspirations for what the future could hold.
I’ve begun to visualize bodies of water, copses of trees, uncut meadows. Indeed, there are such things as digital gardens, which people cultivate as extensions of themselves. I think I’m imagining spaces that aren’t cultivated, but are wild. How do you imitate wildness in online spaces? How do you encourage the native plants of the digital environment to grow untended, the practice of herbalism evolving out of binary code? How do you encourage community, the spontaneity of play?
Right now, we are echolocating in a diseased environment. We’re bouncing off crumbling skyscrapers, cracked seven-lane highways, and derelict hospitals. We’re clicking and whistling into wildfires of hate speech. Capitalism has not only destroyed our physical realm, but has made it close to impossible to carve out this wildness in our digital one as well.
When I think of liberation now, I don’t just think of seeing me and my comrades breaking the chains of our collective histories of oppression - racism, transphobia, ableism, etc. I also think about how we can log on and experience this freedom, too. No one is free until we’re all free, virtually or otherwise.