New Community Networks

Wired for Change

Addison-Wesley, 1996

Douglas Schuler

 

 

Chapter 2

 

CONVIVIALITY AND CULTURE

People are looking for community in all the wrong places. It's not goodwill and like-mindedness, it's daily experience in workplaces and neighborhoods and churches and civic groups.

  Francis Moore Lappé (Krasny, 1994)

Members of Florentine choral societies participate because they like to sing, not because their participation strengthens the Tuscan social fabric. But it does.

  Robert Putnam (1993)



THREADS OF COMMUNITY

"Conviviality and culture" might be the most important core value of the new community. Although conviviality is often viewed as being synonymous with the welcoming and cozy nature of the archetypal neighborhood tavern, its meaning embraces much more. Conviviality-"together with living"-embodies the idea that people are part of a greater association. It suggests that people derive strength and meaning through living together, not in the narrow sense of residing in the same place or "cohabiting" but by actually living together-working, playing, eating, communicating, and being together. Conviviality is something to which people make contributions, and at times, from which they take comfort. Conviviality includes joyousness and fun, but it is much more than that-it encompasses all aspects of life. A funeral or memorial service, for example, can help renew and strengthen community bonds, while reminding us of the universality and impermanence of life.

"Culture" also has popular connotations; it is vaguely reminiscent of opera, ballet, and old dark oil paintings. It also refers to more approachable (and affordable) elements of living. It need not be the exclusive domain of the wealthy or "cultured" classes. Culture is a thread running through society that removes people from their everyday existence while simultaneously placing them firmly in the universality of everyday existence. Culture is music, craft, dance, art, ritual, theater, and play. It provides texture and pattern-and meaning-to human existence.

In this chapter we'll discuss a wide range of ways to which community networks have and are being used to support conviviality and culture in the community.

Bowling Alone and the Decline of Social Capital

Society would run more smoothly if everybody cooperated better with each other and, in fact, societies in which people cooperate do run more smoothly and more equitably than those where people are less willing or able to work together. Why is it that some societies are more cooperative than others? Social scientists from many disciplines are beginning to look at a concept that they call social capital, which is analogous to other types of capital such as physical capital or human capital. According to Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, social capital "refers to features of social organization, such as networks, norms, and trust" (1993).

Social capital, like other concepts from the social sciences (or, for that matter, from our everyday discussions of social traits and behavior), is not a precise concept like weight, length or like other terms derived from the physical sciences. Yet, however imprecise the term, it is still possible to come to some conclusions based on various indicators that reflect some aspect of social capital. As it turns out, much of this analysis has been going on for the last 50 years or so. Researchers have collected data on attitudes, patterns of political participation, and organizational membership even though they were not explicitly interested in measuring social capital itself.

The measurements are now in-at least for the United States-and they almost uniformly indicate the same trend: a steady erosion of social capital (Putnam, 1995). To catalog all this evidence would be boring and depressing, but a quick glance would be useful as well as convincing. For starters, all types of political participation from party membership and campaigning to serving on a committee and voting are decreasing. Membership in associations is also down; PTA membership has dropped over 40 percent since 1964, while membership in church groups, unions, League of Women Voters, Boy Scouts, Red Cross, Lions, Elks, and Jaycees is also down. In a seemingly whimsical but nevertheless revealing indicator, Putnam cites the decrease in league bowling and the upsurge in the number of people who are doing their bowling alone. Concomitant with the statistical evidence is evidence from questionnaires that sample values and attitudes. For example, the number of people that said "that most people can be trusted" fell by more than a third since 1960.

To what changes can we ascribe these declines in social capital? Putnam discusses several possible factors including American's penchant to change residences (the "repotting" hypothesis) and womens' movement from the home into paid employment outside the home. Although joining the workforce is generally a matter of economic survival, women had previously played a larger role in civic engagement in the community. Membership in some organizations like the PTA, the League of Women Voters, and the Red Cross has been hit particularly hard in recent years. Putnam also reasons that recent demographic changes may also play a part, citing the decline in the number of marriages, the decline in the number of children, and the increased number of divorces. Although not mentioned specifically by Putnam, the "free time" of an employed American is declining. There is little time for anything but work or home life. Economist Juliet Schor has documented this "unexpected" development quite dramatically in her The Overworked American (1991). Community development takes time, and time, for a number of reasons, is becoming a scarce commodity.

Putnam also names several changes in the economic context including "the replacement of community-based enterprises by outposts of distant multinational firms" as additional likely culprits. Putnam's final hypothesis —and one that is particularly relevant here —is the "technological transformation of leisure." Putnam suspects that "technological trends are radically privatizing or individualizing our use of leisure time and thus disrupting many opportunities for social-capital formation." In other words, if people spend all their time watching television (or surfing the web), they'll have little time to contribute to the web of community life.

 

THE SOCIAL ATMOSPHERE

On a stroll through our neighborhood last year, we came upon an unfamiliar sight, a large plywood sign in somebody's front yard, hand painted with the words:

When I moved to Wallingford

I thought it would be good.

Now I know it's great!

Thank you for returning my purse!

On another street, other neighbors carved a bench from a tree trunk and placed it strategically so passerbys could sit on the bench and watch the chickens that are running loose in the backyard. These neighbors also put up a sign describing the breed and the habits of the chickens.

A couple of blocks away, on the grass of another neighbor's front yard, was an old dog, Sarge, well-known for his ability to sleep through his golden years. When Sarge finally died, neighbors brought over plastic bones, photos, and poems written in Sarge's honor. Sarge's owners arranged them into a small shrine on their front porch and they attached a short thank-you note to the neighbors for their kindness and sympathy.

These three vignettes-no single one particularly extraordinary-demonstrate individual efforts to do something positive for their community, to add to the neighborhood's social stock, and to maintain its conviviality. Each was personal and unexpected. Each was also radical in a small way because each was performed for the collective good, with no personal gain. Each was unusual because, increasingly, the public and the noncommercial are being sacrificed for the private and the commercial in modern society. These three acts of conviviality contributed in a small way to the web of community, which needs constant care and nurturing.

Back to Fremont

Fremont, the Seattle neighborhood just west of Wallingford, has a strong identity and is well-known for its creative community enterprises. The summer solstice parade mentioned in Chapter 1 is one example of a cohesive community event; there are countless others that can help bring communities together. Movie-going these days is not generally seen as an opportunity for community-building, but the Fremont Almost-Free Outdoor Cinema (Fig. 2.1) is billed as "an experiment in interactive community cinema." During the summer months, "B" movie classics, such as The Mummy or Viva Las Vegas, are shown outdoors in the U-Park parking lot against the wall, European style, with movie-goers furnishing their own lawn chair, couch, or beach-blanket seating.

Fremont also asserts its community identity with unique community landmarks. The Fremont Troll (shown with hapless Volkswagen in Fig. 2.2) that resides under the Aurora Avenue bridge is one such landmark. A more recent addition to Fremont's urban landscape is the large rocket that's affixed to the corner of the Aw Nuts store in downtown Fremont, where everything from vintage adding machines and used records to bat fetuses may be found. Every hour on the hour, the rocket's lights blink on and off; steam emanates from the exhaust nozzle, signaling an apparently imminent blast off.

In addition to community events and community landmarks, communities need institutions that are part of the community and support the community. In this regard, Fremont has its own First National Bank of Fremont, a very active Arts Council, the Fremont Public Association which coordinates over 20 social service programs all over Seattle, and more recently, the Fremont Neighborhood area in the Seattle Community Network.

The on-line presence complements Fremont's other community institutions, landmarks, and events. Neighborhood activist Tom Sparks, with the help of Greg Byrd and others on the SCN services committee, has started a Fremont Neighborhood section, which branches off the Community Life and Culture menu on the Seattle Community Network. In an attempt to set up a model for the other 100+ Seattle neighborhoods, developers are creating a template containing both dynamic information (such as community discussion forums) and static information (semipermanent information that is not conversational in nature).

Seven forums were initially established on the system (Fig. 2.3) and each forum was complemented by static information that presented some of the data, background, and lore that makes Fremont Fremont. This includes information that may be unknown to younger or new residents or to visitors or the merely curious.

 

Figure 2.3 Fremont forums

Figure 2.4 Community template information

 

Since the network was still new and the number of users still relatively small, the forums were used infrequently, and Sparks scaled back to two, the Fremont Talk and the For Sale/Trade/Wanted forums. Since the talk forum was used to discuss anything, the other five categories were not really lost and with this approach, the omitted forums (and others) could be added as needed. Ultimately, the Fremont section could be expanded to include community information like that pictured in Fig. 2.4, and this approach could be adopted and used in other Seattle neighborhoods.

Sparks is currently taking the project into the community. He and fellow SCN volunteer Greg Byrd recently developed a poster that was posted in several Fremont hang-outs. When he visits businesses in Fremont, Sparks also plans to drop off a form with business owners on which they can easily submit information about their business to the Fremont neighborhood community business section.

 

FIRST STEP: THE GREAT GOOD PLACE

The environment in which we live out our lives is not a cafeteria containing an endless variety of passively arrayed settings and experiences. It is an active, dictatorial force that adds experiences or subtracts them according to the ways it has been shaped. When Americans begin to grasp that lesson, the path to the planners' offices will be more heavily trod than to the psychiatrists' couches. And when that lesson is learned, community may again be possible and celebrated each day in a rich new spawning of third places.

  Ray Oldenberg (1991)

Roy Oldenberg's delightful book The Great Good Place-subtitled Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through the Day (1991) provides much of the inspiration for this chapter. Oldenberg argues that people need a "third place" where they can go and feel part of a community, away from their home (the "first place") and away from their place of work (the "second place"). Ol-denberg's list of "common and essential features" of "third places" (Fig. 2.5) is important for community-network developers that are trying to foster the creation of convivial electronic spaces in which people might choose to spend time "hanging out" with other community members.

 

Figure 2.5


As shown in Figure 2.5, third places are characterized by their location on "neutral ground," a "leveling" tendency where social and economic standings (as well as physical characteristics) are greatly diminished, and as places where "conversation is the main activity." Although Oldenberg's "third place" refers to a physical location such as a coffee house or a tavern, it is useful to keep in mind the comfort, utility, and timelessness of third places. Although the systems do not provide a physical space, they do provide an opportunity for interaction; hence some people have used the term "virtual space" to describe the new arena for communication. In the sections that follow, we consider each of the attributes listed in Figure 2.5. The new community reaches beyond this important-yet partial-approach to community, and so we will discuss those more extensive issues in the latter part of this chapter, in the section called Beyond the Great Good Place.

Conversation Is the Main Activity

Although talk is ubiquitous and somewhat prosaic-after all, it's something that we all do-Oldenberg celebrates its commonality. He explains that Paris, Rome, London, and other cities have built much of their greatness on the foundation of talk. According to Oldenberg (1991), conversation is the "cardinal and sustaining activity of third places everywhere." Talk in a community network is the main form of transaction. Words are the principal medium of exchange.

Although conversation is, in fact, the fundamental activity in a community network, the conversations may differ in profound ways from traditional ones. For example, conversations in Oldenberg's third places occur synchronously, so that the contributions of the participants are interwoven with each other in "real time." One person will stop talking, taper off, or even continue talking, and one or more people will begin talking. Telephone conversations are also synchronous in that participants don't wander off in search of sandwiches or clean socks while the other person is still talking. With a community network, however, a conversation using either e-mail or forums plays itself out asynchronously —over the course of hours, days, or even months —much like traditional mail with paper, stamps, and envelopes. E-mail, of course, lacks the ornate floridness, indecipherable scrawl, or other individual touches that are often found in handwritten letters. Lacking an ASCII equivalent, scent or tearstains are also virtually untranslatable.

While the simultaneity of conversations isn't central for community networks (except for the "chat" capability), an interesting variant emerges: There is a capability of engaging in several asynchronous conversations synchronously. An example will make this clearer. Typically, a person will log-on to a community network, read his or her mail, and read the postings in some forums. Each piece of mail and each forum posting offers, in fact, an opportunity to respond, to participate in the conversation. If a person is involved in many conversations using e-mail and participates in many forums, his or her "conversation" can be more schizophrenic, like an extreme sort of mingling at a cocktail party where a party-goer goes from person to person or group of people, listens, then either says something or doesn't, then leaves the person or group without waiting for a reply, going instead to join another conversation in progress.

In face-to-face conversations, speech characteristics (such as loudness, hesitation, timbre) body language and eye-contact all play a role in the overall message that's conveyed. With the telephone we lose the visual but retain the audio-the words and nonverbal utterances like sighs and laughs, and sounds in the background, for example, the sounds of tinkling glasses, music, or a crying baby. When messages are composed solely of text-as in most current e-mail systems-communication is squeezed into a list of alphanumeric symbols arranged in row after tidy row.

A Third Place: The Electronic Cafe International

Artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz experimented for years with "virtual spaces," using telecommunications technology (including their 1980 Hole In Space project and their collaborations with NASA using communications satellites). In 1984 they launched a "third place," the Electronic Cafe International, based on their successful cultural and technological project, the Electronic Cafe, that incorporated the diverse cultures of Los Angeles, California in a unique experiment. Now from their Santa Monica, California nerve center, the Electronic Cafe International hosts a multitude of live multimedia cultural events with participants at sites all over the world. Cafe visitors encounter, in roughly equal measures, high-tech communications and computing paraphernalia of all stripes, chairs, tables, and other cafe-like accoutrements, and a diverse collection of decidedly low-tech and funky knick-knacks (Fig. 2.6). Using a wide range of available and state-of-the-art technology including audio links, slow-scan television over voice-grade telephone lines, real-time video conferencing, and collaborative Internet technology (among many others), Galloway and Rabinowitz have hosted a wide variety of real-time encounters that they see as a way to explore and develop alternatives to corporate mass culture.

The original 1984 Electronic Cafe project linked five diverse locations in the Los Angeles area, including the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art with family-owned restaurants in Korean (8th Street Restaurant), Hispanic (Anna Maria's-see Fig. 2.7), African American (The Gumbo House), and "artsy" beach communities (Gunter's) together into one shared virtual space. Within this space participants "could send each other slow-scan images, draw or write together with an electronic writing tablet, print pictures with the video printer, enter and retrieve information (including graphics) and ideas in the computer database, and store or retrieve images on a videodisk recorder that held 20,000 images" (Galloway and Rabinowitz, 1992). This cultural exploration was widely enjoyed by community residents at the same time that it was a pioneer groupware application.

Spread out over hundreds of square miles, home to over 80 languages, lacerated by freeways, and, in 1992, the scene of a devastating "multiethnic eruption" (Navarro, 1993), Los Angeles (being more of a "chunky stew" than a "melting pot" according to Galloway) served both as a global model and as an intercity urban model for the original Electronic Cafe project. Galloway and Rabinowitz consciously chose centers of various ethnic communities within Los Angeles for the project (10 sites had originally been planned but budget restraints forced them to scale back) and worked with community members for six months before the project was launched. They deliberately avoided selecting an establishment-approved cultural icon for the position of artist-in-residence, selecting instead strongly indigenous voices that more closely represented the community.

It would be impossible to describe the 7-week project exhaustively. "There are hundreds of stories," according to Rabinowitz, "and over 9,000 images were generated and saved on disk." The most interesting aspect of the project might have been how the behavior of the participants changed over time. Initially participants at the various sites engaged in "community definition" by broadcasting images that offset their stereotypes to the other sites and by having community poets and artists come forward and read their poetry or display their art on-line. After this period subsided, a less formal period began, where people at different sites worked in collaborative 1-to-1 experiments that were increasingly well-executed (as they mastered the technology) and experimental.

Based on their Electronic Cafe experience, Galloway and Rabinowitz declared that they had "reached the limits of models" and they began setting up a more permanent institution that could support itself and grow. This institution, dubbed the Electronic Cafe International was based on the idea of a cafe as an informal, community-gathering area "that exists in all communities and in all cultures." As of this writing other cafes have been established in New York City, Tokyo, Vancouver, Toronto, Dublin, Jerusalem, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Austin, Woodstock, Managua, Seoul, and many other locations, including several at sea.

While most of the systems discussed in this book are asynchronous and text-based, Galloway's and Rabinowitz's focus on real-time audio and video connections is complementary in many ways. The Electronic Cafe International's explorations into multimedia, cultural diversity, international communications, and aesthetics serve as important reminders of creative opportunities that transcend conventional text and discussion-based approaches. Galloway and Rabinowitz have been collaborating for 20 years and they now speak of their cultural explorations with "recombinant telecommunications" in which both low-end and high-end technology is employed in different ways depending on the resources, skills, interests, and wishes of the participants. Galloway's and Rabinowitz's focus on community, both local and global; their involving people in poor neighborhoods, less developed countries, disabled people, and children among others; and their commitment to experimentation with new models and encounters, all serve as important social experiments that can help people understand developing technologies while developing a consciousness for community-oriented modes of communication. Since cafes exist in all cultures as community meeting points the recent upsurge in cyber-cafes around the world reaffirms their vision of an Electronic Cafe.

 

A Low Profile

To Oldenberg a third place is not ostentatious or glitzy; it's serviceable but plain, a place that Thoreau or Emerson would approve of. The reason for this spareness is more likely to be economic necessity rather than a vow of simplicity. A more expensive place means a higher tab for the customers. It also means that more paying customers are needed and their stays must be limited to accommodate this greater number: "Hanging around" without consuming doesn't help pay off the loan and is discouraged. Moreover, an expensive, elegantly appointed establishment means that people of lesser means won't feel comfortable and even well-to-do people may not dress and act naturally. While a low profile is an important attribute of a third place, today's commercialism generally exalts the newest, shiniest, fastest in everything. It's difficult these days to find proponents of anything less than "the best."

Accessibility and Accommodation

In Oldenberg's view, "third places that render the best and fullest service are those to which one may go alone at almost any time of the day or evening with assurances that acquaintances will be there." Again the parallels with community networks are strong. First, community networks are open all the time —one can "go there" literally any time. But many factors including technology limitations and policies do interfere with this ideal. For example, at any given time, the telephone lines may be busy or the system may be unavailable. This occurrence would be like going to the corner bar and finding it locked when it's usually open. Accessibility also raises a wide range of economic and policy questions. It is true that "anybody with a computer, telephone line, and modem" can connect to a community network, but not everybody has the required technology. While over 90 percent of the homes in the United States have telephones, only about 27 percent (in 1993) have personal computers and only 11 percent of individuals use computer network services (RAND, 1995). And some people have no residence or workplace at all. Unless there is free or very low-cost public access from libraries, schools, community or senior centers, shopping malls, or other public locations, these people are effectively barred from using community networks.

There are other important issues that must be addressed if full accessibility is to become a reality. One of these is access for people who cannot read or write in the language presented on the screen (or in any language). Still another barrier to access is the wide range of physical disabilities that participants may have. In general, there are many computer applications, such as text-to-speech synthesizers, that can help bridge the gap that makes using the system possible. Those adaptive technologies will have to be inexpensive and widespread and exist on the public systems, however, to bring "universal access" closer to reality. Ironically, window-based and other more technologically advanced approaches to user interfaces have historically been less amenable to adaptive technology for disabled people than their more prosaic text-based predecessors.

The Third Place Is a Leveler

The term "leveler" comes from a seventeenth century English political party that sought to abolish all positions of rank or position that were used to divide people into categories. Oldenberg uses the term to mean anything that acts to reduce differences between people, especially those distinctions based on economic class. In London coffeehouses of the 1600s and 1700s, a commonly accepted "Rules and Orders" stated that everybody was welcome and had equal status (Oldenberg, 1991). Community networks, and many other forms of electronic communication share this leveling tendency with the coffeehouses and other third places that Oldenberg describes. That this tendency exists is well illustrated by the well-known New Yorker cartoon in which one dog is explaining to another dog, that "On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog." Although electronic interaction is currently limited to humans, physical characteristics such as gender, race, attractiveness, and physical capabilities are not visible using text-based systems. The species of participant on the other end, be it extraterrestrial, software agent, or quadruped can't be known with absolute certainty. Moreover, personal wealth, an important nonleveling factor in our era, is invisible and, like other characteristics, difficult to infer from text alone. As Oldenberg says, "Even poverty loses much of its sting when communities can offer the settings and occasions where the disadvantaged can be accepted as equals." Current systems generally serve as levelers (a much ballyhooed "feature" of the new medium), but many observers including community network pioneer Lee Felsenstein feel that leveling is not an inherent aspect of electronic forums and "de-leveling" is already occurring in many places (1995). In the three sections that follow, several nonmainstream or marginalized communities and their extensions into the electronic realm are discussed.

 

The LGBT Neighborhood

Idyllic communities of yesteryear seem to have had more solid existence in the American popular imagination than they have had in historical reality. These idealized communities are generally depicted as friendly, ethnically homogeneous, and economically autonomous. Financially, everybody had enough to get by. These romanticized communities, epitomized by Disneyland's Main Street, may actually have existed in some areas for brief historical moments. There is no modern-day equivalent, however, in the city, the suburbs, the town, or the country.

When people move from one place to another, when populations grow, and trading occurs, people from disparate cultures must interact. Just as urbanization forced people of widely disparate beliefs, attitudes, and habits into close proximity, the new community networks may bring people into closer virtual proximity. Gays and lesbians have throughout history served as scapegoats for all manners of social ills and dissatisfactions. Thus gays have been persecuted in a variety of ways, most systematically by the Nazis in the Second World War. America's mistreatment of sexual minorities has historically included everything from verbal derision to physical violence but, in general, the approach has been an attitude of "don't ask —don't tell." Unfortunately, hostility seems to be growing in the United States, fomented to a large degree by the religious right. It will be interesting, and possibly disheartening, to observe how Americans conduct public electronic discourse when gay and lesbian citizens and their supporters have information and conversations available for all to see on new community networks.

As I write this, beginning salvos in the name of "on-line decency" are being loosed on the legislative front by Senators Exon, Gorton, and others in the U.S. legislature and at the state level in various locations. Although these very real threats are discussed in Chapter 11, it should be noted that they are already having a chilling effect on minority populations who fear stepped-up persecution from the authoritarian wing of the conservatives. Defending the on-line rights of minority and alternative users will be an important and perennial responsibility for community networks.

In the Seattle Community Network, there is a LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) neighborhood that "deals with local and global issues of queer interest." The founders, Tom Hicks and Richard Isaac, take a militant stance: "Fight Back with Technology" is the rallying cry that appears at the end of the About the LGBT Neighborhood section, their Action Alerts, and other messages. Their use of the word "queer," historically a taunting and pejorative epithet, indicates a willingness to reclaim the offensive. So too does their posting of LGBT material in a public, community network where various enemies from the unaffiliated homophobe to the organized machinery of the new radical right are likely to be lurking.

The LGBT Neighborhood on SCN also features Action Alerts on gay-related events, issues, or legislative work. The Welcome Home area features LGBT Library Archive News from the gay press locally, nationally, and internationally, and includes information from LGBT not-for-profit as well as other nonprofit groups.



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| |  | | | | '_ \ / _ \ '__| | | | | | |/ _ \/ _ \ '__/ __|
| |__| |_| | |_) | _ _/ |  | |_| | |_| |  __/ _ _/ | \__ \
 \____\__, |_.__/ \___|_|   \__\_\\__,_|\___|\___|_| |___/
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CyberQueers@cyberzine.org

Figure 2.8 CyberQueers electronic logo

 

On Sparky, the machine run by Hicks and Isaac, the new Cyber Queer Lounge has been opened. The Cyber Queer Lounge offers more complete Internet access than does the Seattle Community Network, including Internet Relay Chat (IRC), FTP, and Telnet (see Chapter 9 for more discussion on these capabilities). A critical part of their mission is "cyber instruction," in which people can learn how to use technology more effectively. Hicks and Isaac offer on-line help and off-line tutoring on all cyberspace topics and they offer the on-line and hard-copy publication "Cyber Queers" (Fig. 2.8). They will also be promoting the use of global chats in which gay people from around the world can talk with each other. In many countries and regions of the world, sexual minorities are persecuted to a higher degree than in the United States and some, according to the write-up, "have never talked to other queers."

Sistah Space

In January of 1993, three black women students, Toyia Taylor, Sumir Brown, and Dawn Hampton, at the University of Washington, started Sisterhood, an informal group that was formed to "foster a sense of belonging and understanding" among all black women associated with the university. Sisterhood's "continuing goals are to embrace ourselves and others through education, participation, and elevation." Two years after Sisterhood's creation, Jeanette James, a graduate student in the Communications Department of the University conceived of "Sistah Space," a Web site for Sisterhood (Fig. 2.9).

James was concerned that the mainstream media did not portray "realistic and positive representations of black women" and she explored several ways of electronically publishing their own perspectives, basically because of the low costs associated with electronic distribution.[1] James considered various approaches, including electronic list serves, forums, or even pressing a CD, before she settled on the World Wide Web approach, primarily for its ability to show graphics, a critical aspect of the project. In addition to gaining some measure of control over the media, James also uses the Web site to help people (especially women and minorities) gain understanding of the technology.

James involved the Sisterhood group in all decisions regarding the Web site and asked each member what issues should be conveyed, what a reader/viewer should learn about Sisterhood, and how the page should look. Based on the feedback, James designed an outreach page containing a photograph of the Sisterhood members visiting a home for homeless teen mothers and news about other Sisterhood events. She developed pages that recounted Sisterhood's history and described its members, a list of "best books" by black women, and original poetry and artwork by Sisterhood members.

The Oneida Indian Nation

The Oneida Indian Nation was one of the original members of the Iroquois Confederacy and also one of only two tribes to support the American colonies in the War of Independence from England, delivering 600 bushels of corn to starving American troops at Valley Forge. In recent history, the Oneida Indian Nation was the first to put a home page on the World Wide Web, even predating another sovereign political unit, the United States government, the "White House Tribe," as an Oneida spokesman stated at the 1995 Ties That Bind conference.

The Oneida Web site (Fig. 2.10) contains a short audio welcome mes-sage in the native language; some historical narratives, including that of the Valley Forge incident; the Shako:Wi Cultural Center (featuring on-line photographs of a kostaweh, the traditional headdress of the Iroquois, a war club, and the traditional woman's outfit); press releases from the nation's leadership; a calendar of events, and information about the Oneida economic venture, the Turning Stone Casino, and "The Villages" RV Park.

The Oneida People, through their electronic presence are looking back as well as toward the future. There are links to various historical documents, including the text of six treaties dating from 1784 to 1838 (Fig. 2.11) as well as descriptions of the Oneida plan for the Villages-on-the-White-Pine housing complex that includes fiber optic cables to each house. They are also making plans to link 21 Indian nations via the Internet in a project supported by Apple computer.[2]

According to Internet Coordinator Daniel Umstead (1995), the most important part of their Web site development is "that it provides the Oneida People with the means to tell their own story, using their own words and ideas, not those of an outsider." Umstead also relates how the electronic presence helps link Oneida people who don't live in Oneida territory and how people in other countries (he mentions Germany and China) can obtain Oneida information and thus "develop an appreciation for the culture and history of the United States' first ally, the Oneida People."

On Neutral Ground

A "third place" is a place where everybody is welcome and nobody has the responsibility of being the host nor the burden of being the guest. If all space is owned by somebody, then no neutral space exists, and encounters that depend on neutral space will be denied. A community network provides ample neutral ground, particularly in its unmoderated forums. Beyond providing this feature, the neutrality of a community network must be fiercely maintained and no policy, written or de facto, should undermine this crucial feature.

 

"TREATIES PROJECT"-INTRODUCTION
"I remember when I was 10 or 11 years old and my aunt coming up to me and saying, 'Do you know your treaties? You must know your treaties.' Well, I did not know my treaties and I did not know where to look. Her statements led me to become actively involved with my Nation. If I did not know my own treaties, how could I expect anyone else to?"
-Brian Patterson, Bear Clan, Men's Council Member
The concept of an Indian Nation's sovereign status is often misunderstood, and the true answers sometimes are misinterpreted. Sovereignty means self-determination as a separate distinct governmental entity.
President Clinton, in addressing the 500 or more tribal leaders of recognized Indian Tribes in the United States in April '94, reaffirmed that the Indian Nations of the United States, where they exist as federally recognized tribes, have the sovereign authority to interact on a government-to-government basis directly with federal agencies.
Just as the United States Constitution still bears the same uncompromising importance and credibility it did when the ink was still wet on its pages, so do the treaties that were made between a fledgling United States and its first ally and steadfast friend, the Oneida Indian Nation.
The Oneida Indian Nation's "Treaties Project" was developed to provide easy access for native and non-native people alike to important treaties. The first treaties presented in the project will focus on Oneida treaties. As the project grows, significant treaties from other Indian nations will be added.
We hope you will find this project to be helpful.
http://nyser.org/oneida/treaties/introduction.html/

Figure 2.11 From the Oneida Indian Nation Web Site.

 

A Day in the Global Life

Traditional communities, as we have seen, are increasingly becoming artifacts of history. Modern circumstances dismember societies in which monolithic rules and customs dictate acceptable behavior. The emergence of cyberspace as a new medium for inexpensive communication that blithely ignores old community boundaries propels society even further from history's everyday stasis. At the same time cyberspace offers opportunities for understanding and communication as well as for conflict and upheaval.

Although the circumstances of people's lives vary greatly from place to place, there is also much that people have in common. Sheldon Smith, a junior high school English teacher in Atascadero, California, has designed a networking project that highlights both these differences and similarities in a form that is interesting and useful for students. For the last few years, Smith has invited "tele-educators" and their students from around the world to participate in the yearly Day in the Life project in which students chronicle their experiences over a single school day. In the October 1994 event, 5000 students from over 120 schools worldwide took part. Each participating student carried a pad of paper throughout the day and transcribed the events and their thoughts. After describing the entire day from wake-up to bedtime, each chronicle was then typed into a computer and sent electronically to an electronic "listserve," which automatically sent the message to each of the other participating schools. "We can't all be in Japan or any other place on a given day, but we can be there virtually —and in many places at the same time," Smith reports.

The average day is usually ordinary (Fig. 2.12), by definition, but the personalities and cultural milieu of the individual participants are revealing enough to make us reflect on the diversity as well as the commonality of the world's inhabitants. And the events of the particular day chosen for the proj-ect aren't necessarily ordinary. In the case of the 10th and 11th grade Israeli students, the day was marred by a terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv and through their writings we can gain an increased understanding of how people and communities respond to traumatic events (Fig. 2.13).

Sleeping and Waking
6:00 AM In Dream World (Japan)
6:00 AM I wake up to the annoying but useful sound of the alarm clock. (US)
School
7:00 AM We have the first subject it's gym, we do nothing because we do not have equipment.(Slovenia)
10:00 AM I'm taking a history test. I hope I do good and pass. (US)
2:00 PM I had a social studies class in the fifth period. We watched the video about Hiroshima. I realized that the atomic bomb is cruel. (Japan)
5:00 PM Damn, damn. I have to make my homeworks. (Finland)
Meals
7:00 AM The menu was cheese toast and consomme soup. (Japan)
7:00 AM I am eating breakfast, the usual cereal toast and O.J. (US)
8:00 AM I had vegemite on toast for breakfast. (Australia)
12:00 PM For pudding I had sponge with syrup on it. (UK)
5:00 PM We had spaghetti and beef gravy. It was good. (Finland)
Family
7:00 AM I got in a fight with my brother. I won! (US)
2:00 PM I'm feeding the baby. His face is all dirty. He sure likes to eat a lot. (US)
3:00 PM I changed Jorge's diaper and clothes. (US)
Games and Entertainment
11:00 AM I was playing monkeys and lions with my friends. (UK)
12:00 PM We played Tutti Frutti until it was time to go to eat. (South America)
8:00 PM I watched "Australia's Most Wanted." (Australia)

Figure 2.12 A Day in the Life — Global excerpts


7:00AM

I woke up and got ready for school.

8:00AM

A regular day at school — the next lesson was Hebrew Grammar.

9:00AM

I had a quiz, and I kept thinking about how difficult the quiz had been.

10:00AM

During the break, I see a lot of students standing in the middle of the school listening to the radio. I'm beginning to think that something bad happened. From what I hear, I understand that there was a terrorist attack in the middle of Tel Aviv, a bus explosion, and many people were killed and others were injured.

11:00AM

I got into the class, and I could not concentrate. I kept thinking how could I be so worried about my quiz when people were murdered.

12:00PM

I opened the television and watched the news. I saw the pictures from the incident, it was horrifying. I felt very sad and confused.

1:00PM

I got back home. Listening to the radio I became horrified by the descriptions of the horrors.

Figure 2.13 A Day in the Life — Excerpts from Israel

 

Smith feels that the Day in the Life project is a good learning vehicle for students. For one thing, it's an event that is limited to a single day. The "high-tech, low-tech" ratio is a good combination, he explains, because students can be involved with high-tech computers and networking technology through the use of low-tech equipment, namely paper and pencil. Interdisciplinary educational follow-ups to the project are being used. Students in English class are writing essays on cultural similarities and differences. In math class they are using data analysis techniques to conduct scientific research on the most watched television show or the most disliked school subject, for example. Smith also uses the chronicles to help students devise a character that they then use in fictional narratives in their social studies classes. As the Day in the Life project has shown, communication technology can provide intriguing new possibilities for increasing cultural understanding and community networks can provide similar opportunities on the community level.

 

The Regulars and the Home Away from Home

People are not attracted to third places "by management but by fellow customers," according to Oldenberg. This is what separates a public forum or conversation from a "product" like a newspaper. In a forum or on e-mail list, one becomes accustomed to certain people through their mail or postings. These people become, in effect, the "regulars" of the system. It is true that some large commercial network providers pay people to make forums interesting or useful by contributing to the discussion, much as a social director is employed on an ocean cruise to create fun on the voyage. However, unlike an ocean voyage whose "community" dissolves upon the cruise's end, an on-line community needs to sustain itself.

Community Memory-A Virtual People's Park

Community Memory of Berkeley, California, created by Efrem Lipkin, Lee Felsenstein, and Ken Colstad, was the world's first community network (Levy, 1984; Farrington and Pine, 1992). Initially begun in the mid-70s as a follow up to experiments conducted in 1972 and 1973 on unmediated two-way access to a message database through public computer terminals, the Community Memory effort was intended to develop and distribute a technology supporting the free exchange of information to communities all over the world, according to long-time Community Memory volunteer Carl Farrington.[3] The Community Memory brochure reflects this idea, making the point that "strong, free, nonhierarchical channels of communication —whether by computer and modem, pen and ink, telephone, or face-to-face —are the front line of reclaiming and revitalizing our communities." Their commitment to reducing the barriers to information technology was demonstrated by the simplicity of the system (described in a five-page users' manual), numerous training programs, and the insistence that all Community Memory terminals be located in public places: Terminals could be found in libraries and in laundromats (Fig. 2.14) but could not be reached via modem or from the Internet. Community Memory adopted a creative approach to funding: They offered coin-operated terminals through which forums were free to read, but required 25 cents to post an opinion and a dollar to start a new forum.

The Community Memory developers pushed the community-network principles to their logical limits. Users, for example, were not required to use their own name or register to use the system. Thus it was possible to use the system anonymously. Former Community Memory executive director Evelyn Pine remarked that it was possible that the moderator of the Women forum (who requested that men not contribute) was a man! The anonymity made it very easy to use the system and gave users almost complete freedom to write what they wanted. Perhaps the most noteworthy of the developers' convictions was that all of the information on the system was community generated. This had several important consequences, some of which were different from those pursued by later generations of community-network developers. For one thing, there was no central authority that determined who the information providers were. For another thing, information from outside the immediate area such as Internet newsgroups was not brought into the system.

Although community-network developers divided the system into categories such as New/Alerts, Ideas, Discussions, Jobs, Housing, Graffiti, and Assistance, the forum titles within each category as well as the contents of the forum were provided by the users. Thus many of the forums had a distinctly Berkeley flavor, while many others would be appropriate anywhere. Some of the forums included "<Peoples' Park> discussion around Peoples' Park," "<Hacking> confessions of programming addicts," "<VDC Reunion> Vietnam Day Committee," "<Military Life-Facts> Look before you Join," "<Poetry>," "<Senior Cuisine> Senior Centers' Lunch Menu," "<Help Wanted>," "<Help offered>," and "<an estimated terrapin> Grateful Dead information," and more.

 

Although Lee Felsenstein is planning to make the Community Memory source code publicly available, the Community Memory system is no longer available for the Berkeley community. Evelyn Pine feels that there are so many communication outlets for cultural and community activities in Berkeley that in some sense Berkeley organizations have less need for such a system than organizations in other cities. Felsenstein, on the other hand, feels that community organizations and service providers never had a good opportunity to become partners —or co-owners — of the system. To make this point, Felsenstein mentions that organizations and other community information providers did not put their own information on the system but, rather, handed it off to Community Memory staff or volunteers, who entered it for them. This lack of involvement or investment on the part of the community members not only created a bottleneck for Community Memory staff and volunteers but it helped prevent the type of community ownership that is key to Cleveland Free-Net founder Tom Grundner's vision and is demonstrated by volunteers at community networks all over the world.

The Community Memory insistence on an exclusive street-level community focus also may have diminished their chances for success. For one thing, being able to communicate with the system from fewer than 10 locations almost guaranteed a minimal community involvement, and not providing access to the outside world (via news groups or e-mail) may have reduced community interest and created a vision of the system as being unnecessarily parochial and exclusive. Despite its relatively short life (which could yet experience a rebirth), the concepts and services that Community Memory pioneered have had and will have lasting impact on the design of future systems.

The Mood Is Playful

Words are the raw material of many creative forms of language, both spoken and written. Examples abound from all cultures (including nonliterate ones) and include riddles, rap, epigrams, haikus, and verbal duels (Farb, 1974) among many others, and new forms can be invented indefinitely.

Joan Coate, formerly of the WELL on-line system states that "The all-text display that still dominates on-line systems appeals to people who love word play, language, and writing. And it appeals to people with active minds" (1992). Along these lines, Philip Wohlstetter, posting on the IN.S.OMNIA, BBS established by the Invisible Seattle group, reported that "Art is an activity always available, attracts abundant aspirants among Americans and aliens alike" (Wohlstetter, 1985). That sentence was the first sentence of Chapter A in a never completed text entitled Art A to Z. Chapter A contained words that began with the letter A, while Chapter A, B contained words beginning with letters A or B. The text was to continue in that vein until the 26th chapter, which could contain words beginning with any letter. Chapters 2752 would reverse the process, gradually eradicating the alphabet until the letter A again abided alone. The IN.S.OMNIA originators realized (in the early 1980s) that a BBS could be used as a creative vehicle for interactive literature in which "every reader is a writer, and new forms appear, a new writing that is at once literature, grafitti, conversation, and word game." The IN.S.OMNIA BBS (now disbanded) was open to anybody, but in reality was used by a small, basically self-selected group of adventurous literary cognoscenti (who would routinely quote Derrida, for example). Nevertheless, IN.S.OMNIA provided a good experimental station for performing communication collaborations that were at once both playful and intellectually ground-breaking (Wittig, 1994).

According to Oldenberg "The persistent mood of the third place is a playful one." He goes on to say, "Those who would keep conversation serious for more than a minute are almost certainly doomed to failure." While there are exceptions, one would not characterize the mood of many current community networks as playful. Perhaps it's because these networks don't really support "traditional" conversations. The computer-based conversations don't take place in real-time and typing text is slower and more labor intensive than speaking. People often can effortlessly utter 90 words per minute, while the casual typist types around 30 words in one minute (Hiltz and Turoff, 1993). In Usenet newsgroups, there are often established conversation topics or "threads," and undirected conversation is frowned upon by other participants as "noise." Moreover, participants often don't know the people with whom they're conversing, so they're less likely to make jokes or make wry comments. Also, as frequently noted, many aspects of conversation including timing, facial cues, and body language are nearly untranslatable in the text-only medium. A broad range of conventions and ad hoc methods are used to circumvent this limitation, including the typographical "smiley face" :-)4 used to indicate that the comment was intended to be funny or issued in jest, or "stage directions," such as "Doug steps onto his soap box," that indicate a deviation from ordinary protocol.

Discussion areas in the Santa Monica PEN system are more reminiscent of "real" conversations than many other systems I've used. In the discussion "item" (equivalent to a forum or newsgroup) with the provocative title "Pen is dead," there were many one-liner conversational responses, such as "if unread." Why is this? For one thing, PEN messages are displayed one after another without clearing the screen in between. For another, the header, showing "envelope" information (such as who sent the letter and when) is short (unlike my current UNIX mail reader that displays some 20 lines of headers). Although current community networks aren't often noted for their great spirit of fun, increasing this playful aspect is an important goal. If these systems are perceived as strictly "serious" and if using them is a purely civic chore, then usage will likely deteriorate and "playfulness," an important aspect of community life will be lacking.

 

BEYOND THE GREAT GOOD PLACE

What the tavern offered long before television or newspapers was a source of news along with the opportunity to question, protest, sound out, supplement and form opinion locally and collectively.

  Ray Oldenburg (1991)

Community members need great good places such as those Oldenberg discussed to help them be a part of their community. Those locations, whether physical or virtual, provide natural forums for dialog, cushions against hardship, and outlets for frustration. As history has shown, they can also provide the backdrop or setting for political or social activism. In the latter half of the seventeenth century, for example, King Charles II issued "A Proclamation for the Suppression of Coffeehouses," which was ostensibly created to prevent idleness but was more deeply connected to fears of "Defamation of His Majestie's Government" (Oldenberg, 1991). The resistance to this proclamation was so strong that it was retracted by another proclamation several months later. Oldenberg provides other interesting examples from history, including the underlying organizational support that meetings in colonial taverns in America furnished in the times preceding the American War of Independence. Thus, while great good places are indispensable to communities, their existence supplies only a part of the struggle for community. In the sections ahead, we briefly discuss some of the ways in which community members can build on the lessons and foundation of the great good place and how they can strengthen communities —by making them more deeply connected to each other by being more aware and more effective in dealing with current and anticipated issues.

The Built Environment

Eighty percent of everything ever built in America has been built in the last fifty years, and most of it is depressing, brutal, ugly, unhealthy, and spiritually degrading.

  James Kunstler (1993)

The designed or built environment is the part of the environment that is neither the natural environment, the cultural environment, nor the environment of cyberspace. Because it is intimately related to the state of the community, it's necessary to discuss briefly the "built environment" here.

There are implications for today's communities and for tomorrow's in how we build our cities and towns and in the technology we employ to sustain these built environments. A highway that makes suburban living more convenient could have deleterious effects ranging from the physical and psychic dismemberment of the community that the highway bisects (with its accompanying noise and air pollution) to increased geographical isolation between economic classes. On a larger level, spending public money on the highway means that the money was not spent in other possible ways, such as public art, housing, or recreation. The highway, therefore, could hasten urban decay while simultaneously placing those of greater economic means even further both psychologically and geographically from the older inner city neighborhoods.

The physical space in which our physical selves must navigate has such a strong influence on us that it could profitably be thought of as a technology or a tool. However, as the Kunstler quote at the beginning of this section indicates, this physical space, the space that we as a people have consciously constructed over the past few decades, is a depressing mish-mash. While possibly addressing the short-range exigencies and needs of developers, the built environment falls terribly short of our needs as individuals and as members of communities.

Ceremony and Memory

Some cursory words are in order because the concepts of ceremony and memory both underlie the web of community life in important ways. Everyday life is by its very nature ordinary. And the living that takes place everyday, similarly, takes place now, in the present. In other words, everyday life is ordinary and current. If life is only ordinary and current, it is unpunctuated; it has no connection to the greater mysteries and wonders of life, nor to the historic linkages between the past, the present, and the future. Without meaningful punctuation through ceremony and memory, life loses its meaning through its loss of meaningful connections to the web of community.

When "ceremony" becomes too opaque, too resistant to change, or exclusive, it becomes sterile and counterproductive for new communities. If it becomes too self-conscious or too up-to-date, it becomes a superficial and useless fad. The idea of "memory" also needs balance and temperance. What should we remember, how should it be remembered, and for what purpose is it being remembered? I can't presume to answer these questions because they're part of a community web of which I'm just one aspect. The perspectives of ceremony and memory are critical, however, to the new community. The Alameda County War Memorial is an example of ceremony and memory in a community network.

Electronic Memorial

Joe McDonald, the leader of the 60s rock band, Country Joe and the Fish, is the unlikely instigator of a unique experiment in the early days of community-network development. Although McDonald's song "I Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die Rag" was a devastating antiwar anthem in the Vietnam era, McDonald, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, feels a strong kinship with soldiers. In fact, he describes himself as a person obsessed with soldiers, war, and war's aftermath.

McDonald was inspired by the stark black memorial wall in Washington, D.C., that is covered with the names of the U.S. Vietnam war dead, and he then began to carefully examine the idea of memorials. He began corresponding with the U.S. Department of Defense and ultimately collected the names of all the veterans from Alameda County (which includes Berkeley and Oakland, California) who had died in World War I, World War II, the Korean war, the Vietnam war, and the Persian Gulf war. The Vietnam war names were supplied on long rolls of computer paper, while the World War I names were supplied on two-inch microfilm. The microfilm contained photos of the deceased along with full-page tributes to individual Red Cross workers and military nurses, and also contained decorative borders and stylized layouts.

While reflecting on physical war memorials-like the one in Washington, D.C.-McDonald was struck by two things. One was the cost of a physical memorial (the Washington memorial cost seven million dollars) and, the second, was that people had to make a physical pilgrimage to experience it. McDonald realized that if a war memorial were stored electronically on a networked computer, the issues of cost and distance could be circumvented. Additionally, because cyberspace is cheaper than physical space, he reasoned that "if the war memorial existed in a computer, then anybody in the world should be able to interface with it" and that it should be possible to add names from any war and any time and place.

The Alameda county names, nearly two thousand in all, were loaded into the Community Memory system by McDonald, Gert Chiarito, YaVette Holts, and many other volunteers (including people from various political persuasions) and these names became the Community Memory Alameda County War Memorial. The belief of the volunteers, according to the literature on the on-line memorial was that "in remembering, we can promote understanding." Since people left gifts or offerings at the war memorial in Washington, D.C., it was decided that community memory participants should be able to leave their comments on the system, to gain closure on the death of a loved one by electronically "leaving flowers." Phil Elwood, a Bay area journalist who had lost a relative in World War II, for example, looked up his relative's name and typed in his reminiscences. This venue also allowed people to express other comments and thoughts on war, including comments of those opposed to war, an option that is unavailable with traditional war memorials. Thus people representing many viewpoints could contribute to the dynamic, living community memorial.

Although McDonald was not familiar with the technology, he also suggested that a wounded Vietnam veteran (or a veteran from any other war) who was confined to a hospital bed for a protracted period of time would ultimately be able to add graphics or music beside the electronic entry of a comrade who had been killed.

Although there was a lot of local interest, the Alameda County War Memorial existed for just a "hot minute," according to McDonald. The Community Memory system's revenue hit rock-bottom around that time and the system itself suffered many glitches. Although Country Joe remembers the experience as "almost a dream," it's clear that network services have the potential, if not the obligation, to serve the convivial needs of the community as well as the merely informational. Although the original system is unavailable, McDonald is working with the city of Berkeley to memorialize their Vietnam war fatalities and welcomes inquiries from interested people (see Appendix B).

Local Identity and Culture

Many communities now have concocted official slogans to artificially improve their image: "City Middletown, Where People Say Hi!," "Fun in the Sun in Smogville!," "Best Darn Town in the Whole Darn World," or "Low Murder Rate in Sleepy Acreage." Contrived slogans notwithstanding, communities need landmarks, both physical and conceptual, that distinguish that community, provide identity and awareness, and generally help to build shared perspectives.

These landmarks-particularly the conceptual ones-can be part of the terrain supplied by the community network. Some of these landmarks include homegrown poetry, interviews, or oral histories involving local celebrities known citywide or throughout the neighborhood. They might consist of high or low culture, involving both civic betterment or civic mischief. All of these can be presented on a community network.

As we have seen, cultural issues are becoming increasingly dominated by corporate concerns. At the same time, many contemporary artists are producing work that is highly individualized, inaccessible, and of little relevance to people in communities. Although introspective, individual, alternative, and even "deviant" art is valid-if not critical-in our society, it is also important to realize that visual art and other artistic forms can provide a fundamental integrating factor in the web of community (Gablik, 1991). Increasingly, community cultural planning is being advocated as a way to address these issues.

Although there are now several efforts nationwide to institute cultural planning, the Community Cultural Plan (Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, 1995) from Bainbridge Island, an island community of 17,000, 15 minutes from Seattle by ferry boat, will serve as a useful example. The Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council spent approximately one year in a planning process with maximal community involvement. The first step in their process was to assess their cultural needs and capacities through extensive interviews, through over 20 focus groups (involving a wide variety of cultural, ethnic, youth, and business groups) and through surveys, which were mailed to over 300 island residents chosen at random. Interestingly, the survey revealed strong cultural capacities in the community: 54 percent of the respondents reported that at least one member of their family was an artist of amateur or professional status. The data also revealed that in 25 percent of the households, individuals earned an income in the arts. After the initial assessment and surveys, the results were distilled into a draft of a cultural plan that was discussed at a public meeting. A detailed plan was then developed involving vision, goals, and strategies in several major interrelated areas (arts, education, economic vitality, the arts, facility development, financial resources, history and heritage, the humanities, individual artists, marketing and communications, public art and community design, and services to cultural organizations). Whether or not the cultural plan is ever instituted in its entirety, the process is still useful in terms of identifying actions and in terms of building community relationships, both actual and intellectual.

Culture can be an authentic expression of community life and it can be produced by ordinary people. Culture can also be a mass-produced commodity, a creation of committees and "creative directors" in corporations with little, if any, interest in the well-being of individuals and communities. Culture is increasingly the by-product of the corporate drive to maximize profits. The corporate cultural product often is the lowest common denominator of possible choices. Since this cultural product did not evolve organically within a real community, it is unlikely to address real cultural needs of the community. Moreover, any community use of the cultural product is generally forbidden. If cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck were to find their way into community murals, theater, or stories, Disney corporation lawyers would quickly exercise their considerable legal clout to prevent the use of that creation. Barbies, GI Joes, and Cabbage Patch dolls are all ersatz manifestations of culture, as they are developed, distributed, marketed, and controlled by noncommunity interests. Just as authentic nonmanufactured culture is rapidly becoming an alien concept in the U.S., the drive to mass production and commodification also takes its toll on other cultures as well. For example, the impact on other cultures can be seen when native American stories are packaged into books and audio tapes and sold on the mass market, or when violent action movies are marketed worldwide.

 

Hawaii Immersion

I ka 'olelo no ke ola, i ka 'olelo noka make. (In the language there is life, in the language there is death.)

  Hawaii 'olelo no'eau (wise saying)

'Olelo Hawai'i, the Hawaiian language, once perilously close to extinction, is now showing strong vital signs in many ways, including through community networking (Donaghy, 1994). Until 1820, when a written form was created by Christian missionaries, Hawaiian had existed only as a spoken language. By the mid 1850s, Hawaiians were among the most literate people in the world, and Hawaiian was the language of choice of business, education, and government. Shortly after the United States overthrew Hawaii in the 1890s, the language was made illegal as a medium of instruction. In 1978 at the state's constitutional convention, with fewer than 50 speakers under the age of 10 left, Hawaiian was made the legal equivalent of English. And in 1985, after extensive lobbying, it became legal again to teach school using the Hawaiian language. Now over one thousand children are enrolled in Hawaiian immersion programs.

Keola Donaghy, whose ethnicity is Irish, Dutch, and American Indian, can trace his interest in "Hawaiian things" back to the 1970s, around the same time as the Hawaiian Renaissance (a time at which the interest in the Hawaiian tradition, culture, and language began to increase). He was "hanai," informally adopted as an Hawaiian, by a Hawaiian couple who lived on his parents' property. In his late teens, Donaghy began to be interested in telecommunications and launched his first BBS, MauiLink, in 1989 or 1990. Soon after that Donaghy started to learn the Hawaiian language and, shortly after, modified the fonts of his BBS software so that he could exchange e-mail in Hawaiian with his instructors.

According to Donaghy, "the premise of the Hawaiian language immersion program is to educate the children completely in Hawaiian," and he asked the question, "Why should that stop when they turn on the computer?" Accordingly, Donaghy started to modify the operating system on his Macintosh so the menus and dialog boxes would be displayed in Hawaiian, an effort that involved the creation of hundreds of new Hawaiian words for words such as "modem," "font," "bulletin board," and the like. After that, he modified other programs including Claris Works, Kid Pix, and FirstClass. He uses the modified software for his BBS, using Hawaiian rather than English for the user interface. Donaghy now has Hawaiian-only systems set up at all of the eight Hawaiian immersion schools, the Leoki BBS, and a Hawaiian Web site that includes pointers to Kualono, a Hawaiian language Web server (Fig. 2.15).

Darker Sides of Community

Americans felt a strong sense of community when they put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps in the 1940s and persecuted suspected communists in the 1950s.

  Michael D'Antonio (1994)

Communities rarely have a coherent agenda, shared goals, or political will. In fact, they often have no seat at the table for important issues that affect them. When communities are aligned together over an issue, it is often crisis-oriented and typically labeled, in a pejorative sense, as a NIMBY ("Not In My Backyard") response. Although neighborhoods have a very important role to play in local, regional and other issues, all too often community groups choose to organize against something. In my neighborhood, for example, a small daycare was the subject of an effort to prevent its opening. In another Seattle neighborhood, the citizens rebelled because their new manhole covers were inadvertently manufactured without their neighborhood emblem.

 

 

Cooperative

Competitive

Community focus

New Community

"Balkanized" community

No community

"World citizen"

Mass society (Consumer)

Figure 2.16

 

 

Once in a presentation after I had replied to a question about community networks in which I had stated that I thought that Seattle needed its own network, and that the Eastside (including Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, and other cities, towns, and rural areas), Tacoma, and other regions of the state needed theirs too, somebody in the audience muttered that I advocated "balkanizing" the state or the country. Although I didn't realize it at the time, he expressed a common fear, one that recognizes the dark side of community, one that is exclusive and competitive and fiercely chauvinistic. Unfortunately, this fear is not entirely groundless. For example, the Citizen's Council in New Orleans, Louisiana, that formed earlier this century to keep African-Americans in segregated institutions and organizations (McMillen, 1981), is a kind of community and the various organized crime families are also communities. How can new communities avoid becoming pathological like those above? Although there is no guarantee, one way to avoid these possibilities is to pay close attention to the idea of "ties" and "norms." When the membership requirements ("ties") are based on racist, religious, or economic grounds, the civic engagement will be incomplete and have a natural predilection towards corruption. In the same vein, the "norms" of the organization will be continually reflected in the actions that the organization takes over the years.

On the other hand, there is another view that indigenous community is disappearing entirely. Perhaps all local identity and conviviality will recede, and anonymous, asocial, and alienated creatures will take its place. One side of this view, a cooperative society without a community focus is benign if unrealistic. In this view, local differences will fade over time and we'll all be much the same type of person-a "world citizen"-in the future. These varying viewpoints showing four visions of community are presented in Fig. 2.16 above. While all of these visions may be relevant at various times in the past and in the future, a new community that is cooperative yet maintains local differences, is possible and well worth striving for.

 

AGENDA FOR ACTION

A man has only one life and if during it he has no great environment, no community, he has been irreparably robbed of a human right.

  Paul Goodman (1960)

Communities today often lack a discernible identity. People are from a community but they often don't belong to a community. This is a problem of identity that translates into a need for community-specific events, places, landmarks, institutions, and people that can be distinguished from those in other communities and can be a source of pride for community members. Additionally, communities will need power. This is not power in an absolute sense, nor should whatever power is developed be wielded capriciously or selfishly. But without power, without the ability to compete with larger and better organized institutions, nearly all the aspirations of the new community will go unrealized.

In order to begin to rebuild communities as important social organizations, we need to begin to rebuild trust between individuals that has eroded over time. Community-network developers will need to work with community activists and community-development organizations to design new projects. They will need to support and extend existing services electronically, to help repair broken links in the community, while building social capital. In Seattle, for example, an electronic pen-pals project to promote communication between school children in diverse neighborhoods has been proposed.

To truly support community conviviality and culture, access must be universal. The barriers of cost, availability, literacy, and physical disabilities must be bridged. Connecting to community-network services must be inexpensive and easy. Free or minimal cost use from the home and public access points at existing community locations such as libraries, schools, community and senior centers, and parks are required. Other candidate locations include all places where people traditionally congregate such as bars, coffee houses, laundromats, bus stations, and shopping malls. Additionally, access points for community networks will need to become as ubiquitous as telephones (and at least as inexpensive) if community network use is to become a natural, everyday occurrence.

Finally, as communities begin to rebuild and reinvent themselves, community activists will need to assert their interests and needs into the larger picture. They will need successes in this area to build confidence. They will also need vision, wisdom, and humility to avoid the pettiness of NIMBYism and the tunnel vision of avarice.

Although community members must sometimes take action on their own behalf to sustain their communities, they are far from being masters of their own fate. Exterior forces, often of an economic nature, can be the cause of major disruptive changes. South Central Los Angeles, the scene of 1992 riots, for example, had lost tens of thousands of jobs when the defense industry imploded and unemployment skyrocketed (Davis, 1992). Between 1979 and 1992 the United States lost nearly three million manufacturing jobs (Judis, 1994). Camden, New Jersey, discussed in Jonathan Kozol's devastating critique of America's educational system, recently lost Campbells, General Electric, and RCA manufacturing plants. In spite of very high tax relief, Camden can't attract new business (Kozol, 1991). The jobs are going overseas where unprotected workers earn a dollar or less per hour. Communities, especially disadvantaged ones, also have little influence upon major construction projects such as highways (New York City), sports stadiums (Los Angeles, California), bridges (Massachusetts), or sewage treatment plants (Camden, New Jersey), which can devastate communities by displacing its inhabitants, severing social as well as geographically-based ties.

The damage wrought by these disruptions goes beyond the harm done to individuals. "Because social capital is a public good, the costs of closing factories goes beyond the personal traumas borne by individuals" (Putnam, 1993). Putnam also cautions that programs that are ostensibly devised to help disadvantaged communities can backfire: "American slum-clearance policy of 1950s and 1960s, for example, renovated physical capital, but at a very high cost to existing social capital." Unfortunately it will take time to repair the damage done by these powerful forces.

However, as sociologist Craig Calhoun reminds us, "It is misleading to try to understand, and potentially pernicious to foster, community life, without paying attention to the nature of its incorporation into structures of large-scale social integration" (1986). It might be tempting, in other words, to think of community as being independent from other forces. For better or worse, communities are embedded in the external world to a large degree, and this knowledge can be used both reactively and proactively in dealing with external forces.

At both the superficial and the deepest level of analysis, a community network must offer community members a cheerful and unpretentious venue-where admission is free and open to all. It must also support community culture and community activism. The challenges that communities are facing are deadly serious. Only a sustained and widespread effort has a chance to slow down or stop the trend toward community deterioration.


1 Art McGee has been involving the African American community in network activities for many years and his Web site (see Appendix B) contains hundreds of pointers to relevant electronic resources.


2 The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment maintains a Native American resource page (OTA, 1995) as part of a study requested by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Included are a wide variety of pointers, including an Aboriginal Art Gallery, an Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, and the Fourth World Documentation Project, whose archive contains over 300 documents pertaining to indigenous people.


3 Personal correspondence.


4 These can get quite elaborate. For example, LL*8;-) stands for a lesbian librarian with tiara winking and smiling. It is doubtful that this is used much in practice. (Turn the page 90 clockwise to view these "faces.")


 

D Schuler, NEW COMMUNITY NETWORKS, 1996 Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc.

Chapter 3