Mini observations on digital civil society as we’re living it right now

I’m finding it difficult to focus and track time. From what I gather, so are many others. These are (simultaneously) problems of the fortunate, signs of grief, life-altering though not threatening, and opportunities.

These days I’m not just writing and teaching about digital civil society, I’m watching as people all around me come to realize they’re living it everyday. Some things I’m seeing –

Video conferencing is rapidly morphing into distributed broadcasting – I’ve attended hosted interviews with authors, a discussion on public policy among African American scholars, a comedy show, and a city council meeting – all essentially broadcast on video conferencing software. Some were free, some were paid. All were more interactive (thanks to hosts, moderators, and chat functions) than simply watching television. Some of them used several screens (the broadcast, the chat function, social media) incredibly well – incorporating audience questions, weaving social media comments into the chat and responses from the panelists back out into social media spaces. Some foundations are getting into the act. I’m sure nonprofits are doing the same.

Teaching via video conferencing allows me to connect across classes, schools, and disciplines. I’ve taught two classes simultaneously via one video call. I’m sitting in on seminars at universities in other countries. Doing this is one thing; doing it well is another.

Video conference virtual backgrounds are the new protest “banner.” See this from Stanford faculty senate meeting (Purple backgrounds were demands to pay contract workers)

My email inbox and snail mail inbox look like December – fundraising appeals are flooding in – some from nonprofit organizations and as many from bookstores, restaurants, cafes, and other local businesses (the ones that were supposed to get the Congressional money – which seems to be going mostly…elsewhere). Donation requests from commercial companies – please take note of this.

There is no bottom to how data-sucking companies will use this pandemic for their own ends – Palantir has been awarded federal contact tracing contracts, Facebook is making “grants” that claim all the “grantees” data, and “contact tracing” apps are a scourge of this scourge.

Meaningful community organizing is really hard under shelter-in-place conditions. Governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to ban gatherings. How we come together for political and civic action during and after this is of critical importance – and being invented in real time now. It’s not just about protest and organizing – it’s all of civic and political gathering. Micah Sifry is thinking about this; we’re working on it the DCSL; join us.

There’s hope in human networks of care. 

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