Civil Society & Information Society
Collaboration can be succinctly summarized as the working together for a joint cause. This therefore involves the use of open source technology that allows users to write and re-write codes, to share information, and to contribute to discussions. Mark Surman and Katherine Reilly were some of the early advocates for collaboration as evidenced by their 2003 report: Appropriating the internet for social change. The report both highlights some of the challenges and opportunities that the Internet and related technologies hold for civil society, and recommends actions to be taken in order to nurture ‘civic cyberspace’. Collaboration is one of several key recommendations.
The Internet has the potential to be what activists are already calling ‘social tech’: the use of technology for social change. Such social change can both be negative and positive. A clear example of a positive change through collaboration is the Civil Society Information Society Advisory Council (CSISAC). This organization brings together privacy, digital rights and consumer organizations, as well as academics, with the aim to contribute to the policy work carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The rise of this and other similar internet organizations introduces a degree of efficiency: it certainly seems a lot more efficient for civil organizations to be using the same web-based tools to advocate social change. At the same time this is challenge faced by many civil organizations: finding a common language and strategy in order to better utilize the Internet for their benefit.
However, in addition to promoting collaboration, Surman and Reilly in their report also recognize a need to nurture civic cyberspace. This need grows from concerns about how the Internet can be utilized in order to promote social change. Graham Meikle is one of the researchers concerned about the future of the internet and about increased commercialization of the internet. In his 2002 book Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet he describes a transition from an open spaced internet, where people freely share and contribute information (Meikle calls this Internet 1.0), to an enclosed market where much of the internet space is privately owned and utilized for commercial purposes and advertising (Meikle’s ‘Internet 2.0’). These terms, by the way, should not be confused with the separate concepts of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.
In a time where information is regarded as a valuable currency, it makes sense that those who have information will try to guard it. Those without it will try to gain access to it. This, in a very simplistic way, can describe the tension that exists between the Internet when it is used for social change as opposed for commercial uses. While it seems that most commercial use of the internet is based under this “closed guarded community” concept, others believe in the concept of freedom of information and fight to keep the internet accessible for all. Wikileaks and Anonymous are two examples that, while giving rise to issues of security and privacy, are also very important. Currently most online information is still freely available. However, the above demonstrates that there is a clear move towards a civil society that uses the Internet to collaborate and share information to promote a shared causes. But on the same time there is the threat of that same information be utilized for commercial purposes. How this will affect the information flow on the Internet, and if information will remain available for free, is yet to be seen.