Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Neologism #2837: The Communication Age

You may have heard that we are living in the Information Age. Well, not for much longer. We are moving into the Communication Age and man, it'll be a trip. In the Information Age, information moves faster and more broadly than people themselves, aided by international telecommications. However, the Information Age is also centralized. Businesses and media organizations generate information, and they may or may not choose to grant access to the general public. In the communication age, people will be sharing information with each other.

Information AgexxCommunication Age
grantingxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxaccess sharing
created by professionalsxxxcreated by groups of knowledgeable amateurs
governmentsxxxxxxxxxxxxcitizen movement

In a way the distinction between information and communications is false, as all information in the Information Age is communicated. However, in the Communication Age, person-to-person information flows will become more evident. Hallmarks of the information age, like free online versions of newspapers, will diminish in importance as citizen journalism becomes more sophisticated. As information will be gathered and analyzed in a decentralized way, intellectual propery rights will decrease in importance. Citizen movements will challenge governments as never before as citizens around the world organize for concerted action. If you are searching for the future, don't look up. Look in.

categories: internet activism_,

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Here is a Christmas card from the activist organization Atina Chile, one of the subjects of my research this past summer. The subtitle reads: "a small change generates a great benefit." I am living in Chile now where I plan to continue my digital activism work until next fall when I return to the US for grad school.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Whose World Are You Living In?

Riding home on the commuter train last week it dawned on me: we're still in the stone age. I was looking out the window at the dank swamp of polluted marshland, power lines, and industrial plants that separate New York City from the New Jersey suburbs. It all seemed so primitive, not in terms of technological progress, but in terms of human progress.

A small group of people with access to large amounts of capital see opportunities to accumulate even more capital: industry, international brands, mass consumption and mass waste. It is they who have created the world that we live in. We work at their jobs, shop in their malls, eat their food, dream their dream of ever increasing prosperity. Why are we living in their world? Why aren't we creating our own?

Like all generations before us, we are living in modernity. But if your idea of human progress involves goals like universal acccess to education, health, information, employment, and self expression then we have barely begun our development.

Our system is not working. The goal of work for pay for consumption is not sustainable. There is little debate that this lifestyle is destroying the planet. However, it is also destroying ourselves. Most people spend the majority of their waking moments doing work they don't like to earn money to buy things they don't need. However, for most of the world's citizens even dull work and unecessary consumption is but a faint dream. They see this broken way of life that we enjoy in the West and they want in on it. But what would be the result of mass adoption of the Western lifestyle? A degraded planet unfit for life, a planet of degraded souls.

We need a new system, but it can't be founded on something as flimsy as values. Values are pretty, but they are too easily undermined and co-opted. And anyway, the people with the power to change the system are too cynical to believe in them. Self-restaint, rejecting the quest for wealth, taking an active interest in the well-bing of people we've never met, thinking in the long term: we humans have never been too good at those behaviors. We've been too intent on survival. It's time that we realize our survival depends on changing those behaviors.

photo: kouchi

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Who Exactly is Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution?

Zack Exley, organizer of the RootsCamp and founder of the New Organizing Institute, has started a conversation on "really big picture politics" by way of a google group. Not questions like "how are we going to help our candidate win?" but "what kind of society do we want to create?" and "how do we create it?" Ya know, the big stuff.

I think this is great. Even the most idealistic of us often spend too much time focusing on the short term - on this crisis, that campaign. There are many directions Zack's conversation could go and it'll be interesting to see what ideas are proposed.

The thing I am most interested in now is who's at the table. Who will participate in this conversation? Ideally, not only smart and innovative people with some practical experience of what they're talking about.

And here I come to the issue of demographics. The RootsCamp participants, myself included, were overwhelmingly middle class and white, which means that our ideas about social change and revolution have more to do with empathy than personal experience.


We want an end to war, though we have never seen one. We want an end to poverty, though we have never been poor. We want an end to corruption, though we have never had to pay a bribe to a government official. We want to end global warming though we all have air conditioning. We want an end to racism though we are rarely judged negatively based on the color of our skin.

How hard will we fight for revolutionary change if the basis for our struggle is not personal experience but empathy? There are probably those who will disagree, but I think an "empathizer" will never fight for a cause as hard as the personal actually affected could if they were given the capacity to act.

My passion is social change tech in the developing world. The reason I am passionate about this field is that I see technologies like e-mail, text messaging, blogs, and browers as ways to empower the powerless by giving them an inexpensive mass means of communication, organization, information, and message dissemination (sorry for the rhyming). I think that empowering the powerless should be a central goal in any revolution. Don't be a leader. Teach your followers how to lead themselves.

Photo: David Boyle

categories: internet activism_, the "developing world"

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006


OK, better post on what I did last weekend before next weekend arrives. I spent last Saturday and Sunday in Washington at RootsCampDC, a progressive campaign debrief looking back to the midterms and forward to 2008. Since I'm mentally exhausted from writing the Gates report, this will be a photo post.

1. Saturday was mad crowded. The event was designed for 250 and 400 people showed up. Witness that it was standing room only at the welcome session. Nevertheless, everyone introduced themselves.

2. The bribe to get people to show up on time was mimosas. To the organizers' credit, they were fully stocked. This is the New Organizing Institute's Micah Canal.

3. As an unconference, attendees created their own sessions and posted them on a huge board.

4. Awkward networking ensued.

5. My favorite session was by former Dean for America campaign manager Joe Trippi. The man is fookin' brilliant. My favorite take-away was that the democratizing effect of online fundraising (you can now raise large amounts of money by taking small donations from many people rather than large donations from a few) is going to destroy the traditional party system, because the parties main source of control over their candidates is that they hold the pursestrings. This is a bad blurry picture of Trippi (on the left) with blogger Matt Stoller.

5. This is NOI founder Zack Exley at the session he led on Sunday. He asked us not to blog about it, but suffice it to say that he is also brilliant and takes issues of politics, progressivism, and organizing to a whole 'nother level. He's one of those hard-nosed passionate idealists that you thought didn't exist anymore.

Thanks to noneck, David Boyle, and clockwerks for the photos

categories: internet activism_,

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Digital Organizations Are Gonna Change the World

The internet has already changed the way we learn, work, shop, and socialize. In the future it will also have a greater and greater impact on how social change occurs, not only as a medium for activism but also a means of creating new types of social enterprises. These changes will occur not only in the wealthy nations of North America, Europe, and East Asia but globally. In fact, it is in the developing world that the internet can have the greatest impact on social movements, enabling campaigns and organizations that were previously impossible due to lack of resources.

Because the internet is a low-cost network for global communication it enables “digital organizations.” In place of the overhead costs of a centralized office, organization members are located around the world and keep in constant contact through low-cost communication devices like internet telephony (VoIP), instant messaging, and e-mail. In place of a front lobby, people interact with the organization over a website which includes information about the organization’s mission and activities. In place of mass-mailings, free e-mail is used. In place of expensive fundraisers for a core of wealthy donors, hundreds of supporters give solicited micro-donations through the organization’s website. In place of ten full-time paid staff members, the global network allows thirty part-time volunteers to take on leadership responsibility and donate their services for free, with a core team of two or three full-time staff coordinating their efforts.

This model has already been tried in the United States, where the progressive grassroots organization MoveOn uses the internet to raise money and keep costs down while relying on a skeleton staff and a network of thousands of part-time volunteers coordinated over the internet. However, I am convinced that the real opportunity for digital organizations is in the developing world, where the increasing availability of online tools lowers the cost of organization and campaign creation and makes civic participation possible for people with very few personal resources and without access to venture capital or philanthropic grants.

categories: internet activism_, the "developing world"_, digital organizations_

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Gates Project 23: Thinking Outside the Geographic Box

from my section on innovation...

Lack of money and expertise are among the greatest limitations to e-advocacy in the global south. However, this ignores the fact that much of the global south lives in the global north. Diasporas and mass emigration have shaped history since time immemorial and that trend still holds true today, although the dynamics have changed.

As ICTs make a person's geographic location less and less important members of the diaspora are able to share their resources with their home countries as never before. Members of diasporas are using ICTs to stay engaged in politics and their home countries and even take part in activism. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where only 1% of the population has internet access, political bloggers write for a diaspora population, who get involved in local politics by donated money to politicians.

The Bangladeshi diaspora website Drishtipat.org goes a step further It uses PayPal to collect money for aid projects from members through its chapters in the US, UK, Australia, and Canada, and then funnels the money to Bengali SCOs who implement Drishtipat's project. By thinking outside the geographic box and helping diaspora members share their financial resources and skills, ICTs can engage new actors in solving the global south's many challenges.

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