Public Parks and Re-creation (with Eli Pariser)

Show Description

Right now we interact with the public more online than offline. But these digital spaces are not designed with our collective wellbeing in mind. Baratunde speaks with Eli Pariser, Co-founder of New_Public, about how we are missing intentionally designed digital public spaces, like libraries and park spaces online, and they discuss New_Public’s NEW! design playbook for creating platforms that bring us together instead of tear us apart. 

Show Notes & Actions

Show Transcript

Baratunde Thurston  0:02  

Welcome to How to Citizen with Baratunde, a podcast that reimagines citizen as a verb, not a legal status. This season is all about tech and how it can bring us together instead of tearing us apart. We're bringing you the people using technology for so much more than revenue and user growth. They're using it to help us citizen.

Last time, we covered some major ground with Prof. G, Mr. Scott Galloway. Scott did a lightning round of issues plaguing the tech ecosystem. Mainly, he touched on the lack of regulation. The government has got to get on tech, and we, well, we've got to get on the government to do its damn job. We also heard more about my journey. We charted through my personal experiences in the tech landscape, and we learned that I'm an even bigger tech nerd than you already know. I shared with you my visions of what was possible for technology over the years, like changing how we tell stories, how we make comedy, how we organize politically; but we ain't done yet because we talked about the problems. Right? Now, we have to talk about the people who see things differently.

Now, Scott, he argued for a more traditional path of regulation, but I think we need something new, something that connects us to values that might feel disconnected from the current tech landscape. Some of you might remember my walks during the pandemic... 

Archival (Baratunde Thurston)  1:45  

...I'm going to give you a little bit of the rich audio environment I operate in out here in these streets. That was a menacing hound... 

Baratunde Thurston  1:53  

Heck, I still walk in my neighborhood almost every day. Being outside, seeing people live their own lives, checking in on the shops on York Boulevard... All that provides a lens to view the world differently. It's grounding. 

Archival (Baratunde Thurston)  2:09  

...But it's a road where I see other black people walking and that's a somewhat rare sighting over here. I'm in a heavily Latino, Latina neighborhood... 

Baratunde Thurston  2:18  

In a time where distance literally equals safety, being in a public space can provide a basic way to see humans being human. 

Archival (Baratunde Thurston)  2:27  

...Very special to see a fellow Negro. It was like a family reunion with people I've never met before, thus Black People Hill. Now where I'm walking right now, I call Coyote Road...

Baratunde Thurston  2:49  

What if we applied this sense of connection, community and humanity to technology? Our current platforms encourage us to engage, but how's that working out for us? As Scott Galloway mentioned, social media platforms inflame our arguments and tear at our social fabric. Here's a simple truth: the giant tech companies are not in the business of what we refer to as citizening; but using some imagination, is there a version of social media that can serve the same function as our public spaces, like those parks and community centers... those things we came to rely on this last year? This all feels daunting, but I've got hope.

Eli Pariser  3:35  

This moment calls for a lot of creativity, and boldness, and public imagination.

Baratunde Thurston  3:42  

Eli Pariser believes that through new design principles, we can change our digital spaces so that they bring us together instead of tearing us apart. That might seem insanely ambitious, but the plan he lays out is far from impossible. Eli makes his case after the break.

Eli, hello. Welcome to How to Citizen. How're you doing?

Eli Pariser  4:19  

I am doing well. How are you?

Baratunde Thurston  4:20  

I'm doing well... Eli Pariser is a triple threat: author, activist and entrepreneur. He was the executive director of Eli's been a pioneer working to create democracy-friendly spaces, the ones we sorely need in the digital landscape for decades. Right now, he's running a nonprofit organization called New_ Public, and he's putting into practice the methods we need to citizen better online. When we sat down, we started our conversation by strolling down digital memory lane. I want to rewind the clock a bit because you've been around technology for a while, as have I. I can remember the early days when everything was monochromatic: green, blinking cursors; UNIX and DOS; when you had to manually surf the internet one site at a time, just grabbing it. You had an early, what we would now call, viral moment. When you were about 20, the attacks of 9/11 had just happened. What did you do?

Eli Pariser  5:26  

I had just gotten out of college and it occurred to me that this was one of those moments in history where things could go very different directions. There was this opportunity for the world to come together around what I thought was really a global problem of terrorism, or there was this world where people kind of seize it and use it for their own political ends and things go badly; so I set up this little website calling for multilateralism...

Baratunde Thurston  5:56  

Quick explanation: multi-lateralism is when multiple nations agree on some common goal or mission; in this case, for the potential war on terror.

Eli Pariser  6:06  

...And there was this guy at the University of Chicago who had written up this petition, we put it on the website and then I logged off. I needed my phone line for a phone calls. I didn't check my email for four days. I log on the Monday morning after and there's this loading bar downloading my email, and it says, "4,000 messages left to download," and then, "40,000 messages left to download." It's just this crazy, incomprehensible thing, and I'm, like, "what... what happened?" It was an early viral email, basically. It had spanned the globe. I thought if we got a couple hundred people to sign it that would be something that would be good, but I just didn't even imagine that we'd have 50,000 people or, as it ended up, 500,000 people signing on to this thing.

Baratunde Thurston  7:01  

500,000 people.

Eli Pariser  7:05  

Yeah, and from all over the world; there was 192 countries. That was crazy. I was a 20-year-old college student, I had no political connections or capital, I had no resources, I had not spent a cent, I just put this website up. In those moments you can see why it might feel like, "oh, this is a democratizing technology."

Baratunde Thurston  7:34  

What kind of email storage did you have in 2001, because that's a lot of email?

Eli Pariser  7:42  

I appreciate the follow-up questions. This is really the kind of detail I think people are interested in. I was on Outlook, by the way.

Baratunde Thurston  7:49  

You painting this 2001 picture is taking me back there, as well. I'm remembering the simplicity of the websites, the crudeness of the HTML, the optimism, the--again--the terrible design comes back to me a lot. This was peak-ugly internet, but also peak-beautiful internet because we didn't care what it looked like. What was the potential that you saw in this period?

Eli Pariser  8:16  

The idea was that information is power and knowledge is power, and here's this technology that's making information and access, to some degree, free. Also allowing people to... Conceivably, the public could break through with elites because they could demonstrate to each other, "hey, we all care about this issue." As an organizer, you start to see that as a moment where people are willing to do more, because one of the biggest impediments to citizen power is just feeling like I'm alone and in my concerns. That ability to quickly find, like, "oh, there's millions of other people who are concerned like me about what's going on," seemed like it could change the dynamics of what was happening in politics and, in the same way, change some of the economic dynamics. If I had been placing 500,000 phone calls around the world at that time, yes, long-distance was still expensive, that would be a real undertaking, but here was this thing that was  completely horizontal and free.

Baratunde Thurston  9:23  

The main reason that I wanted to talk to you, besides this trip down Lexicon memory lane which has been joyful, is this work you're doing with New_ Public, this new platform, organization, trying to connect and inspire the people who build the internet tools we use and the people who design them to use them to make better digital public spaces, healthier public spaces for us to interact with each other that don't descend into some of the horrors that so many of us have experienced. In your definition, what is New_ Public?

Eli Pariser  10:00  

New_ Public started as a research project. I was working with and co-founded it with Talia Stroud, who's this communications professor in the University of Texas who studies how media organizations and communities can get engaged better in civic life. We started to ask this question that was taking the conversation about tech and flipping it a little. There was a lot of conversation about misinformation, disinformation, hate speech--and all that is really critical and important work that's happening--but somewhere in there, I think you could end up playing a lot of Whac-A-Mole if you didn't have a North Star of where you wanted to get. In other words, a good internet is like a conducive space for people to come together, especially across difference. Our original project was, like, "can we start to put some definition on what the qualities of the spaces that we would really want would be?" Then we can evaluate, like, "can our existing platforms even possibly help us get there or do we need something else?" We came out with something called the Civic Signals, which are basically 14 qualities that we saw show up, again and again, across different academic disciplines, and also in interviews and in surveys that we did with people in 20 countries around the world, and the qualities that they want to see in their digital spaces. If we think about digital platforms as spaces, rather than just as markets for information, how does that change how we might think about designing them? We realized this problem of designing spaces where strangers can relate to each other, can behave well... This is an old problem, this is an urban planning problem, and it's a problem that's been around as long as human settlements have been around. Why aren't we bringing all that understanding to some of these questions that seem so intractable online?

Baratunde Thurston  12:03  

I really like this idea of asking people what they want in a platform or in a space, trying to define a North Star. I think so many of us have gotten used to settling for whatever's seemingly available before us. What's the elevator pitch for what New_ Public is trying to do in establishing that North Star?

Eli Pariser  12:26  

We're basically an incubator that draws on the research that we've done to help support community leaders and technologists who are trying to build better digital spaces. Our belief is that it's when those two ways of thinking come together--the social intelligence, and the design and engineering intelligence--that you really find sustainable and durable solutions, but we've adopted the saying from a Nobel Prize-winning economist, Elinor Ostrom, about no panaceas...

Archival (Elinor Ostrom)  12:59  

...It ain't pretty, but society is complex, people are complex, and forced to have simple solutions to complex problems, not a good idea...

Eli Pariser  13:08  

...And she studies how human beings manage commons well. It turns out, all over the world, actually contra Tragedy of the Commons, there are lots of examples where communities really do manage commons well; but there is no one master key. There is no one master pattern to commons management. It always happens in a very specific way to that community, to that set of problems. When we think about the way that we're structuring the internet right now, there is a Facebook algorithm and maybe millions of lines of code. It exists for everyone in the world everywhere. We think that's impossible. You can't get to something that really works for everybody with one master protocol or approach; so if there are no panaceas, no universal solutions, how do you give people the tools to build the right kinds of solutions for the particular problems and the particular communities that they're in?

Baratunde Thurston  14:09  

There you're on, again, about democratizing, and civic power and helping people to find their own futures! It's crazy. 

Eli Pariser  14:15  

Well, I know. I do think our current digital environment is subtly so undemocratic. Your option is to be part of Facebook or not be part of it, and not being part of it, at this point, has some social costs; or not being part of LinkedIn has some social costs, but you don't get to weigh in on a design change or have any say in what the rules of speech should be, how people should work. I think that's problematic and pernicious. I think there's a better way to do things.

Baratunde Thurston  14:48  

Now what New_ Public is calling for are digital public spaces. These are similar to physical public spaces, like a park or library, right?

Eli Pariser  14:57  


Baratunde Thurston  14:57  

Owned by the public, serving the public interest in these civil, social, political ways; and that's different from a digital private space that most of us use on a daily basis, right? 

Eli Pariser  15:08  


Baratunde Thurston  15:09  

Those spaces that operate like a walled garden where corporate owners got total control, not everybody has equal access, and the space is really designed for commercial or financial interests, not a public interest. Tell me why you think it's important to have digital public spaces, as opposed to just a bunch more digital private spaces?

Eli Pariser  15:29  

When we were doing this look at the sociology of communities offline in the physical world, one thing that was very apparent was the value and importance of places, like parks and libraries, in building cohesion and giving people forums to raise their concerns. There's just a whole bunch of ways in which, measurably, these public places help knit communities together, and that's because they do a whole bunch of things that most private places simply can't or won't. Lending books to anyone who needs them, especially to people who can't afford to pay them, is just not a good idea for a business; but it's a great idea for a community function. I think part of the problem, when you think about our online world right now, is that we're trying to cram all of these different functions that need to happen in order to have a sustainable community. I think, even if you had the wisest possible leadership, and the best possible management, and everything was perfect, it's just not what they're there to do; and that's okay, but we need this other thing, as well.

Baratunde Thurston  16:41  

The library metaphor really strikes me. I've been able to see the community function that the library is performing pre-pandemic and during the pandemic, a literal common space. People bring their kids there. They're obviously lending books as one function, but they have production facilities, they have career advice, they have citizenship training for those who are new to the country who really want to join the commons in a technical legal sense; and Amazon's not doing that. It's more than a place of transactions, sort of a place of people, and connection, and community. When you put it that way, a digital public space feels lacking because every example that my mind goes to is actually a private space. Tell me more about that. What does a quality, a well-functioning public space, digital or otherwise, need to thrive?

Eli Pariser  17:36  

Well, the first piece is you need to be serving a bunch of community needs. I think one of the cool things about libraries is that it's not like people go to the library because they want to be a great citizen, they go to the library because they need a book, or their kid needs a place to play chess, or they need a meeting room. There's a bunch of really tangible needs that need to be met, and there are librarians. I think this is another piece of what's missing in digital spaces. What would a library be like if it was all self-serve and instructions taped to the door, but go in at your own peril? It would be hard, especially with a library, because there's a whole bunch of people with a bunch of pretty different needs trying to get their needs met simultaneously, balancing that's challenging. You have someone who's experiencing homelessness over here who's trying to get their unemployment benefits, and you have someone who's got their young kids at a story hour. Without someone holding that space and mediating it, you can run into real trouble, which I would argue is a lot of what happens online. As soon as those conflicts start to escalate, then that experience of safety and the experience that, "oh, I can be with people who are pretty different and it's okay," starts to dissipate.

Baratunde Thurston  18:56  

More librarians is never a problem; it's always a step toward the solution. Go librarians. Alright, you alluded to four categories of Signals. They seem like a new etiquette or framework, so we can actually have more quality digital public spaces. Break that down for me.

Eli Pariser  19:23  

The first and most important, in many ways, is this Welcome category, which is where a lot of platforms fall down almost as soon as they've started, which is... 

Baratunde Thurston  19:31  

Oh, yeah. 

Eli Pariser  19:31  

Do people feel invited to be part of the conversation here in the first place? Do they feel safe to be part of that conversation? Does the platform go out of its way to help humanize people to each other, or does it quickly reduce us to our most incendiary positions or to caricatures? I think there's a reason that, in our physical life, we haven't reserved a huge amount of space that's, like, walk up to a stranger and tell them your hottest take.

Baratunde Thurston  20:03  

We haven't recreated Twitter in real life yet. Not quite.

Eli Pariser  20:07  

There's a reason for that, which is it's difficult and unpleasant, and mostly people don't want it. By having spaces like parks and libraries where you just see people who are having different lives than you... you're in a park, especially you're in this nice environment, and you just get to be, like, "okay, they're familiar. I've seen them a couple times before, maybe this is all okay, and we're part of something together that's nice." That's really an important experience, actually, in building a democratic culture. Then we've got Connect, and Connect isn't just about "everybody connect with everybody." It's about "how do you support good connection, especially across groups?" We know, for example, when it comes to economic opportunities, job postings will often literally get stuck. How do you build these networks that allow information, allow ideas, to cross boundaries? You need to build bridges between these groups, and there are ways you can design for that. There's a whole field about designing for that, so we get into "how do we support better designs for cross-group contact?," essentially. Then there's this Understand chunk, which is really not just about individual understanding, but it's about "how do we build meaning together?" One of the things that really effective communities do is you have this "yes, and" element where people are adding their perspective, their point of view, and you're building something that you really couldn't build alone. I think, because digital products are often built for with an individual user in mind, we don't think a lot about "how do we facilitate these collective experiences that are really important?" Then, finally, you get to Act. Act isn't just vote or change your community's selectmen, it's actually just platforms that facilitate people coming together and doing something together. One of the things that sociologists, and social scientists, and political scientists tell us is that, really, anytime you get a group of people, especially across some difference, just to accomplish something together, that builds social trust. It builds a sense of power, and capacity, and agency. It feeds back on the whole thing where people then are willing to take on something more.

Baratunde Thurston  22:31  

How did you and your co-founder, Talia, come up with these?

Eli Pariser  22:36  

Basically, we talked to over 100 experts in a whole bunch of different fields from urban planning to political scientists to community experts, and asked them what public spaces needed for a healthy society and a healthy democracy. Then we did these focus groups where we took them out in five different countries around the world, talked to people, and really got a sense of, "does this resonate? Does this not resonate?" Changed some things, and then finally surveyed 20,000 people in 20 countries just to make sure that this was resonating, and also to get a sense of how people evaluated which platforms did well on what. That was also really fascinating because you could see both what people wanted from the platforms that we have today and where they fell short.

Baratunde Thurston  23:27  

Where did the private spaces--the companies that most of us spend too much time on--where did they most fall short?

Eli Pariser  23:35  

Well, on that Welcome category there weren't a lot of them that did very well on just "do I feel invited to be here? Do I feel safe? Do I feel humanized?" There was really not a platform that did especially well on humanization, which I think says a lot about our current digital environment.

Baratunde Thurston  23:54  

Yeah. It's a powerful word--humanization. I think it's an easy one to use, so it strikes me as very plausible that they are bad at humanization because I don't always feel very human on them myself.

Eli Pariser  24:06  

If you look at a TikTok, it's like...

Archival  24:08  

...Please don't colonize this sound. If you're not black, just watch and enjoy...

Eli Pariser  24:15  

...There's two sides to it, right? There's these moments of incredible creative expression and a window into all of these worlds that you just would never get to occupy otherwise. Then there's this sense of "but I've got to gain this for attention, for clicks," and that's an always-on endeavor. I think we saw this in the survey, too. There are real value that these platforms provide. I just think part of the problem is we're asking too much of the platforms that we have, as opposed to inventing a world that has more opportunities for different kinds of experiences in different kinds of spaces. 

Baratunde Thurston  24:51  

You're out here trying to invent new worlds, and there are a lot of people concerned about the topics we're talking about. Part of their approach is regulatory. It's like we got to limit the power, the reach, the depth of these organizations, apply new rules and new regulations. That doesn't sound like the focus of yours; it's much more creative and inventive to use your own language. Why have you chosen this approach, and why have you chosen to work on this of all the things you could do right now?

Eli Pariser  25:20  

I think the regulation piece is important; but I also think without an imagination for what we want, it's hard even to regulate well, let alone to start to move toward the future that we want. I think this moment calls for a lot of creativity and boldness in public imagination. I think this is the playbook, for how we've moved through times of social stress and social pressure in the past is we've invented new kinds of organizations, new kinds of institutions. Public libraries are a thing that were invented, and so were public parks; they didn't always exist. With public parks, "we're starting to build these things called cities, there's a lot of smoke, and people don't have a place to go to exercise and get some fresh air. We need to think about how to do that. Oh, let's have a park that's open to everyone." I think we're there with our digital life where it's not just about tweaking things, it's about really having the bold vision for "what is the life we want to live and what are the kinds of institutions we need to make that life possible?"

Baratunde Thurston  26:31  

I am indeed tired of breathing the toxic smoke of the current internet and I would love a public park equivalent. This effort, this mission that you've given yourself is very aspirational. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, it restores my faith in people, and then I have to ask: how real is it?

Eli Pariser  26:57  

I think we're starting to see more and more people take this on, right? There are people who have been building places like Front Porch Forum in Vermont, which is a great example of what social media can look like when it's detached from the pressure of up-into-the-right exponential growth expectations. Front Porch Forum is basically a local discussion forum that's heavily moderated in every community in Vermont. 

Baratunde Thurston  27:23  

Oh, throwback term: listserv. 

Eli Pariser  27:25  

It's like a listserv, but it's a really well-moderated listserv. 

Baratunde Thurston  27:29  


Eli Pariser  27:31  

Before you can post, someone's gonna read your message, and they'll send it back to you if you run afoul of the norms, which are pretty serious. Even though Facebook is very popular, Twitter's very popular, all of these platforms are popular in Vermont, there's this different quality of conversation that happens when it's slow, and it's thoughtful, and there's an expectation that we're really going to stick to the agreements we make about how we're speaking to each other. To me, that's one example that exists right now that I think that you could have one of those in every community in the United States, and it would probably need to be different in every community because "no panaceas."

Baratunde Thurston  28:10  

I like that example; it sounds deliberate. A lot of us are hooked on, what I would consider, an entitled version of the internet, where "I want to, I get to, I will. That's it. Something came to my mind. I'm gonna post it. It's my right to post it." 

Eli Pariser  28:28  


Baratunde Thurston  28:28  

What you're describing is a different balance where there's a sense of obligation, as well. I can't imagine if I'd launched a Tweet, and it came back to me, "this isn't good enough. This is too rude. You're gonna make somebody... you're gonna hurt somebody's feelings." "That's what a tweet is, dog. Launch."

Eli Pariser  28:44  


Baratunde Thurston  28:46  

Why should we care about this? There's a lot of people I can imagine, and know some of them, who are like, "they can have my data. I'm a grown up. I know what I'm doing. I don't need a library version of the internet. Just control yourself and be a good person. Is it that hard?" Why do we need a digital public space designed intentionally for these outcomes?

Eli Pariser  29:08  

Unless you're literally in a cabin in the woods, you have to deal with society or society is gonna come deal with you, and you want it to be healthy. You want it to be good. I think that's one perspective. I think another piece is there are just so many people who don't get to contribute, and that's a loss for all of us. There was a great study on Our Science where they started moving the norms toward being explicit about what kind of speech was welcome and unwelcome there, and there was this question of whether that would just put off everyone, everyone would feel kind of nannied and shut up; but, actually, what they found was not only was there more speech, there was a lot more speech from women, from folks of color, from groups that would tend to feel like, "is it okay to be here? Is it okay to be speaking here?" Those are the people who then felt like, "oh, okay, I can speak up." Those conversations are better when you don't just have a bunch of entitled dudes talking to each other, so I think there's something that we all miss out on when we don't create spaces that are actually doing that work.

Baratunde Thurston  30:15  

What if you're wrong? What if humanity is just trash, right? What if your goals and aspirations for us exceed what we're capable of and this is who we really are, and you can try to mitigate that with some better design, but you're fighting upstream against human nature? What do you say to that?

Eli Pariser  30:35  

There is no such thing as universal human nature, and part of what we know from social scientists is that even the same person in different contexts will behave in radically different ways, and in some contexts we'll be much more altruistic and other contexts we'll be much more selfish. A lot of that has to do with the situation we find ourselves in and how we understand how we fit into that situation. This is the "no panaceas" point. I just don't think there are universal statements that are very helpful about humanity as a whole because people are lots of things, and there are definitely some pretty screwed up people out there with some pretty spirit of objectives, but there are also so many times when you can look at these stories of people with just not a lot of resources coming together and doing something really cool. To me, the battle is how do we help those people in those moments happen more, and the people who are aiming to do screwed up stuff do it a little less? If we can tilt that balance a little bit, it doesn't have to be a universal solve, it just has to be a game of inches.

Baratunde Thurston  31:45  

Sounds like somebody is trying to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice.

Eli Pariser  31:50  

I wouldn't. It's a small, small part of that project.

Baratunde Thurston  31:55  

Look, if billions of us pull on that arc, it will bend... not all billion, just a majority. We just need more of us to.

Eli Pariser  32:02  

At any given time, the reality is most people are just living their lives, doing their thing, and that's why building the number of people at the edges, who are engaged, who are active, can be so powerful because people are busy. We've got a lot of stuff going on, and just a little bit of extra time and a little bit of extra energy really, actually, can have a big, big impact.

Baratunde Thurston  32:29  

This stuff takes time. What do you want for future generations? I have heard some kids in the background, so I assume you're pretty invested in the future. 

Eli Pariser  32:39  

Yeah, my kids have it pretty good and are privileged, but even for them I look at the digital landscape that they're going to grow up and be a part of, and I worry for them. I worry for their souls. I worry for what it means to them to be a human being in some of these environments that we've created because they can be pretty soul-sucking, pretty extractive. What I want and what I think is possible, and it's not going to be me, but it's this movement that's growing to say, "hey, we can build digital environments that are good for people and we should do that, and that's going to require thinking about it differently." I want those kinds of environments to be available to them. It doesn't have to be that you're spending all of your time in the park. Nobody spends all their time in the park or the library, but going to the park allows you to see a certain way of being together that's possible, that changes your ideas about what humanity is. That's what I want for them; it's to have those spaces where you can say, "oh, it is possible to have a good conversation with strangers online that doesn't devolve into all of us calling each other Nazis."

Baratunde Thurston  33:46  

When you put it that way, it sounds like such a meager request and so achievable. I also think it's important that you outline that, in the words of the early 80s cereal commercials that are still stuck in my head, this is part of a complete breakfast. Right? It's not digital. No one lives in the library or just hangs out in the park, like you said, so you're not trying to displace the spaces we're already used to. You're calling for some variation, some diversity, options, choice, even. A capitalist should love it.

Eli Pariser  34:23  

Yeah. When you talk about freedom and that everybody should just be free to do whatever you want, the limits of that idea of freedom are how do you think about freedom when there are certain kinds of things you can only do with other people, you can only experience with other people? If you're only thinking about freedom as this individual "I get to do it or I don't get to do it," you miss all these categories of human experience. There's some of the most joyful, amazing categories that only are facilitated by being able to be doing stuff with other people, so I think there's that piece, as well, which is you don't get to really be free if you're free just in your own yard. 

Baratunde Thurston  35:05  

Yeah, freedom all by your damn-self is kind of missing out on a lot of the value of freedom. 

Eli Pariser  35:10  


Baratunde Thurston  35:11  

Yeah. Eli, I have thoroughly enjoyed finally being able to spend some quality one-on-one time with you. Thank you for doing this.

Eli Pariser  35:19  

This has been great. Thank you. 

Baratunde Thurston  35:23  

Eli's reasons for designing a new internet are pretty personal; it's for his kids, and that seems like a good thing. When designing things, shouldn't we be making things with the people we love in mind? Eli and Talia created the Signals as guideposts for new online conduct and design. These principles directly speak to democratizing and harnessing civic power in digital spaces. They're both helping folks define their own digital futures. It's a roadmap for our tech future, at least one we want. It's also a damn good philosophy to carry offline, as well. As the world heals, or struggles to, maybe we can start using this new framework in person. Here at How to Citizen, we're committed to giving you things to do beyond listening to me talk to somebody, though the talking's pretty good. We're building an entire universe of Citizen Action over at our shiny new website, It's got every episode, transcripts, links to guests, and things you can do. Now for every episode, we're offering you three ways to take action: a personal reflection you can do alone and even just in your head; a way to get more informed; and publicly participating, joining with others for something out in the world. For this episode, here are three things you can do. First, I want you to reflect on some recent online interactions you've had with total strangers on social media. Now, think about some interactions you've had with strangers offline, maybe in a public park or library. How did each of these experiences make you feel? Did you prefer one over the other, and why? Again, just think about it. In terms of becoming more informed, check out New_ Public's new design playbook for building digital public spaces of the future; it was built from two years of global research and feedback. Also, read Eli's thought-provoking article in The Atlantic; it's all about envisioning a future online that serves the public good and supports a culture of democracy, which is totally possible. Finally, in terms of publicly participating, I want you to try to find or create an online community in a space that isn't a giant shopping mall, where you can practice some of the 14 Signals, but using a platform like Hylo, H-Y-L-O, or Mighty Networks. Think you could do that? I'm gonna try to. Now, look, we've got links to all this and more over at, and please follow us on Instagram's shiny new account, @howtocitizen. There you can share and learn from others on the journey.

Next week, we talk to a tech designer and activist who's got some very strong opinions about the birth of the Internet.

Esra'a Al Shafei  38:25  

People always complain. It's, like, "oh, the internet is full of idiots," because that's by design how we made it.

Baratunde Thurston  38:31  

I told you, serious opinions. We aim for brutal honesty here, folks. Stay safe, and stay tuned. We've got more imagination and stories coming next time. Keep citizening, y'all. How to Citizen with Baratunde is a production of iHeartRadio Podcasts and Dustlight Production. Our executive producers are me, Baratunde Thurston, Elizabeth Stewart and Misha Euceph. Our senior producer is Tamika Adams, our producer is Alie Kilts, and our assistant producer Sam Paulson. Stephanie Cohn is our editor, Valentino Rivera is our senior engineer, and Matthew Lai is our apprentice. Original music by Andrew Eapen, with additional original music for season 3 from Andrew Clausen. This episode was produced and sound designed by Tamika Adams. Special thanks to Joelle Smith from iHeart Radio and Rachael Garcia at Dustlight Productions.

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