It was a typically brilliant SXSW session that we've come to expect from Clay Shirky. Clay looks at the recent influence social media has had in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and makes the point that the true power is not in the tools or the information but the conversation.
A decentralised group conversation, aided by the social media tools, create what Clay calls the dictators dilemma. They don't want to be left behind by shutting the tools of conversation down, yet they face the risk of the people using the tools to bring the government down.
Clay then went on to talk about what we can do from afar. "If you want to help a country then follow it. Learn the politics and engage. Then when the time comes you help amplify voice" he said citing NPRs Andy Carvin's Twitter account, which consisted mainly of retweets.
I've pulled together some of the references he made and the conversation from Twitter using Storify.
Naturally my early thoughts centered around internet connected appliances and eco friendly structures. But in 1988 Talking heads released their last studio album, which had this brilliant track on it.
David Byrne's tongue in cheek vision of not being ready for a green future shaped my thinking around Lyddle End 2050, spinning my thoughts into a much deeper and darker direction than is natural for such a positive guy like myself.
The first bit of construction was building a Spotify playlist that would help me shape my vision. Thanks to the brilliant collaborative nature of their playlists everyone can add a track to the playlist. Feel free to chip in regardless of how different your vision of Lyddle End 2050 is from mine. It will be interesting to see how it ends up
So... as I said, it all gets a bit dark from here on. We all dream of a green future, but what if it was forced upon us at a rate we weren’t ready for or willing to accept. What if factories started vanishing before our eyes regardless of their economic health. High street names we know and love started disappearing, not because of a financial collapse but because they were forced out of business by the new green police for not adhering to extreme government policies.
"This was a Pizza Hut. Now it's all covered with daisies...I miss the honky tonks, Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens... And as things fell apart nobody paid much attention"
Planes are grounded, car production brought to a halt, roads replaced by fields, alternative energy sources failing under the weight of demand. As the song says “If this is paradise, I wish I had a lawn mower”
Here's a glimse of my house in Lyddle End 2050. The solar panels on the side of my house haven’t worked since the riots of 2035 and the metal fronting on the front is protection against the looters and The Green Police. The collapse of the IMF, and the subsequent closure of the world’s banks, prior to The Environmentalist Party taking power leaves us living in a Mad Max like lawless state.
Everyone carries a gun. Everything is locked down. Everything has to be taken by force. In Lyddle End 2050 nipping next door for a cup of sugar takes on a whole new meaning. If you’re not fighting off The Green Police for imposing a 1 child per family limit you’re shooting your neighbor for stealing apples form your tree. We asked for a green future and we got it.
As for fully connected appliance and the internetofeverything... well... The internet in 2050 no longer exists as we knew it. Our faith after the first 5000 days was somewhat misplaced. This article in Wired about the man who 'broke the internet' coupled with the vulnerability of 'The Cloud' made me think about how totally insane the whole idea of the internet is in the first place.
"It was the ultimate hack. He was looking at an error coded into the
heart of the Internet's infrastructure. This was not a security hole in
Windows or a software bug in a Cisco router. This would allow him to
reassign any Web address, reroute anyone's email, take over banking
sites, or simply scramble the entire global system"
We were one good hack away from surrendering all our secrets and the great hack of 2045 gave one man more power than all the superpowers combined. As a result our fully connected world disconnected piece by piece faster than you could say "Can I have an Oyster Card please". Fibre optic cables were ripped from under the floors and we couldn't smash RFID enabled possessions quickly enough. TVs, gaming systems, fridges, cookers, phones, items of clothing, bank cards, doors, windows, clothes, toothbrushes...
We spent 45 years teaching everything we owned to talk to servers without ever giving a second thought to what it would be like if those servers fell into the hands of one man. He knew our every move... and I mean our every move. He controlled the internet, he controlled what was left of the banks and he controlled our houses remotely. We couldn't brush our teeth without him knowing how many stokes it took and we couldn't put food in the fridge without him knowing the fat content of each item. Once again paranoia took hold and the only way to deal with it was to destroy everything.
So, my Lyddle End 2050 house is an unconnected steel structure, a hollow shell surrounded by over grown trees and fields, protected by guns and free from possessions. Still, it has a wicked soundtrack. Can't wait for the street party.
One of the best things about TED is that the speakers gracing the stage have the god given talent of talking about dry subjects in a way that can make you laugh and cry in a way you would never have expected. I can thank politics for my career. I studied politics at A level and such was my hatred of the subject by the time I picked up my grade 'E' that I decided on a career in music.... or anything but politics.
Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Doris Kearns Goodwin's talk on past presidents and what we can learn from them is as great an example of injecting passion and emotion into dry subjects I could give. At a time when we are surround by so much coverage of American politics focusing on topics such as Palin's passport or Obama's 'terrorist sounding name', her stories of Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson are truly inspiring.
In it she builds 3 stories of Lincoln, Johnson and her father around a quote from psychologist Erik Erikson.
"The richest and fullest lives attempt to achieve an inner balance between three realms: work, love and play. To pursue one to the disregard of the others is to open oneself to ultimate sadness in older age, whereas to pursue all three with equal dedication is to make possible a life filled not only with achievement but with serenity."
She continues to talk about how being haunted by death at an early age and the lack of any sort of afterlife Lincoln realised that if he accomplished something worthy in life then his honor and reputation would out-live his physical existence. She continued to point out that his powers of empathy and ability to accept his errors and learn from his mistakes were the kind of qualities Americans should be looking for in their candidates for 2008.
To emphasize Erikson's point further she turns to another president in Lyndon Johnson with whom she worked alongside in his latter days as president. After years of concentration on work and success Johnson was unable to find joy or solace in his family when he retired, the hole left by work was too large to fill. WOW!!! What a statement. How sad. How frightening. The very thought makes me want to snap my laptop closed this minute, wake my children from their sleep and force them to play Fifa '09 with me this minute, whether they like it or not.
"Despite all that power and all that wealth he was alone when he finally died, his ultimate terror realised."
To finish she caps a wonderful talk with an explanation of how her understanding of narrative comes from her relaying baseball stories to her father as a child. Heartwarming and insightful through to the end it left me questioning the messages I send out to my children. Whilst constantly attempting to inspire them through example and stories of my work I wonder if I'm distorting their view of how adult life should be before they've got there and been able to make up their minds for themselves. Perhaps if I chatted to them more about football or even 'Family Guy' they will take learnings and apply them in a way that they see relevant to how they want to live their lives.
As someone who absolutely adores the work I do I never see working until midnight as a problem. The title of this blog 'Better than digging a hole' is a reference to my joy at being in such a fortunate position to do the job I do. My father was a laborer. He spent his working life digging holes until a stroke in his thirties took away his ability to work. With six young mouths to feed it was a massive blow to my father's Irish pride when my mother went out and became the bread winner. As a result my childhood could have been better. I spent a lot of time with my father but sadly that time was spent watching him counting his days away in his armchair in the corner of the room...and that is what inspires me to work as hard as I do. To constantly strive to be better at what I do and never refuse work because he never had the option to do so keeps me hungry to work even harder. I'm slowly starting to address the fact that it's a distorted belief that by providing for my children (financially) is the number one priority. Arcade Fire nailed it with the line "You say it's money that we need,
As if we were only mouths to feed" from 'Intervention', we need equal measures of nourishment from work love and play too. Perhaps instead of trying to right the wrongs of my childhood the lesson i should take is that extremes are never good and balance is everything.
Wow, that got heavy. Anyone fancy a game of Fifa '09