The September 2021 DWeb Meetup explored the potential and reality of decentralized storage with two projects leading the way toward storing highly valuable cultural data at scale.
Watch the recording of the event and learn more about the speakers below.
The September 2021 DWeb meetup was held virtually on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 at 10am PT, optimized for American/European time zones. Wendy Hanamura welcomed attendees and kicked off the meetup. Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, set the stage for the discussion by emphasising the need for a more secure and decentralized web. The Meetup also broached the possibility of a DWeb camp in the Fall of 2022.
The discussion explained the differences between the IPFS and Filecoin systems, how they work together and delved into the two projects led by Arkadiy Kukarkin and Jonathan Dotan which are at the cutting edge of storing large scale data of high cultural significance in the Filecoin network. They discussed the challenges, successes, and future opportunities presented by these efforts.
Lastly, attendees welcomed Eseohe “Ese” Ojo, the new DWeb Projects Organizer and said farewell to Mai Ishikawa Sutton as she goes off to grad school in Japan. Mai will continue to stay connected with the DWeb community and can be reached on Twitter @maira. Ese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EseoheOjo. The meetup wrapped up with socializing and networking in Gather.town.
The next DWeb Meetup “DWeb Meetup Nov 2021 – Centering Respect, Trust and Equity in the DWeb” is scheduled for Thursday, November 4, 2021 at 5pm PT, optimized for Asia time zones. At this meetup, we will hear the latest in the DWeb and from our featured speaker Coraline Ada Ehmke on centering respect, trust, and equity in the DWeb. You can read Coraline’s blog post on the DWeb principle of Mutual Respect here.
We’re interested in hearing from DWeb projects about the breakthroughs, challenges, and new roadmaps they might be exploring. For anyone interested in participating in lightning rounds at this meetup, let us know here.
Image of Arkadiy Kukarkin (Twitter: @parkan)
Arkadiy Kukarkin, DWeb engineer for the Internet Archive. Arkadiy explained this nonprofit’s history with decentralization, from BitTorrent to today. He is leading a new project to explore how the Internet Archive could better decentralize its historical archives using Filecoin. He’s starting with End-of-Term data — all US government websites as they appear at the end and beginning of each Presidential Administration — starting with the 2016-2017 transition. At this talk, Arkadiy revealed his roadmap, lessons learned, and future direction.
Image of Jonathan Dotan
Jonathan Dotan, Founder of the Starling Lab, the first major research lab devoted to Web3 technologies. It is affiliated with Stanford and USC. Jonathan returned to the DWeb Meetup to bring us up-to-date on the USC Shoah Foundation Project, which preserves testimony of survivors of genocide on decentralized storage at huge scale. How does the process work and how do we keep these precious artifacts safe.
Visit GetDWeb.net to learn more about the decentralized web. You can also follow us on Twitter at @GetDWeb for ongoing updates.
Announced today at the Library Leaders Forum, librarians Kanta Kapoor (Manager, Support Services, Milton Public Library) and Lisa Radha Weaver (Director, Collections and Program Development, Hamilton Public Library) will each receive this year’s Internet Archive Hero Award for helping their communities stay connected to digital books during the pandemic. They will be presented their awards at next week’s Library Leaders Forum session—register now.
This year, we were looking for libraries and librarians who rose to the challenge—this was the year that libraries and librarians have been needed like never before. We wanted to acknowledge the hard work of people who went above and beyond to meet the needs of their communities.
Kanta and Lisa both exemplify the spirit of an Internet Archive Hero:
They helped both of their organizations become early adopters of Controlled Digital Lending in 2019. Of course no one knew it at the time, but that early move helped their patrons stay connected to resources throughout library closures of 2020 and 2021 by already having tens of thousands of digitized books available through each library’s participation in the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program.
They were resources to their professional networks, acting as a point of reference for other librarians interested in learning more about Controlled Digital Lending.
They thought broadly about access to collections, considering not only, “What helps my local community?” but also, “What helps the global community?”
In addition to their shared achievements, they also brought their individual strengths to their work:
Kanta’s persistent, steady, and polite pushes—whether about donations logistics, joining Open Libraries, or offering suggestions to expand the program—are what it takes to make things happen. Kanta’s gracious and humble nature belie her steely resolve and approach to program advancement: Kanta just kept at it, politely, until she got the results that she thought was right for her library and her community.
Lisa has joined discussions about Controlled Digital Lending since 2019, participating in several panel presentations for librarians and even participating in discussions with US lawmakers and policy experts alongside ALA Annual in Washington, D.C. Lisa’s professionalism and thoughtfulness helped librarians new to the practice of Controlled Digital Lending understand how their library could benefit.
Join with us in celebrating Kanta and Lisa at next week’s Library Leaders Forum. Registration is free for the virtual event.
Library Leaders Forum October 20 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register now
Let’s welcome Eseohe “Ese” Ojo to the Decentralized Web community! We’re thrilled to have Ese (pronounced “essay”, she/her) as the new DWeb Projects Organizer. She will be working to foster dialogue and build networks among those building a web that is more private, reliable, secure and open. She will also help steward the DWeb website as a resource hub for readings, guides, and events related to the Decentralized Web.
We did a short interview with Ese, where we asked her about her professional background, her thoughts on the connections between digital rights, human rights, and the environment, as well as what it is about the DWeb space that brings her hope.
Mai: Can you first tell us about your professional background and what you’ve been working on more recently?
Ese: I have a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and in May 2020, graduated with a master’s degree in Public Policy and Global Affairs as an African Leader of Tomorrow Scholar from the University of British Columbia. During my undergraduate studies in Nigeria, I took a combination of Law and International Relations courses and developed an interest in human rights and international law. I began working in the non-profit sector after graduation on a range of issues including digital rights, freedom of expression, access to information, academic freedom, gender, democracy, good governance and open government.
Mai: Given your background in human rights and digital policy, as well as with your current work in climate organizing, how do you think these issues are intersected?
Ese: I think these are all interconnected. I began working on environmental issues having worked on other human rights issues previously because I realised and agreed with the assertion that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of other fundamental rights and freedoms.
When it comes to digital rights and right now, as I’m learning more about the decentralised web, I see a lot of parallels. I believe that the original vision for the web and the vision for the decentralized web is meant to be inclusive, private, reliable, secure, and open. It is often said and reaffirmed that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.” Achieving all of this requires that special attention is paid to what harms we see offline are being reproduced online and even beyond this, what new ones are being created by these spaces. We can only achieve this if everyone in the community is committed to doing their part in small and big ways to create, protect, and defend the world and the web we want.
Mai: What aspects of the decentralized web bring you hope? Are there specific projects or examples that come to mind that demonstrate to you how decentralized technologies can better secure our human rights both online and offline?
The potential for peer-to-peer relationships and control by many rather than a select few holds a lot of promise. I am hopeful that this will bring about alternative solutions to the problems we face now and mean greater, more meaningful access for many. I also hope that this community can learn from the mistakes already made as we work together to build something better — not just in comparison to what already exists but looking beyond to fill some of the gaps too. I am still exploring projects and examples of decentralized technologies and look forward to learning more about them.
Mai: Let me ask you a final, less serious question then! What do you like to do for fun, online and offline?
If my head isn’t buried in a book, I can typically be found rewatching Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice. On a rare sunny Vancouver day, I enjoy soaking up some sun at the beach, park, or sea wall.
It is an unfortunate truth that libraries have long been called upon to censor or destroy knowledge—a topic we recently explored with Richard Ovenden, author of Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge. Indeed, Richard Ovenden has argued that, by standing against such attempts, libraries perform an essential function in support of democracy, the rule of law, and an open society. In the circumstances, it should be no surprise that libraries and librarians tend to react with some alarm to legislative proposals to censor or destroy information—no matter how well intentioned they may be.
So it was with some alarm that Internet Archive Canada reviewed the Government of Canada’s latest proposals to address “online harms.” As EFF and others have noted, policymakers around the world are exploring a range of options—many of them “dangerously misguided”—to address harmful online expression. Canada’s proposal appears to be the latest in this line. As Professor Michael Geist has explained, the Government’s plans:
“include the creation of a bureaucratic super-structure featuring a new Digital Safety Commission, a digital tribunal to rule on content removal, and a social media regulation advisory board. . . . [and also] envisions a myriad of takedown requirements, content filtering, complaints mechanisms, and even website blocking”
Internet Archive Canada expressed some of its own concerns with the online harms proposal in a submission to the government last week. Our friends at Open Media, and many others, did the same. Like Open Media, we are hoping for the best, while standing ready to engage further should legislation on the issue emerge. We hope all concerned Canadians will do the same.
Yesterday, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-California) sent an inquiry to each of the “Big Five” book publishers to investigate their activities in the library e-book market. As the Senator and Congresswoman noted, rather than simply selling books to libraries, publishers insist on using “restrictive and expensive licensing agreements,” leaving libraries to face with “skyrocket[ing]” prices and temporary “leases,” “often at a much higher markup than what the average consumer pays for the same title.”
These practices have led to outcry by librarians and others around the world, including the #ebookSoS Campaign to Investigate the Academic eBook Market. Following careful reporting on the topic in The Nation, the Daily Beast, and the New Yorker, as well as campaigning by Library Futures and others, the Wyden-Eshoo inquiry seeks information on the restrictions the publishers place on their e-books, their outsize costs, and any legal actions they have taken to prevent libraries from engaging in traditional lending practices, among other things. The publishers have until October 7 to respond.
We are pleased that government officials are looking carefully at these issues. Libraries need to be able to buy books; publisher licensing models restrict libraries’ core functions of preservation and lending. That is why we have long sought to actually purchase e-books from publishers. But the big publishers, in a curiously coordinated fashion, have refused to do so—instead using the digital transition to impose onerous and expensive licenses on libraries, and to sue the Internet Archive for doing digitally what libraries have always done physically, preserve and lend books. This letter shows that some in Washington, if not in the publishing houses, still have the public interest in mind.
It is also the latest in a groundswell of support for Controlled Digital Lending. As the letter notes, “it is imperative that libraries can continue their traditional lending functions” in the digital age. Controlled Digital Lending allows libraries to do just that. The Boston Library Consortium, the International Federation of Library Associations, and even large commercial organizations like ProQuest are lining up behind Controlled Digital Lending.
To learn more about CDL, and the importance of digital ownership for the future of libraries, consider joining our virtual Library Leaders Forum this October.
Internet Archive Canada recently made a submission in response to this AI consultation. As mentioned in the submission—and as recognized in the consultation paper itself—AI raises a fundamental and recurring copyright question: how to ensure the law keeps pace with technological change. In our view, what history suggests as an answer is not interminable legislative tweaks, but rather flexible copyright frameworks, including flexible limitations and exceptions like the fair use doctrine. The Supreme Court of Canada has shown a wonderful and enduring commitment to a flexible conception of fair dealing—most recently in the York University v. Access Copyright case. Why not continue down this path and simply reaffirm the flexible and open nature of fair dealing in Canada today?
The artificial intelligence consultation itself helps prove the point. The Government has been considering taking action on artificial intelligence since a review of the Copyright Act commenced all the way back in 2017 (itself set in motion years earlier). In the years between then and now, should Canada’s technology industry have taken a wait-and-see approach, while others made extraordinary investments in AI? Why spend half a decade or more tweaking narrow legislation when broadly flexible limitations and exceptions can and do fill this gap? And flexibility provides a host of other benefits, including for AI itself. For example, AI is not immune from the ancient maxim, garbage in, garbage out, to say nothing of the bias and other similar problems with AI. As a result, it is important that AI researchers and others be able to analyze datasets both before and after ingestion, and that copyright not stand as an undue obstacle to this work. Legal frameworks empowered by flexible copyright limitations and exceptions, such as controlled digital lending, can help facilitate this process.
In the end, the AI consultation offers much to be thankful for, including an open and transparent process and many good ideas. We look forward to continuing to work with our Canadian friends and neighbors to ensure good copyright policy and strong libraries in the 21st century and beyond.
Registration is now open for the Library Leaders Forum 2021, our annual gathering of experts from the library, copyright, and information policy fields. Following the success of last year’s virtual Forum, which brought together hundreds of attendees from all over the world, we will again host a series of online workshops, presentations, and discussion sessions over four weeks in October. Register now!
This year, we are focusing our discussions around the theme, “Digital Ownership & the Future of Library Collections.” As more content moves digital, and as publishers refuse to sell ebooks to libraries in favor of restrictive licensing models, librarians wonder, “What will our library collections look like?” We will explore this question and related issues throughout the Library Leaders Forum sessions and conference workshops, which include:
Library Leaders Forum
Session I: Community Dialogue October 13 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register In our first session, hear from library leaders as they navigate the challenges of the ebook marketplace, and their concerns about the future of library collections as content moves digital. We’ll also be joined by copyright experts and publishers for a panel discussion on digital ownership.
Session II: Community Impact October 20 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register In our second session, we’ll explore the impacts that digital collections have had for libraries during the pandemic. Hear firsthand from educators & librarians about the value of digitized library collections for the patrons, students, and communities they serve. We’ll also feature new developments at the Internet Archive, and how these advances help connect digital learners with books, articles, and other resources. We’ll finish the session by awarding the Internet Archive Hero Award 2021.
Controlled Digital Lending: Unlocking the Library’s Full Potential October 7 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register Last month, Library Futures Foundation released a new policy document, “Controlled Digital Lending: Unlocking the Library’s Full Potential.” Library Futures Foundation developed this document in consultation with the Intellectual Property and Information Policy (iPIP) Clinic at Georgetown Law. The document covers all the benefits, innovations, and goals that are the basis of any controlled digital lending system and makes the crucial connection between CDL and issues of equity. It expands beyond the legal rationale laid out in the Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) White Paper by clarifying the core principles that are the foundations of a library’s mission to provide access to materials to serve the public good.
This session will provide an opportunity to hear from the authors of the policy document, to engage in a virtual discussion, and to give your feedback on how this document may be useful to your community.
Empowering Libraries Through Controlled Digital Lending October 12 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register The Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program empowers libraries to lend digital books to patrons using Controlled Digital Lending. Attendees will learn how CDL works, the benefits of the Open Libraries program, and the impact that the program is having for partner libraries and the communities they serve.
Resource Sharing with the Internet Archive October 27 @ 10am PT / 1pm ET – Register Learn about the Internet Archive’s new resource sharing initiatives and how your library can participate.
Kelsey Bresemanis a Rita Allen Civic Science Fellow at the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, where she works on environmental accountability, data ownership models, and intentional community. Kelsey has founded and managed tech startups, and has a history of activist leadership for progressive causes. She has a B.S. in Neural Engineering from Olin College and is currently working on a M.S. in Data Science from UT Austin.
I originally entered the decentralized web space through a problem with trust and power. I’m a member of the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI), an organization that sprang up in the wake of the Trump administration in an effort to prevent a climate-denialist administration from reducing public access to critical government-held data about the environment. In the EDGI working group then called Archiving, we were looking at ways to back up datasets such that scientists would be able to use them as proof — implying a strong chain of provenance — even if the original source were to remove access.
The question was, how could we ensure that data for the protection of the environment was owned by the people in a trustworthy way? The decentralized web offered broad distribution and a blockchain-backed provenance. So the decentralized web can — at least theoretically — help to protect the environment through the preservation of critical data.
The basic pattern is the same across the technologies: proof-of-work is an inherently and intentionally energy-inefficient process that is the basis for Bitcoin’s stability as a currency; as the value of the currency rises, mining (which performs the energy-intensive proof-of-work process) becomes financially incentivized; high energy consumption increases carbon emissions, oil and coal extraction and burning, and so on. And so, decentralized web technology contributes to the destruction of habitability on our planet. Most articles you’ll find about this discuss cryptocurrency and NFTs, but our use case of decentralized and highly duplicated file storage isn’t immune. Aren’t we asking for more files to be stored on more servers, with more aggregate uptime and thus more energy use?
In this context, do we now need to protect the environment more directly from the decentralized web?
We believe projects should aim to minimize ecological harm and avoid technologies that worsen environmental health.
We value systems that work towards reducing energy consumption and device resource requirements, while increasing device lifespan by allowing repair, recycling, and recovery.
Though this principle could apply equally to any project — of course we should minimize ecological harm — it’s worth a brief exploration of the implications in the decentralized web space.
Energy use is an acknowledged issue with the decentralized web, and especially decentralized ledger (cryptocurrency) technologies, so there is a fair amount of writing in this space. Here, I’ll break down the most common takes I’ve seen folks bring up to address the ecological (usually energy-centric) impacts of this tech:
Carbon-Neutralize the Approach
This is the idea that the high energy use of decentralized web technologies is okay as long as you make sure the energy comes from renewable resources. In practice, this looks like the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, the Crypto Climate Accord, or the Energy Web Foundation: leveraging the collective power of energy users to create a demand for low-carbon energy that triggers a transition of the grid to renewable infrastructure. You’ll often see the phrase “net zero” — we’ll emit carbon, but then try to balance it out.
Transition to renewables is absolutely necessary, but as an answer to high energy use, it falls short. In grid-level discussions of renewable energy adoption, we see a lot of celebration that renewables are a growing percentage of our energy source. For example, U.S. states set “renewable portfolio standards” (RPS) defining a percent-renewable energy source for their grid infrastructure, and it’s fairly common for states to exceed their targets. California, for example, had a goal of 33% renewables by 2020 which they had already exceeded by 2018.
What often gets passed over however, is that year over year, energy demand grows so much that this typically means a growth across all sectors of energy generation, from solar to coal. What we’re celebrating, then, is not a displacement of coal/actual reduction in carbon emissions, but that new demand is being covered by proportionally more renewable sources than we’re used to.
And of course, even renewable infrastructure has an ecological cost (e.g. materials extraction) — so though decarbonization of our energy infrastructure is an important objective, any proposed solution that doesn’t attempt to decrease energy demand is underwhelming.
Try Something with Less Energy
As mentioned above, cryptocurrencies traditionally rely on energy-intensive proof-of-work as a mechanism for stability. Like the gold standard, the currency works because it is difficult to obtain, and increasingly so over time. Also like the gold standard, it’s something we may have the choice to move on from, hopefully in ways that serve our values.
The most famous foray into this change is proof-of-stake. Proof-of-work relies upon calculations that increase in complexity as the blockchain grows, requiring miners to purchase hardware and electricity as a cost of mining. Proof-of-stake is a more direct form of reinvestment; it ties up a miner’s existing coins as stake against the transaction.
Proof-of-stake is most touted for its much lower energy profile than proof-of-work. Altcoin uses it; Ethereum is switching to it; Bitcoin may or may not ever make that transition. These choices tend to be values-based. Proof-of-work’s original claim to fame was as a solution to the problem of double spending, where the same coins could be spent twice, destroying the integrity of the currency. Adherents to proof-of-work over proof-of-stake cite the importance of Bitcoin’s long-running stability across years of worldwide usage. Proof-of-stake is newer and less widespread; it’s impossible to declare it equally reliable yet, though it seems plausible that it might be. If so, the energy reduction would be worthwhile.
Make a Judgment Based on Values and Worth
Rather than asking in isolation how much carbon emissions decentralized web technologies create, many re-frame to draw a baseline. They ask, how do emissions from cryptocurrencies compare to emissions from traditional banking?
I haven’t come across a truly excellent breakdown of ecological cost for cryptocurrencies versus centralized banking, or even a hint of an attempt to compare emissions per dollar equivalent. However, there does exist some good comparative discussion, both of the costs of the two industries and of the value they provide (here’s an article from NASDAQ, for example).
I’m pleased to see the discussion. Cryptocurrencies are in many ways a practical protest against the power and control of traditional banks and government control. If the aim is to disrupt and displace, it’s important to compare the impacts of the two industries.
There’s much to critique in traditional banking. Quite apart from the ecological costs of day-to-day business, fossil fuel divestment has been a critical strategy of the climate movement, whether at the university endowment level or the personal ask to stop using Wells Fargo in response to their financial involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline. People argue from both ecological and justice perspectives that disruption of traditional banking is a net positive. Others accept the ecological cost of decentralized finance tech as worthwhile, even if only for the trust and security of a chain of provenance.
When we create something new, we hope to make a meaningful improvement. We hope at worst that the cost of our prototype yields something worthwhile: an important learning. It should encapsulate a way of thinking that is different, in some critical way, from what exists. I remain attracted to the decentralized web space because I see so many people in it who are both thoughtful and taking action. People are reading books about power, about money, about justice, and making new protocols — both technical and human — that seem like they could fundamentally change the way our world works, and the way we work together within it.
But how can you know what is a sci-fi fantasy and what is grounded truth? As an expatriate of the Silicon Valley tech world, I know how easy it can be to get embroiled in the pitch: working so hard to earnestly convey that your startup is the key to changing the world. It’s a machismo-filled drive to oversell in order to stand out, to raise your VC seed, such that you yourself become over-convinced that the niche technology you’re developing is the one true way to save the world.
Take a second. Breathe. Think about busyness as a tool of oppression: the urgency that keeps you from ascertaining the full truth, taking the time to determine which systems are most in need of dismantlement. I know, I’m a radical; this is our language. But from what I’ve seen, most people get into DWeb for reasons that are at root more political than technological: you want some kind of change, some kind of power to people (decentralization), some kind of accountability (blockchain) and some way to claim identity-centric control (crypto). Admitting that, it’s not too much more radical to double-check the theory of change: do our technologies really serve the goods they claim to? How, and how can we ensure they do?
The DWeb principle at hand doesn’t make a value judgment with respect to energy use; its entreaty is awareness. It takes conscious work to think through the potential impacts of your (technical) choices, and I would ask that of you: slow down. Think it through. Make a decision about worth and value, rather than letting the flash and urgency of innovation sweep through you. The only way to know is to take the time to find out.
“Jump Cut” is a model for open access journals. When the Internet Archive digitized older issues of “Jump Cut” from microfilm, we found that it had already been posted, in textual form, by the publisher. When we reached out to see if we could open up the microfilm version for free public access and download, they were enthusiastic. Here we wanted to share more background on “Jump Cut” and why openness is important for them.
From the beginning, Jump Cut was all about being accessible and uncensored.
John Hess, Chuck Kleinhans, and Julia Lesage launched the publication when they were graduate students at Indiana University in 1974. At first, they produced it themselves on typewriters and distributed it on inexpensive, tabloid newsprint.
“It was positioned as a counter-culture journal. Their impetus for creating it was to provide a voice to the disenfranchised, those not normally published in academic journals,” said Jeremy Butler, professor emeritus of TV and film studies at the University of Alabama. “This has involved writers from left perspective, underrepresented people of color, LGBTQ writers and others.”
Jump Cut has never accepted advertising and being independent has always been its driving principle. It is a cross between an arcane scholarly journal and a pop culture film criticism magazine that covers a range of topics, such as pornography, that would be considered taboo in mainstream publications, said Butler, who has written for the journal himself.
The journal uses language that is familiar to academics, but not too obscure as to turn off readers. As a peer-reviewed journal, Jump Cut is an avenue for scholars—particularly junior faculty with diverse perspectives—to publish and earn citation credits.
In 2004, the journal moved online and discovered an international audience. After Hess and Kleinhans died, Lesage wanted to preserve the publication’s history and plan for its future.
Butler, who was a doctoral student of Kleinhans at Northwestern University and recently retired from Alabama, helped Lesage convert and archive some of the text from older issues of Jump Cut. The Internet Archive provided a home for the files as an institutional host. Recently, as part of a microfilm digitizing effort, the Archive scanned images, photos and text from all 59 issues of Jump Cut and made them available in a collection.
“Our goal was always to reach as many people as possible,” says Lesage, who says she was “totally ecstatic” to learn the entire collection was preserved by the Archive. “Now people will be able to see the images that we ran with those early articles.”
In addition to the journals, Kleinhans and Lesage have had syllabi and lecture notes from a variety of film and media courses they taught digitized and added to the Internet Archive collection. “I’ve tried to encourage scholars to archive their own papers and research materials,” says Lesage, who hopes the collection will be used by students, teachers and researchers. “It’s a treasure that scholars should take advantage of and not leave it to their heirs to try and decide what to do with all these boxes of papers.”
Butler, who is a regular user of the Wayback Machine, movies and audio files through the Archive for his own research and enjoyment, said preserving the course materials and the complete Jump Cut collection is exciting for scholars and the public at large.
“It provides access to voices that people would not normally hear,” Butler said of broader new availability of the media studies journal. “There’s so much that’s invisible in our culture, so much that’s hidden behind structural and class divides. Jump Cut has prided itself on providing a voice to the unspoken…It might open up a whole new world to readers that they never even knew existed.”
In his 1976 paper “Communication and Cultural Domination,” sociologist and media critic Herbert Schiller warned of a future in which the cultural lives of individuals around the globe would be shaped and dictated by a small number of private media interests. The domination of US tech corporations in the online world today is the grim fulfillment of that prophecy.
Access to the vast store of collective human knowledge is increasingly predicated on the surrender of our rights of privacy, free association, and digital autonomy to gatekeepers like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, whose entire business models depend on the normalization of surveillance capitalism. And digital colonization — the violent and repressive imposition of Western values and taxonomies — is a fundamental component of their success.
“The internet is implicated in contemporary power structures, its promise tarnished by unaccountable digital corporations, data extractivism, the marketisation of democracy and network capitalism’s connivance with surveillance states.”
(Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami, “Towards a political practice of empowerment in digital times: a feminist commentary from the global South”)
Realizing the potential of the web to democratize the advance of human knowledge while preserving cultural autonomy and promoting universal human rights requires more than a begrudging (and often patronizing) nod to “global perspectives” interpreted through the lens of the Silicon Valley ethos. Achieving just outcomes requires actively prioritizing both equal access and equitable participation across social and cultural boundaries.
And this begins with centering the foundational principles of mutual respect, trust, and equity.
Achieving mutual respect is essential for effective communication and collaboration, and plays an especially critical role in conflict resolution.
It is important to distinguish between respect and tolerance. Tolerance is the privilege of the powerful: it is the granting of permission to deviate from the norms of the majority. And it comes with the unspoken threat that this permission can be revoked at any time. Asking the powerless to accept mere “tolerance” is asking them to endure their oppression for the comfort or convenience of their oppressors.
“That is the problem with toleration: others determine if they tolerate you, which rules and norms you need to meet in order to be allowed to participate.”
(Petra De Sutter and Bruno De Lille, “Wij willen niet getolereerd worden, wij willen respect”)
Honoring and respecting personal, social, and cultural differences in our digital communities starts with defining clear and consensual social contracts that establish the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of participation.
Codes of conduct are important in creating and sustaining an environment of mutual respect, but in order to be effective they must be enforced consistently and fairly. This requires the additional layer of clear and transparent governance. Fostering a culture of mutual respect starts with making social contracts explicit, continually reassessing their impact, and evolving their conditions to address changes both within a community and in the world at large.
Sustaining a culture that respects our differences, rather than simply tolerating them, creates opportunities to leverage the richness and diversity of our communities for the greater good.
Building trust begins with an expectation of positive intent, and develops over time through mutual accountability. Trust is earned and sustained by accepting responsibility for our actions and their outcomes.
“Without trust, conflict is politics. With trust, conflict is the pursuit of truth.”
(Patrick Lencioni, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”)
Social scientists recognize two main forms of trust: cognitive trust and affective trust.
Cognitive trust is valued predominantly in Western cultures and is based on confidence in someone else’s skills and reliability. It is fostered by a continual display of competence and reliability, and is essentially transactional.
Affective trust is more prevalent in the Global South and Asia. This form of trust develops from a sense of emotional closeness, demonstrations of empathy, or even feelings of friendship. It is relational rather than transactional.
As with respect, trust must be considered within the context of power dynamics. Distrust toward those with power often has little or no real consequence to them, but withholding trust from the disadvantaged or disenfranchised only magnifies the impact of systemic inequalities. This is why it’s essential that those with power earn and sustain trust through what they do, while, in turn, extending trust to others by accepting and recognizing them for who they are.
Trust in a global context requires acknowledging, valuing, and developing both kinds of trust in our communities.
Equity is difficult to define, because there are so few examples of true equity in our world to draw from. One way of thinking about equity is a lack of disparity in agency across racial, ethnic, gendered, and other dimensions. The meaningful pursuit of equity requires interrupting the societal, institutional, and interpersonal injustices that sustain these disparities.
“New manifestations of racism and other forms of oppression continue to emerge and outpace our mechanisms and capacities to solve them… To be achieved and sustained, equity needs to be thought of as a structural and systemic concept.”
(Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide, Annie E. Casey Foundation)
Equity is not synonymous with equality. Equality assumes that everyone has the same needs and can succeed given the same opportunities. Meritocracy, widely heralded in the online world as a force for equality, is founded on the idea that our differences are irrelevant to success, rather than a contributor to success. This dangerously flawed premise, combined with an unwillingness to acknowledge intrinsic power imbalances, has only served to compound the impact of deeply-rooted disparities in the digital world.
Inequity is not a problem that can be solved from first principles. Those with power cannot define what is or is not equitable. Deciding what’s best for the marginalized, rather than meaningfully empowering them to make these determinations for themselves, is itself a manifestation of inequity. Racism and other forms of oppression are self-perpetuating and constantly evolve in response to efforts to mitigate them, so strategies for addressing these issues must also evolve and adapt. Focusing exclusively on “quick fixes,” for example, outreach without corresponding investments in cultural and structural change, often do more harm than good.
Injustice cannot be cured by mere consultation, engagement, or representation. To effect meaningful change, those whose authority and privilege are sustained by inequity must yield power and distribute agency to those who are most impacted by systemic disparities.
Closing the Circle
The values of respect, trust, and equity are interconnected and inseparable. Putting them into practice means continually reassessing and re-imagining what a just world might look like. It means acknowledging that the same technologies we create and use with the intent of realizing these ideals, can (and will) be abused to instead sustain and magnify systemic injustice — at an otherwise unimaginable scale.
Values that are expressed but that do not guide our actions are merely performative. Real progress can only come about when we go beyond our good intentions, and take responsibility for impact and outcomes. Ultimately, we are accountable not only to our collaborators and our users, but also to our broader global society.