Moving Forward!

It’s been a long time since my last blog entry. Much has changed in my life and this will be reflected in the blog as I move forward. Those of you that take the time to read some of my previous entries will note that the focus was highly abstract and theoretical.

As we move forward you can expect the content to be more balanced. Most of it will reflect what I am thinking about and working. Even so, due to the fact that there are some deep intuitions that underlie my opinions, one can expect the content to maintain a bit of a philosophical feel.

One easy way to get things going is to reference several documents that I have written in the last few months. These documents provide a good overview of what I am thinking about and working on:

Climate Change Collaboration Platform: A description of a platform and processes that could be used to develop collaborative processes within the climate change space. See: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dc4gbgsj_71kxq8qhgs&hl=en

Open System Mobilization Platform: This is the very large vision for a platform that would enable very large numbers of people to collaborate in real time! See: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dc4gbgsj_25hqc96xt3&hl=e

Ecosystem Collaboration Platform: This is a powerpoint presentation that contains a visual representation of the sort of platform that I think would make collaboration between organizations much more effective. You will need to download it from:http://www.mediafire.com/file/zt2wondwgmm/EcosystemCollaborationPlatform.ppt

Social Venture Investment Bank: This is a position paper exploring the viability of the creation of an investment bank in Canada, the purpose of which would be to finance social ventures.  You will need to download it from http://www.mediafire.com/file/hrimnoizwno/SocialVentureInvestmentBank_0312.09.doc

Let me know if you have any questions regarding any of these documents.

As we proceed, I’ll talk more about what I am doing to advance the ideas that are introduced in these documents.

Suresh Fernando

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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.

On Massive Mobilization (MM!!)

What is Massive Mobilization? Real social change requires Massive Mobilization, which, simply put, is the deployment of a massive amount of resources around single projects. By massive amounts of resources I refer to primarily to labour and intellectual capital.

A brief examination of critical points in history where meaningful social change has taken place will reveal that this social change was the result of the collective will of many people. This is what a revolution is! It is only if there is a collective will towards change that change will take place?

But isn’t there a collective will to solve global problems like poverty, climate, famine etc? You raise an interesting point… I would say that there is a certainly a will to resolve global problems of the sort that you mention and that will (or intention is a better word) is held by many people. What is missing is the collective part. What is missing is the mechanism to bring people together in a manner that will force the sorts of change that many people want, and that are necessary.

Why is financial capital not just as important? It is not that financial capital is unimportant, it is only that there is no shortage of financial capital, nor is there a shortage of those with financial capital that are in search of worthy projects. Once the underlying organizational and mobilization mechanisms are in place the financial capital will follow. Those with the money are shrewd and wise. This is why they have the money! Once they see that there capital will be directly responsible for making the world a better place, they will support the projects.

So what is missing? If you spend as much time online as I do, it will be clear to you that there are many different organizations with good intentions. There are organizations that are focused on particular issues, say youth or poverty. There are those that are more regionally focused; say on Africa or South Asia. There are those that are very small, those that are somewhat larger and so on. There is no shortage of people making an effort to make change.

What is missing is the fact that all of this positive energy is not being effectively deployed. There is a strength in numbers and it just does not make sense for there to be hundreds of small organizations working on alleviating poverty in Africa, for example. Of course, each of those organizations that is working on alleviating poverty is making a positive contribution, but if all of these groups worked together on certain projects, the results would be much more dramatic.

Would the effects of collaboration simply be increases in efficiency? A central part of the message that I want to communicate is that the process of large scale collaboration is more than just about improving process efficiency. Of course, processes would be improved as certain redundancies would be removed. Personnel and volunteer management, for example, could be centralized.

More importantly, large scale collaboration changes the community within which people participate. It extends the community and makes peoples’ activities part of a much larger enterprise. Wouldn’t you prefer to be working for a team of 10,000 people that are focused on solving poverty issues in Africa? Wouldn’t your confidence that meaningful change can actually take place be increased?

What cannot be forgotten is the human element in the social change process. People involve themselves in projects and their community for a number of reasons, and an important one is to be a part of a community that has a purpose. This is what provides them with purpose. Hence creating a community that has real purpose and a sense of collective momentum will improve the lives of those that are participating in it and this, in turn, will serve to generate further momentum.

This is what will make the sorts of change that we dream about a possibility!

So what has to happen to make this vision a reality? It is advances in technology, and the internet specifically, that will make this possible.

How and why this is so is not something that I can explain in detail in a paragraph or two, but is the purpose of this blog (and the wiki that I just started at http:///technologyandsocialchange.wetpaint.com).

I can give you a glimpse of what needs to happen and what will happen as the technology infrastructure evolves and user patterns evolve over time. In the previous entries I have introduced the notion of space and suggested that we need to think deeply about the nature of space and they way that it is changing in the modern world.

My contention is that as the nature of space evolves, it will be possible to extend the dynamics of small group interaction to a larger scale. Small group interaction is typically conducted face to face and in real time. This is what takes place in meetings etc. What technology makes possible is to extend some of the patterns that are at play in these sorts of interactions across physical boundaries.

I will say no more on this topic at the moment, but will treat it in great depth in due course.