The Tower card1 depicts a sloping tower made of giant bamboo canes erected on a sea of hills. As it slops, the tower leans toward the branches of an Araucaria tree, which breaks its fall, forming an arc over a family of wild boars. Two women can be seen up high, facing each other, one standing on the tower and the other sitting on the Araucaria tree. A red sun dominates the upper edge of the card and fireballs burn the router on the tip of the antenna and spread across the sky.
Here we can see a bamboo tower of a community network2 that is falling. The two women perching on the tower and the Araucaria are responsible for both the construction and the fall of that tower.
In their last efforts to connect to any network that has not been destroyed by the great solar storm that hit planet Earth, both women climb to the top of the tower. Burdened by the combined weight of the two women, the structure, which had long been in need of maintenance, breaks and begins its collapse. Like actions that are sowed and reaped, fate causes the toppling tower to find an Araucaria that takes one of the women safely into its arms, preventing her from falling.
The Araucaria tree represents Saturn, also known as the god of time Chronos, in Greek mythology. When Chronos offers his arm, he does so with the intention of making us slow down and take stock of our resources to determine whether our efforts are being channelled in the right direction. In sum, if we are making good use of our machines.
The first woman hesitates, unsure of leaving the tower. She holds on firmly with one arm, thus representing the attachment to what they built together with the community network. The tower is the only part of a community internet infrastructure built by them that is still standing, or rather the only thing that remains of the entire global communication infrastructure that was destroyed.
The burning router indicates the historical moment in which this card is situated: planet Earth has just been hit by a huge solar storm, which altered the ionosphere, leading to the induction of electric currents in every piece of existing electronic equipment, shutting them down suddenly and forever.
The first woman’s countenance shows her uncertainty: “As a digital native, is it possible to live at the pace in which seeds develop into trees?” She looks down and assesses the imminent danger: an adult wild boar and six boarlets rooting in the arid ground. Wild boars are an invasive species, brought over in a frustrated attempt at breeding large animals for meat production purposes. The boar meat failed to catch on and the wild boars, which can reproduce at a rate of 30 boarlets a year, invaded the fields of southern and southeastern Brazil, destroying crops, trampling native plants, overrunning springs, and undermining forest conservation. The ground made barren by years and years of boar activity represents the attempt to implant a foreign culture in a territory and the destruction resulting from that attempt.
The first woman’s countenance shows her uncertainty: “As a digital native, is it possible to live at the pace in which seeds develop into trees?”
The scene we observe is one of endings and new beginnings. As is illustrated by the relentless Sun, the devastation has already occurred, with the destruction of information and communication technologies, as will occur with everything that disrespects the essential laws of the universe. The Araucaria, in a brief moment of kindness, extends its arm to the two women in recognition of their efforts to change the dominant telecommunications (infra)structures, as if Chronos were acknowledging the inevitable: “The time for harvesting has come.”
Internally, the tower indicates acceptance of the demise of the old ways. The last attempt at persisting with the already broken communications has placed the women in a difficult situation, bringing down the only thing that was still standing of the community network woven with such great effort: the tower. The community network is destroyed, as are all other technologies dependent on electric power. But, contrasting with the desolation that humanity is experiencing, the fall of the tower offers hope, with its structure forming a bridge with the technologies of native peoples, the seeds of the Araucaria tree planted 200 years ago.
The destruction of the network, in this case, is also connected with the destruction of the ego of the two women. It expresses the death of the persona they had shown their community, a persona based on their external accomplishments. When these accomplishments are no longer relevant, the second woman is forced to ask herself, “Who am I?” And in that void, she risks identifying with the barren ground destroyed by the wild boars.
Connection for all and autonomy from communication infrastructures are the cause they had fought for. The tower is their symbol. Which is why it is natural and to be expected for them to feel discouraged upon seeing the downfall of something they believed would make the world better.
While the second woman – already on the Araucaria and facing the possibility of death – is able to see the structures of domination applied to the digital universe,3 the first woman bemoans the end of everything, and clings to believing in the continuation of the present models of information and communication technology. Still out of sync with the essence of Chronos, she refuses to acknowledge the fragility of short-term works.
Finally, the first woman hesitates when she realises that everything that used to matter now seems pointless. But in her anguish, she fails to see the branches of the Araucaria as a possible path. She cannot access the memories that value the processes and transformations experienced by the people involved in the collective construction of the community network. So her attention remains focused on what was destroyed.
She cannot access the memories that value the processes and transformations experienced by the people involved in the collective construction of the community network. So her attention remains focused on what was destroyed.
In many ways, the Tower is an image of the structures we choose to identify and express ourselves with, but which ultimately do not encompass our whole essence; just like our attention, which is constantly captivated by dopamine rewards,4 diverts us from what we really need. Basing one’s life on external accomplishments distances us from the idea that there is no inside or outside. The needs that are meant to be met with these technologies mask a basic angst that we create philosophically: the separation between human beings and nature, which enables the development of technologies that exalt elaborations of the human mind to the detriment of the rich simplicity of the environment inhabited. The fact that the Araucaria was planted by native peoples who lived in that place in other times is a recognition that there is not just one technology but many, and that their hierarchies are weak.
In terms of divination, when we draw the Tower in a card reading, it predicts the fall of existing technologies, but not without offering a new beginning, based precisely on old, but not obsolete, technologies.
This card depends very much on the attitude of the individual, who can either make the transition with faith in their destiny, or insist on clinging to the falling structures. What matters is being aware that the tower will inevitably fall, and that the efforts put into its construction were not in vain.
The collective intelligence gained in the practice of community processes, amid technologies that promote individuality, is the great lesson learned. We do not depend on routers, satellites, or fibre optic cables for that; we depend essentially on the networks we weave among ourselves.
We do not depend on routers, satellites, or fibre optic cables for that; we depend essentially on the networks we weave among ourselves.
- 1. The Tower is a Tarot card and the image depicted on this particular version is a free adaptation based on my personal readings on the subject. Tarot card reading is a practice of divination and guidance that organises archetypes in 78 cards. There are several different card-reading traditions, but I do not follow any of them. I use the Tarot as a mediator in my relationships with my loved ones: we throw the cards together, as a way of gaining insight into and sharing our personal universes and collective processes.
- 2. In this text, when I speak of community networks I am referring to community internet networks, communication infrastructures managed by communities living in the same territory. This card/text takes place in an imagined future resulting from the current reality we are experiencing in the context of the Associação Portal sem Porteiras community network of in Serra da Mantiqueira, Brazil.
- 3. To understand the domination structures applied in the digital universe, see: https://outraspalavras.net/tecnologiaemdisputa/a-ameaca-nada-sutil-do-co...
- 4. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter whose levels increase when we receive a reward. Most rewards increase the dopamine level in our brain, as is the case with “likes” on social media For more information, see: https://www.uol.com.br/tilt/noticias/redacao/2019/10/01/a-dopamina-nos-d...