Social media for the media social club: the slightly bizarre, happy story of #goldsbiephone

Social media for the media social club: the slightly bizarre, happy story of #goldsbiephone

Old news: Jonathan Goldsbie’s mobile phone (Image: Yvonne Bambrick)

Anyone who’s paid attention to Toronto politics on Twitter for more than five minutes knows Jonathan Goldsbie. He’s a contributor to Spacing, OpenFile and the National Post. On any given day he can be found tweeting about council documents, agendas or attending meetings and providing colour commentary (Giorgio Mammoliti was recently forced to apologize for calling him “Comrade Twitter”). Amazingly, one of the pillars of Toronto’s Twittersphere manages his prolific stream of tweets with a phone that one wit compared to “a Flintstonian pterodactyl.”

“Can’t we each pitch in a buck and get him a proper phone?” asked Chris Tindal on Twitter Wednesday night. By 10 p.m., his friends had started an intervention on Twitter with the hashtag #goldsbiephone.

Tindal got the ball rolling, and the pledges started rolling in. “Within minutes of my initial tweet, Michal Hay was suggesting ways to move it forward, Mark Kuznicki was researching platforms, and David Demchuk started setting up the page,” says Tindal.

Michal Hay suggested they aim for $2,000 to cover the phone and a year’s worth of data—and raise that much by the next council meeting in April. This “huddle,” as Demchuk calls it, all took place within the first hour of Tindal’s tweet. The site went up quickly and the money started coming in.

By Thursday morning, the twitterers had over $800. By Thursday night, they had $1,500. By this morning they had raised 78 per cent of their target figure.

“His phone is ridiculous, the kind of thing you’d let a baby play with six years ago,” says Demchuk “His phone is so bad he had no idea this was happening. He can’t even read incoming tweets about him, so this was all happening in broad daylight, but behind his back.” Goldsbie was eventually tipped off by a reporter at city council.

Before writing off this story as a journalistic geekfest with a ChipIn account, consider that Councillor Shelley Carroll can be counted among Goldsbie’s fans. When we spoke with her, she said she wasn’t sure if she was legally allowed to contribute to the phone fund, “but I’m certainly gonna be promoting it!” Carroll says that in an age where daily newspapers are re-inventing themselves all the time (hint, hint), Goldsbie has a real purpose: “You read him and he may not reflect your politics, but he’s not going to shift on you. You’re not going to open Jon’s Twitter page one day and find the editor’s changed [things].”

Now, getting a young man in Toronto a smartphone isn’t curing cancer, and it’s not buying anti-malarial nets for Africa, but there’s still something important happening here. Carroll suggests that Rob Ford’s election helped explode Toronto’s politically engaged community: “I always tell people that I owe my political career to Mike Harris … and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after the events of the last few months, someone with a reliable voice like [Goldsbie] has become a phenomenon.”

What’s clear from the #goldsbiephone saga is that Toronto is fortunate enough to have an engaged public sphere on-line. Photographer and urban cycling consultant Yvonne Bambrick, one of #goldsbiephone’s early pledges, says “these mediums have helped—access to Twitter, blogs, all these sharing mechanisms have helped. They’ve allowed the dialogue the happen outside the halls of power.” The combination of technology, activism, membership and yes, disposable income that get combined in Toronto’s political nerdosphere allows for this little example of self-started and self-funded distributed gifting.

“It’s working because we know him, it’s real, it’s in the moment, it’s concrete—it’s not a large, abstract, unsolvable problem,” says Demchuk. “In the face of poverty, community housing, the issues at TCHC, people almost craved an issue they could resolve in a humorous, uplifting way.” Demchuk and others describe this less as a charity and more as “subscribing to Goldsbie.”

Goldsbie, for his part, is more than a little mortified. Reached by The Informer, he said “I don’t think there’s a correct or proper response to something of this nature. So I’ve felt everything. (Including gratitude, of course. In addition to being astonishing, it’s all profoundly touching.)”  He says he has his sights on the HTC Desire Z, if he can find a way around giving Bell Canada any money.

Full disclosure: this blogger donated to the Smartphone for Goldsbie fund.

• Goldsbie needs a Smartphone (thingie)! [Goldsbie’s Smartphone]
Jonathan Goldsbie [Twitter]

(Image: Yvonne Bambrick/