Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Citizens in a Connected Age

Ten suggestions for Vermonters who wish to stay informed and engaged in an e-state.

1. Get connected. The Vermont Telecommunications Authority website has a wealth of information about the initiative to bring modern communications to all Vermonters by the end of 2010. The VTA is visiting many rural Vermont towns to discuss local Internet connectivity and mobile phone coverage. To find out how to bring them to your town, send an email to info@telecomVT.org.

2. Join the media mavens. Burlington's Center for Media and Democracy hosts free noontime meetings on topics such as increasing your website's traffic or using online video as an organizing tool.

3. Read a book. Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations" is a great place to start. Shirky walks the reader through successes and failures in the digital age with important civic implications. If you find yourself disparaging Wikipedia, lamenting the loss of community as people spend more time online, or yearning to be a 21st century activist, this is an important read.

4. Read a blog. The Snelling Center hosts a blog called Building Community in a Connected Age. And try these on for size - The Ghost of Midnight, Candleboy, DemocracySpace, Blurt, Vermont Daily Briefing, Vermont View, iBrattleboro, Political Animal, Fractals of Change, Young Writers' Project. Too many blogs and too little time? Google Reader can help. (NOTE: iBrattleboro is not a blog, but a citizen journalism site. I would like to see something like this replicated in other parts of the state.)

5. Test drive a tool. No matter your experience level, there are always new things to try on the web. Suggestions (all are free): Collaborate on a document or spreadsheet using Google Docs or the promising new DropBox, share bookmarks on Delicious, get connected with your neighbors using Front Porch Forum or a neighborhood listserve, help a young friend dig math using Visual Fractions, create a brochure or flier online using My Brochure Maker, review a restaurant on Yelp, find handmade things with Etsy, make your own internet radio station on Pandora, or get organized with Remember the Milk.

6. Check out the library. Librarians are on the front lines of the digital revolution. Vermont librarian/tech blogger Jessamyn West shares her insights on her blog, Librarian.net. The Vermont Department of Libraries brought us 23 Things, a Web 2.0 teaching tool. Many Vermont libraries now offer online catalogs and online database access. The New York Public Library has a really good digital gallery.

7. Be a leader. The Snelling Center for Government and Champlain College Workforce Development Center are teaming up to offer a workshop series entitled "Leadership in a Connected Age" in Spring 2009. Stay tuned for more details. For a more comprehensive leadership development program, consider the Vermont Leadership Institute or the Vermont School Leadership Project.

8. Serve your community. Help a neighbor learn to use email or apply for a job online. Or volunteer to teach computer skills at a local senior center or social services organization.

9. Get your dot gov. Does your town have a website? Is information available online about town meetings and other business for those who can't be there in person? Are residents able to submit feedback? The Vermont Legislature website informs citizens about state government by supplying contact information for legislators, up-to-date information about bills and issues, and even live audio streaming of the House and Senate proceedings. The town of Middlesex has an impressive website with a wealth of information, including very detailed town meeting results; Essex hosts town meeting television via CCTV/Channel 17.

10. Listen to a young person. Ask your child or other young friend what they're doing online. It might surprise you. In a good way.

This list is also posted on our website: http://www.snellingcenter.org/public-policy/e-state/citizens. I'd like to know if you try any of these things or if you have other ideas for a list like this.