Tell us a little about you.
I am Orestis Tringides and along with Natalie Hami and Dogukan Muezzinler, we are three Nicosians that love our old town and we have a created a project called “Old Nicosia Revealed” that, along with friends, we aim to record via photography every “hidden” aspect of old Nicosia quarter: good things, bad things, revealing information and history behind each picture, in order to achieve positive change through raising awareness, encourage dialogue over out town’s challenges and mobilise people towards taking an active stance.
What is empowerment for you?
“Empowerment” means to be able to use tools along with knowledge, in an effective, efficient and skilful manner in order to be able to express yourself, to motivate others and to achieve change for the benefit of the society. “Empowerment” means, firstly, realization that you have potential (power) – that you are not powerless and you are not merely a prey of the “powers that be”; realizing that you are PART of the powers that be!
What do you consider as the most important contribution of ICT to empower citizenship and why?
The ability of ICT to interconnect people so easily –given that it is used well and correctly by the people, and this requires serious study and practice! – is amazing. At the same time ICT and internet can empower people, they can also be a big timewaster, also making people passive. For example: you can either just hit “Like” on a post on Facebook, thinking that “what I have done is enough”, or just thoughtlessly complain about politics -without any desire of doing something about it – and the other choice you have is, once you have been informed about a situation that needs something to be done about it, to take a step further and actually DO something about it! ICT and internet can be great tools to receive information and interconnect and organize with people that otherwise would not have been possible; how you use those tools and capabilities after that, is an entirely different story.
Could you tell us, briefly, some experience that it is for you a clear example of the importance of empowering citizenship through ITC?
Through our project, Old Nicosia Revealed, we managed to raise awareness about the rich history and diversity of our town, but also to challenge the sterile mindset of many citizens of Nicosia that disregarded the old town as just an “infamous place”. What started as a simple Facebook page “for fun”, it managed to go beyond than being only that.
By crowdsourcing, we have attracted Nicosians of all ages, communities and current location, to share with us their experiences, their memories and information for many of the photos. We have facilitated a debate around the history, the conflict and current problematic situations in the old town. Through use of mapping tools we are currently “mapping” the location of each picture, and with persistent internet search we are extracting obscure and little known information for out town; all this presented for everyone to see, comment and reuse as desired.
By this, we also managed to challenge people about their absence of perception of the “other side” of our town (Nicosia is a divided city since the war of 1974) and also to point out the myriad problems arising from destruction, abandonment, bad town administration, but most importantly, the passiveness and unconcern of many of Nicosia’s own citizens.
With the support of friends known and unknown to us and local NGOs (that without their backing, none of this would have been possible) both via Internet and physically, to our great surprise the Municipality came to us and has invited us to work together in order to emphasize our “as is” perspective of the old town, by making photography exhibitions, printing photos with very critical comments and working with people responsible for Culture and Projects by inviting us on various occasions to give them a piece of our minds, in a critical, but constructive manner stemming from our genuine love for our town.
Currently, what are the major challenges of ICTs for citizen empowerment?
There is still a lot to be done regarding organization, coordination and decision making capabilities when involving many people over the internet. Sometimes existing tools get chaotic, too “noisy” and crowded with information and opinions without any discrimination between one useful piece of information and a complete nonsense: good ideas gets lost, people are discouraged by the “noise” and organizing action and mobilizing are being hindered. The biggest challenges are dialogue facilitation over the internet (without being exclusive, elitist and censoring); protection of privacy vs. abuse of anonymity; implementing democratic structures for fostering balanced dialogue, harnessing and emphasizing useful contributions and decision making.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to become empowered through ICT? Where to begin?
ICT is just a tool: You can use e.g. a hammer to make a sculpture, or you can use it to bang it on your head (or on other people’s heads); you can perfect your skills and use it well in order to nail something with one go, or clumsily destroy your wall’s plaster; you even have the choice to leave it as it is and collect dust – or use it for an irrelevant purpose, e.g. as a paper weight.
Therefore, someone that wants to be empowered with ICT should first realize the simple thing that ICT cannot really empower you; however, you can USE it in a certain way in order to help empowering you!
So, my advice would be: use your head – don’t bang it on your head!
An expression or phrase that summarize for you the essence of citizen empowerment through ICT.
It’s up to you: always has been and always will be and you are not alone.