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[Membership] A Model for Community & Global Govern

March 13, 1999

Dear gregbo,

You said:

GD>At any rate, I think there are a variety of approaches that
GD>Communisphere can use to get information to its members, ranging from
GD>simple email messages to comprehensive messaging/reporting systems.
GD>All of this can be done using off-the-shelf technology. There is
GD>ample documentation on and offline that explains how to use it.

We currently sponsor a Community Discussion Series using a listserver.
And we use a BBS. But we're looking to make some improvements.

GD>I have some general questions about Communisphere, having been born
GD>and raised in NYC, and lived in some poor communities.  I'd like to
GD>know how people there would like to use the Internet.  Are they really
GD>confused by all the different ISPs?  Do they know how to access online
GD>reference materials?  Do they know how to obtain freeware or
GD>shareware?  Have they tried to network with other freenets or Internet
GD>community centers?

Gregbo, do I detect some sarcasm here?

Let me provide some context so that you might better understand the
basis for my Model.

I'm working in the milieu of social, education, political, and economic
issues as they affect a geographic community. In my work I often find
that "solutions to problems" and "making hay of opportunities" are often
fostered by good communication. And increasingly the only communication
available is the Internet - you know, IP everywhere.

And I'm finding that this geographically ignorant and distance
insensitive network doesn't solve all my problems. Occasionally it even
seems as to add to them! (Forgive me if that sounds like a knock of the
I-t. I'd never criticize the Almighty one. Praise be to Allah.)

One Internet leader asked me "DO you actually *see* the Net having a
"divisive impact," or do you just think that it might."

I've not completed my double blind study, but gut feeling and daily
experiences tell me that it hurts geographic communities. (And with all
the money being poured into the medium I suspect that a conclusive study
of this sort is about as easy to produce as one proving that cigarettes
cause cancer.)

But many counter by saying the Internet also empowers the local guy. And
I guess this message is a perfect example. So I ask you gregbo - what's
the patch that makes my community run more effectively? When my AOL
neighbor to the right and AT&T neighbor to the left go online how do
they know that a critical local issue has arisen that warrants their

If they're active in the community and computer savvy they could install
a patch of some sort. And indeed, I'm interested in locating the best
solution of this type.

But what if they're new to the neighborhood and just bought a computer
>from Gateway?  When they turn on their new machine in their new
neighborhood they'll be in the middle of the Global Internet Sea. They
won't know the parish priest from the Pope, their Community Board from
their lumber yard. And they surely won't know that a critical issue is
brewing in their new community. My aim is to put the geographic
community "in their face" when they initially go online.

Now I know many people don't give a damn about anyone but themselves.
And, under my Model, they'll just be able to click the community
interface into a small flag on the browser's control panel (this to be
illuminated in time of emergency). So it's only a temporary "in your

But an "in your face" policy offers many benefits. And it's my belief
that, had the system been initiated by a search for solutions to local
needs, rather than out of our global war against communism, we'd be
working with an entirely different topography.

When I ask the technical wizards and Internet honchos about the problems
caused by the Internet's geographic ignorance and distance insensitivity
I get this "Just put a patch on it" or "You can build all kinds of
social infrastructure on *top* of the indifferent Net." So that's what
I'm trying to do. But I'm not expecting to find an ideal solution via
the "patch".

Sometimes, while looking for this "patch" my mind drifts off and wonders
what my world would be like if the network had been developed to meet
local needs? Surely it would not have been geographically ignorant. And
would probably not be distance insensitive.

But no, the U.S.S.R. had to try an alternative economic system. And sure
as hell we had to do all we could to crush it. But sometimes I still
wonder. What if…

"Wake up Tom, no time for that. You've got today's problems to deal

So today I'm trying to solve local problems with a tool designed for
global solutions - even though it's like hammering in a nail with a
steamroller. It sure can be done. And if it's the only alternative I'll
do it.

However, I'm letting people know that the basic tool has its flaws. And
I'm hoping that some adjustments can be made.

But as the Dow shouts "10,000" and the needs of amazon.com take priority
over people and local interests, and I'm forced to say, pass the patch



Tom Lowenhaupt
The Communisphere Project

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