Community Wireless Networks and Open-Source Software Development as forms of Civic Engagement?
Thank you to
Steph and Mike for their assistance in producing this. My apologies for not updating this post sooner
Technology development as civic engagement?
Faced with Putnam’s (2000) chilling evocation of a society where mediated relationships have us bowling alone, philosophers of technology and community informatics researchers have explored the potential for online communities and virtual engagement to fill the gap (see Feenberg and Barney, 2004). Yet the ability of ICTs to promote participation in one’s community may come from building, not using them. Community wireless networks use wireless internet technology to create alternative communications infrastructure. In Montreal, the community wireless network Ile Sans Fil (ISF) demonstrates how building this infrastructure also acts as a way to engage groups of people who might otherwise not participate in the civic life of their community. It also provides an opportunity to rethink the parameters of democratic participation.
Although it doesn’t always look like it, I have a long professional relationship with Ile Sans Fil. Here are the results of an intervention I conducted with the people who use their hotspots. Thank you to everyone who participated in the research project.
I. Executive Summary
Interviews with Ile Sans Fil users and analyses of their everyday practices reveals that most users are still ISF’s systems are relatively easy to use, but still require interpretation for most users. Users see different advantages to ISF services, but primarily the fact that they are free and available in locations that are convenient. Many reported that they changed their everyday behavior to use wireless, and saw public wireless as a very important service. Surprisingly, many used ISF signals in places other than where they were provided, as long as the location was convenient to them. Even though they didn’t necessarily believe in the power of ISF to create virtual communities in hyper-local spaces, they all felt that they were connected with the ISF project. They wanted to know more about the group and its mandate