Bryan Alexander has been holding online book club readings for both fiction and non-fiction books. The next edition will be reading Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. I recently bought a copy, and I will read along with the rest of the group in the coming few weeks. (I’m also thinking about a recently read book list here on this site. I track my reading anyway, and might as well share some of that here.)
Via Jeremy Keith, I came across this fun short SF story on blockchain and car based AIs breaking up marriages across the Nordic for profit by matchmaking their rides. One woman takes it out on the DAO and the car that broke her marriage or ‘wedblock’. After reading bought the existing 4 novels by the Finnish author Hannu Rajaniemi for summer reading.
One way I can estimate how stressed I am is looking at how much I read, and how I read it. Stress means much less to no reading overall, with sudden bursts of reading several books back-to-back as escapism. So I keep track of how much fiction I read throughout the year. The first half year looks good and stable when judged by my reading. I’ve read 32 books in the first 26 weeks, an average of 1.25 per week. My aim is to at least average one per week, but sometimes a bigger book slows me down, or an easier read speeds things up. Reading more I see as better, but only if it’s at a steady pace. Bursts are a sign of something being off, or of summer holiday, when I usually voraciously read books.
The pace of reading was stable at 1 per week until late May (21 books in 20 weeks), and a bit higher at almost 2 per week with 11 books in the final 6 weeks of this first half of 2018. This I don’t regard as ‘bursty’ reading just more books in the same steady pace, as it included several shorter reads.
The best reads this half year I think were, these Science Fiction books:
Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow (which felt like a literary version of what I call Networked Agency)
Long Way to a Small and Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
And these general fiction books:
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, this year’s Pulitzer price for fiction winner.
The Scent of Rain in the Balkans, by Gordana Kuic, sketching 20th century Yugoslavian history through the eyes of one family
Perfume River, by Robert Olen Butler, of trauma and faulty communications through the generations
Ellbogen, by Fatma Aydemir, the raw story of a Turkish-German girl between Berlin and Istanbul.
After Dark, by Haruki Murakami, who takes you on a surreal night trip through Tokyo.
In a case of synchronicity I’ve read Cory Doctorow’s novel Walkaway when I was ill recently, just as Bryan Alexander scheduled it for his near future science fiction reading group. I loved reading the book, and in contrast to some other works of Doctorow the storyline kept working for me until the end.
Bryan amazingly has managed to get Doctorow to participate in a webcast as part of the Future Trends in learning series Bryan hosts. The session is planned for May 16th, and I marked my calendar for it.
In the comments Vanessa Vaile shares two worthwile links. One is an interesting recording from May last year at the New York public library in which Doctorow and Edward Snowden discuss some of the elements and underlying topics and dynamics of the Walkaway novel.
The other is a review in TOR.com, that resonates a lot with me. The reviewer writes how, in contrast with lots of other science fiction that takes one large idea or large change and extrapolates on that, Doctorow takes a number of smaller ideas and smaller changes, and then works out how those might interplay and weave new complexities, where the impact on “manufacturing, politics, the economy, wealth disparity, diversity, privilege, partying, music, sex, beer, drugs, information security, tech bubbles, law, and law enforcement” is all presented in one go.
It seems futuristic, until you realize that all of these things exist today.
….. most of it could start right now, if it’s the world we choose to create.
By not having any one idea jump too far from reality, Walkaway demonstrates how close we are, right now, to enormous promise and imminent peril.
That is precisely the effect reading Walkaway had on me, leading me to think how I could contribute to bringing some of the described effects about. And how some of those things I was/am already trying to create as part of my own work flow and information processes.
I read lots of science fiction, because it allows exploring the impact of science and technology on our society, and the impact of our societies on technology development in ways and forms that philosophy of technology usually doesn’t. Or rather SF (when the SF is not just the backdrop for some other story) is a more entertaining and accessible form of hermeneutic exercise, that weaves rich tapestries that include emotions, psychology and social complexity. Reading SF wasn’t always more than entertainment like that for me, but at some point I caught up with SF, or it caught up with me, when SF started to be about technologies I have some working knowledge of.
Bryan Alexander, a long time online peer and friend for well over a decade, likewise sees SF, especially near future SF, as a good way to explore emerging future that already seem almost possible. He writes “In a recent talk at the New Media Consortium’s 2016 conference, I recommended that education and technology professionals pay strong attention to science fiction, and folks got excited, wanting recommendations. So I’ve assembled some (below)“. His list contains a group sourced overview of recent near future SF books, with some 25 titles.
I know and read half of the books on the list, and last night loaded up my e-reader with the other half.
If you want to discuss those books keep an eye on Bryan’s blog, as you’re sure to get some good conversations around these books there.
(photos made during the 2015 Gogbot Festival, the yearly mash up of art, music and technology into a cyberpunk festival in my home town Enschede.)
Related: Enjoying Indie SF, March 2016
In a conference call this morning with an Eastern European client we discussed the need for more and better connections and relations, and moving towards increasing trust over time between those participating in these connections. This reminded me of the little primer I wrote a number of years back, on creating or strengthening communities more purposefully. By paying attention to a range of specific aspects that we would normally not consider as part of your management toolkit. Things like rhythm, spaces, and levels of engagement, or balancing safety and excitement, variety of perspectives, and being welcoming.
It is based on the great work of Etienne Wenger concerning communities of practice, which has been a key ingredient in my consulting practices in the past 15 years or so, ever since his 2002 book Cultivating Communities of Practice.
The primer, embedded below, describes the aspects I pay attention to when hoping to strengthen community, some stemming from Wenger, some from my direct experience, and provides examples of what type of action results from it. You can also download the PDF, if you like. Do let me know if it is of use for you.
It’s great Peter and Max wrote down their experiences. This May when I visited their ThingsCon conference, and later that week Re:Publica, both in Berlin, I realised how long it had been that I went to a conference where I was a mere participant (which I was at these 2 events), and not somehow involved in organizing it or speaking at it. I also realized how long it has been since I visited a ‘proper’ conference.
Independent events have been the mainstay of my curriculum of professional learning. Visiting Reboot conferences in Copenhagen, SHiFT in Lisbon, the BlogTalk conferences in Vienna, a range of community initiated open data conferences across Europe (over 50 in 2011 and 2012 alone), more BarCamps than I can list, Cognitive Cities and ThingsCon by a.o. the aforementioned Peter Bihr, State of the Net in Trieste, all had one thing in common: there was no real difference between my speaking and my participating and there was no difference between the organizers and the community present.
Usually this happens,in Peter’s words, “for a simple reason: each time we were looking for an event — a focal point where we could meet like-minded people or those with shared interests — we could not find one“. Because quite often the right setting simply isn’t there, or the organizers actually don’t have your learning or interaction as a goal. Because you’re interested in emergent themes around which there isn’t enough going on yet for established conference organizers to see an opportunity. The last ‘proper’ conferences I went to on my own accord were in 2004 and 2005, when I and others proferred it is “cheaper to host your own event than visit one“. Conference and event organizing turned into just one of those things you do in your community, and for me now really requires of the organizers to have a role and be part of that community. I haven’t looked back, and all the events I visit voluntarily are indie events.
During my opening remarks at Make Stuff That Matters, birthday unconference 2014 in our home, by Paolo Valdemarin
Over the years, with others I have organized a lot of indie events as well. Examples are many workshops, the first open data barcamps in the Netherlands (which over time became the Open State Foundation), Data Drinks (now bringing together some 250 people in Copenhagen), international conferences for some 350 people in Rotterdam and Warsaw (because doing it in a city or country where you don’t reside and have no contacts gives it that little extra edge 😉 ), the global FabLab Conference in 2009 (where as additional obstacle course we opted to spread the event over 4 Dutch cities with buses transporting participants and on-board workshops), the BlogWalk series of 2004-2008 in 11 cities on 3 continents, and of course the three Birthday Unconferences Elmine and I organized right in our own home (2008, 2010, 2014).
Elmine and I were so energized from doing those birthday unconferences we created an e-book (download PDF) on how to do it. Mostly to find an outlet for that energy we felt, and as a gift to all who had been there. Even then we saw it was a welcome document although focussing on a very specific type of indie event.
How to Unconference Your Birthday e-book, properly printed and bound
And now Peter and Max have written down their experiences in the Indie Conference Organizer Handbook. This is a great gift to all of us out there visiting, participating and trying our hand at our own events. Let’s make good use of it!
Last year, when I turned 40, Elmine and I organized an unconference to celebrate (of course we also had a bbq party!), and we invited people from our various circles. The topic was ‘Working on Stuff that Matters‘, ‘WSTM’. Some 40 people participated in the unconference, some 20 workshops were held, and it was an event that is still giving us energy almost 18 months later.
We always wanted to create something tangible as an outcome of the event, to create an ‘Epic Sh*t Multiplier’ as we called it on the day. We created an e-book, explaining ‘how to unconference your birthday’. The text was written during the summer of 2010. A professional designer (BUROPONY in Rotterdam, hire them, they’re great!) created the book itself in May/June this year. In the past days we sent out cards to all participants of the unconference to allow them to download the book. We’ll publish the e-book itself on-line later. Right now it’s a gift for those who attended [UPDATE Pdf available for download]. A small token of our appreciation for the big gift they gave us by attending the unconference, and the energy and inspiration that is still generating for us. Thank you.
Below are some pictures giving you a sneak preview.
(Cross posted from Elmine and my newly opened Bookblog.)
I have been following George Siemens through his blog in the past years. Last fall his book Knowing Knowledge was published and I was asked by a Dutch association for e-learning, to review the book, shortly before it went to the presses. This review has been published in Dutch as well as English, so you can have a read overthere. In the book he explains what he calls Connectivism as a learning strategy.
Suffice to say here that what Siemens identifies as the list of skills one needs to deal with the massive abundance of information and knowledge fits completely with my own thinking on dealing with information overload and the shifting nature of knowledge work. A worthwile book. And while you’re at it, have a look a these videoclips as well.
Summing up Connectivism: Knowledge now means to be connected, learning now is connecting and building networks.
The book can also be downloaded for free. The illustrations are available through Flickr. But I find that owning it helps, as the format invites consulting it often, browsing and jumping back and forth. Not so easily done on screen. Discussion is invited on the Knowing Knowledge website.
Also there is currently an on-line conference underway with daily interesting presentations. Sheets and recordings are available as well, as well as discussion.
Usually I do not care much for books set in 19th century England. Somehow the period seems very dark to me, morally oppressive, slow and boring, and covered in the soot of burning coal and eternal fog. The literature of that time seems to ooze the same gloom. When I am in England however it seems that period is viewed there also in a different light. Viewed much more also as a golden age, when applied sciences propelled a steam powered British Empire to a position of global super power. Next to moral superiority and arrogance that must have also been a source of optimism, of belief in progress. That optimism is what is reflected in the Crystal Palace, I guess.
Over the holidays I read two books of fiction set in that period and enjoyed them both enormously. One was a gift by Elmine, a gift she made with some doubts as she knows my general dislike for the period. The other was a gift by my young niece and nephew for Christmas. I read both with a lot of pleasure. Both stories seem to tell of an age where much was in motion, and new insights were coupled and combined with old superstitions, or fought back by the overzealous. It reminds me both of the Monstertheory I blogged a good while back, as well as discussions that now rage through our newspapers and educational system as to the effects of having digital native younger generations.
The first book is ‘Arthur and George‘, by Julian Barnes, combining the life story of Arthur Conan Doyle with that of George Edalji. I knew Julian Barnes from two other titles in our book case, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters and Something to Declare, which I fittingly bought and read while travelling through France.
The second book is The Darwin Conspiracy, which combines the story of Darwin‘s voyage on the Beagle, the journal of one of his daughters, and the Werdegang of an American researcher. For me the theory of evolution is essential to my thinking about complexity, culture, change and even free will. It is fun to read a work of fiction around the origin of a theory the consequences of which reach far further than the realm of natural selection in biological life forms. Consequences which are widely misunderstood or even unseen, most of us not looking any further than a gross misinterpretation of the term ‘survival of the fittest’. You might guess I’ve been influenced by Daniel Dennett on this as well, having devoured his exploration of the true ‘danger‘ of Darwin’s idea.
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Looks like I am adding two books to my reading-diet today:
Dan Gillmor‘s We Media, which is available through O’Reilly, but in keeping with its message is also released for download on a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 License. Great!
And second a book by Jeremy Rifkin, The European Dream, to be released later this month. During the past 18 months or so I have repeatedly heard, and said so myself, that the strength of Europe lies in leveraging its diversity. Meanwhile most discussions on industry, innovation and education seem to take the stance that we’re not good enough at emulating what the US is doing (as if that would make us world class, it would only make us second best at the most: it’s the same flaw as in adopting best practices). But while I knew we were doing the wrong things, I also didn’t know how to go about ‘celebrating diversity’. Hierarchical, and old school industrial thinking get in the way of that.
Rifkin, according to the blurb on the book, seems to postulate that European diversity and culture is much better suited to adapt to a networked society from an industrial one, as compared to the US, and significant steps already have been made. Or in other words how Europe could leapfrog over the US.
From the blurb:
The American Dream is in decline. Americans are increasingly overworked, underpaid, and squeezed for time. But there is an alternative: the European Dream-a more leisurely, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable way of life. Europe’s lifestyle is not only desirable, argues Jeremy Rifkin, but may be crucial to sustaining prosperity in the new era.
Reminds me of a conversation I head with a representative of the South African government last year where we explored the notion that Africa’s structure, largely based on communities, and also tribal thinking, (and the storytelling and master-apprentice relations that are part of it) could well be a chance to leapfrog past the EU and the US in realizing the potential of knowledge management.
A lot of Africans are totally ingrained with notions that we struggle to give a place in our industrial surroundings. (But it will also require independence from oil to really do that for them, as only that will take their debt burden to the West away and give the continent a chance to break the spiral of poverty that now chains them to our hierarchical industrial structures)
But anyway, I am curious about Rifkins ideas about how to leverage our European diversity better.
Recently I�ve read the book Emergence by Steven Johnson (who also writes a weblog).
In it he explains what emergence is, how we can recognize it, and how it might alter the way we work and live, now that we have entered a new phase in our existence: not only are we observing emergence as a phenomena, we are starting to use it. (p.21)
Johnson uses several examples throughout his book, the neurons in our head, the way ant colonies go about their work, and how cities develop. These are complex systems that develop interesting behavioural patterns.
In the introduction Johnson cites Warren Weaver in explaining where the complexity realm can be located. Science in the past dealt predominantly with systems of a small number of variables. Based on that work, al in terms of direct causality, man made significant progress. With the advent of statistics it became possible to put a finger on systems with very large numbers of unrelated variables, such as the behaviour of molecules in gas or hereditary patterns, and healthinsurances (p. 46). But, says Weaver, this leaves a large field untouched. Between the small scale systems and the large �disorganized complexity� of statistically approachable situations there lies the space of �organized complexity� (p. 47):
much more than the mere number of variables is the fact that all these variables are interrelated�These problems, as contrasted with the disorganized situations with which statistics can cope, show the essential feature of organization. We will therefore refer to this group of problems as those of organized complexity.
When we relate this to the realms Dave Snowden distinguishes, than complexity is of the organized kind, whereas chaos is the disorganized variety of complexity. Both the knowable and known realms collapse into one, in Weavers description.
What Johnson tries to tell us is that emergence can account, and in fact does account, for a lot of situations that if we encounter them make us think someone or something is in control and deliberately chose a course of action. When we see patterns in design we assume a designer. We name the egg-laying ant queen, implicitly saying she�s in control of the entire colony. Where in fact she�s just laying eggs. But how else could ants operate in their organized manner, if not by being controlled by the queen. This thinking is of course shaped by the way we have organized things ourselves for most of the time: hierarchically, command and control based situations. When all you have is a hammer, everything quickly starts looking like a nail.
Then how does this organized character of emergent systems come about, if not through �pacer� elements that provide control. One way is leaving trails of what you do. When someone comes across that trail it might alter his behaviour. If the trails become longer and the number of trails becomes bigger it might alter the behaviour of groups/systems. It�s how slime molds group together into a single entity, it is how neighbourhoods come into existence. Not Pacers, but Tracers. Not Top-down but Bottom-up. And although our minds might be wired to look for pacers, we are steadily learning how to think from the bottom-up. (p. 67)
Blogging is much like leaving longer traces, much the same way slime molds do. It creates traces we previously could not leave, and we are finding contacts because of it, that otherwise would have remained invisible to us.
What can we learn from natural emergence when looking to apply it to creating emergence ourselves? Johnson says:
If you�re building a system designed to learn from the ground level, a system where macro-intelligence and adaptability derive from local knowledge, there are five fundamental factors (p. 77)
Feedback is an intrinsic feature in emergent systems as well. It is feedback that can tip the system, and create a phase shift to emergence.
Again looking at blogging, what comes to my mind is how it serves several aspects of the list above. More is certainly different, but I especially think of the increased numbers of random encounters I had since I started blogging. Checking the comments, the serverlogs, browsing the blogrolls of others, random finds through Google, they all put me in touch with literally hundreds of others, all by accident, all unplanned. Some of these encounters have gone on and transformed into closer contacts. They became my neighbours in the blogosphere, and in some senses, except for geographic proximity, are more like neighbours to me than the family next door. As to paying attention to my neighbours in connection to feedback, my earlier postings and thoughts about echo chambers come to mind. I stated that isolated echo-chambers are a certain way to remain ignorant of the world around you, but echo-chambers that are connected to, that still have a large number of random encounters with the outside world are essentially creating feedback effects. Amplifying signals and feeding them back through the channels where they came from. This creates patterns and brings them to the foreground. Blogospheric echo chambers are useful as long as paying attention to your neighbours does not discourage you from having random encounters.
Emergence sheds a different light on my previous observations on information overload as well. Information overload does not exist I said, and emergence might help me formulate a reason why.
If we look from a hierarchical perspective there is a need for having all available information at your disposal. It is what keeps you on top of it all. The usage of the term information overload implies a hierarchical situation. Taking the emergence perspective, information overload dissolves into nothingness: it is not about the individual information items, it�s about the overall shapes and patterns they in combination convey, which you should be alert to. And as I said in my earlier posting, for this you need as much info as you can get, increase the random encounters to a maximum, to be able to look for patterns, and feel the pulse of things. (also see p 103 of Emergence) Just as walking on the sidewalks gives you a feel of the pulse of the city. You don�t have to talk to all people passing by for that. A few will do, while you watch all others passing by. No tourist ever complained that two weeks was too short a visit to talk to all New Yorkers in person, in stead she will tell you how she got to know the city just by walking around, seeing people, and on occasion talking to a juggler in Central Park, chatting with a cab driver, and going to a small restaurant.
A few entries back I wrote about Monstrous KM, where I tried to apply the Monster Theory for handling new technologies by Martijntje Smits to Knowledge Management.
That post was based on an article I read in Filosofie Magazine. In the last days I’ve read the actual dissertation, and this brings me to some more reflection.
First of all the book gave some more clues as to what Monsters are. I’ve described Monsters here as (technological) innovations that conflicted with or crossed existing cultural boundaries. This picture now needs refining. Monsters are those things that seem to belong to two cultural (sub)categories that are regarded as mutual exclusive within a culture. (e.g. nature and culture)
Important here is the notion that being a Monster is not something that is a property of the Monster, but the side-effect of having a set of symbols and categories that make up your picture of the world.
We all need such a categorized worldview, to be able to recognize patterns and learn from experiences. This has two side-effects. These categorisations tend to be conservative (otherwise you would have to change your worldview with every incident), and second it draws lines between things. These lines help identify risks. If something fits into your picture, it is likely you know how to handle it (with the rituals or habits connected to the corresponding category). If it does not, it might be something dangerous.
Basically, as soon as you draw lines somewhere (this is a tree, this is a shrub) you get into trouble when you encounter things that are on the border of such categories (is it a small tree, or a large shrub). Often these anomalies can be easily put into an existing category after some consideration (being put in their place), but sometimes this does not work: a Monster is born. Cultural categories spawn these monsters. (This also means that preventing monsters is not possible, yes might even be equivalent of stifling innovation and creativity for it predetermines that only things that fit within existing categories can be safely done)
Smits concludes that her theory works very well in typecasting ongoing discussions around new technologies into one of her four responses to monsters, but that this does not immediately give us a clue on how to act.
She also concludes that the most feasable approach to monsters is the route of assimilation, where both the monster and the cultural categories are changed to make place for the monster.
The other routes (the dogmatic style of monster killing, the ritualistic style of monster adaption, and the romantic style of monster embracing) have two disadvantages. The first is not being able to view a monster from another position than your own because all these routes stick to their existing set of categories. The second is that these routes deny themselves a whole range of possible solutions because categories cannot be changed or altered.
Assimilation, which Smits dubs the pragmatic route, thus has a broader spectrum of possible reactions. It is also the route that requires improvisation and creativity. Its ontological scepsis also leaves room to look at different points of view, and even of the recognition of multiple monsters at the same time and their mutual relations.
The effect to be avoided here is cultural relativism, where the reconstructability of cultural categories becomes absolute. This does away with all that makes categories useful (see above).
Reading this book gave me a access to a model which makes it possible to take another look at debates around innovation that seem to be going nowhere and where the parties involved are stuck in trenches. By identifying and exposing the underlying cultural categories that are at stake, you can then search for a way forward. This can now be done without discounting different positions as too emotional or too rational.
In my recent posts reviewing, and then discussing the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, I tried to express some of the things that don’t sound right to me in the book.
Gary points towards the absence of time in the Tipping Point structure. I might be a Maven now, but could be a Connector next year. The three types of people Maven, Connector, and Salesmen, represent different sorts of knowledge. Know what (to say), know who (to say it to), and know how (to say it), and you can spread your own little epidemic. But knowledge isn’t an unchanging commodity. It’s contextual, personal and changes over time. This change is not a part of the picture and it is precisely that that reminds me so much of the command and control systemics of the industrial management style. Thanks Gary, for making me realize that.
Stuart Henshall picks up on my suggestion to try and create an epidemic of our own and proposes some ideas to spread. He writes a thought provoking post on ‘Jazz Blogging’:
From my perspective most blogging today seems highly personal, the number of public community or cooperative blogs very limited. Of those personal blogs I see two kinds. First the blog done for primarily for intellectual interest, and second the blog that is part of an economic engine. While I see examples where coding solutions and new memes spread rapidly what clients want when it comes to thought-leaders is a safe place to engage. So blogs aren’t just thinking tools or communicating tools, they are also learning tools. It just how we apply them and how we create access. For them to really work some new business models must emerge around them.
And then goes on to name some characteristics of such a model, that could be put together and tested.
In the comments Terry Frazier points to Drupal as a possible medium for Stuarts wished for characteristics.
Update (May 18th 2003): See also Dave Pollard on the Tipping Point, and the comments where the demand for this theory being predictive is repeated.