Arbitration decision 1/12/12: Michelle New York owes Stephanie Gerson

Here is a scan of the arbitration decision made on January 12, 2012 - showing that the arbitrator decided Michelle Fields owes me (Stephanie Gerson) $1,742.13 within 30 days. February 12th has passed, and Mrs. Fields still has not payed me.


What does technology want?

The following is a review of technology philosopher Kevin Kelly’s latest book, What Technology Wants, which he added to the list of reviews book's website. If you live in the Northeast and/or admire him as much as I do, join the Business Innovation Factory for a conversation with Kelly on February 10th.

* * *

I've been following Kevin Kelly’s work for a long time, and his thoughts for his next book about the meaning of technology since he started chronicling them in 2004. So it was with much anticipation and a good amount of context that I, and many others, received the book that finally emerged, What Technology Wants. In this ambitious endeavor to elucidate the intention of technology, Kelly contextualizes the evolution of technology within the evolution of life and consciousness. It is strangely beautiful poetry for technophiles and technophobes alike; instead of contrasting or conflating life and technology, he tells a convincing tale in which they are two thrusts of a self-organizing and increasingly self-conscious universe. But as exhibited by the notes I scribbled on almost every one of the book’s 406 pages, my critiques are many. What follows are five pointed questions and, based on the fifth one, a more extended critique of the book. In this critique, I make claims as audacious as Kelly’s, but unlike him, without duly defending them, and I willingly leave myself open to criticism. I struggled with my reaction to this book and wholeheartedly encourage your comments. Here goes, starting with five questions:

1) How does Kelly situate technology ontologically? Where does technology ‘sit’ relative to culture, humanity, life, consciousness, and other phenomena? Is it a seventh kingdom of life (p. 49), ontologically on par with animals, plants, etc., or is it a force “like gravity…[which] is embedded in the fabric of matter and energy” (p. 273), and therefore permeates all kingdoms of life? Or is it somehow both? Alternatively, if “we are continuous with the machines we create” (p. 188), is technology part of the animal kingdom, or further, part of the human species? And how does Kelly see this ontology changing as technology evolves into a more autonomous, self-aware force?

2) What Technology Wants is about technology in the aggregate. So important is this point that Kelly coins a term to refer to the entire sphere of technology: the technium. He goes on to characterize the technium in absolute terms, for example claiming that it is inherently prolife and diversity-enhancing (pp. 196, 352). But given the differences between individual technologies, is characterizing the entire sphere of technology in absolute terms meaningful enough? In other words, given the massively different social implications of a hammer versus a nuclear bomb versus the Internet, is it meaningful to put all technologies into one big pile in order to elucidate what ‘it’ wants? Absolute terms are certainly significant, but in order to meaningfully characterize any complex phenomenon, I think relative measures must also be taken into account. When characterizing an economy, we look at total wealth (an absolute measure) along with wealth distribution (a relative one); similarly, when characterizing the technium, I think total biophilia, diversity-enhancement, and other absolute measures along with the distribution of biophilia, etc. must be accounted for. If Kelly is interested in change through time, how this distribution is trending must also be factored in.

3) Kelly prefers a decentralized system of color photography processing to a centralized one, and a peer-to-peer radio broadcast system to a heavily government-regulated one, and promotes transparent labeling of chemical products (p. 257). The characteristics he associates with a convivial manifestation of technology include cooperation, transparency, decentralization, flexibility, redundancy, and efficiency (p. 264). Such inclinations imply a particular political orientation, but why is Kelly not explicit about his politics? Does he a) not want to be painted as a liberal, idealistic techno-hippie?, b) believe that convivial technologies can emerge from and thrive in non-convivial social contexts (oppositely defined), or c) other?

4) Given that What Technology Wants makes bold claims about the nature of technology and is being read far beyond academic circles, what do academics in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) think of the book? Specifically, what does Langdon Winner, who Kelly cites admirably throughout the book, think of it? If you’ve already read this far and have any connection to Winner, one of my two favorite philosophers of technology, then a) you’re amazing, and b) please ask him to write a review. Or better yet, please ask him to have a public conversation with Kelly, which would make for a fascinating encounter between my two favorite philosophers of technology.

5) Years ago, renowned mycologist Paul Stamets began noticing that mushrooms which cured similar diseases grew in similar conditions. Applying this observation, he started knowing where to look for mushrooms that cured specific diseases. Applying it further, he started being able to create conditions conducive to growing mushrooms that cured specific diseases, effectively growing cures. Without wanting to risk social determinism (the false notion that social context alone determines technology), I pose an honest question: similar to Stamets, can we deliberately create the social conditions conducive to growing less harmful, and au contraire convivial technologies? (Who are “we” and how do we determine what is “less harmful”? Wince, I know, that is another question – or rather the question – taken up below.) Put more simply, if our process of technological development matched the character of technology we sought, what technologies would we be creating? I won’t say the following statement applies wholesale, at least not yet, but I’d venture to imagine that such technologies would have unintended benefits.

Based on this fifth question, following is an attempt to synthesize my critique of the book.

* * *

Ultimately, I wonder whether Kelly ascribes too much power to technology as an inevitable force in its own right, and not enough power to us to create the conditions in which technology emerges.

A basic premise of What Technology Wants is that technology cannot be stopped, only postponed. Therefore, Kelly argues, “our role as humans…is to coax technology along the paths it naturally wants to go” (p. 269). To me, this smells too much like Thomas Friedman’s take on our relationship with globalization: inaccurate and overly passive. I’m inclined towards a more explicitly active relationship with globalization, and with technology – an active terraforming of its path rather than a seemingly passive coaxing along the path it chooses.

Kelly claims a) we can’t predict what a given technology’s harms will be, and therefore b) nor can we prevent them (p. 244). On the contrary, I believe both a) and b) are possible, and increasingly so within an actionable time frame. Technology critic Langdon Winner, who as mentioned above Kelly cites throughout the book, discusses how technologies can have social implications that can be known before they are used or even built. He describes the approximately 200 low-hanging overpasses on Long Island, deliberately designed by master builder Robert Moses to prevent buses, therefore public transit, and therefore poor people and blacks, from accessing Jones Beach, Moses’ acclaimed public park. He describes technologies that require extremely hierarchical forms of social organization to be built and operated, such as cotton factories, railways, and nuclear energy plants. The difficulty with such technologies in democratic societies, Winner writes, is ensuring that the forms of social organization they require to be built and operated not ‘bleed’ into the polity as a whole. I’m painfully simplifying Winner’s sophisticated discussion of how technologies can 'have politics' for purposes of this post. Still, in all of these cases, the social harms of technologies can be predicted a priori, based purely on the social context of their development. And if harms can be predicted, they can be prevented. Knowing that an overtly racist builder will build overpasses that institutionalize racism can prompt the hiring of a builder who prioritizes social equality, or better yet, the use of an equal-opportunity participatory design process. Knowing that nuclear technology requires an extremely centralized social system while solar doesn’t require any system in particular, but is compatible with a diversity of them, can help guide energy choices in a democratic society. Contrary to Kelly, I believe that under some circumstances, we can not only use the social context of technological development to predict and prevent a technology’s social harms, but furthermore deliberatively design the social context in order to cultivate social benefits.

Potentially plausible, but what about non-social harms? How would examining the social context of technological development enable us to predict or prevent health and environmental implications? Happily for us, we create hard distinctions between health, social, and environmental, but our bodies, societies, and ecosystems don’t. There are distinct levels in complex adaptive systems, but there’s feedback between them. Hazardous nuclear waste is an “unintended consequence” of producing nuclear energy, but so-called unintended consequences are simply symptoms of a deeper-rooted, more systemic problem. Let me offer two anecdotes. First, the reason global dumping grounds exist is because some countries have disproportionately more power than others. Powerful countries are able to create an abundance of toxic waste because they can dump it in weak countries. Extreme social inequality is therefore detrimental to the environment as humans need it in order to thrive. Linger on that for a moment: Social inequality manifests itself as environmental degradation. This is something any environmental justice advocate can tell you. Think back to nuclear energy. Is it possible that nuclear waste is not unrelated to, i.e. not a symptom of the extreme social centralization required to produce it?

A second anecdote: In his TED talk, Dan Barber tells the story of how historically, Foie Gras was a naturally-occurring seasonal food, discovered accidentally by Israelite slaves in Egypt. During the Fall, ducks naturally gorged on dry leaves in order to prepare for the Winter, enlarging their livers and making them a delicacy. It was because the Pharaoh wanted to eat this delicacy year-round and demanded that the slaves figure out how to make it available that spawned the inhumane practice of force-feeding of grain to ducks, and ultimately the maligned Foie Gras industry we know today. But in 2007, the winner of the Coup de Coeur (essentially the French Olympics for food) turned out to be a Spanish farmer who produced his Foie Gras naturally, allowing his ducks to eat as they pleased during the Fall and producing Foie Gras from their free-roaming, happily-eating livers. It is at once both obvious and miraculous that animal welfare should taste delicious on our taste buds. What’s more, allowing ducks to eat happily means organically growing a biodiversity of plants, so sustainability tastes delicious too. Again, let it linger for a moment that inhumane treatment of animals evolved in the context of slavery, and that their humane treatment manifests itself as deliciousness. But deliciousness would not be accurately described as an unintended benefit of duck happiness; it is a sister symptom of a systems solution manifesting itself at multiple levels of organization – from our taste buds to the local ecosystem. Bringing these anecdotes together, not only can we predict and prevent social harms of technologies, but by organizing ourselves in such a way that maximizes our collective well-being – fostering equitability and heeding our taste buds – we create the conditions conducive to the emergence of technologies that similarly maximize well-being, at all levels of organization. Kelly prefers a decentralized system of color photography processing to a centralized one, and a peer-to-peer radio broadcast system to a heavily government-regulated one because of their improved technological features. Could improved technological features be a symptom of decentralized social organization, and if so, why not start with the decentralization that manifests itself as technological improvements? In Wendell Berry’s terms, this might be considered a solving for pattern approach to technological development. In Kelly’s terms, it suggests building convivial technologies by organizing ourselves in a way that is itself convivial, i.e. cooperative and decentralized.

But taken to the extreme, this implies social determinism. It implies that all technology should be appropriate technology, and that all technological development must be convivial in order for the technologies built to be convivial, thus rendering un-convivial most technologies in existence today, including the ones I’m using to develop and communicate these very ideas. But I’m not a social determinist, nor socialist, nor a communist. (In fact, I’m a promiscuous pragmatic pluralist, scroll down for a brief elaboration). I recognize the value of non-classlessness – too much and too little social inequality are detrimental to economic growth and technological development, albeit in different ways. This extreme is not what I’m arguing; in fact, my claim is even bolder. Kelly acknowledges “industrialization was dirty, ugly, and dumb,” and brilliantly asks “whether this ugliness is a necessary stage of the technium’s growth (p. 323). I think it was necessary but is no longer. We’ve already created nuclear energy and DDT and other technologies that required severely undemocratic forms of social organization, and I believe we’re arriving at a juncture in spacetime in which feedback loops are tighter and faster, so that instead of manifesting themselves 7 generations later, implications – social and otherwise – manifest themselves within the timeframe of actionability, evolving us towards a more socially responsible process of technological development. And, bringing it back home, I believe this is due to our co-evolution with technology. Let me explain.

Kelly believes technology is permeating everything it creates with sentience, effectively becoming the universes’ mechanism for self-awareness. Perform the thought experiment: As the universe becomes self-aware, what will it know? It is information, communication, and transportation technologies, among others, that enabled the story of deliciously sustainable Foie Gras to get from Spain to TED to me to you, all within the matter of a few years, so it could be acted upon. More broadly, it is Zagat and Yelp and Urbanspoon that speed up the informational feedback loops enabling it to be known that sustainably grown food tastes better, and thus enabling the gourmet food industry to adapt to this information, effectively subsidizing the production and consumption of sustainable food and sustainable food systems. Even further, it is social network analysis tools that enable people to see the structure of their social networks, and I predict will cultivate the capacity for sociofeedback, the social equivalent to biofeedback, i.e. the ability to adaptively shift the structure of our social networks by virtue of being conscious of them (which I referred to in a previous Smart Mobs post, and will soon dedicate an entire post to). Sociofeedback would allow people to, for example, form an internal hierarchical social structure for purposes of producing nuclear energy, without it bleeding into the external polity, because they’d be able to consciously shift to other social structures for other purposes, such as citizenry. And due to collective awareness of nuclear’s ramifications at all levels of organization, producing nuclear would be understood as a deliberate choice, perhaps a temporary tactic under emergency circumstances or as part of a broader strategy to increase the ratio of renewables to non. It is with apologetic irreverence yet undying optimism that I propose we can not only a) predict and b) prevent a technology’s harms, but increasingly do so within an actionable timeframe, thanks to technologies produced by an un-convivial industrialization that are now integrating themselves into the inherently convivial complex adaptive system that is life.

Mega online clothing retailer Zappos is structured to maximize employee happiness, because its CEO discovered that employee happiness correlates directly with customer satisfaction, and in turn the company’s bottom line. I suspect that 200 years ago, had a mega-retailer structured itself to maximize employee happiness, it would have swiftly gone bankrupt. I understand this is the case for many, if not most businesses today, but is it not again obvious/miraculous or at least meaningful that in the case of a meta-retailer like Zappos, socially responsible labor practices correlate with financial returns? Or, as the Gini coefficient shows, that a base level of economic equality is necessary to economic growth? In fact, writing about his upcoming book on the evolution of capitalism, Christopher Meyer posits that “business [will] take ownership of the impacts they now call ‘externalities.’” The new capitalists will internalize externalities not for altruistic reasons, but because doing so is actually becoming good for business. As technology makes the universe more self-aware, accelerating the feedback loops that make these kinds of correlations explicit, and evolving our complex adaptive system – or as Kelly might say, evolving evolvability itself – we’ll adaptively shift from passing externalities onto other people at other cash registers 7 generations later to engaging in a more convivial mode of production and consumption, and in turn, a more convivial mode of technological development.

How would such a convivial mode of technological development be mandated, or even encouraged by public policy? Not quite with the Precautionary Principle, which as Kelly criticizes, maximizes safety to the detriment of other values, like progress. Also not quite with Kelly’s Proactionary Principle, whereby we “shape technology’s expression by…riding it with both arms around its neck” (p. 262), as if struggling to tame a wild horse. Very simply, I suggest we get the Office of Technology Assessment, first, revived, and second, talking to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. Some interdepartmental coordination could go a long way towards integrating technological development with other societal goals, and therefore fostering a convivial mode of technological development that, in turn, developed convivial technologies.

* * *

“So what does technology want?” All the way on page 269 of his treatise, Kelly offers a seemingly straightforward answer: “Technology wants what we want – the same long list of merits we crave.” But, what do we want? Ah, finally we arrive at the “we” question. After wading through a thicket of mental trials and tribulations, ‘riding technology with both arms around its neck’ presents itself as an exercise in democracy, an exercise in deciding who “we” are and what we want. Reading Kelly’s words in this light seems to affirm the importance of social context – could ‘coaxing technology along the paths it naturally wants to go’ mean creating the social context conducive to manifesting our will? Might he actually concur that by organizing ourselves in such a way that maximizes our collective wellbeing, we create the conditions conducive to the emergence of technologies that similarly maximize our wellbeing, at all levels of organization? If I understand Kelly correctly, his response to the seminal question of this book is that if technology wants what we want, then we must get what we want in order for technology itself to be satisfied.

Kelly bases his argument that technology wants what we want, and is inherently a force of good, on its maximization of our freedom. “Technology is acquiring its own autonomy and will increasingly maximize its own agenda, but this agenda includes – as its foremost consequence – maximizing of possibilities for us” (p. 352). This emphasis on freedom interestingly echoes America’s Founding Fathers’ emphasis on the same virtue, but meaningfully leaves out the corresponding virtue they acknowledged: justice. Kelly nowhere speaks of justice; the characteristics he attributes to convivial technology do not include justice or equality or anything to temper freedom. Furthermore, he feels that nothing need be done about the ‘digital divide’ – the rich should subsidize technology evolution for the poor, as this is an ideal state of affairs. But if liberty without justice is chaos, and justice without liberty is tyranny, and if technology wants what we want, then – within the crudely-defined context of democratic societies, in which all of our wants are supposed to be accounted for – technology wants liberty and justice for all. Even after 406 pages, I confess to not knowing to what extent Kelly would agree with me on this conclusion: technology manifests what it wants, i.e. what we want, to the extent that we manifest what we want, including in our development and therefore co-evolution with technology. Coming full circle, hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to ask him at the Business Innovation Factory’s conversation with Kevin Kelly on February 10th.


What a Dose of Techno-Optimism Tastes Like

[In May of 2010, filmmaker and founding producer/host for Current TV Jason Silva messaged me to solicit my feedback on his Vanity Fair article, Why We Could All Use a Heavy Dose of Techno-Optimism. The following blog post, is my frighteningly long response.]

Jason - I'm honored that you thought to share this with me. You are a beautiful writer and a beautiful person, and I can't wait to watch your film. But I fear I may not have been the ideal person to ask for feedback from (unless you were looking for someone to challenge you) because I have a very nuanced relationship with technology, not unlike Kevin Kelly's. I've lived in an Earthship, worked on a biodynamic farm, and believe that the big bang was Love; meanwhile I majored in Science, Technology, and Society, subscribe to WIRED, and currently work as a social media strategist. I'm neither old-fashioned nor new-fashioned, technophobic nor technophilic, but so open-minded that I'm even open to being close-minded (sometimes). It might make more sense to say that I'm buddies with Howard Rheingold and consider myself a promiscuous pragmatic pluralist (abbreviated as ppp). All of that said, let me offer a few observations:

"Somewhere down the line, however, these two worlds [of art and science] became disjointed." – If you'd like to do justice to the 'disjointing' of art and science, and of components of complex systems in general (whether ontological or otherwise), you might find writings on the paradigm shift from reductionism to holism helpful, like Fritjof Capra's The Turning Point (old but remarkably still relevant). It’s not clear whether you’re suggesting this, but I don't think we are (or should) move towards a complete blurring of the boundary between art and science, but instead towards the ability to shift between a hard and soft (and blurringly non-existent) boundary, depending on the circumstances. This is precisely the view Rita King takes towards the distinction between real and virtual. The generalized version of this view, which is a tenet of ppp, is that in pursuit of holism, we need not destroy the boundaries between things that are “connected” and turn the world to sausage, but develop the ability shift between multiple typologies of the same phenomenon (academic disciplines, the body, etc. etc. etc.) at will. Put more simply, it's the fact that we've cultivated art and science as different ingredients for so long that allows us now to combine and uncombine them with such brilliant effects.

"We're the first technology-creating species." – This tugs uncomfortably at my heart, given my longtime fascination with Biomimicry, innovation inspired by nature. If you're going to make this claim, you must a) clearly define what technology is, and b) explain why other species' technological innovations (many of which we mimic) don't qualify. Unless you decide to define technology as an exclusively human endeavor, which of course would make your job infinitely easier. Sorry to be so logical about it. Regardless, I think you'd actually enjoy reading about Biomimicry and using it to contextualize the evolution of technology within the evolution of not only humans, but of life and consciousness.

"If the process of life is about moving toward increased complexity and organization, a sort of sublime unfolding of greater and greater self-organizing systems, then we're actually doing pretty well. Certainly there are challenges ahead, but there's also profound potential for greatness. The Large Hadron Collider is only the latest example of mankind's magnificent undertakings." – I wholeheartedly agree that the process of life moves towards increased complexity, ever-evolving new scales of organization, but what does that have to do with the Hadron Collider? (That we needed to evolve a new scale of human organization in order to build it?) As an aside, my personal curiosity is about what happens when different scales of organization start interacting with each other, e.g. when individuals start interacting with meta-individuals.

But my main point..."We must not be afraid to push boundaries; instead we should leverage our science and our technology, together with our creativity and our curiosity, to solve the world's problems." – Forgive me, but the problems you point to in this article are not the world's problems; they're the so-called "problems" of elites who value progress and innovation over all else. I know I sound technophobic, but I'm a Libra and I smell a lil’ technophilia so naturally I attempt to balance out the scale. I share your enthusiasm for these "limitless, mind-boggling possibilities," but I also crave triage: given a world of finite resources, how to allocate them equitably? Or further, how to allocate them in such a way that kickstarts a positive feedback loop, perpetually generating more resources in benefit of all? It's not that I don't feel as passionate as you about technological innovation; it's that I feel passionate about a different kind of technological innovation, namely that which cultivates meaningful and equitable thriving, that which produces unintended benefits, that which allows us to enjoy our way to sustenance and sustainability, like this play pump. And like appropriate technologies, which need not be small-scale or unsophisticated.

Ultimately, my fascination with technological innovation is tempered by the fact that only a few of us are 'Turning into Gods' and we may not necessarily become benevolent ones. I agree with William Gibson that future is already here, just not evenly distributed, but I don't see enough functioning, playful, beautiful mechanisms for distribution. I think my vision of an ideal future differs from yours, and that although it includes God-like play at the intersection of art and science, I haven't seen a compelling theory of change for how the innovations you describe feed our journey (though I'm certainly open to one). Which doesn't necessarily mean we need to define the ideal future first and then judge all technological innovations according to it, but simply that we engage in a process of technological innovation that itself manifests our ideal. A simpler way to think about this is by asking: if our process of technological innovation were democratic, participatory, and joyous, what technologies would we be creating? I don't know but I’d Love to find out.


the integratron: a rejuvenation machine

[I actually wrote this post for another blog, and they turned it down because it was too woo-woo, so I'm posting it here instead. even if it is woo-woo, just imagine the possibility that, electricity can be used to rejuvenate our cells - as if they were re-chargeable batteries. at the very least, it makes for some beautiful conceptual art.]

In the Mojave Desert in 1953, former aircraft mechanic and flight inspector George Van Tassel claimed to have been contacted telepathically and later visited by aliens from Venus, who taught him a technique for rejuvenating human cell tissues. (In other words, Venusians taught Van Tassel how to make cells travel backwards in time.) What resulted was the Integratron, a dome-shaped structure Van Tassel built out of plywood and fiberglass in Landers, California, which was intended to be a "rejuvenation machine." According to the Integratron's website, "during the 25-year period that Van Tassel developed the Integratron, (1954-1978), he called it "a time machine, a rejuvenation machine and an anti-gravity device." Today the Integratron stands mightily, a bright white dome in a dry desert landscape, its rejuvenating effects attracting visitors from scientists studying the electrostatic/electromagnetic design and spiritual groups practicing meditation and healing to corporate teams generating new ideas and authors looking to dissolve writer's block. (I'm actually sitting inside the Integratron as I write.)

According to Van Tassel, the Integratron's ability to rejuvenate cells is based on two principles. The first principle is a combination of the sacred geometry of domes and the fact that the structure is built above what is believed to be a natural "energy vortex," which enables the Integratron's dome shape to concentrate the energy of the vortex. The second principle, perhaps more relevant to Long Viewers, relates to Van Tassel’s studies of Antigravity, Human Cell Rejuvenation and Time Travel. It takes the notion that humans are electrical in nature, and theorizes the possibility of recharging human cells with a powerful negative ion field. In the words of Wikipedians, "it is believed that, though each individual has his unique personal 'wavelength,' the multiple wavelengths of energy put out by 'focusing and concentrating devices' such as the Integratron will find a 'resonance' with the individual's basic harmonic frequency and 're-charge' his cellular structure, as if he were a battery." I'm not aware of other developments in the use of electricity to rejuvenate human cells, but presumably the likes of Ray Kurzweil are aware of this possibility, if not actively advancing it.

If you visit the Integratron, you can take a guided tour, enjoy a Sound Bath (be "bathed" in sound produced by quartz crystal singing bowls), or even rent the place out for your own private purposes. There are also "special events," and it looks like there’s one coming up in June of 09 – send them an email to stay tuned. And of course, there's a Facebook group, fittingly called I went to the Integratron and good things happened.

PS. As you might have guessed, I'm not actually sitting inside the Integratron right now, but if you're ever interested making the trip, feel free to get in touch: misstephanie.gerson@gmail.com.


medium-function disaggregation

[apparently the only way to comment on Clay Shirky's blog is to backtrack. so here goes a comment on his post about Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.]

"Society doesn't need newspapers. What we need is journalism."

So it goes with cars. (What we need isn't cars [*cough*, the auto industry], but transportation.) And with global government. (What we need isn't a global government, but global governance.)

For lack of a sexier term, I call this phenomenon medium-function disaggregation, and I consider it part of the ongoing trajectory that media and their functions go through. It's when a medium becomes less effective at satisfying the function it was originally intended for – in a relative sense (because more effective alternatives have emerged), and/or in an absolute one. The medium effectively goes through an identity crisis, as its raison d'etre is challenged, and the function becomes more liquid, able to inhabit other/new media. And our attention shifts to the meta-level, i.e. to a higher level of organization, from the level of the medium to the level of the function:

"When we shift our attention from 'save newspapers' to 'save society', the imperative changes from 'preserve the current institutions' to 'do whatever works.' And what works today isn't the same as what used to work."

Government, cars, and newspapers are undergoing a temporary disaggregation of medium and function. This is a season, i.e. the same seasons recur, albeit differently in different years. Medium-function disaggregation: 'tis the season for experimentation.


fair trade tele-coffee carrotmob

I wanna do a tele-coffee carrotmob around the world to demonstrate the demand for (and subsidize the supply of) Fair Trade coffee. This would be somewhat of a combination of my Valentine's Day experiment in social tele-intimacy, likemind, and carrotmob, and it would go down within the confines of an international coffeehouse chain with enough leverage to single-handedly increase the market share of Fair Trade. Considering that it's actively soliciting rescue plans and fancies itself as being socially responsible, this might be ideal for Starbucks. Essentially: on a given day, likeminds enjoy a cup of Fair Trade while videochatting from Starbucks to Starbucks around the world. We could even sing a song together and different peoples in different places could keep the song going all day long (sure it would drive the baristas nuts but it would make for a gorgeous screencast, thus gorgeous marketing collateral, and we're definitely overdue for another We-Are-The-World"/From-A-Distance inspirational song thingie). Anyways, seeing as Starbucks is heading into the territory of 'value meals,' it might even give participants a deal on their coffee + whatever else that day.

Random note: I gave this idea to a place-based advertising company named Danoo during a job interview with them last year. They Loved it and then never returned my emails, phone calls, nothing. Beware-y of them.


dancing with what IS

In describing the emergence of geotility, Faris Yakov writes, "increasingly, when any spatially aware device is part of the flow, geotility is mandatory: making something useful for where you are right then...And yes it is scary. But as Kevin Kelly points out, the cost of personalisation is transparency." I agree. And transparency may also be the cost of collectivization. Geotility apps must know your whereabouts and preferences and who your friends are and what kinds of books you like and and and in order to give you valuable information. For example, your route to work could be 10 mins faster, or if you took a different route you'd bump into an old friend, or the bookstore on your way home is having an event that matches your Amazon profile. But geotility apps are gonna have to know our collective demographics and/or communicate with each other in order to provide us with collectively valuable information. I imagine traffic moving like a school of fish. I imagine that when people and places perpetually communicate, we'll increasingly be at the right place at the right time. I imagine an enhanced ability to collectively improvise. Which is kinda scary and technophilic but kinda magical and even primal. Like birds and bees and other sensorful beings, we’ll be that much more able (again) to dance with each other and our place. To dance with what IS. Same season, different year?