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December 10, 2009

Social media cafes

Filed under: Featured — andrewchilvers @ 3:50 pm

Back in the days when online meant that my flatmates had yet again pegged my unwashed smalls amongst the neighbour’s drying tea towels as a jolly jape, I wrote the odd piece for John Bird, of Big Issue fame.

Actually it was pre-Big Issue because John told me he was setting up a magazine for the homeless and would I write a few articles on subculture movements in London for the dummy issue… for nothing!

Ever eager to see my name in print, I accepted the job and trawled the South London underworld of squats, art cafes and exhibitions in search of subversive artist types. I remember one collective called Aunt Flo’s, which was a situationist art movement based in a large, sprawling squat in Deptford.

The artists would gather over coffee and spliff to plan various art events and exhibitions, with the wild and touchingly naive idea that communities could change for the better through situationist art.

20 years later and an updated model of those idealistic debating clubs is the social media cafe. This is where like-minded (often techie) souls meet to talk about making connections in the physical and virtual community through online participation and action.

So you can go along and chat about anything from open source software as the perfect blogging tool to setting up your own democratic movement through online social networks. Whatever takes your fancy.

These new overground warriors (the Tuttle club is held in the LEON cafe in Spitalfields) dress a lot more like your average high street citizen than the grubby artists of Aunt Flo’s, but they dream the same dream – to get people from all walks of life talking and engaging, to make people socially (and, yes, politically) active.

Interesting stuff. Personally, I’d like them to go one step further and become the hubs for local video blogging networks. People around the community turning up to comment about their lives, their aspirations on simple Flip cameras or phones, then uploading onto a common council-run space. This could then feed into local adult services engagement sites. Local government would be plugged directly into the community.

Sounds chaotic – and, of course, it would be. All the ideas happening around social media are naturally chaotic, but out of that chaos a local council could start to understand and engage with its community.

Below are a couple of links to social media cafes in London and Manchester and the video link is short chat with Lloyd Davis, founder of the Tuttle Club.

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