A Web of Hope

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Tompkins Weekly — July 2, 2012
by Alex Colket

When considering the converging environmental, social and economic problems that plague our planet, it’s often difficult to feel much hope. Yes, our ability to adapt and innovate is tremendous, but it’s really hard to imagine a scenario where we overcome all this inertia and move fast enough to avoid the worst. Fortunately though, I’m blessed with a lively imagination and have thus dreamed up a way out of this mess that I would like to share with you. My cause for hope is the internet, and it looks something like this:

#1) The spread of awareness and information continues. More and more people come to understand pressing issues like climate change and social injustice and the internet provides access to quality, practical education for billions.

#2) This growing mass of engaged and connected people leads to larger virtual demonstrations. Petitions get tens or hundreds of millions of signatures and many birth offline movements. The Arab Spring, Occupy, and the Keystone XL protests are remembered as but humble beginnings of the web’s capability to organize people and bring about change.

#3) Broader access to tools and information creates a climate where individual and community innovation flourishes. Emerging ideas for smarter living spread like wildfire.

#4) Crowd-sourced fundraising– through donations or investment –continues to grow and create new financing opportunities. Individuals, non-profits and social ventures working to change the world are able to get the capital to do so.

#5) Core online values of sharing, freedom and collaboration spill over into our everyday lives and usher in a more cooperative lifestyle. Our love affair with ownership weakens, as the web facilitates a lifestyle built on access instead of ownership. Much like the internet decentralized media, it also decentralizes commerce.  We are all entrepreneurs doing business with each other, taking full advantage of our possessions, skills, time or other assets. Resources– including technology– become more available, and now more people have access to this land opportunity. Of course, in my imagination this all happens on Swidjit.

#6) Ultimately, the Internet provides us with the infrastructure for a smarter society. Its tools for networking and collaborating fundamentally change the way we interact with each other and how we use our resources. The System is finally just and sustainable and our future is more secure!

The thing I like about this vision is that it could actually all happen, and happen fast. Actually, it is already happening. Regardless of your personal feelings toward Facebook or Google, they have changed our relationship with people and information in a pretty significant way over a short period of time. Yet these impacts are nothing compared to what is coming: in 10 years this connective technology might facilitate a society much different than the one we have been accustomed to (which could be a good thing since our current approach does not seem to be working so well).

We truly face a global problem and the only way we can solve it is together. The Internet will give us a chance to take charge of our situation and collectively work to reshape the story of our times. That’s my hope at least. It’s also my inspiration for building Swidjit.

Now, I just cross my fingers and hope that the politicians and corporations allow all that good stuff to unfold.

Alex Colket is the founder of Swidjit and a board member of Sustainable Tompkins.

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