Category Archives: Uncategorized

Notes for a lighthouse artistic director

A good few years back I was asked by a friend to chat about ideas to help launch the Brighton Photo Biennial, something including mobile phones and the city. I had a few chats with the people involved but my slightly strange vision of turning the city skyline of Brighton into something more like Akira’s Neo-Tokyo didn’t really work.

Within Brighton though is a beacon of creativity, and what the creative response means to a community, multiple communities, how they can intersect and share as well as have their own identities. The Lighthouse is a creative cultural institution and for years now it has been promoting, supporting and commissioning challenging, creative, cultural work on the current state of the world.

The most current artistic Director, Juha van’t Zelfde is about to move on, so an opportunity now exists for someone new to take the artistic direction of this institution into a new age.

Right now, in the world as it is now, I want to imagine how an institution could start to evolve itself to support the critical art and communcations landscape of the urban environmnet, to be a beacon of hope to so many people, not just in this country but across the channel into europe and beyond, not as an imposer but as a cultural learner and reflector, a new institution to help weave the new needs for interlectual and critical thinking back into the fabric of our modern lives. To use the urban fabric of a city in ways that have not before, to enhance the safety of the communities and their ability to talk and share with each other, to discuss, argue and agree, to

This isn’t an artistic manifesto for such a new director to do, its my grab bag of ideas that might just stimulate better ones in shaping what this institution can and will mean to so many people.

Progaganda & News

Right now, the culture of trust around news is broken, the words fake news bandied about and basic fact checking ignored. Even the concept of a fact appears to have been brought into question. We live in both a world of Newspeak from 1984 but also the numbing entertainment pacification industry of Brave New World. Language is quickly subverted and broken. Propaganda, advertising even art brought into play to create the spaces of obviously broken ‘knowledge’ yet no matter how much the hollowness of the representation of reality is questioned it continues to be accepted.

In the UK, the press is more right wing, reactionary and delivering the agenedas of rich owners that almost any other western country.

Can this be changed?

Can a ciy, which is possibly the new political power block reject these agendas and create new spaces of information, discourse and communication?

Juha’s work at Lighthouse has started to look at propaganda in its new forms, the next step is to take the counter actions into the streets and pave the city with a new way of understanding and reading the news.

In some of the ways I have started to talk about with new news labs, to make the processes of journalism more transparent, to present stories alongside analysis, to show ownership and influence and interests and for a city to shun the wrong and the bigoted. Liverpool still shuns the Sun because of the way that paper treated the Liverpool fans over Hillsborough, yet that paper across the rest of the country pedals its lies, as do many others. Can critical spaces be created that do not welcome these papers?

In 2004, Dan Gillmor said ‘We, The Media’ yet if we look at ourselves should we be proud or ashamed of that media. Can we develop new norms?

Lighthouse is well placed, its network is across all media, across all kinds of creative practice. In theory if someone walked in that door with an idea, Lighthouse and the amazing team that works there could connect the relevant people to make it happen. This is such a valuable community resource, a route for enabling and amplifying the voices of those who are being ignored and sidelined.

Lighthouse does a lot of community and charity work and hopefully the new Artistic Director will support and enhance this, creating new oppotunities to involve these communities and to open access to the worlds of media and cultural industry which might previoulsy have been closed to many.

Could they support the likes of Arts Emergency, Anti-University and others in opening up access and support networks to those that want to study liberal arts, creative work. Can the work they do already in supporting Maker communities further push the reach of these spaces and activities into different classes, for example how to include the elderly or even support the work of Design Against Crime in developing the concept of creative and design teaching in prisons.

I am looking forwards to what happens with this beacon by the coast, i’m putting a lot of hopes into it.

a public news lab

A proposal

Embed the new news room within a local community. Use design to create an inviting space to allow people to experience and participate in the discovery and production of news.

The proposal is to develop a physical space, open to all that is focused on news.

A number of props and tools can be developed and deployed in the space including:

The Issues Board

A space for people to add their issues and concerns

News Clippings

Encourage visitors to select their story of interest, add their thoughts

News Tree

Who owns / makes the news, visualisations to show how the news industry works, locally and nationally.

 

In many ways similar to the GlassRoom in NYC recently, a space to explore data and privacy, The News Room should be about what news is, what data is, what are facts , what is journalism and storytelling. It can be quite broad, images to words.

A physical space can host events, including:

Hacks/Hackers – A regular meetup.

A 1000 Words – invite people to talk about a single image and what it means, to them, to the world.

 

A small research project proposal

In the current climate, it is quite reasonable for someone to decide that they need to secure their digital environment. In fact there are plenty of good reasons for doing this anyway and there are many occupations where such thinking about security should be part of the job. What I want to pose is the idea that someone, anyone decides that they want to do this.

Now I want to set some constraints, they are not overly technically savvy. They do not live in the computer science world. They know how to use a computer and more specifically have been exposed to systems and tools such as Tor and Qubes.

But given this if they had to go and buy equipment from the highstreet, what would they pick? How can they evaluate what they need to do to protect themselves online? Do they need Qubes or is it best for them to know secure practice on Windows and if they did need something like Qubes how do they evaluate hardware in the shops against the hardware support list as published on the qubes website.

As a project this would cover a wide range of disciplines, from understanding the technical abilities and compatibilities (and possible risks) from off the shelf, domestic hardware through to technical and social guidance on how to secure your digital life.

Co-Op Kit

What is the minimal technology set that could be made available online to allow you to create a Co-op based service?

That is the basic question that I think I am trying to ask right now and most of it is probably out there just not collected together. So how can it be brought together?

Lets say, ok, lets say I want to create a co-op uber type service. Taxi service for an area, a community of location. What would you need to design such a service, what are the core technical enablers to quickly get from paper to service.

I know that there are uber style co-ops out there already and lots of pondering on what an co-op uber would look like. Part of the question is, is it a federation of local ubercoops or a larger entity that works locally? Uber is mostly what it is because it got investment (which expects a healthy return on that investment) to quickly get running in lots of places, scale. It has to channel the money back into the central point to return on that investment. An Uber co-op, well money would stay within the community.

(In fact from a quick search this post http://helloideas.com/ideas/what-might-coop-uber-look-or-should-we-be-thinking-bigger discusses this in some interesting detail).

I’m just wondering where in the tech bits we can grab some common infrastructure, then build the unique bits of a service and roll it out, to the benefit of all, maybe by community, it would allow it to get to the scale it needs to be.

Materials Literacy

I have not mentioned it here before but part of my time at the moment is taken being Product (and Project) Manager for I Can Make. An amazing new start-up founded by Chris Thorpe, Becky Fishman and Dean Vipond (and myself), I Can Make is creating fun, educational content for your and your child’s 3D printer.

We are developing the educational support for the product and during the talk, the obvious point of ‘putting more stuff out into the world’ came up. In trying to form a response to this in I came up with the concept of ‘Materials Literacy’. Throwaway at the time, a short hand for a whole area of knowledge to be communicated and imparted. Below I try to develop what we could mean by ‘Materials Literacy’.

As 3D printing and other home manufacturing processes become more available people using these tools will need to have a level of understanding of the materials that are in use.

Not to the same depth of understanding as a professional designer, whose knowledge of materials and their properties is rich, in a similar way that an architect and construction engineer should understand how the materials they or the client wants work under the stresses and strains of construction and being in a building.

Just as we do not all need to be graphic designers or typographers to make use of the printer in our home, we don’t need to be a product designer to take advantage of the 3d printer.

What we do need to understand are some of the core properties of the material that we are using. At least with the laser printer we were using paper which most of us already had familiarity with. We knew enough about its properties to be able to make use of it easily without in depth domain knowledge, but remember, in school were you taught how paper was made? And for the most part what material was used to record and communicate your learning on?

We are and we’re already very comfortable with the material of paper. The inks, toners and processes were the new materials, that and the possibilities of what could be printed opened up new possibilities of learning and understanding how to communicate with print.

With home manufacture we need to know appropriate materials for appropriate tasks, it’s no good using a non heat resistant plastic to make a part that is going to be subjected to high heat, for example. Equally though, we should be able to understand the life cycle of the material being used and following on from that, the life cycle of the objects that we make with that material. How recyclable is the material (is it compostable, or does it require other processes to recycle it) and could that recycling be done in the home?

We also need to be aware of materials and how the interact with the human body, printing children’s toys with a material that might be toxic could create a similar situation to the ‘lead paint’ situation. [[Matt Malpass, who co-directs the MA industrial design course at CSM mentioned this during an initial discussion about materials literacy]].

Similarly, unless there is an understanding about the materials and how to reuse them, in a couple of years, Ben Hammersly predicts a news article on ‘the amount of plastic rubbish that is being churned out by the home printer industry’ [my paraphrasing].

Consumers need to understand the costs of the material that they use and be able to calculate the cost of printing versus mass manufacture.

If 3D printing and other new personal manufacturing tools and processes do change our relationship to objects, in that we can have what we need, when we need it, for as long as we need it and not necessarily any longer then part of the tool chain to deliver this change has not been delivered. Also, importantly a large part of the education and information on materials and how we use them and can re-use them has yet to be developed.

It is this space that I believe should be covered by ‘Materials Literacy’.

Beyond Comments (redux)

The Knight Foundation and Mozilla are running a project to look at News, something which I am, obviously interested in.

They are currently setting some challenges, to try and get some new ideas going, the latest is : Beyond Comment Threads.

Back in 2008 I had a blog over at Vox.com, Nodalpoints. I posted a few ideas there about various things, and I am going to cannibalise them over the next few posts here, mostly because the original site has gone and some of the posts had some nice ideas.

The idea I am going to talk about here was the ‘Social Bar’, here is my original post on it:

Raising The Social Bar

Jan 15, 2008 2 comments
I gave a presentation on this project at the recent BarCampLondon3. More thoughts and further thinking is below.

What is it?

The Social Bar is the name for a small R&D project that I have been doing at the office. The area of research is in comments, especially on the BBC’s website but also how they work on large media type sites in general.

Where does the conversation take place. In recent years the BBC as well as a number of other large media sites have started to open up, to allow people to comment on parts of the site, started weblogs that reside on bbc.co.uk and are written by staff and talent.

The Social Bar is about the idea that this mechanism is not serving the licence fee payer well enough, that we need to take a lead in the next step to, almost step back, to what the web was about.

At its most basic it is about creating a barrier to entry, if you want to comment about something on the BBC’s website then you have to go through some processes that recently were not there. I know that this sounds wrong, especially in terms of the BBC and access for licence fee payers but there is a reason for this.

In fact these reasons can be summed up as follows:

A lot of comments on many sites are trivial. They do not add any real value to the content that is there (be it a weblog post, a news article or some other piece of editorial content on the BBC’s website).
For all the BBC’s will to be creating a space where people can say what they like it in fact can not do this. Policy gets in the way, even marketing can get in the way. What appears under the URL www.bbc.co.uk has to fit in with certain guidelines and perceptive needs.

The BBC wants to be your (the licence fee payers) trusted guide and gateway to the internet. What service can achieve that whilst trapping your thoughts on its own site?

All of this started to come together when I was given a bit of time to do some R&D in the office. I have been thinking about comments, attribution, ownership and reputation for a while and took this opportunity to try and shape some project. Initially a number of technical proposals started to take shape (I will share these online soon, more in support of this idea rather then as actual proposals to build stuff). What I started to find was that it really is not a technical problem and as such does not need a technical solution.

It is a cultural change and one that has to happen at the BBC. It is not the audience doing anything wrong (in fact there is no right or wrong about any of this, just that I believe that we need to move on from the current model quickly).

So what needs to change and why exactly?

Think about the interactions with content on the BBC’s site (I am going to assume that we are just talking about the BBC’s website but this could apply to any large site, especially media sites).

You can get in touch. Yes you can its on each of the pages on bbc.co.uk as it is part of the main page templates.

Now if you look at some parts of the BBC you will also be able to bookmark the page using services such as del.icio.us, reddit and digg. Via these tools you can also apply some tags to the content.

Some pages also allow you to leave comments. These include the blogs (go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/) as well as other parts of the site. This is on a site by site basis, for example The One Show asks for your comments, but Doctor Who does not.

How these comments work also differs across sites. There is moderation everywhere, some of the weblogs allow for post moderation of comments but otherwise everything is moderated before it is posted to the live website.

The One Show for example has what it called ‘Curated Comments’ these are heavily moderated, as many of the news comments are as well. That is appropriate, the BBC is well known for its editorial standards. Applying these standards to comments in much the same way as letters to the editor of a paper are handled and published should be acceptable in terms of the BBC’s web site.

So we have Contact, Tag and Comment. Ideally it would be great if you could Annotate as well but this seems a long time in coming so we will forget about that for the moment.

Now my contention has been that if you looked at a lot of the comments that appear on these sites they are trivial, in fact they would probably be better classified as Contact, in as much as it is the commentator wanting to get in touch with the author. To be sure there are some comments that are very good but if you looked at the cost per comment that was editorially worthwhile it would in fact look like a rather expensive way to get content onto the web.

So how about we make a few changes. First off, if you want to get in touch, then use that contact link. In fact make it more prominent and make sure that the comments get through to the correct editorial team quickly. Then make sure that team take time to respond to these contacts where appropriate.

Tags, well they are useful and it would be even more useful to get these tags on the page, a box showing how this page has been tagged by both the BBC (as an ‘official taxonomy’) and the audience (as the folksonomy).

Comments, here it would be good to have something consistent across the whole of the BBC and when you press on it, here is where I want us to do something different.

If you want to comment we should be encouraging you to do so but to do so from your own space on the web. In fact this space could as well be your Facebook profile page, your MySpace site or a weblog. It might even be a comment on some other forum or space which the person is a member of what is happening is:

They are being asked to create a space, an identity online. Attached to this identity will be their comments on the BBC comment.

Link to what they want to comment about. Something that we are loosing with all these facilities to comment right there on the page is the fact that the web was built to link. We should be linking to pages. It is how the web is supposed to work, it is how search engines work.

The BBC should be encouraging this kind of behaviour. In fact what the BBC should be doing is asking people to get involved in the conversation and guide them to the places to have these kinds of discussions. Some will be forums, others will be discussions that take place across the blogosphere on different peoples weblogs. Some parts will be posts, others in the comments there.

The BBC can guide people, we can suggest some good places to start and forewarn and forearm them about the facts of moving beyond bbc.co.uk. We could even have online courses similar to WebWise and Computer Tutor on how to start creating your space. Setting up a weblog and writing posts (this could tie in with other campaigns, literacy for example), using the likes of flickr, MySpace and Facebook and other such services to tool up people into living part of their lives online.

What we also need is for members of the BBC to feel that they can take part in the conversation that happens ‘out there’. They should feel that they can post on another weblog or forum, link where appropriate and generally post whilst representing the BBC. We can then say to our audience that we will be taking part in the conversation about our editorial content (the core of what the BBC does) and we will take part in places away from home, not on our turf.

As I mentioned before, this started as a technical project and has changed to one of wanting to change how we work on the web at the moment. There are technical things that can be built, most of them not too complex, aggregators and more tools to help point people to where the conversation is happening. It may be that the money we save in moderation costs in fact goes into more editorial work guiding people and participating in the conversation but that I do not think is a bad thing.

I think this is a fairly rich topic and is not an idea that is going to change things overnight. There are probably holes in the thinking above (should we be making things harder for people to comment, can we make sure that the producers of content do get involved in the conversations, etc.).

If you can think of reasons not to do this, or to go right ahead then please do let me know. I will post more thoughts on this shortly, including some information on the technical ideas that I thought I was originally going to build, something that might be better suited to being an independent public service publisher.

Further notes on the Social Bar

Jan 16, 2008 Post a comment
Continuing from the post on the Social Bar, I thought I would put down some details on where it comes from.

Initially I was given some time to do a bit of R&D, as a part of one of the technical teams here. I was interested in another way of dealing with comments. I wrote my initial proposal and started putting together some GreaseMonkey and Ruby prototypes as well as lots of sketches. I did eventually realise that there was not a big tech project here but a set of ideas that may or may not work. I had proposed this for Etech, but withdrew the proposal when I realised that all I was producing was in fact these ideas on how to think about comments and not anything that you could really measure.

I have been thinking about comments for a while, I built a site a while back that converted the UK Governments ID Card Consultation White Paper into a weblog, each post was a paragraph from the document and of course you could comment against each comment.

Most of the comments were not that useful and could not really inform a consultation.

More recently I am taking part in a project with the Design Against Crime initiative at Central St. Martins school of Art and Design, Bike Off is all about bike parking. The lasest research project (AHRC/EPSRC funded) is about developing standards for bike parking facilities. Part of the project is to have a public consultation on the proposed standards and we are going to evaluate a number of online and offline ways of doing this.

One of the ideas to address the comments problem was to switch off the comments. In other words we would produce a resource where it was easy to link into the document, to be able to link into the heart of the document when you wanted to write your response to the consultation. It is a model that I expect that we will still try. The point here was that you would (or at least should) get better ‘comments’ if in fact you did not want to host the comments but just make sure you had a good number of linkable too elements that needed commenting upon.

It would also help in moderation, as the amount of spam was huge. This though will be a problem everywhere for a long time.

The problem then becomes finding the conversation, which is not that hard now. You can google a URL, and use Technorati to find weblogs that link or use tags. So in fact building up a view of a conversation is not that hard, maybe navigating it in a meaningful way might take some practice but is definitely do-able.

So now we move onto the BBC. I worked on a project where we built some software that was probably overcomplicated for the task in hand and the comments that came in were not ‘that’ interesting. Or rather they probably were not worth the cost per comment (if you analyse it that way), when using a standard contact us type form on the site would have sufficed.

So how much value do most comments add to the original content? If you look across the web it just varies from site to site. Being able to comment on a friends weblog seems appropriate. The places I think it is not working is when you have comments across a site generically. The Guardians Comment Is Free is not as much of a success as I think the Guardian would have liked. Many of the BBC’s weblogs though do get valuable comments.

So in fact a generalisation such as ‘switch off comments’ is not valid it does though push forward a number of smaller ideas.

Who owns the comments?
Where does the conversation take place?
How do we find the conversation?
The answers are rather simple too, the author owns the comments, it takes place on the web (now the web can extend beyond the traditional web, mobile techologies, web on TV etc.) and finding the conversation, ok its not real time yet but you can find it using Google and Technorati and other similar tools.

The quickest thing that the BBC (and similar sites that produce large amounts of content that is ripe for comment) to do would in fact be to publicise tags along with the page/programme, well that and commit to a permanent URL for an asset (and that is something the BBC is working towards quickly, every programme will have a unique URL for it).

I did these two graphics a while back, they are linked too back in the posts here on nodalpoints but I will include them here again.

Graphics that just list the suggested tags for posts etc. Just like they do for conferences now, we could have them for the channels and the programmes and sites.

It makes it easier to find the posts that discuss the content.

Beyond this there could be spaces for other services that manage your comments in a stream so that you can retain more control over them, even if they are not posted on your weblog. Maybe this is some kind of Public Service Publisher service, maybe it is something that the BBC builds.

As long as organisations get involved with initiatives like Data Portability, APML etc (and they are) then all things are possible.

There will always be projects where it is totally appropriate for comments to be right there on the site, on the page but not always and I think, the BBC at least, has a duty to start encouraging people to interact with the web away from bbc.co.uk.

This is happening in many pockets at the BBC and the Social Bar is not some initiative to be taken up by the BBC or not, this is just a floating of ideas about comments and how we interact with content online. I am using the BBC as a bit of a space to try out these ideas at the moment, but my thinking (for all its flaws) is based on experience beyond this type of site.

Design and Protest

At Improving Reality 2013 in Brighton, during a panel session, one of the speakers, Tobias Revell briefly mentioned the ideas that design can be an antagonistic platform and the possibility that design could be a protest movement.

A flurry of tweets on the backchannel around this idea appeared and as I am involved in a college of art and design and I am interested in protest, activism and action I thought that this might be worthy of some further investigation.

An antagonistic platform is something I consider a space to investigate the tensions and conflicts between two or more actors. Through scenarios, provocations and role playing it should be possible to investigate and document the potential antagonisms and use this information, either in working towards resolution, evidence against one actor or another etc.

Something missed in the tweets that surrounded Tobias comment was a follow up for him, that this antagonistic space could be safe. This of course follows from a lot of the work that was presented on the day, these were design fictions and as such had yet to permeate into everybody’s everyday life.

Using the toolkit of design and the creation of fictions and scenarios and associated interventions you could explore certain antagonisms between actors in a safer space than ‘in the wild’

The artist and researcher Christian Nold presented a piece of work on Noise at the recent Participation In Science conference, held recently in London as a part of the Royal Geographic Societies annual conference. For the work, he has been working with local communities around Heathrow Airport, working to record the sound levels due to aircraft usage of the Airport. This is a politically charged issue, the expansion of Heathrow has a lot of investment attached to it but it would also greatly affect a large number of people who live in the area, with increased noise and the associated loss on the value of property that they own.

The work, as part of UCL’s Extreme Citizen Science research project is looking at ways of engaging the public in recording data, data that needs to be gathered to form part of a report on the proposed expansion.

Whilst developing tools and practiced to involve the community in collecting the data on their environment, Christian also developed a set of ‘interventions’, objects that use and respond to the data and provoke questions. For example, a simple receipt printer attached to a sound monitor, a receipt printed each time it recorded a sound above a preset limit. In a future could such receipts be used to clam compensation for sound pollution.

What was interesting was, at the conference, there were questions about the place of such parts of the work in the project. Science is supposed to be objective and not involved in the politics of the situation, yet these objects are imbued with the situation and political dialogue and work to provoke and question within that space, based on the underlying data collected in the ‘science part’ of the project.

Yesterday (as i write this) the iPhone 5s was launched, complete with fingerprint scanner and thus a mechanism for the everyday normalisation of biometric collection and use was released. This is though the post Snowden moment and whilst the theatre of techno-fetishism around the launch continued, the criticism behind the agenda of such technology was more noticeable. How long will this continue?

We are now working in a much more accelerated space. What is interesting is if design, art, critique on technology and practices can get out fast, so that by the time the technology is embedding itself into our everyday infrastructure we are already more conversant in how it works, why it does what it does and way it means to us in our lives.

I do not think that design is or will be a protest movement of itself, but it is part of the landscape on how we interact with each other and our environments, that protest ideas should make use of the tools of design and that design projects should be able to present the conflicts and hi light the issues, problems and conflicts in systems, processes, ideas and technologies.

Design can make the more abstract philosophies and ideas more accessible, more tangible and therefore more questionable and prod-able. Systems and methods of agency can be examined and questioned in a more accessible way. By developing the dialogues inside the safer space of the design space we can examine and extract and develop the ideas that are positive, that do make life better whilst retaining a record on the dialogue and process that lead to that decision.

I am thinking about hosting a one day conference on this, geekyoto style, if you might be interested the please fill in this form.

notes on: The Preferable Future Research Unit

The Preferable Future Research Unit

I want to look at two terms that I have been using recently, both are just ways of framing how I am trying to think about things at the moment but they might be useful, including how I map these onto existing frameworks and ways of thinking.

These are terms that I have been thinking about to explore a grander project, to create a better world. Whilst I fear that we now run a risk of becoming numbed to the word Future we do need to peg a vision somewhere.

The terms are ‘Preferable Future/s’ and ‘Accelerated Now’. I do not think that they obfuscate what I am trying to communicate with them too much, no clever wordplay here. Lets take each one in turn.

‘Preferable Future/s’

If you have been following geekyoto for a while this will be familiar to you, it originates for me, from the geekyoto conference where Richard Sandford gave an amazing talk on how we talk about the future and our possible nihilistic obsession with the dark, pessimistic futures. If that is how we communicate our imagination to our children how will be give them the tools and the aims for thinking beyond that.

Richard Sandford at geekyoto 2008 from Mark Simpkins on Vimeo.

Richard Sandford tells us something about the Beyond Current Horizons research project that is happening at Futurelab.

http://www.beyondcurrenthorizons.org.uk/

Maybe it is a nostalgia. There are a generation of us on the internet now whose future was, when children, described by the visions of space colonies and exploration, Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds and the whole gamut of ‘Rescue Fiction’ where engineers, scientists and brave thinking people solved problems and saved lives. This was our future.

Cyberpunk critiqued this, whilst we were looking at the space colonies of the future the world was going through a complex neo-liberalisation that reinforced existing power structures. We were not going to get those futures we had hoped for, instead we had to return to an examination of economics and power. Instead, though, of taking the critique and mapping the positive paths through this to a better, preferable future many became seduced by the spectacle presented by the critique.

Preferable Future/s is the project to re-invigorate the critical role in examining the possible futures that we can see developing from now and map the paths through that does take us though to a preferable state in the future. If we obsess over our eventual destruction then we are more than capable of making that so. On the other hand we can focus our critical skills on the reality that we are continually creating and manipulating and pick out the preferable paths, the options and suggestions for a brighter, better world.


‘Accelerated Now’

This is simply the condition we are in now, processing the changes and developments as they happen. Science Fiction after cyberpunk did not lose its way but the critical thinking had to leap back to a previous time of accelerated change and re-imagine an industrial revolution with the communication and information density of now.

The economic collapse and the dearth of new ideological thinking has left us flailing, quickly latching onto whatever structure might just ‘float’ at the moment without a depth of critical thought or analysis. We thus possibly enable the new brokers of power almost unwittingly.

‘Accelerated Now’ is like Future Shock but possibly more manageable as we have become better able to address the densities of information that are now available. Yes, we still need more people to understand ‘how it all works’, understanding that code gives ideas agency within a computational culture is vital, being able to understand that code is useful.

The Preferable Future Research Unit

The goal of Preferable Future research is to enable critical thinking and collaboration across disciplines and to generate the tools, dialogues and objects that allow us to manage the accelerated now and move towards the future that we would prefer to see.

Working on projects that create projects and methods that allow us to sharpen our decisions towards preferable goals, working with those that are examining possible futures and helping gauge the best routes though them. The PFRU should be as much a path finding mission, explorers in the space of possibilities, developing the new maps for these territories.

The PFRU should be cross discipline and cross institutional. It’s home is in the network, with the nodes that can make an surface within the projects, models and thinking of the creators and explorers working now to pull us all through to a better world.

‘I want to …’

[you can discsuss this on twitter #iwantto]

Sometimes you wake up and realise that you want to change the world.

It might be that three o’clock in the morning and the fears and ideas that have plagued your mind for the last week coalesce into something you want to do. You have an idea. You write it down.

The next step is always one of the hardest, what to do next, how do you go about changing the world?

Taking the first step

The first step is always the hardest, in all things. The only way to approach anything is at a step at a time. You may create a grand vision, but what you act upon that always has to be managable. You have to be able to make the steps to reach towards your goal.

Now this starts to sound a bit like AA, the steps to moving away from addiction but that is because as a method of achieving something this works. There is a goal, ‘stop drinking’ or ‘cure cancer’. You can only ever step towards that goal and each step has to be one that you can take. It may be a hard step, it may take effort, it may cost you personnally but you have to be able to take the steps.

The goal may never be reached, but each step does change things. It alters to world to varying degrees.

A while back I was sat in a Le Pain Quotidien with Mark Stevenson and John-Paul Flintoff. Mark had recently finished his book ‘An Optimists Tour of The Future’ and John-Paul was researching how people affect change.

How To Change The World by @jpflintoff

We were discussing the idea around the League of Pragmatic Optimists, how this idea of people meeting regularly, sharing ideas about changing the world might work. How we could actually get action, not just a talking shop. John-Paul put forward that the key is to be able to examine the problem properly, be able to define what it is that you are trying to achieve and then, create the steps necessary to get there.

I think I reduced that down to ‘ToDo Lists’ for people attending LOPO meetings. Not quite the same thing.

The point, I think, is that we are very much in an age where we very quickly hit a point of impasse, what do we do next, how do we move forwards. It’s not just ‘us’ though. Politicians hit the same thing, everyone does.

Stop, reflect, regroup and replan

Being able to assess what it is that you actually want to achieve is a skill, one that can be taught and learnt.

One of the simplest ways though is to talk to people, other people can often look at a problem and help you see what you need to do next. Not everybody i’ll admit but on the whole they can.

Lots of people already do this. It is not new. In 2008 Clay Shirky wrote ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ which was about “what happens when people are given the tools to do things together, without needing traditional organizational structures”.

PledgeBank, a site from MySociety is explicitly a site to help people get things done.

I have recently helped to launch a site and app Impossible. In this you add your wishes and gifts, there is no exchange but you can connect to people and help them to do something.

These are not the only tools out there either, the trick now is working out which step, which tool is the right one to take.

And this is where I think the gap is right now, I read an article on some grand disaster that is happening somewhere in the world and instinctively I want to do ‘something’ but what?

I wake up with and idea that will change the world, probably in small way but what are the next steps.

How to I add a wish to impossible that, in terms of effort from someone else, is grantable? How to I scope my gifts so that I know that when someone asks I can do it, without, at the back of my mind wishing I hadn’t posted that?

When do I create a pledge? When do I contact my MP? When do I take to the streets?

In a way we can approach this using a funnel model, we start with something possibly big, at least big in terms of the fact that you don’t quite know which direction its going to take. You examine it and start to break it down, possibly into steps that involve all of the above and more, steps that you can give to friends and contacts which are at the right scale that they can do them without too much thought.

So what happens now?

We talk. I don’t have one of my usual ideas, collapsing two words and thinking about creating something new. We probably don’t have to. The tools are already out there and there are plenty of people who have managed and are now affecting change.

Maybe if we just find it easier to find out these examples and maybe if we can just say, sometimes:

‘I want to change X in the world’

and people, anyone can come back with:

‘Look at Y’, ‘Start by contacting Z’, ‘I’ll help email me at …’

We can help each other look at the grand goals and help create the steps so that we can move towards them.

We can then use the tools out there, post our wishes and gifts on impossible, create the pledge on pledgebank that affects the next level of change.

This is not about creating a platform to ‘help you make change’, to try and own processes and tools, its a discussion about taking part in the community that can make change happen, that can point to and help with the tools out there, can possibly help make the new tools necessary.

Make a difference.

[you can discsuss this on twitter #iwantto]