Sunday, November 26, 2017

Capitalism is the Problem ? What Else you got ?

This article is based on a NY Times article

The NY Times has captured our contemporary system quagmire like this:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It’s capitalism that is at fault.

When I comment online on criticisms of capitalisms, which I do often, I do it as such:
1) I also have problems with capitalism, however...
2) We don't have 'capitalism', we have a 'capitalism'/'socialism' hybrid which has been patchworkly designed through an open-flawed democratic process and...
3) If you have something better than this then have at it.  The world is hungry for your solution !

After reading the NY Times article, though, I have come to realize that it's easier for me to criticize empty criticism than to jump in and correct ideas or drive them towards an answer.  And as per 1) I do have problems with the system as it is anyway so I will endeavour to do my part, and help this discussion along and in Times font too, as an gesture of acknowledgment.

First of all, I'm not up to the task of redesigning a political-economic system that has been moulded and refined by every human who lived since Sumeria, so instead I'll just start the discussion.

I do have some ideas that might help the idea along.  I'll write the ones I can think of now and add more later.

1) Any design for human use must be a design for change, ie. it's robust and self-modifying.
2) Our current system is designed around the invention of 'money' as it occurred in ancient times, along with innovations such as coinage, and electronic money that have happened since. 
3) Money is a social invention, as in a convention, as much as it is a technical invention.
4) It was so successful in that regard, that we regard money to be part of nature.  We need to understand it better if we're going to redesign the system.
5) Redesigning something on this scale means that systems will work in parallel as the new system supersedes the old over time.  There is no one-time 'cutover'.

We can start by discussing these points, and then begin the exciting brainstorming that will come out of it, considering our new technologies, the common social and moral spheres that are emerging globally and the reality of what is physically possible.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ways to be Productively Sexist and Racist online

Ways to be Productively Sexist and Racist online

I have moderated online forums for about 15 years or so.  Here are some hints you can use to help you understand whether you value communication, or your trolling...
  1. Be wary of engaging with people who are different from you when you’re trying to appeal to your ‘own kind’.  Know better than to attempt to convince those who are very different from you.   Remember that there are issues that are a priority to your group only.
  2. Take note of any personal details of ‘social media posters’ before you engage with them. This means not just their race, but their gender, status, religion and how they speak.  Communication doesn’t happen in a contextual vacuum, so check in on your starting point.  
  3. Even people who share your groupings (gender, race, religion, status) may not be ‘your people’.  Be mindful of why you are speaking to them and set your tone, wording and arguments to that purpose.
  4. If you do engage, then don’t behave the same way as you do when speaking to your own group.  Pay special attention to your language and be sure to align it with the purpose of your communication.
  5. Generally, don’t try to ‘explore’ issues such as race and gender with strangers who are in a different group from yours.  You and the stranger do not make a cultural science research team.  You are not wearing a lab coat and neither is your debate partner.  They are a stranger and you have nothing in common with them.  
  6. Don’t presume your lack of sexism or racism will protect you from ‘offending’ others, or setting a foot wrong in the discussion.
  7. A lot of internet talk is “snowflakes vs. deplorables”.  If you are engaging with a someone from a group that you disrespect, then check in: are you trying to convince them or berate them ?  If it’s the former, then you are facing some major barriers: try to incorporate their own values in the discussion. 
  8. When speaking to others that are not your own kind, listen for hints at cultural values that you may share with your discussion partner.  That connection may happen rarely, but you can use those common points to build a discussion.
  9. If you are trying to engage across a cultural gap, consider starting with a quick and easy setting of framework, ex. “I’m want to tell you what I think - do you want to hear it ?” “I’m here to listen, and maybe ask questions, ok ?”  If you state your purposes honestly and get agreement, you may actually end up achieving the rare meeting-of-minds moment across such gaps.  Good luck.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Open Data Charter Released

Huffington Post reports that the Open Data Charter has been released and it reads well as a roadmap to implementing new communication patterns for citizens of an open democracy.

From Open Charter the charter says that government data should be:
1. Open by Default. Making government data "open by default," as many governments are starting to do, is a paradigm shift for how we treat government information. Under typical freedom-of-information laws, which have been enacted in more than 100 countries, citizens have the right to ask the government to give them documents and data. But to exercise this right, you have to know what you are looking for, where to find it, and how to submit a request. "Open by default" cuts through that cumbersome process by making government information automatically available to everyone, with exceptions for information that could breach privacy protections or threaten national security.
2. Timely and Comprehensive. Many governments are experimenting with new ways to make their data more timely and thus more valuable. They're supplementing their own data collections with data provided by citizens through crowdsourcing, data from mobile phone companies, and other sources. This gives them real-time data that can be used to analyze traffic and commuting patterns, track the spread of infectious disease, flag spikes in food or commodity prices, and more.
3. Accessible and Usable. Some 45 countries have launched centralized portals for their data, making it much easier to find, access, and use. The EU is building a centralized data portal for its members as well. In addition, government agencies are increasingly releasing data in machine-readable form, meaning that it can be put directly into a computer for analysis. This is a major improvement from keeping public data in paper files in government offices -- or even posting copies of those documents online, which makes them more accessible but still very hard to analyze.
4. Comparable and Interoperable. Data has a multiplier effect: Each dataset becomes much more valuable if it can be combined with others (meaning that those datasets are "interoperable"). Real estate websites, for example, need data in comparable formats to be able to put together a full picture of a neighborhood including housing prices, crime rates, school quality, access to public services, and other factors. On a more complex level, interoperability can make it possible to analyze the relationship between climate change and health trends, integrate data on federal spending from many different agencies, or analyze a host of factors that can impact national security. While interoperability is still a major challenge, there's growing agreement that international data standards -- particularly for widely used sources like geospatial data -- can open up new opportunities to combine or compare datasets for new insights.
5. For Improved Governance and Citizen Engagement. Open government data is advancing the cause of good government in many parts of the world. For example, Brazil's Transparency Portal, which launched with modest goals in 2004, now helps citizens oversee more than $12 trillion in federal spending -- everything from the funding of the World Cup to elected officials' credit card records. A growing global movement toward open contracting is now working to make government procurement open and transparent, to fight corruption and improve government efficiency.
6. For Inclusive Development and Innovation. The new Sustainable Development Goals, adopted at the U.N. General Assembly in September, set out an ambitious agenda for worldwide development and innovation over the next 15 years. The 17 Goals set targets for ending poverty, fighting hunger, achieving gender equality and improving the lives of the world population in many other profound ways. As my colleagues and I wrote recently , open data has a role to play in each of these goals and can be a powerful resource for governments working to achieve them.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Ontario Gets Open Data !" or... "Progress Fast &Slow"

Ontario Government Services Minister John Milloy is now talking about Open Data, which is a little late... actually very late... but at least it's some good news.  Unfortunately once again, Open Government is supposed to be about Data, Collaboration and Transparency.  

From the Open Government Declaration:

We acknowledge that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective. 
What's emerging is that so far, governments have been very selective of the kinds of data they release.  And I suspect that Data, Collaboration and Transparency are also the order of interest for said governments.It's no wonder.  Open Government as it is discussed, and proposed could be the 21st century equivalent of the press, if it's done right.   And fact-based summary data about government could open up dialogue real dialogue, breaking the political party-lines paradigm by inspiring fact-based dialogue about policy, and allocation of resources.  Oh, but I dream, I dream.

Here is John Milloy's statement to on the Ontario initiative.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK has made the expected mistake of going too fast, as explained in this article in The Guardian.  This is, as far as I can see, the first time someone has accused a government of going too fast on open data, and that's a sign that something real is happening there.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Data Absolutists and the Limits of Privacy

Neil Seeman and Sabrina Tang have blogged about 'Data Absolutists' who believe in the liberation of public data; data to be reviewed by citizen researchers and fed back to "the" public to moderate government services and promote openness.

But if more open data, as promised in the OGP (Open Government Partnership) is such a great thing then what are the limits to online privacy ?   In discussing the utility and costs of information privacy, we could perhaps learn something about where it lives, and where it should live, in our societal machine.

This is an old article (from last year):.

 [NY Judge Richard] Posner likened privacy to a "superior good," one that is not something that is deeply ingrained in human nature, but rather a luxury.

The thrust of the argument is that privacy is a double edged sword because it essentially means concealment. Posner argues that privacy is simply protection to conceal that which we do not want others to know, like arrests, illnesses, etc. In his eyes, it's the right to present the most polished version of ourselves. He asks whether that is a social luxury we are willing to forgo in order to preserve something greater, like security.
So we have an idea here of privacy as an updated form of 'hiding'.  I like that association because it places the social and technical construct of privacy as one of McLuhan's extensions of man - in this case, an extension of our basic social selves.  That means that online privacy serves to address our human feelings: of fear, of modesty, of curiosity for example.   

Now we're in the age where your public person is define through your online transactions and behaviors - public and private.  There is still a public and private sphere, that you constantly trade and share with service providers such as Google and Facebook, much as you check your right to privacy when you walk in public, or through a private space owned by someone else.

The opportunities for engaging in public discussion for collective benefit in the same way are immense, as well as from benefiting from public online behaviors but we will need to develop our ideas of privacy a little more and especially recognize that online personas are a certain type of extension of our real selves. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Social Dialogue and Designing for Choice

Ok, everyone.  I'm still looking for ideas on finding some wisdom.  Getting some wise thoughts, or even better a wise person that we can all sit down and listen to..  ( Diogenes said it takes a wise man to find a wise man, but didn't talk about the wisdom of me, ie. the guy who's looking for the wise man to find the wise man. )

When I fall short in my web walk for wisdom, I end up on and today's article reviews 'legibility':

The article talks about the failure of sweeping authoritarian plans to improve peoples' lives - which is described by James C. Scott in Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed,:

The more I examined these efforts at sedentarization, the more I came to see them as a state’s attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion.  Having begun to think in these terms, I began to see legibility as a central problem in statecraft. The pre-modern state was, in many crucial respects, particularly blind; it knew precious little about its subjects, their wealth, their landholdings and yields, their location, their very identity. It lacked anything like a detailed “map” of its terrain and its people.

It's pretty clear what he's describing but it seems to me, though, that there needs to be a state of readiness for legibility to be undertaken.  Even for public choices to be designed, there need to be some options being discussed.  If you want to pave the cow paths, then there have to be cow paths to being with.

If there is a need for some direction, but we don't have even paths yet - don't we need to have somebody architect those choices for us ?  To plan a space for discussions to occur ?  
Maybe our directions will be clearer once people start talking about the failures in dialogue - lack of public fora, no tools to build consensus, mass one-to-many communication rather than public discussion.  And to talk in a progressive and constructive way requires design - not the authoritative design that Scott describes, but design that iterates on and enhances humans' natural social and problem-solving needs.

There are examples, after all, where social tools were designed as such - I'm thinking of money as an example here.

I think the question of choice architecture is an interesting one, but in terms of public discussion, we don't even have a path or an open square today, far from a home.