Category Archives: Ideas

Generation Serf, part 1

The growth of virtual communities and new models of collaboration ties in directly with Generation C – the generation that wants an active hand in creating its own future. First identified by Trendwatching.com in 2004, Generation C refers to a generation of content creators who are just as comfortable creating content (blogs, videos, wiki entries) as they are consuming it.

Trendwatching said the C stood for content; Oxford-trained anthropologist Jake Pearce (www.jakepearce.com) disagreed. He saw content as the symptom, not the cause, and sought to explain Generation C by their motivation. His hypothesis: it’s about control.

In this light the icon of Generation C is the iPod, with its ability to create your own playlist. Why, Gen C asks, can we create our own playlist of music, but not our own playlist of other parts of our lives? For example, careers, education, government, banking. Why can’t these services by customized and tweaked to an individual’s specific preferences?

Simon Young, “Power of Integration” in The Social Media MBA, ed Christer Holloman (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2012)

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin…

All generations want an active hand in creating their own future. Generation C is no different in this regard.  Everyone wants to be able to shape their destiny.  Where Generation C differs – if and to the extent that it does differ – is in how precisely it views that activity of shaping its own future.  And the answer that is offered up is basically… the iPod.  Shaping their own future is, for Generation C, equivalent to creating a playlist for their iPod.  To making a list of commercial music, either bought online from an extremely wealthy company, or perhaps illegally pirated from an overpriced CD, and listening to that list on an overpriced, heavily restricted piece of hardware, assembled under undersafe conditions by underpaid overseas workers in a globalized economic order designed to minimize workers’ rights while maximizing corporate profits. Shaping your future means consuming this as opposed to that.  Lady Gaga or Mumford & Sons.  Or maybe just which you consume first, which you consume second.

Playlists are an excellent example of the false freedoms and choices that are meant to substitute for genuine choice, to distract people from their increasing lack of ability to shape their future, their increasing lack of freedom. To be clear, for most people throughout history, freedom, choice, the ability to shape their own future, to have control over their own destiny, have been severely constrained. But… in the conditions that arose, in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world in the years after the start of the Great Depression, and especially after World War II, we grew accustomed to a different state of affairs.

Part of that new state of affairs was a massive expansion of consumption. And over time, we’ve become more a consumer society than a producer society. An immensely wealthy consumer society, awash in goods. The rise in consumption was part of a general rise in quality of life and economic well-being in the years from the end of WWII until 1979: a major expansion of the middle class, very high levels of college education and home ownership, health insurance and health care, literacy, declines in infant mortality, stable employment. To people coming out of the shtetls, out of the Great Depression, out of the rural post-slavery of the south, all of that look like freedom, felt like freedom.

Peace and prosperity – for most, particularly white males, and leaving aside such blips as the Korean War and various police actions and armed foreign policy adventures. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property, if you prefer the older, original formulation).

This was the heyday of the American Dream. People moved out of tenements and into suburban homes with lawns and washing machines. They bought cars. Everyone’s kids went to high school, and huge numbers went to university, often the first in their families to do so.  Those kids graduated, got jobs, and started doing better than their parents.  And they expected it to last. We all expected it to last. This was foolish, and quiescent. We were wrong.

Advertisements

Ideas from Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World

Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World

Following Inhabitat is a lot like reading utopian science fiction set in the not too distant future. It’s full of images and ideas of a future – that is sometimes the present – a future of beautiful design and a commitment to a sustainable society.

It’s more focused on the environmental aspects of sustainability than on the social – more focused on carbon footprints than corporate boot heels – but that’s fine. There are other sites dedicated to the idea that “social justice will save the world,” and Inhabitat is full of hope and beauty – a kind of saving already, in and of itself.

Here is just a tiny sample, chosen more or less at random, of recent posts:

Embassy of Drowned Nations: Floating City for Rising Tide Victims

Futuristic Vertical City Holds Plug-In Hexagonal Housing Units: Malaysian architect Tay Yee Wei recently unveiled a towering vertical city populated with hexagonal housing units that offer a solution to urban population growth problems in Asian cities. The tower itself serves as a scaffolding — as the population of urban areas fluctuates, modular units can be “plugged in” to the structure to accommodate an expanding population. (via Inhabitat.)

Unique and Geometric Solar Home Cuts Energy Usage in Half: This modern home built in Wisconsin by designer Shane Black uses solar thermal panels to heat a bed of sand beneath the house, keeping the interior temperature comfortable throughout the year. Combined with smart window placement and energy-efficient building techniques, the project achieves a 50% savings in energy consumption. (via Inhabitat.)

Urban Farm Project is High Design From Humble Materials: Right in the heart of Denver, on the grounds of the reclaimed Stapleton Airport, is a twenty three acre working urban farm. Students of the University of Colorado Denver built these two tremendous projects to enhance the farm’s operation as well as to make a definitive statement about sustainable design as a part of the FEED Denver program. (via Inhabitat.)

Ideas: The Scoop on Poop

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Some ideas and scientific discoveries from around the internet concerning, well, shit… So here it is, the 411 on #2, coming straight at ya from the cloaca:

Continue reading

More Ideas: Transportation

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Some discussions, ideas and scientific discoveries from around the internet with implications for transportation…

Every (Ash) Cloud has a Silver Lining

Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption could transform the economics and politics of Europe: Already, the events of the last several days have revealed that we rely on air travel for far more things than we usually imagine. Things like supermarkets—all that fresh fruit—and florists. Things like symphony performances, professional soccer matches, and international relations. In fact, “European integration,” as we have come to understand it, turns out to be utterly dependent on reliable air travel. (via Slate.)

Andrew Simms – 79 months and counting …: Eyjafjallajökull provided a glimpse of a possible future in which the aviation industry’s wings have been clipped [….]

Within hours, airports all over Europe were closing as if giant master switch for the aviation industry had been flicked to off. Why? Fine dust from the vast billowing cloud thrown up by the volcano was lethal to modern jet engines. Planes that had flown through similar clouds in the past had suffered terrifying, nearly disastrous losses of power. For days Europe was grounded. ‘Five miles up the hush and shush of ash/ Yet the sky is as clean as a white slate,’ wrote the poet Carol Ann Duffy.

One of the main arteries of the modern world – cheap, ubiquitous air travel – was suddenly cut. What happened next was revelatory, and possibly a glimpse of a future world in which both climate change and strictly limited oil supplies have clipped the industry’s wings…. (via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

People came up with a variety of methods of coping with the transportation chaos created by the grounding of so much plane travel following the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Monty Python’s John Cleese took what some people were calling the most expensive cab ride in history.

But this is neither an option available to most people, nor a sustainable practice. And we certainly couldn’t transport all those cut flowers from Africa to the tables of Europe in taxis. As a better alternative, let me suggest…

Bring back blimps!: The New York Times asked me and three other people the following question: ‘The Icelandic volcano that disrupted global air travel last week raised a concern: should we be thinking of alternative ways to move masses of people and goods?’ My answer: bring back blimps (and dirigibles).

Their large surface area and inherent buoyancy mean they can be run with solar-powered motors, making them eco-friendly. They can take off and land without a runway, which means they can load and unload passengers almost anywhere (no more airports!). (via Boing Boing.)

Funnily enough, I’ve read a number of science fiction novels recently in which blimps are used as a regular form of transportation – including Red Mars, Antarctica, Dark Light, and The Windup Girl. In the latter, they and technologically sophisticated sailing ships are the primary means of long-distance travel in a world devastated by “both climate change and strictly limited oil supplies.”

Continue reading

Ideas – Sensible to Sensational, Sociological to Technological

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.

Gertrude Stein said this in her Reflections on the Atom Bomb (1946) – imagine what she would have said about the interweb!

In what I expect will become a new regular feature, here’s a round-up of ideas culled from that mind-boggling expanse of information – ideas from a variety of recent articles, reports and blog posts – ranging from simple bits of social engineering to cutting edge electrical engineering…

Continue reading