Shiny happy people laughing (Knight@MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media)


Zero tolerance for hand-wringing here at the conference of Knight Digital Media Challenge winners, gathered today at MIT’s (in)famous Stata Center (aka the Gehry building). People here are doing stuff they love and excited to share it and learn about others. (warning – overcaffeinated amateur live blogging)

Just now we’re doing “speed-dating” 4 minutes each from folks who will then be available for small group continuation of the conversations (interesting format!):

The appropriately silverhaired Jack Driscoll of Silver Stringers on community publishing efforts by youth and others, hosting offered by enlightened Italian newspaper now carries the papers of 7,400 schools. More info including community publishing how-to info here.

Anna Van Someren (MIT comparative media studies) talking about New Media Literacies, MacArthur Foundation-funded project on participatory culture and learning, working with kids on writing, technology use, and the ethical and cultural issues involved.

Ingeborg Endter on the Computer Clubhouse project, community centers in over 100 locations around the world. Serving underserved communities, overcoming generational barriers. Hoping to link Civic Media work to these communities.

Leo Burd, recent Media Lab grad, was working in his home country of Brazil with kids in poor communities, struck by their communications challenges: easier to learn what’s happening across the world (on the Internet) than in the next block. Now has created a phone-based system What’s Up that allows kids to use phones, including landlines, to post and receive news and messages, whether about the new time for soccer practice or a demonstration. You get a free voicemail account, and can create groups for different reasons (family, friends, teams, schools, etc.). Test bed in Lawrence, MA is going well.

Say What? project present by Karen Brennan is based on the belief that you need empathy in order to get to civic engagement. Uses MIT’s Scratch programming tools for interactive storytelling. Worked with multi-cultural group of 6th graders for 3 month workshops. Kids came up with more personal stories than they expected (they were hoping for news), but the effect on parental engagement was a pleasant surprise – parents came into the school for the first time. Next testbeds: Rwanda, Burma, Haiti and Birmingham, AL.

Noah Blumenson-Cook on Webcomix – web tool (CMS) for people to create their own web comics. Started with student newspaper and cartoons about crappy cafeteria food, eventually led to investigation and removal of food service provider who were related to school administrators. So this is web application to make it easy for folks even if they can’t draw to use comics to do journalism, using CC-licensed materials or your own art.

Speakyeasy – Jeremy Liu from Asian Community Development Corp in Boston presents project that uses a phones-based system to provide services to non-English speaking people in Asian communities. Translators are able to help people remotely, leverage volunteer translators who may have moved to suburbs. Want to use in both community/volunteer model and enterprise/public sector model. City of Boston may use in order to make use of its employees who speak foreign languages (they get higher salaries just for being bilingual, why not use it?)

Wrapping up, Berkman’s own hyper-prolific Ethan Zuckerman, here to represent Knight grantee (and mind-blowing project) Rising Voices, which grew out of citizen media aggregator Global Voices. David Sasaki is in rural Bolivia, he and Georgie Popplewell are the real stars, Ethan just the messenger. Rising Voices finds and support (sometimes with funding, more often connections) citizen journalism in developing world outside the wired big-city based elite. Teaching journalism to the children of prostitutes in Calcutta. Getting the work of videobloggers in Iran to the word. Environmental journalists in Madagascar. Points out that “social hack” is now more important than “technical hack.” Ethan is asked about aggregating such disparate content he says they translate (in and out of 20 languages) and add context, but their first goal with Rising Voices is to affect the local media.

Question for all from the floor: isn’t there a danger of sliding into advocacy? how to stay away from that? Ethan disagrees – Rising Voices is an advocacy project, in some parts of the world, journalism HAS to come from advocacy orgs. Jeremy Liu asks if what they’re doing is “civic social editing” that the key is providing context, and cultural translation. Leo Burd – making media is different than actions and projects in the real world. Thinks it’s important not just to teach kids how media works but how society works, teach them to take action in the real world.

Question – why all about marginalized communities and identity? Ethan – the panel is about that, but to your question about why do this, the goal is to find out what happens when these unheard voices become part of the discourse. It’s definitely not because it’s easier to work in these communities. Ingeborg – we work with youth in marginalized communities to help them expand their view of their own potential, help them get out of the limited tracks they may be funneled into. Mitch – it’s about seeing new media skills as part of basic education.

Photo: Our host, Ellen Hume, Research Director of the Center for Future Civic Media from Chrysaora’s photostream
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  1. Media Re:public » Blog Archive » Shiny happy people laughing (Knight@MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media) « The utterly trivial things about the summer rain

    June 13, 2008 @ 7:34 pm


    […] Media Re:public » Blog Archive » Shiny happy people laughing (Knight@MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media) Media Re:public » Blog Archive » Shiny happy people laughing (Knight@MIT’s Center … […]

  2. dassad

    June 18, 2008 @ 1:56 am


    Great article. I always love to read your articles. Keep them comming.