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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

digital communities « Previous | |Next »
October 20, 2009

The Knight Commission's Digital communities report examines the information needs of 21st Century American citizens and communities in the context of technology changing attitudes toward information in basic, critically important ways, and that free flow of all sorts of information continued to be as critical as ever to the core of democracy.

It links in with, and provides the justification for, the building of the proposed national broadband network in Australia, and in doing so, it highlights the significance of public journalism to citizenship and democracy. The Report focuses on:

the information people actually need, and works back from there, suggesting ways that the flow of information and its uses may be enhanced. That is a fundamentally different approach from traditional media policy that sought to promote or regulate existing media....if there is no access to information, there is a denial to citizens of an element required for participation in the life of the community. That is as real politically (in denying voters information about candidates and issues) as it is socially (consider digital social networks) and economically (in a world where entry level job applications at MacDonald’s or Wal-Mart must be made online, denial of digital access equals denial of opportunity).

The public policy argument is that the nation be connected and there is no greater role for public bodies, than to invest in the creation of universal broadband access for all Americans, regardless of wealth or age, no matter that they live in rural or urban communities. Enabling the building of a national, digital broadband infrastructure and ensuring universal access is a great and proper role for government; as significant a sconnection the nation through railroads in the 19th century and highways in the 20th.

The Report articulates a vision for “informed communities,” places where the information ecology meets the personal and civic information needs of people. This means people have the information they need to take advantage of life’s opportunities for themselves and their families. It also means they can participate fully in our system of self-government, to stand up and be heard.

In this context failure means the inability to apply for jobs online. Failure is the inability to get relevant health information. Failure is not being able to take advantage of online educational opportunities or use online tools to track the education of one’s children. Millions of Americans---and Australians---lack the tools or the skills to match their information-rich contemporaries in pursuing personal goals. The freedom they enjoy to shape their own lives and destiny is stunted. These people are falling into second-class citizenship.

The Report adds that:

Engagement is the critical point where community and individual information needs intersect. Communities need policies, processes, and institutions that promote information flow and support people’s constructive engagement with information and with each other.A community’s information ecology works best when people have easy, direct and timely access to the information they need...Individuals and communities depend on news as a critical element of the information ecology, and effective intermediaries are critical in gathering and disseminating news.

The news also helps people to connect their private and public concerns. It helps them identify and take advantage of opportunities to put issues of personal importance on the public agenda.News is also essential for the community as a whole. Community coordination cannot exist without shared news. The dissemination of information, debate and analysis is central to problem solving. Someone needs to dig up the facts, hold people accountable and disseminate the news.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:30 PM |