Privacy! Who the hell ever had privacy?

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One question that I am often asked when speaking to groups about the digital revolution is “what about privacy?” This is usually in relation to social media and social networking.  Privacy comes from the Latin word privatus:

In Roman law, the Latin adjective privatus makes a legal distinction between that which is “private” and that which is publicus, “public” in the sense of pertaining to the Roman people (populus Romanus).
Source: Wikipedia

This question fascinates me.  Privacy is such a recent invention and many people seem to be unaware of this. Also there is an important distinction to be made between privacy and confidentiality.  Since time immemorial societies have acknowledged that some kinds of information are confidential.  A good historical example of this is the Catholic Church keeping the revelations made during their rite of confession confidential.

However, until very recent times – during the late twentieth century – privacy was an aberration.  Anchorites had privacy, but most people lived cheek by jowl with others for their entire lives.  This is important because privacy is predicated on separation. It is predicated on a physical separation between people – it is enabled by the spaces in between individuals.  If there are no spaces between individuals then privacy is very hard to achieve (or even to conceive).

In the past even the most wealthy and most exalted personages did not experience privacy.  Kings and queens lived surrounded day and night by their courtiers.  In the days before genetic testing even queens gave birth in front of their court to ensure veracity.

Historically nobles were attended, bathed and dressed by their servants.  The servants lived together in crowded quarters.  Secrets were very hard to keep in such a world.

For the poor, there was no separation even between people and their livestock.  And, if there was no separate room for the livestock, nor was there a separate room for any of the people.  Entire families were conceived, born, lived and died within shared physical spaces.

Even in cities people lived  a village-like existence (London is a good example).  Without transport to move easily from place to place people stayed within the confines of their local village.  Neither rich nor poor city dwellers experienced privacy.

Nor did the generations of the early twentieth century experience privacy.  During the first half of the century poverty meant that most people could not afford the luxury of privacy.  And during that same period the wealthy still lived with domestic staffs who cared for their needs (and continued to ensure little privacy).

Privacy for most of us only became possible with the advent of the post World War II economic and population boom.  The growth of tract housing in suburbs meant that nuclear families could live in large houses with separate rooms for most family members.  Thus it was in this period that people could assume that they had a right to privacy.

Thus a brief flowering of privacy in the latter part of the twentieth century allowed many people to assume that this was how things had always been.  It also allowed many to assume that this would continue.  However, with the advent of the hyperconnected world of the early twenty-first century we are seeing digital villages remove the spaces between individuals once again.

Perhaps the only thing that enabled privacy to blossom was the increased physical space between people and lack of communications technology during the late twentieth century? And perhaps it is now time to farewell privacy once more?

Some resources for thinking about privacy follow:

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Call for Papers: Haecksen Miniconf LCA2011

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The folks over at LCA2011 are running a Haecksen miniconf and have issued a call for papers closing on 24 September 2010 …

 

“The Haecksen miniconf is on again! This year, linux.conf.au is going to be held in sunny Brisbane, and we want to invite women who develop, administer and play with FLOSS to come and join us again at the miniconf.

Important: The CFP closes at midnight 24 September 2010. Selected talks will be announced early in October. That’s not much time, so get cracking!

We’re attempting to mix it up a bit this year, so we’re looking for people willing to give long talks like normal (20 or 40 minutes), but we are also after lightning talkers, panel experts, and hands-on demos.”

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Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp #sibsyd

Social Innovation Sydney
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Sydney’s inaugural Social Innovation BarCamp went well yesterday.

The day kicked off with an opening talk by the Hon. Bob Carr, who kindly gave his time to support this event.

Throughout the day we had some amazing networking and discussion sessions focused on creating sustainable futures and directing innovation towards social good.

We also had a lovely lunch sponsored by Cisco and coffee sponsored by AskHer.

I’m very grateful to everyone who helped out to make this event work, in particular my co-un-organisers  Selena Griffith and Michelle Williams.

There are already some amazing photos up in the Social Innovation BarCamp group on Flickr:

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Leadership – it is hard to define but I know it when I see it

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That heading was inspired by the well known saying regarding pornography by Justice Potter Stewart:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. [Emphasis added.]”

by Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers.

I was reading this case recently and it occurred to me that leadership is a bit like that too.

There are a myriad of management texts and cases that seek to define and categorise leadership. In the end leadership is hard to define at a purely theoretical level. But when I see it in action is blindingly apparent. And as an interesting corollary its absence is also apparent. Two cases illustrate this point:

  1. Christine Nixon in the 2009 Victorian bushfires
  2. Tony Hayward in the BP oil disaster of 2010

In each case the leader demonstrated by words and/or deeds that they were not fully on the job while their people were dealing with a desperate situation. They were not present in various ways to guide, reassure, direct, console or otherwise interact with workers, participants, victims, and other stakeholders in the particular situations in which they found themselves.

I know that these actions or words don’t look like leadership. Perhaps it is easier to describe leadership by what it is not?

Here’s a few of my thoughts:

  • Leadership is not walking away for recreation when your people are working through a crisis
  • Leadership is not complaining because people are angry with you (even though what they’re angry about might not be your direct fault)
  • Leadership is not whining
  • Leadership is not finding excuses
  • Leadership is not running away from problems

So who do I think is a good leader? One person that stands out for me is the Captain of the local Rural Fire Brigade – an unassuming chap whose name I shall not reveal (as he’d be a tad embarrassed). He does the opposite of the things listed above. He’s a steadying influence in a crisis and is there when we need him. Pity someone like him was not on duty with BP for their crisis.

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Marysville, bushfires, cooking and rebirth

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This recipe was shared by my buddy Heather for an upcoming barbecue that I’m planning.

The story behind this cookbook is sad but heartwarming all at once. As Heather explains:

Saturday 7th February 2009, now known as Black Saturday, saw the state of Victoria devastated by uncontrollable bushfires. Many towns were wiped from the map, thousands of buildings were lost and 173 people perished.

The devastation of Marysville was almost total.

The township needed something that was theirs and theirs alone. So I created the “Cookbook for Marysville”. Almost 300 copies were printed and given to the residents of Marysville with a message of hope and of thanks to emergency personnel.

Many people wanted to buy the book. I commissioned a second print run and the book is now for sale at $30.00.

$10 from each and every book, will be returned back to the town through various community ventures. I shall publish updates on sales and where the money is going, along with recipes from the book, at the Marysville Cookbook blog.

This book is 165 pages, including 28 pages of photos of the old Marysville taken by residents both past and present.

This recipe is an ideal dessert for a BBQ:

Baked Oranges

Serves 6

6 Oranges
60g of Butter
3 Tbspn of Brown Sugar
Grated Rind of 1 Orange
1 Tbspn Orange Liqueur (Optional)
¼ Cup of Orange Juice

Cut the outside skin and all the pith from the oranges and cut so the base will sit flat. Cut the oranges across into slices. Carefully put the whole oranges into individual foil squares which are large enough to enclose them. Mash the butter with the brown sugar and orange rind. Dot the top of the each orange with this. Fold the packets up but don’t seal the top yet. Mix the orange juice with liqueur and divide between the packets. Pinch to seal. Bake at normal heat over an indirect fire in a kettle barbeque for

15-20 minutes or in a moderate oven (180’C) for 15 minutes. Open carefully so as not to spill any juices.

Why not order a copy now at www.marysvillecookbook.com and help this community to rebuild?

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Libraries for the future

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I spent most of my youth and childhood hanging about in public libraries and reading their books. In fact I blame libraries for most of my quirks these days, since it was there that I was exposed to dangerous ideas from philosophers, historians and fiction authors. The local, school and state libraries provided a welcome haven away from my rowdy siblings at home and the somewhat unpleasant school bullies of my youth.

Last week I was lucky enough to join a distinguished panel at the State Library of NSW to discuss the future of libraries. The event was the Futures Forum 2010 (PDF of media release available here).

The panel and assembled librarians were considering the possible futures for libraries in NSW – looking at these via the The bookends scenarios : the future of the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030 (PDF copy of the scenarios available here).

The booksellers on our panel were very worried about the impact of e-books and readers such as Kindle or iPad on their existing business of selling physical books.

This concern is no surprise with the rapid shift of consumption towards virtual rather than physical media for both books and audio. It seems very clunky to buy a CD for music now when I can just download the music I want to my mobile phone. It’s not hard to imagine the same scenario for books once equivalent reading devices are more widely available.

Another feature of the shift to virtual goods instead of books is the growth of recommendation engines and the ability to share our enthusiasms widely and immediately via social networks.

Thus if I love a new book, article or song it is easy to share it was all my contacts via Facebook or Twitter with a click or two. And interested parties can acquire it almost immediately based upon my recommendation. Thus the role of the mediators (like booksellers) is being replaced by the broader community of my social connections.

The growing hyper-connectedness facilitated by the internet and our connected devices make sharing of media a communal thing. In the same way that we pass physical books and CDs around amongst our circles we are sharing our passion and interests for virtual media.

Libraries are either going to adapt or go the way of the dinosaur. Judging by the level of thinking, debate and discussion I saw last week, my money is on adaptation.

Of the future scenarios considered, the one I see as most probable is that libraries become shared community spaces providing a hub for local activities and collaboration.

Have you been to your local library lately? Why not get along and check it out?

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The importance of role models who look like us

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On Wednesday evening I attended the retirement dinner for a mathematics teacher whom I’ve known and respected for many years.  I will not mention him by name as he’s a very shy and private individual.

This gentleman and his wife migrated to Australia over twenty years ago from Malaysia to work as teachers and to bring up their family here.  In many ways it is the classic migrant success story.  Their children and grandchildren are growing up in the multicultural Australian way that blends diverse cultures.

It was a lovely celebration of a professional life that had a positive impact on many young people.  Many of the attendees stood and recounted their memories of their life with him at the school.

However, one story in particular stood out for me.  A young mathematics teacher stood to tell of his days as a student in classes with this gentleman.  He noted that, apart from being a great maths teacher, this gentleman had inspired him as an example of what a man should aspire to be.

Further, the young teacher noted that when the time came for him to decide upon a career, it was this gentleman who also inspired his decision to become a teacher.

What is interesting about this story is that the young man is an Australian of Asian heritage. And he noted the impact of having a male role model who looked like him – of Asian heritage – in helping him to decide to become a teacher.

This story made me think of all those people who say to me – why do we need role models who are ‘women’ or ‘ethinic’ – i.e. why aren’t white male role models sufficient?

It is very simple. We need to see people who look like us doing things to help us to see the possibilities for us.

In this case a young man looked about to see which role models he could find, and he found a good one.  Now we have one more good role model for young men. And a young man has dedicated his life to teaching our young people as a result.

Now that’s what I call a virtuous cycle 🙂

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Being real

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As a child I read a story where the main character wanted to be a ‘real boy’ and not just a wooden puppet.

And this choice between being a real person – who connects with other people and things in an open and organic way – and being a puppet – driven by fear and striving and struggle – seems to be facing us all today.

Social media is merely speeding up the process.  It is helping the real people find each other and create sustaining communities.  And it is helping the others to find like-minded desperate souls.

We are at a crossroad in the future of our world.  Which group have you chosen to join?

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International Women's Day 2010 #IWD

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It is fascinating to note on this International Women’s Day that one of our major newspapers has an article titled “Gender pay gap shows no sign of abating

The gender pay gap can cost women up to $1 million over a lifetime

* Women earn 17pc less than men
* Pay inequality worth $1m over lifetime
* Women have more self-managed super

WORKING mothers and daughters can expect to be $1 million worse off during their lifetime, compared with fathers, as pay inequality and financial bias keep their incomes and assets low.

By Karina Barrymore
March 08, 2010 6:34AM

What does this tell us?

It tells us that even on International Women’s Day and even in Australia, the right of women to a fair go and equal treatment still has a long way to go.

It tells us that women’s higher participation in education still does to not pay off equally with men’s participation in education.

It tells us that women still need to strive together to achieve parity with men in many areas of life.

The recent Febusave campaign by ANZ also highlighted the need for women to take control of their financial destiny. Better finances are an important component of choice and freedom for women.

But these are all first world problems.

There are terrible and sad situations with women in many developing parts of the world. In those places women suffer physically and mentally due to oppression, violence and war.

On this IWD think about how we might help those women too. There’s microfinance ideas like Kiva or Unifem.

Why not reach and help a woman in developing world this IWD?

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