Welcome to New_ Public, where publicness meets community. When we kicked off New_Public earlier this month, we stated our desire to build a community for all who believe that our society needs digital public spaces. We don’t just want to speak to you— we want to establish a reciprocal relationship of listening and sharing. We asked the public on various platforms to share their favorite public space and why they mattered. We know these nuggets of experience and connection can inform our design thinking in the future and want to be inclusive in providing space for active readers who want to contribute to the conversation. We will use our newsletter as an experiment in how to better nurture that exchange. If you have ideas on possible formats, we are here for the ideation!
Creating meaningful dialogue that is rich, debatable, and healthy is what we aspire for. And we are so grateful to have heard from some of you. Below you will find a beautifully written reflection of a natural space from a reader who reminds us that all spaces—digital or otherwise— reckon with historical wounds. We appreciated this thoughtful provocation of layered humanity and wanted to share it with you! We hope to build more sharing moments into the newsletter as a means to build and learn from each other.
Share Your Space
As always, we invite our community to share stories of their favorite public spaces. This week’s contribution comes from reader Matthew Battles, whose newsletter, Anthropostures looks at “the work of being human in a more than human world.”
With the pandemic, I've been drawn to the overgrown, in-between spaces that interlace my Boston neighborhood. The most enriching of these has been Allandale Woods, a "small urban wild"—so designated by the Parks Commission—where a tangle of trees fills up a series of modest glacier-inscribed valleys, which lie like a bit too much carpet rumpling up between the busy parkways.
It's a feral place, bottle-glass strewn and New-England gritty, stands of slender glowing beeches on the hillsides giving way to reed-choked seeps and brookside jewelweed thickets, remnant blueberry barrens haunting the hilltops. An island of green in the city's hardscape sea, it lacks the native-vegetative richness of big woodlands to the west, but is constellated with the cosmopolitan traces of invasives and exotics—like the twisty little larches near the parking lot, fugitives from the nearby arboretum, who are just now giving up their golden needles as autumn gives way to winter.
My dog, herself the color of November oak leaves, porpoises through the drifting litter, chasing whatever windmills are tenanted by squirrels; my senses hitch a ride as she blurs through the whiplash undergrowth. I know this is a place of invisibilities, too, of uneven access (fringed by pricy townhouse estates, the nearest bus stop a long out-of-woods walk away). It's a place of past trauma, too—the land having once been a private estate and, before that, a parcel of farms deeded to the Weld family by Governor Winthrop, a prize for having fought the Wampanoag who lived here. Stripped of trees and tilled for corn and tobacco, this land would have been worked by slaves, African and Native, before slavery was finally outlawed in Massachusetts in 1783. So this public space, in its feral richness and gritty diversity, also holds wounds and secrets—some lost to time, others ongoing—a condition I suspect no space, digital or otherwise, avoids entirely. How we walk them, how we witness, makes the difference.
We liked this story because we could imagine ourselves standing in a thick of trees and surveying the land around us. Matthew Battles’s writing grounds us in the very real tension between the past and present and the gritty and the sublime. It’s such an apt metaphor for our digital lives.
What public space matters most to you? Tell us in the comments below, or share it on Twitter with the hashtag #WeAreNew_Public. We’ll publish our favorites in upcoming newsletters!
🌐 Online (special TECH WORKER EDITION)
Timnit Gebru, the co-leader of Google’s Ethical AI team and one of few Black women in the field, was fired after sending an email to an internal mailing list for women and allies working in AI. Here is the email. Over 400 Googlers and over 500 academics, researchers, and civil society supporters have signed on to an open letter demanding that Google provide transparency into their decision and commit to research integrity and academic freedom; read the letter and add your name here.
Gebru’s termination comes immediately after the National Labor Relations Board found that Google illegally surveilled and retaliated against workers who advocated for change within the company.
Are we poised for a new wave of tech worker activism? One hopeful sign: journalist Paul Carr is starting a new independent news site, Techworker.com, “for the most powerful workers on earth.” Contributors include Google Walkout organizer Claire Stapleton, former head of Election Integrity at Facebook Yaël Eisenstat, and Ray Holgado, a former employee at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative who is suing the organization over claims that its Black staff are underpaid, undervalued, and marginalized.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, the City Song Project is a collection of anthems produced by cities during COVID to represent and uplift their communities. They are all very much worth listening to.
Front Porch Forum is a publicly-funded alternative to Nextdoor that elegantly sidesteps many of Nextdoor’s worst problems. It has a lot to teach us about the future of local social media.
If today’s smartphone witnesses and live streamers upload their protest footage to Instagram, Periscope, Snapchat, or TikTok—and if those sites disappear most of it within 24 hours, by design—then how will history remember this era?
The New_ Public Festival experience
One thing we wanted to make sure of when designing our festival was that we were keeping to our own principles of digital public space.
So… what can you expect?
Digital space crawl: an immersive, intimate, guided tour of internet spaces — past, present and future — in a curated, multidisciplinary cohort.
Productive frictions: dynamic conversations with unlikely partners that address core arguments, challenges, and opportunities to create a better internet.
Emergent Showcase: a curation of innovative platforms and mediums from all over the world that are being created with the ethos of public space.
Experiments in Publicness: interventions from our artistic collaborators that will engage us in a connected public online.
Civic Signals: we are unveiling our 14 signals, or measurable qualities of public space at the festival. Discover the framework to build different, informed by the findings of our global cross-disciplinary research.
Public Imagination: world cafes, evening experiences, and epic worldbuilding sessions for us to come together to create momentum around the idea of digital public space.
Inspired by the metaphor Eli used in his last op-ed (To mend a broken internet, build online parks), we are in the process of doing just that, building an online park to host you all!
Tickets to our core participatory experience are filling up, let us know if you can make it by registering through this link!
We've put together a Twitter list of people and organizations working to build a public-friendly internet here. We’d like to continue to grow this list with your help! Comment below with the names of people and organizations you think should be included.
Where we’ll be next week
CAT lab - Civic Signals is hosting with CAT (Cornell) and CITAP (UNC) to facilitate researchers working with online communities to better identify the pressing needs for research. The opening session on December 8th is open to the public.
Center for Media Engagement - The organization is hosting a virtual conversation with Dan Rather, exploring the media’s role in 2020.
We’re psyched for the festival, but you don’t need to wait until January to get your New_ Public fix—our Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts will keep you updated on all things digital public space every day. And if you’re excited by our mission, why not share New_ Public with a friend?
Making a Twitter list & checking it twice,
The New_ Public Team
Illustrations by Josh Kramer
Civic Signals 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.