We had imagined that, at the end of 2004, we would undertake a semi-elaborate set of posts looking back at the year gone by and forward towards the future. We were talking scenarios, elaborate summaries of ideas, maybe even a bit of podcasting. The December 26 tsunami and the resulting days of reportage, discussion and analysis tossed all of that out the window, of course, and for the better: the insight, openness and collaborative spirit demonstrated by the team in its efforts to bring meaning from tragedy were the best possible examples of what WorldChanging seeks to accomplish.
Although we'll continue to respond to the evolving situation in Southeast Asia, we thought we'd take a moment to mark the new year (albeit a week late) with something a bit simpler. We asked our contributors to look back over 2004 and pick their three favorite stories, including (at least) one of their own. Most were able to grab a moment to do so (and we'll update with any stragglers as they come in). In the extended entry, you'll find our picks for favorite posts, along with short explanations of why the stories were selected. There was a little overlap, but quite a bit of difference -- highlighting the intellectual diversity of our contributors.
We'd like to hear from you, too. Please take a moment to tell us which stories stood out for you as being the most interesting, provocative and worldchanging of 2004. And If you're a new reader, this is a good opportunity to see what we feel best represents what we've been trying to do at WorldChanging. Let us know what you'd like to see more of.
Thank you for reading WorldChanging. Let's keep building a better world and a bright green future.
Firstly, let's take a quick look at which 2004 stories were the most widely-read:
And now, to the contributor's favorites:
The Bogotá Experiment: Actually, they've had two phenomenal mayors there, Enrique Penelosa is the other, and I love knowing that some of the most creative ideas for building sustainable cities are coming from places that most people tend to think of as hopeless cases. The stories out of Bogota leave my jaw dropping, relative to other cities/regions I work in.
Beyond Sustainability: Because that is the kind of thinking that we need to be preaching, in its purest and most abstract form. Never underestimate the power of a good abstract idea. To steal from Keynes, that's what the world runs on.
As for my own favorite of my own posts:
What if Kerry had Won?: I liked the fact that I actually managed to produce something semi-positive, on request, in the wake of many of us saw as a disaster, and it also reflects the core message I tend to go out with, in its purest form. Hey, it even challenges me.
Reframing the Planet: As Alex has long argued, environmentalism as a movement is seriously moribund. Not content to just critique, in this essay Alex starts laying out some strategies for reinvigorating and transforming the environmental movement. Fortunately for us, these strategies are not quick fixes but focus on a key leverage point in any worldchanging effort: that is changing the very language that frames environmentalism. A savvy, great start indeed. Let's build on this and go for it!
How to Change the World?: The most creative part of society these days is clearly the "citizen sector" or what many people call "social entrepreneurs." For anyone who wants a sense where the world is going, understanding this emerging class of actors is essential -- however amorphous, distributed in far flung places, and poorly covered they may be in mainstream media. To remedy this awareness gap, Alex reviews David Bornstein's How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, one of the early, excellent books trying to chronicle this worldchanging phenomenon.
(And her own:)
Adversarial Politics: Is there another model?: How do we work productively together on the many stuck, intractable, shared problems that affect as all -- everything from climate change, epidemics, poverty, environmental degradation, to violent conflicts over values and worldviews? A timeless question to be sure, but the stakes for getting some workable answers is increasing as these problems start to snowball. Seen through the experience of the US election, this essay talks about some of these new approaches, tools and ideas being developed and practiced, while meditating on the challenges that these will entail.
(Chris has been sick, but managed to send in his list -- we'll push him for some discussions when he's feeling a bit better. Interestingly, his tastes coincide nicely with Nicole's!)
The Ethan Zuckerman interview (before he was recruited)
Honorary mention: As a Seattle native, I really enjoyed Alex's rant-like "What Seattle Needs" post, but that may be of limited appeal...
While I don't necessarily think that the solutions the world needs are purely technological, one of the things I most appreciate about WC is the range of high- and low-tech solutions brought to light:
Mine Wolf: Because "a landmine isn't much different than a sugar beet": Jer looks at humanitarian design in the unlikely form of an enormous, convertible, mine-clearing tractor.
Biomimicry, Smart Breeding, and Prairie-Like Farms: The innovations to farming and topsoil retention that Alex explores address a critical, fundamental issue, and one we tend to sideline.
(And her own:)
Un-Electric Fridge: Low-tech solutions to complex problems are rarely obvious, and ideas like this don't come along very often. The pot-in-pot remains my favourite innovation: homegrown, relevant, startlingly effective and literally cheap as dirt.
What Would Radical Longevity Mean?: Fascinating topic (nothing to do with the quest for eternal beauty), lots of implications and questions that keep you thinking days after having read the post.
Natalie Jeremijenko: The WorldChanging Interview: Not just because Jeremijenko is one of my favourite artists, also because I usually frown when i see long interviews. This one was just brilliant two women discussing biotech and activism! (i enjoyed documenting street art too)
The third post is not mine. how would I? I still haven't posted much and I think Anne Galloway (well yes, I know, another woman!) is one of the cleverest gals on the blogosphere!
Ales'x Members Unite! You have nothing to lose but your newsletters and crappy coffee-cup premiums...: A good example of the new ideas we churn out here for changing the world in big ways--ideas you won't find elsewhere.
My Globalism ain't what it used to be: Because although many people get the spatial big picture (what the whole world is like today), almost nobody gets the temporal big picture (what socio-political/technological trends are over hundreds of years). This essay gave the temporal big picture for one particular issue.
Dawn's Adbusters As Survivalist Romance: Dawn succinctly zeros in on what's troubling and blinkered about fantasies of apocalypse as a cure-all for civilization; she also admits just how attractive they can be.
Jamais' Conversation with Adam Kahane: Kahane's work suggests a path away from catastrophic thinking towards peaceful and effective change. That seems central of what we're about at WorldChanging. Jamais asks good questions and does a nice job interweaving excerpts from Kahane's book into the interview.
My own (espc. as others conveniently nominated my interview with Natalie J.):
Fresh Kills: An Unnatural Context: It's the merging of art and environment, one of my favorite topics. Engineering simulacrum wildlands on the detritus of America's megacity melds past excesses, presently fluid definitions of "real," and future promise. That the Fresh Kills landfill, its evocative name left over from Dutch colonization of North America, also contains remnants of the World Trade Center and those who died there, makes it a poignant representation what this land and its people have been, and may become.
Sterling on Bollywood - by Alex Steffen: "I watch them for sociological, trend-spotting reasons, I tend to like Bollywood movies that are either really unpopular or sort of ludicrously popular." Duh! What about the women, Bruce?!!! And he's watching all the VERY bad films. Only Indians watch Bollywood for trend-spotting reasons :)
Jamming In The Flux - Nicole-Ann Boyer: To search for Nicole on Worldchanging, look for the keyword "systemic", and you'll find at least three of her essays, consistently brilliant and insightful. She thinks so hard!
...and finally, my own story: OrganicPoetry: Because it totally rocks! It has now been listed as a playable variant of Hermanne Hesse's fictional Glass Bead Game. Yay! Woohoo!
The Next Environmental Movement by Alex Steffen: One of the first things I remember hearing from Alex after we met was that we need to change the way the environmental movement works, because it's not as effective as it could be - inspired in part, I assume, but Bruce Sterling's Viridian Design Movement, which was a new way to think about being green. This post gathers solid thinking about environmental action in an emerging network society. I especially like his description of the group-forming network effect as "sheep that shit grass."
Ethan Zuckerman Interview by Alex: Ethan envisions a truly global blogosphere, and he's realistic about the role technology can play in supporting democracies: "It's pretty hard to expect technology to turn non-democracies into democracies. Where I think technology can make a huge difference is where you have a young and fragile democracy. In those cases, I think what helps is finding ways to empower individuals." This interview is chock full of good, clear thinking about the developing world's potential use of social technology.
Activist Technology by Jon Lebkowsky: I think this was my own best worldchanging post in 2004. "Theoretically we all have weight as constituents of a government wherein power is mediated by legislative and executive offices. The agency associated with political representation has no more than the force we give it; we are still, as citizens in a participatory democracy or republic, the distributed sources of political power. When we delegate that power in cyclical rituals of voting, we should not surrender it completely, disengage from the process and leave governance entirely to the those we have elected.
"Rather, we should be vigilant, attentive, and vocal; we must sustain our engagement and participation in systems of governance and avoid the temptation to leave that responsibility entirely to others."
My 3 picks:
Reframing the Planet: Practical heuristics for effective environmentalism - and a good example of the power of thinking differently about familiar problems.
Adversarial Politics: Is there another model?: By taking a step back and talking about how we talk, Nicole's essay eloquently speaks about moving beyond discourse-as-war.
A Conversation with Dr. James Hughes Part 1 Part 2 Part 3: At its best, the transhumanist philosophy is one of profound hope in humanity's future potential. But self-improvement and radical technological advances also pose grave dangers. This thoughtful and enjoyable conversation tempers techno-enthusiasm with concern for social welfare.
Leapfrog 101: A great explanation of the concept from Jamais - it opened my eyes!
Networks of Networks: Alex addresses the future of work and collaboration through networking in a global world in this post. Its happening in trickles ... its worldchanging.
(and her own...)
Asia Earthquake and Tsunamis: Blogs a platform to make a difference: I havent done many articles for WC - this one is a hastily-written first thoughts sort of conversation on how social technologies and blogs in specific can help in disasters ... since i wrote this we've seen loads of media coverage on it - there's a new model emerging ... i'd like to build upon it some more, with a focus on how social medai and tech like blogs, wikis, presence indicators, and concepts from social networking services can be built into this. More on that once the urgency with the SEA EAT effort wanes.
Alex's Open Source Translation at WSF: Translation is really a bigger issue than most people think, and I see it a lot locally in Caribbean and Latin America ICT. In fact, MISTICA tries to handle that with a multiple language (through automatic translation) email list. Therefore, this is one of my primary concerns worldwide - and will become very important at the next level of disaster communication, when the only people on the ground do not speak the same language of coordinators of aid.
Jamais' 'Linking Free Culture' -- yeah, I get mentioned, but it's deeper. I have more books to do the same Wikipedia remixes on, once I get the time.
This is a big deal to me because it shows what can be done - and what will continually be done. One of my hobbies is actually taking content such as this and doing such linking - because it allows cultural references within language which would otherwise not translate well to other languages.
My fav of my own?
'Standing on the shoulders of giants', I guess. This is my favourite because it brings the past and the future together in ways that are often ignored. Humanity, and the technology we create, is based off of the societal memory of those who have come before. What was once an oral tradition has become a written tradition - and the written tradition is evolving in ways that the first scribes certainly hoped for (through bibliographies and so on), but lacked the technology for. We have the technology now, and out of some written memory and the spirit of that memory, we are creating what these first scribes would have wanted - and more.
(and his own...)
Emily Gertz's interview with Natalie Jeremijenko: Radioactive seagulls, feral robot dogs, anti-anti-terror weapons and biotech hobbyists. What more could you want from an interview with one of the planet's most scientific artists? Or is she an artistic scientist? Or a sci/arty activist? Anyway, Jeremijenko is brilliant and Emily does a great job of capturing the eclectic nature of her thought and conversation.
Alex Steffen's interview with Dr. Thomas Barnett: Barnett is a visionary thinker with a profoundly important vision for how the US military could reshape its view of the world and become a force for peace in the 21st century. With such a radical perspective, you'd imagine he might be dismissed as a crank. Instead, he's one of the most influential thinkers in Washington these days - I recently attended a policy meeting in DC where every attendee was given a copy of Barnett's book at the beginning of the meeting. Barnett is a tough interview - speaks not just in paragraphs, but in full pages. Alex's interview is a great introduction to Barnett's thinking and compresses an amazing number of ideas in a small space.
(and his own...)
Airungaaipa! (Welcome to Nunavut Online): I love that WorldChanging encourages me to write not just in my areas of expertise, but in my areas of passion. Where else in my afrocentric research do I get to write about language and technology issues in Nunavut?
Adbusters as Survivalist Romance: Dawn here nails perfectly the pro-apocolyptic delusions of the last generation of activists, the inability of some folks to imagine that the future might actually be better than present. Adbusters' obituary.
Leapfrog 101: Leapfrogging is one of the central conceptual pivots of this site, and Jamais here sums up the concept in tight writing and key examples.
(and his own...)
The Transcommercial Enterprise: Not an entirely successful essay, this piece is still as close as I've been able to get to describing the new sort of organization I see emerging and thriving over the next decade. Of everything I've done on this site, this is the piece I most want to rewrite. I think that says something.
I had the luxury of being able to see what everyone else had submitted before listing my own, which means that rather than pick ones others have already put a good word in for, I'd point out a few more worthies:
Dawn's Information Design Matters is ostensibly about making ballots usable, but it's really about the importance of good design philosophies in areas beyond products and objects. The value of design thinking is one of the less obvious cornerstones of our approach at WorldChanging. This post spells out in clear language how thinking like a designer helps with social processes, too.
Emily's Restoring Mangroves is, for me, one of the best examples of something we strive for at WorldChanging: the use of scientific knowledge towards a broader understanding of both how the planet functions and the ways in which human civilization is interdependent with the environment.
Picking of a favorite from my own posts was difficult. Should I pick something provocative? Futuristic? Explanatory? Ultimately, I decided to go with a post which I think is the perfect crystallization of a key idea at WorldChanging, the elegant application of science and technology to improving the lives of those in need: Land Mine Detecting Flowers.
A big thank you to all the Worldchanging contributors! May our sustainability ideas gain mindshare in 2005.
just wanted to jump in on the conversation and do a little promoting for the group Free Share Worldwide Freecycle and Recycle....
a group for sharing links to free, recycle, freecycle type, scavenger, dumpster diving and community bulletin boards world wide. Simular to the rogue freecycle.org group but we are not a corporation and we just list links as a free service, we don't require we own a peice of any group.
We are Europeans and have come to Tamil Nadu 6 years ago. We built our house on the coast because this has been our dream. The tsunami hit our area but our house was safe. I saw the disaster and the agony of the people around me. The house was full of refugees and for many days my family and I took care of the people who had been left homeless.
These people don't need prayers, the orphaned children don't need to be pulled from their familiar environment to suffer another trauma that they can't overcome. These people need help right here. They need houses, boats, fishing nets, medical aid and people who will help them to find back to their old lifes.
The government gets lots of aid from various foreign organizations but the people in the destroyed villages have not received anything that would help them. The ministers visit the people and tell the press how sorry they are. The people are still living in tents that they made from old clothes. They are still waiting and thinking of what they have lost and if their lifes will ever be normal again.
The ones among you who want to help (not just calm their mind) can contact me?