Detroit Digital Stewards highlighted in the New York Times and Le Monde

Our Detroit Digital Stewards project was recently highlighted in articles about community mesh wireless networks in the New York Times (April 20, 2014) and Le Monde (May 23, 2014).

The Le Monde article (written in French) explores the proliferation of mesh technologies around the world, from Bangkok to Berlin to Detroit and features quotes from Diana J. Nucera, who leads the Detroit Digital Stewards program

The New York Times article describes how the U.S. government has been funding the development of mesh networks as tools for circumventing government repression abroad, and draws out the irony of this coming in the context of revelations about the U.S. government’s extensive spying operations:

"Exactly at the time that the N.S.A. was developing the technology that Snowden has disclosed, the State Department was funding some of the most powerful digital tools to protect freedom of expression around the world," said Ben Scott, a former State Department official who supported the financing and is now at a Berlin policy nonprofit, the New Responsibilities Foundation. "It is in my mind one of the great, unreported ironies of the first Obama administration."

The article touches on the potential of mesh networks as community organizing tools. The voices of the Detroit Digital Stewards highlighted in the article help illustrate this potential, while also raising the particular surveillance concerns that community organizers face online:

"Access to information changes your life," said Uri House, known as Heru, who has led the creation of a mesh he calls the Ecosphere in his struggling neighborhood.

But privacy issues also provoke intense discussion, particularly among groups that have historically been targets of racial and other profiling, said Diana J. Nucera, the community technology director at an organization called Allied Media Projects, which has already helped several Detroit neighborhoods put up mesh networks.

"I don’t want the N.S.A., the government, anyone to necessarily know how I think about something," Mr. Holbrook, an African-American who is a Detroit social and political activist, said at a workshop led by Ms. Nucera.

Digital Stewards mapping a community wireless network
Mapping a community wireless network.

The goal of the Detroit Digital Stewards project is to foster community technologists and community-owned communications infrastructure in Detroit neighborhoods. A "community technologist" is someone who facilitates the healthy integration of technology into their communities.

For the current class of Digital Stewards, the healthy integration of technology takes the form of mesh networks that allow neighbors to share Internet connections and grow stronger relationships through the governance and maintenance of a shared resource. In the future it may take the form of local applications that allow neighbors to share media with each other without needing an Internet connection. It could even take the form of neighborhood advisory councils who help provide "quality control" for the data being produced about their communities by large-scale data collection projects like MotorCity Mapping project of the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force.

Now in its final weeks of training, the 2014 Detroit Digital Stewards class is preparing to launch two new mesh networks on the East Side. Follow their progress here!

Digital Stewards flashing routers for wireless installs.
Digital Stewards flashing routers for wireless installs.

Digital Stewards learning how to mount wireless routers.
Digital Stewards learning how to mount wireless routers.

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