Action! (Knight@MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media 2)


“Thus we seek to bestir the people into an awareness of their own condition, provide inspiration for their thoughts and rouse them to pursue their true interests.” John S. Knight, 1969

Chris Csikszentmihalyi opens session on “civic action” [warning amateur live-blogging ahead] with this quote which he claims to have used more than 13,000 times. He goes on to tell stories of the Media Lab’s most political projects (he says their maxim is “All technology is political.”) TXTmobs at the RNC. Complaining about Total Information Awareness, losing NSA sponsorship to the Media Lab, etc.

Now extrACT, his current project (not yet online, perhaps for good reason), mapping gas wells in Colorado. There are literally 80,000, less than half now active. Takes 1-3 acres of land, pump fracturing fluid into the ground to get the gas out, these chemicals are unregulated (since 2004), millions of these chemicals going into the ground (and ground water), 93% of them turn out to be health hazards. Terrifying stuff. Frightening shot of cemetery next to industrial operations, to emphasize the ubiquity of these poisonous industries, I can’t keep track of the names of the chemicals. Tap water so chemically tainted it catches fire. Asthma, cancer, etc. (Honestly friendly suggestion to team – get a sound recording lesson before you do more video so we can hear the testimony of the folks you’re interviewing as well as we hear your questions, the BBC clip Chris showed is what you’re aiming for.)

Describes how they went back and forth between feeling that it’s hopeless that “there is so much we can do.” Great quote: “The companies have satellite uplinks from each well telling exactly how much each one is producing every minute but the people living literally next to them have no information on what they’re being exposed to. So we decided we’ll start being objective once the information access is in better balance.” Web penetration is only 20% so using paper forms as well, phone systems soon.

Buy It Like You Mean It Clay Ward presents a project to help socially responsible consumers. The idea is so clearly needed, he’s met 6 others working on the same thing, he’s collaborating with some of them. The idea is to build a centralized database with input from everyone and accessible in many ways, including SMS and voice.

Hero Reports Alyssa Wright shows project that encourages people to report small acts of heroism, kindness, etc. Inspired as a response to the anti-terrorism “If you see something, say something” campaign. Online template for reporting or self-reporting. Various input (postcards!) and browsable in many ways, to allow not only “Facebook people” to use.

Sourcemap Leonardo Bonanni says he started doing visualizations for their own sakes now mapping how things get into a product as it’s made, you see where the cadmium in your computer is mined, where the oysters on your plate were grown and so on. Also calculates the energy of people travelling to meetings and so on. All open for you to use!

About Us Annina Rüst Disparities of perception and reality in the “gender-configuration” of technology culture and how to intervene.

Freedom Fone / Kubatana Brenda Burrell representing one of the international (bravo, Knight!) new winners of the Knight award. They are working in Zimbabwe – she shows a graphic of “freedom of speech” with the quotation marks barbed and bloody. She shares a poem to remind us that even in the worst situation, people need hope:

Dance your anger and your joys,
Dance the military guns to silence,
Dance oppression and injustice to death,
Dance my people.

Meanwhile, 80% unemployment and 2 million % inflation. So we have to use new technologies but we can’t limit ourselves to the web, or email or texting. But mobile phones are ubiquitous in Zimbabwe, which as she notes is a sophisticated society despite its current tragic political situation. So they are creating radio for telephones.

Everyblock Adrian Holovaty shows us his “hypermicrolocal news” site, which grew out of earlier project to map crime in Chicago. Provides data on crime, restaurant health inspections, yelp restaurant reviews, etc. Says the site is simple “not getting in your way with a lot of content like newspapers do.” This “news” (I would call it “information,” but that’s me). Refers apologetically to the site serving “I guess it’s the cliche of the long tail.” “Anyway,” he concludes, “it’s a geographic filter for stuff around your house. Thanks.”

Questions: JD Lasica asks Adrian about social aspects, how do they get people to contribute content? Answer: only indirectly, people have to go to Yelp (restaurants), Flickr (photos) and tag things in ways to get on everyblock. Dedicated staff person gets the government info.

Person I don’t know (yet) says he works in developing countries where often no addresses (but they do have blocks) why not mobile phone based input? Adrian: some of it aleady is GPS. Follow up: People in Kibera don’t have GPS but their cellphone triangulates. Adrian: yes.

Amy Gahran who is live-tweeting asks where are the links to these projects. (Thanks Amy, I can’t find some of them either.) Extracts promise to get links onto Center for Future Civic Media blog.
Jeremy Liu: why not mash Hero Reports with Everyblock? Alyssa: YES! I’m dying to.


Photo: borrowed from MIT Media Lab website

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