Your cover is one part of a much larger work of art celebrating the ways in which technology is bringing people together. The piece was hand-drawn over a three-day period by Ryan Chapman, Jasper Dunk, Dale Edwin Murray, Daniel Frost, Matthew Hams, Yasmeen Ismail, Jean Jullien, Chetan Kumar, Paul Layzell, Maggie Li, Dominic Owen, Hattie Stewart, Toby Triumph, Robbie Wilkinson, Paul Willoughby and Dan Woodger. The entire artwork is on the enclosed poster. See how you connect.
06 THINK PEOPLE
People. Never before in human history has it been possible for over two billion people to publish their views, access information, discover new ideas and inspire each other. Within three years, over half the people on the planet will share this opportunity. Thatâ€™s why this edition of Think Quarterly focuses on people. How will people behave in an increasingly connected world? How should businesses, governments and societies understand their needs, address their desires and help to solve their problems? What can we all do to extend these benefits to everyone, everywhere? Whether itâ€™s Madeleine Albright on the transformative power of women in business; Joseph Stiglitz on wellbeing; or Wael Ghonim on the incredible events of the Egyptian revolution, this issue celebrates and examines the points where technology, business and people come together in surprising and exciting ways. We hope you enjoy it,
Matt Brittin Managing Director, UK & Ireland Operations, Google
12 18 20 24 26 30 34 36
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dame Barbara Stocking on Oxfam's mission that matters Words By Andrea Kurland
on African healthcare Words By Olly Zanetti
Foundations of Freedom
on mentoring businesswomen in developing nations Words By Sarah Speake
on his top 10 people, ideas and trends Words By David McWilliams
on Google+ and the people web Words By Bradley Horowitz
Power to the People
on building digital communities Words By Meg Pickard
Once Upon a Time in Hackney
on technology and storytelling Words By Andrea Kurland
From Cash to Contentment
on economic wellbeing Words By Simon Rogers
40 42 48 50 54 56 60 64 66
Happiness That Doesnâ€™t Cost the Earth
A guide to happy countries images By Column Five Media
The Peopleâ€™s Revolution
on social media and the Egyptian revolution Words By Matthew Lee
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh on smart apes and society Words By Cyrus Shahrad
The mobile metamorphosis
on the changing face of mobile technology Words By Jess Greenwood
The Anxious Choice
on the illusion of consumer choice Words By Renata Salecl
following generation Z
on emerging web behaviours Words By Ed Chi
on crowdsourcing innovative investment Words By Caroline McCarthy
On the Make
on the diy maker movement Words By Phillip Torrone
Nothing Without a Woman
on the transformative power of women Words By Michelle Goldberg 09
Bradley Horowitz Meg Pickard
Think Quarterly represents the collective mindspace of journalists, academics, experts and industry leaders from around the world. Some are Google’s homegrown visionaries. Others lend their outside perspectives. All tell stories that you won’t find anywhere else.
Bradley Horowitz, a former competitive gymnast, can still hold a handstand longer than Google founder Sergey Brin, but he’s better known around the company as Vice President of Product for Google’s social products. He is a former Vice President of Advanced Development at Yahoo!, where he led its acquisitions of Flickr and MyBlogLog, and launched its Brickhouse incubator. Along with Google’s SVP of Social, Vic Gundotra, Bradley oversaw the launch of the Google+ project this summer, which he delves into on page 26.
10 THINK PEOPLE
Social anthropologist Meg Pickard is the Head of Digital Engagement for Guardian News and Media in London, responsible for developing and supporting social web strategies and participatory experiences. She has worked for a number of digital companies at the intersection of content, technologies and social. She has also provided consulting and mentoring for start-ups, global brands and charities. Meg is one of the longest-running bloggers in the UK. She offers her guide to building digital communities on page 30.
Jess Greenwood is director of Contagious Insider, the research, insight and training arm of Contagious magazine. Contagious specialises in the identification of future-facing creative ideas, cultural trends and technological platforms – and the innovative marketing campaigns that result from them. Contagious Insider collaborates with advertising clients and agencies on research, thought leadership and creative consultancy. Jess believes the world would be a better place if more people did karaoke, and writes about the metamorphosis of the mobile on page 50.
Renata Salecl is a philosopher and sociologist. She is a visiting professor at the Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society at the London School of Economics, and at Birkbeck College School of Law. She is also a senior researcher at the Institute of Criminology at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a visiting professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York. Her books include The Tyranny of Choice and On Anxiety. Renata writes about choice and society on page 54.
Ed Chi is a Research Scientist at Google, working to understand how we can design for evolving user behaviour on social websites. He has authored more than 90 research articles, and was profiled by Time and The Economist for his work on ‘information scent’; understanding how users navigate and understand the web and information environments. As a member of Google’s in-house research team, Ed keeps up with the changing online behaviour of Generation Z, which he chronicles on page 56.
Phillip Torrone is Senior Editor of MAKE magazine. He has authored and contributed to books on programming, mobile devices, design and hardware hacking, and is a contributing editor for Popular Science. Phillip is also Creative Director at Adafruit Industries, an opensource hardware and electronic kit company. Previously, he was Director of Product Development for Fallon Worldwide, ‘How-To’ editor for Engadget, and founder of Hack a Day. Phillip writes about the world of ‘making’ on page 64.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org The articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinions and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or editorial team. thinkquarterly.co.uk © Google 2011 11
xecutive Insight Oxfam CEO Dame Barbara Stocking may be focused on the humanitarian crisis in East Africa, but she’s also got one eye on the home front. Words by
Andrea Kurland Spencer Murphy
Oxfam House isn’t much of a house. Plonked on an industrial estate in Oxford, away from the city’s Gothic spires and higgledy-piggledy Saxon walls, the headquarters of the UK’s poverty-fighting titan could easily be called Oxfam Metal Cube. But that would be misleading. Because like so many great surprises in life, this charmless exterior, all utopian symmetry and artificially neat lawns, reveals little or nothing of the inner core. Buildings don’t create a culture – people do. Inside, a light-filled atrium is surrounded by floor upon floor of open-plan desks. People wander around chatting quietly, folders cradled in arms. You could be on any college campus, except half the faces are well past graduate age. It’s late July. Just yesterday, ministers 12 THINK PEOPLE
and senior representatives from the world’s largest NGOs gathered in Rome for an emergency summit to discuss the escalating famine in Somalia and surrounding states. An estimated 11.6 million people need humanitarian assistance, but the media coverage pinned to a notice board in Oxfam’s reception would do well to fill a pamphlet. The message in the waiting area, however, is gargantuan in scope: ‘Alone we are human. Together we are humankind’, declares one wall in fuchsia pink lettering. On another, three Afghan women stare out from a six-foot poster, boxing gloves poised below defiant eyes. They are Afghanistan’s first female boxing team – just one of many empowerment projects Oxfam works with on the ground. The sheer determination in their gaze is contagious.
Dame Barbara Stocking is efficiently fast. She welcomes you in, sits you down and starts answering questions before you know what to ask. That’s what happens when you’ve got the world’s biggest problems piled on your plate. “Right now we have people who are actually dying of hunger,” says the 60-yearold Chief Executive of Oxfam. Yesterday, she delivered a two-pronged message to G20 leaders in Rome. Today, she has the same message for us all: “One is, ‘Save lives now’. The second is, ‘This need not have happened at all’. There could have been much better longer-term investment in agriculture, small farmers and pastoralists. But also we need to change some of the rules of the world in terms of the food system, because it simply doesn’t work for poor people.” Since coming on board in 2001 (after answering an advert in The Economist) Stocking has steered Oxfam through a decade of global tremors – some natural, but most man-made – and led it to an annual turnover of £367.5 million. Under her leadership, the agency has responded to humanitarian crises sparked by tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and war, in countries as diverse as Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq. But those are just the headline-grabbers. With the support of 5,000 employees, over 22,000 volunteers and 1,000 partner agencies, Oxfam works in 60-plus countries, funding roughly 1,250 longerterm development projects, alongside its more media-friendly emergency relief programmes. It takes an intricate net to tackle global poverty, but so long as it’s in place, Stocking has faith. “Virtually everybody here believes you can change the world,” she says. “If you all believe it, it sort of helps.” After being ‘diverted’ into the NHS as a regional director, Stocking came to Oxfam knowing how to pivot around other people’s lives; she understood what it took to balance business with beliefs. “Both positions have multiple stakeholders,” she says. “And in both organisations, everybody is very committed to the cause. That makes them quite an interesting bunch to manage, particularly in Oxfam where we don’t pay much; people are here because they want to do something about poverty. They have 14 THINK PEOPLE
quite specific ideas and corralling them so they work to corporate objectives is an interesting challenge. Quite often people don’t come to me to discuss the pros and cons; they come to lobby me heavily about what they think is right.” Lobbying for what’s right is Stocking’s bread and butter. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, she echoed President Sarkozy by calling for a levy on financial transactions – a ‘Robin Hood’ tax that would redistribute wealth to fight global poverty. But speaking to power is not just about politics. “It’s also about working with the private sector,” she says. “We’re encouraging companies to ask, ‘How can you do things in a way that helps deliver on poverty and your profits?’” One good example is a partnership with Unilever in Azerbaijan, which is helping small-scale onion farmers tap into a global supply chain. But not all corporations are so forward-thinking. Starbucks recently tried to trademark Ethiopia’s speciality coffee names without paying for the privilege – Oxfam made sure they failed. “It’s not that we’re anti-capitalist – we believe in markets,” Stocking affirms. “There isn’t a set of particular ideologies [within Oxfam], but if you work on poverty, you end up with a somewhat jaundiced view about power and how it’s used in the world. If we have a belief, it’s that all people are equal. I don’t know if that’s ideological; it’s not a whole framework. But you’d feel very uncomfortable here if you couldn’t at least go along with that.” Another belief is that people can affect change – especially in the age of social media. “It makes an enormous impact, actually, if there’s a lot going on around the blogosphere,” Stocking says. “Politicians are beginning to learn that if they don’t pay attention to what people are thinking, they can be rather shocked by what happens. The Arab Spring is a prime example of mobiles and social networking bringing about dramatic change. So I think politicians really do take note. There’s the question of how seriously they take it, but they’re certainly listening in. It’s up to the public to push governments to act.” Having seen the inner workings of the political machine, Stocking harbours an ambition to work within the UN,
which she sees as “a big bureaucracy that could be run better.” Her solution? “Stop pressuring the UN – let’s get in there and help it.” At Oxfam, she’s fostered a more horizontal structure. “I’ve got a superb international director and a superb humanitarian director – both women as it happens. There’s a lot to do within the organisation to make sure we’re firing on all cylinders,” she says. “But the best bit, of course, is being on the ground. Every time I get tired of being here managing the organisation and doing high-level lobby work, I go out to a programme and think, ‘Now I know why I’m doing it’.” This urge to touch base sees Stocking scheduling at least four trips a year. “It’s about engaging with local communities,” she says. “Also, I need to know enough about our work to be able to speak about it organisationally.” As the face of Oxfam, the onus is on Stocking to present the right message. Her diary is a carefully calibrated mix of media appearances and ministerial meetings; when she’s not lobbying politicians, she’s lobbying us. Whether it’s behind closed doors (“We have access to some very significant places in the world, in government and the private sector”) or under public scrutiny, her words have to tally with what’s happening on the ground. And that’s just the way she likes it. “If you’re in the third sector, you are exposed as an organisation,” she explains. “Because we’re trying to persuade people that we’re doing something that’s morally right, we worry like hell about our reputation and the trust people have in us. We’re constantly thinking, ‘Have we got it right?’” That commitment to accountability – worrying enough to put the right checks in place – should guide any organisation in a post-WikiLeaks world. Stocking knows this: “I think the NGO sector is still not transparent enough, but we’re certainly working on it here. I’ve seen the way people will trust us if we tell them what’s really happening.” True to her word, she talks openly about a case of fraud uncovered in a partner organisation during the Pakistan floods. “If you’re the head of an organisation, it’s really not on to say, ‘I just didn’t know’,” says Stocking. “You could say that for one
“How can you do things that deliver on poverty and your profits?” small mistake, but not an ongoing set of practices. That’s simply not good enough.” A lot of things, in Stocking’s view, are simply not good enough. As a kid, it wasn’t good enough that the boys from Rugby, the elite boarding school nearby, enjoyed privileges her postman father couldn’t afford. “So, naturally, I wanted to save the world, as you do when you’re 18,” she smiles. “It came about through an understanding of inequality and the class system in the UK. I remember seeing all the advantages these boys had compared to me and I used to think, ‘Why them?’” Though Stocking has found herself galvanised into action, she understands others may take an apathetic stance. The £613-million funding gap for the East Africa aid effort has partly been blamed
on donor fatigue – people tired of giving after Haiti and Japan. And the recession, no doubt, has played a part, too. The worst upshot of a drop in public altruism, says Stocking, is not a lack of money, but rather a lack of will. “When people are feeling bad, because of job losses and public sector cuts, they become less interested in the outside world – the market intelligence shows that. [Our donations] have been pretty stable, but getting people to campaign is much harder at the moment. People are just closed down.” But that’s simply not good enough. “What we’re really trying to do is change the rules of the world – that’s the only bit that is going to make a difference,” says Stocking. “We keep trying to explain to people that we are all in a global, interconnected world.
The economic crisis just showed how much we’re dependent on each other. We’re trying to explain that to people by saying, ‘Look, we want a better world because it’s actually good for us all.’” Stocking heads back through the airy atrium, where every few days staff gather for an update on the Horn of Africa’s critical situation. The sun streams in through the glass ceiling. “Sometimes I feel a lot like that old woman in a shoe,” she says, softening. “There are 800 people in this building, and each one needs attention in their own way.” Oxfam House may be nothing like a house. But in its own way, it’s every inch a home oxfam.org.uk 15
Dame Barbara Stocking Unvital Statistics
What is your earliest memory?
Who is your inspiration?
When did you last let yourself go?
Aged two at my aunt’s house, waiting for my mum to come back from hospital.
My parents. They were very engaged and concerned about the local community, which gave me an incredibly grounded start.
I recently had a week off. I absolutely don’t work when I’m on holiday, unless there’s an emergency, of course.
What do you want that you can’t have?
How much is enough?
Nothing that money can buy, although I wouldn’t mind learning to fly.
Oxfam has reduced my view of what’s enough. Ten years ago we were going to move to a bigger house but I quickly realised it wasn’t important.
What’s your signature dish? Ratatouille, with lots of tomatoey sauce. Which piece of music alters your state of mind? What are you searching for? Anything from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. It always makes me feel better.
I’m always looking to understand how people in other countries and cultures feel.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? The people I meet, especially staff on the ground in developing countries.
When was your last moment of clarity? When were you last surprised? When I spoke alongside a number of social entrepreneurs at MIT a couple of months ago.
I’m always surprised when we uncover fraud in the countries we work so hard in.
If you had to stay in one place, where would it be?
What does success look like to you?
What is your greatest extravagance?
A cottage in the Italian or French countryside, with access to lots of opera.
When the whole of the organisation really pulls together to do something, like battling the food crisis in East Africa.
An expensive London hairdresser. What do you see in the mirror? When did you last feel ashamed?
What do you want to be when you’re older?
When I was caught using a white lie to get out of going to something. Tell us a joke.
Enthusiastic. What was your greatest mistake? What is your biggest failure? Not having changed the world (yet).
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Someone who looks surprisingly grown-up. I still feel 16.
Not getting rid of people fast enough when they weren’t performing.
When I was with the NHS I received a report that someone had just got up and walked out of the mortuary. We all burst out laughing, though it was very serious, of course
Marc Koska is the British inventor behind a revolutionary syringe. Here, he offers his diagnosis of the problems facing health professionals in Africa.
Sticking Points Words by
Africa is a continent in the midst of a healthcare crisis. In spite of interventions from governments, businesses and NGOs, something is still fundamentally wrong. As the stats show, the big picture is daunting. No individual has the solution but, by focusing on a specific problem, one can have an impact. For Marc Koska, a British inventor and social entrepreneur, that problem was syringes. In the West, reusing a needle is inconceivable. Yet in parts of the developing world it happens daily, spreading disease and destroying lives. Realising that the best way to prevent reuse was to make it impossible, Koska designed the AD, or auto-disable syringe. In 1984, aged 23, Koska was living on the Caribbean island of St Croix. At the time, AIDS dominated the headlines, and when Koska stumbled across an article that described how reused needles spread the disease, it acted as a call-to-arms. At weekends, Koska crewed racing yachts, but it was his other job – making intricate murder scene models used in
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court cases – that held the key. He had no medical background, but his model-making work taught him to inhabit ideas in three dimensions. “When it came to designing the syringe, for three years I lay awake in bed every evening thinking,” he recalls. “I would just go into a state of being the plunger, or being the finger pushing it, working out what we needed to change.” The answer, he concluded, was as little as possible. To succeed, his product had to be as easy and cheap to manufacture as existing alternatives. Arriving at a design, the next step was to popularise it. With $1.2 million of funding, SafePoint, the campaigning organisation that Koska also heads, orchestrated a whirlwind week of awareness-raising across India in November 2008. Before the campaign, the Minister for Health refused to see him. Weeks later, the same minister mandated the use of AD syringes countrywide. Today, sights set on getting AD syringes into Africa, what is Koska’s take on the continent’s problems? “All I can
tell you is what I see travelling around,” he says. “In Africa, very basic building blocks are missing or running at a very ineffective level. How do you feel when you have diarrhoea? My contention would be that’s how every African feels every day. I don’t think it’s any great wonder that they’re not doing very well as entrepreneurs or building factories.” How has that been allowed to happen? Is he suggesting a failure of political and social infrastructure? “That’s right,” he says, “[the fault lies with] me along with everyone else on the planet.” The technology to guarantee safe injections exists and is affordable, so why isn’t it standard practice? It is because someone, somewhere is preventing it? “For me, the answer is transparency,” Koska states. “I’m not trying to stop people being corrupt. I’m just trying to shine a light on the ones being corrupt because that way we all know the truth. Then we can get on with [fixing] it.” safepointtrust.org
oundations Matt Bochenski Sarah Speake P h o t o g r a p h y b y Jillian Convey Introduction by Interview by
The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women uses a technology platform developed by Google to mentor aspiring businesswomen in the developing world. Here, its founder discusses her inspiration, methodology and favourite gadgets. In the mid-’90s, two women redrew the role of First Lady on either side of the Atlantic. In the US, Hillary Clinton became an integral part of her husband’s administration, while in the UK, Cherie Blair entered 10 Downing Street as a powerful, independent woman determined to pursue her own interests and career unhindered by husband Tony’s new job as Prime Minister. And why not? After graduating with first-class honours from the London School of Economics, Cherie became a barrister in 1976 and joined the select band of royally appointed Queen’s Counsels in ’95. She founded her own chambers focused on human rights five years later, and remained
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the family’s major breadwinner until Tony left office in 2007. The demise of New Labour marked a major shift for the Blairs. Released from the constraints of office, Cherie seized on her long association with women’s charities to set up the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The Foundation’s aim is to use technology to unlock the economic potential of women in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East by working alongside local NGOs and partners to help women grow their businesses and contribute to society. The idea is to develop skills, build confidence and establish networks that will offer women in developing
countries the targeted support they need to compete and succeed on their own. Although mobile internet channels and Google’s own ecosystem form a bedrock that can support growth and innovation, however, it’s people – not products – that will define the Foundation’s success, as Cherie herself explains.
“My interest in technology came from a mixture of necessity and coincidence. I was a barrister, writing all my opinions by longhand, which would then go into the chambers’ typing pool. When I went on maternity leave with my third child,
we had an accounts package that came into chambers and they threw in some Olivetti PCs and WordPerfect 5. I thought, ‘This is my opportunity – let’s see if I can work out how to use this word processing thing.’ Within two years I was chair of the Bar’s IT committee. I realised that technology really could transform my life because it made me much more self-sufficient and much more portable. “I thought, ‘If this works for me, surely it can work for women who aren’t as lucky as I am.’ So when I came out of Number 10 my initial idea was to use the internet to link up women. Then I thought, ‘How stupid!’ Because it’s easy to talk about the internet here, but if you’re in the middle of rural India or Africa, where you don’t have electric light, how are you going to get access to a computer and the internet? Then I realised the answer was obvious because it was there already – it’s the mobile phone.”
On Starting the Foundation
“When I came out of Number 10, I’d learned a number of things. One is that no one has a monopoly on wisdom. Secondly, you need to be sympathetic to the local conditions. There’s no point me telling you how to run your business in the Middle East, because how could I know the particular nuances? The thing is to work with people on the ground who are actually connected. There are so many charities in this sector that do fantastic work, but often the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. There must be a better way of sharing resources and coming together – not so that you’re swallowed up by a big predator; but so that you can work cooperatively. “That’s the idea of our business centres, where we partner with local NGOs. We can help them do what they’re doing better, get access to finance and also give them a sort of kite-mark. They become part of a community, a network, where people can be sure that there’s a basic level of quality. The Foundation itself has three core purposes: confidence, capability and capital for the businesswomen we’re trying to help.”
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On the Missing Middle
“I wanted to concentrate my efforts in a place where I could make a difference, and it was the ‘missing middle’ that seemed to me to be important. “If we’re talking about making sure women play their roles in development, you have to look for the leaders. The growth of business comes from SMEs, and yet we know that women who are represented in their thousands in microfinancing don’t make that leap [to starting a business]. They’re told by society that this is not their place – they don’t have the confidence in themselves to think that they can do it. This is the missing middle. “Of course, not everybody who has a small business has the capacity to grow it. That’s why we need our partners: because they can identify for us those women who they can’t help any longer but who, with intensive support from the Foundation, will have a chance to succeed and give back to their society by employing others.”
“A lot of people say to me, ‘There are women in business in the UK who could do with help. Why don’t you help them?’ The answer is because a lot of good organisations are already doing that – and I certainly have a lot of associations with them. “We work with people here by encouraging them to become mentors. So many women are worried about IT because they don’t know how to use it, so being able to access freely available Google tools is a fantastic start. But it’s not just a start for a woman in the Middle East; it’s actually also a start for someone here who wants to help a woman in the Middle East because you’re using common tools, you’ve got training to show you how to get the best out of your internet experience. “It’s also about expanding your world view – because there’s nothing like talking to someone and really having a relationship with them to get an idea of what it’s really like to live in Nablus in Palestine, or the Western Galilee in Israel,
or Bangladesh and Chittagong with the girls in university there.”
On Lessons Learned
“People wonder, ‘Does remote mentoring actually work?’ But this way, a man can mentor a woman in Palestine, for example, in a way that he couldn’t face-to-face. I’m not sure we really appreciated just how significant that might be until we did our first pilot. “The other thing we’ve learned is how to make it feel like a community. We’ve developed this matching software with Google [to place mentors with businesswomen], but at the end of the day, what counts is the human touch, which actually says, ‘I know that match says 92 percent but actually the 84 percent match is a better one…’ Many people have mentoring platforms with more technological whizzes and bells, but our platform is driven by the relationships.”
On the Future
“I’m determined that the twenty-first century is going to be the time when women and men reach that fabled equality that we’ve been seeking for so long. “We know what to do: we’ve got report after report after report that says investing in women makes sense; girls are doing better than boys at school, girls are doing better at university, and yet within five years of leaving university, a gap has opened up between girls’ earnings and boys’ earnings. “It all comes back to this question of work-life balance. Women always want to show that we can do it all, but the one thing I’ve learned is that nobody can do it all. The truth is, for generations men have known it’s not possible, so they’ve put all the nurturing, family things into a box labelled ‘wife’, and that way they pretend they can have it all, but of course they don’t. It has to be technology that helps us deal with that one, just as it was technology in the form of the vacuum cleaner or washing machine that enabled women to get into the workforce in the first place.”
Cherie on Cherie “It is difficult to juggle everything: there’s always a disaster around the corner waiting to drop on you. I’m really lucky – I have a supportive husband for a start.” “My mum used to play a huge part in supporting me, but now she’s 78 maybe it’s more my role to look after her than her to look after me.” “You have to accept that you can’t have it all. You have to prioritise and sometimes just accept that you can’t do everything, and not beat yourself up about it.” “I can’t be without my books.” “For a long, long time I was the main breadwinner in our household. Now I’m in a slightly strange position where [Tony’s] making more than me. I’m enjoying spending it on good things like my Foundation.” “I do like my gadgets. I’ve got an iPhone, an Android, an iPad, an eBook reader, a laptop and two desktops. I have Football Manager. Leo and I think we’re pretty good
The Knowledge Irish economist and journalist David McWilliams picks 10 ideas, trends, places and issues facing society today.
01 The Return
This book by Paul Krugman is wonderful. It’s very interesting because in order to understand what’s going on in Europe now, you’ve got to understand what went on in the ’20s and ’30s. We have two ways of dealing with debt: the first is the 1918 way, where you impose reparations and destabilise things; the second is the post-1945 way, the Marshall Plan, where you forgive debts and move on. We are making the mistake of imposing reparation terms that will destroy countries. The single biggest threat to the European Union isn’t Greece, Ireland, Portugal or Spain, but the European Central Bank itself.
02Cities Development Cities are the creative hubs of humanity. In many ways, the key for all of Europe is to create competitive cities, not competitive countries. Great European cities are designed around living spaces, where people come together and exchange ideas, where they can be creative and generate economic growth. Creativity comes from personal human contact. While the internet facilitates communication, it doesn’t obliterate that human need to be around other humans. That’s why I think cities consistently become magnets for talent and capital. It’s cities that create great countries.
If you want to get rid of slums, you’ve got to have an ideological shift – you’ve got to change your politics and become left-wing. You’ve got to become old-fashioned. You can’t use this, ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke,’ approach. You’ve got to get money from rich people and give it to poor people. Either you do it democratically, like in Britain, or you do it in a revolution, as they did in Russia. The last thing I believe is this nonsense that history is dead. The battles for resources, for power, for equality and fairness will continue.
The Japanese tsunami notwithstanding, we’re heading into a world of nuclear power, which is not very kosher to say in Europe. But if we’re running out of oil, and we are running out of oil, that has massive ramifications for how we live in the West and how we power ourselves. Ultimately, the big economic question is not about debt or money or exchange rates, it’s about energy: who controls it, who uses it and who values it so much they’ll go to war over it. 24 THINK PEOPLE
06 Punk Economics In the ’70s, music became really overblown and complex, and then, out of nowhere, The Sex Pistols and The Clash delivered music in a totally different way. There are similar trends in economics today. The idea of ‘punk economics’ is to strip economics down and deliver it in the same way that punk delivers music. It’s about changing the medium, not the message, and getting people interested. It’s like ‘gamifying’ – making things more accessible, democratic and open. That’s the key to everything.
Europe is sailing into very choppy waters and this concerns me. I think the Euro will probably break up. I believe Ireland will have a period of rapid inflation, as will most of peripheral Europe, in order to get rid of the debts that we’ve built up over the last couple of years. I also believe the debts are not ours to pay. Ireland’s banks took on a lot of debt; we shouldn’t pay it back as citizens. We’ve got to stand up to creditors and seek common cause with other small European countries. At the moment we’re being bullied by France and Germany to an extent that doesn’t enhance Europe; it actually undermines it. That’s not what families are supposed to do.
Every year I do a political cabaret at the Electric Picnic festival – the biggest rock event in Ireland. And I’m reading a lot about Bob Geldof because I’ve got to interview him there this year. When I was a child growing up in Ireland, Bob Geldof was so rock ’n’ roll. I wrote a book about the year that punk came to Ireland. At the time, there were two cultural forces in the country – there was the Pope, and then there was Bob Geldof. He embodied protest, revolution and anti-authority to the younger me. He’s a visionary and a leader.
US 09 Football
The world is beginning to look increasingly like Latin America in the 1980s. The United States, with its huge debts and credit lines with China, is behaving like an emerging market. It’s very clear that China is waltzing up a cul-de-sac – the more money it lends to America, the less it’s going to get back. The ramifications for a world where America becomes less and less important are enormous. At the moment China is unwilling, not unable, to take a lead role as global policeman, but that won’t continue indefinitely. They’re buying the world with a chequebook, but over time they’ll have to project their power in a different way and that will result in direct conflict with the US.
The recent Barcelona versus Hadjuk Split game was a great cultural clash. Over the last century, Hadjuk Split has come to embody Croatian nationalism in the same way that Barcelona embodies Catalan nationalism. Because of corruption, poverty and the war, Croatian teams have ended up simply providing their best talent for foreign capital. Football is a good metaphor for how the world works: it’s a global phenomenon in which rich countries extract resources from poorer countries, and ultimately this is leading to instability around the world.
Last year I had a one-man show about the state of Ireland at the Abbey Theatre, called Outsiders. The theme was how small countries like Ireland split in a crisis; not between rich and poor, or young and old, or men and women, or country and city, but between insiders and outsiders: those people on the inside – who have power or access to power – and those who don’t. The idea was to deliver economics through a different medium. The spoken word is much more powerful than cyberspace in terms of how it impacts on people as a visceral, emotional and physical experience 25
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Google Vice President of Product Bradley Horowitz offers his perspective on the launch of Google+ and the potential of the ‘people web’ to make our lives better. When I first got involved in the internet in the mid-’90s, it was just a collection of web pages created from scratch with online consumption in mind. Then, with the rise of what was called ‘web 2.0’, it expanded to include all sorts of media that was previously the exclusive realm of the offline world: videos, pictures, live performances, news and more. And in the past five years we’ve begun yet another phase in the evolution of the
internet, something we can loosely call the ‘people web’. This period has been marked by the rise of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, standing on the shoulders of earlier successes such as MySpace and Friendster. At Google, people-related searches have always been one of our most popular categories, and we work hard to understand that when someone types or speaks ‘John Smith’ into the Google search box, it’s a
person they’re searching for and not just a string of characters. We’re getting pretty good at it, but the advent of the people web gives us a chance to do much, much more. And this isn’t true just for Google. The rise of social networks, and the rich set of information they contain about people, their connections and their preferences (what we call the ‘social graph’), has the potential to make the entire web better.
The internet is already pretty awesome, but it’s also created a whole bunch of problems that we never had before. Focus, for one. Social networks are great when you only have a few dozen friends, but when that number is a few hundred, your update stream becomes a torrent. Sharing is another. There are dozens of ways to share things online; so many that it’s become a very confusing experience. My work friends are different from my school friends. When I walk into a bar, it’s different from when I walk into a church. There’s a nuance to relationships that’s hard to capture online. And privacy is obviously important. When people are putting their entire lives online, they should be fully aware of who can see what, and they have to remain in full control. In my job, we often ask ourselves, ‘What should the internet be doing for people that it’s not doing today?’ It should be improving people’s lives by leaps and bounds, helping them spend more time on what’s important, helping them establish
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deeper, more meaningful connections. Eric Schmidt likes to say that with the internet you should never be bored, because you can always find your friends online, make new friends and see what’s most interesting to you right now. The people web presents us with a great opportunity not only to give people their lives back, but also to let them do things that were previously impossible. The Google+ project, which we launched in June, is the beginning of our effort to put people at the centre of all Google products. This is essential to our mission: information is inseparable from the people who create it, react to it and pass it along. Or, to put it in the context of my earlier example, if you actually know John Smith, then when you do a search for him we may return very different results for you than for someone who doesn’t know him – like photos from his recent holiday. The same goes for ads, email, YouTube and our other services: understanding people and the social graph can make all of them better. With Google+, we’re starting to chip
“The internet should be improving people’s lives by leaps and bounds, helping them spend more time on what’s important, and establish deeper, more meaningful connections.”
away at some of the big problems that the web has created. Circles bring real-life nuance to online sharing, and give you granular control over the updates you see in your Stream. Hangouts are a whole new way to casually meet up with friends – it’s like Cheers for the web. Sparks pulls interesting content from around the web about stuff you care about. The Mobile app makes it brain-dead easy to share what’s around you right now (and makes sure that pictures aren’t locked in your phone forever). We’re doing all this while paying close attention to people’s privacy. This is a big challenge, not just for Google but for practically any internet company today. People need to have complete control over what’s private and what’s public, and they need more ways to let us know how we’re doing in this regard. When we first launched Google+, our users let us know that it was pretty easy to re-share stuff that was only supposed to go to a particular Circle. So we quickly put in a feature to warn people about that and let them disable re-sharing.
“Over 65,000 people have me in their Circles, and as my profile is open for comments, I get to hear new ideas from them all the time. This creates real intimacy between me and my users.”
What’s great is that we’re using Google+ to get feedback like this all the time. Over 65,000 people have me in their Circles, and as my profile is open for comments, I get to hear new ideas from them all the time. This creates real intimacy between me and my users, and it helps them to see that Google isn’t a nameless facade, but real people trying to make great products. Sometimes I start Hangouts so we can interact directly. One night last week I talked, face-to-face, with people from Bulgaria, Singapore and Vietnam, all from my living room in Palo Alto. Isn’t that extraordinary? Or maybe not. We’re hearing all sorts of stories about people using Google+ to make new connections. Vic Gundotra, who leads our social efforts, told me a great anecdote. A few weeks ago he was checking out his Stream and saw a post from Chee Chew, an engineer in our Kirkland office. Chee wondered whether Hangouts could be useful for deaf people to chat online with sign language. ‘That’s interesting’, Vic thought, so he re-shared it. Soon, 200 other people had shared it, and by the next afternoon Chee was in touch with a computer scientist in the Midwest who was already working on tools to make it happen. That’s cool. There are more: a surgical consult between Kentucky and New York conducted via Hangouts; people in the military connecting with loved ones back home; concerts on Hangouts; a crowdsourced Google+ user guide translated into German, Chinese and Russian. I’m sure stories like this aren’t limited to Google+, since our competitors are also helping people all over the world do great things on the people web. But hopefully we’re pushing them with some of our innovations, and I’m sure they’ll push back with some of their own. And so our project continues. We have a richly competitive field, millions of people giving us great ideas and using our products in ways we never considered, and an environment that can make people’s lives better all around the world. There’s so much to do, and so few hours in the day. I think I’m going to go Hangout for a while. Care to join me?
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ower eople to the
Digital engagement expert Meg Pickard reveals the secret to building better online communities. Meg Pickard Fernando Volken Togni
Words by ILLUSTRATIONs by
Near my house is the stop where I catch a bus every morning to get to work. I’m not alone. Every day, there are half a dozen people already standing in line, glancing at their watches or variously lost in books, music, or the morning papers. I join the queue and more people join behind me until finally the bus comes and the journey begins. Is this group of people a community?
We share a common location, motivation and cultural understanding (we know how important it is to form a queue), but we’re not (yet) a community – the relationship that we have isn’t with each other but with the service provider, in this case the bus company. Whenever we think of a group as a community, stop and check: if it’s a group
of people with lots in common, but without interactivity or interrelationships, perhaps what we actually mean is an audience or demographic. In the digital environment, companies have more opportunities than ever to find ways to encourage the people formerly known as the ‘audience’ to ﬂourish into communities of common interest, circumstance and, best of all from a commercial point-ofview, action. Digital engagement has become the voguish term for some wellestablished skills in this area: community management and organisation, digital communication and participation planning, social product development and strategy. It’s a catch-all term describing diﬀerent kinds of participation in and around digital products. It touches tools and technologies as well as skills, approaches and policies. My role as Head of Digital Engagement at Guardian News and Media in London is about exploring and supporting new forms of interactivity and participation, as well as ‘digital praxis’ – realising our desire for alternative forms of storytelling and collaboration brought to life through new platforms and skills. Although I’ve been working in digital content for well over 14 years, my
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background is in social anthropology. In the mid-’90s, I found myself a world away from the early internet boom, in highland Bolivia, doing ethnographic fieldwork on the subject of community formation, identity and the small daily rituals that signified belonging to a particular cultural group – the equivalents of raising a glass and saying ‘cheers’ when drinking with friends. If I, an outsider, could adopt the habits and rituals of a community group, would that make me part of the community? Of course not. Community is more complicated than that, isn’t it? After spending time in Bolivia, I started looking at similar issues of community formation and rituals in what was then called ‘cyberspace’. My dissertation supervisor told me dismissively that there was no such thing as community online, and I’d be better oﬀ going back to South America. The university now teaches courses in digital anthropology. It may seem like a strange transition – from the Bolivian Altiplano to the cutting edge of the internet – but social anthropology has always been about understanding people, relationships, social structures, patterns of behaviour and beliefs, and how they impact, reinforce and challenge cultures and communities.
Through that lens, people’s activities, relationships and social groupings online are just as valid and interesting as those in the ‘real’ world. Behind those hundreds of millions of screens are real people, in real communities. Social activity online is an extension of community and socialisation, and it challenges as well as extends our social literacy, norms and identities. Since the internet is powered by people, what better place is there for an anthropologist? During my first few years online, I wasn’t really using my anthropological training a lot. As a producer and editor for a global internet company, most of my time was spent creating content and products for audiences. But in the evenings, I was sharing photos, meeting up with fellow bloggers and hanging out online. When the world started to wake up to social media around 2004, I was already experienced; immersed in that world but with the business insight and analysis that came from my anthropologist’s brain. What looked like a hobby became a career in online communities, social media and now digital engagement. Engaging in the social web as a creator and community member, not just a detached observer, has made it easier for me to understand what’s
BECOMING A TRULY SOCIAL MEDIA ORGANISATION MEANS THINKING DIFFERENTLY. HERE ARE FIVE SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO HELP SOCIAL MEDIA HELP YOU. 1. Commission, write, edit and curate with the web in mind.
going on in that world, because it’s my world, too. Corporate research and customer insight teams are very good at helping staﬀ understand the makeup and movements of audiences on site, but on external social media platforms like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and so on, there’s no substitute for spending time with the communities, talking and listening to them in order to understand them better. Anthropologists might call this ‘participant observation’, but it’s basically just hanging out, meeting people and paying attention. It doesn’t just open doors in terms of access to communities, it opens your mind to what motivates, delights and displeases them, which means you can make better products and services; things that actually solve user issues and fill customer needs. They may not be your (only) customers, but you can learn a lot from spending time with them in their space. Too often companies embark on social media strategies that emphasise broadcasting to a community rather then engaging with it. My motto is ‘embrace, don’t replace’. Don’t bend a service such as Twitter to your will, or treat it as an extension of your own site. Be aware of the
norms and etiquette of the communities you are engaging with. Listen more than you talk, be prepared to learn from your community members – and let that change what you do in future. That’s a truly social media approach. Nor can you magic a community into being. They already exist and have established ideas, membership, motivations and ways of working. Think about how you can work with those established groups, and help them do what they want to do. Act as a platform or a way of enhancing their activities rather than trying to get them to do something that only suits you. The best communities enable people (including businesses) to engage in contexts of mutual interest, for mutual benefit. In the Guardian community standards, we say, ‘The platform belongs to us but the conversation belongs to everybody’. This ‘mutualised’ approach is something that we’re seeing across the media landscape. It drives loyalty and personal investment in a story (or brand, or product), and makes people more likely to share their participation in it with their social graph megpickard.com
2. Anticipate and plan for likely interaction. Is this a conversation? How would you like people to respond? Sometimes you need to invite particular kinds of contributions. If you think your content has the potential to get feisty, tell the moderators in advance and keep an eye on it yourself. 3. Participate and encourage participation. Keep an eye on conversations you start and get involved where relevant and possible. Invite particular perspectives and tease out interesting kernels into new ideas and conversations. 4. Recognise and reward quality contributions. Give attention and praise to things that are constructive or interesting. Don’t reward negative behaviour with attention. 5. Keep it up! Try and build some digital engagement activity into your daily routine, even if it’s just running Twitter in the background and reading/responding to comments once in a while.
Once Words by
Andrea Kurland Matthew Green
Upon a Time in Hackney In a corner of east London, Nick Hornby’s Ministry of Stories is turning strangers into neighbours while integrating new-fangled tech with old-school imagination.
They say the best ideas are the simplest ones. But actually, the best ideas are the ones that spring to life. Nick Hornby gets this. Over the past few months, the bestselling novelist has seen the transformative impact that a simple idea can have – provided people stop talking and start doing. In 2009, the celebrated writer, whose cult classic Fever Pitch birthed a new kind of pop canon, sat down with art entrepreneurs Lucy McNab and Ben Payne for one of those ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ chats. Over coffee, they nattered excitedly about 826 Valencia – the San Francisco-based writing project founded by indie author Dave Eggers in 2002. Disguised as a Pirate Supply Store (a ploy to gain rental space in the Mission District’s retail zone), 826 became a way to connect local children with a pool of creative professionals who worked on their doorstep but never crossed their paths. Today, the 826 movement has gone viral, boasting writing labs in eight cities across the US. So, could it work in the UK? Hornby, Payne and McNab agreed it was worth a shot. “It’s one of those brilliantly simple ideas,” says Hornby, “putting editors, illustrators and writers together in a room with local kids. Naturally you think, ‘Why hasn’t it been done before?’ But I think it took the singular imagination of a particular person – that being Dave – to see how you could put different sections of the community together.”
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Within a year, the trio had corralled enough financial backing and manpower to get their 826-offshoot, the Ministry of Stories (MoS), off the ground. In November 2010, The Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Store – the first of what they hope will be many MoS writing labs – opened its doors, offering storytelling workshops for local kids. “I was surprised by the enthusiasm,” admits Hornby. “The internet has really helped; Twitter means you can muster volunteers incredibly quickly, in a way that would have taken a lot longer before.” Housed on an ordinary high street in Hackney, east London, this flagship emporium, stocking jars of Mortal Terror and Thickest Human Snot, has become a conduit between two disparate yet neighbouring worlds. Young professionals may know the borough by way of its many gentrified haunts, but it also has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country. “We’re in an interesting part of London,” explains Hornby. “There are so many technology start-ups around Old Street, it’s being dubbed ‘Silicon Roundabout’. We can benefit from that, by virtue of being a few hundred yards away from where a lot of the UK’s innovations are happening. The more things there are like the Ministry of Stories, which actually encourages all members of a community to walk through a door and mingle, the better off we’ll be.”
So is this fantastical world, where children are authors and professionals mere guides, a comment on our education system? “We’re not replacing schools and we don’t think schools are doing a bad job, whatsoever,” he says. “I just think a different perspective, from people who have put their creativity to some kind of practical use, can give children a sense of possibility.” And when it comes to possibility, where do stories fit in? What good are tall tales in a world that bows down to data and hard facts? “Storytelling is at the centre of an awful lot of things we do,” says Hornby. “It’s there when you’re sitting in the pub telling a story, or reading a paper, and we shape narratives naturally if something has happened to us in our day. Technology is going to become a very important part of what we do; it’s a very important part of literacy today, with reading online, e-books and so on. “And writing isn’t just about writing books. Writing is about songs and films and TV shows and games; these are all parts of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century. If we can make people feel that storytelling and writing is always going to be a relevant part of their lives, then that would be success for me.” ministryofstories.org
From Cash to Contentment Is wellbeing about to take the place of GDP as the arbiter of economic health? Those in the know – including godfather of wellbeing Joseph Stiglitz – offer their expert insights. Words by
Teaching British civil servants how to be happy is not what you’d expect from a Pennsylvania professor of psychology. But helping Whitehall understand wellbeing is precisely what Marty Seligman was doing this summer in London. Seligman has a history of getting into tricky places. The positive psychology expert was hired by the US Army to develop a ‘resilience programme’ to help soldiers cope better with the stress of combat. Now he’s trying to help the rest of the world become content. And governments are listening. As recession bites hard in the major economies, governments are trying to find new ways of judging their societies – not by the amount of money they generate, but by the happiness of their citizens. In February 2012, experts from the world’s most developed countries will gather in Paris for a key summit on the issue. The brightest minds are spending time, money and effort trying to make something they don’t fully understand yet actually work. “You cannot capture happiness on a spreadsheet,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. So why bother at all? Until now, our lives have been ruled by one measure: gross domestic product, or
GDP. A recession, for instance, is defined as two consecutive quarterly falls in GDP – but what does that actually mean? The idea of a single number to show a country’s economic power came from US economist Simon Kuznets. It was 1937, and the US was emerging from the Great Depression. Kuznets’ idea, presented to Congress that year, was simple: measure all production by companies, people and government. That would give a big number that represented everything the economy produced. It would go up in good times, and down in bad. What GDP misses, however, is arguably more important than what it includes. Robert Kennedy argued that GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” Even Kuznets agreed that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.” And it is a perverse measure. Because GDP is all about production, it doesn’t take
account of the state of the environment, inequality between rich and poor, the value of an individual economy’s assets, and how sustainable the growth actually is. If you have a major disaster, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for instance, it will actually have a positive effect on GDP as the economy works to recover. It is the baleful influence of GDP that motivates the godfather of wellbeing, Professor Joseph Stiglitz. The Nobel Prize-winning former World Bank Chief Economist and Columbia professor points out that an obsession with GDP actually helped push the US into the housing bubble that burst so spectacularly. “In the years before the crisis, many people in Europe were saying they ought to follow the American model as GDP growth was greater. As an American, I was a little bit sensitive to some of the weak points – the fact that most Americans were worse off year by year, our growth was based on a bubble and prices were distorted,” he says. “That was quite a dramatic illustration because now people realise the growth the US had was not sustainable and was going to only a small group of the population. Today, you don’t hear that argument much.”
The answer is to measure something else – but something broader than ‘happiness’. Happiness is intangible; wellbeing, on the other hand, is measurable in the same way that our economy is. It was French president Nicolas Sarkozy who asked Stiglitz to look at other ways to measure how well a nation was doing as part of the country’s presidency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Wellbeing is now being examined in the US, Canada, Australia, France, Italy and Spain. There are parliamentary commissions looking into the issue in Germany, Norway and Denmark. The OECD has also launched its Better Life Index, where users can go online to compare countries across a range of indicators from wealth and crime to housing and inequality. In the UK, David Cameron has taken a personal interest in the issue, ordering national statistician Jill Matheson of the Office for National Statistics to organise a £2 million-a-year project to work out how to measure wellbeing. The UK project is led by policy wonk David Halpern, a key part of Cameron’s Downing Street brain trust and head of the Behavioural Insight Team. Halpern previously worked for Tony Blair’s Labour administration. While Tony Blair debated the issue and ordered research, very little actually happened. But Cameron, watching from the Opposition benches, took it all in. Halpern says the project “has a profoundly democratic element to it because it’s driven by what people really want. Only a small part of your life is spent in paid employment,” he adds. “When we spend time with our friends or watch TV, those things are very consequential but we don’t measure them.” For Jill Matheson, it’s a chance to make a difference. The ONS has already started surveying 200,000 people about their level of fulfilment, anxiety and stress – the socalled ‘subjective’ measures – in its annual Integrated Household Survey. She has also produced a major report into how to look at ‘objective’ measures – wealth, income, childhood and inequality. In October this year, the ONS will produce a detailed report on how it proposes to measure these factors.
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Matheson dismisses the media’s verdict that this subject is ‘woolly’. “It puzzles me,” she says. “I don’t know what is woolly about asking people about their lives; you can measure these things. When people start seeing results, that label will disappear.” Marty Seligman agrees that it can be measured “about as well as schizophrenia, depression and alcoholism. [It’s] far from perfect, but psychometrically respectable.” But it seems unlikely that we will ever get a single ‘happiness index’ – one number that shows how happy we all are in the way GDP shows our wealth. Not least because the international community could never agree on one. “We’re a long way off a single indicator,” says Matheson.
“Happiness is intangible; wellbeing is measurable in the same way that our economy is.” Stiglitz agrees, and doesn’t believe there should ever be one. “No single indicator would be adequate to describe what’s going on,” he says. “If you were driving, you might want to know two things: how fast you’re going, say 50 miles per hour; and how far you can go without running out of petrol, say 150 miles. While each of those two numbers is individually very meaningful, if you add them together you would have a figure that was totally meaningless.” But how can you get politicians and – more importantly – their treasuries to take notice? According to David Halpern, having a wellbeing measure could have a powerful influence on policy. For example, take moves by central government in the UK to cut costs by closing post offices. “Post offices are expensive, so the answer has been to shut them down. But do they do
something else, which we don’t capture?” Halpern asks. Confounding the suggestion that the wellbeing debate is an idea for the rich West, Stiglitz argues that it is even more important for developing nations. For instance, a company destroying a country’s environment could help pump up that country’s GDP, while leaving very little money going back into the economy, and damaging the national wellbeing. “Some of the biggest disparities between GDP and wellbeing occur in developing countries,” he says. Marty Seligman, whose positive psychology theories are also being trialled in three British schools, says the moves are encouraging but may not go far enough. Talking about the UK in particular, he says: “Number 10 is seriously interested in the measurement of wellbeing and the possibility of judging public policy by its effect. It is scientifically informed, which is a good first step. But wellbeing for a nation, or flourishing for an individual, is more than just the subjective judgment of life satisfaction.” This is Seligman’s PERMA theory: Positive Emotion; Engagement; Relationships; Meaning and Accomplishment. Ask the wellbeing experts what makes them happy and the answers are diverse. For Jill Matheson, it’s seeing her football team, Derby County, win (“Which probably implies that I’m a pretty miserable bugger”). For Marty Seligman, it’s the fact that he’s about to watch The Sound of Music at home with his family and then play internet bridge. And Joseph Stiglitz? Family, of course, and work – he’s just back from a high-level visit to crisis-ridden Greece, Egypt and Spain. “One of the things that money contributes most to my wellbeing is the security that it gives me,” he says, “especially when I compare myself to people who are at the margin. I see their constant struggle to make ends meet, and how absorbing it is of their energies.” But what does he do to relax? Photography, it turns out. “I like taking pictures,” he says. Then he laughs. “But I don’t have time.”
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The People’s Revolution At the start of the year, the Arab Spring saw protests sweep through the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt, the ‘Facebook revolution’ was powered by a unique coming-together of people and technology. Matthew Lee travelled to Cairo to meet one of those people caught up in the protests Google’s Wael Ghonim.
Matthew Lee Sam Christmas
When it comes to selecting the most iconic images of Egypt’s revolution, several shots enter the frame. It’s hard to forget the shocking pictures of thugs on camels attacking peaceful protesters in Tahrir Square or, a couple of weeks later on the same spot, the hugs, smiles, flags and fireworks that greeted Hosni Mubarak’s resignation after three decades in power. But perhaps the most powerful image is a blurry freeze-frame from a TV show – a close-up of a man sitting on a sofa and crying. On February 7, the guest on Mona el-Shazly’s popular talk show Al Ashira Masa’an, not usually a platform for dissent, had just been released from prison. Tired and vulnerable after 12 days of detention, Wael Ghonim repeatedly pledged his loyalty to his country and insisted that Egypt’s revolutionaries were peaceful people with honourable intentions. As photos of some of those killed by pro-government forces were shown to him, he broke down and wept. “I want to tell every mother and father who lost a son that I’m sorry, but it’s not our fault,” he said, his voice cracking. “It’s the fault of those who have clung to power for so long and won’t let go.” Moments after he walked off stage, a message circulated on Twitter: ‘The regime in Egypt was just demolished live on TV by a 30-year-old man’s tears.’ A quarter of a million people joined a new Facebook group: ‘I authorise Wael Ghonim to speak on behalf of young Egyptian revolutionaries.’ But he had no intention of being their leader. Six months after he was interviewed on Dream TV, Ghonim – a Google marketing manager who is now on sabbatical – finds himself in an apartment in Al Rehab, 20 minutes from downtown Cairo. He’s talking with conviction about how the revolution happened and why it was necessary. But it’s with even greater conviction that he downplays his own role in the uprising. This wasn’t a revolution led by a single, charismatic individual. It was a leaderless
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“If you block people from accessing Facebook, it raises a flag that you’re scared [...] It reassured us that the people were strong.”
movement that used the internet to galvanise millions of Egyptians. But it began with the death of one man. In the summer of 2010, 28-yearold Khaled Said was killed in police custody. The photographs of his body that circulated online became a symbol of endemic police brutality. In response, Ghonim, acting alongside two others and taking the pseudonym ‘El-Shaheeed’ (‘The Martyr’), set up a Facebook page called ‘We are all Khaled Said’. It soon became a focal point for the growing unrest. It was on that page that the first ‘Silent Stands’ were organised – political flashmobs designed to send a sharp message to those in power. Participants, having received the details on Facebook, stood five metres apart to circumnavigate a ban on protests. They stood silently for a few minutes before going home without having said a word. Within a few weeks, the protests were taking place in towns and cities across Egypt, and throughout the Arab world. “It was proof you could bring the internet to the streets,” says Ghonim, who had been quick to realise the potential of the internet as a mobilising tool. “Lots of political analysts, particularly in the West, argue that the internet can’t help movements on the ground; that it can facilitate contacts between pre-existing groups but that a virtual group can’t cross over into the real world. We proved this wrong.” As the movement gained momentum, there was talk among Mubarak’s advisers of shutting down the social network, a ploy that Ghonim is sure would have backfired. “If you block people from accessing Facebook, it raises a flag that you’re scared,” he says. That is exactly what happened when the regime finally pulled the plug on January 27, two days after Ghonim organised a huge demonstration in Tahrir Square. “Banning Facebook on January 27 helped us,” he admits. “It reassured us that the people were strong and the regime was
“Political analysts in the West argue that the internet can’t help movements on the ground. We proved this wrong.” 45
scared, so more people took to the streets. At that point, a lot of the people just watching and monitoring what was going on became convinced that they needed to be part of the action, while others who had been scared started to become more selfconfident because they saw that the regime was weaker than they thought. I tweeted on January 27 that a government that is scared of Facebook and Twitter should govern a country like Farmville. If they’re scared of their own people, then they’re doing something wrong.” Newly emboldened by events in Tunisia, where President Ben Ali had recently been deposed, the talk among Egyptian activists turned from reform to revolution. “I asked people on the [Facebook] page if we could get hundreds and thousands on the streets,” Ghonim recalls, “and the comments were, like, ‘Let’s do it!’ and ‘We’re ready to die!’” Other activist groups in Egypt chose to protest alongside them. It was going to be a united show of strength – much more than just another protest. On January 25, around 50,000 people across Egypt took to the streets; within four days it was closer to a million. On the evening of January 27, Ghonim tweeted: ‘It seems the government is planning a war crime against the people tomorrow. We are all ready to die.’ The following morning, while hailing a taxi, he was taken by state security. The authorities had one man behind bars, but by now the revolution had a momentum of its own. “On January 25, the Facebook page was instrumental,” Ghonim says, “but from January 28, I had no control over it. There was no central management, nobody telling people what to do.” As the uprising grew, his Twitter prediction turned out to be accurate – the state resorted to violence. By the time of the TV interview, the fear factor was creeping back in. Mubarak was prepared for a fight, and people were nervous about the prospect of a long period of instability when the economy was already so weak. But in that interview, Ghonim helped
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“The internet played a critical role in sparking the first event. Without that it would have been very hard [to succeed].”
win over mainstream opinion, giving greater legitimacy to an increasingly broad movement. The mood across Egypt was changing. They had to keep fighting until Mubarak stepped down. Looking back, how important does he think the role played by technology was to the revolution? Could the Egyptian people have succeeded even 10 years ago? “Ten years ago people were not as angry as they are today,” Ghonim replies, “but the internet certainly played a critical role in sparking the first event – and without that it would have been very hard [to succeed]. The idea was that if thousands of people break the fear, tens of thousands will join them and hundreds of thousands will follow, then millions. The question was how to get thousands of people on the streets without access to the mainstream media [to spread the message]. The internet assumed the role of the mainstream media and played a critical role in sparking the revolution.” While acknowledging the importance of Facebook and Twitter, however, Ghonim strikes a note of caution when assessing the role they should play in future uprisings. “I think it’s important that tech companies take a neutral role,” he says. “They shouldn’t support ‘x’ over ‘y’, even if ‘y’ is clearly evil and ‘x’ is good. The best thing is to give people technology and let them sort it out themselves. You don’t need to tell them what they should be doing. That’s why we were successful.” As he gets up to leave, there’s just time to ask him about the flip side of social media – what Evgeny Morozov calls ‘the dark side of internet freedom’ – its capacity to be used as a tool of control and misinformation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ghonim remains an optimist, retaining some of the Silicon Valley utopianism that has become the hallmark of his generation. “In the twenty-first century, the more you make restrictions, the more you are vulnerable,” he argues. “The more open you are, the better it will be for you. In the long run, the idea of controlling the internet isn’t an ideology that’s sustainable.”
Savage race G Interview by
Cyrus Shahrad Shonagh Rae
Through her controversial work teaching language to bonobos, Dr Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is challenging the assumptions that underpin our idea of society.
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For more than half her life, 64-year-old Dr Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has waged a tireless campaign to break the language barrier separating humans from bonobos – the great ape species native to the Congo with which humans share 98 percent of our genetic makeup. Savage-Rumbaugh’s work has taken her from the language department at Georgia State University to Iowa’s Great Ape Trust, and has made celebrities of her most famous charges – Kanzi and Panbanisha, whose abilities to drive golf carts and play Pac-Man have garnered millions of views on YouTube. But it’s the more serious issue of ending the linguistic isolation of our ‘lost brothers’ that concerns Savage-Rumbaugh – named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world this year – and it’s a subject that has made her a figure of considerable controversy, both for those who deem apes incapable of anything beyond mimicry, and those determined to maintain a human dominion over the linguistic world. “People are very unsettled by apes, and understandably so,” Savage-Rumbaugh
says. “We fear the beast in ourselves, and for a long time that was something we projected onto primitive people. Then ethnographers went to live with indigenous people and said, ‘Wait, they’re like us, they just have a different culture.’ “The same is true of apes: apes can recognise themselves in mirrors, they can draw, they have a sense of creativity and a reflective notion of ‘self ’ similar to humans. No matter how intelligent a dog or a monkey is, they don’t demonstrate that same intelligence. So one has to ask: if we’re going to draw the line between humans and animals, then shouldn’t apes be on the side with humans, and the rest of the animal kingdom on the other? “Right now the only real barrier is one of communication. Bonobos communicate at a higher frequency, and the transition between their consonants and vowels is very difficult for us to hear. We use a programme that converts human speech into lexigrams [symbols that represent words but are not necessarily indicative of the objects referenced by them] that bonobos understand and use to communicate back
via a touch screen. If we could change the parameters so that it recognised bonobo vocalisations that were repetitive – when they make multiple attempts to say ‘apple’, for example – then we would have an application that allows for running translations of what they say to us and viceversa. At that point there’s no reason why our two cultures shouldn’t co-exist. “I’m not looking to achieve what you might call ‘racial integration’,” SavageRumbaugh adds, “just for apes to be treated with dignity and respect. But it’s not only apes that we’ve kept in the closet: it’s the same with children who have learning disabilities, for example. Anyone with whom we can’t adequately communicate doesn’t sit properly in human society. But there’s a great reward for people who make time to break down those barriers, because individuals who haven’t conformed to society often have a capacity to love without qualification or condition. I feel we and bonobos could learn so much from each other. We’re both limping along as injured species, and if we could put the best of both of us together, we could be superhuman.”
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The mobile phone is no longer just a communication device – it’s our most personal computer. While its original benefit came from providing a basic channel of access to personal contacts, the addition of functionality in the form of apps and the mobile web have squeezed actual communication down to a much smaller percentage of our activity. Phones no longer merely connect us to people; as their available features grow more complex, customisable and personal, they connect us to ourselves. The Homegrown community was assembled from Googlers in 19 countries. They met online over a month-long period to discuss what their mobile means to them, and what we can learn from mobile use in different cultures, both in terms of differences and unexpected similarities. The community found, for example,
considerably advanced mobile commerce systems in three markets – Japan, Brazil and Kenya – which otherwise share very little in terms of technological evolution. The unifying theme? Whether driven by the embrace of technology, population density or necessity, it’s clear that we’re relying on our phones to fulfil ever more various and individual functions. This steady metamorphosis from the mobile device as single-purpose caterpillar to multi-functional, self-reflexive butterfly dates back to the first camera phones, with the revolutionary idea that the item we used to communicate could prove a useful tool for other purposes. But it’s been the arrival of the third-party application system, and the subsequent influx of creative talent into spaces like Android Market, which have enabled more
and more functionality. Today, we use our phones for everything from accessing navigation and transportation data, to finding sports results and recipes, to playing games like Angry Birds, and even organising our personal finances. With greater functionality comes an enhanced ability to make your phone your own. Where customisation used to be limited to fancy wallpapers or a favourite ringtone, today there’s a whole galaxy of apps and features to make your phone highly personalised. And as they grow even more customisable and complex, we’ll be able to adapt them into digital self-portraits that are both personal and social. Sherry Turkle is the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and the author of several books on the ‘subjective side’ of people’s relationships
The Mobile Metamorphosis Words by
From communication device to our most personal computer – mobile technology now connects us not just to each other, but to ourselves. But where is the evolution of the smartphone taking us? This article is the product of research done within Google Homegrown, a digital community of 100 early adopters from inside Google’s employee ranks around the world. Homegrown was set up by Google’s Market Insights team, in conjunction with market researchers Brainjuicer and Contagious Insider, the consultancy division of Contagious magazine.
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with technology, including The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, first published in 1984. “When I wrote Second Self, I acknowledged the ways in which computers could be seen as an extension of ourselves,” she says. “With the cell phone, we’ve gone one step further. The way we can build and customise our phones around our interests and hobbies – whether you’re a foodie or a gamer or a social butterfly – is another way of constructing technology, so in essence it becomes a reflection of yourself.” There’s a demand for even more customisation, too, as early adopters of mobile technology become more vocal about wanting these digital devices to continue to solve problems that they already encounter in their everyday lives. “I would like to see more apps that simplify my daily life on the go: paying bills, accessing online banking, viewing credit card transactions and so forth,” one Homegrown respondent said. And so the mobile device undergoes a second metamorphosis, this time into the everything device. The desire to inject more of our everyday lives into the mobile phone might go some way towards explaining why, despite several years of innovation, owners remain so preoccupied with their device’s battery life – convinced that it still isn’t good enough. It’s something that device and app manufacturers find that they must continually address. Early adopters like those in the Homegrown community often take things into their own hands, establishing elaborate systems in order to keep their phones alive. Using a variety of third-party apps, they took care to manage things like Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, switching off power-draining apps temporarily and even managing their phone’s brightness setting. Yet somehow, they say, many are still forced to charge their battery every night. Meanwhile, with the mobile device occupying an amorphous space that simultaneously encompasses work, family and social life, users set their own boundaries and rules for exactly who gets contacted and through which of the phone’s many communication channels. Some of us use chat for work purposes; others for friends.
Work colleagues are email only – never voice calls. Families can be texted or, very occasionally, called. “I use chat during my commute,” explained one Homegrowner. “IM is great for catching up and it helps me multi-task – I may not be able to have six phone calls concurrently, but I can certainly have six IM conversations.”
“We assume that the way things are now will be the way things are in the future. As mobile technology evolves, we have to ask how each functionality serves not only as utility, but has a human purpose.” Importantly, this fragmentation of contact channels works two ways. As new channels layer with (rather than replace) each other, it has meant that while there are more ways to contact the individual, access to these channels can be stratified and rendered more – or less – exclusive. Sharing a Twitter handle or even phone number is one thing, but access to someone’s BlackBerry Messenger PIN can mean something else. But, as the Homegrown community shows, we want to make sense of all this. Most users would consider some of the functionality of our mobile devices – a financial planning app, for example – to be personal and private. Other aspects, like an app for sharing photos, might be something they’d use to connect with people. Many mobile users are increasingly embracing their ability to lead select parts of their lives in public, participating in communities based
on common interests wherever they happen to be. The always-on mobile user thus creates a sense of control through categorisation and sorting. One can imagine that this process is stressful for those who want to use voice calls with work colleagues, text messages with friends, and photo-sharing apps with family. Intriguingly, the Circles functionality of Google+ aims to address this exact issue, given that ‘sharing’ is by no means a blanket concept, and our digital networks are not simply megaphones through which to yell at everyone. By creating their own customised Circles for sharing, each individual gets to act as a traffic control tower, routing content and communication in a variety of different directions, through one interface. The systems through which we interact with our personal networks and devices are in a constant state of change. Sherry Turkle’s most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, addresses this squeezing of communication in favour of other technological pursuits. “Just because we’ve grown up with the internet, it doesn’t mean the internet is all grown up,” she comments. “We assume that the way things are now will be the way things are in the future, and the same is true of cell phones. As mobile technology continues to evolve, we have to keep asking how each additional functionality serves not only as utility, but has a human purpose.” Riepl’s law, hatched by media theorist Wolfgang Riepl almost a century ago, states that ‘new, further developed types of media never replace the existing modes of media and their usage patterns. Instead, a convergence takes place in their field, leading to a different way and field of use for these older forms.’ While simple communication continues to hold a place in the constellation of functionalities that makes up the average smartphone, the transition from connecting device to personal computer has enormous implications for the products we develop, the interactions we solicit and the ways in which we engage with the wider world. Smartphones are smart, but they’re going to get smarter. We just have to steer them in the right direction
The Anxious Choice Philosopher Renata Salecl argues that the ideology of consumer choice is a damaging illusion that prevents us from changing our world. Words by
How do you choose what to eat in a restaurant? Do you ask your friends or the waiter? Do you branch out or stick with the usual? However you decide, the result is often the same: when the food arrives you end up casting envious glances at your companions’ dishes, secretly regretting the choice you’ve just made. In fact, the anxiety of choice is now so serious that one London restaurant is doing a roaring trade by offering a single dish on its menu. Is this evidence that people today are overwhelmed by the choices they face? Of course, we consider ourselves fortunate to face the paralysis of choice, but there are darker consequences, too. The ideology of choice is all-pervasive in today’s society, and has contributed to growing feelings of anxiety and inadequacy among consumers. This anxiety has, in turn, affected our ability to make choices that lead to social change. Choice has always been linked to anxiety – Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that when we stand in front of the abyss, we’re not afraid that we’ll fall, only that we might throw ourselves in. Today, that anxiety has been multiplied, as we’re led to believe that life itself is a consumer choice. We’re told that we can choose the
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type of life we live, the type of body we have, even the way our kids will turn out. But while we bask in the false promise of mastery, we forget that the choices we make are often irrational – either linked to other people’s choices (what is socially acceptable), or our own unconscious motives. And we forget – or refuse to remember – that with choice comes loss. After all, when I choose one direction in life, I lose the possibility of another. And so the ideology of choice encourages people to turn inwards. We’re told that the choices we make after careful planning will bring us our desired results – happiness, security, contentment – and that with better choices, the traumatic feelings we have when facing loss, risk and uncertainty will be eliminated. But today, psychoanalysts see many patients who can’t understand why they feel empty. They ask themselves, ‘Why am I not happy when I have been choosing so carefully all my life?’ It is precisely the anxiety and guilt that we feel over our choices – and the inadequacy we experience in our lives – that powers today’s consumer ideology and prevents social change. We have grown so introspective that we fail to make choices that contribute to social transformation.
Since the Enlightenment, society and democracy have been linked to the idea of freedom and choice. Today, however, we find it almost impossible to imagine that we have a choice over how society could be better organised in the future. Even in the midst of an economic crisis, we’re only able to see the future as a continuation of the present. Where are the alternative theories about new social structures? When did we lose the appetite to make political choices? So now we have less power and fewer real (non-material) choices than ever, and yet we’ve been taught to blame ourselves for the state of our lives. The danger is that if we become sufficiently anxious, we might very quickly give the few choices left to us away, identifying with an authority that tells us what to do. We might hire a coach, follow a guru or turn to an autocratic leader whose confidence seems soothing in an era of uncertainty. The solution is to accept that life is defined by uncertainty, risk and unpredictability. And that although choices have a wonderful potential to affect change, we cannot predict the nature of the change they will bring nor avoid the losses that come with them. Unless we learn to live with those consequences, we’re destined to eat the same dish day after day
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We’ve all been there. You’re standing with a group of friends, trying to decide where to go for dinner, when everyone pulls out their phone to start reading reviews. The more you discuss it, the more complicated it gets; one of you doesn’t like Thai food, another is vegan, and because there’s only one car between six of you, you can’t go far. How do you find a restaurant that makes everyone happy? This is the type of everyday problem that software can help to solve, but it’s not easy. It requires us to take multiple factors like location, diet and transport into account when providing search information. In
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Google researcher Ed Chi reveals how the next generation of web users will behave very differently from today’s.
fact, these new demands encourage us to think about the search engine as more of an ‘insight’ engine, and that’s why Google is so interested in the social layer. While search is about navigating to a particular place, it is social data that enables people to make informed choices. I’m just one of several hundred research scientists on Google’s in-house research team, which stretches across everything from Gmail to Google+. My particular focus is on identifying key developments and trends in user behaviour and designing systems to support them – backed up with big data analytics and a comprehensive
understanding of how social systems function. But Google had been thinking about the evolution of search long before I joined earlier this year: its roots in the PageRank algorithm demonstrate how some forms of social signal – such as who is connecting with whom – have been used to inform the search process since the beginning. Aggregating relevant opinion is now a key part of the web experience, from shopping to restaurant reviews. As consumers, we now triangulate our decisions based on the recommendations of friends and family alongside general public opinion. But there’s still a need to contextualise some of this information.
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One person might leave a bad review for a Japanese restaurant because they don’t like Japanese food, rather than because of a bad experience at that venue. How do you weigh all these factors to help facilitate a decision in the shortest possible time? There are business-critical implications for marketers and advertisers, too. Whereas it used to be sufficient just to make yourself visible online (so that when people searched, you were there), now that so many businesses are visible, the challenge is to make yourself stand out in some other way – through your reputation, consumer trust or customer service. That means making sure that opinions
on all these aspects of your business are displayed to potential customers. And as it’s no longer individuals browsing but groups making joint decisions, tools like Huddle in Google+ are geared towards helping users resolve the issues that arise from those group situations.
The Information Flea Market
Filtering – helping users deal with only the most important and relevant information – is a big priority in this era of rapid development. Our information consumption is increasingly driven through social news, with friends, family and colleagues
recommending things they think are important or relevant to us. Throughout the day, you’re likely to find yourself drip-fed information by friends in your social stream. And this is still a new behaviour that people are experimenting with. Algorithmic curation is another lens through which information like the news is filtered. But users assign different levels of trust to algorithmically determined news, professionally curated news and news selected by their friends. Those trust profiles aren’t entirely intuitive yet, and we’ve found that users are pretty demanding in their assessment of automated news curation if the results aren’t what they expected. They will be more forgiving if it’s personally curated, as if they can more easily rationalise an editor’s decision or the judgment of a friend who recommended a story. The way users relate to all these models is something we’re looking at very closely. Understanding how users respond to and interact with information within these frameworks will also be essential for marketers. As the very nature of information changes, the ability to grab news on the go means we squeeze these information transactions into tiny pockets of time, whether that’s scanning a news story a colleague emails you at lunch, or an SMS a friend sends you while you’re walking to the bathroom. These are ‘micro-waiting’ moments – a flea market information experience. Where that experience used to be a dedicated, focused period of the day, it is now opportunistic, serendipitous and targeted. I have combined observations of these trends with my previous work exploring knowledge-building communities such as Wikipedia, the social structures behind tagging system Delicious, and social recommendation through Twitter. These frameworks can help us understand how to develop curation models, identity and reputation systems, and how to encourage serendipity as well as engagement. It means there’s a growing opportunity for businesses to explore the growth of this trend through the combination of tablets, mobiles and social streams. For Google,
“There’s a whole generation at college that has never known a world without the web. They bring a new way of engaging with each other.”
it means offering a serendipity engine for the internet. Many of us grew up with limited ways of communicating. We could make a phone call or write a letter, while public information was distributed through broadcast media. But now there’s a whole generation at college that has never known a world without the web. They bring with them a new way of engaging with the world, with information and with each other. From Google+, Facebook and Twitter to SMS and corporate messaging, this generation is developing an instinctive set of behaviours and expectations around these tools. They are very savvy in understanding which medium is most appropriate for the message and for the recipient, whether it’s a dinner invitation or asking someone out on a date. They know they have to find the appropriate interrupt signal, and that different channels send different signals, with numerous subtleties that we are only just starting to define. In three years, that generation will be in employment, and marketers will need an intricate understanding of all their behaviours.
Users Evolve to Suit Their Environments
None of this means that web users will lose the depth and concentration of detailed reading. In a previous incarnation as a reading researcher, I studied the book as an information science problem, and found that even without a desk, a good coffee and a full afternoon of reflection, people are able to make meaningful conclusions about the information they’re processing. In reality, our brains have learned to absorb and make sense of information during downtime. There’s a lot of evidence that social learning, engaging and sharing with others is a far more effective way of learning than simply chasing citations or raw knowledge acquisition. Ultimately, humans are incredibly adept at changing their behaviour to suit their environment, and the light-speed changes we’re witnessing are likely to prove more challenging for technologists and businesses to keep up with than for humans to evolve through
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tarterslow s k c i ter, Kstry is to s. s a f d er an the indu uly matter t s a f oving’s advice to t what tr m s ’ t tha trickler ory abou d l r o In a wr Yancey Sd craft a st nde deep an u o f o c , dig down by Wo its tra por
For someone who’s made it possible for thousands of creative people to race against the clock in campaigns to fulfil their dreams, Yancey Strickler is strikingly slow-paced. He’s sitting in a makeshift ‘conference room’ in the hundred-year-old former millinery in Manhattan’s bar-strewn Lower East Side that houses his company, Kickstarter. Behind a graffiti-scribbled door and up a narrow staircase that feels like it isn’t far from collapsing, he’s telling the story of how he got here. Stories are precisely what make Kickstarter tick. It’s a service that allows artists, musicians, activists and would-be civic leaders to raise money for projects by soliciting donations from the masses. Some of its most famous projects have included independent films, iPod accessories, restaurants, novels and community gardens. It operates by a system of threshold pledges, in which individuals can promise to donate any sum of money but won’t have to pay it unless the project reaches a concrete financing goal by a date that is determined
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at the start of the fundraising process. Traditional marketing won’t necessarily get people on board. To be successful, a Kickstarter project must be adept at using videos, essays and photography to grab the attention of strangers and persuade them to back an idea that doesn’t yet exist, and perhaps never will. The short version of Strickler’s story is that he found Kickstarter’s HQ on Craigslist. The long version is that he spent nearly a decade as a music journalist until, one day in 2005, he was sitting at a restaurant in trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he was a regular, when one of the waiters told him about an idea for a company that could help creative projects gain the financial and emotional support they needed to get off the ground. That waiter was Perry Chen, who’d previously worked as a day trader, a preschool teacher, an art gallery owner and a musician as he drifted back and forth between New York and New Orleans over the course of several years. Chen was in constant contact with the struggling creative upstarts who sparked his initial
idea and are now the people whom Kickstarter is aiming to empower. He and Strickler joined forces, and in April 2009 they launched Kickstarter with the help of third co-founder Charles Adler. “Basically, Perry and I didn’t have any technical skills whatsoever,” Strickler explains of Adler’s involvement. “Charles, to us, was the internet, because he knew certain acronyms that we didn’t know.” When asked what the key to succeeding on Kickstarter is, Strickler is emphatic: “It’s not a marketing plan, it’s not a branding layout of what it is that they’re making; it’s a story of them, a story of the individual coming to this thing and why they’re trying to make this thing happen and what that quest is and what the goal is,” he explains, putting forth a distinct anti-corporate vibe. “We’re not interested in people selling a product on Kickstarter. That, to us, is not what’s interesting about a product. What’s interesting about a product is how you got to it and how you’re going to make it. So if you’re just looking at this as a sales channel – as a storefront – you’re in the wrong place.”
Yet running an effective Kickstarter campaign is marketing – albeit an innovative, narrative-driven breed of marketing that captures the energy of enthusiasts and their desire to be part of something rather than just passive consumers. A concept called the ‘TikTok’, a case for the iPod Nano that resembles a wristwatch, existed only in an artist’s rendering before its designer, Scott Wilson, turned to Kickstarter. He said that all pledges over $25 would count as pre-orders, and put forth an impassioned call for donors who wanted to support not just another iPod accessory, but ‘a collection that was well designed, engineered and manufactured from premium materials that complemented the impeccable quality of Apple products, not just clipped on a cheap strap as an afterthought.’ The TikTok raised over $940,000 on Kickstarter and is now sold in Apple retail stores. Kickstarter itself has become a sensation, backed by $10 million in venture funding from some of the most prominent investors in New York’s flourishing startup world. In July, the company announced that 10,000 projects had been successfully funded, over half of them in the fields of music, film and video. Among its roster of successes are ideas that had been brewing for years but which had been left to lie fallow because their creators had no idea how they would raise the money. One of them is + Pool, a water filtration system that permits floating swimming pools to be embedded in urban rivers, and which has taken a crucial step closer to fruition. A Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2011 funded + Pool with over $41,000, thanks largely to beautiful computer-generated images of a swimming pool lying in New York’s East River at the foot of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Overheated locals, dazzled by the idea of a new way to cool off outside, placed their bets on it – and told their friends to do the same. “They’ve had that idea for a while, they’ve put it out there before, but they’re getting buy-in, both literal and emotional, from a lot of people and it’s creating a lot of momentum around this project,” Strickler
says of + Pool’s trio of founders. Their work is far from done – the project faces plenty of infrastructure and municipal hurdles now that its Kickstarter phase is complete. “I’m curious to see if it will happen,” he admits. Harnessing the energy of hundreds, even thousands, of small donors isn’t easy. Neither is great marketing. And a successful Kickstarter campaign is emotional marketing at its finest, offering up something that people love through a story that resonates with the creators’ enthusiasm, an exciting call for users to become a part of it, and an implicit promise that the creators will keep up that pact with the users. “I think what [marketers] can learn is something that will, in fact, be incredibly hard for them to recreate – which I think is a good thing – and that’s authenticity,” Strickler says. “The power of an individual telling a story about something they care about, or is important to them, and precisely defining how it is they go about doing that, is exciting. As a backer or a spectator, I get the warm glow watching that thing come to life, knowing that I have a piece of it in some way.” There are lessons to be learned in how Kickstarter itself grew. This is a company created from passion and a keen observance of the world. It was conceived by a pair of thirtysomethings better versed in the art of itinerant dreaming than in software development or business management. Strickler and Chen didn’t want to simply ‘start something’. They built a business that was years in the making, something meaningful but organic. More importantly, they built a business that not only has a story to tell but encourages everyone who uses it to do the same. “We weren’t trying to find something to make,” Strickler says of Kickstarter’s meandering rise through a digital startup environment rife with fly-by-night successes and me-too entrepreneurialism. “It was just that this idea made sense. And it made sense because we looked at our lives, and the lives of a bunch of our friends, and it was like, ‘We would all try this.’”
It Started On Kickstarter iRemoco [Cambridge] The ultimate office toy, this iPhone, iPad and iPod Touchcontrolled helicopter was completed with £20,000 from Kickstarter. More cool toys are promised. SketchChair [London] SketchChair is a free, opensource software tool that allows anyone to easily design and build their own digitally fabricated furniture. The £20,000 raised by SketchChair’s founders allowed them to finish the software and start the process of building a community to develop and share designs. Now That She’s Gone [Edinburgh] It seems as though Kickstarter is funding the Edinburgh Festival’s Fringe theatre scene singlehandedly (though of course it isn’t). One of many projects to get the green-light, Now That She’s Gone received £15,000 to spread its message about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Red Pop [Manchester] What’s the one thing missing from the iPhone experience? A big red button that lets you snap pictures the old-school way. Not any more, though, thanks to the £30,000 that allowed Beep Industries to produce a funky clip-on camera button for the smartphone.
On the Make Words by
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Being a digital citizen doesn’t mean sacrificing your interest in real world stuff. Welcome to the maker movement that’s turning virtual ‘bits’ into physical ‘its’. Every May, at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in California, hundreds of thousands of people make the annual pilgrimage from around the world to meet the ‘makers’. The event is Maker Faire, and it’s something like a cross between the world’s biggest science fair and Burning Man. Makers are people who create and share amazing things, such as a giant walking robot giraffe or a hacked plug-in-only Prius. You know the phrase, ‘Don’t try this at home’? Well, you won’t hear that at Maker Faire. We’ve been making and sharing things for millions of years – it’s encoded in our genetic desire to create. But perhaps surprisingly, as technology has blurred the boundaries between the real and the unreal in the last decade, ‘making’ has enjoyed something of a renaissance. Forget the cliché of a lone hobbyist tinkering away in the garage; modern makers are more likely to work with each other, taking advantage of the sharing and publishing tools offered by the internet. As it’s become easier to share videos, photos, text and everything else, makers have quickly adapted, using the web to pool knowledge and information. At a time when copyright concerns are beginning to dominate the tech world,
the modern maker can choose how and what is shared in these new online arenas, through open-source licensing and Creative Commons. One of the successes of this new type of sharing is open-source hardware, which, like open-source software, can be improved upon, remixed and recreated. Makers have always been making, but now they have more places to share, too. As the movement has taken off, websites like Instructables and Make have become go-to hubs for sharing projects and developing skills. If you’ve designed a protective case for your phone, you can upload it to Thingiverse and anyone with a 3D printer can download and print it out. It sounds like a Star Trek replicator, but it’s real and it’s happening right now. While Maker Faire events have expanded to more locations (there are over 30 per year, many of them self-organised), other, more permanent making spaces have started to pop up. ‘Hackerspaces’ are community-driven meeting places where resources are pooled to pay for space, hold workshops and play with awesome tools like laser cutters and CNC mills. It’s not just communities doing this either: since 2007, Google has had its own Hackerspace, called Google Workshop, complete with welding equipment and hi-tech tools.
Commercial versions of Hackerspaces are called ‘TechShops’. These fully equipped facilities have every tool you could think of to make your computer ‘bits’ into real ‘its’. They’re membership-based – think of them as a gym for your brain. There aren’t any official TechShops in the UK yet, but within the next few years, there’ll be about a dozen of them stretching coast-to-coast in some of America’s biggest cities. Nor is the maker movement just a feel-good social cause to get us thinking collectively about engineering and making again; it’s filled with thriving businesses. For some makers, Etsy, a Brooklyn-based sellers’ platform, has become a full-time job; while others have developed skills in repairing, recycling and reusing into a rewarding side-business. As we ask ourselves what society will look like in a digital world, it’s worth remembering the words of Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics (a programme that enables school kids to become scientists and engineers) and a famous maker in his own right. Kamen said, “We are what we celebrate.” That’s the maker movement: we’re trying to make the world a better place by celebrating ingenuity, creativity, sustainability and, most of all, sharing
Where to Meet Your Makers Ready to jump into the world of making? Or perhaps you’re looking to meet emerging talent? Designswarm’s Alexandra DeschampsSonsino reveals her favourite places for connecting with DIY movers and makers.
Ars Electronica Ars Electronica exists at the intersection between art, culture, society and technology. This year’s event – held in Linz, Germany, in conjunction with CERN – is inspired by the theme of ‘Origins’.
London Hackerspace There are thousands of Hackerspaces globally, including this Shoreditchbased space. It’s open to members 24 hours a day, and holds free evening workshops for everyone.
Technology Will Save Us Described as ‘an alternative education space dedicated to helping people produce and not just consume technology’, TWSU holds regular classes and events.
Online instructables.com makezine.com thingiverse.com designswarm.com
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Nothing Without Woman a Madeleine Albright – diplomat, trailblazer and giant of global politics – shares her thoughts on the transformational power of women’s leadership. Words by
Michelle Goldberg Michael Gillette
M adeleine Albright recently learned that her youngest granddaughter is unimpressed by her illustrious career. “What’s the big deal about Grandma Maddy being Secretary of State?” she asked. “Only girls are Secretary of State.” In 1996, when Albright was nominated to become the first female head of America’s State Department – then the highest US government post any woman had occupied – it was a history-making event. ‘They never thought it would happen,’ wrote one Boston Globe columnist. ‘Half of Washington is in a state of shock.’ Now that two of her three successors have been female, the phrase ‘Madam Secretary’ is no longer a novelty. Women may have stalled in their quest for the White House, but the sight of a woman at the forefront of American foreign policy has become routine. The work of three women in particular – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; UN ambassador Susan Rice; and Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights director Samantha Power – has played a pivotal role in the decision-making process regarding Libya and other key international issues during the Obama administration. Albright shattered the glass ceiling so thoroughly that it’s hard to remember how improbable that feat once seemed. She’s still acutely interested in the transformational power of women’s leadership, but not because she buys into sentimental theories about women’s peaceful and cooperative
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nature. “Anybody who believes that has forgotten high school,” says Albright, sipping black coffee at a conference table in the Washington, DC, offices of the Albright Stonebridge Group, her global strategy firm. Rather, she thinks that the unique complexities of women’s lives – their balancing of biological versus professional imperatives – help prepare them to function amid chaos and uncertainty, whether they’re in government or business. “This is a gross generalisation, but men focus more on one thing,” she says. “Women are much better at multitasking and peripheral vision. I think that’s important in business, so that you’re looking at the whole picture of what’s going on in a company.” Besides, she says, when it comes to prestigious, high-pressure jobs, the world has a way of winnowing out all but the toughest and most ambitious women. “I believe that women work harder,” she says. “There is no room for mediocre women. There is plenty of room for mediocre men.” One of the most winning things about Albright, now 74, is how forthright she’s been about the brutality of her own climb to the top. Her 2005 memoir, Madam Secretary, is rich in detail about foreign policy debates and the daily work of diplomacy, but it’s also surprisingly candid about what life was like as a working mother helping to run the world. “People need to understand that it is not simple to be a woman,” she says. “I have three daughters. They’re all married, they all have jobs and they all have children. And they all have the same discussions about how to balance it.” Nevertheless, she thinks that the tension between different aspects of women’s lives can be fruitful. “Our lives come in segments, due primarily to biology,” she says. “And instead of bemoaning it, we should take advantage of it. The truth is, I’ve often watched men get bored in what they’ve been doing.
â€œI believe that women work harder. There is no room for mediocre women.â€? 69
We have the advantage of switching from one thing to another, and you can say it’s because ‘I want to have kids’, or ‘I want to spend more time with them’, or whatever.” Albright herself didn’t hold a government job until she was 39, when, after fundraising for Senator Ed Muskie, she became his chief legislative assistant. Originally, she’d wanted to be a journalist – editing her school newspaper and working as a reporter while her husband was in the army. But when they moved to Chicago so he could take a job on the Sun-Times, his managing editor ordered her to shelve her ambitions. “You can’t work on the same paper as your husband because of guild regulations, and you wouldn’t want to work on one of the competing papers and compete with him,” he told her. “And instead of saying what I might say today, I saluted and went and did something else,” she says. As Albright was developing her career, women weren’t always her allies (indeed, she says, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”). But her allies were often women. When she became America’s ambassador to the United Nations, she developed a network of other female representatives, though there were only seven in the 183-person body. Powerful DC women, including then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, lobbied on her behalf for the Secretary of State position. Even at the pinnacle of her profession, Albright says she sometimes secondguessed herself when she was the only woman in the room. In meetings, she’d be about to speak up, only to silence herself, thinking, ‘That will sound really stupid’. Then, almost inevitably, a man would pipe up with the same observation, “and everybody thinks it’s brilliant, and you are so mad at yourself.” There’s something both reassuring and discouraging about the fact that a Secretary of State makes the same sort of mistakes as an ordinary professional woman. Reassuring, because
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she was a spectacular success despite them. Discouraging, because it suggests that no amount of success ever really makes deeprooted insecurities go away. Yet if being female had its drawbacks, it also had its advantages. “I think women are better at personal relationships,” she says, and such relationships are fundamental to diplomacy. Countries, of course, make foreign policy according to their own interests, but “the role of individuals is very, very important,” Albright says. Her own friendship with Joschka Fischer, the onetime student radical who served as German foreign minister in the 1990s, “made a huge difference” during NATO’s bombardment of Kosovo, which Time magazine once called ‘Madeleine’s War’. The first time Albright met Fischer, he said to her, “I can’t believe I’m sitting in the office of the Secretary of State of the United States in a three-piece suit talking about NATO.” She was fascinated by his own political journey, which had been inspired throughout by a revulsion against Nazism. As a leader of the Green Party, his passionate advocacy of force to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo helped shore up liberal European support for the military
intervention. It was Fischer who quashed a proposal to suspend bombing over Easter, asking why they should pause in honour of one religion in order to kill people of another. “Because of his personality, and because he was so smart, people listened to him in a different way,” Albright says. She makes no secret of the fact that she misses her old job. “I would have been happy to be Secretary of State every day of my life,” she admits. “Being Secretary of State was the best job in the world. But you know from the minute you start that you have to leave it.” Still, Albright remains heavily involved in foreign policy. She’s chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organisation that does work to support and strengthen democratic institutions around the world through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. “We have people in 65 countries, and at the moment in a lot of places in the Middle East,” she says. At the request of Secretary Clinton, a close friend, she’s chairing a new group called Partners for a New Beginning, a publicprivate partnership to promote economic development and technological innovation in Muslim majority communities in
places like Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, the Palestinian Territory, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Albright wrote her doctoral dissertation about the role of the Czechoslovak press in the 1968 Prague Spring democracy movement – few have a deeper understanding of the role of civil society in resisting authoritarianism. Still, she says, the lessons of the Cold War aren’t necessarily applicable to the Middle East. “The similarities are that people got fed up with the system and they took to the streets,” she says. “It was like an avalanche.” But while leaders in countries escaping communism were eager to align themselves with the United States, those involved in what has been known as the Arab Spring were less willing to associate themselves with America and the West. At the end of the Bush administration, Albright foresaw a great challenge in restoring the good name of democracy. “With democracy militarised in Iraq, it had undermined the concept,” she argues. In Egypt, the United States had to find a way to support democracy without the appearance of undue influence. Thus, when NDI was asked to consult on the writing of the Egyptian constitution, they made sure it didn’t only have an American imprimatur by bringing in a Chilean who had worked against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, as well as people with experience of the transition to democracy in Eastern Europe. “It’s not just the American model,” she says. “This is not America’s story. This is their story.” Naturally, Albright sees expanded roles for women as central to the future of the Middle East, as well as other developing regions. “In all countries, women represent more than 50 percent of the population, and if you are not using that resource, employing women economically or politically, you’re undermining the stability of your own society.”
LONG FLIGHT AHEAD It’s time to meet the challenge of Futoshiki – a classic test of logic. Each horizontal and vertical line must be filled with the numbers 1-9. The same number can’t occur more than once in any line. Your only clues are the number given and whether a number is greater than ( ) or smaller than ( ) the adjacent number. Good luck and let us know how you get on.
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Published on Sep 28, 2011
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