So let’s say that you have never been to SudoRoom ever.
You drop in on a Thursday evening, curious about what’s going on at this hip, happening place, and you see a band of strange people fiddling around with these weird devices that look like this:
What could these strange devices be? Who are these weird people?
“We’re the SudoMesh meetup. Come join us,” a happy person says. She’s literally dancing, waving a weird plastic device back and forth in the air.
“What is SudoMesh?” you ask.
“You know the internet… as in the internets? And how you usually have to pay someone on a landline to get it, and pay monthly bill and then you get on the internet? Or if you are downtown you have to wander around and find a coffee shop, and buy coffee and then you can get online?”
“OK, I get it, that’s how I usually get ‘the internets’,” you say.
“Well, suppose we could create a free alternative: a mesh network.
“So that we could have a people-powered internet so that WiFi is available to everyone. Even old people, or people without any money, or people who have bad credit and just can’t pay the bills…. we would make this free internet, and it would all be in the control of the people, not some big company that you have to send bills to every month.”
“But nothing is free, is it?” you ask, confused. “How does this work?”
She holds up a little white device. It looks like a space age massage wand. “We are all volunteers. We are all people doing this for the people, by the people. See, we set up these little wifi stations. and beam the internet from volunteers’ rooftops.”
“So the volunteers… they are working together to make this happen?”
“Yes, it’s peer to peer. In the hands of the people. This way we can control our internet access, give to people who might not happen to have access otherwise, and avoid being controlled by some big, faraway company making all the decisions.” She stops and snaps her fingers. The room dissolves around you and you’re magically whisked away to a small house down the street. (How does this happen?)
“I just needed to take you outside to see where the nodes are being built. We’ll be back at SudoRoom in a second,” she says. “But I want to show you this first node. We got it up for less than $150 using cheap parts and a lotta ingenuity.”
“What does it do? And wow, you didn’t have to ask some big, faraway company to set this up?” you ask.
“This is a node. Ordinary volunteers like you and me are settings these up all over Oakland, at our houses, on our rooftops. They work together and connect, enabling people to share free wi-fi and internet.” She hugs the node, not something to be recommended, but you are both temporarily floating in the air. “And we have also written the software as well, so we are not dependent on some big, faraway software company that will charge us tons of money. We can fine tune it any way we want.”
“Wow! Neat! I mean… though why go through all this trouble to do everything yourself?” you ask. “Isn’t it a lot work?”
“Well, we are not doing it all ourselves,” ms. SudoMesh says. “We are doing it together. This is the combined work of a lot of smart people… it’s peer to peer internet. If some big company suddenly decides that it isn’t profitable this year to supply wifi in a cheap and reliable way to this part of Oakland (and you’d be surprised at how many parts of the country suffer this fate), then we can control our own desitny.” With another snap of her fingers you are suddenly back at the SudoRoom.
“Did you like seeing the first node?” a SudoMesh guy nearby says, amused. “You know, this is how a lot of the first telephone companies were set up in the Western United States. A lot of the phone companies were in these big city, big money centers, and they didn’t see any profit or need to extend service out to the local yokels. So the farmers got frustrated, started hacking, and set up their own cooperatives because nobody thought they were “important” enough to serve.”
“Cooperatives? the USA? I thought cooperatives were only in Berkeley.”
“No, cooperatives were a big deal, even in states like Kansas. There’s a long history of cooperatives and shared group resources in the United States. I guess the history just got hidden. We’re bringing it back,” Sudomesh guy says. “You should drop by a Mass Effect meeting, we have the next one in April. There are all sorts of cool collective efforts just like SudoMesh, and we’re joining forces and working together.”
He drops picostation device in your hand. “We welcome everyone. You can join us in setting this up.”
“But I don’t know anything about wifi networks,” you say. “How can I even get involved?”
“We will teach you. It’ll be like your own SudoMesh education. At SudoRoom we believe that everyone can learn tech. And it’s a valuable life skill to know… don’t you want to be able to determine your own internet destiny? And help others who lack the money and power to determine theirs?”
SudoMesh meets Thursday evenings at SudoRoom. Come along and meet up with us!