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What might a decentralized world look like?

Today’s digital dumpster fires? Not long ago, they began with a lot of smart, well-meaning people dreaming about the promise of Web 2.0. Right now, a lot of people are dreaming about another idea with a lot of promise: decentralization. Could this idea save the internet—or make things go horribly wrong? In tech discourse, “decentralization” often refers to software innovations—new protocols and standards—but we think there’s a lot more to it than that. What if we thought about decentralization in terms of power, relationships, and human agency?

We asked a diverse group of some of the wisest tech and community voices we know to take this on in the first issue of New_ Public Magazine, which launches... TODAY!

Like the rest of our work, this magazine was inspired by and made for thinkers, builders, designers, and technologists like you. We hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do. Be the first to read it now!


The Contents

In “The word for web is forest,” post-rocker and author of Broad Band Claire L. Evans challenges us to learn from research about forests to think about the design of our digital networks. What do the life and death of trees have to teach us about protecting the internet? 

Social psychologist Dr. Aleks Krotoski asks: “Can you trust the internet for sperm?” by taking us inside the online community for sperm donation, where the tension between centralized and decentralized control has literally life-changing implications.

Connecting indigenous practices to online game worlds, hacker, artist, and scholar Amelia Winger-Bearskin introduces us to the concept of “Decentralized storytelling, from Native tradition to the metaverse,” in conversation with New_ Public Co-director Eli Pariser. 

Tech policy professional Erik Nikolaus Martin shares a personal story, “Liberation in the Western Plaguelands,” about coming out in a self-governing World of Warcraft guild—and reflects on whether digital liberation is still possible in an age of monopolistic tech platforms. 

In “Gen Z refuses to be locked in,” veteran internet researcher Mary Madden describes seismic shifts she’s noticed while researching the online habits of today’s teens. What do these changes mean for centralized tech platforms?

Urbanist and futurist Lafayette Cruise takes us inside a fictional future in which hackers have pioneered a system of decentralized governance. Things get complicated when a climate-displaced teen is unexpectedly asked to join, in “A jury of your peer to peers.”

In “Care is not an infinite scroll,” artist, professor, and What Can A Body Do? author Sara Hendren looks at how going off the (Instagram) grid with a quiet social media app helped her rediscover her closest relationships—and calls us to bring attention to our own choices. 

New_Public’s Josh Kramer provides us with “A visual guide to decentralization,” exploring the diversity and tension in decentralized networks, as described by scholar Nathan Schneider.


Coming up

There’s so much great stuff in this issue, and we’ll be exploring it more here in the newsletter soon. Don’t forget: we’ve got a live panel today, 3:45 PM at Unfinished Live

What are your first impressions? Tweet at us or leave us a comment—we’re genuinely excited to read your responses. 

We’re going to take this Sunday off, to give you plenty of time to take it all in (and for us to catch up on sleep). We’ll be back Sunday, October 3. In the meantime, leave us those comments, and also any questions you have for our writers. We’ll do another open thread in early October, where we can talk about the magazine and decentralization in general. 

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New_ Public is a partnership between the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, and the National Conference on Citizenship, and was incubated by New America.

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