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Happy 4th of July! Social Technology and Interdependence
Jon Lebkowsky, 3 Jul 05

flag.jpgThis started as a brief post about nonprofits and technology:

The NonProfit Open Source Initiative (NOSI) is building bridges between the Open Source and NonProfit worlds, so that NonProfit Organizations (NPOs) and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) can leverage the flexiblity, extensibility, and relatively low cost of Free and Open Source Software – and so that Open Source developers can learn more about NPO and CBO requirements. The Digital Divide Network has published an interview with John Stanton of NOSI, who points to the organization's publication "Choosing and Using Open Source Software: A Primer for Non Profits." Other organizations are also connecting NonProfits with Open Source, among them the NonProfit Technology Enterprise Network (N-TEN) and Aspiration Tech. There's also a loose coalition of activists and technologists at Activist Tech, which has just launched a new web site using the CivicSpace platform.

However there's more to say, and the Fourth of July is a good time to say it.

As more nonprofits and activist groups establish online presences, and as more of those are established as communities and networked effectively with each other, we have, potentially, the genesis of a new kind of decentralized, distributed organization. This isn't any kind of panacea; where you have many fairly autonomous groups forming, there will inevitably be more political tension, duplication of effort, greater confusion and disorder. That's the down side, and our hope for the upside is that "small pieces loosely joined" within a network environment will allow us to bring far more voices into the mix without a complete system overload and meltdown. Essentially we're talking about buying into some degree of chaos to develop a more democratic system of governance, not by changing the existing governance infrastructure (legislative/executive/judicial), but by creating a framework for more or less organized input, better ways to define and articulate popular will (while acknowledging and respecting minority opinions).

How are technologies "democratic"? As platforms for citizen journalism, political discussion and debate, and online community organization, various forms of social software bring new and diverse voices into the kinds of public conversations formerly reserved for politicians and pundits. As the introductory blurb on Dan Gillmor's We the Media site says, "Grassroots journalists are dismantling Big Media's monopoly on the news, transforming it from a lecture to a conversation." The grassroots journalists Gillmor writes and talks about are bloggers using social technology to extend public conversation and have increasing influence on broader conversations that impact public conscience and policy.

The combination of social and technical innovation in the context of increasingly pervasive computer network access is worldchanging, but there are issues, three of which I mention in an interview on the WELL about Extreme Democracy, a book I co-edited with Mitch Ratcliffe:

  • Freedom to connect: net-based democratic technologies depend on open
    and accessible networks. Corporations and/or governments that operate
    networks might restrict access and use, constraining speech and
    stifling innovation.
  • Digital divide: when civic engagement and participation in the
    political process require access to technology, those without access
    are potentially excluded. We're talking about people who don't want to
    fiddle with a dang computer, can't buy one, can't get an Internet
    connection, etc.
  • Echo chamber: if we're just forming cliques where we talk to folks we
    agree with and ignore other ways of thinking, we're missing the debate
    that's an important element of democracy (IMO). Some are trying to
    address this problem, e.g. Let's Talk America.
We don't work at being more democratic and inclusive because it's easy, but because it's the right thing to do, and more doable given the emergence of technologies that support and extend the possibilities for community organization and civic engagement.

The Fourth of July is a celebration of national independence, but the 21st century worldchanging vision transcends borders and national and corporate interests and focuses on an acknowledgement of our interdependence, and the technologies that acknowledge, not just our individual freedoms, but also our sustained connections.

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An American flag?

Posted by: Russell Wendt on 4 Jul 05

Interesting response. The USA flag is traditionally associated with the USA's celebration of July 4/Independence Day. The flag was also a that represented one of the world's most successful and powerful experiments in democracy. Compared to many other countries we focus on in our WorldChanging discussions, America offers the greatest possibility for participatory governance and individual freedom, even given the unfortunate record of the Bush Administration over the last 5 years. Given all that, I think the image of the American flag was a great fit for this piece.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 4 Jul 05

Thanks for the great post. I've been using Mambo, WordPress, and also civicspace for non-profit and green entrepreneurial ("ecopreneur") websites. I also wrote about the connection between open source and sustainability on my blog, too.

BTW, if anyone's interested in playing with these great open source systems, sign up for a web hosting account with and get access to the Fantastico/Cpanel system that installs many of these systems automatically.

And about the flag, I definitely think this day should be used for celebrating the best of what is American - reading history is a prerequisite for a sustainable future.

Posted by: Ivan Storck on 4 Jul 05

I just use this day to blow stuff up while trying not to be blown up in the process. Quite fun and this time I still have all my parts!

Ya I know for many its much more cerebral then that but sometimes I just sit back ignore the brainyness and blow stuff up while running from it screaming like a schoolgirl.

Fave fireworks motto.... NOT THE FACE NOT THE FACE NOT THE FACE!!!!!!

Posted by: wintermane on 5 Jul 05

Barf barf and double barf. A prerequisite for me getting excited about anyone's political egagement projects is that they have sufficient understanding of racism, sexism, classism and f-ing imperialism to refrain from waiving that rag around, especially on its "special day."

Posted by: barf on 14 Jul 05



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