IRC16 - Proposed Session - #MinimalComputing

Posted by Sumandro Chattapadhyay at Dec 03, 2015 10:40 AM |
This is a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference (IRC) 2016 by Padmini Ray Murray and Sebastian Lütgert.



The triumphal mythic narrative of India’s relatively high and rapid rates of Internet penetration is underpinned by the country’s access to data via mobile devices. The black box proprietary technology of the iPhone, or the less explicitly restrictive nexus (pun unintended) between the Android OS with device manufacturers, has meant we have large swathes of technology users whose only encounter with online content has been via these closed ecosystems. Minimal computing is both an intellectual intention and pragmatic response that seeks to disrupt these systems by subverting existing frameworks and creating new infrastructures, acknowledging the ground realities that exist in India, such as lack of resources and access. This position essentially privileges “ease of use, ease of creation, increased access and reductions ­­­in computing—and by extension, electricity” (Gil). The intention of this workshop is to explore, discover, discuss and build resources that observe these tenets, under different heads, such as physical computing, archives, interface, database.

One of the obvious outcomes of the growth of digital technology in the region is the increasing intersection with the scholarly record – be that a theorizing of these new contexts, as is the case at this conference, or in the building of dissemination tools for memory institutions or academic scholarship. As such scholarship (which would be considered under the rubric of the digital humanities) is still in its early stages, it is incumbent upon us to set an example for other scholars when we build these resources; fast to load, easy to build and administer, which can function in low-bandwidth areas – especially as we embark on larger scale projects that are now possible through advances in digitization of different forms of content, as well as of Indic language character sets. Uses of technology in India are often anarchic, and the digital is constantly imbricated with the analogue and these grassroots, informal practices could usefully inform scholarship in this area, and possibly be transposed to other similar environments, such as those found in the global south.

The other crucial exploration that will be undertaken in this workshop will be how to use guerilla computing and other methods to safeguard our fundamental human rights both online and offline, strategies increasingly essential in a country where censorship against individuals and misuse of personal data is rapidly on the rise. The online citizen must be encouraged to think about the virtual space in which s/he works and plays, and learn how to navigate it responsibly, by being alert to the dangers of the networked world being overly regulated, and this workshop will also discuss surveillance and collection of personal data by governments, corporations, advertisers, and hackers, and how to circumvent it using relatively simple methods.



At the outset of the workshop, participants will be introduced by the co-leaders to some examples and concepts in #minimalcomputing, and then to a range of tools and resources such as Markdown, Jekyll,, Pandoc etc., as well as simple encrypting methods. Participants will also be encouraged to share examples of good practice that they might have encountered in their own contexts.

Participants will then be asked to consider a digital project that they might be in the process of building, or envisioning, or to reflect on their personal digital footprint and be facilitated by the co-leaders on how to rebuild and reimagine these using a minimal computing perspective, and to document these ideas so they might be shared with the rest of the group, and promote more discussion.

The aim of the workshop is to draw upon collective expertise to create a handbook of sustainable, scalable resources that can be created without over reliance on third party infrastructures, in order to retain agency over projects initiatives and digital identities; and provide a roadmap for an alternative Internet that meets the needs of users in both personal and professional contexts.



Budish, Ryan and West, Sarah Myers and Gasser, Urs. Designing Successful Governance Groups: Lessons for Leaders from Real-World Examples (August 2015). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2015-11. Available at SSRN:

This reading sets out how an effective multistakeholder governance group might be structured, convened and operate and its stated values of inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, legitimacy, and effectiveness might serve as a useful guide to how we might envision a #minimalcomputing community.

Gil, Alex. The User, the Learner and the Machines We Make. Minimal Computing website. (May 2015). Available at:

This reading sets out some of the underlying concepts of #minimalcomputing and raises important questions that might be flagged up for discussion during the workshop.

A growing resource for relevant material and information on #minimalcomputing – start here.



Sumandro Chattapadhyay

As a Director at CIS, I co-lead the researchers@work programme, and engage with academic and policy research on data governance and digital economy. I can be reached at sumandro[at]cis-india[dot]org.