Archive for the 'Commons' Category

Digital Citizenship

There is a social construction online that we call a place to live and work, to be counted as its citizens, for lack of a better word. Karen Mossberg defines digital citizenship as “the ability to participate in society online.” The definition makes sense, but I need to make some qualifications. I will understand here not only a “society” but in the sense of participating also in a meta-society online. To participate means to have access and or Internet freedom for short. Ability means inclusion, (digital) human rights, and net neutrality.

But why speak of citizenship in reference to the Internet?  Cyberspace has become a part of our social lives, it is a component of it just as education, social security or civil rights are, and moreover, it “has the potential to benefit society as a whole, and facilitate the membership of individuals within society” (Mossberg). As a means of being able to have a wider participation it is a social right and a part of citizenship as a whole, a right of membership in society.  Digital citizenship puts the emphasis on the right of access to and skills for use of ICTs.

The basic idea of citizenship, the set of rights of membership in society, is to ensure that a people within a society has a legal framework for equality and justice. Citizenship is there to prevent exclusion in any of its forms: from political or civil rights, from voting rights or education. In the same manner, digital citizenship could be understood as a legal and regulatory framework to prevent digital exclusion: the fact that a large number of people are prevented from using ICTs because of economical, educational or social reasons. This is sometimes referred to as the “digital divide”.

“Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us”: Barlow proposes a Cyberspace where ethical self-regulation will guarantee a kind of freedom from government control.  But first of all, we will need the real-world laws and regulations that empower and give the people the rights within a society to be able to access this new world.

Then we can begin to explore what are the consequences of a digital citizenship for Barlow’s world.

“A political society is not, and cannot be, an association. We do not enter it voluntarily” (Rawls). We enter citizenship not by choice. It is a system of social cohesion and mandatory for all. Therefore we expect that the political framework of citizenship ensures equality, human rights, social cooperation and reduces exclusion.

Social cooperation is regarded as having the elements for regulating social conduct, ensuring the fair terms of cooperation and of rational advantage: “then we can say without pretense and fakery that citizens are indeed free and equal” (Rawls).

Mossberg asserts that “digital citizenship encourages […] social inclusion”. In the same way that citizenship is not a choice, digital citizenship should not be optional. It is not a “nice to have”. The social agent must be able to ensure his rational advantage and prevent being subject to digital exclusion.

The Internet and cyberspace has in many cases been understood just as a private business, as in e-commerce. Or as an elitist “world of the mind”, in the words of Barlow, that may be accessed only by the chosen few that are able to understand its uniqueness, and that is not subject government control. But this is not right. The Internet is a social tool and the lack of regulation creates exclusion, which in turn leads to an unjust society, the very opposite of all cyber-utopias, Barlow’s included.

Nature´s Metropolis

A book by William Cronon

Nature's metropolis : Chicago and the Great West

Nature’s metropolis : Chicago and the Great West

William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis is a history of Chicago. A city that emerged in the northern Midwest against considerable odds; but nevertheless achieved in a very short period of time a position of dominance in trade, in particular for lumber and agricultural products. Chicago revolutionized forever the way marketplaces (i.e. stock exchanges) worked. Later it also became a hub for the revolution in transportation and communication that marked the explosive industrial development of the 19th century. Chicago is a city created around a commercial idea, not out of any settlers’ necessity or government expansion project to the frontier land. It is a quintessential American city, as described by Whitman: “They shall fully enjoy materialism and the sight of products, they shall enjoy the sight of the beef, lumber, bread-stuffs, of Chicago the great city.”

Continue reading ‘Nature´s Metropolis’

Pervasive Social Production Networks

It is remarkable that the development of online collaboration, of social production networks and online communities, and of the New Commons itself, is happening in a backdrop of increased wariness with the perceived maladies of over-extended globalization, the surge in power of transnational corporations, the exclusion of large populations from participation in a world dominated by the unequal relation between technological have and have-nots. 

It seems to be a response by the global digital citizen that will not relinquish his capacity to choose the community, market or production network that he or she is willing to participate in.  The digital citizen that is not content with being forced to consume commercial software, institutional encyclopedias or mass media. 

In some sense it is the creation of a new socio-economic environment for production, integration and collaboration.  The idea may seem just another social Utopia, but the vitality of its emergence and the results to date point to the contrary.   Might the communitarian ideal be possible by pervasive social software?

“Ubiquitous Human Computing” (Zittrain) makes working independent of location, employer and the body itself.  Productive workers can be integrated into a loosely connected PSPN by virtue of residence in the Internet “cloud”.  New and very productive ways of linking people, computers and work are becoming reality.

The work performed in a PSPN is inherent to the community and goes mainly to increase the social capital and common goods of the community.  The advent of the PSPN has been declared a “shadow workforce” (Howe), a group of individuals outside the realm of markets and companies that perform work and are engaged in a productive process of their own making.  There is growing interest in markets and companies to be able to tap into this network of informally working individuals for profit.

Online social networks apparently obey neither market pricing rules nor corporate command.  Their rules are framed by collaboration, trust, common property and personal motivation.  Their social codex can be disturbed if changes in those rules are attempted, which can lead to a sort of “Tragedy of the Commons” (Harding): overuse and failure to generate reciprocity.  Their leading design principle seems to be cooperation, in some cases even altruism, as opposed to selfish (i.e. capitalist) economic interest, running counter the idea of the homo oeconomicus.

Online social networks and the PSPN are not systems that emerge out of pure chance and selfless attrition.  They are indeed economic systems in which motivations and gains can be studied and reproduced.  The communities have an important role in designing and implementing a working organization.  Their characteristics, policies and rules are varied and carried out in many different ways.


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