Communications + Community = ???

Here is a piece I wrote in the July 2005 issue of inFOCUS

So what does it mean to use the tools of mass
communication (television, radio, and the Internet) within
a community context? What happens when the commercial
push of profit and advertising are not the dictators of
what gets shown? Is community television (or radio)
different than public television (or radio)? How does the
vast openness of the Internet get focused and used so it
serves a common good and not just individual pleasure?
As I enter new work, both at LTC and at the UMass-Lowell,
these are the questions that keep bubbling up in my mind.

Places like LTC are unique. There are very few spaces
in our current landscape where powerful resources are put
into the hands of the average citizen. These resources
are given freely. The use is with no-strings attached. The
only requests are to share and respect the rights and safety
of others. Unlike commercial television (or even public
television), the information and content produced must
serve no other master than the expressive mind of the
creator. Dollars and political agendas do not determine
what gets cablecast. Rather a system of shared use
amongst a range of individual interests prevails. An
electronic commons is the gift we have been given.
Amazing to think that a system where significant funding
comes from a private interest (the cable company) and
sanctioned by the public (the local government), community
television is beholden to neither but exists to serve and
be used by you, the community. It is yours to use as you
see fit and with the hope that you will use it well.

As LTC’s interests in online communities begin to gel
around projects like the DigitalBicycle, it is important for
us to think through how these technologies will serve the
community here and elsewhere. Will local communities
have the ability to determine how these systems will be
used? Is a culture of sharing what is produced rewarded
Will commercialism be resisted? Are all welcome to participate?
These are the questions we must ask to ensure that community
is preserved.

And what a dream it would be if all of our community
information and communication resources were put toward that
ideal of creating an information and communication commons.
If we as a community demanded more from our media than
entertainment as means to sell us more stuff. A community
communication system would enrich us. It would reflect who we
are as a community. It would allow us to discuss and share
important stories. It would tell us where we have been and
where we are going. It would be accountable to us (not the
politicians, not the corporations, not the advertisers) . us, the

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