TOC Time is of the Essence Your Turn

September 25, 2007

Last Thursday I attented a conference organized by the MIT Communications Forum (*) about the meaning and the future of civic media. While they hardly touched the topic of privacy, the speakers would not have felt alien to the world view we have developed from that perspective.

Beth Noveck acknowledged the reality that "government is owned by interests", which is as closed as one can wish to our warnings against what we call pronaocracy, the government of the people by the lobbyists for the corporate interests. She also expressed a striking lack of enthusiasm for modern forms of popular truth when a click is all it takes to support an opinion.

Chris Csikszentmihalyi stressed that technologies are not neutral because they are deployed in societies which are "far from neutral". In warning about inevitable unintended consequences, he could have been speaking about one of our favorite subjects, i.e. the unfolding of search engines as Orwellian Big Brothers.

Henry Jenkins soberly reminded us that the past should continue to inform our investigation on the Information Age. The past is neither made completely obsolete by our new technologies nor should it be transformed into the romantic picture we elect to remember. This is in total agreement with our helicoidal view of history.

But I felt than Ethan Zuckerman put his finger on the very crux of the matter. He highlighted that on the web, Madagascar does not get a lot of attention and this fact is independent of how much freedom users enjoy to access information.

I have claimed that time is the most valuable goods we, as individuals, come to consume. I have stressed that capitalism is better at value creation than value reallocation. Indeed Joe Cohen recently reported (**) on the present travails of selling tickets to popular events. While secondary markets slowly give scalping a better name, "we must all work together to ensure fans get the best deals and receive the best protection". One area for civic action if I ever saw one.

What Ethan Zuckerman puts forward is that our civic engagement, which combines with capitalism to define the spirit of the United States, is also victim of this inefficiency in allocating time. We may be robbed of time by invasive advertising. We are also so self-centered that, left to our own device, we reach out mostly to our own mirror and forget about Madagascar. If you claim privacy, you shall be found responsible.

No matter how technology enhances our ability to listen and to speak, time, the time spent by each individual, has always been and will continue to be the ultimate currency for civic media. This is why Beth Noveck is correct to reject lazy clicks as cheapening democracy and Henry Jenkins to stress that how people actually come to use a medium is more important than the raw interactivity of its technology.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) .. What is Civic Media, with Chris Csikszentmihalyi, Henry Jenkins, Beth Noveck and Ethan Zuckerman (MIT Communications Forum) - September 20, 2007
  • (**) Fear nor, Led Zep fans, there can be a better way, by Joe Cohen (Financial Times) - September 21, 2007
September 2007
Copyright © 2007 ePrio Inc. All rights reserved.