At an event held in New York last night to discuss the Occupy and Tea Party movements in the context of networked democracy, NYU professor Clay Shirky told the story of a former student/software developer who wanted to provide occupiers in Zucotti Park with a new tool he’d built.
He contacted the appropriate representatives of the movement and got the same response from everyone: it’s not up to us if Occupy uses your tool. We don’t have the power to decide. This is a common story, and is indicative of an evolving relationship between technology developers and technology users which has, in 2011, proved fruitful for both.
From UK Uncut to the Arab Spring to #Occupy, wired activists have in one way or another spurred the development – and the refinement – of new tools. As I posted today at Mashable:
The Occupy movement is not only benefiting from digital tools, but also adding to and transforming the landscape of new media available to today’s advocates. Instead of asking how digital technologies are transforming advocacy, is it more appropriate to ask how contemporary advocacy is transforming digital technologies?
…The new tools that have emerged from Occupy protests are direct responses to user needs. For example, when it became clear that cellphone microphones were insufficient for disseminating information across Zucotti Park, technologists joined with activists to create a phone-powered tool for real-time information sharing. The People’s Skype turns many phones into distributed PA systems, provided the devices have speakerphone capability and their users know the dial-in and pin number. The tool also allows for real-time voting using mobile keypads.
What does this trend mean? For one thing, on the ground activity is creating a channel of communication between advocates and technologists that barely existed before. The excitement of 2011 presents an opportunity to improve this channel of communication in 2012.