Creating a fair digital society

Susan Crawford, Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor, World Wide Web

Susan Crawford, Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor, World Wide Web

How can the nation’s leaders, policymakers and community institutions work together to create an equitable digital society? That was the broad question asked this week at the launch of NetGain, a day-long symposium that gathered the world’s government, philanthropy, business and technology leaders to launch a major new partnership, explore shared principles, and get ambitious about the next generation of innovation for social change and progress.

Alan S. Inouye, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy, participated in the event and wrote about his experiences on American Libraries magazine’s blog The Scoop.

[New York] Mayor de Blasio said that the analog era was not necessarily a time of great inclusion, equality, and fairness. While the digital age provides promise for a better future, there are no guarantees of better outcomes and, indeed, notes that we have now surpassed the roaring ‘20s in terms of inequality in society, in terms of economics and opportunity.

He said that today so many opportunities are absolutely correlated to education and internet access. New York is working to increase this access, such as the effort to transform pay phones into free wi-fi hotspots and to lend free wi-fi devices through New York Public Library. This kind of innovation and experimentation is key across the country, and from what’s learned, best practices must then be broadly shared and adopted, de Blasio concluded.

There was frankness with the nature of the challenges involved. When moderator Gwen Ifill asked about being behind and where foundations fit, several foundation presidents readily acknowledged that they are still largely in the analog world and that their organizations must evolve more quickly to reflect the opportunities and demands of the digital era. Many in the foundation world are not that comfortable with the technology. Also, neither the foundations nor anyone else have all the answers, and so we need to be bolder and more accepting of some failures along the road to creating lasting change.

The immediate next step is to identify the big ideas that need to be pursued. Everyone is invited to participate in the Netgain Challenge—you put on your thinking caps and submit. During the session, I asked about the process ahead, observing that some concentration of topics would be needed to be effective—that the scope of topics discussed thus far in the convening covered such a broad range of national policy challenges. There was a good “library moment” as session moderator John Palfrey responded to my question in jest (or was it!?!?)—that “Librarians can do anything, because they’re awesome!” Yes, indeed, there will be some process that will unfold to develop a strategy and some focus.

Read more on The Scoop

Gwen Ifill, Managing Editor, Washington Week; Chris Stone, President, Open Society Foundations; Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman, Mozille Foundation; Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Gwen Ifill, Managing Editor, Washington Week; Chris Stone, President, Open Society Foundations; Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation; Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

About Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

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