Tad Hirsch, creator of the SMS group tool TXTmob.com, spoke briefly about some of the mobile activism projects he’s done in recent years. Some quick notes, most of which isn’t verbatim:
For the past five or six years I’ve work as I hired gun for a host of community based advocacy orgs. I look at ways to build new systems that enable forms of collective action. This is a bit different from what’s been said about participatory democracy, in which individuals create, share content and discuss. It’s crucial, but not the only part. I work with folks who form together as groups to affect material social change. My work focuses on mobile media, cellphone activism, VOIP activism.
I tend to partner with small, localized groups of people, some of whom are engaged in formal NGOs, others not. I’ve done projects with street activists at the RNC and DNC, giving them a radically decentralized approach to street protests. Street theatre interventions as opposed to blockades, so people don’t get their heads kicked in and arrested. We set up cell phone groups to help coordinate action. I’ve done work on a Navajo reservation to help stop the spread of coal-fire plants on their land. It’s about generating citizen-based science that can be used in lawsuits, helping them sift through the data and inform their legal arguments.
In Africa I work with human rights groups to create cellphone communications platforms that bypass govt control. The immediate work is to have a network that protects the users and can’t be controlled by the govt. We’re taking the lessons of lower power fm and community radio and apply it to digital networks.
Drew Clark of the Center for Public Integrity is now talking about their media tracker tool. Put in your zip code and it’ll generate a map of your local media outlets and who owns them. I did a search for Washington DC. Along with the map, it gave me some interesting stats about the DC area:
26 licensed television stations
47 licensed radio stations
1 matching cable community
17 reported broadband providers
30 newspapers within 100 miles
And the companies with the biggest piece of the local broadcast pie:
Clear Channel Communications Inc. : nine stations
CBS Corporation: eight
Radio One, Inc: four
Bonneville Radio (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints): four
It’s something like 17 degrees outside, so I am mighty relieved to be inside with about 400 other warm bodies at the Beyond Broadcast conference. Henry Jenkins of MIT gave an amazing keynote about participatory democracy and participatory culture. He talked a bit about DOPA Jr, noting as I have in the past that placing restrictive access to the Net at schools and libraries does more harm to disenfranchised populations than mainstream ones, since they often lack Internet access at home and have to rely on public access. As more and more people embrace social media tools to participate in civic life, those who get blocked because they’re forced to use public access end up getting left out of public discourse yet again. Henry also used a great line referring to DOPA and its ilk as part of the mass de-skilling of America’s youth, forcing them to unlearn the participatory culture skills they use outside of school because policymakers fear the impact of giving them access at school.
Right now there’s a panel featuring reps from Yahoo, MTV and one of the guys behind Four Eyed Monsters. Maybe it’s the long week catching up with me, but I am so bored. Can’t wait til the unconferency sessions this afternoon. I feel like I’m at a tag-team lecture. -andy
“So, you’re in Watertown – is there any news there?”
“No. If there were, I’d move.”
This is Lisa Williams recounting a conversation she had with someone during her talk about placeblogging. Lisa runs H2Otown, the successful community blog for Watertown, MA. Lisa is talking about local news and their reticence to work with local bloggers to cover what’s going on in a community. Media outlets get nervous with terms like “citizen journalism,” but they don’t realized there are groups of bloggers in communities who aren’t trying to be journalists, per se, but are still trying to create an online place where residents can come together and talk about their community: things that need to be fixed, road conditions, events and the like. Unless there’s breaking news in these communities, the media ignores them, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of important things to talk about it. As Lisa puts it, “Why is it possible to know more about what’s going on in Indonesia than the East End?” As soon as you step out of the metro area of a given city, media coverage just evaporates. -andy
Nonprofit technology consultant Beth Kanter, who runs Beth’s Blog and contributes to NetSquared, spoke this morning at the IMA conference about trends in nonprofit technology. These notes are not verbatim, so please do not treat them as direct quotes.
Last night was a treat. Radio Open Source hosted a party over at the Jury’s hotel, which featured an interesting mix of the show’s producers, conference attendees, and local members of their online community. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay very long, because I’d also been invited to go to this week’s Berkman Bloggers meeting at Harvard, along with Steve Clift from e-democracy.org. We had around 20 people in the room, including Dave Winer, placeblogging guru Lisa Williams and Shava Nerad of Tor. Steve talked about the gubernatorial e-debate he ran in Minnesota last October, while Shava surprised us with the random opportunity she had to eat lunch with Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick in Somerville earlier in the day.
Once the meeting wrapped up, we slogged our way through the icy puddles of Cambridge to the Bombay Club, where we had a wonderful dinner. J insisted that she order all the food for us, and I’m glad she did, because we all got to try a lot of random dishes we otherwise might have never tasted. They even had a nice chaat buffet, arguably India’s favorite snack food, which is an unfortunate rarity at most US Indian restaurants. And all the while, Winer kept whipping out a glowing green pen he’d picked up at the conference, apparently trying to hypnotize several of us by swinging it in our faces.
Now, it’s Friday morning at IMA, and Tom Gerace of Gather.com has just started talking as part of an opening session about online social networks. The ballroom isn’t as packed as yesterday morning, but it’s still well attended. There should be some good sessions later today; I’ll try to blog some of them, assuming I can keep my laptop charged. -andy
Please watch this amazing video by Amanda Baggs, a videoblogger who is classified by her doctors as a “low-functioning autistic.” She is unable to talk and appears to be totally disconnected from the rest of the world, but she is extraordinarily eloquent and descriptive of her insular world when given a computer keyboard through which to communicate. This video, which she shot, edited and posted on YouTube under her online name SilentMiaow, begins with several minutes of her doing repetitive actions and making chant-like noises – things that non-austic people might describe as stereotypical of people with austism. It has an eerie, performance-art quality to it – until you get to the second half, when you see her translating and interpretating what you’ve just seen, explaining her actions’ meaning through the use of a computer-synthesized voice. The video inspired CNN to do a special on her tonight. She’s also an active user of Second Life, and has an avatar that looks and acts like a low-functioning autistic person. Her blog captures just how eloquent she is as a communicator when using assistive technology to capture her thoughts. In this post, she describes some basic advice she had been given when she first began coping with autism:
I eventually want to do a video series of basically things I wish someone had shown or told me when I was a kid.
One really big one is how to recognize overload. I did have a few crude techniques worked out, but I didn’t know what they meant, or how to respond to them.
Basically, I carried certain objects that normally produced certain sensations. I had a necklace with piano wire in it that made soft bell-like noises. I had a scarf made out of multicolored criss-crossing ribbons. I had soft clothing.
The more overloaded I got, the more the soft bell-like noises turned into loud and obnoxious clanging that hurt my ears. The multicolored scarf became painful to look at rather than interesting. And the soft clothing turned to sandpaper.
So one good way to recognize overload, if you don’t have some other way, is to have some sort of object that you know what it’s like when you’re not overloaded. If it becomes more and more unbearable in some way, you’re getting more and more overloaded (and should probably find something to do about it).
Her blog is called Ballastexistenz. At first I thought it might be a cyberpunk reference, but its origins lie in Nazi Germany’s treatment of people with disabilities. Amanda explains:
The reason that I have chosen one of the offensive terms used in the German eugenics movement against disabled people – which, for reference, predated Nazism, was heavily influenced by American ideas, and survived after World War II – is to force people to look at the sentiments that drove that movement, that came before it, and that are still prevalent worldwide today.
Ballastexistenz means about what it looks like: Ballast-existence, ballast-life. Some of the other terms that were applied to disabled people at the same time included leeren Menschenhulsen (empty human-shaped shells/husks), and lebensunwertes Leben (lives unworthy of life).
In using these terms, I do not for one moment forget the gravity of them. The ideas that gave rise to that terms have existed a long time and continue to exist. These ideas threaten the lives and well-being of disabled people everywhere. Autistic people are frequently described in these hateful ways, as empty shells without souls, burdens on our families and society, contributing nothing, ballast that merely weighs everyone else down.
CNN advertised their special by saying “You’ll never look at autism the same way again.” They totally nailed it. Watch the video. -andy
Tom Mohr, former president of Knight Ridder Digital, is talking in the CEO session about the changing business of online newspapers. He keeps using a phrase that’s driving me crazy when talking about opportunities to attract young “readers” – “Gen Y consumers.” Generation Y, he acknowledges, has grown up entirely digital, but he isn’t talking about the fact that they don’t see themselves as consumers. They’re producers, not to mention bloggers, remixers, gamers, vloggers – but they are not consumers in the way previous generations of business execs have defined the term. They are not sponges – they give back to the Net and expect us to respect that essential nature of their personality. Until we come to grips with that, we’re doomed to keep making the same mistakes.
The consumer is dead, long live the producer. -andy