Obama inspires! (From Gen-X Apathy to Sense of Purpose)

I have been following the U.S. democratic primaries pretty closely and I am struck by Barack Obama’s amazing talent to transcend everyday politics and inspire in a way that no leader has done in my lifetime. Obama’s abilities and his unique and transformative potential were well articulated both by small-c conservative libertarian Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic Monthly and by Caroline Kennedy in this weekend’s NY Times.His ability to engage the passion of youth and unite it with the wisdom of age inspires me. In my community engagement work, I am attempting a similar kind of engagement and I am learning a lot just by thinking about this task in the context of the emerging Obama moment. If successful, he will be the first President of the Social Web Age.

But you only need to witness the man himself in his moment.

Why do I want to believe? Because we are facing increasingly intractable and difficult problems. The old ideologies are failing us. Government is failing us. Corporations and other large institutions are failing us. I believe that human culture applied through our creative passion will solve the most difficult problems of our age. They are, in fact, the only things that ever have. We have no choice but to unite, collaborate in new ways and harness the creative spark in every individual. It’s not a matter of being idealistic, it’s a matter of survival and the resilience of our communities and society in the face of accelerating change.

Why do we engage young people? Because they have the energy, the passion, the new ideas and the skills to realize them. They also need the wisdom, knowledge and experience of their parents generation.

If Millennials have the passion and ideas, and the Boomers have the power, authority, capital and experience, then the epochal role of Gen-X folks like me is to help broker the relationship between the Millennials and their parents. We are the ones working to build the institutional structures and the inter-generational interfaces of the new millennium. This is my mission and the focus of my consulting work, and I know it describes the role of many of us in our own ways.

Mark Kingwell on Toronto, justice and fauxhemian hucksterism

A harsh critique from one of Toronto’s best public intellectuals in The Walrus. [Hat tip: Joey , BlogTO and Kelly.]

Kingwell argues that there is nothing new about Toronto as a rich source of ideas and the shift “of Canada from being a resource basket to a linked series of communications nodes held together by thought”, and continues…

But the economic and social conditions of ideas have changed, here as much as elsewhere, putting the city on the brink of a certain kind of identity, and a certain kind of success: a creative-class boom town. My suggestion is that we are thinking about this possibility in exactly the wrong way. The question for Toronto now is not whether ideas can flourish in this place, because demonstrably they do, but what consequences in justice that flourishing will entail. On the edge of new identities and possibilities, what is our idea of justice?

It’s a good read. Kingwell describes the central creative era political faultline around the question “what is the city for?”. Is the city for glory or for justice? Kingwell argues,

Though a city in pursuit of glory may neglect justice, the opposite does not hold: a truly just city is always a glorious one, because it allows greatness even as it looks to the conditions of strangeness posed by the other.

Kingwell warns against a certain “hucksterism” in the creative city agenda that sees the city as a glittering entertainment space for the bohemian bourgeois. You can see this vision being realized everyday in the horrifying marketing campaigns of downtown loft condos targeted at the nouveau-hipster-doofus.

Another great quote:

Toronto is not a city in the modern sense of a unified whole. I suspect it never will be, and probably need not try. Toronto is, instead, a linked series of towns loosely held together by the gravitational force of its downtown core and the pinned-in-place effect of the surveillance rod we call the CN Tower. Like Canada in general, that triumph of communications technology in defiance of all nationalist sense, Toronto is postmodern in both its geography and its psychogeography. There is a physical centre, in the sense of a summing of vectors like a centre of gravity, but there is no normative or mythic one, no single agora or narrative. This much is obvious, and often said. But we continue to fail in grasping its political significance.

Great food for thought, the whole piece is a must read. I’m interested in your take on it.

Harvard Business Review Breakthrough Idea: Toronto TransitCamp


Along with my co-authors Jay Goldman and Eli Singer, I am proud to announce the publication of our article titled Sick Transit Gloria in the February issue of Harvard Business Review. The article shares the story of Toronto TransitCamp with a general business audience and is included in the 2008 edition of HBR’s annual The HBR List: Breakthrough Ideas section. There are many great ideas in there, so do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. (TransitCamp is also nominated by BlogTO in the Best of Independent Toronto Survey. Vote here!)

This short piece tells the tale of a community and a public agency coming together to solve problems in an innovative new way, using social web technology, social media and design methods together with the Barcamp unconference framework. The approach helped to shift the relationship between the organization and its customers and community stakeholders. That organization was the Toronto Transit Commission and the event and the open creative community that emerged from it was called Toronto TransitCamp. You can read the article in Harvard Business Review, or visit this wiki page for links that provide a comprehensive overview of the background, the design, the experience, the media coverage, the conceptual foundations and the influence of TransitCamp.

The authors want to make clear that while our names may appear in the byline of the article, the ideas and the event itself come from a community of participants and peers. We were also inspired by many talented global thought leaders. We would like to acknowledge these contributions and inspirations here: Continue reading “Harvard Business Review Breakthrough Idea: Toronto TransitCamp”

Nominated! Best Tech/Web Evangelist & TransitCamp, Best Unconference

I am honoured (and a little tickled, to be honest) to be nominated in BlogTO’s “Best of Independent Toronto” survey in the category Best Web or Tech Evangelist!

Being considered in the company of Toronto tech luminaries AmberMac, David Crow, Joey Devilla, Eli Singer, Will Pate is unexpected and humbling. If you’re looking for sparks, I am NOT going to be actively campaigning against my colleagues and dear friends, will NOT engage in Clinton-style slash and burn. I argue for a new kind of tech politics, an end to Swiftboating and Rovian dirty tricks. I argue for a new web evangelism of HOPE! promising CHANGE! through UNITY! (Did I mention David Crow’s unnatural fascination for women’s shoes?)

At the same time, I would be humbled and grateful if you chose to support my insurgent campaign as the Dennis Kucinich of this crowd of well recognized tech gurus. (Oh wait, he withdrew!)

But I WILL campaign vigourously in these final days for TransitCamp for Best Unconference. I am very proud of what our community did there, how we jumped out of our tech niches and into the mainstream discourse of city-building. Lucky for TransitCamp, the BarCamp mothership wasn’t nominated in competition.

So vote early and vote often!

hand-held an [un]conference – harnessing digital storytelling to improve health

hand-held an [un]conference - harnessing digital storytelling to improve health
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HAND-HELD is an [un]conference that explores how digital storytelling and new media can be harnessed to improve health care when the tools of creation are placed in the hands of citizens.

The day-long event is the culmination of a three-year experiment in socially-engaged media-making undertaken by the National Film Board of Canada – a filmmaker-in-residence project at St. Michael’s Hospital.

The event will showcase the remarkable results of an 18-month participatory media project, I WAS HERE. We put digital cameras into the hands of young mothers who have experienced homelessness to document their lives, and their experiences with the healthcare system. Their photography and video work will be the starting point for the conversations during the day.

[From hand-held an [un]conference – harnessing digital storytelling to improve health]

ip neutral and why the ceeb will NEVER be the beeb. le sigh.

Read Michele’s post on BBC Innovation Labs initiative and the lament of our poor CBC:

so not only do they get funding from regional agencies as a means to stimulate growth in particular areas, they will then go and provide the resources to at least prototype or build a business plan out of the idea. which is great! and we do see this sort of thing at home, sort of, with good projects such as the omdc videogame prototype initiative, the innovation demonstration fund, projects at banff and any number of grants available through the canada council. BUT the bbc innovation labs provides the potential get-to-market resources, and is willing to support the project for various terms without any guarantee of making back a return – essentially paying for and supporting early stage r&d, as well as delivering the resources to where the ideas are rather than having the ideas travel to the money.

[From ip neutral and why the ceeb will NEVER be the beeb. le sigh. « shot from the hip]

Digital Journal TV: The AmberMac Interview

Amber MacArthur, Canada’s leading digital media host and tech web personality, left her gig with CityTV/Rogers a while back. Now she tells her side of the “he-said, she-said” story in an interview at Digital Journal. I think it provides great insight into the changes happening at the edge of digital content, where talent just doesn’t need the production and distribution arms of traditional media outlets to reach its audience.

[From Digital Journal – Digital Journal TV: Up Close and Personal With Internet Star Amber MacArthur]

For additional background, check out the BlogTO story and comment thread, where Amber’s fans speakout and a brave Rogers exec engages with the fans in a way that is truly admirable.

Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind

A fascinating consideration of the “Martin Paradox”, Roger Martin’s observation that Canadians are incredibly creative and innovative as individuals, but often not creative in groups. (Hat tip: Kevin Stolarick at The Creativity Exchange)

My guess is that what is happening here is that Canadians suffer here from the devotion to consensus. Much more than Americans, Canadians think they have to agree. Much more than Americans, Canadians think they have to approve. One of the things I love about Americans is their pragmatism. You will be hammering away at a problem in a boardroom and it becomes clear that we are not looking for a consensus, we are looking for something that is “good enough for television. Let’s get on it.”

[From This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics: Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind]

My thoughts after the jump…

Continue reading “Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind”

Building the Social Media Starfish

Scoble has an interesting video podcast up at Fast Company reviewing the social media tactics of the U.S. presidential campaigns, which brought my attention to how these campaigns are using leading social media tactics and are a great source for best practices. To paraphrase Scoble, political campaigns have a really strong market signal to engage their audiences – they have 18 months to get to launch or close up shop.

Building a Political Starfish| FastCompany.com Multimedia - Business Slideshows, Video & Podcasts
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Scoble’s “social media starfish” is a useful way to conceptualize the multi-headed and distributed network nature of effective social media engagement. Rather than just a shotgun list of tactics and platforms, it’s useful to think about how the different arms work together and facilitate engagement and convergence across media to influence audience behaviour and calls to action – in this case to donate, vote and volunteer.

I’m looking at the lessons of these campaigns for practices that bridge the online, mass media and events spaces in a way to make change. (In case you hadn’t heard, 2008 is the year of change so join your friends in the change drinking game at the next Democratic debates.)

Votorola: the “unelection”

A recurring theme in the “Social Web 101” presentations I give from time to time is that the social web phenomenon and “new media” in general are fundamentally many-to-many media, and all too often misunderstood by those raised in the mass media era. The social web is fundamentally the web as participation platform, not as distribution platform. This has huge implications to systems of production, expressions of culture, the evolution of our values and notions of citizenship.

So what is the future for participatory democracy in a social web world? What new possibilities are emerging and how do we think about them politically?

Michael Allan is exploring one possibility with an open source software project, Votorola, which embraces the concept of participation and applies it to the electoral system in a radically new way:

Votorola is software for hosting open elections. It implements an electoral system that sits outside of government and beyond the control of parties. Its voter lists are backed by a trust network that is rooted in community neighbourhoods. It enables voters to advance their own candidates for public office, their own policies for executive action, and their own legislative bills for statutory law.

There are a couple of radical ideas in Michael’s design. The first is, the delegate cascade. (Imagine the Iowa caucuses, with infinitely recursive delegate haggling.) The second I’d describe as the unelection (as in unconference), in that elections can take place anytime, all the time, and without official sanction by the state or political parties and with your vote selections made publicly and transparently. (See, I told you it was radical!) More…

Continue reading “Votorola: the “unelection””