It’s not just about technology as “tools”

When I talk to people about the Center for Digital Civic Engagement, and the idea that the use of social media and information technology can be  important in civic engagement efforts, I often have a hard time getting past their desire to simply view the technologies as “tools.” As the letter became the email and then the text message, something else was happening. In both public and private life, ideas and creativity took place in open and connected spaces. Brainstorming, trial & error, re-imagining, and LEARNING all became social.

Just as social media transformed people from consumers of Internet content, into producers of Internet content – civic engagement transforms us from spectators of democracy into creators of democracy. Want to create public policy? You’ll have to use a similar model of Brainstorming, trial & error, re-imagining, and learning.

David White and colleagues at University of Oxford, have developed an interesting framework for thinking about these changes. I have found their work on “digital visitors” and “digital residents” to be very useful in understanding this profound cultural shift. White explains the theory in the video below.


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