Public participation unconstrained by physical locale

In the current issue of Watersheds Messenger, a publication of the Western Watersheds Project, Brian Ertz describes how conservationists have used the Internet to organize and share information. He goes on with a vision “Western Watershed’s Project is well known for its vital contribution to public-oversight…. What if we could wield the cohesion and organization we already practice online more directly toward that end?

Now imagine for a moment a nearly empty public hearing in Wells, Nevada; a couple of cowboys are sitting up front as some college kid walks through the door, pulls out a camera, a laptop, and a cord. Within ten minutes the agency personnel are sitting back in their chairs watching a live projected image of Jon Marvel warning against an ill-advised chaining of hundreds/thousands of acres of Pinyon Pines – all for the almighty cow. A few minutes later John Carter is in real-time giving one of his acclaimed power-point presentations citing real science. Whereas before agency folk might have been able to close up shop early, now they will be forced to burn every last minute watching and listening to a sophisticated demonstration of conservationists who care.”

Ertz has recognized the increasing bandwidth of the Internet and is extending the reach of the web to bring people to places in ad hoc ways. I’d understood Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs in terms of organizing social action, but had not seen projecting the social action into a remote location.

I also note in this edition of the Watersheds Messenger that one of the donors this quarter is my alma matter, Whitman College. I can only hope that Whitman is giving to WWP because they understand that the work of WWP can provide students with authentic experiences and global literacies in both science and public advocacy.

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