Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 25 Aug 04 16:14
WorldChanging.com is a weblog edited by Alex Steffen and Jamais Cascio, at http://worldchanging.com/. The dozen contributors come from all parts of the world, with diverse backgrounds but a shared focus on tools and ideas to make the world better. The best way to introduce WorldChanging is to repeat the how-to post from the site: "WorldChanging.com works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together. "Informed by that premise, we do our best to bring you links to (and analysis of) those tools, models and ideas in a timely and concise manner. We don't do negative reviews - why waste your time with what doesn't work? We don't offer critiques or exposes, except to the extent that such information may be necessary for the general reader to apprehend the usefulness of a particular tool or resource. We don't generally offer links to resources which are about problems and not solutions, unless the resource is so insightful that its very existence is a step towards a solution. We pay special attention to tools, ideas and models that may have been overlooked in the mass media. We make a point of showing ways in which seemingly unconnected resources link together to form a toolkit for changing the world. "Every link we post is informed by technology, but the new possibilities we cover aren't just high-tech. Sure, we all need to understand the uses (and dangers) of advances like biotechnology, the Internet, ubiquitous computing, artificial intelligences, "open source" software and nano-materials. But we also need to know how best to collaborate, how to build coalitions and movements, how to grow communities, how to make our businesses live up to their highest potential and how to make the promise of democracy into a reality. We need to understand techniques as well as technologies, ideas as well as innovations. How we work together is as important as the tools we use. "Therefore, we focus on resources that help people collaborate and cooperate, for we believe that collaborative technologies and cooperative models the keys to working together more effectively, and that working together is the revolution..." The panel assembled for this conversation includes WorldChanging editors Steffen and Cascio, along with contributors Dawn Danby, Emily Gertz, Jon Lebkowsky, and Taran Rampersad. Bios of all are posted at the WorldChanging web site.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 25 Aug 04 16:24
I suppose the best way to start would be for everyone to make an introductory comment. I'm Jon Lebkowsky, and I've known Jamais for several years; we were both involved with Howard Rheingold's "Electric Minds" community site during the 90s, and both on the WELL, so we've stayed in touch off and on ever since. I met Alex through Bruce Sterling's Viridian Design movement, and I met Dawn when she was living in Austin. When I saw what they were doing at WorldChanging, just after it launched, I had to sign up. The WorldChanging site filled the void left when the Whole Earth Review went away, I thought, and so much of my life had been shaped by Whole Earth.
turing testy (cascio) Wed 25 Aug 04 16:51
Jon, I can't remember -- did Electric Minds or South by SouthWest come first? We were on a panel together in 1996 on the "politics of cyberspace" -- Steve Jackson, who had been recently raided by the Secret Service because of the Cyberpunk game his company was working on, was also part of the discussion. Funny how much of my present-day life was shaped by that one hour panel. I'm Jamais Cascio, co-founder of WorldChanging. I bill myself these days as a "freelance world-builder," which covers most of my current professional manifestations. I specialize in the creation of plausible, consistent, and compelling future worlds for strategic and entertainment use. On the business and government strategy side, I do scenario planning; on the entertainment side, I've worked on a couple of science fiction TV shows and am the author of a couple of science fiction game books. Alex and I came up with WorldChanging last year largely because we wanted to work together, and a blog seemed like a good thing to do while we figured out what we wanted to do as work together. Little did we know... For me, WorldChanging sits at the intersection of two very smart observations about the future by two very smart fellows: Bruce Sterling said, "the future is a process, not a destination;" and William Gibson said, "the future is already here, it's just not well-distributed yet." We are trying to chronicle the process, and speed up the distribution.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 25 Aug 04 18:17
We met on eminds, then you came to SXSW and we made a point of hanging out. It's funny how many of rolled into that axis of Whole Earth/the WELL/the farm/Global Business Network/Electric Minds etc. But it really all goes back to Stewart Brand, I guess, and his eclectic blend of past, present and future tools and ideas.
Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Thu 26 Aug 04 13:04
Hey everyone, Alex Steffen here. Besides co-editing (and editing here is used in the loosest of ways) Worldchanging, I freelance as a writer and consult to organizations which are trying to figure out better ways of changing the world. There's more about me on my bio at Worldchanging. My particular obsession at the moment is looking for ways in which we might design a future which is both more prosperous and more sustainable, which is both bright and green. To do that, I think we have to change both the goals we're pursuing and the means we're using. My book Bright Green (coming soon from Chelsea Green) looks at how we might use new technologies and new approaches to create sustainable prosperity for as much of the planet as possible. I've also been doing some consulting looking at how environmental and social change groups can use new network-centric tools to build a different kind of movement, some other work with George Lakoff at the Rockridge Institute on how to "reframe" environmental issues to appeal to more Americans, and a grab-bag of other small projects on related topics. Whole Earth is indeed worth mentioning here. Being a commune kid, I grew up reading it. I remember paging through the Catalogs as a small child (along with comics like "Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth," Chinese Communist agitprop, and R. Crumb's stuff). My dad still has all his old CQs. The interesting thing that I didn't realize until much later was that where I think a lot of people read it as a set of far-out possibilities, I read it as *news*. I thought the whole Earth actually did this stuff. (It's easy to forget that countercultures can be as parochial as any small town, and I grew up surrounded by yurts and geodesics, windmills and solar panels, whale songs and world music, Humboldt County homesteaders, paleo-geeks with piles of punchcards, early EarthFirst!ers, radical feminist businesswomen, Sufis, Buddhists... the whole works. I thought everyone was like that until I was seven or so.) So the worldview of the network of people that Whole Earth emerged from and spoke with is stamped pretty deep in my cultural DNA. I still think the Whole Earth Catalogs stand up well as a brilliant bit of information design. In some ways, they were the Web before HTML. For a while last year I was even talking with the Point Foundation (before they went bust) about doing a 21st Century Global Whole Earth Catalog. Worldchanging is what I did instead. All that said, I think there are many ways in which that worldview -- though it's been incredibly important (I have a whole theory about how the Left Coast counterculture and SunBelt neo-conservative insurgency are the two dominant strains in American culture right now, but I won't bore you with that here) -- is now pretty woefully out-of-date. One part of what we're trying to do, in an obviously humble way, with Worldchanging, is to figure out how to take some of the best parts of the Whole Earth approach (for instance, only reviewing things you feel are positive and worthwhile) and apply them to finding ways of changing the world for the better in the 21st Century.
Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Thu 26 Aug 04 13:36
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 26 Aug 04 14:14
Alex, can you say more about your work with Lakoff? Some of the politicos I work with have been influenced by his analysis of liberal vs conservative politics. Talking about his thoughts about framing might be a great way to start this discussion.
Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Thu 26 Aug 04 14:26
Well, framing debates is not a new concept. What is new is the way in which advances is several fields, including cognitive linguistics, have given us new understanding of how frames work in people's minds. George has done a bunch of writing on this topic, so if folks are really interested, I'd refer them to his books or the Rockridge website. I'll post on Worldchanging in the next few days about my own work on looking at new environmental frames, which is a longer topic, really. But I think that the problems the environmental movement are having these days are only partially about *what* enviros are saying. I think there are also real problems with where they're saying it (enviro groups as a whole have been really slow to pick up on networking technologies and even slower to learn how to speak effectively on the Web). And no amount of reframing or better technology will help if they don't have new things to say, and many of the old-guard big environmental NGOs are really stuck in their thinking.
Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Thu 26 Aug 04 14:39
Looking more broadly, though, I think that the frame through which most Americans are currently viewing the planet -- the "war on terror" -- could not be more damaging to our longer-term ability to understand (and thus work effectively) with the rest of the world. George points out two things about the war on terror frame: first, that terror is an emotional state, and by constantly evoking it, the Right plays to its strength, which is being perceived as the side concerned with discipline, authority and force (which means that rational arguments about the effectiveness of certain actions -- e.g., the Patriot Act -- will consistantly lose when stacked up against emotional plays to patriotism and war-unity); second, that terror is a concept, and one cannot effectively wage war on a concept, and to suggest we do so is to plunge the nation into a mental world where the planet is divided between homeland and terror (which completely obliterates all useful nuance from our discussion of foreign policy). This has enormous repercussions for the kinds of things we cover on Worldchanging. Very, very few of the world's most serious problems can be solved by unliateral military force. Very, very few of the best solutions available to us have to do with building an even larger military with more incredibly expensive weapons systems. Almost nothing we're doing in terms of foreign policy is making the world safer or more united. Yet to try to make those points within a debate framed by a War on Terror is to lose before you ever started.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 26 Aug 04 14:56
So what's the viable alternative?
Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Thu 26 Aug 04 15:07
Well, in the immediate term, reframing the debate by using the phrase "war on terrorists." That at least makes our enemies a specific group of people, rather than an emotional concept. In the longer term, I think we Americans need a new frame for describing our role in the world. "Superpower" no longer serves well. But that probably has to co-emerge with a new understanding of our role in the world. And that will be difficult, since our actual role in the world is far different than the role we think we play (just as a for instance, most Americans think foreign aid is one of the largest expenditures in the Federal budget, when in fact it's less than 1%, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, and less than 0.1% of our GDP). Critical in the process of changing the way we look at our role in the world, though, is having better information about the world and what's going on in it. I think the points Ethan Zuckerman makes about the "attention gap" are absolutely right: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/001098.html All of us in the developed world need to know more about the problems faced by our panetary neighbors, and the kinds of models and tools that are out there to work on them. That's really what we're trying to do at Worldchanging.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 26 Aug 04 15:42
How well do you know our audience? We haven't really discussed that before, but I don't have a clear sense of our impact yet. Is there some strategy for ensuring that we're reaching the people who can make effective use of the information we're publishing?
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Thu 26 Aug 04 17:23
The short answer is that we don't know who our audience is, at least not very well, and we're not sure how to best reach the people whom we need to reach. That's in part a result of the immaturity of the medium (blogging), in part a result of the opacity of the network (RSS aggregation makes it really easy for material from a site or a given post to propagate, but makes it damnably hard to figure out who has actually seen the site/post, for example), and in part a result of what Zuckerman talks about in the interview linked above, that this is a very technocratic medium. Network benefits and reputation tend to accrete fastest around technology-related ideas. I know, that's hardly a surprising assertion, but it means that, at least for now, the mechanisms which exist for getting attention from a large set of readers involve soapboxes which are friendliest to discussions of technology. We got Slashdotted today for Alex's interview with Zuckerman, but they emphasized his relationship to "Geekcorps." That's the hook for them, and it's completely understandable. Conversely, we weren't Slashdotted for my interview last week with Adam Kahane about his problem-solving philosophies, or for Nicole's article from a few days ago about the ways in which the Google IPO mapped to the "Wisdom of Crowds" concept, and I didn't expect us to be. We do know, from site logs, that we get visitors from over 70 different countries (based on top-level domains; we probably get more than that, but who knows where a ".com" is located?), including places that aren't exactly dense network environments. But the non-Americans/non-Europeans account for *maybe* 10% of our traffic, and probably less than that. We'd like to change that, but aren't really quite sure how. Looking at our Technorati cosmos is a bit more exciting, as a decent portion of the sites linking to us seem to have an environmental, political, or developing-world/non-Western-culture focus. We'd love to hear good ideas about how to strengthen that, how to make ourselves more visible -- and more useful -- to audiences who would find our stuff more inspiring and applicable.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Thu 26 Aug 04 20:27
Jumping in here while we're underway: Hi, I'm Emily Gertz, a contributor to Worldchanging. I'm a freelance writer and web producer/internet strategist based in New York City, with particular experience in environmental issues, creative arts, and progressive and/or social service non-profits. More about me in my bio at Worldchanging. I've known Jamais and Jon here on the WELL for some years now, mostly via our shared interests in science fiction. Although I've been following the Viridian list since its inception (even interviewed bruces about the Viridian manifesto, global warming and gizmos in early 2000 for an Oregon 'zine), and knew that Jon was managing the Viridian web site, the pieces didn't all fall into place until this past winter, when I discovered Worldchanging.com and wrote Jamais this breathless, excited email about joining up. I have a political activist background, but I gradually left that work behind over the course of the 90s, feeling frustrated with the ambulance- chasing approach and the sometimes blinkered worldview. I'm thrilled to be contributing to Worldchanging's combination of bright green environmentalism, celebration of global culture, thoughtful observations and solutions-oriented approaches. I even have a Whole Earth connection, although it didn't come back to me until I read Alex's post above: I was surrounded by the original magazine and catalogs as a kid. I recall poring over the Last Whole Earth Catalog for hours. My brother and sister-in-law were planning to homestead in West Virginia, a real back-to-the-land plan, so there were a lot of WEs laying around. I'm sure they've contributed to my adult perspectives, although growing up in Queens and then moving to suburban New Jersey--we never made it to West Virginia--some of it seemed really far out and exotic. I remember tring to make "lembas bread" from a recipe in an issue of Whole Earth--someone tried to style a chapati recipe as the magical elfin waybread, and I was deep into Tolkien at the time...it tasted terrible! OK, back to Alex and Jon.
Taran Rampersad (taranrampersad) Thu 26 Aug 04 22:44
Jumping in... I'm Taran Rampersad, a contributor at WorldChanging.com - a freelance writer, a Free Software developer and advocate, a Knowledge Management Consultant and an aspiring human being. I'm involved in Digital Divide issues as well as the developing world. I'm presently based out of Trinidad and Tobago, a dual island country that you can find next to Venezuala on a map of South America. Interestingly, I haven't met anyone from WorldChanging.com previously - but I have always enjoyed the posts, and was happy to see that my own weblog at the time was listed as a similar site. Later, Jamais asked me if I would consider contributing - and I gratefully accepted the chance to become part of this team. My own background is fairly diverse. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, grew up mainly in Trinidad and Tobago, and have seen a lot of other countries at my own expense, as well as at the expense of the United States Navy. I've pumped gas for a living, as well as studied Naval Nuclear Propulsion for a living. It's the grey area in between that's the most interesting, I think. Next week I'll be flying off to take part in a workshop related to Caribbean Diversity and it's affect on ICTs, and I've been spending a lot of time preparing for that, as well as working on things that help pay the bills. Solutions that minimize impact and maximize efficiency have always attracted me, and the problems that I face when dealing with many issues in the developing world give me a focus on not only what could be done, but also the far reaching implications of why things should be done in certain ways. It's a learning experience, and I hope my contributions to WorldChanging.com - and the world as a whole - not only share solutions, but the process by which those solutions came about. There's an amazing world we all live in every day. Sometimes we just don't know it.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Fri 27 Aug 04 07:01
Speaking of knowing more about our neighbors, I heard an interview with Jeremy Rifkin yesterday on WNYC, New York public radio. He's got a new book out: "The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream." I'm looking forward to checking this book out. Although it's unnecessarily antagonistic to promote a dichotomy where the "European dream" wins, America's loses, or vice versa, united Europe (one which is much more clear-eyed than our current political establishment on global warming and cross-border chemical issues, for instance) may be the most effective counterweight--in the developed world--to an American hegemony of ideas and practice. A streaming archive of the interview, including a good back and forth with a listener who challenges some of Rifkin's rosy Eurocentrism, at: http://www.wnyc.org/stream/ram.py?file=raotl/bl082604d.ra
Taran Rampersad (taranrampersad) Fri 27 Aug 04 08:22
Emily, Outside of Europe and the United States, there is also a lot of conjecture related to India and China as well. I don't know how much of this is a major discussion mainly because the media in the United States and Europe is dominant. Food for thought; just because the rest of the world isn't heard certainly doesn't mean it's not talking.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Fri 27 Aug 04 10:29
Rifkin seemed to be speaking of the quality of existence--what constitutes a "good life" (worker's rights, health care, education)more than centers of innovation or sheer economic weight. A duel for the heart of Western cultural values.
Taran Rampersad (taranrampersad) Fri 27 Aug 04 10:55
Interesting, but these days I'm beginning to wonder whether Western and Eastern culture are separate anymore; I think we're in a grey period where we will have to look back and talk about the differences in Eastern and Western culture before this period.
Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Fri 27 Aug 04 11:20
I don't know. Many Europeans have told me they admire the freedom Americans have when it comes to entrepreneurship, personal expression, mobility and the like. That said, I think the United States has, quite objectively, lost the position of being the best country in which to live in terms of quality of life (compared with many European countries, we work more days, we are less safe at home and at work, many of us have poor or no health care coverage, we get shorter maternity leaves and child care is harder to find, etc.). And there is no doubt that the United States government is now pretty universally despised. Poll after poll shows that. But I think the larger point is that the role America has played in the global popular imagination since the end of World War Two -- the vanguard of material progress and personal freedom, the land of the American Dream -- is ending. For the last 50+ years, American culture was the lodestar towards which ideas of progress ran (or against which they rebelled). That ain't so no more. Which raises the questions: 1) What does the idea of progress look like now? 2) Can the US become a home to 21st Century progress? What would it take? What happens if it can't? 3) Who's likely to replace the US as the next global role model, or have we entered a multilteral, networked culture era? Is it in the very nature of the trajectory of globalism that there is now no one center? And, if so, what are the various multiple centers, and what do they offer? 4) Where do ideas of sustainability, of egalitarian development, of fair trade, of democracy, of human rights and of technological progress play into all this? In short, how might these changes impact our ability to face the really grim trends headed our way, and build a bright green future?
Alex Steffen (alexsteffen) Fri 27 Aug 04 11:24
Oh, you slipped in before me there, Taran! Good point, though. 3a) East and West. The twain have met. Buddhism is the fastest-growing religion in the US, the press claims, and more high-rise skyscrapers have now been built in East Asia than in North America. What are the implications of all this?
Taran Rampersad (taranrampersad) Fri 27 Aug 04 11:48
Alex, My answers; (1) To myself, the idea of progress is more in the abstract domain than that of the concrete. Over the latter part of the last century, mankind as a whole has shown mastery of the physical materials we have on hand, and in doing so has only begun tampering with things on a more abstract level. A problem we are facing as a species is that sometimes we treat the abstract like concrete, and the concrete like abstract. What is progress now? It has many meanings. To someone in the 3rd world, it might mean being able to sustain themselves and their countrymen through the growing of crops - though GM crops are a point of contention for philosophical and cultural reasons. For someone in the first world, it may mean faster internet access. Perhaps the best measure of progress is the decrease in time required to improve the quality of life for our species. (2) 21st Century progress and America requires some reconciliation, I think - and I move dangerously close to an area I am loathe to tread in (politics). But it's not politics so much as building a device for communication and subsequently ignoring or not liking what comes back out of the device. This would be the internet in it's various forms. Unlike the days of the traditional media, the internet introduces truly random factors - the average person in a society has been given their own 'printing press', and can post their opinions and thoughts just like anyone else. This means that interaction is no longer happening at the molar level, but at a more molecular level (As Pierre Levy wrote of in "Collective Intelligence"). This means that public opinion is not as bounded by geographic or political boundaries. We have new boundaries that we are still trying to find. Can the United States keep up? We can hope, but many obstacles have to be overcome - and the first would have to be the stereotypes that the traditional media have given in the past, and a bit of acceptance and increase in the level of communication throughout the United States - with people outside of the United States. This holds true of every country, I suppose. I do not believe that there will be a 'failure', so I cannot discuss what would happen if this fails - but I believe that not keeping pace at that level will cause the United States to fall behind. Right now the United States is dominant on the internet, which is understandable given the combination of DarpaNet roots and corporate strength. Yet just because a man can fashion a hammer does not mean he can use it properly; using the tool in a more social manner outside of the United States is required. This, too, is true of any other country. (3) I don't know that the United States will be replaced as a role model. Even here, 13 degrees from the equator, cable television is still predominantly from the United States. The internet is predominantly American, and so on. But opinions I have heard from throughout the Caribbean and South America by email and otherwise seems to point to China, India and Brazil. But personally, I think it will be more of a networked role, as you hinted at. (4) As we create a global culture, a lot of this will have to be done on the fly. Governance of the internet is one such topic, but there are others - such as the use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline, or CFCs, or what have you. Certainly, the developed countries have made great strides in these areas - and yet, there are some companies within these countries that make money selling them to the developing world where strict measures are not in place or remain unenforced. Yet what happens in the developing world affects the pollution of the entire world. More global perspectives are required.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 27 Aug 04 13:39
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Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 27 Aug 04 19:21
I'm wondering if any of you read my interview with Jim White of the University of Colorado - http://www.weblogsky.com/white.html. I posted about it at WorldChanging. He was saying that there's *no way* that everyone in the world can have the same standard of living we enjoy in the U.S. - the resources aren't sufficient to support that standard for everybody. (I think it's hard for us to imagine the extent of the gap between the average American and the average citizen in one of the developing nations, especially the poorest). It's going to be harder and harder for the U.S. to sustain its wealth in the face of global poverty - and I'm not saying that we'll become altruistic and share, or that they'll tear us down. I just think that an inevitable complexity of forces will have a leveling effect, and this is assuming we don't have some natural catastrophe, which is beginning to seem pretty likely. I don't think what I just said is inconsistent with Taran's comments, just a little different perspective. I think it's critical that developed and developing nations build closer relationships, because we're going to be thrown together more than we realize.
Emily J. Gertz (emilyg) Fri 27 Aug 04 20:46
This is what some environmental and social justice activists have been saying for years, though--that it is simply impossible for everyone on Earth to have the material wealth of the average American. Some good thinking has come out of that--the 'live simply' submovement of deep green environmentalism, and probably a synergy with the growth of Buddhism in the U.S. But overall, it's a moral hammer that's had litte impact on most Americans. This is part of what I like about the Viridian movement--design that dispenses with the lifestyle evangelism and simply DOES what needs doing--using energy efficiently, biodegrading, cradle-to- cradling.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 27 Aug 04 21:20
Right, we're not going to see a major change that's due to some kind of greening of America, with a sudden mainstream realization that we're out of balance with the rest of the world. Viridian Design was a more realistic way to face the problem, but I think we'll evolve to a more balanced position because of global forces that are not driven by human decision or will, at least not at a conscious level. That seems to be the way it works, anyway... major changes don't seem to be the product of human action alone, but the result of complex forces within which our actions are aligned (or misaligned) with a combination of ingredients. That's where I object to much of what passes for foreign policy. You can surf the wave but you can't subdue it.
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