Culture and Community-Nets|
The experience of ONDE
Administrator of ONDE
Via Saodata 20 - 25087 Salò (BS) - Italy
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org - www.onde.net/momo
Tel (Off): +39.030.2406355 - Tel (Home): +39.0365.42083
When I think about why Community-Nets (CNs) are important, I like to say they are important to fight what I call the Turist Guide-Book Culture.
What should I expect from Lake of Garda where I live, looking over Internet?
Noone of these things is true and this is why they are attempts to describe a complex community made by people who don't know us.
One of the most important cultural heritage of Europe and surely its richness is its heterogeneity represented by communities with different roots, usages, customs and cultures.
- "… people of Garda are open-hearted, cheerful, outspoken and very responsive to strangers … people of Garda are intuitive and generous …"
- "In July and August the Lake is full of turists because industries close but the weather is unbelievably hot and muggy."
- "… in Limone there are typical restaurants where you can eat wonderfull Spaghetti alla Carbonara with eggs and ham …"
In Information Age we are living in, we are going to pay a great price because the largest Information Cities, the Megacities that represent the global economy are more and more "globally connected and locally disconnected, physically and socially" (Magnum Opus The Information Age: Economy Society and Culture – Manuel Castells – Blackwell 1996), and we experience this in our own lives, in fact I have more contacts with people all over the world than with neighbors on my street or at my university.
While benefits of Internet are many, and the new possibilities are multiplying, there are some questions all of us should be answering: what kind of community or town do we want to live in networked future and how will networking technology help? Is the future we want one where people interact as casually by videoconference as they do in cafes, where people do knowledge work in their home office instead of a building in close proximity with other people? Is it a place where people send email to the mayor and to officials in Rome and Brussels but don't communicate with the mayor of their small towns or choose not to vote unless they can do it online?
This is why communities and so Community-Nets are socially and culturally fundamentals for an healthy development of European new Information Society.
But CNs are also economically important as their nature contains the models that characterize the new network economy in which the value is due to contents produced by users which feed the virtuous circle and in which each new member increases the value of the net.
In fact in the age of the message "in Internet there's everything and all is free" more and more for the network user the value is not in the service offered by a furnisher, but in the experience of its homologous consumer (same taste, same needs), so it's more precious a recipe "recommended" by another user than one proposed by Gualtiero Marchesi's website (a famous Italian Chef). It's an active user, so he searches among several sources in which the furnisher is only one of them. It's ideal is a great quantity of active and critical users, who discuss and exchange “tips” so that's why new economy market needs a lot of users and so CNs and not only furnishers.
What are CNs?
CNs are on-line and free telematic environments designed to promote and favour communication, cooperation and exchanges among citizens and all public and private members (non-profit organizations, governmental institutions, and companies) of a local community, opening at the same time the local community to the on-line communication with other parts of the world.
I've been administering a CN for almost four years, it's name is ONDE (www.onde.net) and has been the first small-town Civic Information network in Italy pionieered in Desenzano, on the shores of Lake of Garda. ONDE is part of an innovative project designed to encourage the 22,000 inhabitants to play an active role in today's Information Society and, as our main inspiring source the White Book of Dèlors (European Union) asks, to stimulate and take advantage of existing or potential resources for promoting the birth of stable and culturally advanced activities in the field of network technologies to allow the community to take step of important changes in economical and social international processes. So our challenge is not mainly technological but mostly educational as we think that in the networked future, the transactions or exchanges will be the measure of activity of a community, not the population or physical size.
ONDE is so a Learning Community that navigates on five waves we call onde (means waves in Italian):
We think that ONDE succeeds because we have decided to Put People First and so it belongs to people and not to institutions, because now students teach their teachers, because the parents work with the school and the Council.
Now we have a community that is telling their history and not only reading the one published on turist guide-books.
- Information: keeping people, schools, associations and authorities abreast of challenges opportunities and risks offered by new technologies. We organize public and private meetings about network related topical subjects, and we also have organized three editions of “Cuccioli e Multimedialità” an international conference on learning with multimedia.
- Awareness: esperimenting with educational software and telecommunications from public work-stations. We opened the most complete (after the one of Italian National Research Council) Mediateque in Italy with public computers connected in Internet and with all Italian CD-ROM production for giving to parents, teachers and people in general the opportunity to experiment products and critically decide between a video-game and an encyclopedia.
- Education: promoting an innovative use of IT in school and fostering the concept of on-going learning involving the entire town. If we don't work to prepare 2000 citizens, nothing happens, it's useless explaining that the world automatically changes, we have to help it or we run the risk to loose the train of Information Society. That's why we apply Seymour Papert model installing computers in schools in the classrooms and not in the laboratories, and why we organize courses for teaching how to use computers to teachers, parents, students (elementary and superior schools), librarians, public employees, people with disabilities, turists, police officers, unemployeds, politicians, public administrators, council officers, ecc.
- Usage: encouraging and instructing teachers, council officers and private citizens to make use of electronic communication. We crated a Civic Informathics Laboratory with various technological hardware (scanners, printers, digital cameras, digital videotapes, digital multimedia editing station, audio samplers, ecc) and software tools for experimenting and productively using new technologies in every-day problems.
- Community-Net: creating dialogue between townsfolk and authorities, parents and teachers, and beyond – into cyberspace. Our CN also guarantees to everybody the right of on-line citizenship, and as we want our citizens to be in the Information Society in an active critical and responsible way, we want to educate them to be like that, so our CN is characterized by the following features:
- conferences based on contributions from partecipants
- bi-directional communication, not only broadcasting
- user friendliness and training initiatives to guarantee access to everyone
- inexpensiveness (either not too demanding computers and modems, free of charge software and access, public access points)
- sharing of rules of principles (netiquette) to preserve rights for all citizens, especially weakest people, starting with younger
- reciprocal identification of users (no one is anonymous)
This a great cultural conquest and this means ONDE is doing its work.
When I read about the culture of Lake of Garda on books or in Internet it seems that the only notable cultural fact in centuries of Garda history is the journey of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe in 19th century who were enchanted by lemons.
The drama is that if you ask to people of Garda, surely more than half don't know who Goethe is.
Garda true culture is the history of fishers, olive farmers, lemon-houses, dialect theatre and poetry, Ugo da Como, Catullo, ecc.
European communities cultures are the greatest invaluable treasure Europe owns.
The problem is that our people are not aware about that, and in our case think that history of fishers, olive farmers, lemon-houses, dialects … are a less noble culture.
So Local Culture is like the Old Trunk our grandmother left us and on which we usually cut bread and sausage, then one day an antiquary comes and says “wonderfull that trunk, it's a rare piece”, so you start thinking “no, wait a moment”, so you polish it, and you start calling friends and you say “look at this, it's a rare piece, it's value is 200.000 Euro” and the friends “WOW, you're lucky”, and you thank your grandmother for that Trunk.
Is this less noble history? May be, but this is our people history and so this is what they want to tell.
So we are very happy that our young people elementary schools publish on Internet history about Garda vegetable nature, about fishery on Garda told by old fishers, about botany and orally handed Myths of Garda, about small-towns where they live like Sirmione Desenzano or Rivoltella, about Garda water cycle and depuration, when housewives discuss about the recipe of Spaghetti alla Carbonara, when local poets write dialect poems, or old people tell about their experiences in Desenzano with nazism or in concentration camps during the second world war, or public employees tell about their Municipality, when local university students carry out an on-line catalogue of the Mediateque materials, or when carry out an online interactive visit to museum Rambotti of Desenzano which almost nobody knows that contains the most ancient Plough of the world, ecc.
Surely these are not “cool” web pages or messages, but this is a new form of information that has an extraordinary credibility as it comes from people.
But also a small community like our of ONDE can highly contribute to global discussion about Internet.
In fact experimenting of new network technologies has soon highlighted in our community the risks for childrens in telematic networks and stimulated a discussion that led to write the ONDE Appeal for "A Charter of Children's Rights in Telematic Networks" (you can find it at the bottom).
We are not presuming to write an nth decalogue, neither does the opening indicate a generical list of desires: it is well-known that the networks are governed more by "etiquette" and "netiquette" than by rules and regulations.
The technical and legal impact of this matter is highly complex and many highly-advanced activities in this ambit are in course in the world.
Our wish is only to create the conditions for an ample reflection on the subject of the rights, the opportunities and risks which children encounter in the network world.
Concluding, we think that ONDE experience is important and of European calibre and we think it could be a model for small European communities. Our only regret is that even if there's an unanimous recognition of our good work and even if for example we have been pursueing some of eEurope initiative key objectives for four years, due to our small dimension we have not time and financial energies to deal with complex administrative procedures for obtaining european financial helps, also because we often don't have a strict project as we chose to grow with our community meeting our people requirements.
I don't know wich is the solution but I think there would be the possiblity also for small CNs to access european helps.
I also think that Europe should stimulate and help the birth of new CNs, mostly small ones.
In fact we do know that being left off of the networks will have serious consequences for small communities and they will die. If a freeway bypasses a town, or if the train doesn't stop at the station any more, connections are lost. People move away, and then the bus service stops too. This is happening in many small towns in my country.
A CHARTER OF CHILDREN'S RIGHTS
IN TELEMATIC NETWORKS
Fulvio Scaparro* Stefano Castelli**
Telematics and minors
Declaration of adult
- The environment - With the increased number of opportunities offered by communication networks - Internet above all - many voices have been raised in alarm proposing that, in prevision of the risks to which children and adolescents are exposed in the use of the networks, access to minors should be limited in various ways, through special chips or software.
- Risks - There is no doubt that connection to Internet presents some potential risks which can be summarised in a number of typologies of quite precise nature, for example:
- exposure to texts or images containing violence;
- exposure to texts or images of pornographic nature;
- molesting messages;
- physical molestation when initial contacts through Internet are followed by meetings in real life;
- damage caused by the excessive amount of time spent before a video screen and/or incorrect physical posture;
- presumed risks of Internet Addiction, with regard to which at the moment we have but very vague elements;
- Not only on the network - Moreover, many of these risks are not at all limited to the networks but are inherent to any form of communication, from the telephone to the messages affixed to school noticeboards.
In reality, the number of cases of molestation over Internet is decidedly low at the moment, much lower than the number of risks run by children and adolescents when they are taken on the bus, for example, or when they go to the gym for physical exercise.
- A world of rights - As is known or should be known, the United Nations has issued a Charter of Children's Rights listing certain basic rights (a name, a family, respect ...), together with rights indispensable for development (instruction, leisure time, health, social security, living conditions). The right is stressed for special protection for children in particular situations (the disabled, refugees, members of minority groups, and those living in gravely underdeveloped regions.
But protection should be guaranteed to all against exploitation and abuse (work, sex, drugs, sale, abduction, war, abuse of legal and administrative nature), further to a guarantee to safeguard fundamental freedom (of information, of thought, of expression, of association, to privacy, to practice a religion, to be respected in one's own traditions and cultural values), without forgetting the right to play and recreative and cultural activities.
- Right of access - As things stand, it is evident that access to the networks is within the full right of children and adolescents.
It appears superfluous to underline how important it is to master the technologies of information and communication, essential to be able to participate in social, political and economical spheres.
A child who has not been given the opportunity to learn how to manage the world of tomorrow, where the rules will presumably no longer be those of today, and the capacity of reaching information will be more important than generical factual knowledge, will have minor chances of success.
Access to networks is becoming a frontier separating well-being from emargination, as Stefano Rodotà reminds us in his intervention of 3 July 1996 in Repubblica, citing "a very recent survey carried out by the reliable Rand Corporation, which shows how, from 1989 to today in the United States, disequality has grown in the access to computers and network services. This disequality is directly due to socio-economical factors and is frightening".
The great telematic networks can contribute to shortening the distances between the rich and the poor in the world, as illustrated by Enrico Marcandalli, Carlo Gabitosa and Alessandro Marescotti in Telematica per la pace (Milan, Apogeo Editore, 1996).
The network "can be, or rather must be a means by which to reach whoever is excluded from the news circuit and allowing those with no voice to communicate with everyone". (interview with Enrico Marcandalli in Farsiprossimo, Caritas Ambrosiana, June-July 1996).
Considering the direction in which society is evolving, to limit access to such an important resource is particularly detrimental for children and adolescents: it is crucial for them, as for the future generations, to be acquainted with the instruments and logics of the world awaiting them.
- Right to responsibility - The attitude assumed here, moreover, is in no way intended to be one of permissiveness.
It is well-known that all human beings (and children in particular) need precise and stable patterns of behaviour to follow.
In other terms, the greatest possible discretion and freedom should be accompanied by a reasonable set of rules which constitute at the same time both a limit to be overcome and a support on which to rely if one is not to fall into a void, a clearly-traced path towards progressive development.
However, it is necessary to stress that an individual who has matured under circumstances of continuous censure may be induced to believe that censorship is the best solution in dealing with unsavoury arguments.
Not to mention, then, the fact that censure may cause curiosity and desire towards whatever is prohibited and/or intolerance towards the censor who comes to lose all credibility when abusing of his power.
More than censors, children and adolescents need guides: lack of responsibility creates irresponsibility.
Children's progressive assumption of responsibilities can only come about when their parents also fully assume their responsibilities.
Children should not be allowed indiscriminate access.
On the contrary, every effort should be made to minimise risks so that children and adolescents can gain the greatest advantages from the network.
In this sense, too, parents should reappropriate themselves of their responsibilities and not delegate them to useless electronic baby-sitters or silicon guard-dogs.
Neither can the State be appointed guardian: even from a practical point of view, the multiplication of detailed articles of law to protect children is totally out of place and inevitably destined to fail with the same speed as technological and social changes occur.
- Right to daily commitment - What has been said up to now should make it clear that, in our opinion, an ulterior charter of rights for children and adolescents specifically for the networks is of no utility if not backed up by concrete action.
It would appear more opportune to ensure full application of the principles and recommendations already expressed in the Declaration of Children's Rights (Geneva, March 1924), in that approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20th November 1959 and in the International Convention on Childhood Rights (the United Nations Organisation, 20th November 1989).
In our country, too, reflection on the subject is at quite an advanced stage, as demonstrated, for example, by the "Charter of Treviso" and by the opinion of the National Bioethics Committee expressed on 22nd January 1994 ("Bioethics and Infancy").
What rather seems to be lacking is the concrete commitment of adults who, with a responsible attitude, should daily make provvisions for children and adolescents to be protected by existing Charters when using the network.
- Right to "normality" - Every child, boy or girl should be allowed to react when they believe their rights have been violated, to play a reasonable number of pranks, without being forever mama's and papa's pride and joy.
With these "sufficiently good" children and youngsters, therefore normal because not perfect, it becomes possible to stipulate reasonable "contracts" which subordinate use of the network to a few precise rules.
For example, such as advising them never to give personal information, addresses, telephone numbers or the name of their school, and to refer any "strange" encounters made on the network to their parents.
Then the "contract" should include reasonable school results, a healthy equilibrium between time spent in and out of the network, between virtual reality and the real world.
Again, it is not judiciously possible to provide a contract to suit all seasons, but every single family can find its own format.
- Right to a common language - Above all, it is important for parents to familiarise with the methods of interaction characteristic of the network, so they can understand this new world in which their children have begun to move their first steps.
Since children and youngsters are usually more agile than their parents in using the computer (they are able to figure out even the more complicated machines and to instinctively understand how software works), parents and children can find a further possibility of play in "role exchange", in the exploration of new worlds, joint adventures, and relationship.
In this perspective, initiatives would be useful for the formation and information of parents and teachers who, with simple and friendly words, without minimizing the risks, would reduce their anxiety fed by scarce knowledge of the network, and would find themselves in the position to actively participate in the telematic experience to which children and pupils have the right.
* Associate Professor of Psychopedagogy at the University of Studies of Milan, Faculty of Letters and Philosophy;
** Assistant Professor of Theory of Evolutive Systems, School of Specialization in Psychology of the Life Cycle, University of Studies of Milan.