Technicity Times
    Issue 3• June 2003

The Other Side of the Divide

Community 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.


Blogs

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 technology.

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 btavlin@technicitytimes.com.

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