At a recent meeting in Austin following SXSW Interactive, activists and technologists discussed how they might work better together to create better technology to support advocacy, community, and democracy. This meeting was a continuation of discussions that began parallel to the Howard Dean presidential campaign, as progressive technologists sought to build the effective tools for the grassroots movement that had aligned behind Dean and flourished working with a campaign that was clueful enough let adherents do their own thing. Advocacy groups and political campaigns are embracing promising tech tools like CivicSpace (formerly Deanspace, a Drupal-based Open Source content management system for building and sustaining activist communities) and Advokit (which supports get-out-the-vote efforts), and trying to network effectively with each other using email, blogs, wikis, forums, and other tools. The Community Network movement, which has always tried to extend access to the Internet but has been constrained by a lack of funds over the past 5 years, is reviving thanks to the availability of inexpensive Open Source tools and the proliferation of broadband access. It's increasingly clear that broadband access will play a significant role in the social, political, and economic future of the world, and movements are forming (Blogger Corps, Global Voices) to push for universal global high-speed connectivity. At the same time commercial interests that have traditionally owned and operated networks are seeing broadband, not as a public good, but as a platform for significant profitability. There's already a clash between commercial interests that want to control communication channels and public interests that are pushing for propagation of connectivity as though it was another public utility, like water, electricity, and gas. Just as there are many ways, public and private, to generate electricity, some believe there should be no constraint on the proliferation of broadband.
The convergence of community and technology is a theme of the 7th Annual Community Internet Summit in Austin, Texas April 28-30. Sponsored by the Association for Community Networks and the Telecommunity Resource Center, this event is re-visioning of the National Community Networking Conference, which in the past had a similar focus from year to year: how to fund, build, and sustain community networks; how to support training for traditionally underserved populations, and what to do with networks once they're built. This year, with technology accelerating and the world in a turmoil of polarization and confusion, the Community Networking Conference will change substantially to become the Community Internet Summit, including Open Space Austin, two days of discussions with a participant-driven agenda resulting in a document that will hopefully lay the groundwork for a revitalization of the community networking movement. This important conference, held in modest digs (a Holiday Inn in South Austin), is part of a growing transformative movement that combines progressive advocacy, deliberative democracy, and advanced technology to build a global sustainable future.
I asked a world-traveling internet-conference goer if technology was advancing to make on-line as good as "being there", or if it was all just leading to more conference travel.
His answer was that the internet meant (for him) more travel, not less.
I'm sure there are good reason to go, especially for "participants" (rather than simple "attendees") but wouldn't the WorldChanging thing be to eliminate some of the "place" from these things?
Or are all these conferences already about that - how to obsolete themselves?
Technology extends our reach, but it's not a replacement for face-to-face gatherings. I'm thinking that's why so many more conferences are springing up – they provide opportunities for online acquaintances to extend their conversations.
Civicspace is pretty good. The Regular is using it*.
*I am editor there, so I guess this is a plug.
During the week of April 18 Tech Soup (www.techsoup.org) will host a forum titled Online Learning Communities and Collaboration Spaces. This should be informative for anyone who is hosting, or planning on hosting a face to face or internet based conference in the future. You can find information on the Tech Soup web site.
well, after you fly into your world-changing conference ... be sure to walk around drinking fiji water. that always looks good :-/
Technology is enabling, but we must choose what it enables us to do. When technologies enable more consumption, more use of energy and resources, they're not helping us go where we need to go. With the "Meetup" technologies, we face of choice of using them for less air travel or more, more time in hotels and conference centers or less, more restaurant meals or more home-cooked meals, etc. Each person's choice, of course, but the choice matters.
I'd mention the real reasons people go to conferences, but Worldchanging is rated PG. :)
more restaurant meals or more home-cooked meals
From an environmental perspective, restaurant meals are almost always more resource-efficient than home-cooked meals -- by a fairly large margin.
I was wondering about that restaurant thing ... maybe he was thinking about the transportation issue.
I know people who routinely drive great distances to their favorite restaurants.
LOL ... think globally, eat locally!
I was wondering about that restaurant thing ... maybe he was thinking about the transportation issue. I know people who routinely drive great distances to their favorite restaurants.
People also drive to the grocery store, and the goods that are in that grocery store are brought by truck, rail, air, etc. The people who work in the grocery store also drive there. And so forth.
It's best to think in terms of resources consumed per meal consumed. Think of all the refrigerators in people's homes, plugged in and running 24/7. Compare the energy and material consumption of all the refrigerators of say 500 people, then think of the refrigeration energy and materials necessary to serve the same output in a restaurant. Then move on to stoves, lighting, space, etc. One also has to consider labor productivity.
On top of that, there are all kinds of things restaurants can make that would be prohibitively difficult to do at home.
There's also the issue of spoilage rate, freshness of ingredients, as well as average cooking skill to consider.
If you ponder the comparison for a while, you'll realize the massive waste involved in people cooking for one to a few people at home.
Here I am, working around home, and there are probably a dozen restaurant gridles fired up and hot within three miles of me. They are running refrigerators and freezers too.
Of course using those is going to be less incremental energy use than 2 minutes in my microwave ... if I ride my bike over, which is what I was getting at.
Most people use several times the energy of their stove/refrigerator on transportation. In fact, isn't one of the Sierra Club's factiods that driving an SUV is like leaving your refrigerator door open for six years?
I'm sure we could think of worst-case energy uses for home or restaurant. I think those worst-cases come from worst-practices, at home or restaurant.
It is probably better to think of how to improve those worst cases, than to try to imagine the national averge behaviors of all homes and restaurants.
And I'm sure part of best practices is to reduce food-orient travel. Get an Energy Star refrigerator/freezer combo, stock it up now and then, drive less, walk and bike more.
I decided not to be lazy, and did a search. According to this page:
"The amount of energy represented by one gigajoule is equivalent to about 30 litres of gasoline, 39 litres of propane, 278 kilowatt-hours of electricity or 45.5 kilograms of coal."
My refrigerator uses 440kWh per year. Working out the math ((440/278)*30), that 440kWh is equivalent to 47.5 litres, or 12.5 gallons of gasoline. So assuming my car is perfectly efficent (30% would be a better number?) running my refrigerator/freezer for a year is equivalent to one tankful of gasoline.
Odograph, it's simple physics.
Take 500 homes. In each of those homes there's a refrigerator. Whether that refrigerator is used for anything (ie, to hold food for meal preparation), it will run regardless.
Basic thermal efficiency of refrigerators starts with looking at the ratio of surface area to volume. The reason that refrigeration at home is ridiculously inefficient compared to commercial-scale refrigeration starts with this basic difference. It's the same reason "dorm fridges" aren't that much more efficient than standard home fridges. It's the same reason an apartment building is more efficient than the number of single family homes it would take to house the same number of people.
You don't compare refrigerators to cars. Refrigeration is only one part of a total equation of looking at resource efficiency. The question of driving to a restaurant would be negated if the restaurant in question were a neighborhood restaurant, wouldn't it?
Go to a major supermarket and take a look at the parking lot. Imagine how many car trips and vehicle miles that represents. Now think about how a restaurant gets its food -- usually delivered to the restaurant from a handful of suppliers who are already out running their routes.
I didn't even mention packaging -- when you produce things on a commercial scale, there's far less packaging per unit of food than with food made for individual consumers. This is the reason that places like Costco and Sam's Club do well -- they de-atomize packaging. Let's also keep in mind that you're also eliminating at least one level of the distribution chain with a restaurant -- and for chain restaurants, there's often a high degree of vertical integration that cuts back on distribution even further.
Individual consumers will almost always act more inefficiently than commercial consumers, simply because a commercial consumer is usually far more aware of cost components and how they affect their bottom line. They tend to act far more rationally, eg, seeing machines like vehicles as part of a business process, not as something to salve the ego etc.
For storing, preparing and serving processed, remotely-grown, "commoditized" food, the restaurant probably is more efficient. Joseph does his homework, and probably has data to back up his point. But by and large, eating in a restaurant confines you to eating "commoditized" food. Staying home, you can become more involved with your own life support, including raising some of your own food, if you wish. My original point was that web-based technologies, such as video-conferencing, either enable less-resource-intensive lifestyles or more-resource-intensive lifestyles, depending on personal choice. I find it ironic that these technologies seem to be generating more globe-trotting, not less.
For storing, preparing and serving processed, remotely-grown, "commoditized" food, the restaurant probably is more efficient. Joseph does his homework, and probably has data to back up his point. But by and large, eating in a restaurant confines you to eating "commoditized" food. Staying home, you can become more involved with your own life support, including raising some of your own food, if you wish.
Yes, but you're also comparing an at-home ideal with the general pattern of commercial cooking, instead of comparing the general pattern of at-home cooking (if it can even be called that) with the general pattern of commercial cooking.
There are plenty of chefs who source locally nowadays, and there are far more health-supportive options for eating out than there were just a few years ago. Whether one grows some of one's own food is sort of beside the point -- there are plenty of people who go out and buy starter plants that produce GMO foods, and then use all kinds of checmicals on top of that to bring them to harvest point.
Eating is a social, not an individual, activity. I think we lose track of that when we try to be "perfect" with our food at home.
I've been gone ... just rode my bike 5 miles or so to the pier, had fish tacos, and rode home.
I saw an awful lot of SUVs parked down there ... which is one reason I don't want to pretend they are not part of the equation.
And as I showed, the yearly energy requirements for a home refrigerator can be smaller than the average weekly energy requirements for a small car.
Solve the big problems first.
I saw an awful lot of SUVs parked down there ... which is one reason I don't want to pretend they are not part of the equation.
Did you bike over to Safeway (or its equivalent) after that?
If you're going to compare one thing to another, you have to be fair about both sides of it.
The whole reason that restaurants can function economically is because of the efficiencies involved (mostly labor efficiencies).
Try looking at it this way -- imagine there's a farm that can supply all the food for a given population that lives on that farm. On this farm, all the food is harvested and processed without any fossil fuel inputs.
Assume that 100 people (50 couples) live on this farm.
Now, would it be more efficient for those 50 couples to each live in their own home (with its own kitchen, stove, oven, refrigerator, freezer, dining table, chairs, etc, and to prepeare their own meals) and prepare their own meals; or for them to live in one building with a common dining area, with meals prepared by 4 or 5 of them, using a kitchen with a commercial stove, oven, fridge, freezer, dining tables, chairs, etc?
Also, do you think there would be more food spoilage in those 50 individual homes, or from the one commercial kitchen?
Finally, what would be the quality of human relationships in the community in each scenario? How much more free time would be available in one scenario instead of another? How much less stress would be created in one sceario versus the other?
I was talking about people who had driven to that same strip of restaurants that I rode to. So that was comparing the same sort of things.
As it happens, I do ride my bike to Trader Joe's about once a week. I use the car to stock up on larger quantities of frozen/canned food, and the bike to pick up the odd thing that runs out in-between.
Now, I see you have rounded out to the community kitchen idea. I know that's been done here and there ... I forget what they call the Danish co-ops, or townhouses, with a shared garden and kitchen. I don't really have anything against that ...
BUT that it totally different than the generic American answer of driving first to the gym to work out, and then driving to the restaurant to eat.
There are lots of gyms and restaurants in my area, the average number of bikes outside each is zero.
So in the world that now exists, I see driving less as a real option ... and sure, let's try community kitchens as they become available in our communities.
Hmmm... this is a pretty remarkable bit of topic drift, but interesting.
In response to the comment that we face of choice of using them for less air travel or more, I think it would be interesting to see an economic analysis of air travel. I was going to say that those flights will be in the air whether people decide to make conferences or not, but I suppose if all the conferences went away with appreciable effect on air travel, the number of flights would actually be reduced. But would that reduction have an appreciable effect on the environment? I'm not so sure.
"They say" that flying jets is a double-whammy ... burning the fuel, but also generating the contrails:
Now, I see you have rounded out to the community kitchen idea. I know that's been done here and there ... I forget what they call the Danish co-ops, or townhouses, with a shared garden and kitchen. I don't really have anything against that ... BUT that it totally different than the generic American answer of driving first to the gym to work out, and then driving to the restaurant to eat.
A "community kitchen" is no different from a restaurant in terms of looking at it from a resource use perspective. It's the same thing.
If you want to talk about the wastefulness of society in general when it comes to how restaurants are used, then to be fair, you also have to acknowledge the wastefulness of society in general when it comes to how home cooking (and again, I use the term "cooking" hesitantly, since much of home "cooking" is merely heating highly processed foods) and the way that society in general brings those goods from the source materials to the home.
If you cherry pick and compare someone growing their own food and cooking it at home with McDonalds, then it's a skewed comparison.
My basic point is that scale cooking is simply more efficient than cooking for one or a few people, all other things being equal.
In a way all oil and coal and natural gas realy are is a bootstrap tool used to get us that much farther so that we can learn how to harness better tools.
Renewable isnt a need its a goal.
Joseph, I really do see the benefits of local restaurants, which was why I took that break yesterday to cycle to tacos. I'm going to cycle to the post office, and probably grab a bite, today.
(Semi-retirement has less time pressure, also a factor.)
But I can't accept that restaurants are equivalent to community kitchens, at least in my area, where people drive ... probably an average to 10 miles to their choice of meal.
As always, YMMV.
If y'all come to the conference, we can do an "open space" on these various subjects. :)