Published: July 20, 2023

By Joe Arney

Like many Boulder County residents, Nathan Schneider found himself glued to Twitter in late December 2021 as the Marshall Fire raced through Superior and Louisville. 

But was a social media platform really the best way to warn people of the danger and guide them to appropriate resources?

“I kept asking myself, could we have done this in a way that was more appropriate to this challenge, and more under local control?” said Schneider, an assistant professor of media studies at the College of Media, Communication and Information and founder of its Media Economies Design Lab. “Was the best solution really governments communicating on an advertising platform that’s been so notorious for the spread of misinformation and confusion?”

It’s a question he hopes to further explore next month at the Conference on Local Tech Ecologies, a gathering of thought leaders and nearby tech practitioners at the CU Boulder campus. It’s an event Schneider developed in collaboration with students in the Media Economies Design Lab and through financial support from Colorado ReWild.

The conference will feature discussions and insights into how to create robust local ecologies around technology, to encourage stronger community development. Importantly, the event is not is about Boulder’s tech scene—the giants like Google and IBM—but the entrepreneurial ecology that’s responsible for innovations like Nosh, the restaurant-owned food delivery service app, or the Magnolia Road Internet Cooperative, in Nederland.

“We have plenty of cases of entrepreneurs that are about building really appropriate, community-facing technology, as opposed to seeking global scale,” Schneider said. 

Distinguished speaker lineup

Nearly a dozen speakers representing industry and academic thought leadership are slated to appear at the event. Among them are Becks Boone and Jamie Anderson, of Boulder-based startup Rootable; Michael Perhats, co-founder of Nosh Delivery; Caroline Savery, a business researcher and consultant to entrepreneurs; and Josh Ritzer, founder and CEO of Nigh Technologies, in Boulder. Keynotes will include Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Initiative for Public Infrastructure at the University of Massachusetts, and Fernanda R. Rosa, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech who studies science, technology and society.

The idea for the conference comes from Schneider’s extensive research into governance and the online economy. He’s worked with startups aiming to change how users interact online, and has studied different ways of talking about technology that change our relationship to it and relationship to communities. 

The conference, he said, is being designed to connect players in the tech community to one another—“to help them see they’re part of a movement, not just their own projects”—and build interest from residents and local governments to explore new tools on their own. 

“I think there is a real recognition that we need to shift power more locally in the platform economy,” Schneider said. “And I want to just showcase some of the different ways of doing that.”