Other Side of the Divide
Technology for the Global Community
By Barry Tavlin
How often do you open your e-mail inbox
and groan at the onslaught of messages demanding your attention? What
if I told you that your ever-growing inbox is evidence of a significant
shift that is taking place in the world, and that you are a part of
it? And what if I told you that this shift is a critical reason why
we must bridge the digital divide and must strengthen community technology?
If you are like me - and like most of the people reading this article
- you have a load of messages waiting for you everyday, and the
number of messages keeps getting larger and larger. True, some of
the messages are spam, a growing mountain of useless advertising.
But not all of it is. A lot of the messages lately have reported
on events in Iraq or in Israel/Palestine, or in Washington, or in
LA or your local community.
Slowly, incrementally, almost without notice or mention, many of
us have grown accustomed to virtually instantaneous world-wide communications
of news and commentary; instead of just top-down news reporting
and governmental press announcements on TV and radio, we are also
receiving bottom-up information, from friends, like-minded people,
news reporters, list servers, local organizations, and just plain
folks from the four corners of the globe through email, the Web,
and community media.
The 2nd Superpower
The world changed in many ways after 9/11, and one of the most
significant ways was an increase in global organizing and global
consciousness. Within days of 9/11 there were 'spontaneous' memorial
ceremonies all over the world, and there were collections of photos
from all these ceremonies traversing the globe in email messages
and on web sites.
How did you feel when you saw those email messages? Did they fill
you with a sense of the compassion and community that was being
expressed the world over? In essence, what these people were saying
was that the attack wasn't an attack on 'them' (i.e. Americans),
but it was an attack on 'us' (i.e. brothers and sisters who happened
to be in New York or Washington that day).
Of course, President Bush tried to turn the whole incident into
an opportunity to promote "America First". But that's
not all that happened. People all over the world, increasingly tied
together through Internet communications, continued to share information
and organize synchronized events. This has resulted in millions
and millions of people who bring to life the old saying: 'Think
Globally and Act Locally'!
By the time the war against Iraq was launched, this force grew
and came to be called 'The 2nd Superpower', the biggest force in
the world challenging America's drive to war. And this '2nd Superpower'
was assembled, coordinated, galvanized, and inspired through the
use of email and the web.
Just look at how quickly the anti-war movement came together -
to mobilize like this before the war and invasion were launched
is historically unprecedented. Compare this to the first Gulf war,
where the protest movement was small and scattered. Compare this
to the Vietnam War, where the anti-war movement took years to build,
and where the anti-war movement in one country was still mostly
isolated from the movement in another country. Today things are
very different, and the stuff in your inbox is the proof of it;
it is one of the major weapons of the 2nd Superpower.
What does this have to do with the Digital Divide? Plenty! Underserved
communities have a very big role to play in this 2nd Superpower,
and to do it they need to be digitally connected. They need the
access and the skills to participate fully and to lend their energies
to help the 2nd superpower transform the world.
What does this have to do with Community Technology? Plenty! In
this era of Globalization our world is shrinking. Our local communities
exist in a context of intertwined communities around the world.
All our community development efforts impact and are impacted by
communities around the world. We have the communications technology
to help us see that, and we can use that technology to inform our
community technology efforts with the context of our global community.
Conveniently, there is a new form of self-expression that is growing
rapidly on the Web - the Weblog, or Blog. The Blog provides a cheap
(or free at places like http://www.blogspot.com)
and easy way for anyone with access to the Internet to establish
his or her own online journal with commentary on any topic. You
don't have to be a technical guru, you don't have to have your own
web site, and you don't have to pay for it.
Needless to say, Blogs have gotten very popular recently - they're
interesting, they're diverse, they're fun, and they foster discussion
and thought. In many ways, they help deliver on the original promise
of the World Wide Web. They help you become more than just a Web
browser - you can become an interactive participant in the discussion
of the topics of the day on the web.
Recently, upon the 10th anniversary of the Mosaic Internet Browser,
which grew into the Netscape Browser and helped trigger the explosive
growth of the Web, there was an interesting message posted to the
Digital Divide discussion list. In it the author bemoaned the fact
that the Mosaic browser rejected earlier design proposals that called
for the web experience to be more interactive, and instead settled
on a more passive browser experience. It was a very provocative
point, and today's Blogs take the browser a little closer to that
interactive, empowering vision.
What do Blogs have to do with the Digital Divide and Community
Technology? Plenty. These are powerful means of expression, and
members of underserved communities cannot participate in the discussion,
cannot express their viewpoints unless they have access to digital
Global Community Technology
We have a lot of work to do. The Digital Divide still exists. And
the 2nd Superpower was not strong enough to avert the recent war.
But it is young and getting stronger. And there are seeds of its
future growth in your inbox. Nourish them and spread them.
Barry Tavlin consults on
Internet technology and strategy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.