virtually    clueless.
Who knows how to bring people together electronically to make good things happen?

by Frank Odasz

(The following two paraphrased paragraphs are borrowed from "Revolution of the Heart" by Bill Shore.)

    Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis has visited more than one thousand schools over the past decade to teach young people about jazz. He was quoted in Life magazine as saying "What a kid learns about jazz is how to express his individuality without stepping on somebody else's. The first thing I tell kids is "Play anything you want but make it sound like you." The next step is learning to control that self-expression. Don't just blurt something out, adapt it to what the other guy is doing. Being a good neighbor, that's what jazz is all about. Jazz is democracy in action. Teaching jazz is teaching the language of community. (page 106)

    Current political thinking appears to have polarized between the Republican's belief that the free market is the key to solving today's social ills, and at the other extreme the Democrats have the belief that government holds the keys to taking appropriate action. What both parties seem to have missed is the necessity of action by the civic sector, as the third leg of the milkstool to provide support for a vital America.

    What both Democrats and Republicans fail to see is that the government and the market are not enough to make a civilization. The language of the marketplace says "Get as much as you can for yourself." The language of government says "Legislate for others what is good for them." We're missing the distinctive moral language of a civil society. All of us have to go out in the public square, and all of us have to assume our citizenship responsibilities. Rebuilding civil society requires people talking and listening to each other; making music together as a community, through songs of action, caring; with a spirit of giving freely without measuring it out precisely, or demanding something in return. (Page 12)

    The potential of the NII, community networking, and of each individual, hangs squarely on this issue of joining with others to leverage the public good, without thought of personal gain. Who controls our ability to do this effectively? You and me.

    Today, an increasing number of individuals are awakening to the personal empowerment of today's easy-to-use webbed Internet, complete with search engines and free software. Many of these individuals have a vision beyond a society of solo browsers, they have experienced true human sharing and a sense of community through their online social experiences and have realized that with the will to do so, people anywhere, anytime, can bond together to work toward common goals, no longer limited by distance, time, or the lack of access to adequate information.

    Many community networks operating today are the result of the work of such individuals who have diligently attempted to impart their visions to others by providing a model online environment combining the vision and the tools with citizens eager to benefit others.

    Will the big communications corporations preempt these budding 'bottom-up' community networks? Citizens will determine the winners through their participation.

    The options for any group of individuals to use a BBS, email, listserv, newsgroup, web conference, or other emerging means (3D VRML avatars, CUSEE-ME desktop video-conferencing, etc.,) are increasing. It's to everyone's advantage for the big corporations to provide as high a quality of infrastructure as possible, with citizens being primarily in charge of their choice of communications tools and in the purposes for which they use them.

    The reality of the situation is that creating autonomously controlled local networks demonstrating the authenticity of widespread purposeful citizen participation can only be achieved through a "Win-Win" ongoing partnership between the builders, and the users, of our emerging National Information  Infrastructure.

    The former Congressional Office of Technology Assessment clearly states: "The diversity of applications necessary for a successful NII can only come from the citizens themselves."

    In around 1867, when the first transatlantic telegraph was installed, wonderfully flowery visions of our global human family being joined together were ushered from many a pulpit. Most of these visions have yet to be realized, even with today's technologies. The point is there's a big difference between espousing theoretical benefits and demonstrated practice/realization of specific benefits.
   Beyond basic physical connectivity, universal service needs to focus on the social infostructure by which people become aware of the validated, not assumed, benefits of connectivity at all levels.

    Effective citizen engagement in lifelong learning and purposeful public problem solving, that improves lives, is a key issue. We need ongoing evaluative metrics to measure what's really happening after connectivity is made available. Caring and connectivity are two related types of bandwidth which must
interact with common sense.

    As a society, we still don't know how to work together online productively, yet. We're a passive preliterate video society evolving toward becoming a proactive literate society.

    We're all kindergartners in the information age, experimenting with various ways of communicating and working with others productively online. Problems arise; such as a listserv discussion group growing so large that most members become too intimidated to post their ideas, or a few members choosing to
dominate public discussions with sophomoric 'spitting contests,' airing freely their negativity and causing the majority of discussion members to recoil in distaste.

    Worse even, are discussions without leadership which are reduced to circular hodge-podge messaging, where the same issues are discussed over and over again with no one summarizing, archiving and disseminating former quality messages and "collected knowledge." When value and knowledge are not aggregated, and decisions not reached, forward progress is lost.

    It is the specific processes by which citizens aggregate knowledge and engage in purposeful public problem-solving, effectively, that we need to turn our focus. Without a national "knowledge collection" effort in understanding how to leverage these dynamics effectively, to allow us to define the direction forward in realizing our joint potential, we'll continue to be...

...virtually clueless.