Is social computing just increasing our anxiety?

 

Since the early days of the internet revolution and web 2.0 I’ve been watching & participating in various ways.

And over the past few years I’ve seen its powerful properties of network amplification working in practice. My friend and colleague Mark Pesce has recently discussed these properties in his Big Ideas talk.

But with all of this I’ve also observed how the internet has amplified our anxiety as well as amplifying goodness.

For example, on Twitter over the past 12 months, it has morphed from a casual communication and community platform into a sales and spruiking platform, with increasingly desperate multi level marketing or affiliate schemes.

It seems to me that much of what we do as humans merely seeks to assuage anxiety, and the internet is the latest place to manifest that anxiety.

So much of the activity that I see online now reeks of desperation and striving to sell, be successful and rich. But it seems that we have the opportunity to create a different kind of world with this technology and its ability to connect people beyond borders and barriers.

Never before have we had technology that supports openness, collaboration and sharing on such a broad scale.  We have the opportunity to use this technology to do good & creative things – like Action Aid’s Project TOTO that I’ve mentioned before, or the recent Live Local Challenge.

Perhaps one way to assuage this anxiety is to use up our personal energy (and use the technology) to change the world for the better in little, local ways every day?  We could choose openness over constriction, expansiveness over constraint, collaboration over competition, sustainability over wanton waste.

Live local challenge – what I learned #livelocal

Approach
My approach was that of an ordinary outer suburban Sydney dweller. I wanted to see how easy it would be to live locally using the local shopping sources – malls, supermarkets, farmer’s markets – without travelling long distances to specialist sources. I also broadened my thinking to include other things I consume, such as power, cleaning supplies and cosmetics.

The other thing I wanted to test was how possible it was to use public transport in preference to a car for as many things as possible.

I wanted to find out how sustainable a live local life style would be in the long term and what challenges would arise.

Challenges
The biggest challenge was food labeling – it was often really hard to find out where foods actually came from. So many products simply say “made in Australia from local and imported ingredients”. Other foods say a location but you can’t see where the ingredients come from.  An example of this was the sourdough rye bread, which was baked in Fairfield, but for which the provenance of the ingredients could not be ascertained.

Another was how little I actually know about things I use everyday – electricity for example, where does it come from? And where other consumables, like cleaning products (mostly made in Australia from local & imported ingredients) and cosmetics (mostly not local) come from?

My addictions to products that are not produced locally were a big challenge: coffee (which I did not give up for the sake of housemates), chocolate (which I only had once but craved the entire time), olive oil, butter, and rice.

What I learned
Being conscious of small decisions I make everyday was my biggest lesson. The most important question to ask while out shopping is:

Do I really need to buy something from very far away if there is a locally produced option available?

I also had the opportunity to speak with neighbours and local shopkeepers to discuss where their produce came from. Some nice surprises, like that my local Chinese restaurant actually hand-make their spring rolls and use locally purchased cabbage.  There is a huge amount of interesting activity around sustainability and the environment going on in my own neighbourhood.  Many people are composting or keeping worm farms.  Several people keep chickens and many are growing vegetables.  We have lots of water tanks around the area as well.

There is actually a farmer’s market nearby, but is held on Thursdays during business hours, which is not much help to those of us who don’t work nearby.

My biggest lessons were:

Being conscious of decisions that I make, rather than just doing things blindly & without thinking.  Getting off autopilot and getting back  in touch with nature, the seasons and living consciously.

Issues to consider
Living local is an important thing to keep in mind.  But we really are part of a global community and we need to acknowledge this fact.  Some of us work on global projects and collaborate internationally.  Australia is a great distance away from many other places.  To participate in many activities, and for work, overseas travel is required.  Even with the best technology,  personal meetings are still often the best way to work with other people.  For example, I collaborate with people in Europe and north America – we do a lot online, but from time to time we need to meet in person.   One of the ways I manage this is to try to coordinate all the meetings/conferences into one trip per year.

History

My blog posts for each of the 7 days:
#livelocal day 1
#livelocal day 2
#livelocal day 3
#livelocal day 4
Where does soap come from? #livelocal
Neighbourhood vegetable garden #livelocal
#livelocal day 5
#livelocal day 6
#livelocal day 7
#livelocal wrap-up

More info about the Live Local Challenge or via the Twitter stream, & dont forget to check out Rebecca’s challenge blog too.

Here is a series of pictures that I took during the challenge:
http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

Who else is interested in the future?

Here’s a short video with another person I met at the Future Summit 09 in Melbourne. This is Alex Jones, who is Chairman of the Deafness Forum of Australia, he’s talking to us in Auslan (Australian Sign Language). Alex raises the really important issue of access for all. After all, what’s a great future if we call can’t share in it?

What he’s saying is:

“Hi, I’m Alex Jones – chairman of the Deafness Forum of Australia. This organisation is the peak body for the deafness sector. We advocate and lobby for the rights of Deaf, hearing impaired, Deafblind people – to improve their lives in Australia. I’m here at the summit to contribute a huge factor on ‘access issues’ across all areas of the megatrends raised in this Summit. Access for all is the reason I’m here. Cheerios.”

Future and the Summit

I was really lucky to be able to attend the Australian Davos Connection’s Future Summit 2009 in Melbourne earlier this week.

When I walked into the venue it was a bit intimidating, so many serious looking people in suits. And from the attendee list I knew that many of them were CEOs, senior Public Servants, politicians, senior Defence personnel, journalists and writers. It was a pretty impressive crowd.

Then I started to get curious about these people, who were they, why were they here, why did they think that this conference was important? So I grabbed the camera and started to ask people those three questions on video.

The videos are gradually being uploaded onto YouTube.  Here’s one from Tony Press, Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, talking about climate change:

It was inspiring to hear these stories and to know that people really do care about creating a better future. The big question that arose for me is:

What can I do today that will make tomorrow better?

Future Summiteer

~ next week I’m off to the Future Summit in Melbourne on 18-19 May.

The theme for 2009 is Priorities for Australia in the Crisis and Beyond, and there is a really diverse line-up of speakers (pdf list here).

This conference is run by ADC (Australian Davos Connection) & brings together leaders from business, government, the public sector, academia and the broader community to improve their understanding of key issues affecting Australia.

I’m getting excited because it sounds like we’ll be addressing some interesting issues. It should be fun as some buddies are also heading down to the Future Summit.

You can expect to see a bit of tweeting under the hash tag #futuresummit & some official kind of tweets from @futuresummit.

Some of the Twitter folks heading along include: @liubinskas, @bronwen, @duncanriley, @mspecht, @eskimo_sparky, @rosshill, @jjprojects, with @stevehopkins as the conference community manager.

There are currently unconfirmed rumours of a pre #futuresummit tweetup in Melbourne on Sunday 17th.