The Networked Ideal

by Glen

We have spoken enough in these blog posts about the need to be better connected as communities that maybe we should examine just how that would look.

Any community, regardless of size, would ensure that each of its citizens had affordable access to the Internet. Libraries and agencies would be properly supplied with the infrastructure required to assist the marginalized in taking their rightful place in a networked community.

With a citizenry that’s now tuned in, governments at all levels endeavour to put draft legislation, seeking input prior to pertinent issues being enacted. This is especially true at the local level, where political decisions often have the most immediate impact. How their political representatives voted previously would be tracked online, along with their expenditures and actual involvement in the community. All but in-camera sessions would be posted online, with proper notification provided concerning subject matter and how the new proposed legislation would differ from what preceded it.

Along with coverage from traditional media, a bank of responsible citizen journalists would fill out the daily news, using social media to spread the coverage far and wide. These wouldn’t be hacks, partisans, or just those who have an opinion. A certain editorial oversight by experienced citizens would insure that what was being released was factual and not just glorified opinion. Points of view, both reasoned and not, would always be part of the mix, but the presence of a new dynamic group of writers, videographers, and interviewers adept at using the Internet would add to the serious equipping of citizens to gain enlightenment on key issues.

The passing along of serious information wouldn’t be merely in a one-way direction from politicians to citizens. The new group of journalists and organizations would begin the process of flowing citizen insights and opinions to politicians and bureaucrats. This could even go so far as effective polling, the results of which would be publicly available to all. This would help leaders to comprehend, on an ongoing basis, not only the present sentiment of public opinion but also long-term trends.

As world developments take on greater impact on local settings in economic, security and refugee/immigration matters, something more than just local opinion will be required for citizens to gain a broader perspective on global developments. Specific expertise often found through diplomatic, business and journalist voices must be channelled through into the local contexts to keep citizens in our communities from missing the forest for the trees.

Through the Internet the possibility of communities sharing best practices could assist places like London, Ontario in discovering how to arrest economic decline, build stronger neighbourhoods, and how to build upon stronger small-medium size business networks. While numerous civil society groups have shown great dexterity at using the Net and social media venues to get their message out and to drum up support for their respective causes, a new movement would develop that permits citizen groups from across the country to harmonize their voices and present a more coordinated strategy for working in concert with elected leaders. For this to work effectively, however, numerous opportunities for debate, enlightenment and resolution are first worked out, leading not only to practical policy solutions but opportunities for discovering consensus and compromise.

In venues scattered throughout the community – coffee shops, restaurants, train stations, post offices, malls, lobbies, information kiosks, places of worship, schools, hospitals, arenas, neighbourhood centres, etc. – people listen to podcasts, live coverage of political venues, get up-to-the-minute developments of both local and global importance.

It’s not an easy or fully organized confluence of information, but it is all publicly accessible and open to streamlining and better efficiency. Groups adept at working on the Internet would spend serious time moving around all the information into sizeable chunks more easily accessed and understood by local citizens. Though channelled through thousands of venues, one citizen with a computer and good enough broadband has at his or her fingertips more information than they could acquire from years of looking through physical data from institutions and libraries. That makes the citizen the most plugged-in and dynamic force for change and involvement in modern society – even more adaptable than any political party. Citizen power wouldn’t be determined by class, economic status, or even educational level. They are as vital to the community as their willingness to learn, involve themselves and impact the outcome of joint decisions.

This is the community that I want and you likely do as well. All the tools required to make it happen already exist but are spread in disproportionate measures in ways that can leave out entire sectors of the community and the country. Nor are citizens yet ready to handle such an infrastructure effectively. Too much pettiness, outright rancour, partisanship, and lack of respect continues to flood the Internet, thereby ruining its potential before it can even attempt to establish a consensus. We behave in a manner online that we would never tolerate among our kids, at restaurants, public meetings, churches, or other venues. Yet we are learning to refine our online personas in ways that show progress and hope.

We are getting closer to a connected community than ever before. When the time comes where we put enlightenment over political parties, make Internet infrastructure available to all, and grow in our understanding of our responsibility as citizens and handle ourselves better online, our respective communities will be energized by a new wave of democracy, driven by information and defined by collective and individual growth.