Archive for the ‘Global issues’ category

Who’s Your City? (Toronto!) Who’s your Company?

March 15, 2008

Richard Florida’s latest dive off the springboard of the Creative Class shows up in geography – where you choose to live determines your destiny. In the Globe and Mail, Florida himself reviews the premises and thesis of the book Who’s your City?

Where we choose to live, argues the director of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute , is crucial not only to how we live and who we share our lives with, but also to what kind of career we end up having.

In this passage, he describes how this “geographic clustering” is dictated by five basic personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The choice to live in a certain city – essentially a situated culture with its unique set of circumstances – generates an enormous new set of options for the individual. It has taken us three years of continual learning and exploration to become Torontonians-in-training. However, even on the very part-time basis of one week a month, we have created a huge network of new friends by choice (all of them brilliant, smarter than us, well-informed politically, constantly culturally creating, attractive, socially engaged, etc.). We have recreated Toronto in our own idealized image of the place, and that has led to some extraordinary connections that could never have occurred in the US. These relationships have led to extraordinary opportunities as well – in business, research, and intellectual communities, as well as artistic, creative, and self-exploration opportunities.


Now, shift the unit of analysis of cultural ecology of the city to the cultural ecology of your career or business. I own and manage a small design research firm, Redesign Research, and we thrive on designing new information services, researching the ecologies of use for product innovations, and advising organizations on configuring their strategies and operations to best pursue innovation. I live in two cities now – hometown Dayton and newtown Toronto. Which one will better suit this business model in the future?

Focus the lens a notch deeper – where do you choose to work? Given the geographic traits of Florida’s thesis – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism – which of these do you experience in your workplace? Which do you want more of, less of? To what extent does geography map these traits to the firm? So what organizations – and what cities – what nations – seem to hold these traits?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Richard Florida left the US (Virginia) for Toronto, where he is Academic Director of University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute which takes an integrative approach to the study and creation of jurisdictional advantage. (I am at U of T as a visiting scientist myself). When I meet Richard, I’d like ask him how and why he chose Toronto. Given his distinction as an American that explored and wrote about the evolution of North American cities, he’s quickly becoming a new century’s Jane Jacobs. Jane’s vision of a city of neighborhoods seems well loved (if institutional), in Toronto; now Richard is finding who lives in those neighborhoods (and why) makes all the difference.


Visual Global Sensing

February 27, 2008

Could the mashup of Flickr + geovisualization generate a global Panopticon?  Robert Ouellette’s Gagglescape tipped me off to Flickr’s World Vision, a constantly circulating slide show of extraordinary images picked up from every point on the globe.


The slideshow effect is mesmerizing, because these are images you would not be finding otherwise, it’s unlikely you would search for or find any of these in association with other images or keywords.  It has the effect of an autonomous global intelligence, a reminder that everyone else, everywhere, has a point of view, a location, and a camera. Flickrvision gives me new reason to actually post on Flickr for the fun of it, not just when there’s something to share.

Bursting at the Seams

October 16, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs – Speaking on solving global problems at the Reith Lectures. He may be a one-man Club of Rome.

And how can it be, ladies and gentlemen, that we think we can be safe? We think we can be safe when we leave a billion people to struggle literally for their daily survival, the poorest billion for whom every day is a fight to secure enough nutrients, a fight against the pathogen in the water that can kill them or their child, a fight against a mosquito bite carrying malaria or another killer disease for which no medicine is available, though the medicines exist and are low cost, thus letting malaria kill one or two million children this year. How can this be safe? How can we choose, as we do in the United States, to have a budget request this year of $623 billion for the military – more than all the rest of the world combined – and just $4.5 billion for all assistance to Africa and think that this is prudent? One might say it is science fiction that a zoonotic disease could arise and somehow spread throughout the world, except that AIDS is exactly that. How many examples do we need to understand the linkages, and the common threats, and the recklessness of leaving people to die — recklessness of spirit, of human heart, and of geo-political safety for us?

President Kennedy talked about a way of solving problems, and that too will be a theme of these Lectures. We are entering I believe a new politics, and potentially a hopeful politics. I’m going to call it open-source leadership. If Wikipedia and Linux can be built in an open source manner, politics can be done in that manner as well. We are going to need a new way to address and to solve global problems, but our connectivity will bring us tools unimaginable even just a few years ago.

We have new, old, and reinvented tools – online and offline – for generating collective wisdom toward solving complex social problems. What’s missing is the same thing that has always been missing: a bit of vision from the stakeholders, who might be committed to resolving differences among the different holders-of-stakes, to attempt a true dialogue with a meaningful consensus for action.

Dialogic design may be a means for such open source politics. It provides a means of engaging people with a problem in common in an open, democratic, and productive design thinking process. Policy making is a design problem, wherein a large and variable set of unwieldy inputs and voices overwhelm the decision maker, and a sensemaking process ensures to arrive at a decisions that intuitively organize the meanings and needs of the policy into a course of action. This is very hard work for politicians and policy wonks, neither discipline of course, being trained in design thinking. But it is a problem of designing, nevertheless.

In dialogue, you are heard and your contributions are honored, as are all contributions. Wisdom is that which emerges from the common through the exchange, understanding of the problem space, and generation of design possibilities. It is not wikiality – whether online or on-face, its the real deal.

Richard Rorty: A favorite philosopher leaves us

June 12, 2007

You would not have known from the US-based media, but one of America’s most thoughtful, insightful, brilliant minds left us last week. Richard Rorty, at age 75, author of many readable,influential works: Old-school patriotic liberal philosophy (Achieving our Country) and of rigorous probing our ways of being human in the postmodern era (Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity).

While the US media has not covered Rorty with sufficiency due this extraordinary philosopher of solidarity, Europe mourns his loss. Living philosopher of Communicative Action reknown, Jurgen Habermas reflects on Rorty’s life and contributions on How did we learn this news? From the Signandsight site, whose editor Naomi Buck was a panelist at last night’s panel discussion held at Toronto’s Goethe Institute. And we are, of course, in Canada. It has taken longer for the word to spread in his own US, but respectful posts have appeared on Huffington.

Rorty is best remembered by witnessing his own words: Moral insight “is a matter of imagining a better future, and observing the results of attempts to bring that future into existence.”

And from his writings, such as Trotsy and the Wild Orchids that Habermas cites:

So much for how I came to the views I currently hold. As I said earlier, most people find these views repellent. My Contingency book got a couple of good reviews, but these were vastly outnumberedby reviews which said that the book was frivolous, confused andirresponsible. The gist of the criticisms I get from both left and right is pretty much the same as the gist of the criticisms aimed at Dewey by the Thomists, the Straussians and the Marxists, back in me 1930s and 1940s. Dewey thought, as I now do, that there was nothing bigger, more permanent and more reliable, behind our sense of moral obligation to those in pain than a certain contingent historical phenomenon – the gradual spread of the sense that the pain of others matters, regardless of whether they are of the same family, tribe, colour, religion, nation or intelligence as oneself. This idea, Dewey thought, cannot be shown to be true by science, or religion or philosophy – at least if ‘shown to be true’ means ‘capable of being made evident to anyone, regardless of background’. It can only be made evident to people whom it is not too late to acculturate into our own particular, late-blooming, historically contingent form of life.

Goodbye Richard, and Godspeed to you, atheist that behaved and advocated all the original Christian virtues. After the fall and renewal of today’s most corrupted institutions, we can hope for a more reflective era where people will understand your clear and much-needed moral advocacy.


In Toronto: Escape from Suburbia

May 25, 2007

OK, first of all Toronto IS our escape from Suburbia – We leave the Dayton area and spend a week or more of every month working in downtown Toronto. I have collaborative projects that have developed over the last year or two, and Patricia works on her book projects. A small-ish work/live studio in Liberty Village suffices for now. Our next door neighbor at the Fraser Studios happens to be Greg Greene, director of End of Suburbia and cinematographer for the Yellow Springs-based (our other neighborhood) project on Community Solutions (How Cuba Survived Peak Oil).

Greg pre-screened the second documentary in the trilogy project, Escape from Suburbia, last night at the No Regrets restaurant in Liberty. Escape from Suburbia shows us the committed, seemingly “early” responses of people followed from New York, LA, and even Portland to their new lives in eco-villages and rural farms. Notice that we, and Greg, remain in the city for now.

Toronto is a wonderful place to live and work, and our future location of choice. But the facts are that the GTA is the 5th largest metro area in North America, and much of it is sprawl. The regional food supply is very limited – as with much of the US, the food is flown and trucked in with about a 2-day supply. Transportation to the city and in the city is problematic – although better than most US cities.

Regardless of how your frame the phenomenon, resource costs and diminished supply are here now. The cheap oil-subsidized illusion of progress and pereptual growth is crashing, in parallel with Peak Credit, Peak Debt, Peak Consumer/Housing, leading many of us to Peak Anxiety. The documentary forces the realization that we are on our own, the governments and corporations are not here to help. We each have to create sustainable communities, wherever we choose – and we have to choose very, very soon or the choice will be made for us. See the trailer – its a witty fist in a reality glove.

Three Dialogues in search of democracy

April 15, 2007

The New Democracy Workshop is an ongoing working group at U of Toronto consisting of new media and social democracy researchers. We held dialogues last week on personal healthcare and innovations in dialogue.

Peter Pennefather presented the basics of Collaborative Diagnostics. How medical procedure aimed at directing decisions about therapy should be explicitly democratic and how trends in the health care system to recognize patient autonomy may allow such a dialogical approach to emerge. Peter argues that when procedures and personal care records within the health care system become more transparent, the prospects for such an emergent democratic dialogue will be

I shared about our current thinking in dialogue practice, including Web-based applications in e-dialogue.  Working from a new presentation on structured dialogue, our method for democratic, consensus-based dialogic design based on social science and collaborative cognition is articulated. I presented a case for moving dialogue beyond the Understanding phase (“just listening”), illustrating the necessity for a democratic approach to social system design and action based on dialogue.

More on Dialogic Design at the Blogora (please visit and engage with us!)

Architecture as Social Research

February 19, 2007

Critique of Pure Research: A new graduate program at London’s Goldsmiths College explores architecture as a tool of social and political practice.

Metropolis Magazine just keeps getting better – their editorial policy has strengthened their social focus with each issue.

The Centre for Research Architecture is as concerned with politics and human rights as it is with architecture. It dispenses with the practice of building and delves into the profession’s more political and theoretical applications. Eyal Weizman, the founding director, derived his approach to architectural research from his own study of conflict zones in Israel. The laws and restrictions on space were often so vague on paper that they provided no guide to policy; to determine where Palestinians could and could not rebuild after their homes were destroyed, Weizman worked with a nonprofit organization to reconstruct them and see how the government would react. “The law was unpredictable,” he says. “You had to provoke to reveal the government’s internal logic.” At Goldsmiths, Weizman has brought these lessons to the classroom, turning the traditional detached academic perspective on its head. “Practice is not the result of investigation,” he says. “It is the tool of investigation.”

Do we (UX) have any programs like this? And what will it start looking like if UX champions social research as an outcome of practice? Are we improving work conditions, enhancing the humanity of everyday life? (For example, could over-optimized information structures lead to cognitive efficiencies at the wrong levels of use? By levels, meaning organizationally or socially? Have we tested hypotheses that suggest some value in information friction?)