Affiliated with the University of California's systemwide
Humanities Research Institute
The MacArthur Foundation
The Oxford Internet Institue was kind enough to invite me to give the inaugural lecture in their Bellwether Series. The OII’s director, Professor Helen Margetts, introduced the series explaining that she hoped talks would anticipate what is to come in the space of internet and society… and explained that the word “Bellwether” came from a middle English word for a castrated ram, who was fitted with a bell and made to lead a flock of sheep. That’s pretty ominous compared to my assumption when I w... show all text
The Knight Foundation has released a fascinating and valuable, if incomplete, report on "The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field." It's the first major effort I've seen to define and map this growing space, and covers 209 companies that have received funding since 2011 in its purview.
The Oxford Internet Institute was kind enough to invite me to give the inaugural lecture in their Bellwether Series. The OII’s director, Professor Helen Margetts, introduced the series explaining that she hoped talks would anticipate what is to come in the space of internet and society…and explained that the word “Bellwether” came from a middle English word for a castrated ram, who was fitted with a bell and made to lead a flock of sheep. That’s pretty ominous compared to my assumption when I was invited, which was that they found someone named Bellwether to sponsor the series. If you are named Bellwether and are looking for something to sponsor, let me please suggest OII.
I took the opportunity to expand some of the thinking I’ve been doing about participatory civics and effective citizenship. Because I don’t always say what I meant to say, here are my notes for the talk with hopes that they reflect what I actually said. I wish I’d been able to blog, as I got excellent questions and would benefit from thinking and working through them as I work through these ideas.—
There’s a photo from Tahrir Square that fascinates me. A man stands in the square, surrounded by celebrating protesters. He holds a handwritten sign that says, “Thank you, Facebook.” (Another picture shows him holding a sign in Arabic that says “Thank you, Al Jazeera”).
For some, this photo was proof positive that the internet had helped oust Mubarak and was showing its power in allowing people to organize for political change. For others, it was evidence that the self-importance of internet advocates had gotten out of hand. After all, the Arab Spring in Egypt had far more to do with economic factors and popular dissatisfaction than with any specific communications technology. This debate between those skeptical of technology’s role in organizing protests and those who see technology as central continues as we consider the protests in Gezi Square (where Twitter publicized protests that Turkish television ignored) and will likely be debated as we come to understand the #EuroMaidan protests in Ukraine.
In my recent blog posts, I have been discussing ways that citizens can communicate with government officials through the Internet, social media, and wireless technology to solve problems in their communities and to effect public policy. Using technology for civic engagement, however, should not be limited to communications with elected or appointed government officials. One [...]
One of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects of my research has been my series of conversations with innovators in civic engagement in various cities across the country. These conversations have been enlightening for me as I think about how Washington, DC can maximize its natural advantages to foster civic engagement in its neighborhoods. The [...]
From the Introduction:
As digital communication
technologies have evolved over the past few decades, the convergence of network
structure and accessibility with hardware and software advances has allowed
individuals to interact in various, even contradictory, ways. They can explore,
hide, reach out, evaluate, connect, negotiate, exchange, and coordinate to a
greater degree than ever before. Furthermore, this has translated to an ever-increasing
number of users interacting with information in unprecedented ways and, due to
device portability, in totally new physical locations. Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare
update each other simultaneously across application platforms with near-real
time photos and impressions of places; mobile exercise applications allow users
to track their own movements as well as view where others in their geographic
vicinity went running; Yelp users can read selective reviews from social
network friends and strangers in their community on a specific restaurant; and
Facebook friends can see what their peers bought, listened to, and read - from
anywhere they are able to access the Internet. Most of these apps update across platforms enabling
both maximum reach across a user’s social group as well as a highly selective
direction of information to a subset of their social network.
Just as the rapidly evolving
landscape of connectivity and communications technology is transforming the
individual’s experience of the social sphere, what it means to participate in
civic life is also changing, both in how people do it and how it is measured.
Civic engagement includes all the ways in which individuals attend to the
concerns of public life, how one learns about and participates in all of the
issues and contexts beyond one’s immediate private or intimate sphere. New
technologies and corresponding social practices, from social media to mobile
reporting, are providing different ways to record, share, and amplify that
attentiveness. Media objects or tools that impact civic life can be understood
within two broad types: those designed specifically with the purpose of