The virtual public space is like the park?

Trees in Whitworth Park in Moss Side, Manchester, UK

Eli Pariser posted a fascinating piece in Wired magazine just recently.

“We need public spaces, built in the spirit of Walt Whitman, that allow us to gather, communicate, and share in something bigger than ourselves.

As we head into the most consequential, contentious election in our history, it’s time to fix some of the structural problems that led us to this moment. Let’s face it: Our digital public sphere has been failing for some time. Technologies designed to connect us have instead inflamed our arguments and torn our social fabric.

Eli goes on to talk about public spaces using the analogy of public parks rather than private gardens. This is something which many has talked about and we had planned to build at Mozilla Festival the year we built the connected library.

Now, accelerated by the pandemic, we spend much of our time living and conversing with others in a different location: digital space. But social media and messaging platforms weren’t designed to serve as public spaces. They were designed to monetize attention.

Much of our communal life now unfolds in digital spaces that feel public but are not. When technologists refer to platforms like Facebook and Twitter as “walled gardens”—environments where the corporate owner has total control—they’re literally referring to those same private pleasure gardens that Whitman was reacting to. And while Facebook and Twitter may be open to all, as in those gardens, their owners determine the rules.

I like the points made why venture backed platforms (private gardens) are awful public spaces. In short I see it like this…

On Growth. I was listening to Team Human with Marina Gorbis & Douglas Rushkoff with a strong statement of scale is the enemy of humanity. On friction parks are messy because they are used by different people in different ways Private/walled gardens are predestine, they have house rules. These rules are set by the owner. Public parks are owned by the public and there is a democratic way to set the ground rules.

I found the post is clever to call out public institutes like libraries, schools, etc. My only issue is this is all very american, which has its own unique cultural differences.

https://i0.wp.com/www.movebubble.com/hs-fs/hubfs/Screenshot%202019-06-18%20at%2012.36.57.png?w=840&ssl=1

Ironically the physical public spaces talked about in the article are under massive threat. For example I live in central Manchester and I’m lucky to have a good size community garden but there is also two large spaces within 2 mins walk from me. Ok the central retail park isn’t really a park but currently being used a covid19 testing space and the other one is the New Islington green which is currently under treat to be built on.

If we haven’t learned anything about the natural/physical environment, I wonder what hope we may have for the digital world? Oh and I found the Guardian opinion piece quite good too.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.