A physical soapbox from digital forms.
Speakers’ corners are known as historic places of free speech. Contemporary debates have created conflicts between traditional orators and online commenters, and physical spaces are sometimes given, then taken away by local authorities. The Perch considers the crossover of physical space and digital forums for voicing arguments or opinions.
Findings from this research speak to reduced usage of physical corners with some abandoned or dormant. Conversely, online forums are growing while battling new restrictions enabled by platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The COVID-19 UK lockdown has drawn sharp focus on the possibilities and limitations of online forums, while simultaneously igniting physical protests on restricted freedoms by fringe groups gathering at corners. Through the creation of a portable, adaptable, distributed and physical prototype soapbox, this work suggests a way to bridge the gaps between digital and physical sites. It argues that orators should embrace a blurring of online and in-person speaking, creating successful post-digital speakers’ corners.
The internet by nature is distributed and digital citizens are inevitably not centralised. Open-source architecture is an existing paradigm which considers citizens as part of the design process and existing projects such as WikiHouse share blueprints for distributed architectures. The Perch is a physical installation to bring speakers’ corners, open-source and digital platforms together. The research highlights the issues of exclusion, diversity, tension and occasional violence when physical debate bleeds into online comments and back into the physical. The Perch is a soapbox, originating from digital files, shared and manufactured through small workshops or bedrooms coalescing to elevate a speaker. Sharing the construction of this perch aims to bring online speakers together in physical space. As a traditional soapbox, the speaker is elevated, however, unlike a traditional soapbox, The Perch is adaptable. With a stool-like design of three legs and flat top, it’s easily assembled and transported. Each leg is adaptable to allow terrains of different heights, slopes and surface material.