Park benches are really important. They are places where you can grab a seat by yourself and read without anyone else knowing what you're reading. Or sit with a friend and chat and not be overheard. Or step out at midday with a work colleague to complain about your boss or plan your startup, without being listened to.
Our actions on the Internet are listened to. Monitored. Scraped. Mined. Stored. If you read a book on a Kindle, Amazon knows the page number where you stopped. Read blogs, websites, Tumblr posts, newsletters - all tracked. Social media - stored. Text messages - stored. Search history - stored.
There are no park benches on the Internet.
Why does this matter to civil society and philanthropy?
In order to develop independent ideas, we need places to think and learn without fear of being wrong or curious or different. We need private places where can study new ideas or develop different ways of framing a problem or try out someone else's ideas. Only then do we come together with others to debate, discuss, make plans, take action, make change. With no private place to think or read there is no space for ideas to develop. Without the development and exchange of ideas there is no free expression. Without places to debate and exchange and share and discuss and improve those ideas, there is no assembly. Without space for expression and assembly, there is no civil society.