Evelyn Pine, Former Director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

From 1989 to 1992, Evelyn Pine managed the renowned project, Berkeley Community Memory. Its goal was to make telecomputing a routine event for the inhabitants of Berkeley, California.

A 10-terminal public-access network, Community Memory started in the 1970s and became famous for getting unusual combinations of people talking to each other. Pine joined them when they were broadening their user base to include more low-income families, senior citizens, and other disadvantaged people. She saw and fostered interactions across race and class that would never have occurred in a face-to-face setting.

Pine was also deputy director for the non-profit Foundation for Community Service Cable Television in the state of California. This organization encouraged schools, community groups, and government agencies to use cable TV channels to get information out to the public.

From 1992 to 1993, Pine was managing director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, a well-known public interest group that influences government policy in many areas of information technology, including military uses, privacy rights, and equal access for all citizens. By virtue of its concern for social impacts of computing, CPSR members have been involved in many community networking attempts. Evelyn Pine is now an organizational consultant, offering eleven years experience working with individuals and groups to make meaningful use of emerging technologies.



Following is Evelyn Pine’s statement about government policy and community networks.

Electronic Democracy Must Come From Us by Evelyn Pine

When that self-proclaimed champion of “electronic democracy,” Ross Perot, invited Americans to say whether he should return to the 1992 presidential race, his consultants designed his 800-number phone system so everybody could vote—but the only vote you could cast was “yes.”

This shouldn’t surprise us. The clamor for new technology to increase citizen participation is not going to change politicians’ desire to build consensus around the powerful interests they serve.

Advocates are quick to point to electronic voting, access to elaborate government databases, and email to public officials at every level of government as ways that “the people” will be able to influence the actions of their leaders. The reality, however, is not so simple. The real value of electronic networking to democracy is not its power to reach public officials, but its power for us to meet each other in new, intimate, and yet public ways.

Television educates us that our experience is secondary—to the news, to the opinion of pundits, to the lives of celebrities. Computer networking can allow us to reaffirm the experience and expertise of those in our communities.

In many ongoing electronic communities, the status of opinion-makers shifts. Rather than a crystalized hierarchy of leaders, different people emerge as knowledgeable and worthy of respect around different issues. One person, for instance, may have long experience with local politics, while another is known to keep current with ecological issues. Electronic networking may be nurtured to yield an anarchistic, intimate culture where the status of opinion-maker changes over many situations.

However, the current members of online communities tend to be white, male, well off, and “knowledge workers.” For electronic democracy to have any meaning, we need to offer broader access to the necessary tools—literacy, technology, training, time to experiment, and an online culture that is welcoming and inclusive. Groups that already champion networking among diverse constituencies—like American Indian Telecommunications, New York City’s Playing to Win, and HandsNet—can be leaders in the development of electronic democracy. We also need participatory design, where those who will use the system play a substantive role in the creation of the system.

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