New Community Networks
Wired for Change
This page contains abstracts from the 11 chapters in New Community Networks - Wired for Change. It's about 11 printed pages.
Chapter 1. Community and Technology - A Marriage of Necessity
Chapter 2. Conviviality and Culture
Chapter 3. Education
Chapter 4. Strong Democracy
Chapter 5. Health and Well-Being
Chapter 6. Economic Equity, Opportunity, and Sustainability
Chapter 7. Information and Communication
Chapter 8. Social Architecture
Chapter 9. Technological Architecture
Chapter 10. Developing and Sustaining a Community Network
Chapter 11. Directions and Implications
Communities are the heart, the soul, the nervous system, and the lifeblood of human society. Communities provide mutual support and love in times of celebration and in times of crisis. There are also pragmatic reasons for banding together. Communities can help get things done: People are infinitely more capable when they work together than when they work on their own.
Unfortunately communities are under assault in many ways and are finding it difficult to respond effectively. While strengthening community is critical, it is clear that traditional communities, noted chiefly for their unchanging behavior, are not viable today for many reasons. Lamentable as this may be, the world is too complex to allow the clock to be turned back. For that reason a "new community" is needed; a new type of community that is marked by several features that distinguish it from the old community. The most important one is that it is conscious. In other words, more than ever before, a community will need a high degree of awareness - both of itself (notably its capacities and needs) and of the milieu in which it exists (including physical, political, economic, social, intellectual and other influences). Further, the consciousness of the new community is both intelligent and creative. The intelligence of a new community comes from its store of information, ideas, and hypotheses; its facility with negotiation, deliberation, and discussion; its knowledge of opportunities and circumstances; as well as its application of technology and other useful tools. The creativity of a new community comes from its ability to reassess situations and devise new, elegant, and sometimes unexpected methods for meeting community challenges.
Community and technology are not antithetical. People are social but they naturally devise and deploy tools. The new community must realize that technology - especially community communication - is a tool to be wielded by people - not the other way around. It is therefore important that people devise projects that are useful to communities - rather than just for indivuals. Community and technology must be considered together in a single thought for they are inseparable. Community networks are one way among many to bring together that union.
People are looking for community in all the wrong places. It's not goodwill and like-mindedness, it's daily experience in workplaces and neighborhoods and churches and civic groups.
- Francis Moore Lappe (Krasny)
Conviviality and culture are the invisible forces that help to sustain the community. Conviviality can be thought of as an animating spirit that helps organize people into a community that is infused with identity, purpose, and love. Culture is complementary; it is the shared memory - both tangible and intangible - of a community.
While this core value may sound mystical, vague, or amorphous, we know quite a lot about building it. A major part is the fostering of a shared culture through sporting events, parades, festivals, farmers' markets, literacy programs, fairs, dances, theater, or any of a number of community events. Community culture should focus on local events, local issues, local geography, local history and local destiny, and part of the process can be directed using "civic maps" (Kretzmann and McKnight) that depict promising linkages between people and organizations in the community. A community database of "community assets," the basis of civic maps, can be made available on-line using computer networks. Besides focusing on the local, communities must also build bridges to other communities and be aware of other events and forces beyond community boundaries.
The chapter is divided into two parts. The first describes the community using the "common and essential features" of the "Great Good Place" perspectives of Ray Oldenberg (including "conversation is the main activity"; "a low profile"; "accessibility and accommodation"; "the third place is a leveler"; "on neutral ground"; " the regulars" "the mood is playful"; and "a home away from home"). The second part describes aspects of culture and conviviality that go beyond the notions of a a community as a "great good place." These include the built environment, ceremony and memory, and identity. Moreover however tempting it might be to think of community as being independent of other forces, communities are embedded in the external world, and this knowledge can be used both reactively and proactively in dealing with external forces.
To illustrate this core value, there are several case studies in the book including the Electronic Cafe International (tm) (Santa Monica, CA), the Alameda County War Memorial (probably the first electronic memorial) instigated by Country Joe McDonald on Berkely's Community Memory system, and others.
Give people some significant power and they will quickly appreciate the need for knowledge, but foist knowledge on them without giving them responsibility and they will display only indifference.
- Benjamin Barber
Education is the process by which a person learns fundamental as well as specialized skills. Minimally, this includes reading, writing, mathematics, and critical thinking. With a solid base, students are more capable of conducting individual quests for knowledge, instructing others, and participating in public discussion and deliberation. Note that education doesn't necessarily mean schools, teachers, or other aspects of traditional educational institutions. Some of these institutions may indeed be changing already, though the fundamental need for something analogous to them remains.
Without education, one's economic opportunities are substantially diminished; many jobs will be simply unattainable. On a community level, lack of overall education means that businesses would be unwilling to settle in the community - and those that did would probably offer dead-end, low-wage jobs. The community would also be less likely to initiate, sustain, or expand business ventures. Furthermore, when individuals do not have proper education, the political process becomes unfathomable, and decisions tend to be relinquished to people who represent other interests.
Education can provide an effective foundation for a community: It can provide a lifelong grounding based on active learning. There are well-known educational approaches that promote working together as a community. These include students teaching other students and students working with community members on community issues and projects. Education needs to be reinvented as a dynamic force, within a social context, working for social change, instead of relying on its present conception as a passive indoctrination of skills, conventional values, and cultural dogma.
Students from upper-class backgrounds have access to a wide array of educational resources and, in general, far more options open to them than do those of more modest means. Those students are less likely to be subjected to repetitive drill and practice and are much more likely to be encouraged to be entrepreneurial (stage their own plays or design their own curriculum and lesson plans, for example), have modern technology available to them (computers connected to the Internet, for example), or participate in civic activities outside the classroom.
To illustrate this core value, there are several case studies in the book including Academy One, Exploratorium, Big Sky Telegraph, Telephone Homework Assistance and others.
Democracy is the worst system devised by the wit of man, except for all the others.
- Winston Churchill
Democracy is the process of self-government in which the people that are affected by decisions take part in them. Without democracy, people are limited in their communities and in their own potential. Without democracy, the vast majority of people are forced into the roles of serfs, continually awaiting a scrap from their master, be it their allowance, paycheck, report card, or layoff notice. In a self-perpetuating cycle of disempowerment, one is forever governed - never governing. Democratic participation, on the other hand, can be educational as well as empowering. Carole Pateman and others have stressed the importance of learning through participation. When the Soviet Union collapsed, many groups of people - coal miners and others - found themselves lacking the tools of democratic discourse and, hence, unable to play an effective role in a democratic reformulation of their society. Democratic participation leads to community spirit, a greater need and ability to communicate and seek information, and increased economic opportunity.
Although generally acknowledged to be indispensable to a modern democracy, political participation is at a low ebb at least in the United States. Many people now speak of a "crisis in democracy." In Benjamin Barber's words, "thin democracy" - a pale substitute for the rich potential, largely unrealized, of "strong democracy," the subject of his influential book - is endemic. The waning of democratic life is bemoaned by those of a variety of political persuasions. Paul Weyrich, for example, a conservative with the Free Congress Foundation, says, "We're perilously close to not having democracy" (Greider).
Democratic participation is critical to vital communities, yet participating is waning ominously by virtually all measurements one might take. We need to reestablish democracy in communities by building new forums for discussion and genuine participation in the affairs of society. In some cases, government will welcome the participation. In many other cases, community participation will be fought, ignored, or begrudgingly suffered. In the longer term, citizens should move towards increased democratization of other community organizations including the schools, workplaces, and media outlets including genuine public radio and television.
As we begin to investigate new ways of supporting democratic processes with communications technology, we must be aware that the process itself is open to change and experimentation. It is far from obvious what models of participation are best for what types of issues, constituencies, and technological support systems. Computer networks, it should be noted, could introduce qualitative changes in the process, and these changes could come about through the increased speed of information transmission and through the increased number of participants that are likely to become involved. Since due deliberateness is critical to the democratic process, changes wrought by electronic technology may further reduce the chances for equitable and just democratic governance. Technological advances may be occurring faster than our ability to assimilate them. Moreover, the current rapid changes in technology and the still-developing social conventions may make adoption of any particular model ill-advised and premature.
Since community networks and other computer-mediated systems do offer real promise and raise expectations as to their potential, there will undoubtedly be calls for new approaches to democratic discourse, including calls for "direct democracy" (in which citizens actually propose and pass legislation). In any case, since democratic participation in the future will likely depend on electronic communication, universal access is critical.
To illustrate this core value, there are several case studies in the book including Santa Monica PEN and the SHWASHLOCK project, National Capital Free-Net board elections, and the OTA/NPTN Teleforum project.
The health of a community is determined by the health of its citizens and by the well-being of the community as a whole. If the physical, mental, or emotional health of citizens is poor or is declining, the health of the entire community suffers. On the other hand, if the community itself is not healthy - if health care is inadequate or not affordable, if physical conditions are unsafe, polluted, or ugly, and if basic emotional support among citizens is lacking - the health of its citizens will be diminished. Community health and individual health cannot be separated.
There is now a growing realization among health-care professionals, especially among public health nurses, that health is not just the absence of disease in individuals; the concept of "health" must be considered in a more holistic way so that health is directly linked to "broader social, political, economic, and physical environmental components" (World Health Organization) that must be addressed if the goal of a healthy society is to be realistically addressed. In other words, the concept of health care must include and expand upon the traditional focus on medical care. Whereas medical care is primarily concerned with curing the sick, health care is additionally concerned with issues such as poverty, nutrition, the environment, public safety, education, and mental health, to name just a few.
Health in a community refers simultaneously to the physical, mental, and psychological state of the individual inhabitants and to the community itself. It refers to the relations among the inhabitants. How do they get along? Commiserate? Lend support? And health-and-well-being also refers to the general physical surroundings of the community. Are there trees or toxic dumps? Is there grass or broken glass and syringes? Song birds or rats?
Although community health and well-being is deteriorating in many ways, there are also some hopeful signs. One is that there is a renewed interest in community health in contrast to individual health. The other is that a more holistic view of health is emerging, one with an increasing emphasis on health care rather than medical care, in which public safety, nutrition, housing concerns, environmental, economic vitality, and psychological well-being are all central issues.
The entire community needs to participate if community health is to be improved. Individuals and their families need to be aware of health issues and do what they can to ensure a healthy life for themselves. Groups in the community organized around health concerns and issues - be they Alcoholics Anonymous, groups of walking seniors, or bicycling enthusiasts - need to raise consciousness and to lend mutual support. Health-care professionals also have a role to play. They can provide the community with useful, timely, and comprehensible information. This information can help people and their community make informed decisions in times of relative well-being as well as in times of individual or community crisis or natural disaster.
Online dialogue among the community participants and health care professionals should be used to develop a community consciousness on its relative well-being and to develop a community agenda for health that can be used proactively in the formulation of public policy. Community networks can help engender this dialogue.
To illustrate this core value, there are several case studies in the book including the MADNESS Listserv, CHESS, ComputerLink, New York Youth Network, AIDS Info BBS, and others.
Economic equity, opportunity, and sustainability is indispensable to the well-being of a community. It's an unfortunate reality (in the United States and other places) that economic class is strongly tied to quality of education, employment opportunities, access to information, and health. Perhaps the most tragic addition to this list is that money is the de facto key to democratic participation in the United States. All aspects of political life - from voting to running for political office to lobbying and petitioning the government - are almost the exclusive domain of the corporations and the wealthiest Americans (Philips; Greider). Nor is this necessarily considered anything less than correct. A (liberal!) Seattle newspaper reporter was recently asked about the desirability of having hearings in places other than Olympia (the state capitol) or on evenings and weekends, to enable working people to participate. This would make it "too easy" she said, while other heads on the panel nodded in concurrence.
The effect that humankind's collective patterns of production, distribution, and consumption will likely have on the physical environment and the associated social relations are difficult to understand and perhaps more difficult to avoid. Many scenarios are grim. As Thomas Homer-Dixon and his colleagues have reported in their ominous Scientific American article, "Environmental Change and Violent Conflict" (1993), scarcities of renewable resources are already contributing to violent conflicts in many parts of the developing world. Unfortunately, they foresee much more of this in coming years: "Renewable-resource scarcities of the next 50 years will probably occur with a speed, complexity, and magnitude unprecedented in history. Entire countries can now be deforested in a few decades, most of the region's topsoil can disappear in a generation, and acute ozone depletion may take place in as few as 20 years."
The opportunity exists now for all people to begin to seriously explore the modifications of existing economic prerogatives and the invention of new economic institutions. It behoves us as a society to explore a wide range of actions. As Sally Lerner (1994) points out, the failure to examine "seemingly 'far-out' ideas" would "limit our ability to identify emergent issues and to address them effectively."
Sustainable mechanisms for meeting human needs and shared principles of equity and inclusiveness must form the basis of new economic systems. For this reason, workers and poor people need to participate in ongoing discussions and deliberations. Economic data that is clear and understandable (including that on taxation, employment, profits, stock ownership, corporate holdings, and investments) are needed to support this process. Ironically, there is a wide range of data - including U.S. census data - that is often available to everybody except the people to whom it pertains! Citizens of the new community need to take the lead in reinventing and inventing economic institutions - including corporations - in their communities and replicating successes in other communities.
To illustrate this core value, there are several case studies in the book including Red de Informacion Rural, Community Voice Mail, ACNET, economic development information on LibertyNet, and others.
A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
- James Madison, 4th President of the United States
In a free society, information is widely available to its citizens. Although some information is proprietary, trade secret, private, or sensitive for national security reasons, most information should be available inexpensively. The public library - a relatively modern invention - is the best-known expression of that objective. Ready access to information coupled with the ability for citizens to communicate freely using that information undergirds a legitimate democracy. Freely available information promotes self-guided and self-motivated education while supporting traditional educational institutions as well. Freely available information also promotes health in a community because people can find the information they need about foods, prenatal care, hospitals, clinics, and prevention of illnesses and accidents.
Information and communication - what we commonly call "media" - can be redirected towards better meeting the needs of the new community. Community media allows those whose voices have traditionally gone unheard to have an outlet. This access may lead to a clash of cultures that will lead to richer interactions and deeper understanding rather than to increased animosity and misunderstanding. The major challenge facing us in relation to this core value is the need to develop community media that strengthens communities - by providing increased access to minority and alternative opinion and by guaranteeing increased involvement in a productive way by all members of the community.
Community networks can help increase the strength of "people power" and that community networks can provide a much needed participatory media that is relatively free of government or corporate control. People power should also address and support diversity of opinion. Any idea at odds with conventional wisdom - enforced by either custom or by law - is a dissenting idea. Dissenting ideas have included Galileo's belief that the earth rotated around the sun; that women should be allowed to vote; or that African Americans should be able to ride at the front, middle, or back of the bus, at their discretion. Any current dominant belief was once a dissenting belief. Alternative voices are critical. What sells is not the same as what we need as the bottom line becomes the determinant of what gets produced. Exporting, for example, boosts the profitability of any television show and violent shows are more likely to be exported. George Gerbner's findings reveal that crime/action shows comprise only 17 percent of domestically shown programs but 46 percent of the exported ones. Violent American shows can now be regularly seen throughout the world. Thus, the consciousness of non-Americans is now being altered according to unhealthy stereotypes and distorted views of reality manufactured in the cultural factories of America.
While super high bandwidth networks, video on-demand, and telemedicine are grabbing the headlines, a wide phalanx of what Community Technology Institute Pat Barry call "rearguard technology" (including universal voice-mail, community computing centers, community networks, homemade television, community television, community radio, non-commercial wire service, Community network services and public ownership of delivery channels) now exists. Government and business spokespeople, as well as some representatives of public interest organizations, are inclined to focus on the allure of the newest technology to articulate their vision. At the lower end, the "rearguard" are a variety of developers who are working to develop the minimum set of services that could be provided at very low cost to all. This road is ultimately the most difficult, the least glamorous, and the most radical, for its beneficiaries are often the least advantaged. Unfortunately, this approach has precious few effective spokespeople. With this perspective, tasks are grounded in real life - not in some ambiguous future where fancy technology (with no apparent human intervention) magically vanquishes societal ills. These visions - all motivated by similar dreams - form the basic infrastructure for what might be deemed universal access in the electronic age. These visions, as a unifying and collective vision, form a technologically viable and relatively inexpensive base for the media of new communities.
To illustrate this core value, there are several case studies in the book including the InfoZone, Plugged IN, Paper Tiger TV, and others.
The system is the people.
- TWICS on-line greeting (Rheingold)
The community network provides a "social space" for the community, a place where community members can interact with each other, a place to learn, discuss, persuade, or just have fun. The community network is also a community institution, an organization that is supported by the community, helps support the community, and is situated within the community. The community- network organization provides the framework and the institutionalization that helps create, administer, and promote continuing development of the community network. Both the community-network system and the community-network organization exist within a social and political context that helps shape the community-network system and organization and, in turn, is shaped by them.
Social relationships (including political and economic) influence community networks and there are several major types of "players" (including (1) individual and organizational participants, (2) nonparticipants, (3) other community networks (including BBSs), (4) influencing organizations, (5) infrastructure providers and other commercial service providers; and (6) the community network organization) that help determine the shape, direction, and philosophy that individual community networks might take, as well as the community-network movement as a whole. This view is a very broad characterization of the social and political model, and developers in local communities must take the specifics of their local environment into account when building and maintaining a community network.
The following is a list of just a few of the myriad "core" or building-block services that a community network should offer.
Conviviality and Culture
Health and Well-Being
Economic Equity, Opportunity, and Sustainability
Information and Communication
There is a rich and diverse set of players comprising a social web of a community network. Integrating the community network with this web is one of the fundamental challenges facing network developers and their supporters. Although the structure and the roles and responsibilities of the participants will necessarily vary from community to community, the nature of the challenge is identical: The community network must become part of the community in order to serve it.
Since the Industrial Revolution, society and culture have been subservient to technology. One of the compelling tasks today is to reverse the process and make technology serve culture and society.
- Ben Bagdikian (1992)
Until now we have said very little about the technology that supports the community network. In this chapter we discuss technological architecture that complements the social and political architecture described in the last chapter. The basic technological architecture consists of four main components: (1) users (including developers, participants, administrators, information providers, visitors, and others) and user interfaces, (2) the community-network software, (3) the computer hardware (including the various CPUs, memory, disk drives, interface drivers, and so on), and (4) the delivery channels through which users can access the services on the system.
While the six core values of the new community will no doubt persist as critical issues for humankind over the next ten, hundred, or thousand years, the state of computer technology is likely to change in ways that we can scarcely imagine today - and the change may occur in a short period of time. Forums, MUDs, chat programs, multimedia mail, Archie, gophers, and Mosaic, today are recognizable net denizens. These familiar services are likely to evolve and mutate into possibly unrecognizable new forms. Tomorrow infobots, knowbots, softbots, and others may stalk the net. The research community will need to concentrate on systems that scale up to accommodate extremely large numbers of users (Cisler) and on interfaces that accommodate a wide variety of users, including those who don't use the Roman character set and those with special needs. The community-network community will need to keep abreast of the new technology, weaving it together in imaginative ways to serve the needs of evolving new communities. This will not be a trivial undertaking. However, as the Bagdikian quote at the beginning of this chapter asserts, technology should serve culture and society - not the other way around!
Community networking entrepreneurs face a formidable challenge: Are they part of a social phenomenon that is destined to stall or implode . . . or do they represent a vibrant force, capable of building on the knowledge they have accumulated, adapting to a rapidly changing world and community needs, and ultimately achieving positive, lasting social change in their communities?
- Mario Morino (1994)
While the process of developing community network systems will vary from community to community, there is a natural sequence of nine steps through which most community networks will pass. Each of these steps (establishing an initial group, organizing and planning, inaugurating the network, running the network, implementing projects and programs, building strategic alliances, evaluating the network, and working toward long-term impact and sustainability) offers important challenges as well as opportunites. The most critical aspect (and common to each phase) will undoubtedly be the ability to work flexibly, innovatively, effectively, and inclusively as a group - in essence to become a community. At time goes on and the challenges multiply, this ability will prove to be your greatest asset.
It is critical to involve the community in the development of the network. Community organizations are natural partners, and their work will help spread the word and increase the effectiveness and reach of the community network. The community network must be a part of the community. If it's detached from the community, it's not a community network. Local newspapers, radio, and television stations are community organizations, as well, and they should be kept up to date regarding the project and should also be considered as possible strategic partners.
Finally, it will be necessary to be diligent, patient, diplomatic, persevering, and, at times, cautious. People working on the project need to be able to listen to the viewpoints of others. They need to listen well to other people working on the project, to people in the community, and to people working on similar projects locally and around the world. As time goes on there will be pressure to water down your original principles. Establish high principles at the onset and stick with them.
The world is emerging from a long cold war that has profoundly marked the thinking and behavior of its leaders and citizens over the last half-century. Indeed in the United States almost all decisions, including those related to science, technology, and society, were couched in cold-war rhetoric. The abrupt ending of the cold war has seemingly left Americans confused and without direction, similar to the mood in periods directly following this century's two World Wars. The ending of an era of profound global tension paradoxically has not brought relief but an uneasy unsureness of thought and of purpose (Chapman, 1994) that is preventing citizens and the institutions that ostensibly serve them from addressing critical social needs with the necessary compassion, confidence, and creativity. This chapter offers glimpses into some of these issues especially as they relate to the future of community and democratic technology.
Many people feel that technology is autonomous, independent, and beyond the control of society. As such, people read about it and talk about it and - like the weather - rarely do anything about it. Yet people could have more control over technology and its effects if they realized the power they could wield and assumed increased responsibility. Currently only a handful of people regularly attempt to influence the shape and direction of technology through its physical design, through policies surrounding its use, and through actively imagining and representing possible futures.
The idea of absolutely controlling technology - including community networks - is untenable. Shaping it iteratively and collaboratively, on the other hand, by reflecting, imagining, discussing, prescribing, designing, monitoring, and evaluating current and future technological systems is not only sensible but absolutely essential. Moreover, many of society's institutions need to extend their roles and responsibilities so they too can participate in this process.
The world is in need of new hypotheses: new hypotheses that support the new community, new hypotheses that support the core values of society. And with these hypotheses as our new beginnings we must study, talk, reason, and act. It is possible to make the great experiment that we call life on earth a success, but it will take work.
A community revitalization "revolution" - of which community networks are just one part - can't be carried out by individuals nor can it be orchestrated by an institution or a company. It will be necessary for thousands, millions, of people and organizations with a strong and urgent sense of social responsibility to link together and push firmly in a forward direction, an equitable and sustainable direction. Community must be indeed be a web, a fabric of strong and interlocking elements, like foliage on a hilltop that entwines into a dense covering preventing the wind and the water from ripping apart the hilltop.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
- Frederick Douglass (Bobo et al.)
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