Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

American Public Media's Joaquin Alvarado: Technologies don’t create communities; communities create technologies

Nov. 11, 2011, 11:31 a.m., Posted by Robertson Adams

Above: Joaquin Alvarado, Senior VP at American Public Media

This post is part of "The Digital Revolution and Democracy" series. For more information on the series, read "Digital Democracy: A More Perfect Union."

It's important to start asking how we can leverage digital media and social networks as a platform to improve our democracy, argues Joaquin Alvarado, the Senior Vice President for Digital Innovation for American Public Media. The formation of networks is not just a digital tech issue, but a question of how new ideas are socialized, he says.

“There’s an inversion we do that's not accurate. Technologies don’t create communities; communities create technologies,” he says. “If you look at low-income Americans and their adoption -- heavy adoption -- of mobile, its an indication that mobile was solving problems for those communities.... You have enormous extended networks of families that are helping to take care of each other. Mobile is the perfect technology. … They created the opportunity around that. And there’s innovation in that approach.”

Alvarado leads strategic development of APM's Public Insight initiatives, and develops models for deepening audience engagement, widening digital reach and increasing digital revenue growth across all operating divisions.

He spoke at the Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society (FOCAS) session on “The Digital Disruption: How Digital Technology Changes Everything” (he's at 1h 16m.):

“We live in the age of networks. We're talking about networks. We know a lot about how networks perform and what makes them work. How the Internet got created was in large part due to the right protocols getting defined and agreed upon. It was an act of democracy, in some sense...

“Is our democracy actually equipped with the right protocols to exist successfully in the network age? I think the evidence is that it's out of equilibrium right now. But there's an essential tension here that goes much deeper.”

Knight Foundation's Dennis Scholl interviewed him at FOCAS as part of Knight's The Digital Revolution and Democracy series.