Making WiFi: A Sociological Study of Backyard Technologists in Suburban Australia

Katrina Jungnickel
This thesis explores the culture of new digital technology - Wireless Fidelity (WiFi). Drawing on an ethnography of the largest not-for-profit community WiFi group in Australia, it examines how members construct a communications network that spans across the largely suburban city of Adelaide by connecting together home-made antennas, many ofwhich are located in their own backyards. I show how these individuals, whom I term backyard technologists, collectively make WiFi using a diverse range of
more » ... aterials and improvised methods in places and at times outside conventional information communication technology (lCT) innovation contexts. They imbue a DoIt-Yourself (DIY) ethic yet importantly they do not do it alone - they Do-It-Together (DIT). My study begins by examining the role and importance of representations established in science and technology studies (STS), particularly in the work of Latour and Woolgar (1979) and Henderson (1999). In these contexts, objects and methods of rendering are linked to particular ways of seeing the world: the production of graphs, diagrams and images are seen as pivotal to understanding how practitioners collaborate, construct knowledge and recruit allies. Central to this literature is the idea of stable, rigorously ordered and immutable public 'facts' that reduce, or entirely erase ambiguity and alternative interpretation. Foregrounding the many representations WiFi members make, I describe how regular encounters with trees, thieves, birds, possums, neighbours, technical complications, a myriad of materials and the weather are implicated in the daily practice of making WiFi. Rather than filtering out and tidying up daily interruptions, I show how members build them into their network. My analysis reveals the public exposure of the messy middlework of making WiFi and I explain that this practice is not a consequence of a fragile technology, the elastic nature of the group or an unpredictable environment but rather deliberately produced, critical to how they innovate, expand the netw [...]
doi:10.25602/gold.00028585 fatcat:jrc7kz5u2jcktdlfchkvwiqffy