Why might Berty allow the new forms of micro-local cooperation facing COVID-19?

Time: March 2020. Place: planet Earth. Containment rules are disrupting lives in many countries, and social relations between individuals are reduced to a minimum.

Today, we are going to take the opportunity to analyze modern means of communication linked to this type of crisis, and try to imagine how the habits will change when the virus craze is behind us.

To begin, I would like to share an experience I had in Santiago, Chile, a few weeks ago. There I discovered a habit that I have not yet seen very widespread in France or in Europe.

Indeed, in Santiago, a neighborhood (called Barrio) is organized as a small municipality, with its own municipal police, for example. We will not dwell here on the fact that this is largely linked to the privatization of public services, and that it generates inequalities between neighbourhoods. What is interesting are the organizational methods created by the inhabitants to communicate at the neighbourhood level.

Local Groups

Indeed, I was able to discover that the neighbourhood where I was (Barrio de Las Condès) had a WhatsApp group to enable, I quote, “vigilance, mutual aid, solidarity”.

In a confined world, it could be very interesting to copy and adapt this kind of spontaneous approach, by creating a communication channel on a micro-local network, in order to allow neighbours to communicate.

Let us now imagine that the situation becomes more complicated, and that the communication networks are cut off, for X or Y reason. Our dependence on WhatsApp, telephone networks, and service providers is too strong. We are not resilient. And yet we are quite capable, with a protocol like Berty, of setting up standalone networks that are zero-network-proof.

For example, in a neighbourhood area, we can allow people to communicate, so that isolated people can continue to receive and share information with their neighbours no matter what happens.

From 2 to 231 people groups

When we study human behaviour over the centuries, we discover that a kind of norm regularly emerges, and that a cooperative social group is often close to 150 people. This is just one benchmark, ranging from 100 to 231 individuals in studies such as Dunbar’s, which analysed hunter-gatherer societies. This figure corresponds to the average number of individuals living in a village on different types of societies and continents.

Several interpretations of this recurrence are possible , but among the interesting theories, we can distinguish two:

  • the first is that 150 people represent an audience that can be “easily” communicated with orally in an assembly setting. When there are more people and no technical equipment, it will be hard to hear the speaker.
  • the second is that 150 people is a figure that makes it possible to “know” this group, in a more or less familiar way, and therefore to have common social landmarks. Even if not everyone is a friend, everyone recognizes each other’s face, and identifies themselves as a part of the same group.

With the internet, we would tend to want to build huge self-help groups, with thousands of people. And sure, let’s continue. But it is important to build local “agoras” as well, which create a local social link, as a complement to the huge groups, on which we can set up greater cooperation.

Why should we create these groups now?

These small cooperations of the daily life are not to be neglected, they are essential to maintain a social link, to make sure that everyone is doing well, to ask for a little help… Or simply to make the neighbours smile, as if we were passing by each other on the street.

In these cases, Berty could be a very useful tool for the next few months, and who knows… once the discussion groups are open throughout our neighbourhoods, even if our confinements are over, we may have developed a taste for mutual aid.

Having autonomous and resilient networks becomes urgent in the current environment, but could also be crucial if we were to see the generalized surveillance environment intensify, and ISPs were taken out of service, for example. If we can no longer communicate securely, then we are losing one of the fundamental foundations of our democracies, and our freedoms.

Let us be vigilant, and let us cooperate.

Bonus Tips:

Some ideas for deploying a network quickly?

  • Print out some very simple little papers explaining the principle, and place them in the mailboxes around you.
  • Example of presentation: “We want to help each other, and be able to communicate together, so we create a self-help group! Join us and spread the word to your neighbors!”
  • Put up a few small posters in local businesses announcing the self-help group and the link to find your way around.
  • If no one really wants to go out… You can also take out a speaker, plug in a microphone, and tell your neighbours the information. Try to do it at the right time, so as not to scare the elders ;)

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Photo Credit: undraw