On Utilizing Technology To Connect People On Different Continents

As many of you know, I am greatly interested in the way that technology can be utilized to connect people across across the world – to make the constraints imposed by geography less relevant.

Since I am a musician, one particular angle on this that I am pursuing is using music at the centrepiece of this process. In other words using technology to broadcast music globally, and to use this process to engage people on issues of social change. The following is evidence that others are thinking along the same lines…

If this concept interests you, please let me know as I am working on putting a team together to explore potential projects in this area.

WE GOT SKILLZ
FACEBOOK GROUP: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=25921017860

We Got Skillz is bringing together basketball, music, fashion and dance to host an annual event to be held in Kampala, Uganda that will use these four areas to advocate for social change. This event has the potential to unify, empower and cultivate the importance of international cooperation in an exciting new way. Musicians such as Boys II Men, Joe Thomas, Tanya Stevens and Tanto Mentro & Devonte will be coming to perform. Other performers from in and around East Africa will be hosting workshops for young people in Uganda prior to the event. International dance crews, fashion designers and basketball players will also be coming to contribute to the workshops and the event.

The objective of the event is to showcase the local talent within Uganda and provide a platform for young people to maximize their potential. We believe that positive messages can only be received when they are delivered in a way that distinguishes them from other negative messages. That is why we have chosen to utilize what has already proven to be one of the most influential tools on the planet: hip hop culture. (According to Radiotron, Hip Hop School of Arts in Los Angeles CA, “Hip hop has proven itself to be a solution, an alternative, and a way out of poverty, crime, gang life, drug abuse, violence, vandalism, and negativity…Hip hop has saved and transformed the lives of thousands of people. It has become a vehicle through which young people can join forces together and empower themselves through the arts to make a difference in their own lives and in their communities.”)

Both the workshops and the event will be multicast around the world. The interactive multimedia communication technology provide and supported by Asita Informatica Inc. This event will launch the WGS Global Voice bridging the digital divide project that will be starting immediately preceding the event. Schools from all corners of the globe will be invited to connect through an online platform, allowing young people from various cultures and backgrounds to interactively learn about the lives of the other young people that they are sharing

Technology and Massive Dialogue

There has been much discussion on this blog about the changing nature of space; the way that we can extend the environments that we are in in order to bridge geographic boundaries.

Another theme that is related, and that I will expand further on in due course, is the idea that technology allows you to extend the range and scope of the conversations that we have. We can include more people in the conversations that we have, and to the extent that we do that, we can get to know others that are located at  distance from us, develop a consensus on how to deal with problems with these people and so on.

The following is a great example of what is happening.

THIS PROCESS IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF HOW TECHNOLOGY CAN BE USED TO BRIDGE BOUNDARIES AND BRING TOGETHER PEOPLE FROM AROUND THE WORLD THAT HAVE A COMMON INTEREST IN ADDRESSING THE CLIMATE CHANGE ISSUE!

Okay, we finally have a venue set for the Mass Dialogue session on Dec. 10th. It will held in the IRMACS theatre (ASB 10905, from 9 to 11 am.

Here’s a spiel from Amber to get you started, and below that is my own synopsis of what I think will happen, based on the larger pdf document that I’ve attached below. The documents below put together by Amber provide a good about of background (helped me a lot!). Please send info as far and as wide as you can, and ask them to RSVP to amber.church@gov.bc.ca.

On December 10, 2008 join youth from across BC as they connect with the youth delegation at the United Nations Climate Change Meetings, COP 14, in Poznan, Poland.
Young people across the province will gather together at schools and municipal buildings to hear an update of the international negotiations from youth working on the ground in Poland, to have their questions answered, and to find out how BC youth can help make a difference to the outcomes of COP 14. Youth unable to gather at the hubs throughout BC will be able to join the live videoconference through their home computers. This event is part of the Mass Dialogues, a program that will see 35,000 young people around the world connecting with youth at COP 14 to engage on the issue of climate change and create positive change.

The format will be something like this:
9am – we make the connection with the Poznan people and establish communication.
9-9:05 am – People arrive.
9-9:30 – participants learn how the question process is going to work.
9:28 am – 2 minute warning from Poznan
9:30 am – Moderator introduces and welcomes attendees, we have a brief video of ourselves shown worldwide (It will be a few seconds).
9:35 – Moderator introduces the session and the panelists in Poznan.
9:45 – Panel discussions begin – moderator poses his/her own questions to the panel of judges. During this time, SFU participants (and people around the world) write their questions on paper and give them to the SFU moderator, who types them into the Poznan moderator, who selects questions for the next section.
10:15 – Moderator begins to ask questions selected from Mass Dialogue participants. If you question is selected, you come up to our microphone and when ask it live.
10:45 – Thanks yous and session ends.

FAQs:
Who is a youth? Someone under 30.
Do I have to be an expert on climate change? NO. You have to be a youth. Prepare if you want, or just come and learn.
Will I be on camera? The whole group will be for a few seconds at the beginning. But if your question is selected your voice will be heard.

On Massive Social Change (MSC!!)

I posted the following on the Technology and Social Change wiki that I am developing at:

http://technologyandsocialchange.wetpaint.com

So what is this wiki all about? This wiki is for those that believe that the internet can be used for socially beneficial purposes!

What makes this particular wiki unique?
Simply that it has a very specific focus – to aggregate information and ideas that lie at the intersection technological innovation and Massive Social Change (MSC!!)?

What is Massive Social Change
(MSC!!)? Good question! The idea that technology, and most specifically the internet, contributes to social change is not news. Obviously it is transforming our environment in immeasurable ways. What is not being discussed is the role that the internet can play in creating the sort of change that can positively transform the world on a massive scale – the sort of social change that is revolutionary in nature.

That sounds grand, but why bother with Massive Social Change? Well, are you concerned about issues like climate change, poverty, famine, war etc? If those sorts of Global Problems are to be resolved, they will require Massive Social Change.

Do you seriously believe that those sorts of problems can be resolved? Yes I do. I do not believe that it is intrinsic to our nature that we must kill each other, destroy our environment and so on.

If it is not intrinsic to our nature, then why is conflict and misery the story of human history? Things have been as they are due to the fact that the human race has evolved in a very specific way – with specific groups evolving in isolation from each other.

What does the particular pattern of the evolution of human history have to do with the current state of affairs in the world?
It is simply a fact that, for example, the hunter-gather tribes in Africa evolved separately from other hunter gather tribes in the Northern hemisphere. As a result of this, they evolved different value systems, customs etc. What is important to note is that the value systems and norms that they evolved were unique to their particular community. The point is that different communities evolved because people were spread out in different parts of the world and therefore had no contact with each other.

So even if it is true that different communities evolved because, historically, people were geographically dispersed across the globe, what does that have to do with the current problems in the world? It is my view that conflict, and the inability to develop solutions that account for all people, is due to perceived differences between communities, people etc. Perceived differences, in turn, are the result of the fact that communities have evolved independently and therefore have formed their own values, customs, religious paradigms and so on. It is this sort of heterogeneity that is an impediment to the formation of the sorts of consensus that are necessary for the resolution of global problems.

If, for example, we want to come together to address the issue of climate change, the underlying ethos must the our commonality not our differences. We must see each other as brothers.

A good example of this idea is played out in science fiction movies like Independence Day, where the threat of annihilation by an alien species causes the world to come together to ward off the enemy. What is interesting in this sort of narrative is there is a collective consciousness of our commonality in the face of something that clearly stands distinct from us. Furthermore, with the collective consciousness of our commonality we are able to do great things!

My contention (at least my hope) is that external threats are not necessary for us to have the sense of our commonality. What is necessary is that we recognize that the differences that we perceive are contingent realities that are the result of the evolution of the species and could have been different. For example, we can certainly imagine that the world consisted of only one small tribe in one location that expanded over time. We can reasonably assume that, if this were the case, we may only speak one language, have one religion etc. I fully recognize that this is an oversimplification, but the overall idea should be clear.

OK, so what does the internet have to do with solving the sorts of problems that you say are the result of the evolution of human history, but could have been otherwise? The answer has been hinted at in the conversation that we have been having. To the extent that the problems are the result of perceived differences, and perceived differences are the result of the formation of different communities, the answer lies in the formation of a singular Global Community.

The idea of a Global Village is not new, but it does not seem to be contributing to the solution. Many people would argue that globalization is part of the problem. It’s important to understand that the notion of a global village is still in its infancy. Keep in mind that the birth of the internet as we know it is less than two decades in the making!! What we need to do is to be able to think outside the box and envision how, as the technological infrastructure evolves, the changes that take place will fundamentally impact our lives. We must look further into the future to understand the sorts of things that are possible and then once we can envision the possibilities, we must work towards making them a reality.

So, give me an example of something that we should be thinking about that is not getting the attention that it deserves. Consider the utilization of social networks like Facebook. In most major North American cities and, in particular, in universities, the penetration rates are very high – ranging in some cases to the 75% range. Currently Facebook is used largely to keep in touch with friends, to organize social calendars, to exchange information about music interests and so on. In short, it is used to manage our social processes. The reason that Facebook has exploded in the way that it has is because it provides the best architecture and user experience for those that want to manage their social processes (there is more to be said about this and I have said more in The Concept of Facebook).

The important point is that what is important for the younger generation are their social processes, therefore the success of Facebook can, at least in part, be attributed to solving an important problem for those that are in high school and university. The point is that, for those, that are roughly 15 – 30 years old, there is nothing that a technology platform can do that is more important for them than to provide them with a means to meet people, keep in touch with friends, express themselves to friends etc.

Therefore, first and foremost, the success of social networks is that they solve the problem that people have regarding social contact.

The question that I believe needs to reflected on is: what happens when the user base of social networks gets older, they have families, have careers etc. and making more friends is not their first priority. What then?

Will social networks like Facebook evolve to account for the fact that peoples’ priorities in life change?

Will social networks evolve to provide applications that will assist people in making a contribution to their communities when contributing to their communities is more important than making more friends?

This is all very interesting, but it seems that we are digressing. We were talking about the creation of a Global Village for the purpose of resolving global problems. How does the internet contribute to this? In short, the internet changes three things; the Space between each other, the Patterns of Communication between each other, and the structure of Knowledge. It is in understanding these ideas and their interdependence that the solution will reveal itself.

It is not the place to go into this in detail, but if you are interested in more details, please visit my personal blog at suresfernando.wordpress.com. I will, however, give you a few thoughts on these ideas:

Space and Presence: We can think about Space intuitively. If we are both sitting in the same room, then we are both sitting in the same space. But what is it that makes it the same space? The fact that we are Present in relation to each other, where to be present in relation to each other means that there exists the possibility for us to be conscious of each other as a result of the sensory stimuli that we receive from each other. In short we can see and hear each other. In the olden days, in order to be present in relation to each other, we needed to be physically in the same space with each other. Nowadays, presence applications like Twitter make it possible to be present in relation to each other differently and therefore the nature of the space that exists between each other is changing.

The important point is that our presence in relation to each other is now not dependent upon physical proximity!

Communication: Communications technology is introducing a whole new range of possibilities for how we communicate with each other. Traditionally, the most common form of communication happened face to face, which is synchronous (exchange). Once could also send letters, which is an asynchronous exchange. In both cases, we were limited to communicating either to a single person or to a larger group that was confined to a space of restricted size (say a large hall). It is now possible, in theory, to communicate simultaneously with millions of people! It should be apparent that this has implications for the possibility of Massive Mobilization (MM!!).

The important point is that the scope for communication is now not limited by physical constraints.

Knowledge: The evolution of databasing technology, search engines, RSS, spiders etc. have had a huge impact on our capacity to interact with and form knowledge. What is important to note is that, historically, knowledge was something that was created either in isolation, or in small groups. For example, Mozart worked on his compositions alone. At best a team of a few scientists might have worked together on a project. It is now possible to create knowledge collectively like never before and what we must consider are the possibilities for community formation that arise from collective knowledge formation. In other words, we can now create projects that involve millions of people. Consider the implications that this has for bringing people together!!

The important point is that collective enterprise is not limited by physical (or geographic) or temporal constraints.

It is the constraints that I have identified (and that the internet mitigates) that have, over the course of the evolution of history, contributed to the development of community specific ideologies and therefore to the perception of difference.

Well, this is all very interesting and I wish you the best of luck in mobilizing people and resources around this project!!

Thanks very much!! Please circulate information about this project to anyone that you think might be interested.

The Relation Between Modernity, Space, Consciousness and Massive Social Change

In yesterday’s entry I introduced the notion of Vectors of Consciousness in order to capture sense in which Outside Spatial environments have a ‘collective’ feel. When a number of people are in the same space and are conscious of each other, the way that collection of people stand in relation to each other, and therefore their environment will depend, in part, on the extent to which the Object of which they are Conscious (Locus of Consciousness) is something about which they are all conscious (Intersection of Consciousness). We used the contrast between watching a performer in a concert hall and being present in a shopping mall. In both cases we are in Outside Space, but clearly these are very different environments. The difference that I want to highlight is that in the case of watching a performance, we are collectively focused on the performer. In the case of walking around in a shopping mall, there is a certain randomness to the way that peoples’ attention is focused.

Today I want to introduce a few more concepts that will give us further tools to understand the sense in which the spaces that we operate in are different. After introducing the concepts I will say a few words about how these ideas are relevant to the wired world that we are living in today.

Size: Defined as the distance required to establish the spatial boundary. This is to be understood in its intuitive sense in that, for example, a concert hall is a large space, whereas a coffee shop is a smaller space.

At first glance we might think of this boundary as being defined by the physical facts involved – that, for example, the walls of the concert hall and the coffee shop define the size of the space. I would like you to think of Size differently, however, as the area within which we can be phenomenally conscious[1] of objects within the space. Since consciousness of objects requires that they are phenomenally present for us, the size of a space defines the boundary within which we can receive meaningful phenomenal stimuli. The walls of the coffee shop define the space because when we are inside the walls, we are not able to be conscious of things outside of the walls.[2] In the case of the piano recital, we are very conscious of being quiet and this is because we know that the slightest sound can be heard by all others in the room (as well as the performer!).

If the space that I am in is defined by the boundary that encompasses the set of possible Objects of which I can be conscious and you also happen to present in the same space, then it follows that it is possible for us to be conscious of each other; their exists the possibility for Reciprocal Consciousness.

One more point needs to be emphasized. Not only is there the possibility for Reciprocal Consciousness, we note that the consciousness is Simultaneously Reciprocal. This is important because not all cases of Reciprocal Consciousness need to be simultaneous. We all, for example, have a consciousness of our friends and family members but this does not mean that when I am thinking about my mother that she is necessary, at that moment, thinking about me. The possibility for Reciprocal Consciousness is simultaneous because it is a form of consciousness that arises from phenomenal stimuli.

If I am able to see/hear you at the same time that you are able to hear/see me then there exists the possibility for Simultaneously Reciprocal Consciousness and we are thus in the same Space.

Stability of Locus of Consciousness: Defined as the predisposition for the Locus of Consciousness to remain constant, across the group, over a period of time. For example, in the case of the performer at the recital, we can expect that he/she remains the Object of Consciousness for the vast majority of those in the hall for the vast majority of the time. We would therefore say that, in this case, the Locus of Consciousness is stable.

Spatial Stability of the Locus of Consciousness: Defined as the relationship between the Locus of Consciousness and the physical characteristics of the Space. If the relation between the Locus of Consciousness and the physical environment remains constant then we can say that the Locus of Conscious is spatially stable. If the performer stays seated on her piano stool, then she represents a spatially stable locus of consciousness for those in the audience. In contrast, we can imagine a pop star dancing around the stage with great enthusiasm. In this case, the performer is the Object of Consciousness to no lesser a degree than the concert pianist (all eyes are trained on both!). Yet in the case of the pop star, the physical facts of the situation are different.

Practically speaking this is pretty obvious. In the case of watching a piano recital we are likely to be fixed in our seats. It is the kind of environment that requires that we constrain ourselves physically etc. A pop concert marks a strong contrast with not only the performer, but the audience free to move around, All of these sorts of variables bring to bear on the nature of how we are conscious of ourselves and others in the spaces that we inhabit.

You can now think about the sorts of spaces that you inhabit, who/what the Locus’ of Consciousness are in the spaces that you inhabit, and the extent to which these spaces are stable.

So what does all of this have to do with anything you ask!

It should be pretty clear that the notion of spatial size has less meaning in the modern world. This is not to say that large rooms aren’t still large rooms! What it means is that the range of possible objects about which we can be conscious do not have to be physically proximal in the same way that they had to be in the olden days. In the days of the Hunter Gatherer communities, people lived in close proximity to each other and the people that they were conscious of were those that they could see, hear and touch. It is literally the case that our ancestors in Africa would not have had the slightest idea that others on different continents even existed.

Therefore, modernity serves to eliminate certain constraints on possible of objects of consciousness.[1]

Intuitively this should be pretty clear to anyone that utilizes the internet. If you are reading this blog, then there is a sense in which you and I are in the same space. It is the precise nature of this change that is taking place that we want to understand.

OK, but then what does Locus of Consciousness and Stability of Locus of Consciousness have to do with anything?

Part of what I will demonstrate is that Modernity gives rise to the possibility of Social Change on a scale, and in a manner, never possible before. I will argue that it is possible to engineer solutions to large scale global problems such as climate change, poverty, famine, war and so on; typically problems that we have thought of as insoluble.

The reason that this is possible is that the evolution in the communications infrastructure allows us to make a Particular Object of Consciousness the Locus of Consciousness for a very large number of people – millions! There is nothing, in the world that we live in today that prevents us from aligning a very large portion of the worlds collective energy on large scale problems and thereby creating collective developed solutions for these sorts of, seemingly intractable, problems!

More on all of this tomorrow!


[1] It’s important to note that it does so in other ways than this which I will discuss as we move forward.


[1] Remember that phenomenal consciousness refers to the sort of consciousness that arises from data that is presented to us via our senses. Photons impinge on my retina and I see your face.

[2] One shouldn’t interpret this absolutely literally. Obviously even when one is sitting inside a coffee shop one can see cars passing by, hear people talking on the sidewalk and so on. This is true, but clearly the availability/accessibility of such stimuli is reduced by the presence of the concrete that separates us from those outside of the coffee shop. One must understand this notion as a matter of degree.