Intro to Networked Collaboration

Smart Mob Democracy

It is inspiring to read how crowds are using tech to make democratic things happen in the public sphere.  I personally love participating in it, although I myself don’t use text messaging for that.

I am working to get a project off the ground that would give some partipatory information tools to youth groups who participate in UN general assembly sessions about sustainability economics and food system. Right now, these groups don’t have the money to invest in detailed statistical presentations like all the other lobbyists and country delegations, so their presentations are mostly emotional pleas, and are perhaps treated as such. We want to create information tools so they can do information and data mash-ups in real-time in response to the official presentations on the floor, with real hard core compelling evidence that they can present during their comments period and also enter into the official proceedings. So, I love this stuff.

There are two things that are issues for me. One is the vulnerability of mobile networks or the Internet to getting shut down in a crisis by a despotic government under threat. The next time a democratic mob in Philippines tries to shut down a government, those guys are going to know exactly which switches to ‘inadvertently’ switch off for a few hours. “Ooooops!  We didn’t know. We didn’t do it on purpose!” Like we had a black out here on the whole East Coast because someone in Buffalo, or Cleveland made a little mistake in a power plant!  Then of course there are the vulnerabilities from a rights and law perspective that Lawrence Lessig talks about the previous chapter ‘Wireless Quilts’. The legal frameworks that protect the Internet for what it is are quite fragile and there are plenty of big company lobbyists trying to change them to give more power to the infrastructure pipeline and information companies. So, we should not take this lightly, although we mostly do since legal stuff is so boring to talk about, or think about, or do anything about.

The other thing is that only 5M out of 70M Filipinos made the action happen in the Estrada case. They clearly represent a pretty high economic or urban status to be playing in the mobile network, so I wonder what the other 65M people would have done re: this regime. In our own country, really smart ‘mobs’ use their money and power to push things through legislation, while the rest of the people are not even in the Conversation. They just did that in California. They can create all kinds of emotional media and blast that on TV, under the guise of one thing, but really being acts of intolerance against a minority or tyranny of the majority against a minority and it is all protected under ‘free speech’ at the moment.  I am thinking mostly about Washington and all the secret Lobbying that goes on under our noses while we’re working and studying and child caring and elder caring…or entertaining ourselves into bankrupcy…So, how does this networked mob democracy thing change that?

Clearly though with participatory networking, we are able to connect with other people and share our truly democratic ideas through these tools (not without sacrificing anonymity to some information ‘authority’ however ), but the threatened minority shouldn’t have to rely on the largesse or ‘kindness’ of a privileged minority with mobile phones to look after their interests in the democratic sphere. That sounds unreliable to me and isn’t the way it was designed here at the beginning, although it is breaking down with these state constitional amendments and a Supreme Court Chief Justice who is overtly ‘anti-activist’ and will do nothing to correct inequities as they creep up.

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November 17, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

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