CATALYST: Meet the Team

A fitness tracker for online communities and conversations? What is CATALYST all about? Meet the team and discover why we are so passionate about it!

Online communities have been playing an increasingly important role in supporting grassroots initiatives in the area of social innovation and sustainability. However, as such platforms go larger and larger, it is more and more difficult for community managers to ensure efficient debates among citizens, i.e. to ensure collective ideation, decision and action.

Major community networks and leading research institutes have teamed up to tackle this issue with the support of the European Commission’s research funding programme. Over 2 years, through the CATALYST project, they will develop and test collective intelligence tools and make them available, as open source solutions, to any interested communities.

Use cases planned in the short term should demonstrate how CATALYST developments can boost local initiatives in the area of social innovation, increase awareness on new sustainable lifestyles, support eGovernance efforts of European cities and even empower citizens and the civil society in debating emerging issues for the new European Constitution.

Help us test CATALYST

We have partnered with the Wisdom Hackers community to test DebateHub, part of the CATALYST suite of open source tools. Join us in a collective ideation, discussion, and debate of ways to maintain the festival spirit, how to think outside the cubicle and activate the thinking body, and much more.

Music credit for CATALYST video: “Daybreak” by Baja Snake/HEPNOVA

The Analog Underground = Neo-Luddites?

The July 3rd issued of New York Magazine features an article about The Analog Underground, “[a] new generation of digital apostates rejects zeroes and ones in favor of celluloid, vinyl, ink, paper, and the click-clack-ding-slide of a typewriter.”  I came across the article rather serendipitously online in the course of some research I have been doing for various projects I am working on, including a proposal for a SXSW talk tentatively called “Declare Independence: DIY Design as Social Innovation Movement.”  I have been exploring the idea of expanding design literacy and the practice of “just making stuff” through education (both in the formal and autodidactic sense) as an inherent social and civic good.

The Analog Underground article got me thinking, and made some synaptic connections in my head that I am still trying to full grasp.  The author of the article, Ashlea Halpern, mentions the nostalgia as well as novelty value of anachronistic objects, which I totally get.  But she also labels this analog phenomenon a “neo-Luddite counterculture”.  I’m not sure if that label was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I really don’t think “Luddite” correctly captures the motivations behind this trend.

According to Wikipedia:

The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the nineteenth century who protested – often by destroying mechanized looms – against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life.

I don’t think the so-called analog underground is rebelling against industrial capitalism.  They aren’t embracing the nostalgic novelty of vintage analog gadgets because the new digital ones are threatening their craft or livelihood.  I think the motivations are more personal, and inward focused.  Maybe it’s just an aesthetic thing.  Many people, from hipsters to old money trustfunders have favored old or vintage things for a long time now.  But maybe there are deeper psychological and spiritual needs too.  A need for a more physical, tactile connection with our objects.  It reminds me of the New York Aquarium ad I have been seeing in the subway that has a picture of a girl petting a starfish and the line “no screen, just touch.”  Maybe in the age of touch screens, we just want to touch something real.  Something analog.  The physical and the analog have a kind of permanence that ethereal and ephemeral cloud-based applications do not.  And we can really own them, hack them, and personalize them.  We don’t really own the apps on our iPhone or any software as service apps we run.  Somehow perhaps, all of these motivations are a reaction against the increasingly black box nature of technology.  We can’t open things up and see how they work.  After the magic and the seduction of these new shiny digital black boxes fade, what is left?  Alienation from our devices?  A desire for the real?  I don’t know, but it’s something to think about.

Other manifestations of this broader cultural phenomenon include the popularity of sites like Etsy and the spread of the Maker Movement.

Slimwhitman’s comment on the article really resonated with me:

The analog will always be more a more complex code than the digital, which has to approximate its curves, where the nearly infinite realm is. Although that sounds like pop-metaphysics, all you have to do is recognize how the record industry collapsed, it made the analog compressible into any digital file system and degraded our relationship to music. We went from live music to analog waves made in vinyl and magnetic tape to essentially finite squares out of binary codes. In order for a computer to synch with a neural net, like a brain or group of brains, it will require waves that cannot make errors or be approximate. The digital will never be the sole entrancer of humans, and probably, we will have to eventually build analog computers to achieve anything of value in the post-PC age.

I think there really is something to that observation. I have been feeling the same way in my own creative practice as a musician, but Slimwhitman’s articulation of the issue really gelled things for me. While I have been making electro-acoustic music since I was a teenager, and digital tools will continue to be important to how I work, I have recently been immersing myself in the analog music world by playing acoustic instruments. Even the joys of playing the humble ukulele has a kind of humanity and expressiveness that is quite different, and in many ways more accesible and immediate for me, the player, than any of my complex high-tech music making gadgets.

I’m still waiting for the analog blogging platform though.  Until then, I’ll still be sticking to my iMac and WordPress.  😉

The Washington Post versus Gawker

Background story in a nutshell

  1. Washington Post writer Ian Shapira writes an article about business coach/’generational consultant’ Anne Loehr: Speaking to Generation Nexus: Guru Explains Gens X, Y, Boomer To One Another
  2. Gawker blogger Hamilton Nolan picks up the story: ‘Generational Consultant’ Holds America’s Fakest Job
  3. Shapira complains that Gawker stole his story: The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition)

My take

Shapira’s claim that Gawker did not properly attribute him are unfounded.  The Gawker post links to the original article and to Loeher’s generational cheat sheet.  Hyperlinks are the footnotes and citations of our generation (as Loeher would probably say). I’m giving my advice for free: my generation thinks that generational business coaches are B$.  We live in a cut and paste culture; computers lower the barrier to making derivative works, as the next section of this post will demonstrate.  The subject of the original article was pretty ridiculous to begin with, as if it were tailor-made for Gawker fodder.  Gawker added value to the original with its snarky commentary. (Ms. Loeher, is snark a characteristic of my generation too?)

If Oscar Wilde were alive today, he would probably say, “the only thing worse than being blogged about is NOT being blogged about.”  While we are on aphorisms, let me give you some more free (useless) advice about my generation, courtesy of Descartes, updated for our times: Blogito ergo sum. “I blog, therefore I am.”

I don’t think Gawker is so much ruining journalism as Shapira claims as much as it is Maybe the WaPo should stick to actual news coverage and investigative reporting (after all, this is the newspaper that exposed the Watergate scandal, but “old media” can’t just rest on its past laurels).  “New media” like Gizmodo is going to give newspapers a run for their money in terms of business model.  Newspapers can either adapt their business models and learn to compete with the supposed “pirates” (“piracy is just another business model“), or they can fail.  They can revamp their content and delivery models, or they can streamline and specialize in what they do best.  But here’s a hint for being hip with the kids: complaining about the death of journalism is old news and kind of played out.

Or, in a move of desperation, they can throw down the gauntlet and start an Internet turf war like Shapira has done, which is actually a very Gawker-esque thing to do.  (What would Anne Loeher say about how that reflects on Shapira’s generational values?) It certainly has succeeded in getting people’s attention, but I hope this is not the sustainable business model the WaPo has in mind.

Continue reading The Washington Post versus Gawker

Bug4Good: Open Source for Human Rights


From my colleague Enrique Piraces at Human Rights Watch:

I want to share with you our submission to the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge. 

The project is great 🙂 and we have an opportunity to get some attention and further develop the idea. 

Voting will take place between March 23 and March 27, 2009 and will determine the Top Ten Finalists. 

I want to invite you to keep an eye on the project and to help us spread the word about it. And if you want to further improve your karma, please consider registering to vote for the project. [It is so easy. Just register, go to the project page, and give us a “star”. After that you can also share any comments and criticisms in the same page]