|Volume 18, Number 3||The CPSR Newsletter||Summer 2000|
|Shaping the Network Society [ continued from page one ]||
by Peter Day
& Doug Schuler
All over the world there is a growing recognition that vital opportunities now exist for communication technology that supports civil society. The possibility that these opportunities are fleeting adds a sense of urgency. It is our contention that in the network society, civil society can become a global force that government and business sectors have to recognize, whilst still retaining the diverse and unique nature of indigenous communities and cultures. We also contend that, in a democracy, government and business sectors are morally obliged to recognize their responsibilities to civil society as well as their rights.
The strong interest from around the world that the symposium attracted indicates that we are not alone in these contentions. The call for abstracts, for example, yielded over 100 submissions from the academic community of which the program committee selected 42. We were extremely encouraged that these researchers were willing to set aside, momentarily at least, many of the pressures of academic conventions and to speak directly to a public audience using public language to engage in public affairs. This is indicative of many of the emerging collaborative partnerships between academic institutions and civil society globally.
The papers represented a broad cross section of thinking on the role of civil society and public space in today's world, especially as it affects and is affected by the rapid proliferation of new communication technologies. We have included five abridged versions of these papers in this newsletter.
The first paper is Brian Loader's and Leigh Keeble's entitled "Electronic Community Networks: Women's Place, Women's Space?" This paper discusses the early findings from a research project in which Brian and Leigh critically evaluated the effects of information and communication technologies upon women's life opportunities in community networks. They believe that electronic spaces are influenced, among other factors, by real-life spaces which are often gendered and exclusionary. Based on this, they advocate the development of women-only centers that provide an opportunity for women to explore the technology, free of patriarchal domination.
Rory O'Brien and Andrew Clement provide an overview of one of the largest organized uses of digital communications tools within civil society, that of facilitating information sharing and coordination among the thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that participated in five United Nations' summit conferences. Their report, "The Association for Progressive Communications and the Networking of Global Civil Society: APC at the 1992 Earth Summit" is an important case study of alternative approaches to communication. It is argued that three main factors contributed to the successful utilization of the technology: the technical infrastructure; the supplementary services of support, training and promotion; and APC's internal communications experience.
Bill McIver, in his paper "Access to Cyberspace as a Human Right" builds a case that access to cyberspace, far from being ancillary, is fast becoming a necessary to survive in today's world. Bill develops this case in relation to important concepts like universal service and key documents, charters, and covenants including the U.S. Bill of Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) and the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1993).
Christian Sandvig examines the history of radio in his "Understanding a Domain Name Policy Gone Wrong" essay in order to draw analogies to the Internet which is currently being commercialized very rapidly. Christian compares some of the current threats to public space to similar developments in the 1920s related to "creation of property in broadcasting" or "commodifying the air." He ends by noting that "One can only hope that it is not too late to set our goals for the Internet independent of the market structure now in place."
The fifth paper "From Representation to Performance: Responsive Public Space" by Sha Xin Wei and Maja Kuzmanovic explores the idea of "public space" from an exploratory, artistic viewpoint. The authors resist the sanitized, overly rationalized version of a "public space" that pervades the literature and remind us that "public spaces were not only a home to sellers, buyers and news-broadcasters, but also to alternatives, radicals, thieves and jesters." At the end of their article they propose a number of intriguing experiments that bring in media, gardens, digital communications, clothing, parking lots and more!
(The longer versions of all of the presented papers will be soon available on the symposium web site [ http://www.scn.org/cpsr/diac-00/ ]. We still have a number of hard copy proceedings available--see below for ordering and price information. These proceedings would provide a very good set of readings for graduate or undergraduate seminars. Think about it! Order a copy for your own or for your school or company library. Also--this just in--thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation we will making approximately 100 copies of the proceedings available for free!)
The symposium provided many opportunities to advance work on these critical issues. There was a strong academic component that helped bridge the gap between theory and practice. As we mentioned above, we were impressed with the interest in the symposium. Approximately 400 informed, concerned, and energetic people attended the four-day event. This included people from all over the world as well as people from the northwest region including King County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Council member Jim Compton. All told there were approximately 40 research presentations, 8 panel discussion, 25 workshops, 2 special events, and 6 participant organized meetings.
Panel discussions with noted and innovative crusaders from around the planet along with several research presentations marked the first day. Some of our invited guests included Oliver Boyd-Barrett, California State Polytechnic University; Craig Calhoun, President of Social Science Research Board; Fiorella de Cindio, State University of Milano; Steve Cisler, Citizen member of San Jose (CA.) Telecommunications Board; Joan Fanning, Executive Director, N*Power; Penny Goldsmith, Executive Director, PovNet (Poverty Network); Cees Hamelink, University of Amsterdam; Fran Ilich, Sputnik, Mexico City; Denise Joines, Executive Director, ONE/NW (Online networking for the environment/northwest); Nancy Kranich, President Elect, American Library Association; Tom Liacas, Campaigns Coordinators, Adbusters; Howard Rheingold, Author; Lodis Rhodes, University of Texas, Austin; Scott Robinson, Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City; and Judy Sparrow, National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA).
The Sunday afternoon panel, moderated by CPSR President Coralee Whitcomb, entitled "Shaping the Network Society: What's Next?" was an electrifying event. The panel members raised deep issues which were then probed in profound ways by the audience. (We're hoping to be able to make quality video tapes of this panel available in the next couple of months, although this might not happen due to the poor sound quality of our recordings. In the meantime, please check this issue's sidebar on "Other Resources"--Bill Belsey of CPSR/Canada has made some of the audio from this panel available on his web site.) Bill Joy, the chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, who had attracted worldwide attention for his provocative missive in the April, 2000 issue of Wired magazine Why the Future Doesn't Need Us, describes the awesome apocalyptic threats that three new technologies (genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics--or GNR), all enabled and engendered by digital technology, present to life on earth. Rather than discuss the technical feasibility of these scenarios (obviously a tremendously important task) the panelists and the audience tacitly agreed that there was enough merit in Bill's theses to warrant an extended and deep exploration discussion with an eye towards policy and other civic actions to avoid these nightmarish possibilities. In other words, to discuss what roles that citizens and organizations of civil society could assume to promote the satisfactory resolution of these issues. In keeping with the symposium's aims, the discussion focused on the role of the citizenry and civil society.
Gary Chapman of the 21st Century Project at the University of Texas suggested that a reorientation of our thinking from a technologically deterministic point of view to a point of view that acknowledged and championed social forces and citizen involvement was necessary. Citing "Moore's Law" (which shows the observed relationship between microprocessor performance and price over the last 40 years) as an example of social construction masquerading as technological autonomy Gary explained that the "law" was not a law at all but the consequence of massive investment in computer technology research and development. Howard Rheingold, noted author of Virtual Communities and other books, discussed the importance of public discourse, both online and otherwise, for these discussions. People in the audience also offered provocative and thoughtful comments. Philip Bereano of the Technical Communications Department at the University of Washington pointed out the immense amount of work that had already been initiated in dealing with these threats--through the Council for Responsible Genetics and others--and of the critical involvement of citizens who are putting pressure of developers of genetically engineered products through political and other means. Tom Atlee from the Co-Intelligence Institute told Bill and the others in the room about Dick Sclove's work with the Loka Institute to bring in citizen deliberation on important technological decisions that has been done in Denmark and in other places.
On Sunday night, thanks to the imagination and energy of Mike Weisman and Miguel Vigas, symposium attendees and in-the-know members of the general public were treated to a truly spectacular benefit for CPSR at the I-Spy Club in downtown Seattle. The benefit featured cyberarts, two hot Seattle bands--Heather Duby and Maktub, a "high tech fashion show" and a death defying (or so it seemed) fire show. Some of the participants allowed themselves to be painted, possibly to show their solidarity with the fire people (but probably not).
At this DIAC we tried something new that I hope will be repeated at future DIAC symposia. On Monday and Tuesday we left lots of unscheduled open time and space for attendees to get together to share ideas and develop plans and to decompress a little from the intense first two days. On Monday Dorothy Kidd of BAAM (Bay Area Alternative Media Network) convened a meeting on the topic of "The Role of Independent Media" in which people discussed strategies for advancing democratic technologies, including public access to broadband technologies. Also on Monday Susan Kretchmer and Nancy Kranich convened a workshop on "The Role of Libraries and Professional Societies." It was at this workshop that the intriguing idea of bringing forth personal stories on the uses of public space was born. This project is discussed further in the "Moving the Agenda Further" essay in this newsletter.
Later on Monday Robin Oppenheimer convened an ambitious workshop on the role of the media arts in today's world. The workshop, entitled "Selling Out/Buying In: A Presentation and Fishbowl Discussion about the Future of Culture in Seattle's New E-conomy" was sponsored by the Seattle Art Museum and the Open Studio Workshop and was co-sponsored by the Seattle Arts Commission. Geert Lovink from Access for All, Sandy Cioffi from FastForward, Patrice Riemens of Virtual Platform and others gave useful and entertaining presentations.
On Tuesday, the workshops included "Shaping Our Network" which focused on DIAC-2000 follow-on activities. We, of course, discussed ideas for the next symposium and Peter van den Besselaar of the University of Amsterdam offered to chair or co-chair the next symposium if it were to be held in Amsterdam. It was during this session that the Seattle Statement was crafted. In another room a couple of dozen community networking activists with Peter Royce, Richard Civille, Michael Gurstein, Max Gail and others were meeting.
An innovative and exciting collaboration also enriched the symposium. Allan Steed and Brian Allen worked with Raul Marroquin of Amsterdam's de Hoksteen (the cornerstone) [ http://www.hoksteen.nl ] public access cable television/Internet show to videostream much of the symposium. (Archives--hopefully--will soon to be available). An audio-visual window was in the picture so that any viewer could watch the proceedings in Seattle or Amsterdam and go the web at the same time. There will also be the ability to enter a chat room to comment on the discussion with other people who are watching it all over the Internet. Much of the program, but not all, was simulcast over cable TV in the Amsterdam region as well. Honora Wade, the Seattle volunteer in charge of publicity, interviewed a number of the attendees as part of this programming, thus using her experience moderating a public access cable show in Los Angeles to good advantage.
The symposium also had some disappointments. The most conspicuously absent of the guests we'd been expecting was, of course, Veran Matic, veteran campaigner of free and independent media in Yugoslavia. In a pre-dawn raid, hours before his departure to Seattle, state security agents raided the B92 studios compelling Veran to remain at home to fight this latest affont. Behind his name tag on the table on the symposium stage, his chair was vacant. As if to underscore the possibilities of new communication approaches, Veran still managed to send a message to the symposium attendees; his statement, delivered via e-mail the morning of the symposium, was read during the opening session (and printed in this newsletter).
Ten Russian community activists who are developing community networks in Russia couldn't attend due to funding and visa problems. Several Africans, also, could not attend. Their registration fees were paid and they had begun planning their trip yet they were denied visas (after paying substantial application fees) by the U.S. government. Clearly we need to work much harder to make it easier for people outside the U.S. to attend these events. Any discussion on a "public sphere" that doesn't have broad participation will be unable to adequately grapple with the deep issues that our new "network society" engenders.
It is our strongest hope that the words from the symposium will be powerful and will have far reaching consequences. Using this symposium as one more step in a continuing process, we hope to play a substantial role in the strengthening of the civil sector and its ability to engage actively and creatively with critical global issues. The diversity and wealth of talent, skills, knowledge and experience that exists outside the business and government sectors in the everyday intelligence, creativity and sensitivity of ordinary people and in their communities is a vast social resource that should be of enormous value in network society. Yet in the design, implementation and development of network society policies and strategies, it goes largely ignored. People are seen as consumers--the audience--of the latest digital applications, goods and services by both commercial and public sectors, rather than as active citizens--the actors--of the network society.
With the help of a National Science Foundation grant we are going to be further distributing the findings from the symposium in both print and online formats. We are also working on several follow-on activities including a meeting or meetings (online and in-person) related to operationalizing the "Seattle Statement." The Seattle Statement was developed at the conference and we're planning to use it to orient and focus future work. (Please see the two other essays[ Title and Title ] in this newsletter related to the statement.) Doug Schuler, DIAC-2000 coordinator and one of the developers of the Seattle Statement, has launched a new CPSR program, the "Public Sphere Project" which will be based in Seattle. (As part of the preliminary work on this, I've written an exploratory piece entitled "What is the Public Sphere?") We hope that you might be interested in some of these activities that emerged from the symposium.
We hope that the ideas presented at the symposium and in this newsletter will become part of an emerging nucleus for a revitalized, global, and principled civil society that will help reshape our ailing social and physical environment. These ideas express a mixture of wonderment, apprehension, dedication, and cautious optimism. We hope ultimately that they're useful to you in your future work! We welcome your collaboration, your feedback, and your participation at the next DIAC symposium and upcoming "public sphere" events!
At the end of the "Shaping the Network Society: What's Next" panel discussion with Bill Joy, Howard Rheingold and Coralee Whitcomb, Gary Chapman ended his remarks with some inspirational words that I believe will remain in the memories of the attendees for a long time.
Doing right is more than a political strategy, it's a way of life. It's something you are just compelled to do. You then become part of a historic lineage of heroes--people who were far more eloquent and effective but nevertheless part of our own heritage--like Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Andrei Sakharov, and others. You become part of their story, on their side, and you will be no matter what happens in the political environment you find yourself in. That's enough to get out of bed in the morning and do what it takes.
As the next communication infrastructure is being created people must be actors as well as audience. We can shape the network society.
© Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
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