Fighting for freerecyling

It’s the wrong trousers, dammit!

Creating and running a freecycling group is a piece of cake. When I say this I am definitely NOT trying to trivialise the amount of effort involved by determined and conscientious owners and moderators. What I am trying to say is that any owner or moderator can do what they do from the comfort and safety of their own home at nearly no extra cost apart from a few hours each day or week. Along with this no-one particularly has to change their lifestyle. That’s the truth of running a yahoo group, or a google group or a whatever facebook activity. This is the beauty of the Internet. It is a virtual world we all can inhabit, extending our reach to people and places we could otherwise only dream of. And, in the instance of freecycling that reach helps us feel closer to others in our local community as we give and take items along freecycling guidelines.

That’s the good bit.

The bad bit is if we try to extend our virtual world into the real world. Every time we do that their is a real and very tangible cost. And those costs can become very scary very quickly. If we put our group or groups on display in a village fete or some council event we have to provide organisation. Organisation means publicity. It means staffing (ok everyone is a volunteer, but let’s skip that bit and assume it is “a given” for now). It means insurance such as public liability. It means explaining what you are to other organisations – such as councils.

And this is where life gets difficult. Councils have very different agendas. Councils are not interested in on-line groups – they are interested in reaching their communities effectively. And I use that word effectively intentionally. Effectively for them is not just an ad-hoc word it is something they need to prove. They don’t need to prove it just to pass the time of day but they need to prove it as enshrined in law.

Enshrined in law are words like accessibility, race and ethnic relations, gender discrimination. In our virtual world we don’t care or if we do then we hardly worry about such issues. If a particular owner or moderator is a racist or perhaps has very strong religious ethics or has some other point of view that affects their work we hardly know about it and their is no machinery in place, and it is difficult to conceive of how to either monitor or implement checks and balances to protect against any form of discrimination.

Discrimination inside freecycling is an ignored issue.

You can prove this yourselves by just looking at the members of your groups. By definition they have access to computers and the Internet, and so this means it takes a certain slice through society.  I could be very wrong, but if I was to guess then 90% of freecyclers across the globe are Caucasian.

Now Freecycle UK has obtained funding in association with London, UK. Wow. On the surface this looks good – some real money for once. But what does this mean. Does it mean that suddenly Freecycle UK has to produce pamphlets in Gujarati, Hindi and who knows how many languages. What?

You see what I mean? Suddenly if Freecycle UK attends any council event in London they have to demonstrate “accessibility”, regardless of race or creed etc. I am sorry but this is a joke.

I am all for accessibility and feel that I am as anti-racist a person as I possibly can be but any such investment if it goes in this direction is A COMPLETE WASTE OF TAX PAYERS MONEY. I mean suppose someone who does not speak English actually understands the leaflet about freecycling when rewritten in their home language then they go online and find that the group only runs in…. English.

You see where I am going to I am sure.

Do you know the most popular surname is in England? It is not Smith. Instead it is Singh. But if you look in the phone book you will not find many Singhs. This is because they have their own phone book. What I am saying is that if you are going to go down the accessibility route then you need a whole machinery of people, translators, Internet access, foreign language Yahoo groups etc etc.

Woops, did I say foreign language Yahoo groups? Of course TFN is building and rolling out its own website. Will this website be capable of dealing with Hindi? I think not.

The bottom line here is that freecycling works well for those people who are online right now. However there are cultural assumptions that make that activity easy for owners, moderators and members. Go outside those norms and you need a big, a very big budget. Go into that real world and suddenly you need professional translators, cultural advisers, serious website development teams.

Overnight you need to become incredibly professional. And overnight you are no longer going to be staffed by volunteers.

I just hope that Freecycle UK knows what it has done.  The astrologist in me predicts a lot of pain and a lot of work, unpaid work and work with few rewards, if any.


January 22, 2008 - Posted by | freecycle

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