A letter from the editors.
mai ishikawa sutton and Tal Milovina
Hello and welcome to the third issue of COMPOST!
Short for commons post, we’re a magazine publishing text and multimedia works that explore the web as a digital commons. COMPOST is a project to manifest a small corner of the web that invites creative expression built with care and mutual support. Our process aims to metabolize and renew our relationships with the web, by publishing works that are approachable, intimate, and grounded in research and lived experience. Our work is grounded in a curiosity about the interrelatedness of the digital, technological, earthly, and human.
We’re interested in lifting the veil on the saturated metaphors often used to describe the web and instead commit to examining the materiality of our networks. Seemingly innocuous terms like “the cloud” are deployed to refer to what — in practice — are mass networks of corporate-controlled servers. How does the language readily available to us obfuscate the true costs of using and relying on the infrastructure of global capitalism? What might shift when we choose to pay attention to the actual substance that constitutes our digital networks? And when we do, what cycles of domination, dehumanization, and ecological neglect can we finally break free from?
For this third issue of COMPOST, we turn to our relationships with, and acknowledge ourselves as, Water Bodies. Sourced from lakes, rivers, and oceans, water cools the data centers that store the bits of data you’re reading here; it’s boiled into steam, then turns turbines for the electricity that powers your device, the router it connects to, and every whirring, beating part of the network that brings you these words. This page is brought to you by a million liters of water, as droughts, contamination, and rising sea levels continue to creep us towards a boiling point of human and non-human suffering.
Water Bodies interweaves tales of early trade networks, histories of water management, and examinations of network infrastructure and community organizing in the face of the climate crisis. The story of a young Tainta man, captured and enslaved on the Kenyan coast, explores water as a site of ritual — and of violence. Púca, the trickster figure in Irish mythology, welcomes us into a consideration of the relationship between water, technology, and the emergence of the nation state. The folklore of the waterschappen in the Netherlands asks us to examine the emotional and spiritual dimensions of managing a commons. In a near-future in Tanjung Priok, the irreparable violence of the Dutch Empire’s rule becomes clear; two sentient machines write letters to each other while trying to “save” Jakarta, the fastest sinking city in the world.
In an interactive game, a lost shrimp in the Mediterranean reminds us that state borders are a digital issue — and suggests we must get creative about protecting the high seas from greenwashing and surveillance tech. A piece about environmental DNA investigates “community science,” and the institutional barriers that prevent people from monitoring the health of their own local water systems. We learn, too, about Bengaluru and Gurugram, where ordinary people are working together to restore lakes and curb flooding threatening life in the tech capitals of India. Portal sem Porteiras, a community network in Mantiqueira, Brazil, takes us on a walk along their local river to meditate on the structuring logic of neoliberalism and private property.
“I don’t have answers, even as our waterways bleed dry,” writes Olu Niyi-Awosusi in their essay about the role of water in the various components of digital infrastructure that we use everyday, “but I hope that collectively we can move towards ways of working with technology and our world that work with, and not against, its systems, ways that preserve and build rather than just destroy and erode.”
Issue 03 comes after a bit of a hiatus as we worked to build out our sister project, Distributed.Press. From the beginning, COMPOST was intended to be the active lab and pilot of Distributed.Press; an opportunity to experiment with the suite of tools it created for people to publish on the World Wide Web and Decentralized Web (DWeb). This issue itself showcases new features developed by Distributed.Press over the past half year. Distributed.Press partnered with a fellow tech worker co-op in Buenos Aires, Sutty, who built a content management system — like Wordpress or Squarespace — for activist organizations and collectives in South America. Sutty integrated Distributed.Press into their platform, and we used it to publish this issue of COMPOST. The piece A New Medium for Your Message1 in this issue goes more in depth about the relationship between these two projects and how we have been collectively envisioning and building tools for collective digital publishing.
We thank our contributors for all of their care and attentiveness, as well as for their willingness to work with a scrappy team to get this publication off the ground. Huge thank you to Sutty for taking our little magazine and turning it into its very own theme on their platform, so anyone can start their own version of COMPOST. Many thanks to Vincent for ensuring that the multimedia pieces could be specially integrated into the issue, and for laying out the graphics. We’re lucky to work with such talented designers, lakesleep and Hanami — thank you for making this issue so beautiful! And a final big thanks to the organizations that sponsored and backed this project: Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, Hypha Worker Co-operative, Sutty, Made By Super, Open Collective, and last but not least, Distributed.Press.
If you enjoy this issue, please consider supporting us by becoming a subscriber or sending us a one-time donation. We also encourage you to share this issue via the World Wide Web or Decentralized Web. You can follow us on Twitter (@COMPOSTmag), the Fediverse (social.coop/@COMPOST), Are.na, or join our very low traffic mailing list, to hear about any upcoming events and announcements.
As Erin McCoy writes in this issue, “COMPOST, a publication existing on the distributed web, seems like a step into a different virtual reality — an uncommon form that makes you dream of things that could be.”
Thanks for checking us out. 〜(˘▾˘)〜
mai ishikawa sutton
- https://three.compost.digital/distributed-press-a-new-medium-for-your-messages/ ↩︎︎