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"What's Your Network Called?": Young People Are Creating The Wireless Web In Cuba

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They meet on a corner, eyes red from lack of sleep, their pants on the verge of falling down to their knees. They aren't yet twenty and have spent the night immersed in the plot of a video game. Greeting each other they no longer use the popular "qué volá?*" nor do they mumble a grunt, but they speak to each other in the language they understand best: "What is your network called?" says the tallest to the other. "Bad Team" is the answer that remains floating in the air.

With this simple exchange, the two young men have introduced themselves and offered the credentials that are most important to them right now. They have shared the essential: the name of where they can meet in the web of wireless connections weaving itself over the city. Despite police raids and the high prices of routers or an APN in the black market, wireless networks multiply. They serve as a substitute for the absent internet. Through them move games, documentaries, OS updates, pirated software, magazines in PDF format, music, video clips, and the nascent private sector publicity.

"No one can stop it," says a teenage boy with long and agile fingers, agile perhaps because of so much practice with the mouse and keyboard. He is one of the creators of an extensive network that starts in La Habana del Este, weaves itself through the mazes of Centro Habana, and ends-with its digital tentacles-in the heart of San Miguel del Padrón. When a police offensive falls on a part of it to confiscate antennae and accessories, they immediately notice: "We notice that we lose users, that they disconnect themselves...and that gives us the clue that something is going on." A virtual complicity unites them.

The government is right to worry; these youths are already living in the future.

*Translator's note: Cuban Spanish equivalent of "What's up?"

Translated by Ernesto Suarez

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