Dead Drops is a project fresh out of Eyebeam that proposes a new and unsanitary means of network-free data exchange. The project seems highly relevant to my nascent thesis idea, The Post-Apocalyptic Pirate Web Kit.

Artist Aram Bartholl describes the project:

‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. USB flash drives are embedded into walls, buildings and curbs accessible to anybody in public space.

Everyone is invited to drop or find files on a dead drop. Plug your laptop to a wall, house or pole to share your favorite files and data.

It’s the digital equivalent of a glory hole.

I was curious to see what kind of content the drops have accumulated in their first few days of existence, so I printed a handful of maps and set out to visit each one. The site’s location database is a little clunky, but it turned up five drop locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan:

Map printouts of Dead Drop locations in New York

Eyebeam was the first stop. Here’s the drop:

A USB key cemented into a wall at Eyebeam

Plugging in was a bit of an anticlimax — nothing happened:

Testing the dead drop at eyebeam

The drive refused to show up on my desktop, and poking around with Disk Utility suggested that the issue went beyond a botched format or a corrupt partition. I emailed Aram about it, and he confirms that it’s gone down and attributes the loss to rain.

The Union Square subway drop also went down earlier today, possibly the result of vandalism. So it goes.

That leaves three more drops to explore, I’ll update this post as I make the rounds.

Even though my attempt to use the drop was a failure (thus far, at least), the concept stands on its own and presents an interesting counter-scenario to the ethereal mesh-networks I’m proposing for the post-apocalyptic pirate internet.

Let’s consider some dead drop novelties:

  • There is no electrical network — feet and subway trains do the work of shuffling packets around the city.

  • There are no loops — a drop is a dead end.

  • There is no censorship — there is no CAPTCHA or filter or firewall. Maintaining a standard of content is perpetually up to the next person to visit the drop.

  • There is no permission — anyone can delete or create any file on the drop indiscriminately.

  • There is no privacy — though the files on a drop may be of anonymous origin, you must be physically present at the drop’s point of installation to exchange data.

  • There is no protocol — where most networks impose a structure for communication (TCP / IP, UDP, OSC, MIDI, AT), the drop’s only structure is derived from the file system.