JD’s New Media Musings

J.D. Lasica is a veteran journalist who writes frequently about the impact of emerging technologies on our culture. He is currently completing a book for John Wiley & Sons on the digital media revolution. 

JD covers a wide range of issues around culture, technology and convergence.  He has an amazing set of links at his site.  Check it out.

Community Media: Moving to Confront an IP-Enable World

Just returned from the ACM conference in Tampa. Presented on the Convergence, Emergence & Empowerment panel with Dirk Konig, Nettrice Gaskins, and Fred Johnson. Hope that the powerpoints will be posted soon. Community Media folks seemed eager to explore the possiblities of the online file sharing environ. Passed out lots of 10speed and cbcmedia cards.

Seems like the future of an IP-enabled world was the big buzz and all the CMC movement seems poised to move forward. Jeff Chester’s opening pre-conference panel “Shaping our Digital Destiny” addressed many of the issues facing communities in a conglomerized world dominated by cable interests. Andrew Afflbach from Columbia Telecommunications Corporation presented some great technology vision, Nick Miller policy, and Inja Coates (MediaTank) an achtivist on the ground perspective.

A panel entitled Caution: Convergence Ahead also debated where these technologies were talking folks. Fred Cohn, Deputy Manager from the City of Monterey presented the fantastic gigabit ethernet I=Net and Cora Wilson from NATOA painted the picture for PEG in the coming years.

Clearly the convergence at all levels (tech innnovation, policy, and program)is starting to shake itself out. Clearly community media folks are starting to think through what these issues mean for them. The question will be what will happen as content becomes less centrally controlled and users interact in with content in individualized ways. What does this mean for public space, interests and ideas.

Thanks to Jason Daniels for giving me a really good metaphor for all of this. Think of all of this stuff as a chess board. There are many players, many strategies and many possible ways to victory. Community Media is a rook = pretty powerful at moving in certain directions. Community Tech a bishop = also powerful for moving in complementary directions. By combining these two we get a queen – the most powerful piece on the board. With this power, we can be ready and flexible for any possible opposition or strategy and our chances for winning much stronger. Thanks Jason!!!!

Open Source, Grassroots Control, Building Communities of Trust

Across the CTCNet and AFCN member listservs today, Michael Miranda jumpstarted a couple of discussions. One was about how communities choose technology solutions to individual, organizational, and public spaces. In particular, the decision for the state of Illinois to implement SimDesk as an app serving the information needs for citizens. The other discussion focussed on Open Source and the GPL as a philosophical choice to maintain local control and to combat the potential for communities to be closed out.

The abstract below is from “Managing the Boundary of an ‘Open’ Project” look at how social cohesion occurs in an anarchic / decentralized system.

Theorists have speculated how open source software projects with porous boundaries and shifting and indeterminate membership develop code in an open and public environment. This research uses a multi-method approach to understand how one community managed open source software project, Debian, develops a membership process. We examine the project’s face-to-face social network during a five-year period (1997-2002)to see how changes in the social structure affect the evolution of membership mechanisms and the determination of gatekeepers. While the amount and importance of a contributor’s work increases the probability that a contributor will become a gatekeeper, those more central in the social network are more likely to become gatekeepers and thus influence the membership process. A greater understanding of the mechanisms open projects use to manage their boundaries has critical implications for knowledge producing communities operating in pluralistic, open and distributed environments. It also contributes to our theoretical understanding of how network structures help shape the construction of new social orders.

Thinking Chaordically: The future of Communities and Technology was the foundation of a closing plenary delivered by Andrew Cohill at a CTCNet Conference in San Diego in 1998 (??). Here is a brief excerpt:

Dee Hock, the former CEO or VISA, the multinational credit card company, coined the term chaordic alliance. A combination of the words chaos and order, Hock’s vision is to creat a new organization that is based not on traditional, hierarchical, topdown decision-making, but rather on shared purpose and consensus.

A chaordic alliance does not rely on heroic leadership to make decisions (and having the organization blindly follow), but rather the alliance does only those things that all the partners agree to in advance–that is, the organization initiates actions and activities only when all members of the alliance agree. This is a fundamentally different approach that discards the I win–you lose antagonism for a collaborative model based on I win–you win. Consensus is most likley to be reached when all parties find something of value in the outcome.

Other thinking from Cohill:
Communities, Technology and Governance: A Vision for the Future

Here is another interesting website in this realm:
The Art of Chaordic Leadership

Chaordic Commons

Controlling Ideas Through Copyright

What happens when ideas (the currency of cultural grow) get controlled to such an extent that one is uable to express thought or even build a body of critical work. Below is a snippet The Guardian which deals with the art world, but could easily be talking about any mainstream media, corporate image, etc:

An interesting result of the growing power of the market is that artists and their dealers are looking for ways, through copyright law, to con trol what is written or broadcast about the work, so as to prevent critics who might feel less than prostrate admiration for it from saying anything about it at all. On TV, if you can’t show, you can’t tell. I have seen quite a lot of this in recent years; it is here to stay, and getting worse. Sometimes the results look merely silly, as when the American conceptual artist Mel Bochner, whose work (consisting of vaguely related words printed in capitals on canvas in various tasteful colours) we filmed in the last Whitney Biennial in New York, waited until a few days before broadcast to announce, through his agent, that he “did not wish to participate” in our film. Never mind.

And later

I think the drift of such examples (and there are plenty of others) is clear enough. The art world is now so swollen with currency and the vanity of inflated reputation that it is taking on some of the less creditable aspects of showbiz. Hollywood doesn’t want critics, it wants PR folk and profile-writers. Showbiz controls journalism by controlling access. The art world hopes to do the same, though on a more piddly level. No other domain of culture would try this one on. No publisher, fearing that an unfavourable review, would attempt to stop a book critic quoting from some novel. No producer would make a guarantee of innocuousness the price of a critic’s ticket to the theatre. It just wouldn’t happen. But in art, it can. And since it can, as Bill Clinton remarked in another context, it does.

Public Sphere, Digital Commons, Information Society

These concepts are one foundation / pillar to this work. Some references:

Slashdot and the Public Sphere

The Public Sphere Project (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility)

CyberDemocracy: Internet and the Public Sphere

Habermas, the Public Sphere, and Democracy: A Critical Intervention

Vermont Media & Democracy Conference – 6/18/04

Attended the June 18th Vermont Media & Democracy Conference in Burlington, VT a couple of weeks ago. Jeff Chester from the Center for Digital Democracy gave the keynote. These are my notes from his comments:

the cable / telecomm industry is pushing forward with aggressive, commercialized strategies and community communication folks should be aware of this

There is still space for grassroots communities to define new methods especially with broadband and wifi, but the space is closing down. VT is clearly leading others in their statewide telecomm polices. Important to follow the development of the architecture of new communication services, infrastructure, etc – make sure we control capacity, have access, and challenge the commercial / business plan model of these industries. We need to advocate for public space.

These entities are defining the architecture. Some commercial sites to check out (they are defining next wave of cable technology use):
www.nds.com (Rupert Murdoch Interactive)

Should be aware that FCC has regulated cable in such a manner that they are not obliged to be common carriers. Once telcos get fiber in the ground, they too have had this obligation waived. This means that broadband content will be controlled by those who own the pipes and they can manipulate access to content and services in ways that meet their commercial needs. They will control and manage the traffic.

So when communities go up for refranchise, they should demand open access to all resources (video servers, bandwidth, Electronic Program Guide, software that controls operations, etc.). And communities should fight any technology that consolidates control and denies public services. San Jose, CA is doing just this – Fiber For Our Future (www.tricitybroadband.com )

Emergence, Convergence and Empowerment: Media Cultural and Global Issues

Check out the above webspace described as:

Converging media empowerment strategies, aesthetics and development activities are showing up from divergent places or sites around the globe. In some cases, entirely new media forms of expression and delivery are evolving from technology centers, media arts centers and cable access centers independently and simultaneously. This web site and workshops are intended to focus on new media developments from the standpoint of social and cultural practices rather than simply technology. It provides news of efforts internationally by ICTs [Community Technology Centers, Community Media Centers, Telecenters, and Indymedia Centers etc.] to act as agents of progressive social change by organizing or supporting “local” actors — neighborhoods, grassroots groups, regions and communities – in their efforts to “jump the scales” of local politics and transcend political borders. To move between the local and the global, to gain voice and make connections with other “local” actors who share similar or complementary objectives and political projects. Finally it will serve as a primer for people trying to sort out the crazy salad of acronyms now appearing — ICTs, CMCs, CTCs, MMC, IMCs, PACs ………

Techology – Mirror or Sword?

Thanks to Dirk Konig at the Grand Rapids Community Media Center for bringing this to my attention.

During the 2003 meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society, UN Secretary-General delivered the addressed linked above to the gathering of government, business and civil sector representatives.

In speaking about the emerging information society, Annan stressed the power of technologies to “advance the cause of freedom and democracy, vehicles with which to propagate knowledge and understanding.” Yet he also spoke about the various divides that still exist (technological, content, gender, commercial) and the potential of the various sectors to create “an open, inclusive information society”.

Yet the most powerful part of Annan’s delivery was this:

Yet even as we talk about the power of technology, let us remember who is in charge. While technology shapes the future, it is people who shape technology, and decide what it can and should be used for.

So let us embrace these new technologies. But let us recognize that we are embarked on an endeavour that transcends technology. Building an open, empowering information society is a social, economic and ultimately political challenge.

For some theoretical thinking in these directions these two essays can provide some grounding:

Bertoldt Brecht – “Radio as an Apparatus of Communication” – http://www.tonisant.com/class/2001/fall/brechtradio.htm

Hans Mangus Enzenberger – “Constituents of a Theory of the Media” – http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1567

For more writing on WSIS look here and some small reflectiosn from me here.

Blogs & Public Discourse

In searching for information on Michael Moore’s Farhenheit 9/11, I came across a number of blogs discussing the power of this film. Clearly I’ve just entered the realm of blogging and am starting to see how these spaces are the new town square. This is where public sphere, public discourse is happening.

The Boston Globe published:

Whether this is a useful addition to the political process is subject to question. But the most fervent blog proponents have been talking like apostles. Blogs, they predict, are harbingers of a new, interactive culture that will change the way democracy works, turning voters into active participants rather than passive consumers, limiting the traditional media’s role as gatekeeper, and giving the rank-and-file voter unparalleled influence.

It will be interesting once the power of these spaces are understood, what regulatory and corporate control will find to squelch this “speech”.

FCC Commission Michael Cops (the lone voice fighting to keep our communication structures open), wrote this recently in the Mercury Sun News:

The Internet was designed to defeat government or business control and to thwart discrimination against users, ideas or technologies. Intelligence and control were consciously placed at the ends of a non-discriminatory network. Anyone could access the Internet, with any kind of computer, for any type of application, and read or say pretty much what they wanted.

Later in the article he writes:

Think about what could happen if your broadband provider could discriminate. It could decide which news sources or political sites you could view. It could prevent you from using children’s Internet filtering technology that it didn’t sell or that filtered out its own Web sites. It could prevent you from using spam-jamming programs to block its spam. It could impose restrictions on the use of virtual private networks by telecommuters and small businesses to keep them as paying customers of the public network. It could limit access to streaming video to protect its core content business. Sound far-fetched? It’s already beginning to happen.

This Internet may be dying. At the behest of powerful interests, the FCC is buying into a warped vision that open networks should be replaced by closed networks and that the FCC should excuse broadband providers from longstanding non-discrimination requirements.

For academic look at blogs visit In the Blogshere