The Use of Simple Digital Tools for Communion

Thoughts in preparation for The Impact of Digital Communication on Civic Engagement at DPLA Fest.

A lot of my career has revolved around data and communications.

The first civic tech tool I ever made, in 1999,  was “KillerOnThe Loose.com”, a dumb notification tool that let you know, via Wireless Application Protocol, if there was a person nearby who has killed one or more people and who may kill others. It was more performance art than anything, focused on the towering insufficiency of technology.

I helped make EveryBlock, an early experiment in neighborhood data, and at Smart Chicago I helped launch many tools, methods, and programs around data and people, including Youth-Led Tech, Connect Chicago, Smart Health Centers, Documenters, and Expunge.io.

What I always want— what’s at the center of my work— is communion. I seek to use data and technology as a bonding agent for people— making a common set of principles, facts, and goals.

It’s not easy, and I have not succeeded.

The election of the current president— and the wide-ranging foreign intelligence operation that helped him win— is a good indication of failure. The tactics centered around  discord, and they were successful.

But if we choose— and I do— we can keep “right on going on /  a sort of human statement“, as Anne Sexton says.

Here’s thoughts:

Libraries are natural places of communion. Let’s do this.

My Journals, 2015

I hand-wrote 467 pages in various journals during  2015. This is actual pen-to-paper stuff. For years, I have been keeping five separate journal types going at any given time. I number each of the journals in order (Health Journal #14, Work Journal #46, etc.) and I try to be as honest and contemplative as possible as I write. Here’s a page breakdown and a general take on what I wrote:

Health Journal

I’ve kept this journal since I started my recovery from alcoholism. It’s where I write down facts about and what I think about the status of my physical, emotional, and financial health. I put everything from raw recitations of weight to plans for less spending. Over the last year I spent, believe it or not, circa $1,000 less of coffee than the year before. Just by planning and writing. I fucking love coffee.

Health Journal 14

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Me in Baltimore (How to do Business Tourism)

I have long been a practitioner of what I call “business tourism”. I love to work, but I also have other passions, like art, poetry, cities, and photography. I have been lucky enough in my technology career to have taken lots of trips to lots of cities for lots of reasons.

I disdain daytrips— I think it’s deeply disrespectful to a city to present oneself at the local airport, hire a chariot to take you directly to a conference room, and scoot out of town before the late night news is over. Moreover, much of my work is on the Internet, so I can conceivably do it anywhere. Lastly, I hate being late or stressing out about missing a commitment.

All of this has lead, over the years, to a particular mode of business travel. Here’s my day in Baltimore, to see it in practice.

Morning flights win

A 9:20AM flight out of O’Hare— not too early to lead to an insane wakeup time, and not too late to have the day escape me on the other side.

I arrived circa noon, and headed straight to the hotel. First step is to snap a shot of the room— I have a vast collection of hotel interiors.

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