Net and Society Grab Bag

Here are some items that show how the internet is affecting society (or vice versa) which have caught my interest lately…

TOP OF THIS LIST: US E-government progress? Depends on what you mean by “progress.” A new report on e-government from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is striking for what it doesn’t address. It’s an extensive laundry list of actions and programs the US federal government has taken to improve citizens’ online access to government information, programs, and services.

Unfortunately, GAO says almost nothing about whether those efforts are making any difference to citizens – that is, whether they’re actually succeeding. Quite a suspicious absence.

…Hey, Wired News? CNet? Are you listening? We need some real journalism here! Even Information Week didn’t seem inclined in doing more than a rehashed press release on this. However, the Washington Times offered some interesting context. They reported that this year’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) showed a slight improvement in user approval of US e-government. Very slight: 1.3% over last year. Hmmmmm…

Meanwhile, over at Designing for Civil Society, David Wilcox considers what ideal e-government might look like.

Read the rest of this list…

  1. India’s first “e-literate district.” On Nov. 30, blogger Dina Mehta reported that Malappuram, India now boasts more than 600,000 people with at least basic knowledge of computers, including the internet. This is part of the Akshaya Project, a Kerala state government program. (Hey, talk about “e-government…”) I suspect that programs like this will play a large role in what the “develop” part of developing world will come to mean in the 21st century.
  2. Participation just isn’t on the mind map, Designing for Civil Society, Dec. 6. David Wilcox used the mind-mapping tool Novamind to explore this question: Why does a lot public participation fail? His conclusion: “The mindmapping exercise brought home to me that it may just be that participation is peripheral to the way most people lead their lives. They/we are mostly concerned with relationships – with friends, family, workmates, interest groups and so on. Public officials, politicans and their facilitator helpers are at the edge of vision, unless there is a big threat or opportunity….. new airport planned, neighbourhood renewal proposed, school threatened with closure. Then we get interested.” (Thanks to elearnspace for this link.)
  3. Toward a Literacy of Cooperation: Maybe this might change some people’s attitudes toard participation. This blog/wiki/webcast site is the online component of a course offered at Stanford University, January-March 2005. “Students and anyone anywhere interested in learning about the emerging interdisciplinary study of cooperation is welcome to participate in this group blog.” Howard Rheingold is one of the hosts. (Thanks to Nancy White of Full Circle Associates for this link.)
  4. Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software, by Clay Shirky, Nov. 5. Flame wars are a visible antithesis of cooperation. The chaos of flame wars actually makes more sense if you adjust the context. Excerpt: “Despite three decades of descriptions of flaming, it is often treated by designers as a mere side-effect, as if each eruption of a caps-lock-on argument was surprising or inexplicable. Flame wars are not surprising; they are one of the most reliable features of mailing list practice. …Although the environment in which a mailing list runs is computers, the environment in which a flame war runs is people.” (Thanks to Martin Terre Blanche for this link.)
  5. Hands up if you are a knowledge activist: ME! ME! ME! I’m serious, my new business cards list my title as Info-Provocateur. In this Dec. 3 Designing for Civil Society article, David Wilcox opines: “I for one would certainly value a new way of describing what I do. Many years ago I could say I was a newspaper journalist, which was always understood if not always applauded. Since then I done facilitation, organisational development, and consultancy in various nonprofit fields. Not nearly as sexy, and always a puzzle to my mother who would occasionally say ‘well dear, I’m sure it is all very worthwhile, but how can I tell people what you do these days?’ I’m not sure knowledge activist answers that question, but it may help in finding some kindred spirits.”
  6. Undoing the Industrial Revolution, by Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox, Nov. 22. Excerpt: “I do think the Internet can revive many of the pre-industrial era’s positive, but lost, aspects… These trends drive decentralization and reduce the advantages of being big… In the physical world, you win by being big… In the virtual world, you win by being good… Of course, we haven’t undone 200 years of history in the Internet’s single decade as a commercial environment. We are changing aspects of the human experience that have great inertia… These changes can easily take 30 or 40 years, but the eventual outcome will be dramatic.” (Thanks to Jack Vinson for this link.)
  7. Walter Ong and the problem of writing about LambdaMOO, Nov. 30, by Sue Thomas, trAce Online Writing Centre. Excerpt: “The wired experience is so personally intense and intellectually complex that it is impossible to convey exactly how it is for each of us as we venture into that very idiosyncratic negotiation between the real and virtual. …I was frustrated by this because the uninitiated are the very people to whom I want to explain this new connectedness yet I could find no way to make it comprehensible.” (Thanks to Nancy White of Full Circle Associates for this link.)
  8. Collaborative Digital Archive of Anti Apartheid Periodicals: One thing I love about the internet is not just how it documents the future, but how it preserves the past – especially uncomfortable details about the past. Peruse this collections from Digital Imaging South Africa (DISA) to get a sense of what it was like to be anti-apartheid well before that was fashionable or accepted. (Thanks to Martin Terre Blanche for this link.)