TEDxTbilisi – Camilla Hawthorne – Civil Society Rebooted

TEDxTbilisi – Camilla Hawthorne – Civil Society Rebooted

the printing press was invented in 1444 five centuries ago the first radio stations began broadcasting in 1920 almost a hundred years ago in the United States network television program didn't even begin until 1948 almost 60 years ago the worldwide web was invented in 1990 and the mid-90s saw the emergence of the first online social communities as we'd recognize them today does anyone remember geo cities Google came around in 1998 Friendster in 2002 2003 brought us MySpace and Facebook opened to the general public in 2006 not even six years ago the pace of change is happening more and more quickly as you can see in this chart here we're seeing exponential growth not linear growth that means that there was more change and more development in the last year than there was in the past ten years or the past 100 years or the past 10,000 years but my point isn't to bore you with a history lesson I just want to put some things into their proper historical context because you see as a species we've had generations centuries even to adapt to new technologies like the printed word radio television and in the grand scheme of things the web is really really new with revolution sweeping the Middle East and Occupy protests sprouting up around the world and a general sense that things are changing a lot of commentators have been quick to make really sweeping judgments about the significance or lack of significance that the web has in all of these please raise your hand if you recognize any of these statements you can tweet a revolution but you can't tweet political transition online petitions are nothing more than slacktivism or slacker activism the web is making us apathetic we just sit at home behind our computers without actually interacting with anyone so I used to run a blog called scary computers where I kept track of all the ways journalists and researchers and scientists predicted that the web would destroy our ability to learn disrupt our relationships generally shake up the foundations of our humanity but what I found was that in starting to keep track of all of these stories I realized that our fear of the web really wasn't anything new and that we've been collectively stressing out about the impact of new technology for centuries let's start with the Telegraph when US President Lyndon Johnson signed the public broadcasting law in 1967 he made a speech he made some very forward-thinking statements about new media technology and I think he even predicted the emergence of something like the web as a tool for learning and discovery but he also knew that he'd have some critics and so he looked back to the 1800s when the telegraph was invented in 1844 he said when Henry Thoreau first learned of mr. Morse's Telegraph he made a sour comment about the race for faster and faster communication per chance he said the first news that will come leaking through the broad flapping American ear is that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough now to me this sounds a lot like the Twitter bashing that we hear on a daily basis in the news but what about the telephone according to tech writer Nick Bilton when the telephone was invented there was a headline on the front of the New York Times that said people will never leave their homes again and when the phonograph came out there was another great headline blessed be the boy of the future who never has to learn how to read but today I want to talk about civil society we're still negotiating our relationship with the web and it's changing along with us but still I think there are some pretty exciting developments of course this is not to say that the web is a cure-all frankly that's a bit of a ridiculous argument to make in fact a couple months ago a friend of mine sent me an article where a reporter argued that while tools like Twitter and Facebook may have helped to topple dictators in the Middle East look at those countries now they have yet to transition into stable representative democracies therefore the web can't do anything but here's the thing we're talking about tools they're very powerful tools but there are tools nonetheless they can be used for good or for bad they can be used to liberate or press they can be used effectively or they can be used entirely and effectively but we're at an important point in history where we're just beginning to understand the potential of these new tools and we're experimenting some of these experiments are going to fail and others are going to succeed but it's all part of a larger learning process still I think there are a few areas where we're going to see these tools help us accomplish some pretty remarkable things let's start with transnational connections some of you might recognize this graph it was developed by a really smart Facebook intern in 2010 and it shows Facebook friendships mapped out over the globe now what you can see here is that most of the connections are local the thickest lines are between people who are geographically close to each other and that makes sense we know our neighbors but look at these others thinner lines they're the ones that are wisping out across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans they're tying together entire continents like Europe and Africa and they're uniting distant far-flung countries I'd argue that prior to tools like Facebook or Skype that made this kind of trend national communication accessible fast and cheap would have been very very difficult to maintain a lot of these relationships but let me give you an example from my own experience my mother came to the United States from Italy in the 1970s she was the only one of her family to leave Italy now at that time she didn't go home for over a year if she was lucky she called home maybe once a month but international phone calls were very expensive fast forward 30 years her nieces and nephews are on Facebook her sisters used Skype now she can communicate with her family every day and this has completely transformed her relationship with her home country even though it's over 10,000 kilometres away now as the child of an immigrant and someone with family spread across more countries than I can keep track of watching these changes has been nothing short of incredible and it's actually what inspired me to enter this field of new media next there's the proliferation of public spaces online for discussion now many internet skeptics take issue with a utopian vision of the web as a place where people from all backgrounds all walks of life can gather together and discuss the issues of the day in a civilized manner instead they worry about this concept of the filter bubble that we will begin to segregate ourselves into very small online communities that are defined by ideology that we risk losing the opportunity to expose ourselves to new ideas well of course it's important to keep in mind that many of us already read newspapers and watch television channels that adhere to our worldview and of course we have a natural tendency to associate ourselves with people who share our interests and our values but still some recent studies are actually starting to poke holes in this idea of the filter bubble in fact a 2011 study by the Pew Center found that the average Internet users network is more diverse than those who don't use the Internet so I think there's still some finally I think that we're going to start seeing a blurring of the lines between the public and officials I come from a journalism background my job is actually to help journalists from places like Georgia to Tajikistan learn how to use the web and social media to connect with audiences and in this field we like to talk about the blurring of the boundaries between content creators in this case journalists and content consumers or the audience this old model of broadcast journalism where you have a stately usually male broadcaster who sits behind a microphone and tells you the news it's dying it's being replaced by something much more participatory and collaborative and dynamic everything from crowdsourcing to social media is really changing the practice of journalism and I think that something similar is going to happen with leadership and government in international relations theory there's a concept called the disaggregated state essentially that authority is no longer concentrated in the nation-state but that it's being diluted and it's being spread around among things like nongovernmental organizations and bodies like the United Nations the web might help to accelerate this process now of course it's important to remember that the same tools that can be used to increase political participation can also be used to clamp down on it we have to look no further than a country like Iran which in the last few days has seen some of the worst internet censorship in recent years but are there any examples of positive changes the Obama administration recently launched an online petition website called We the People the idea behind it was to give activists more direct access to the administration and here's how it works anyone who is 13 years or older can submit a petition online if it reaches a certain threshold right now it's about 25,000 people in 30 days someone from the administration will review the proposal and issue an official statement but perhaps most famously the government of Iceland actually did decided to open the process of drafting a new constitution to the internet crowd using a variety of collaborative online tools to give ordinary citizens the ability to comment on drafts of the Constitution and even offer up their own proposals now of course a big question remains even if people have the opportunity for increased participation will they actually get involved I'm surprised that this old stereotype of the blogger persists I'm sure many of you recognize it it's the guy who sits in his pajamas in his mom's basement in the dark completely disconnected from reality fortunately that same Pew study I cited earlier found that crude controlling for demographics the average Internet user but Facebook users in particular are more politically involved than their peers so when someone tells you that Twitter can't topple a government they're right but frankly that's obvious what's more important is that citizens now have more tools at their disposal to organize quickly spread ideas and make their voices heard but in order for that to happen a lot of other things have to come along first for one we need to address the digital divide these tools are going to be meaningless of huge swaths of the world's population don't have access either because of infrastructural barriers cost or oppressive governments and we need to make media literacy a major priority it's no coincidence that the country crowdsourcing its constitution Iceland also has one of the world's most computer savvy populations still despite all of these challenges I'm pretty certain that things are going to be ok I'd like to quote Johnson one more time we may have skeptics on occasion but I don't want you to be one of those skeptics I think that we have important things to say to each other and I think that we have the wisdom to match our technical genius but there's one more thing I want to add we need to actively mobilize that wisdom to make sure that what emerges from these new technologies is democratic that it's fair and that it's open thank you

4 thoughts on “TEDxTbilisi – Camilla Hawthorne – Civil Society Rebooted

  1. she is such an amazing presenter WOW. I would love to listen to her just for fun đŸ™‚ its the TRUTH!!!!

  2. Thank you for the learning opportunity you offered. A good review on the history of mass media and how the internet has changed the way that politics and society work.

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