[PIG] You Can Survive The Net: Reality Survival Kit

Title (same as in your application form)
Reality Survival Kit

Team member names

Cam Morris & Dan Dabrowski

Note inviting collaborators if you’re looking for your second team-member


Short summary of your improvement idea

An attempt to improve or enhance the current experience for the average internet person on a platform or social network (in other words, a user or enduser) amidst increasing incoherence, complexity dark patterns, narrative breakdown and fracturing of communities online, as well as a work towards attempting the implementation of a structured, yet non-prescriptive, widely-applicable protocol for sense-making, able to be picked up and used by someone from any background and age-range.

Answers to the following questions. Please structure the body in explicit Q&A form.

(a housekeeping note - our original RFC contained too many hyperlinks for us to post as new users - a comment underneath the RFC will collect remaining citations to what we were trying to point to. any statements that are intended to be linked in the “bibliography” post below have their citation number bracketed like so. [x] )

What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance? Eg: hand-washing, traffic system, connector standards, carbon trading.

In layman’s terms, we are particularly both interested in the current and widely-accepted practices at use when we talk about the general concept of Digital Hygiene, which we identify as the sort of protocol we’re trying to build upon. In that sense, we utilize this protocol every day. Everyone around the world utilizes this protocol every day – often without considering it or consciously noticing. We have useful shorthands, mnemonics, tactics and safety measures that have become key parts of our “digital education” or process of becoming acclimated to utilizing the internet. We encourage secure browsers and software, the importance of passwords, monitoring our screen time, ad-blocking/site-blocking, VPNs for privacy, and try to avoid spam and scams (which have now become much more complex than the chain emails or “Nigerian Prince” schemes that tortured many unprepared on the earlier age of the web).

There is a pedagogical aspect to browsing the net – in the same way as children from a young age are taught to wash their hands, cover their mouths when they cough, brush and floss teeth, new internet users often learn to keep up with a battery of tactics to deal with the increasing amounts of (sometimes banal and annoying, in other cases genuinely dangerous, predatory, or traumatic) pitfalls of the platforms we are spending more and more of our lives on.

With new technologies shifting, much of our digital and physical lives are now intertwined in ways not necessarily seen or conceived of even ten years ago, let alone when the initial popularity wave and boom of the internet rose with increased access to home personal computers in the 1990s. We want to be clear: the internet is still generally not real life, but it is now irrevocably embedded and immersed in our daily lives that in many cases overtakes the physical or mediates our engagement with the real. In many cases, our livelihoods, our family responsibilities and ties, our relationships and romances, and mental (and arguably sometimes physical) health now are arbitrated through screens as much as they are in person. Our symbolic and semiotic connections to the world have changed, warped, redefined, or in some cases completely inverted their original meanings through internet networks – a process still ongoing.

If we want to continue using these platforms and networks without our brains inevitably ending up fried like an egg worse than any drug PSAs in the 80s warned us about, then we need to build on our current measures of using the web now for the web to come.

What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?

The current moment offers both a rupture of current methods of cultural work, collective meaning-making and the cognitive aspect of simply existing in a world where things are increasingly mediated through screens that are becoming unmoored from their original symbolic and semiotic “baseline realities” — this project is not intended as a specific policy intervention in the space of “disinformation management” or internet censorship or content moderation, although it is perhaps impossible the extricate the role of content and how it is distributed, discussed, and framed over time across platforms (such as the “Community Notes” feature on Twitter/X). Our interest is in creating, in some way, strategies that reflect the actual use cases and realities users inhabit - rather than the algorithms or platform effects that often control or influence the flow of information or reception of images (or technical images in the Flusserian sense) among an increasingly wider age of hermeneutic incoherence and widening abstraction.

As of now it is becoming clear that our current practices for digital hygiene are not keeping up with the increasing complexity of the current digital moment. This current digital moment is driving an increasing divide between life, our senses of self (our identity, our embodied self, our ‘social self’ as well as the data ‘self’ now abstracted into more and more granular aspects to better satisfy algorithms and advertising). It is impacting our drives and motivations — creating new compulsions and addictions, grows reactivity, grows alienation, subverts the potentials of new media and new technologies before we realize what’s even happening. It’s omnipresent yet we treat it with a sort of disregard despite the totality and encompassing range of its network effects.

We engage with the web fully knowing we’re browsing platforms that worsen the mental health of our children and teens [1], that fail to protect its own users when other users are inciting genocide through them [2], that traumatizes the content moderators [3] charged with trying to keep these platforms usable for the rest of us [4] (in between often failing or censoring the rest of us in the process [5]). We engage with platforms that often weaponize or fail to recognize the points of failure and abuse inherent in their own constructions [6]. It is maybe not so much that the internet is dead as the oft-repeated Dead Internet Theory posits [7], but it is clear that the digital world as it is now shifting to a model that seems to encompass everything except the human being behind the screen. We are not completely in the world described in E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops [8] in 1909, but some 115 years later, we all risk becoming the story’s Kuno, stuck in a sanitized, machine world, ready to get out before the (digital) machine collapses under these contradictions.

Simply “logging off and touching grass” is no longer a solution. We need better strategies for survival.

What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol? Eg: field observation, expert interviews, historical data analysis, failure event analysis

Our project is informed by both the work of scholars in the cultural, media, communications, internet and technology studies fields, particularly the works of Stuart Hall, Byun-Chul Han, Hiroki Azuma, Paul Virilio, Wendy Chun, Alex R. Galloway, Carmen “humdog” Hermosillo, Kodwo Eshun, Mark Fisher, Amy Ireland, Mike Pepi, Joanne McNeil, Sarah Schulman, Ruha Benjamin, Jean Baudrillard, Marshall McLuhan, and Vilém Flusser among far too many more to list.

In addition, this project attempts to build off the writing and research of organizations such as the Association of Internet Researchers, School For Poetic Computation, Trust, New Design Congress, and Summer of Protocols alum Aaron Z. Lewis (a member of the Other Internet research collective, which also includes fellow SoP cohort members Kara Kittel and Toby Shorin). We are incredibly grateful to Aaron, Toby, and Trust member (and SoP 2023 alum) Rafael Fernandez for reviewing and offering feedback and critique for this proposal.

AZL’s Pocket Guide to the Surreal Internet and Inside the Digital Sensorium pieces are major touchpoints of our thinking. We are particularly interested in both better identifying the dynamics that impact an increasingly connected but fractured world both in the digital and the physical (as the physical increasingly becomes mediated from a screen). Professionally our disciplines are across design and web-based development — research and discovery are the backbone of our professional and personal practices. Among the array of tactics we intend to deploy (as well as remaining open to other methods of investigation spurred on by our peers and advisors during this project) include:

  • Qualitative surveys, longer form interviews/IRL focus groups across a range of end users on social media concerning their life with multiple platforms (Twitter/X, Bluesky, fediverse/mastodon instances, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tiktok, Facebook et al) ideally from a wide-ranging stratum of backgrounds, life-experiences and social milieus documenting personal use cases, personal intentions online, pain points, experiences and own personal views/articulations of both the current digital moment and the ones to come, as well as learning from each on personal methods of digital “sanity-keeping”, research practices and methods of interacting with the web both on these platforms as well as investigating potential alternatives.
  • In addition, archival research tracing the impacts of these network effects from these platforms over time.
  • Investigating how the internet forms and changes sorts of shared consensus beliefs among cultures, subcultures, digital communities, and the internet’s effects on those cultures/subcultures/communities, both from the lens of understanding new developments and that of giving people a platform-agnostic set of community management strategies to enable the formation of long-lasting communities with positive outcomes for as many community-members as possible.
  • We are currently in the process of drafting an essay/“white paper” further illustrating a report discussing our findings of the current moment (both through the lens of personal narrative as well as ethnographic surveying) via the concepts and the topics discussed by the scholars and organizations we’ve mentioned above, as well as utilizing feedback from our investigations from points 1-3 to apply those theses and ideas to “real-life” aspects.

In what form will you prototype your improvement idea? Eg: Code, reference design implementation, draft proposal shared with experts for feedback, A/B test of ideas with a test audience, prototype hardware, etc.

  • We intend to host a series of workshops with technologists, artists, writers, those who utilize the internet either in their daily business or practice (such as those that rely on the internet and platforms in ways that were perhaps not first intended as affordances when originally designed) based off our discovery methodology to synthesize our findings into more and more effective or useful strategies and shorthands of web navigation. We want to leverage a large cross-section of people from all walks of life - although we share many friends across this network of shared thinkers (as you can tell from our answers to prior answers, we feel strongly that this project will be most benefited by as many varied voices as possible. Both of our team members are based in New York - we know just like this city, the internet is a mosaic.
    • We intend to leverage our collection of peers and networks to potentially host these workshops and programs remotely or in other locations.

How will you field-test your improvement idea? Eg: run a restricted pilot at an event, simulation, workshop, etc.

  • From our series of workshops mentioned above, we intend to refine and test the practices we’ve collected in a single or series of additional workshops (with take-home assignments) or events that looks at what these strategies or methodologies of utilizing the web may mean for technologists, people working on internet policy, developers and designers understanding the affordances and constraints of an “unstable web” and more.
  • Exploring usage of these strategies in “actual play” situations or simulations — we point to the experimental production Treaty of Finnsbury Park [9] as examples of generating immersive scenarios and collective work/storytelling in the process of furthering an actionable research process.
  • Although we don’t intend to distribute “homework” to our participants, we would be interested in also researching and studying in both short-term and long-term the efficacy of each of the methods that emerge from these workshops in a variety of contexts and platforms to further understand and improve.

Who will be able to judge the quality of your output? Ideally name a few suitable judges.

We would like to continue to work with Aaron Z. Lewis as he is a prior SoP alum first and foremost, this work builds off of his work, and he’s given us his blessing to work on this. In addition, we would like to (if they are open to it!) include some of the very researchers, peers (many of which are affiliated of these organizations to the point it may be too long to list each name), and scholars we are inspired by and derive our work from to judge the efficacy of our project or assist in the workshop process, including:

  • Other Internet
  • Trust.support
  • New Design Congress
  • New Models
  • Distributed AI Research Institute
  • Rest of World
  • 404 Media
  • Do Not Research
  • Dweller
  • Logic(s) Magazine
  • Eyebeam
  • Africa Internet Rights Alliance
  • Association of Internet Researchers
  • School for Poetic Computation
  • NYC Resistor
  • Iffy Books
  • Rhizome
  • Index-Space/Garden3D
  • Labor Tech Research Network

How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea? Eg: Submit proposal to a standards body, publish open-source code, produce and release a software development kit etc.

We intend to publish our findings in a “culmination” of our work with both a physical/IRL publication/reference kit documenting these interviews and methodologies, as well as publish them online and continuously update our research project through reports through each step of the process documenting our findings and development.

We want to create a constantly updating corpus of improvements and methods to keep up with a constantly updating internet and digital world.

** What is the success vision for your idea?**

Making the internet feel a little less like being stuck in Bosch’s The Last Judgement and putting the person in personal computing over than just a user.

Beyond just surfing the web - we’d like to enjoy the flow again.


Additional cited sources:

[1] Facebook’s whistleblower report confirms what researchers have known for years - The Verge
[2] Myanmar: Facebook’s systems promoted violence against Rohingya; Meta owes reparations – new report - Amnesty International
[3] The secret lives of Facebook moderators in America - The Verge
[4] https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/hanna-bervoets-remove-this-post/
[5] How Facebook's content moderation failed Palestinians | WIRED Middle East
[6] On Weaponised Design - Our Data Our Selves
[7] The 'Dead-Internet Theory' Is Wrong but Feels True - The Atlantic
[8] The Machine Stops - E.M. Forster
[9] The Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025 – CreaTures

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Thank you for the submission. One of the appeals of this application is that it’s basic protocol research – ambitious to try and document digital hygiene, and ambitious to try and figure out something simplified enough that can propagate as a meme. One question that I had: what are your thoughts on the split between behavioral protocols (e.g. hand washing when you get home) vs. technical standards as pre-requisite (indoor plumbing, sink design)? Do you think that we already have the infrastructure or is your intuition that the research will uncover technology that isn’t available today to deal with the variety of digital psychofauna?

Hi Rafa! Thank you again for giving us such gracious and helpful feedback during this process and posing some interesting questions here.

I’m a little bit indisposed/still blinded as I’m just coming back from an eye exam so this response is probably not as comprehensive or as well phrased (I’d offer a drinking game of "take a shot every time the word “social” gets used in my writing to people reading this response but I don’t want people to go blind by the end of the post) as I’d like as this is something I’ve been thinking about and researching as well for a long time.

That said, my intuition is leading a little bit towards maybe we do? but also I’m almost wondering if those behavioral protocols also end up informing the technical standards. We have international standards for antibiotics, but for us to have gotten to that point we had to have generated the behavioral protocols that have set the stage for Alexander Fleming to discover penicillin and deploy it in a medical setting (antiseptics, which we can trace some of the history of back to not just Lister or Florence Nightingale but Galen and Hippocrates who discovered earlier techniques though not at the larger “this is the standard” level).

And worst case scenario it ends up as a sort of whack-a-mole situation or the technical standards are constantly chasing the actual expected user behavior or that infrastructural or technological/knowledge know-how you’ve generated starts running away from what you intended it to do. But even if you had the greatest intentions or simply didn’t see it coming — the end result is the same. “The purpose of a system is what it does”, to paraphrase Stafford Beer. Prussian blue pigment was created and primarily used for painting and dying clothes as well as in medicine today (it’s actually nontoxic and actually sequesters certain toxic metals and is on the WHO’s list of essential medicines for this reason). But on the flip side… chemists Macquer and Scheele eventually/inevitably used it to create hydrogen cyanide (the other word for it is “prussic acid”). They’re kind of inextricably linked!

But also to flip this in maybe a less technopessimistic manner - these future technologies/“pre-requisites” as larger structural protocols doesn’t not necessarily have be specifically future platforms/infrastructural nor am I suggesting these technologies all have a “failure state” that is going to cause great harms (although it is readily apparent the level of care in trying to address these current failure modes are be incredibly below where it needs to be). I’m not visualizing some future far off social media network where all of these issues have been fixed either. I’m writing this to you via a technology that has its roots and just as much organizational management and cybernetics and geopolitical maneuvering via DARPA during the Cold War as it rooted in mass communications as it does utopian academic or high minded visions of what Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web could be in the 80s or 90s. Some of these issues are for lack of a better word simply baked in.
So the technology that builds off of this fundamentally we’re still have to acknowledge that we’re building off of history that has spawned that sort of "harmful psychofauna” sometimes is maybe something that is just… integrated into the network simply because of how that network is framed. Tapping the Stafford Beer “purpose of a system is what it does” sign again. Without turning this into a McLuhan lecture :wink:, because the other part of it is, well, (social) media is the message. And (social) media is the massage too for what it can do to one’s sensorium, digitally and physically).

And in that case maybe it’s not so much the dynamic of a social network in itself as it is the effects that contemporary social media as “algorithmic amplifier” . But maybe, again, perhaps what we end up discovering is maybe not so much digital technology as a social one. I think sense making is a social technology. I think meaningmaking is a social technology. “Consensus reality” (insofar as there ever was one), well, once upon a time, it was a social technology.

I think I’m most interested in what this research can do to maybe elucidate those cracks of daylight between social technology and social networks in the age of these platforms and beyond that we as users can make our own.

This is an interesting domain for safety / survival protocols because it falls in between the cracks of consumer safety and occupational safety. I would guess that the majority of people expose themselves to digital or informational hazards via their leisure time, rather than as a side effect of their occupation.

I feel like the closest physical analogy would be something like mountaineering. Except surviving the net is about avoiding chronic mental heath problems or being psyopped, rather than acute risks (death from an avalanche, etc.).

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