[Air-l] community and mai-tais

Michael Gurstein mgurst at vcn.bc.ca
Thu Dec 27 11:34:56 PST 2001


Let me reply to David (Silver)'s several points in his recent note...
particularly concerning the continued relevance of Community Networks...
(while looking out over the broad sweep of the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii...

There is of course, as many definitions of Community Networks as there are
CN's. While many if not most CN's in the US (and Canada) have failed to make
the transition from being low cost public ISP's to other roles enabling
communities with ICT's, CN's continue to play a very important role in many
parts of the world where they provide a means for facilitating bottom-up
access (through public access facilities) or as a way of linking
(international/national/regional) funders into local communities again for
facilitating access and including training, enabling local e-commerce
development and others.

The Vancouver CN with which until recently I was active, still provides ISP
service to thousands (and an increasing number as commercial providers of
free dial-up access have disappeared), but also provides web hosting to
hundreds of Vancouver area not-for-profits, training for individuals and
not-for-profits, program design and delivery for various agencies looking to
"bridge the Digital Divide" among others.  The British Columbia Community
Networking Association has some 100 or so members or affiliates all over the
province including into some of the smallest and most remote First Nations
communities.

BTW, at the recent (2nd) Global Community Networking Congress
http://www.globalcn2001.org were some 550 participants from 40 or so
countries.

Also, through one of those deliciously ironic twists of technology it now
appears that widespread deployment of Broadband and particularly into
non-metropolitan areas may require active local intervention and management.
The concept of "community fibre" as a strategy for enabling demand
aggregation at the local level sufficient to cost-justify the laying of
fibre access underlies the far-sighted Broadband strategy articulated by
Canada's National Broadband Task Force and which is widely seen in the US as
a way out of the current Broadband financial debacle.  The
creation/recreation of local capacity either voluntary or through civic
governments as the "owner/manager" of the local broadband access
point/backbone would have the immediate effect of requiring the creation of
some sort of local Community Networking capacity.  The arguments around this
are too long for this forum but are outlined in a paper that is available
through the global cn 2001 website or I could forward as a Word file to
those with an interest.

Certainly, the broad sweep of Net evolution has been dominated by commercial
developments in the last few years.  But this isn't to say that the other
sectors have disappeared--the volume of activity has probably increased
absolutely while declining significantly relative to commercial activities.

David's second point about the need for a new paradigm is an interesting
one... Personally, I see the "network" as the new paradigm, and one which
underlies the variety of "communities" or connections which are forming the
basis for our discussion here.  However, adopting the notion of "network" as
a paradigm really only begs the question, since what is it that is being
networked when one looks at for example the "networked society".  For many I
suspect, the nodes for which the network is providing connection are in fact
"communities" rather than individuals and while individuals in complex
environments may find themselves with loyalties to multiple communities,
nevertheless, the (geo)community is at least one basis through which social
(and Internet) connectivity is maintained.  (My paper in the Keeble and
Loader book I mentioned in the earlier post is concerned directly with this
point.)

Mike Gurstein

Michael Gurstein, Ph.D.
(Visiting) Professor:  School of Management
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ

-----Original Message-----
From: air-l-admin at aoir.org [mailto:air-l-admin at aoir.org]On Behalf Of
david silver
Sent: December 26, 2001 8:57 PM
To: air-l at aoir.org
Subject: [Air-l] community and kreplach

So many great posts, so little time.  (And a related quandary:  so much
leftover turkey and kreplach, so little stomach space.)

I've been influenced by and intrigued with Wendy's work for years now and I
take her very seriously when she asks: "Are virtual communities different
today (this may have been partially what David was initially inquiring
about)?  Can they still be theorized as utopian, even other worldly?  If so,
does that take us back to 1992, rather than helping us develop theory for
post-dot-com 2002?" Following Wendy's post is Mike Gurstein who notes that
little if any has been said about community networks, CTCs, etc.

In my mind, these two posts are somehow linked.  I'm a bigtime fan of
community networks but am currently finding it difficult to take them
seriously in (almost) 2002.  (This is not a flame, hardly;  I'd like to see
some evidence that they are still relevant these days.)  And I wonder --
along with Wendy, and perhaps with Jonathan, too -- whether we're stuck in
an outdated paradigm when we focus on community (read: non commercialized
online environments).

I know the Net-radio comparison has become a bit of a cliche but I still
believe it extremely useful and find myself thumbing through the work of
Susan Douglas, Susan Smulyan, and Daniel Czitrom, looking for clues.  Like
the Net, radio was ushered in on a red carpet of utopian hype and, also like
the Net, was somewhat quickly commercialized.  For the three scholars noted
above, the commercialization of radio resulted in profound changes to the
content and form of the medium.  Now, if we were to take an informal vote on
the last few years' most influential Net developments, I have little doubt
that commercialization would top the list.  (Any naysayers?) Which leads me
back to Wendy's questions and another one:  Why has the field been so
resistant to tackle -- critically -- this development?

david silver
http://faculty.washington.edu/dsilver


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