The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: community engagement

Twitter and Growing Out of Touch

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SO, TWITTER HAS ENCOUNTERED SOME TURBULENCE, and not for the first time.  The company’s quarterly earnings report sent its stock price circling downwards. But it’s even worse than that, as former users in significant numbers abandon what had once been a popular platform for quick and incisive communication in favour of more pleasing options such as Snapchat and Instagram.

Michelle Fleury, BBC business reporter, suggested yesterday that Twitter execs consider how Wall Street sees them. Twitter’s inability to add significant numbers of new users has got investors thinking that the company’s best days might have passed. Twitter let go 8% of its workforce in an effort to appease investors, but unless new users come aboard quickly, Twitter, once the darling of the social media set, might still be perceived as a dying force.

Another BBC reporter, Dave Lee, challenged Twitter leaders to view themselves as the techies in Silicon Valley see them. Despite having a clearly recognizable brand known by millions worldwide, fewer and fewer of those aware of Twitter are signing up and getting involved. A big part of the reason, Lee suggests, is that Twitter is bringing new tools and innovations too slowly to keep people interested and to attract new users.

But then there’s the third group, and they are the biggie. Along with investors and the tech industry, there is the general public – all those citizens who initially took to Twitter to create a new generation of engagers. Yes, a good number of them are intrigued by other options and moving on to different platforms, but the real root of Twitter’s decline lies elsewhere.

People initially took to Twitter because it provided them a fast and easy way to speak their minds. Yet by creating a generation of users that focused more on giving an opinion before even endeavouring to understand issues more deeply, Twitter became a platform for abuse, leaving us separated from one another in ways we can’t fully fathom. The organization’s very openness resulted  in people closing it down on their personal screens. More frequently than anything else, it is this complaint that is heard from those who have moved on from the app.

Twitter’s difficulties roughly coincide with the online comments that so quickly came to define the life of newspapers. Understaffed and under-resourced, most papers left the field open to anyone desiring to comment. It quickly went from a sphere of ideas to a swamp of intolerance and bigotry. Readers no longer had the patience to locate the more responsible comments because of the carnage wrought by the abusers. The engager’s field of dreams became a war zone. Faced with increasing risks of liability, individual papers, and even entire syndicates, began the process of shutting down the online comment sections before they lost support altogether.

Twitter is approaching that same moment with destiny. Instead of becoming the theatre for the wisdom of citizens, it quickly became the weapon of choice for the bigots, trolls, self-made critics, and stalkers. People can still spot the value of Twitter but are growing increasingly impatient with the sewage that goes along with it.

Twitter was to become the fulsome dream of future generations, the great online citizen’s assembly, a responsive engagement tool, a fundamental necessity for start-ups, and a generator of new ideas. But, as with any business, once the abusers reach a critical level of harassment, customers stop coming back.

So, yes, Twitter has to address the concerns of Wall Street and of Silicon Valley, but its greatest challenge lies on Main Street, from where the majority of its users emerged and to where it must ultimately return if it is to survive. It is a street where human decency and respectability season the diverging opinions of the tweeters. The less Twitter respects that reality, the more rapid will be its decline. It is increasingly becoming the favoured venue for short tempers, hurled insults, even creepy behavior.

And yet millions of us still yearn to explore the possibilities of Twitter. All that we ask is that the company enact policies that permit us to journey on its massive potential in security, trust, and at least a modicum of respect. Make no mistake about it, Twitter can still be a preferred tool for those seeking to build a more open and progressive world, but it is rapidly becoming the poster child for the deeper, more troubling waters now emerging in social media. Opinions and debates are important to our future, but not when couched in insults, lies, deceits, and, yes, borderline criminal behavior. The best way those of us who appreciate Twitter can be of service is to demand the same brand of conduct that we would wish to see in a private home, an open street, an assembly hall, or a Parliament. In a world that has become too sinister, we require a Twitter than can enable us to speak decently and respectfully again.

For Libraries, It’s Their Time

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Ferguson Library During the Crisis

 

LOOKING BACK ON A LIFE THAT HAD FAR more twists and turns than most of us could endure, Lemony Snicket considered one aspect of his journey that provided him solace: “A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up reading them.” To that list could be added the extra dimensions of viewing, listening, dialogue, and social media.

It’s likely we know this already, yet in some of the most significant happenings of modern life – many of them tragic in nature – libraries having taken on the roles of consolers, citizen guardians, event educators, and, in some senses, emergency agencies. Some examples.

Consider how Ferguson, Missouri’s, libraries stepped into the breach of social conflict, legal confusion, and general unrest following the Grand Jury’s decision to decline to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown a year ago. By any measurement the community was facing a defining moment. With local schools closed, along with others buildings, the city’s library system went to work in ways nothing less than transformational. They remained open and welcoming for students to be taught by working and retired teachers, in what was termed as the city’s “ad hoc school on the fly.” Reaching even further, the libraries hosted the U. S. Small Business Administration in order to provide emergency loans, and the U. S. Secretary of State Department to provide document recovery and preservation services. Extending their reach out into the community, library staff circulated “healing kits,” filled with books, stuffed animals, and activities to help Ferguson’s children cope with the tensions of what they were seeing and feeling. When the worst of it was over, citizens realized that they could never quite look at their libraries the same ever again.

Libraries in Connecticut and New Jersey welcomed residents under assault from Hurricane Sandy, and who found themselves without power, by providing spaces for emergency services. They also hosted citizen dialogue sessions that encouraging locals to “talk through” with one another their stories, frustrations, and sense of loss. Those conversations inevitably became circles of hope – something that would never have transpired unless the libraries moved beyond their traditional mandates.

Public libraries are now more popular than at any other time in their existence, which is saying something, considering that they were some of the first physical structures to appear in our communities. In a world changing every day through dramatic technological innovations, libraries have kept themselves relevant by keeping pace with such developments.

And they are discovering new ways to enhance those communities in which they function. In London, Ontario, the city’s library system has taken on the vital partnership role of helping its community to think of how the Thames River might take on a more pivotal role in the quality of life of citizens. In an effort spearheaded by the London Community Foundation, local libraries will serve as information collection and disbursement centers, as individuals, organizations, businesses, and entire neighbourhoods are consulted as to how the historic waterway system might assist us in coming to terms with our future in ways that will preserve river’s integral and sustainable relationship with a people and its land. More will be announced by the London Community Foundation as to public sessions and the library’s vital role in it all.

“Whatever the cost of our libraries,” noted Walter Cronkite, “the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” And now we can add the observation that our libraries are now healing and transforming communities, helping them to discover a new future. Quite a bargain.

Books

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Sometimes falling ill has its own rewards.  My medical complications a year ago meant that I mostly missed out on a relaxing summer and I was determined to make up for it this year.  I have been working hard to finish off a number of books I’ve been writing over the course of the last couple of years and I’m glad to say that they are all completed.  You’ll find a list of them below.  I’m occasionally asked where people can get copies of the books and the links below will help point in the right direction.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.23.21 PMFrom Canada to Brazil, California to China, Catherine O’Hara takes on an odyssey that will change how she views the world of politics. As Minister for the Environment for the Canadian government she has to learn to balance the responsibilities of power with the reality of sustainability and human rights. Essential to it all is David Kronberg – a mystical champion of the natural order who inevitably draws Catherine into a deeper world that will change her position at the centre of power.  You can get the hardback version here and the paperback version here.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.45.34 PMCitizens might well accept reform of government if they actually had a say in the process, or even some kind of direct access to politicians themselves. It’s not to be, sadly, and instead we have information without humanity, communication without meaning, and disenchantment without end. In such days where the customer is always right, this is hardly going to end well. Community engagement is on the only hope for the recovery of democracy.  You can get the paperback version here or download the iTunes podcasts here.

 

LULU cover_smallerTwo great continents intertwined on the world’s stage. And two larger than life characters determined in their separate ways to tell their stories. Chen Chang-Jin – the wildly successful Chinese billionaire working to utilize Africa’s vast natural resources in ways that would be benefit his homeland and raise his profile in the process. Achol Madut Yek – one of the poorest of the poor, trekking from south Sudan, through Darfur, and into Chad, in a journey that will captivate the eyes of the world and cause it to see the strength and potential of Africa and its people in a new light. Dualities is ultimately a story about humanity – its scope, its inequities, its potential – and how the welfare of its most vulnerable members is often more vital than commonly acknowledged.  You can order the hardback version here, the paperback here, or the ebook here.

Coming up – Just finished a new book titled Fired Into Life – thoughts on Jesus and the human personality.  I’m also enjoying being in the middle of some new writing on The Seven Deadly Sins – Gandhi’s list of special challenges facing citizens in our modern life:

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principles

 

“Start Living” – Final Community Engagement Podcast (41)

This is the final podcast on citizen engagement – 41 episodes taking us from the initial moments when each citizen lays out their terms, through exercises of better understanding, and through to an enhanced ability to listen and compromise.  And then it all comes down to this: action.  Participatory democracy is about the world we want, not the one we must accept because we can’t reach agreement.  For this kind of engagement to work, politicians must act upon what citizens have agreed upon, and citizens must be willing to act out those decisions responsibly.  

Just click the audio button below to listen to the five-minute podcast.  

“New Cards” – Community Engagement Podcast (36)

It is highly possible for citizens to discuss their way into solutions.  But that’s not how the political process works.  There you have an agenda and people must dialogue along those lines or they are excluded.  But what would happen if an agenda was worked out later in our discussions.  This is what happens in real life.  Sometimes the answers to our struggles are to be found in third or fourth options, not merely what we are presented by the political class.  Community is about conversation; the agenda comes later.

Just click on the audio button below to listen to the five-minute podcast.

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