Sustainable Waters in a Changing World

Yesterday I spend the day at the “Sustainable Waters in a Changing World ” conference at UMass Amherst where I gave a presentation on “Blogging Places: Using Social Media to Foster Place Identification and Share Local Knowledge,” my standard place blogging spiel revised for audience of scientists and environmentalists. Here’s the abstract:

If Henry David Thoreau were alive today, would he keep a blog? Greg Perry’s site, “The Blog of Henry David Thoreau,” helps us picture what this might look like by posting daily entries from Thoreau’s journal. While Thoreau would likely feel ambivalence toward blogging for technological and political reasons, it is not difficult to imagine him finding affinity with those who today identify themselves as “place bloggers.” In much the same way that Thoreau grounded his daily journal writing in his local surroundings, so also place bloggers use the genre as a way to explore the relationship between where they are and who they are. When blogging was first gaining widespread popularity, one group of bloggers created a wiki called “Ecotone: Writing about Place” that served as a portal for those interested in discussing both place and blogging. Between 2003-2005, more than 50 bloggers from around the world contributed 350 posts on a variety of shared topics that encouraged participants to construct a deeper sense of place. More recently, the launch of such sites as reflects a growing interest in place blogging as a form of citizen journalism designed to enable people to share vital local knowledge with geographically proximate audiences. While the web has often been viewed as a disembedding mechanism that attenuates social relationships and undermines place identification, these sites suggest that place blogging can serve as a tool for re-inhabitation, creating what the Ecotone bloggers describe as an “edge effect” that blurs the real and virtual in productive ways. Place blogging can empower ordinary people to think of themselves as creators of local knowledge, whether as citizen scientists, citizen journalists, nature writers, or urban flâneurs. Because our environments are being shaped by digital networks whether we like it or not, it is incumbent upon those concerned with the health and sustainability of places to examine critically how new communication technologies might reconnect people to where they are and enable like-minded people to create and share vital local knowledge.

Also presenting in this session on “Place, Season, and Landscape Perceptions”:

The Citizen Scientist: an Emerging Scientific, Social and Economic Voice in Discussions about Water Resources, Wildlife Habitats, and the Impact of Climate Change – Glorianna Davenport, The Media Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Hudson River Almanac: Creating a Electronic Network of Phenologists – Steve Stanne, New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation and Cornell University

Our session was one of three sessions in a track called “Scientific and Watershed Community Collaborations” which also included panelists presenting on a interesting range of projects incorporating everything from handheld gps devices to Googlemaps and Flicker:

The Wildlife Inventory Project: Citizens Combining the Ancient Skills of Animal Tracking with Modern Data Collection Methods to Monitor Wildlife Activity within the Watershed – Bob Metcalfe, New England Discovery

Engaging Citizen Scientists in a Digital World: The Life on the Purple Loosestrife Project – Jennifer Forman Orth, Electronic Field Guide Project, Computer Science, University of Massachusetts Boston

Disseminating Wetlands Restoration Planning Information via an Online Document with Interactive Mapping Capabilities – Beth Suedmeyer, Wetlands Restoration Program, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management

The final session gave use time to share ideas about how we could use information technologies to help people connect with their environments and contribute useful data to larger projects to improve the health of ecosystems. It was exciting to how much my research intersected with the work of those in other fields, and it was fun to share ideas with those trying to solve real world problems using many of the same tools I’ve been working with and writing about for a while now.


One response to “Sustainable Waters in a Changing World”

  1. Tim, would love to hear more about how this went, perhaps this weekend?? We're back from Colorado and looking forward to seeing you again in our little corner of California…