Sunday, March 15, 2009

Between Kate Puzey and ACTA: The Middle Road for You and I

Two recent posts on BoingBoing are worthy of publicizing and demonstrate the need for more sophisticated and nuanced analysis about so-called "social media" and "social change". They also demonstrate a sad, yet in no way surprising, set of contrasts: two examples of American power, one with a graceful open spirit and the other with a closed, myopic one. Xeni Jardin memorializes the incredible life of Kate Puzey, a murdered Peace Corp activist in Benin, who also kept a blog and photo gallery of her experiences (link). The other by Cory Doctorow documents the ludicrous The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the corporate supporters behind this super-secret copyright treaty, which the Obama administration has claimed is a matter of "national security."

In the middle are the rest of us, who must decide how we want to impact the world, both using social media tools, but also recognizing the hype, the herd mentality, the obvious idea that social changes requires more than becoming a "fan" or some forms of online action.

As we move forward in this conversation, we should be careful not to set up simplistic us/them divisions or fall back on the tired cliches of corporations=corruption. The massive gap between these poles --- let's not simplify the challenge as an noble individual versus evil corporation, as there's a whole network of institutions behind Puzey's Peace Corp mission and there are so people within the corporate world who support innovation and change --- represents the awesome, complex challenge facing all of us. Each of us must negotiate this middle space.

We need more subtle forms of conversation and listening, ones with substance worthy of examining complex issues of networks, communication, individuals, institutions and power. We need new tools and institutions, social media and not, that truly empower global citizens.

But now it's time to get back to the job search.

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