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June 20, 2005

Netizenship and Evolving Identity

Sari Feldman is the Director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library and a Board Member of OneCleveland. Sari and I have been asked to write an article about OneCleveland and our collaboration with Libraries, Universities, and Museums.

The thesis of our piece is that more than a technological ultra broadband network, OneCleveland is a network of leaders and applications positioned to help transform our region.

If transformation is an important part of the end goal of our efforts,it begs the question how individuals, "Joe Public" might be impacted and indeed personally transformed by the exciting activities underway. This led me to the notion of netizenship.

Netizenship, obviously borrows from the more conventional notion of citizenship. The origins of the word citi-zenship comes from someone who has an identity and a sense of belonging associated with a city. In western civilization, space (house, office, community, city, state) has always been correlated and associated with a sense of belonging and identity (house goes with home, office goes with professional identity, community with cultural, city with citizenship, state with nationhood).

Space however is often times a physical given, identity and our sense of belonging (or alienation) is always historically constructed. States are formed by proclamations; nations are borne, contested, and divided. Living in a physical community bounded by streets and byways is a right, citizenship; equality of citizenship is contested, fought for and often lost in struggles for power.

Throughout Western civilization, places such as the ancient Greek agora, the New England town hall, the local church, the coffeehouse, the village square, and even the street corner have been arenas for debate on public affairs and society. Out of thousands of such encounters, "public opinion" or dominant ideology are slowly formed and became the context in which politics and details of our daily life are framed. Although the public sphere never included everyone, and by itself did not determine the outcome of all parliamentary actions, it contributed to the spirit of dissent found in a healthy representative democracy.

Many of these public spaces remain, but they are no longer centers for political discussion and action. They have largely been replaced by television and other forms of media - forms that arguably isolate citizens from one another rather than bring them together.

There is an argument, which asserts that disembodied exchange of video, and text is not a substitute for face-to-face meeting - it has its own logic, its own ways of forming opinion. These attributes will powerfully affect the politics that emerge in our digital era. To understand how our notion of democracy will change - and I believe it will change radically - we need to understand how the Net differs from historical public spheres.

At its core, and we can debate much of this assertion and many of the assumptions, traditionally, a person's identity is defined by contact. Identity is rooted in the physical body. This stability forces individuals to be accountable for their positions and allows trust to be built up between people. It also limits discourse as we are limited by socially derived norms, rules and practices that privilege some and deny voice to others.

The Net, however, allows individuals to define their own identities and change them at will. A person might be an aging white male hippie one day, a teenage girl the next, an aboriginal activist a third. Life on the Screen as Shirley Turkle refers to this sociological reality is not consonant with forming a stable political community, as we have known it. Dissent on the Net does not lead to consensus: it creates the profusion of different views. Without embodied copresence, the charisma and status of individuals have no force. And yet, the ability to project power, privilege, to use anonymity and to celebrate and validate some and hurt and disparage others is very much part of the growing reality of Netizenship, the development of a sense of identity, a sense of belonging on the Net.

It is true, the conditions that encourage compromise the hallmark of the democratic political process, are lacking online. On the Net, since identities are mobile, dissent is encouraged, and "normal" status markers are absent, it is a very different social "space" from that of the public sphere.

We must remember that the Net is something entirely new, and its effects on democratic politics can not be predicted using historical precedent. The Internet threatens authority and the state (unmonitorable conversations). The Net mocks private property (the infinite reproducibility of information). It rejects hierarchy and flaunts moral propriety (the dissemination of pornography). We are sitting at a new family dining room table; one that vaguely looks familiar but in reality has many different features. Where do we begin our table manners? How do we begin our conversation about the table or our manners? We are engaged in collectively creating new voices, new norms, and new principles of discourse in creating Netizenship. Competing core values, between freedom of speech and entitlements of protected groups is just one of the many elements of our new contested terrain.

Posted by lsg8 at 12:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 19, 2005

Beyond Words -- Change and New Media in Higher Education

Stephanie Barish closed this year's 2005 New Media Consortium conference in Honolulu. Next year Cleveland hosts the NMC 2006 summer conference with Case, the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum are co-hosting the international gathering.

Stephanie's thesis was that now that we are in the digital era, image, moving image, sound, interactivity, mass distribution, and other advancements are readily available to the individual author. If these new dynamic media are, in fact, emerging to challenge the primacy of plain text in our daily communications, we are witnessing the first true communications revolution in more than five thousand years. If "reading," for instance, now includes "watching" and "hearing," "waiting," "responding," and often "writing," something truly has shifted in the foundation.

Her conclusion was that someone must step forward to inject the critical and practical skills needed by the individual to match this tectonic shift in the core. Are our institutions prepared to address the basic literacy needs of the 21st century, or will we leave the job to Hollywood?

The emergence of the innovative and facile higher education institution (or museum or library or any other 19th century institution) poised to address Barish's reality represents one of the most important questions for the 21st century University. Will incumbent institutional leaders be sufficiently forward thinking to "break" with what makes them great today and take a great leap forward? My sense is that 19th century German philosopher, sociologist, political economist Max Weber probably had it right when he insisted that transformational institutional change most often does not happen from those with entrenched authority and power. Rather, Weber's insight was that often times transformation that will have institutional impact happens at the margins of the organizational structure along with charismatic leadership. I will leave the question of institutional change for now (and perhaps find some time to come back to it at another time).

But, if we are to join Weber and Barish we might expect that the "surprising" place that we might see the "someone" step forward to inject the critical and practical skills needed by individuals to match this tectonic shift in the core will not happen by leadership in the core but rather at the margin. So, who might be the "someone?"

For the past year or so, an informal dialogue has been circulating over the internet and at various meetings about the appropriate nomenclature for those in the world of new media within universities, museums, libraries and the like. These are the agents with the mandate to take our institutions their practices, norms, and behaviors beyond "words."

Visionary Kristina Woolsey has recommended that we think of the class of innovators and change agents as "mediaists".

New vocabulary for the emerging specialist in new media integration and the human condition may well require a new language. There is only one evangelist for mediaist out there (is best I can tell). Multi-Mediaist Hillary Carlip is the creator, editor and host of the acclaimed literary site, FRESH YARN, the Online Salon for personal essays.

I decided to start playing with a taxonomy. I do not have any professional insight. So, I drew up a list of the ways in which what are now common professional categories evolved from often times medieval origins...

A professor is one who professes

A musician is one who plays music

An analyst analyzes

A specialist has a special vocation

A mechanic is one interfaces with machines

A player is one who plays an important role

A secretary is someone who once could hold a secret (a confidant)

Someone who is hauteur has an attitude. Perhaps more politic, a provocateur is someone who provokes.

There are probably lots of other etymological and linguist twists that help describe classifications of those who interface with a context, object, skill set, or knowledge base.

We can try and use the term media or new media or create new words like neumedia or noumedia or mediaute

Here is a list of what might be generated as a starting point in the conversation...

Media Neumedia Noumedia Mediaute

mediator neumediator noumediator mediautor
mediacian neumediacian noumediacian mediautician
mediayst neumediayst noumediayst mediautyst
mediaist neumediaist noumediast mediautist
mediaic neumediaic noumediaic mediautic
mediater neumediater noumediater mediauter
mediatary neumediatary noumediatary mediautary
mediateur neumediateur noumediateur mediauteur

The only word that is in the dictionary at present is mediator. While creating new language carries its own burden, I think a thought leadership piece on the general question of how we in the new media world move from the margins/periphery/edge of the received order of literacy, learning, and the wiring of the human brain into being provocateurs to challenge the received wisdom and perhaps speculation on the growing professionalization and mainstreaming of the new media role could help shape the emergence of the new category we are looking for.

Let me know if you have thoughts on who the "someone" is and what kind of language stimulates your imagination and sparks innovation.

Posted by lsg8 at 12:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 18, 2005

Bold, Audacious, and Ultra-Broadband

In the recent issue of Campus Technology, Mary Grush and I chatted about OneCleveland and the relationship between universities and their cities. A growing number of contacts around the world have asked about Case and its relationship to OneCleveland. This link might be helpful for those who stumble on it.

From the interview:

Mary Grush: About OneCleveland: When you began as VP for IT services and CIO at Case four years ago, did you already have thoughts of developing a city-wide or regional broadband network?

Lev: I was attracted to Case because of the remarkable coalescence of higher education, health care, cultural, and arts institutions in the city. As I was discussing the possibility of moving from California to Ohio, I outlined a stream-of-consciousness thought process about the way in which a great university can leverage its core competency in information technology to help other institutions like museums and hospitals evolve together into something new, exciting, and maybe not yet fully understood.

For the entire interview, click here.

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June 17, 2005

A Billion Internet Users -- Civic Engagement and Information Poverty

The telephone took close to 75 years to reach 50 million users worldwide, and television took 13 years. It took the internet only 4 years to reach the same plateau and now in its 13th year of popular existence, the Net's geometric growth now surpasses 1 billion Netizens.

According to US Census Data, network access has doubled since 1998 and now more than half of America's inner cities and nearly 60% of all Americans are wired to the Net. It took 45 years for 50% household adoption of telephones and nearly 20 years for televisions to reach half of American households. More than half our nation's libraries have broadband access and over 98% have some form of internet access. Indeed, the number one program at public libraries across America is Net access (more than book and film discussions, cultural performances, recreational activities, parenting or financial management information).

Cross nationally; while there is a high correlation between the level of economic development and Net use, countries like Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Estonia, India, South Korea and Taiwan all have well deserved reputations for deliberate national policies for broadband. The result for these countries and a handful of others is a cluster of emerging digital lions of the 21st century with greater numbers of netizens proportionate to their economic development.

What's the secret?

Who are the rising lions of netizenship in the US?

It may be slightly counter intuitive but in the US the size of the State's economy is not a good predictor of netizenship (r=.3). Interestingly enough, the strongest predictor of netizenship was the percentage of the state population with a post-graduate degree (ie. BA or higher)(r.4). In other words, States that invest and produce more college graduates (as a percentage of the total population) are those most likely to have connected citizens and in turn be poised to be the rising lions of the digital economy and society of the 21st century.

This week, Cleveland hosts a national gathering of community technology centers. Cleveland welcomes community technologists from around the country. When we look for coalitions to work together to make a difference in our communities sometimes the obvious pieces do not fall into place.

There is a long standing consensus that civic engagement is directly proportionate to the level of education of the citzenry along with intervening variables like the number of civic action groups, news outlets/sources, and political organizations.

Community technologists across the country and the university community need to be stronger allies in pursuit of a common goal. Case Western Reserve University is pleased to be able to host some of the activities of the CTC in collaboration with OneCleveland.

The more educated our communities the better positioned they are to taking ownership of their own futures. Let's continue to find ways of working together.

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