networks

Computer networks (computers or other devices that are connected via wires or wireless connections) have changed the way that people work and socialize. New developments in network technology such as mesh networking show promise for even more innovative ways that networks can support communities and civic engagement.

Meet my thesis: Peer economy as an emerging narrative of work

This sums it up perfectly: "Job security is about as real as a free lunch."

With the first year of grad school over, I'm rolling up my sleeves for thesis research. I haven't talked about it much on the Civic blog, but I've been refining my idea since I arrived at MIT: how do narratives of work move into the mainstream, and what is an emerging narrative?

The short of it is this: Since the mid-20th century, we've idolized the full-time, salary + benefits narrative. That's been on the decline for the last 30 years—in entrepreneurship, in number of jobs even though gross domestic product climbs. We're graduating more qualified people into a shrinking job market; this narrative is not realistic anymore, which makes room for new narratives of work to emerge. 

Robin Chase and Nick Grossman’s hopes for the sharing economy

Photo by @brianquinn

Robin Chase (@rmchase), founder of ZipCar and BuzzCar, started the first company WAY back in 2000. It made renting a car as convenient as owning car, and "right-sized the asset", meaning you only pay for what you use. In addition to huge savings and new freedoms for consumers, this meant fewer cars sitting around unused in cities.

But less obviously, Zipcar stretched the definitions of "consumers" and "producers" in an economy. Robin prefers 'collaborators' as a more modern term. The company's success hinged on the assumption that most people are good. That trust, and bond with their customers, was key to creating the company.

Skype, Facebook, eBay, YouTube, Wikipedia, et al do the same thing: take excess capacity (sharing) and combine it with a platform for participation. Robin's slept in all kinds of beds, from hotels to a teenager's bedroom.

Postmarked - Negotiating [dis]empowerment in civic art

This is part 2 in a series on a public art project to create a space for dialogue between a concerned community and the owners of a dilapidated Cambridge property. Bigger picture in part 1.

I was enamored with the weight of postcards:  How does the sender's selection of a design suggest something personal? A postcard has more weight than a petition signature and gives flexibility to write a lot or a little, to illustrate concepts and/or capture them in words. It is a dynamic physical artifact.

I had read Karen Klinger's Cambridge Eyesore series, and it was clear that Cantabrigians noticed these rundown lots. Conversation continues to swirl within the community, but how does the conversation flow back out—beyond the city councilors to the decision-making owners?

Identity and Presence Online

x-posted to Oddletters the Blog

Last week, I had the honor of speaking on one of the plenary panels at the Media in Transition conference at MIT. I talked about an idea I've been playing with, identity versus presence in the online space. People seemed interested in hearing a little more, so here are my thoughts on the subject right now.

The theme of the conference was public and private media, and there were lots of amazing panels talking about, in one way or another, performances, manifestations, usurpations, and repurposings of identity online. The presentations were brilliant, but as I'm coming down off of writing my masters thesis on activist DDOS actions (ten days till final submission!), I found myself thinking about the concept of "presence," and how the online space, and the civic space in general, is and is not structured to allow manifestations of presence over performances of identity.

Holmes Wilson, internet activism, and why we need you

Fight For the Future is known for its massive viral organizing campaigns that changed Internet history both nationally and globally. Faced with the passage of Stop Online Piracy Act/SOPA and the Protect-IP Act/PIPA — legislation that would have jeopardized the open Internet as we know it — Fight for the Future organized the largest and most visible online protest in history. Holmes Wilson has also co-founded Miro, OpenCongress, and Amara. He’s been at the forefront of a range of open internet and participatory culture projects and campaigns.

Holmes Wilson (foreground) and Dalek (background)

Encouraging Flexibility from Social Media Giants: How We Get Private Platforms to Support Public Speech

There are many problems with using commercial technology platforms to host democratic, social, or activist content and communications. These problems came up in multiple sessions at the National Conference on Media Reform last weekend. There are also obvious reasons to continue using these platforms (audience reach, most notably), and so we do. Some activist efforts that silo communications on more open, but relatively unknown platforms strike me as irresponsible, if the goal is to reach as many people as possible (but this is a fine line). The more I think about this issue, though, the more I see potential solutions and a future in working with the platform providers to build some degree of flexibility into their products and policies.

soapbox at #ncmr13
The spot on the carpet reserved for public ranting at #NCMR13

81 Ways Humanitarian Aid has Become Participatory

Update: I've since posted my full thesis and a short summary of it.

My Media Lab Master's thesis argues that information and communication technologies, and particularly the web, have expanded the range of ways the public can help in times of crisis, even (or especially) if we're nowhere near said crisis. Or, to be more formal about it, participatory aid is mutual, peer-to-peer aid mediated or powered by information and communication technology. We're building a platform to help coordinate participatory aid projects, but first, I wanted to share some examples.

Organizing the Internet to Protect the Open Internet #NCMR13

Future of the Internet panel

Josh Levy, Internet Campaign Director at Free Press, introduces the topic. The SOPA protest was the biggest online protest we've seen. Millions of people participated and made a real impact. For organizers who have been fighting on open internet issues, it was exciting to see so many people take action and recognize that the internet is something you have to proactively protect, or else the openess that you know and love and maybe didn't think about before could go away.

An alphabet soup of bills and meetings have followed in SOPA's wake (CISPA, ECPA, CFAA, WCIT and FISA). We've had to learn what they mean and figure out how to leverage this newly engaged network to beat back the bad bills and support the good bills and educate the public on why the open internet is so important.

Panelists:

Distributed solidarity: how 350.org creates an intimate global movement

Nathan Matias and I recently spoke to a few staffers from 350, a global climate movement organization. Especially worthy of your attention are the concept of “distributed solidarity,” making that solidarity visible to participants and—to Civic—a sort of tightrope between professional and citizen footage. This post is for background; jump over to Nathan's post for some technically based civic ideas.

Closing the first-mover advantage in digital societies

A few weeks ago, Rogelio and I attended an intriguingly titled talk, "What would W.E.B. Du Bois say about inequality in digital societies?" It was part of a lecture series probing inequality and exclusion in a digital economy. Rogelio has a full write-up of the event here.

The lecturer, Dr. Ernest J. Wilson III, noted that the digital divide is still very real, but its meaning has shifted. The argument for closing the digital divide always had an economic component: Computer access and basic literacy skills would enable people to build resumes and navigate professional networking sites. Now, Wilson argued, it means that those without digital skills will be left behind as the Western world moves toward a digital service economy.

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