Alternative Future: Steampowered Privacy

Sally A. Applin, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK
Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing

Poster Session: Privacy Research - Steampunks
The Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference, CFP2010
San Jose, CA - Special Track, Thursday, June 17, 2010

Although it might seem unlikely, Steampunks care deeply about Computers, Freedom and Privacy. Many Steampunks have careers in the computer industry and work as IT professionals, software programmers, technical writers and hardware engineers. This is expressed in the quality and depth of their presentations and how those created objects illustrate the Steampunks' passion and mastery of technology.

Steampunks romanticize about the past by fantasizing about an alternate Jules Verne themed future, and their aesthetic is grounded in brass, gears, and all other artifacts of analog industrial machinations. For many productions, these themes are mixed with computer technology to create contraptions that have the aesthetic of the historic past, combined with the advances and utility of modern computing. In instances where contraptions are not imbued with computer technology, the computer is often the tool used to either assist in fabrication or as a vehicle for distributing the record of its creation.

The Steampunk movement is primarily a maker movement, based on the exchange and trade of information and technique, loosely coupled with tenants of the Open Source movement at large. Steampunks are reacting to a trend in the manufacturing industry that over time has created conditions where items are mass-produced and inaccessible for modification. For example, in the computer industry, hardware is sealed, painted beige, and owned by the corporations who manufactured it, and their associated legal entities, even though the items reside in the homes and offices of the people who purchased them.

Steampunks feel that once they have purchased items, they should be free to manipulate, modify and tune them up according to their preferences, without voiding warranties on basic chips or components, or violating a license agreement. Steampunks express this "violation of privacy" by violating the privacy of the corporations who manufacture the items that they purchase. Steampunks reveal the inside inner- workings of each contraption that they create and infuse a personal aesthetic into each object, thus incorporating a strong sense of individuality and rebellion, into each item. It is a hope amongst them, that by creating these types of objects and sharing them, that they can spread the ideas of opening up manufacturing once more.

This poster illustrates a portion of my research on Steampunks over the past two years. Current findings suggest that Steampunks are highly social, share and trade information and techniques for making, and use their productions from the past as a platform to convey their feelings about privacy, freedom and computers in the current age. Further projection suggests that in the future the Steampunk movement will continue to grow in volume and popularity, as the mainstream public reacts to their individuality being subsumed by corporate influence. This action may create conditions in which there is likely be further political involvement by Steampunks and other similar groups advocating for the conditions that nurture privacy.


Creator: Administrator on 2010/06/18 18:37
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