[iDC] Re: city as social network

Eugenio Tisselli cubo23 at motorhueso.net
Mon Jul 9 05:24:00 EDT 2007

Hi Eric,

I would like to give my opinion on your latest post:

> Can there be "real" anti-corporate dialogue on YouTube simply because
> the conversation is being hosted in the "master's house?"  Or is
> there a difference that has to be drawn between government and
> corporate control of civic participation?

I believe that it is increasingly difficult to make a clear  
distinction between governments and large corporations. At least in  
terms of their capacities of exercising power and "fabricating  
realities" (as Lucas said). It seems that large corporations have a  
firmer grasp and control over some areas of the "res publica" than  
governments, especially those areas that we call "communication" or  

> This would seem to
> reverberate with Daniel Solove's definition of privacy in his book
> The Digital Person.  He suggests that privacy concerns that emerge in
> contemporary digital culture are not simply a matter of total
> surveillance by a malevolent overseer; instead, they are a matter of
> data disclosure to “objective” machines.  Each user builds for
> herself a “digital dossier,” personal data connected to an IP address
> or username, that can easily be recalled by a machine.  For instance,
> Amazon’s “recommend” feature, or YouTube’s personal statistics or
> private channels, or even automatic forms, are silently customized
> through everyday use.  In essence, the machine is watching our every
> move, recording it and then playing it back for us.  Solove argues
> that instead of looking to Orwell’s 1984 as a descriptive metaphor
> for digital surveillance, it is more accurate to look to Kafka’s The
> Trial.  We are being watched, but by whom and for what reason is
> unclear, even for those doing the watching.  If, in fact, privacy is
> no longer a matter of fortifying one's person, but controlling the
> mechanisms by which machine's understand persons, than how can
> "responsible" governments support citizen privacy while taking
> advantage of new digital tools?

I think that another issue that breeds indifference, rather than  
concern, is the potential for obsolence. Many times we have seen (at  
least in Latin America) Big Government Programs that promise to listen  
to the citizen's needs and provide the right answers. Almost never  
have we seen the results. A great number of citizens simply don't  
believe in governments anymore, so they tend to build their own  
organizations, for better or for worse. Governments have to prove  
that, after listening, they can also act.

> So let me direct this to a project in which I am currently engaged.
> I am working with the City of Boston to develop "progressive"
> mechanisms for participation using Web. 2.0 technologies.  I am not
> the government, but I am working with the government.  And we have
> drafted the following objectives for the project - currently entitled
> Hub2:
>     1. Hub2 asks Boston’s residents and institutions, through the use
> of social media technologies, to consider how community, civic
> engagement, and public space function in their neighborhoods.
>     2. Hub2 seeks to visualize those functions, using online virtual
> worlds and web-based social media, as a means of creating an active,
> community-driven representation of the City of Boston.
>     3. Hub2 seeks to establish a reproducible methodology, that is
> participatory and inclusive, for the design and implementation of
> city-sponsored social media platforms and virtual representations.

Sounds great, but what is the engagement of the Government of Boston?  
Of course, it is very positive to visualize, to build collaborative  
maps (narrative, goegraphical or otherwise), to build media  
platforms... but that's not the role of a Government, I think. The  
government shouldn't just foster communication, it also needs to take  
action. So, for example, if you build a government-sponsored media  
platform for the disabled people in Boston, I think you should also  
establish a solid structure (on the City Hall-side) that can react to  
the needs axpressed by the communitity. If there's a crack on the  
sidewalk, the crew should go out and fix it. Otherwise, things just  
fall on the "spectacular" side.
Moreover, I think that such a communication channel would be more  
empowering (for the people, not the government) if it were  
independent. How much of the neutrality is lost when the people "in  
the House" pay the bills? How provocative can you be with your demands  
(if you want to be "outisde")?

> So what are the limits of power?  The results of this work will
> surely be used to monitor populations?  It will also be used to give
> voices to populations previously denied the privileges of
> expression.  For me the question is not whether governments should
> use the technology, but how governments should use it.  And what
> safeguards and affordances communities should fight for.

A political power, I believe, should listen and act, but not control  
the communication. Even if the government's intentions are fair, their  
sole position raises suspicions: will they monitor? The privilege of  
expression is guaranteed (not given) by governments. They only have to  
safeguard that this privilege is accessible to all. AND (I'm repeating  
a lot, I know) listen and take action.

But in the end, we get down to money. How to economically sustain  
community media? I don't have the answer, and probably there are as  
many answers as communitites. But I am sure that the government  
wouldn't need to sponsor community media if the ICT corporations  
lowered their prices for all. As a consumer, I suspect that they can  
actually be lowered in such a way that probably every citizen in the  
western countries could afford to maintain a mobile broadcasting  
platform (for example...)


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