In an Opinion piece for Wired, New_Public codirector Eli Pariser makes the case for an overlapping ecosystem of cross-connected public-service and publicly owned digital social spaces.
Pariser uses the metaphor of the town square because a meaningful understanding of how public spaces work in healthy communities in the physical world can give us a great deal of insight about how to structure the digital world.
Bringing online a digital environment conducive to healthy conversation and democracy will require a mix of space-size ambition and human-scale curiosity and care. We’ll need an explosion of experimentation to discover how to build different kinds of social spaces, and we’ll need to develop new methods to quickly assess what works and what doesn’t. We’ll need a significant amount of new philanthropic and public funding for this work. And we’ll need community entrepreneurs, digital urban planners, and public-interest technologists who are adept at building with the public in mind.
Getting our communications infrastructure right is an existentially important task. The fate of democracy—and our ability to solve big problems, from runaway AI to climate change to the next pandemic—depends on our ability to see each other, influence each other, and make meaning with each other. All of that will happen to a large degree in digital spaces.
We can build the kind of digital public spaces that actually help us come together effectively. Or we can continue to put our faith in Xi Jinping, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon, and hope for the best.