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1999 waren wir beteiligt an der NGO Internet Fiesta und - in neuer Zusammensetzung - an "Global Village 99" Das geplante 4. internationale Global Village Symposium mußte leider abgesagt und auf unbestimmte Zeit vertagt werden.

Glokale Wirtschaftliche Strukturen / Glocal Economic Structures Vienna City Hall, February 1995
Networking Entities and Local Communities

Abstract     Lecture     Author

Charles Grantham - Institute for the Studies of Distributed Work (USA)



1) Address

Institute for the Study of Distributed Work
725 Washington Street, Suite 210
Oakland, CA 94607

(2) Funding

ISDW is sponsored by AT&T

(3) The Vision

The vision of the Institute is people doing the work they want to do - wherever they want to be. Its mission is to increase society`s knowledge and understanding of distributed work so that industry, community and individual needs can be met simultaneously.

(4) Products and Services:

  • Telecommuting Program Design and Implementation
  • Telework Center Design
  • Contract Survey Research
  • Field Research
  • Custom Research Reports and Analysis

(5) Projects - Future:

  • Distance Worker
  • Leadership and the New Enterprise
  • Alliances with:
  • Center for Social Innovation, Austria
  • Institute for Global Communications, Tokyo

(6) Distance Work Services of ISDW

  • Executive Education
  • Manager Training
  • Information Systems Design
  • Human Ressource Development
  • Teleworker Training
  • Program Evaluation

(7) Project Canby, Oregon

  • Community development in synergy with national technology infrastructure
  • Making a virtual community a reality
  • Population of 10,000 engaged in process
  • a living laboratory

(8) Publication:

The Digital Workplace
Designing Groupware Platforms

The definitive guide to the workplace of the `90s
Charles E. Grantham with Larry D. Nichols

(9) Current Statistics on Distance Workers

  1995 2005
U.S. 4,5 Million (3,4%) 7,74 Million (5,15%)
CA 388.000 435.000
S.F. 102.000 120.360

(10) Producitivity of Teleworkers

Overall 16% increase
Supervisors focus on quantity of work
Workers focus on qualitiy of work
Customer satisfaction increases for certain occupations

Telecommunities and Networking Entitites Dr. Charles E. Grantham
Institute for the Study of Distributed Work
Oakalnd, CA 94607



Telecommunities integrate work, education and civic action electronically. Citizens interact with one another using this technology (as well as interacting with each other via traditional means when they so desire). Using electronically-mediated communication, citizens experience each other more directly than traditional letters or phone calls make possible. This mediated interaction is a complement to existing face-to-face relationships. It fosters the formation of larger and more dense social networks. It creates 'virtual communities' where people organize themselves in work, learning, or civic action groups though separated in time and space.

1. Background

A few months ago a futuristic think tank and a philanthropic organization separately asked us to consider what technology diffusion activities were taking place in the United States that might have a significant impact on the quality of life for a broad spectrum of citizens. The think thank was trying to extend its work on group collaboration technologies to a larger realm. The philanthropic foundation was seeking input as it re-cast its social research agenda for the next decade.

We left our meetings with each group with more questions than answers, as a result of which we cast a broad net out to our own social network with the same question that had been put to us: What specifically is going on with the National Information Infrastructure that may be a harbinger of deep, lasting social change in the United States? We didn't get any concrete answer, but we did get a lot of additional questions, expressions of interest, and curiosity. It was as if we had finally asked the right question.

But the lack of clear answers suggested that a further question has to be asked: Is there anything really going on in all the talk about the National Information Infrastructure, about how distance work and telework and distance education and telecommuting and virtual offices and virtual employees are going to change our lives, or are we all merely responding to self-serving media hype fueled by an opportunistic corporate and political need for press exposure? Indeed, many thoughtful people have begun to express a deep concern that without access to a "Commons of Information" we will miss an opportunity to create an electronic agora, or place of assembly. Is this real, or only an illusion?

Unfortunately, a little investigation reveals that in all the books, and conferences, and interviews and press pieces that deluge us every day, the same few people are talking to the same few people on these issues and not much serious research is taking place. For example, at the last annual meeting of the American Sociological Association only one paper in several hundred was devoted to the impact of technology on community development. And we know that far more space in the average newspaper is devoted to covering the latest multimedia animation toy than ever seems to be available to discuss the serious uses of technology in education, in work, and in improving our communities for all citizens.

2. Definition of Term

For all the lack of direct media attention, one word arose from the conversations we had with our sources, one word seemed to attract the most fascination: telecommunity. People we spoke with have an intuitive understanding that the deployment of a networked information infrastructure is beginning to change the way in which people form communities of interests, maintain their sense of identity (as individuals and groups), and interact with one another in everyday life.

We would like to offer a definition of this concept in order to help proceed with a research agenda which has a greater degree of reliability than we have today.

Telecommunity: Telecommunities integrate work, education and civic action electronically. Citizens interact with one another using this technology (as well as interacting with each other via traditional means when they so desire). Using electronically-mediated communication, citizens experience each other more directly than traditional letters or phone calls make possible. This mediated interaction is a complement to existing face-to-face relationships. It fosters the formation of larger and more dense social networks. It creates 'virtual communities' where people organize themselves in work, learning, or civic action groups though separated in time and space.

3. Current Activity

United States

Our preliminary investigations of telecommunity efforts found that there is a surprising amount of activity in this area after all. A few small conferences have been organized under the rubrics of "Community Networking", "Televillages" and "Globally Integrated Village environments." To date, no consistent theme or agenda has emerged from these activities. Rather, they consist of gathering people together who are exploring the idea and reporting their activities, concerns and requests for support. There seem to be two disparate groups involved here: the larger group consists of representatives of the academic system, and a smaller group consists of people from the public sector who have been involved in pilot programs.

We discovered that there are approximately 30 separate community development efforts in the United States investigating, planning or conducting pilot "telecommunity" programs. These community development efforts are located in Florida, Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia. Most of these are very small in scope with little or no funding committed to them. The most visible of these is Telluride, Colorado.

The Telluride project centers around the creation of a community project called the "Infozone." The concept entails providing citizens in the town open access to the Internet and on-line libraries. The project has been very successful in providing a rather remote community with connections to the emerging 'virtual community' of knowledge workers. This telecommunity project has the longest history and has been supported through local contributions and is developing as a non-profit community service effort.

At the other end of the spectrum there are two examples of small scale telecommunity efforts which are worthy or particular attention: Taos, NM and Canby, OR.

Taos, NM: Taos is implementing a grassroots multicultural community development project called La Plaza TeleCommunity. Like Telluride, La Plaza's intent is to provide access to the Internet by building a self-sustaining community infrastructure linking home computers and public access terminals to educational facilities, libraries, government offices, health care providers and business sites. This central facility would serve as an information resource designed by the residents themselves to meet their unique needs. La Plaza has received donations from Apple Computer, national, local and State agencies. The Taos project is an example of a culturally diverse rural development where its citizens gain access to local, national and international resources.

Canby, OR: Canby OR, on the other hand, is proceeding as a grass roots community development effort. It began as a visioning exercise in response to a comprehensive urban development plan. The uniqueness of Canby is that the existing information infrastructure (e.g., telephone, cable TV and electric utility) are owned and operated by the community. Therefore, they have in place a completely connected infrastructure. The residents are now trying to decide what kind of linkage they want with the larger world. Further, they are approaching this telecommunity project from an economic standpoint in an effort to increase the business viability of the local area. Canby is a suburban development project--trying to maintain its' uniqueness and identity.


Of great curiosity to us is the nascent international activity. Three years ago the development of 'telecommunities' in Japan received a lot of attention by the media and scholars. The aim was to construct communication links between Japanese villages and central urban areas so commuters wouldn't have to travel for employment and could remain in there home village. The downturn of the Japanese economy seems to have canceled all interest and effort in this direction, even though some initial successes boded well for the various programs' success.

In Europe, the European Commission (EC) has begun a preliminary scan of this topic as a possible way to foster increased economic development in ex-urban and rural area of Europe. There are now annual conferences hosted by the Technical University of Vienna on 'electronic communities', the administrative governance of the EC has commissioned two initial studies and regional government agencies of Ireland, England, Belgium, France, Germany and Austria have also mounted separate investigations about potential economic development impacts of "telecommunities." If Europe's history in fostering distance education programs is any guide, we can expect the EC countries to have robust telecommunities contributing to economic growth and personal fulfillment well in advance of nations in other parts of the world.

Even with all this activity we were forced to conclude that without focus, a common agenda, agreement on terms, rigorous evaluation, and a more specific integration of potential public policy concerns, telecommunities will remain more of a curiosity than the vibrant part of a U.S. economic and personal renaissance. We can expect implementation of the National Information Infrastructure as the basis of robust American telecommunities will remain little more than a popular media event until three critical issues are resolved. (1) In what ways are telecommunities a fad and in what ways are they significant social trend? (2) What are the critical societal impact factors associated with the telecommunity concept? (3) What are the vital public policy concerns associated with the emergence of telecommunities? We look at each of these issues in detail in the following section.

4. Issues

(1) Are "telecommunities" a fad or a significant social trend? Fads are innovations which reach critical mass and fade away into memories within a very short period of time. We are very skeptical of telecommunities in this sense. An equally strong interest in 'electronic cottages' in the 1970's failed to realize any significant social change, and we worry that the idea of telecommunity may be little more than a reincarnation of the same technology-driven delirium we saw from the telecommunications industry after de-regulation.

Just as corporate enthusiasm can create a short-term fad, so well-intentioned government support can also generate excitement in new programs, excitement that quickly fizzles out when the hard work of implementing complex policies suddenly becomes clear. The advent of US national policy to promote the development of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) has brought with it a lot of media hype, marketing plans by telephone, computer, and telecommunications companies to link whatever you're doing with the NII. When an announcement appeared that a few million dollars of Federal money was available for NII development, thousands of requests for funding poured in, as every group interested in financial support re-crafted its project to include a NII component. We run a danger of confusing this flurry with measured, substantive progress toward sustainable goals.

True social trends are not initiated and sustained by government project funding alone. Trends grow up from the change in beliefs, desires, and attitudes of increasingly large groups of people. One significant characteristic of a trend is the development of a new institutional governance structure which provides a recruitment process, acts as a vessel for core values of the movement, and provides a spokesperson for the values and goals of the trend. In short one key factor which distinguishes a trend from a fad is the emergence of leadership structures and persons. We don't know if this is happening with telecommunities. If telecommunities do represent a social trend with enormous potential value for individuals, communities, and indeed the nation as a whole, we need to start creating the conditions within which these leadership structures and persons can thrive.

(2) What are the critical societal impact factors associated with this concept? We believe that there are three areas which need to be explored related to telecommunities:

Economic: How does the diffusion of this communication technology allow people to add value to economic transactions? What value gets added? Does the existence of the network really create a powerful new distribution channel for knowledge based products and services, or will interest in its usefulness fade as its novelty wears off?

Social: Does the elaboration of telecommunication networks foster the expansion and increased density of social networks? How does electronic interaction among people affect their sense of identity at individual and group levels?

Political: Does the deployment of these networks give more people, easier access to participation in the political process? Is this impact limited to local levels or can it be extended to larger spheres of influence?

(3) What are the vital public policy concerns associated with the emergence of "telecommunities"? Again, our preliminary investigations have unveiled four primary concerns:

  • Education,
  • Accessibility,
  • Democracy, and
  • Regionalism.
  • Education: To what extent can telecommunities become a delivery mechanism for distance based education? What will be required in terms of teacher training for distance education? What modifications to accreditation procedures will be demanded? What government entities will bear responsibility for establishment of competency standards?

    Accessibility: Will telecommunities become a basis for exclusion of segments of our population from participation on work. learning and civic activities? Will disabled, minorities and others be implicitly denied full citizenship because they don't have access to telecommunities?

    Democracy: Can the development of telecommunities foster a greater rate of citizen participation in political processes? Can this process create an opportunity for movement toward a more direct participatory form of democracy than we have today?

    Regionalism: To what extent can telecommunities become a basis for more regional, sub-cultural formation of community? What level of social aggregation is found to be optimal by members of telecommunities? Will telecommunities be a centralizing or de-centralizing social force?

    5. Bibliography

    Transforming Organizations with Information Technology, R. Baskerville et al. (Eds.) (1994), Transactions of the International Federation of Information Processing, Working Group 8.2.

    Virtual Communities, (1992), H. Rhiengold, Addison-Wesley, New York, NY

    Global Work, (1994) M. O'Hara-Devereaux and R. Johansen, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA

    Proceedings of the Community Networking Conference, S. Cisler (ed.) (1994), Association for Computing Machinery, Palo Alto, CA, July.

    Creating Community Anywhere, C. R. Shaffer & K. Anundsen (1993), Teacher/Perigee, New York, NY.

    "The Commons of Information" Lee Felsenstein (1993) Dr. Dobbs Journal, May pp. 18-23.

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