ideas worth sharing

nothing is stronger than an idea

Worlds as real as our own

I’ve recently listed to a talk by John Seely Brown (former chief scientist at the Xerox Corporation) in which he argued for the positive role games can play in preparing people for work, dealing with complex tasks while working as a team. He used World of Warcraft as an example of how online games can help you develop those skills. Well... I play WoW myself and spend maybe too much time online catching up with RSS and Twitter feeds, but the way in which we breathe technology has a somewhat bitter taste to me. A world in which we cannot separate real worlds from virtual worlds seems to be just around the corner. Even direct brain-machine interfaces are being developed while you read this. Are the nightmares of The Matrix or eXistenZ within our reach or have am I just been watching too much science-fiction? Watch this video. It made me wonder...

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Chain reaction

Friday evening, in Portugal, media merged in Portugal. The “Contemporâneos” (a sort of Portuguese 21st century Monty Pyton) made a great sketch. A parody to a Christmas solidarity song called “Salvem os ricos” (meaning “save the rich&rdquoWinking. If you’re reading this in English, you probably won’t be able to follow the inspired lyrics, but they managed to get some very nice guests and the subject couldn’t be more updated: the bailouts to troubled banks caught by the financial crisis.

A few moments after broadcast, the video had been uploaded to YouTube, generously linked in Twitter, posted extensively in blogs and brought to the homepage of the left-wing political party Bloco de Esquerda. Today, the Portuguese newspaper Público delivered the cherry on top of the cake: an opinion article by Rui Tavares drawing on the sketch. In just a couple of days, the Contemporâneos and their sketch reached almost everybody in Portugal. You can see it here, while we can still have a laugh on the crisis:



But is it as simple as they sing? Is our tax money being spent to “save the millionaires”? Would it have been better to let our banks go into bankruptcy?

Our economy breaths through the financial system and it thrives on thrust. If half the people would want to withdraw their deposits, each and every bank would instantly crumble. Most people would lose their money because all the financial institutions depend on each other. Our complex economy is based on interdependence. Without deposits, the banks can’t lend. Without money, people and companies don’t buy. Without sales, companies lay off people and their stock becomes junk. Without work nor investment a vicious cycle would emerge for our doom. That’s what happened in the 1930’s and that’s the risk we face. Should the governments let it happen? I don’t think so.

This is obviously a remarkable time for inspired comedians and opportunist politicians. This is also a great time to go deeper into understanding what’s happening. This video (which I found at a friend’s blog) isn’t as entertaining as the other, but it truly captures the movement of what’s going on. I hope that what the governments are doing is enough to prevent a chain reaction...

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What does complexity mean for the Gov 2.0?

(Post originally published here)

A key topic this morning [at the Cisco Public Services Summit, in Stockholm,] was how the world is becoming “more complex” and how it is changing in an unpredictable way. But what do we mean by these statements, besides that we cannot pretend to control anymore?

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At lunch time, a fellow delegate [at the conference] was talking about how it was unpredictable 10 years ago to think that his 6 year old daughter would be asking him to type an internet address to dress her doll online. That means, he said, that you can say anything about what will happen 10 years from now. Nobody has the faintest idea of what will emerge in this future which is not so far…

That is complexity. Complexity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complexity) expresses how “order” (a pattern) can result from interaction rather than from a blueprint or a plan. The order we see today (web 2.0, ubiquitous connectivity, globalisation, etc.) is a pattern which emerged out of the interacion of millions of people co-creating their future, which is our future, through their actions and decisions.

Taking complexity seriously draws our attention to how we are interdependent from each other in this process of co-creating the future. On the one hand, it has a positive value attached to it, related to how everyone has a voice in it. But, on the other hand, it bring up the anxiety for not being “in control”.

It is difficult for any manager, in the public or private sector, to acknowledge that he or she is not in control of what’s happening, because he is nevertheless accountable for the results. I believe that this tension, this paradox of being accountable while not in control, is what makes it difficult to take this complex, interdependent and connected world into full account.

Moving from a “broadcast model” of democracy (in which you can have a say every 4 or 5 years), to a “gov 2.0″ model of democracy (in which you can always have a say), means that the business of government becomes even more unpredictable. It’s unknown territory, in which novelty can arise but no one can fully control the power dynamics which may emerge from that change. Are our institutions ready for that? The hard truth is that, ready or not, that change is already happening. The choice then become either to lead it or follow it…

What do you think?
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Obama's unlikely followers

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Portuguese politicians are starting to follow Obama’s lead. Even the leader of the Portuguese Communist Party repeated countless times his equivalent to “yes, we can” ( “sim, é possível” ) this weekend, during their latest congress. A contender to lead the second largest Portuguese party, Pedro Passos Coelho, is building his support base around a website apparently inspired in Obama’s web strategy (he even uses Twitter).

I believe that Obama’s groundbreaking contribution to renewing politics cannot be reduced to catchy phrases or online tools. His road to the White House was paved with simple and authentic speech, breaking away from the traditional political speech inherited from the 19th century members of parliament. That truthful speech was key to win the support of the ‘Net Generation’ which ultimately led to his victory.

We can a good example of that kind of new political spech in the email message bellow. It was sent on 25 September and, in only 145 word, his campaign was able to explain why the first debate with McCain should stand, in spite of the roaring finantial crisis. Short sentences, straight messages and truth. That is the most important lesson that we can learn with Obama.

From: info@barackobama.com
Subject: VIDEO: Barack's latest remarks about the economy

This morning Barack called John McCain to suggest a joint statement of principles that would help Congress resolve the immediate financial crisis.

Then John McCain went on television and said he was suspending his campaign and that Friday's presidential debate should be postponed.

Barack spoke about the crisis and took questions from reporters a few hours ago.

He also made it clear that -- with only 40 days left for the American people to decide who will be responsible for leading our economic future -- it is more important than ever that the scheduled debate takes place.

Please take a minute to watch the video of Barack's press conference and share it with your friends:

vid_econ

http://my.barackobama.com/latestremarks

This is an important time, and we have to keep this campaign focused on the crucial issues.

Thank you,

David

David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

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Fractal tweets

Complexity theory is a source of fascination for me since I was finishing high-school. Besides the beauty of fractal geometry, what grabbed me about complexity was the notion that something radically new can emerge from the normal, everyday interaction. I believe that the web is enabling human interaction in a way that patterning and emergence are becoming increasingly obvious.

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One example: Twitter, already mentioned in the previous post. It was created as a microblogging platform: one has 140 characters to answer the "what are you doing?" question. Pretty simple? Sure. But then one chooses who to follow (like subscribing to a RSS feed). Them people you follow may follow you, especially if they know you. You see who they reply to, so your community grows and a group emerges. Then software companies and politicians (Barack Obama, for instance) started using it to keep a direct connection with their users or voters beyond traditional broadcast. Using Twitter's open API platform, software developers started making (and selling) apps to improve the usability and connect it to other services. Usage grows and Twitter gains more and more followers as new patterns keep on emerging, without a blueprint or a plan.

This is what the “web 2.0” really is about. After finishing reading Don Tapscott's latest book (Grown Up Digital), I believe that something quite fundamental is happening: a new generation of people (the Net Geners, up to thirty-something) are using technology in different way because they're free from the hype: technology for them is like air, they don't pay too much attention to it, they just use it!

Update - After publishing this post, I came across some interesting opinions on Twitter:
Why Tim O'Reilly loves Twitter
Diogo Vasconcelos’ list of nice Twitter tools
Twitter as a platform for e-government
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Software à la carte

One of the things that strike me about Apple’s Mac OS X is the quantity and quality of open source and shareware software. Communities and small companies are able to develop great apps for free or that one can buy for something between 10 and 50 dollars.

The last small wonder that I found was EventBox, an application which does something incredibly simple: it puts together in a common interface all the social networks and groups to which one belongs. It enables us to see in the same window our friends’ activity on Twitter, Flickr or Facebook (among others) and we can also ad to the mix anything which has a RSS feed.

A curious thing about it is that the developing team actually uses Twitter to keep its customers up to date on what they’re doing. Further, they use Twitter to interact with their clients to debug, explain what’s happening and choose what to develop next. You can watch and participate, live, as a programme you use evolves. Isn’t this, really, ‘software à la carte’?

EventBox
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We don't know as much as we think we do...

Plane travels are unique opportunities to read and watch stuff that was saved for “when I have time”. Yesterday, while flying to Brussels towards another meeting, I divided my time between Don Tapscott’s latest book (comment coming, as soon as I finish it) and some TED Talks that I had saved for latter.

That was how I stubbled upon Jonathan Drori’s fascinating account on the distinction between what we think we know and what we actually know. Drori argues that the dominant approach to teaching may actually hinder our undestanding of the world instead of enhancing it. Controversial? Of course it is, but he starts his talk proposing four questions to the audience:

- From where does the three get the stuff that makes up a wooden desk?
- Can you light a little torch-bulb with a battery, a bulb and one piece of wire?
- Why is it hotter in summer than in winter?
- Can you draw a diagram of the Solar System?

Check the answers in the video. You may be surprised...



PS: Check Nokia’s add in the end! It reminds me of “Epic2015”...
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Shift happens...

As the financial crisis rests during weekend and today’s floods are gone, this looks like a good time to share a video. It was shown to me yesterday but it’s been around since February 2007. Shift happens, and sometimes it’s good to put things into perspective...

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The art of seeing

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Through an article in the Portuguese press, I’ve just noticed that Henri Cartier-Bresson would have just turned 100 years old if he was still alive. A quick search led me to countless photo galleries and biographies. This post won’t add another one...

To me, Bresson is simply a very strong reason to love photography. Not because he was a technical master using his famous Leica but, on the contrary, because he was able to reduce photography to the art of seeing and choosing the right moment to bring to life a still image. Learning to see means choosing what to include and exclude in a picture, finding the perspective and the point of view to tell a story. Everything else are technical details, needed but clearly less important.

Any photographer can easily get lost in the “equipment vertigo”: more megapixels, a “mightier” zoom, a “better” lens... But any camera is just an extension to the human eye, just as Cartier-Bresson said more than 50 years ago. I could add that the more natural that extension becomes, the greater is the photographer’s ability to see. Browsing though Cartier-Bresson’s portraits in “An Inner Silence” anyone can witness that no could see as clearly as him...
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The new "butterfly effect"

The “butterfly effect” is one of better known aspects of the chaos theory. It shows how a butterfly flapping its wings over Tokyo can unleash a storm over New York. This effect came out of Edward Lorenz’s work as a way to illustrate how small causes can lead to large and unpredictable effects. To make it simple, this is the most important notion one can learn from chaos.

The “butterfly effect” crossed my mind this morning after following a link to the “girl effect”. Just as the chaos notion, how important can a girl be to the future of the human kind? See the answer at The Girl Effect.

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Paris Hilton answers McCain

It’s today’s headline in the press, which means we’re deep into the silly season! To fight Barack Obama’s popularity, McCain said he was just another celebrity like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton... That’s right, he wasn’t nice! But he’s just had a totally hot reply. If this isn’t “politics 2.0” where can I find it? Happy

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