Recent news from the Center for Civic Media | MIT Center for Civic Media

Recent news from the Center for Civic Media

Attention and Atrocities

Every year, Canada's Médecins Sans Frontières (AKA Doctors Without Borders / MSF) meets for their Annual General Assembly. I know about this because two years ago their topic was "Is MSF missing the technology boat?" to which I was invited to speak about Geeks Without Bounds and community technology projects with the talk "Technology as a Means to Equality" (video broken because of issues with GWOB YouTube account, and with my apologies). I went back this year because my organizational crush on them maintains, and because Aspiration (my employer for teh past 2 years, a technology capacity building organization for nonprofits) has been working on an ecosystem map of the digital response space. The real-world and values-driven experience of MSF provided valuable insights and data points for that map, and so I went seeking their input.

Civic media and dealing with emotions after the US election

Election parties that turned into funerals. Sleep-deprived humans floating through the street, numb after a weeknight of crying, alcohol, or both. Silence: the morning of November 9, 2016, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was frighteningly silent. For all the rationality, all the number-crunching, all the exploration of electoral scenarios, dealing with elections remains a deeply emotional task.

The task for many on November 9 was to find ways to help themselves and others process those emotions. As it happens, I had to start that very day with a class I was meant to facilitate. On civic media, of all things. In 2016, can the discussion around civic media provide us with opportunities to process appalling outcomes, help us transition from the surreal to making sense, or does it just really rub salt into the wound?

I bypassed the never-ending slideshow and made a guide for discussion. I used the main points of the Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice chapters assigned for this class by professor William Uricchio (see at the end of the post), and framing questions I learned from workshops with feminist organizations in Mexico.

All in Our Backyard - social justice in disaster response

One of the hardest lessons and ongoing challenges in digital disaster and humanitarian response is how to connect with a local population. While many digital response groups deal with this by waiting for official actors (like the affected nation's government, or the United Nations) to activate them, this doesn't always sit well with my political viewpoints. Some of these affected nations have governments which are not in power at the consent of the governed, and so to require their permission rankles my soul. But to jump in without request or context is also unacceptable. So what's to be done? It's from this perspective that I've been diving into how civics, disaster, and humanitarian tech overlap. And it's from this perspective that I've been showing up to Bayview meetings for San Francisco city government's Empowered Communities Program. ECP is working to create neighborhood hubs populated by members already active in their communities.

Where I stand today

(I promise this is one of the only two blog posts I will publish using primarily the first person.)

I am an activist, and technology and media are my favorite pretexts to start conversations about the core of our human experience. I love reflecting about concepts and their underlying ideologies, but asking teens whether they know someone who decided to untag themselves from a photo on Facebook is still my favorite way to ignite discussions on privacy.

I don’t believe in universal pedagogical statements about technology (I very much doubt everybody should learn to code), and part of my pride as an activist is in having developed a vision that allows me to be strategic about technology-based interventions. And yet nothing brings me more life than those epiphanic moments in tech workshops: the precise look (because I do think it is a look) that people get as they wrap their minds around the process.

Live Blog: If Everything is a Network… Nothing is a Network

This is a liveblog of a talk given at the Center for Civic Media by Mushon Zer-Aviv (@mushon).  Any errors or omissions are the fault of the authors - Rahul Bhargava and Catherine D'Ignazio.

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