cfd's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

REWIRE: Digital Cosmopolitanism book lauch (liveblog)

This is a live blog of the book launch for REWIRE: Digital Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Connection by Ethan Zuckerman. Live-blogged by Charlie DeTar and Kendra Albert.

Colin: Without waxing poetic on my love for my friend Ethan, I want to note that what is even more amazing than the scholarship and artful storytelling in this natural, readable, and thoughtful book, is the way he did it: as a tremendously committed, generous, genuine colleague. For some of us who wrote with Ethan in the book club and work with him at Berkman, what comes up time and again is his intellectual insights, humanity, and scholarship.

Ethan: I want to start by thanking two groups of people: you for coming out on a hot, sweaty night -- but it’s also my first book and didn’t realize until it was in print the extent to which a book is an imposition. Giving someone a book is asking for 10-15 hours of someone’s time. :)  Thank you to anybody who reads.  It’s an incredible thing to put this out and have people react to it. It’s an incredible honor, I’m grateful.

In response: Hackathons don't solve big problems

Qualcomm Spark has offered the following response to my previous blog post, Hackathons don't solve problems.

My name is Michelle Kessler, and I’m the editor-in-chief of Qualcomm Spark. First, we want to thank Charlie DeTar, J. Nathan Matias and the MIT Media Lab for participating in our most recent video, “Hackathons: Tech’s Answer to Big Problems.” Also, thanks to Charlie for giving us the opportunity to respond to his comments and ideas.

The goal of our video was to shine a light on this phenomenon: Hackathons have transcended the world of technology, and are being employed for everything from voter rights to disaster relief. They provide a methodology for addressing problems that may seem insurmountable to everyday citizens. Where existing systems fail, hackathons can create a new path toward a successful outcome.

Hackathons don't solve problems

Qualcomm, a company known for their manufacture of semiconductors, stopped by the Center for Civic Media a few weeks ago to interview people about hackathons. Today, they released the video, which features Nathan Matias and I:

Thankfully, all of the words that I say on the screen in the video are words that I actually said. But the edit and framing message that they present is literally the opposite of what I said in the interview.

Why InterTwinkles

I've been working on online tools for consensus for the last 2 years. Here's what motivates me to work on this.

1. The water heater

For my first five years in Boston, I lived in a housing co-op in Dorchester.  It's a classic Boston triple-decker, which the 13 residents own collectively. That means that we didn't have a landlord, but we were in charge of the mortgage, maintenance, utilities, and everything else. The house operated by consensus, and all decisions happened at weekly house meetings.

At one point, one of the three water heaters that serviced the house died, which left our main kitchen without any hot water. One of the residents (a well meaning, competent, and all around good person) took on the task of fixing this, and called up a plumber for an emergency job.  The plumber charged us the emergency rate; almost $2000 to install a new water heater, very similar to this model here, which rings in at $358 at Home Depot:

Leadership in horizontal movements

In an insightful essay at the New Republic, Evgeny Morozov raises a powerful critique of what he describes as "Internet-centrism" in Steven Johnson's 2012 book Future Perfect. Morozov identifies in Johnson's book a strain of popular rhetoric which holds that the Internet is a model of decentralization, horizontalism, and leaderlessness, and that the world would be improved by applying these features to other domains.

While most of the essay is spot-on, I'd like to complicate and dig a little more into the role of leadership in horizontal decision making and organizing within activist movements, one of the subjects of Morozov's critique.

Charts from the floor of the US Senate

The recent fun tumblr "Charts from the floor of the US Senate" (and Orrin Hatch's gem) brought this story to mind:

One of the formative moments of my youth came from a town hall meeting with Hatch's colleague, senator Bob Bennett, on the topic of wilderness protection of federal land in Utah. I had come to the meeting with a petition of around 1000 signatures that I had gathered at my high school supporting wilderness, which he derisively dismissed as a "push poll", and said things to the effect that "I'm elected to do what I want, not what the polls say."

He then brought out a floor chart, with two images of the Escalante River in Utah, one from the mid 70's and one from the mid 90's. The older picture was barren of vegetation, the recent picture was lush and green, and he asserted "This is what 20 years of non-wilderness management can do. We don't need wilderness."

Occupy Streams Map

With the growth of the 99 Percent movement and occupations all over the world, a large number of citizen journalists and activists have turned to real-time video casting services such as livestream, ustream, and Live streaming offers a compelling way to experience a protest on-the-ground as it's happening – and it has even trickled up to more traditional media services. published the live feed from The Other 99 on its front page last night during a 2000+ person strong general assembly in Liberty Plaza, NY. And CBS published a live stream of Bloomberg's morning address in which he explained the city's motivations for evicting protesters.

Between the Bars: New site design

Between the Bars has been busy in the last six months:

  • We now have over 300 writers, and are regularly receiving 100 letters per week
  • We've published over 1500 blog posts and profiles.
  • We now have a paid part-time staff person, thanks to the Center for Civic Media's support, to help us with operations
  • We've accrued a wait-list of over 500 additional writers in prison who want to blog - and we're working on growing our capacity to publish them as well.

This is still a far cry from the 2.3 million people in prison right now. So clearly, we have our work cut out for us!

So it is with this in mind that we're delighted to announce some major changes to the Between the Bars website! View them here:

The Importance of Stakeholders as Designers

Something that has been echoed by many of the speakers at today's Knight Civic Media Conference is the importance of considering who participates in the design of a technology. Sasha Constanza-Chock spoke about the importance of using open technologies and open data when developing tools for communities. Chris Csikszentmihalyi spoke about how those with power producing technology tend to make technologies that reinforce their power. The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, one of this year's grant winners, emphasized the importance of community participation and ownership in the collection of scientific data. But why is this important? Don't closed systems like Twitter or Facebook have the potential for great social good?

Between the Bars back online!

The moment we've been working towards for over 3 months has arrived: Between the Bars is back online! We have a selection of new posts from new authors, as well as old posts from long time authors. As we continue to receive permission from the writers to republish their posts, we'll bring more of the classics online.

We've been thrilled with the response we've gotten since announcing the restart of service - we'll have our work cut out for us keeping up with the influx of mail. Monday we will be sending our first printouts back to the authors in prison, so now is a great time to leave some comments. Since we have made some changes to the site, there's a chance that there'll be new bugs - don't hesitate to bug us if you encounter any unexpected behavior.

We'd like to send a very big thank you to all the supporters who have kept us going over the past few months, and look forward to setting ourselves up for the long haul as we continue to grow and evolve.