Sunday, December 30, 2007

where is "utopia" again?

Dave Snowden weighs in with some criticisms of Dave Pollard's Model Intentional Communities.

I find the least convincing element of Dave P's proposition to be the polyamory stuff - mostly because I think it goes against a key Dave P requirement - sustainability. I am unconvinced that polyamorous relationship networks last over time (but please prove me wrong on this).

The Second Life stuff leaves me cold - mostly because I don't get "SL".

The key issue for me is: to what extent are MICs integrated with the non-MIC ("fallen" perhaps) world? Dave P writes: To be self-sufficient, responsible and sustainable, the MIC needs to have everything (the capacities, the space, the time, and the resources) to be independent.

For Dave P, separation is the key to MIC success. For me, it guarantees their failure. My question would be: what aspects of everyday life can be made more sustainable? For Dave P, this probably smacks of appeasement. But he himself talks about complex networks - and the MICs of his dreams cannot stand outside these. You cannot save the world by disappearing from it. As the estate agents say, it's all about location, location, location.

Dave P says: Each MIC would be a circle within a circle, the larger circle being Gaia, the community of all-life-on-Earth. Apart from disliking the term Gaia (which to me is just a scientific gloss on animism), this model sidesteps a reality in which most of the world is not part of an MIC.

As with Dave S, I think that Dave P is taking on tremendously important issues - but I'm also concerned with the separatism.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Get this cutting edge application now. But remember to take your vitamins first.

Thanks Lauren.


The sun hits my skin, triggering vitamin D creation and (probably) melanoma production as well.

Dave Pollard's utopian urges hit my RSS feed and reminds me of a film and of my own, ambiguous experiences with utopian communities.

I look at Dave's adjectives: exemplary, egalitarian, replicable, educational, responsible, respectful, self-sufficient, sustainable, diverse. I hear echoes of a million pious political plans (illustrated with a multi-ethnic cast grinning around an iMac or a yogurt-making aga or some such techno-artisanal ikon).

Part of me admires the purity of Dave's vision.

And part of me wants to find Dave's MIC and spray graffiti on the walls, burn down the buildings and glory in its destruction. That's not very nice but sadly very human. Dave's vision seems a model of liberal, humanist rationality. But where is the place in utopia for the irrational, the destructive, the parts of us that aren't nice but are ever present (although very much controlled in most societies)?

We find ways of channelling these dark energies - some useful (sport, art, capitalism), others less (violence, drink/drugs). Where are the dark spaces in an MIC? What does it do with its shadows?

Dave visions a polyamorous world but my god is a jealous god. And he was made in my image.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas 2.0

As ever, James Dellow has the skinny.

green green grass of home

Tom Davenport is on the money with his comments on sustainability. And whilst I have been critical of his views on social networking software, I can understand his frustration with the focus of the comments he receives.

For business, the early 90s was about efficiency - BPR, ERP, firing lots of people - in short, sobering up after the 80s. Then the late 90s was also about technology - the internet. Once we'd recovered from that particular over-indulgence session, this decade has been all about globalisation - those Indians & Chinese folks.

The last 18 months suggest that the Next Big Thing will be sustainability. Just as globalisation was going on quietly throughout the 90s, sustainability has been around for a while. Rocketing petrol prices and climate change fears are just bringing it centre-stage.

At the moment, it's just focusing on things like energy & water efficiency. These aren't bad places to start but it's going to have to go deeper than that. And bigger. many problems are cause by local solutions being sub-optimal at the global level - e.g. putting my rubbish the street is great for my garden but not for the neighbourhood.

A question I would like to pose: How do the LBTs (Last Big Things) help us with this one? We tend to see globalisation as having a negative impact on the environment but what can we do to change that? And how does all this social software malarky help? Something around co-ordination may be....

blog dress - further reflections on the pew report

Put on that dress
I'm going out dancing

These thoughts are triggered by seeing Hell Hath No Fury (which I enjoyed but also agreed with the opinions of the reviewer thru the link), the Pew report referred to in the previous post and the lyrics of PJ Harvey's Dress*.

As a teen, public display is important - esp. as your body changes under the influence of hormones. Are you wearing the right clothes? The wrong clothes? What do they say about you? Do they fit in with the people you want to fit in with? And from what I remember, this is more important for teenage girls than boys. And critically its much more social. Most of my male contemporaries did not talk to each other about style tips or haircare. But for girls, going shopping together for outfits was normal.

How do we clothe our identities online? Words are one way of doing it. Creating a lexical sheath for ourselves. Blogs are often compared to online diaries but they are also public displays. Has anyone done any work on fashion trends in teenage girl blogs? The apps? The fonts, colours and formatting? What's in this blogging season?

Also, to what extent is posting a comment on a blog a form of social grooming?

Photo: cryptdang

*Which on reflection also has too much of a man focus. Women mainly dress for each other, not for men, no matter what we may choose to believe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

big girl's blouse

Apparently girls like to blog but boys like to upload video. So I can blame my blogging habit fairly and squarely on my mother making me wear dresses as a child. But then I blame everything on that so really need to start humming another tune. And it's girls from low-income & single parent families who blog. Is there something there about a need to be heard - and a need to create an identity?

Also US teens can be more savvy about accessibility & privacy than adults. Only 21% of teens never restrict access to their photos online vs. 39% of adults. They may simply have more to hide (but I doubt it) or the repercussions for not hiding might be worse. And, let's face it, hiding stuff from adults is fun. Also, girls are more restrictive than boys*.

Ross comments that through the new communications media we are discovering our "latent humanity". To put it another way, we don't just discover or share who we are, we create it. Adolescence is a time when these acts of creation are at their most intense. And this creative activity is naturally social.

This social self creation weaves technologies into our natures. So its hardly surprising that people start to experience them as appendages. Sever the connection and the addict experiences "phantom limb pain". Fortunately teens are far more adaptable than adults. Most of them seem to be giving up on email anyways.

*I am ill-equipped to discuss this topic (not that it's ever stopped me before) but women have always had to work that bit harder to establish their identities than men. The boys with their videos ("look at me, look at me") vs. the girls with their blogs ("listen to me, acknowledge me and what I am becoming").

Nature hates hippies

There can be no other explanation.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

should enterprise software be sexy?

when i worked at a certain large enterprise software vendor, i cringed when people (mostly men) would say software solutions had to be "sexy". it made me wonder what they got up to with their partners at home: "yeah baby, work that GUI interface for me, oh jesus, yeesssSSSSS".

sexy is what other human bodies are - unless you are some kind of pervert*. but taking stephen's sexy comment literally - what does that mean?

i would argue that enterprise apps are supermodel sexy. they apply unreal expectations of (process-based) leanness to the rest of us. or rather they make us apply those to ourselves. and hence they are not sexy at all. now ladies and gentlemen, i want you to picture a special time with your partner. when they have made you feel like the sexiest person on earth. how did they do that? well (and i wasn't there, so i'm just guess here) they probably made you feel wanted. and happy about being you. and just the right shape physically, emotionally, mentally. and goddam necessary to their happiness too. they probably touched you in ways you'd never been touched before.

how often does enterprise software do that?

*according to freud, we are all perverts - so the pressure's off people.

peats ridge festival

i'll probably be there at some point between christmas and new year. let me know if you fancy sipping a decaf soy chai between chakra alignments and bands.

creative economies

so 200 years ago (back before these new-fangle moving pictures and such like), people used to make their own entertainment. a lot of it was probably rubbish. but some of it was good. and much of it was theirs.

as much as i love mass(produced) culture - i have aaliyah projecting from my speakers rather than my own wonderful baritone - i have a soft spot for people doing this stuff for themselves. be it poetry or bands.

as i get older, i have less and less desire to share a gig with 20,000 other people - no matter how great the performer. seeing a half-way decent band with 50 other people in club can be better, more magical, more immediate than the stones in a stadium. there's a dilution effect - at least for me.

there is some sorcery in getting up on stage in front of people. for me (doing conferences or poetry slams - and i've rocked and sucked at both), it's all about connection. you want to reach people with your ideas, emotions, words. you want to tell them what they already know (on some level of truth) in a way they've never heard before.

and i would suggest that everyone needs that feeling, sometime in their lives (whether they know it or not). and where are the opportunities for that these days?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

the garden of forking paths

Jon Husband notes that Doris Lessing doesn't like the internet. Which begs the question: Am I allowed to like books and the internet? Or must I eschew this awful environment in favour of a nice, thick paperback?

DL's books have never interested me but her speech contains many moving examples of those hungry for literature. I love this passage from her speech:
Ask any modern storyteller and they will say there is always a moment when they are touched with fire, with what we like to call inspiration, and this goes back and back to the beginning of our race, to fire and ice and the great winds that shaped us and our world.

However this next passage strikes me shallow:
"How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?"

Inanities? Of course, few of us have the gifts (and time and resources) to produce nobel-prize winning literature. So we should be quiet and just wait around for those that do?
Here I am talking about books never written, writers who could not make it because the publishers are not there. Voices unheard. It is not possible to estimate this great waste of talent, of potential. But even before that stage of a book's creation which demands a publisher, an advance, encouragement, there is something else lacking.

And this to me is gift & curse of low-cost publishing. Of those voices unheard, a few will put Shakespeare in the shade. But the majority will be "inane".

DL seems to be unable to confront the fundamental paradox at the heart of her wish. Accessibility means that the foolish and wisdom are accessible.

blog council

The Blog Star Chamber Council is a shadowy organisation devoted to world domination corporate blogging. Definitely not funded by a bizarre neo-con / left-liberal conspiracy hell-bent on, er, using Word Press a bit more. It kinda feels like a security blanket for corporate communications dudes - nothing wrong with that...

Friday, December 07, 2007

the aggregations of memory

When you are not acting like yourself . . .that's an everyday thing for everyone, but it can be a bit sinister . . .It's like the opposite of Unite

We remember by rebuilding the past. Aggregating fragments of feeling and sensation. Images, words, intensities. The past is already distributed and we have no choice but to engage in acts of forensic reconstruction. Our lifestreams are more like a delta (the Mississippi or the Mekong) than a river.

Burial's music may not mean that much to you if you've never heard 2step or jungle. For me it feels sodden in longing for musics that eschewed the retro pleasures of the past. A paradox of futurist nostalgia. He's assembled elements of the past (beats, vocals) that feel dislocated - undead divas, a gnostic rave severed from the flesh.

Burial provides clues for the future of memory. Memories has always been tied to things in the world - landscapes, artifacts, people. And we've struggled to create collective memories that will outlast our little lives: of myths & stories, of sacred places, of uniting events, of books & machines. The digital traces of our lives (that so vex us in terms of control & privacy) are part of that stew. They will be subject to interpretation & reinterpretation - not always in a manner constructive or positive.

Perhaps someone else will reconstruct my life from its myriad traces. Creating nostalgia for an identity who never existed.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Ed Mitchell talks about 3 types of online community. Moving from centralised to decentralised to distributed basically means moving from managing via boundaries to managing via attractors. The centralised community is held together by common protocols whereas the distributed community is held together by social objects. Neither is better than the other but those with a preference for control will feel more comfortable with the centralised model. For the distributed model to work, you need a way of tagging (or literally branding) your social objects and making their movements between members at least partially visible. Ed says: The key is aggregation at the core. I'd qualify this by saying: the key is easily visible and malleable social objects (text, photos, audio, links, maps, etc). Aggregation is one way of achieving that but not the only way...

Except for all the others

There is a famous Churchill quote to the effect that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. The previous post has attracted some comments worth having a look at which I want to explore here.

I understand Churchill's frustration with democracy. The recently completed Australian federal election left a bitter aftertaste. A lot of negative campaigning and precious little vision - both sides calculating that many Australians don't want vision at the moment. We have professional politicians heading up huge political machines (though the Liberals now aren't as well-oiled as they have been in the past) claiming to control things they manifestly cannot. This year, politicians tied with car salesmen (but were below sex workers) in terms of trustworthiness. Which saddens me*. The relationship between citizens and their representatives should be a barometer for the health of society as a whole.

Our democratic structures are flawed, imperfect things - riven with compromise. There's a lesson here for the 2.0 mob. We crave the revolutionary moment of "democracy" - breaking the gates on collaboration, innovation, information. And yet what we are left to live with is far messier and ambiguous than that. A world that displays back to us our own conflicted natures.

*Are we voters complicit in this rusting of trust? We can't always admit what we want (e.g. economic growth at the expense of, say, social justice or sustainability) so our pollies reflect our own hypocrisy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The perils of democracy

In a conversation outside the Westin hotel, Ralph reiterated his belief that powerpoint democratised multi-media. Which reminded me of something an Indian once said to me: "You British gave us democracy. It was like giving a monkey a jasmine garland*".

His point was that India was not in a position to make best use of that power over itself in 1947. Having power is only good if you can wield it effectively. Democracy tends to work best with educated and literate populations**. N.B. I am not suggesting that India (or any other state) should forgo democracy for technocratic rule by expert or neo-colonialism or enlightened despotism. But if powerpoint (& digital cameras & Flickr & podcasting & video sharing & etc) is a democratising force then it needs a literate citizenship to take it up. And I'm not sure we have that yet. But you have to start somewhere.

Which is why I still think we need the visually literate to be educators as much as designers in their own right.

*Hey ma, I just offended 1 billion people.
**Although you have to start somewhere and dictators often don't want their populations to be literate and educated enough to disagree with them.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

You've got (more) mail

Dave talks about email here and here, most of which I agree with - apart from the assertion that I'm starting a crusade - "Follow me to reclaim the lands Information Righteousness from the Infidels of Email!". I do think we need to put email in its place - and it does have a place. However, as Dave indicates, that place is far smaller than the area it currently occupies.

The two crucial changes (which incidentally are the first on Dave's list) that need to happen are:

1. Reducing the use of attachments. Sending out hotlinks for fixed documents or update notifications for documents being modified via a wiki is fine. But this will be a big jump for many organisations where the main content collaboration tool is email + MS Word with "track changes" turned on. The exception to this might be documents transferred between organisations - i.e. you can send & receive attachments from external parties but not internal ones.

2. Broadcast emails. It's here that an unholy pact has developed between managers and their subordinates. Managers First: Communicating things is hard. You probably need to do it several different ways. And then you need check that people have both understood your message and are willing and able to act on it (if they don't need to act on it then why the hell are you telling them?). This takes a lot of time and it's generally much easier to fire out an ambiguous email to hundreds of people. Subordinates Second: Paying attention to senior people is hard. And they may ask you to do crazy things. Saying that you didn't read it on the portal or you weren't at the meeting or that you missed that email are great ways to avoid direct conflict with your manager (or their manager or their etc). There are times when broadcast emails are appropriate but they are comparatively rare.

Given the growing number of tools, we need to be clear which tool we are going to use for what. Developing post-email (but not anti-email) policies and practices is a critical part of this.

Collaborative Mindmapping

Thanks to Kim, I've been playing with mind42 - a collaborative mindmapping tool. Based on one of my current obsessions, I have put together a mind map on email.

Feel free to dip in and have a play around (N.B. you have to sign up).

UPDATE: Unfortunately, it looks like I need to imvite you to join so you can edit. If you would like to do so, please drop me a line.

Does your city have enough freaks in?

Brad has a background in economic geography. I am trying to buy an appartment. The two are more linked than you might think. We got talking about cities and urban planning.

Brad told me that a city needs 200,000 - 300,000 people. People come to cities for the work opportunities and the lifestyle diversity. You can be a freak in way you can't in a town of 30,000 people*. And Richard Florida would say that cities need freaks to make them economically useful.

However we both discussed Sydney getting too big. It sprawls out to the Blue Mountains, down to Wollongong and up the Central Coast. And my suspicion is that its more like California than London in that travel is multi-nodal (people living in Strathfield commuting to Chatswood) rather than the majority commuting to a comparatively large CBD**. Assuming that transport costs will rise over the coming decades, this will become more and more of a problem. To what extent will Sydney fracture? Will the emerging megacities swell and then break apart under their own weight?

*like the one I grew up in, not that I'm a freak, er...
**Happy to hear from an urban planner that I talking codswallop here.