natematias's blog | MIT Center for Civic Media

Modernity, the Telegraph, and Complex Systems

Did Modernity start with the telegraph? In our class last Wednesday, we discussed this claim from James Carey's 1989 book, Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society (you can read Carey's telegraph article here). Here is his astonishing and fascinating central claim:

the innovation of the telegraph can stand metaphorically for all the innovations that ushered in the modern phase of history and determined, even to this day, the major lines of development of American communications.

Help us make a visual map of CoDesign

This term, I plan to develop a visual map of the field of CoDesign. And I need your suggestions for what it should include.

CoDesign is a process in which the designer makes a commitment to a community of use, involving them in all stages of the design proces. Here at the Center for Civic Media, we're developing a CoDesign toolkit, led by Sasha Costanza-Chock. My visual map is one small part of this larger project.

Open Innovation and Creativity, A Panel at the Media Lab

Over the last two days at the Media Lab, we have been having our biannual member's meeting, a time for all of the lab's sponsors to stop by, look at our work, and to participate in talks and sessions about the big issues for technology, business and the future. Hashtag: #MediaLabNtwks.

One of the highlights has been a superstar panel discussion on Open Innovation and Creativity, moderated by the Media Lab director Joi Ito (my supervisor Ethan posted yesterday on Joi's views on openness). The panelists were Larry Lessig, Chris diBona, Yochai Benkler, and John Seeley Brown:

Is Participation Exploitation?

Our Intro to Civic Media class has spent several weeks discussing different ways that people can participate in society using the Internet. We have discussed citizen watchdogs, community associations, public discourse, Internet pressure groups, public demonstrations, counterpublic cultures, radical magazines, and even the political value of the music versus what is achieved through elections. Although we did speak briefly about business models for the news in the first week we have thus far set aside the question of the labor that is implied by participation.

Net Neutrality and Hegemony

This week in our Intro to Civic Media course, we have been asked to develop the ability to view media issues through the lens of media justice, and to apply that view to a contemporary issue. Given my recent arrival in the US, I am hesitant to make strong pronouncements on this topic in public. Nevertheless, I think find it to be a challenging and fruitful exercise.

This month, media activists are starting an effort to encourage regulations which open greater access to the mobile internet. Blacks and Hispanics are among the biggest users of the wireless web. Many believe that widespread mobile internet can become a significant part of widening access to information and participation among those groups. This goals motivate activists to link mobile internet access with justice.

Satellite Sentinel: Meteorologists of Human Rights Abuses

For a long time, genocide has been put in the box of great dark operatic human evils... We are the meteorologists of human rights abuses.

-- Nathaniel Raymond

This week's Thursday lunch was with the Satellite Sentinel Project. Based at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, they correlate data from satellites with other sources to track human rights violations, sometimes before they happen. Where possible, they threaten potential violators with exposure, release reports to the press, or pressure international organisations to take notice. By doing this, they hope to prevent genocides, stop large scale human rights violations once they begin, or at least to document atrocities after the fact.

Can the Public Sphere exist in the Internet Era?

So far in our class on Civic Media, we have tried to define Civic Media and to consider the role of digital inequality in shaping participation in society. Our discussions have mostly featured ideas from researchers, foundations, and American government agencies. This week, we're going to re-examine civic media in terms of critical theory and philosophy.

Here's the executive summary: Democratic governments are expected to incorporate the people's will into their decisions. Can this really happen? The public interest is hard to find among broad disagreements between groups, the emergence of global politics, the growth of multinational organisations, and the birth of Internet-based political movements. Just what kind of democracy might the Internet make possible? Should we discard the public sphere altogether for a more realistic, confrontational approach to democracy?

Public Reason and the Public Sphere

Civic Media: Growing Awareness and Participation in an environment of Change

As part of his Intro to Civic Media course , Sasha has asked us to answer the question, "What is civic media?" The characteristics of this area are messy, changing, and incredibly important. Changes in media tech and business have put important issues at stake: our awareness and participation in society and the world.

As a new research assistant in the MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Media, I will be working to improve our understanding of civic media and to develop new technologies to make it possible. Up to now, my own interests have been more cosmopolitan, literary, and religious than civic. I came to MIT brimming with the enthusiasm of several years developing new tech startups and education initiatives. In this course, I hope to gain an informed perspective on the ideas and trends behind civic media. As an aware but uninvolved observer, I am eager to write about it for the first time.

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