Senior Honors Thesis

Impact: Researching Across Cultures#

Title: “Se Graban Memorias,” A Contextual Analysis of El Paquete Semanal, Human Networks, and Internet Access in Camagüey, Cuba

Key Concepts: Ethnographic Research, Internet Connectivity, Sneakernets, Emergent Cultural Phenomena, Cuban History

Tools: Field Research, Interviews, Correspondence, Literature Reviews, Background Research

Roles: Author, Interviewer, Videographer, Video Editor

Duration: 18 months (Two week-long trips to Cuba in Mar. 2019 and Jan. 2020, respectively)

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Therese Tardio, Modern Languages

Abstract: Due to limited Internet infrastructure, expensive Internet access offered only by the national telecommunications company ETECSA, and the precipitous cost decreases and increased availability of high-storage hard disks and USB drives, Cubans have developed a widespread “sneakernet” to more affordably access Internet content. This offline network, which consists of large “packets” of data moved via copied hard drives and passed from courier to courier, is called El Paquete Semanal (literally ‘The Weekly Package,’ despite recently implementing daily updates). This curated distribution contains domestic and foreign media, video entertainment, educational materials, desktop and mobile phone applications, downloaded YouTube videos, and whatever else is in demand by the people of Cuba, potentially further curated to the users’ province, city, neighborhood, or individual preferences by enterprising sub-matrices (intermediary paquete redistributors) and paqueteros (paquete salespeople and deliverers) trying to set themselves apart in a pseudo-capitalist microcosm of the Cuban black market. This paper presents and contextualizes a series of twelve interviews, conducted in March 2019 and January 2020, of current and former Camagüey residents about the history, present, and future of this phenomenon in their city and country. Through this lens, this paper offers insights about El Paquete Semanal’s curation, interactivity, affordability, and innovation in relation to other ways Cubans access digital media, such as various informal networks, the formal Cuban intranet, and the Internet proper.

Read the full thesis [PDF]

Listen to a 5-minute radio spot I recorded for WRCT’s ‘Meeting of the Minds’ remote research fair event, later adapted into a video slideshow by the Dietrich College Senior Honors Program.

CMU Dietrich College news story featuring my photography as well as a short interview about my thesis work, which was then about creating an interactive documentary instead of the academic paper I went on to produce.