My Storified curation of a panel on musicians and activism, With Karen Scott of FitzGibbon Media, Mike Mills of R.E.M. Hillary Zuckerberg of Why Hunger, Mikel Jollet of Airborne Toxic Event and Brandon Deroche of Urgency Network.
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My Storified curation of a panel on musicians and activism, With Karen Scott of FitzGibbon Media, Mike Mills of R.E.M. Hillary Zuckerberg of Why Hunger, Mikel Jollet of Airborne Toxic Event and Brandon Deroche of Urgency Network.
Amber Case is the original Cyborg Anthropologist. These are my somewhat disjointed notes from a great talk.
Ambient location and the future of the interface.
SXSW began with a disappointment. My all-time favorite SXSW presenter, Kathy Sierra, was ill and unable to present on “Gamification and the battle for the user’s soul,” which I dearly would have loved to have seen. Kathy was influential in making me think deeply how Greenpeace could move from an engagement offer of “Join us because we rock” to “Join us because we’ll make YOU rock,” and is profoundly wise about things ranging from user interface design to hacking the reptilian brain’s attention centres to Icelandic horses.
The day got better, though, with three rocking good sessions.
“Brands as patterns” tackled the question of how to transition from the “Mad Men” days of advertising and PR in which a brand was established with a rigid handbook of rules about what it stood for and the key to establishing it in the public mind was simple repetition in as many broadcast media as possible. In the era of Social Media, the suggestion went, a brand isn’t owned by a corporation, it’s an interaction, an interface, a series of transactions — in short, a pattern. Implication: corporations no longer own their brands, they create them through that interaction, by what they do, not by what they say. Which, of course, goes a long way to explaining why a contradiction between those things, exposed, becomes a terminal velocity Social Media Meltdown. It also explains the leverage that activist groups now have against corporate ill-behaviour: their reputations have been democratized.
“Can growing a Moustache Change the World” was a “hugely popular in a tiny room” session, in which Movember founder Adam spoke about how an idea for a fun social event — growing a mustaches in November and shaving it off December 1st — transitioned to a cause (raising money and awareness around prostate cancer) with 450 dudes in Australia to the world’s biggest cancer fundraising event bringing in 117 million last year. Significantly, the idea was born in a pub. It was run by marketers and businessmen, not policy wonks. In fact, the biggest cancer charity in Australia turned them down when they pitched the concept — whoops. This was a wide-ranging, intimate (we were crushed) conversation which hit lots of buttons. Some big takeaways below.
“Superbetter” brought Jane McGonigal back to the stage with a strong reposte to the Colbert line “Am I really going to lie on my death bed regretting that I didn’t play more video games.” See my blog of a previous Jane Keynote for her original premise, which was roughly that gaming is statistically demonstrated to have so many benefits, we should be encouraging and our kids to do more, not less of them. (Up to a point, that is — there is an addiction threshold where benefits collapse). For today’s talk, she took the five most common regrets that researchers have identified as consistently expressed by the terminally ill, and systematically made the case that the right kind of games address every one of them: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard; I wish I’d spent more time with family; I wish I’d kept up with old friends; I wish I’d been who I wanted and not someone’s expectation.We then all played her game, Superbetter, which is designed to create micro tasks which will improve four key performance areas of your life. By Jane’s calculation, I will live 7 minutes longer for having spent that hour in her seminar. I think I just blew my extra time making a video of the queue at sxsw.
It’s been called to my attention that it’s the 30th anniversary of the day I stuck my foot in the door of a Greenpeace office, as evidenced by this rather embarrassingly scruffy canvasser badge:
I don’t really have much more to say than I did five years ago, in the blog below about that first day and what canvassing in the US was like back in the 80s. Except perhaps that the story horde has grown a bit, the number of truly amazingly gifted and passionate people I’ve been lucky to work with has expanded greatly in the last five years, the organisation has both become more streamlined and effective, and despite some astounding and glorious wins, we have a healthy dissatisfaction with what we’ve achieved versus what needs to be done, and ambitions to shift into a higher gear. I’m a little greyer, a little greater of girth, but it’s profoundly satisfying to see Greenpeace is getting younger and faster, and eager to move out of its parent’s house.
Here’s what I wrote this day in 2006:
Twenty Five years ago today, I stuck my foot in a door.
It was a trick that Cathy Dees, my field manager and trainer, taught me, for ensuring that no suburban housewife in any devo turf was going to terminate my rap before I’d got to the bit about the slaughter of the harp seal pups, the big eyes, and the ask. That was the day I became a canvasser for Greenpeace.
If you’ve never gone door to door for a cause, the next few paragraphs may not mean much to you, beacuse what I’m about to say here requires first-hand experience to understand, and if you ain’t been there, you ain’t been there. But I’ll do my best to explain.
You travel with four or five companions in a car or a van to a cheap diner somewhere in the American suburbs. You have your dinner, you chit chat and gossip, your field manager tells you what issues may be hot, what Greenpeace is doing that might be on TV, what issues might be resonating in this particular neighborhood, what the organization is pushing at the moment. Then they hand out your turf map. That’s a xeroxed slip of paper you tack to the back of your clipboard with highlighting in colored pencil which shows you the confines of the area you’ll be covering. You also get a set of 3x5 cards listing any current members that are in the area so you can ask them to renew. You all plunk down money for your meal, and somehow, every single time, the pot is short and the field manager has to work it out.
Your field manager drops you off one by one on different corners. High performers get dropped off first. Personal favorites or people on a down day go out last to minimize street-time.
And there you are, somewhere in America, where the most reliable signal that someone is home is the blue flicker of a television screen on the curtains. You’re alone with a clipboard, and a map, and a job to do: convince people to join Greenpeace.
I spent two years walking up the driveways of good turf and bad in all kinds of weather, praying to see a Volvo with a bumper sticker, but often getting a pickup with an American flag decal. Canvassers are improvisational demographics experts, and after a while you could just look at a house and read the secret signs that told you if this was a potential Greenpeace member or not. Among hopeful signals, none in the 80s rivalled a Volvo in the drive with a bumper sticker of any description. If a pet came to the door with the owner, it was a piss-poor canvasser that didn’t walk away with a membership. It that pet was a golden retriever, you generally didn’t have to open your mouth: they already had their checkbook out.
The pickup truck with the flag decal was almost always a lost cause, with the one exception I can remember of a right-wing militarist who surprised me with a back-slapping, crew-cut, have-a-beer-goodbuddy kind of welcome. As it turned out, his incomplete knowledge of Greenpeace led him to believe we were an anti-Russian organization, as I slowly realized amid his paeans to our work at “going after them damn Commie whalers.” At most doors, I used whales or seals as my opening salvo, then moved on to talk avidly about our disarmament campaign and the need for a nuclear weapons test ban — the issue that brought me to Greenpeace. But on this occasion, I’ll admit, I just took his check, and gave him a heartfelt thank-you for his contribution to world peace.
There are a hundred stories. The old woman who stood silently in the door and just pointed at me with narrow eyes. The National Rifle Association member who chased me off his property with gun in hand. The ancient fellow who I believe had me confused for a Jehova’s witness (or given the look I had in 1982, Amish) when he heard the first sentence of my rap and said “Greenpeace? No thank you, I have my own religion.”
I was a decent canvasser. Not an extraordinary one, but most nights a solid deliverer of memberships and petition signatures. I say most, because every canvasser runs hot and cold. Canvassing is an emotionally draining exercise. You need to be pumped up, confident, able to convey passion and inspiration. And there’s no faking it: you have to genuinely feel it if you want to convey it to a stranger at the door. Because every door is never more than 3 seconds away from slamming in your face, and the reasons for slamming that door are infinite, the messages that will swing it open, few. There were nights that I bounded out of the car on my mission, and nights my field manager practically had to pry my hands from the upholstery to get me out into the streets. On the nights you didn’t believe in what you were doing, the evidence was measurable in dollars and cents.
The first night that I broke $500 in a night and got a ‘grand slam’ — what we called a $5, $10, $25, $50, AND the elusive $100 donation — I crawled into the van that rounded us up from our turf and said nothing. Normally, a good night makes a canvasser effusive. Everybody shares their tally. Everybody shares their stories. I remember just settling into the car seat, listening to a Genesis tune on the radio, and savoring what I’d done as the van rolled through Boston and the steetlights flickered past.
I’d convinced someone to take action to save the world. Yeah, you can say it was only a check. You can say it’s an easy way to shift the guilt and responsibility off your own plate. You can quibble about how much of that check gets lost in administrative costs. But I’d talked to people who didn’t know what Acid Rain was. I’d told people about whaling. I explained how we thought the world could get rid of nuclear weapons. I told them about people who had hope, and were acting on that hope, and needed other people to hope along with them as well. And they opened their doors, and they invited me in, and they gave me money. They voted for what I had to say. They joined Greenpeace. Maybe all they had to give was a few bucks. But a few bucks would buy a spark plug. And a spark plug would fire an engine. And an engine would drive an inflatable boat into the path of a harpoon. And those two bucks would be a part of what saved that whale. And saving that whale would be part of what was needed to save the world.
In the car that night, I felt a sense of direction my life hadn’t had until then; that I was on a path, I had something to give, and I believed in what I was doing.
I started out canvassing a couple nights a week. Then it was Monday through Saturday. Then I was volunteering in the office on Sunday too. Then I was helping out from 9am until we hit the streets at 3pm, canvassing my turf, and rolling back to the office around 9pm. When it became obvious I had to quit my day job to maintain my Greenpeace habit, I threw the I-Ching. “Work on what has been spoiled” was the hexagram that decided things. And that was that.
I stuck it out as a canvasser for almost two years, volunteering the rest of my time, before a salaried position opened up as a disarmament campaigner, and I was off the streets.
Tonight I’m up late at home after a day in the office that began at 8:45 and ended at 11pm. I’ve been working on a website that tries to convince people to take action to save the whales. It’s late and I’m tired and somehow in the 25 years since that night in the canvass van and this I’ve become older: a father, a husband, a homeowner — things that kid in that van couldn’t even imagine becoming. I’ve lived in a half a dozen countries. I’ve sailed the Arctic Circle and the Bay of Bengal. I’ve walked to ground zero of a nuclear weapons test. I’ve been to sea, I’ve gone to jail. I’ve helped set up Greenpeace offices in Rome and Moscow. I’ve had laughs and drinks and adventures and horrible mishaps and miserable experiences with some of the most inspiring people to have graced this planet and this time. And I’m still working for Greenpeace.
Andrew Davies, who has been around a while now himself, was telling some young volunteers about what 25 years in Greenpeace meant. He was trying to explain why that’s rare, and why Greenpeace has a high turnover rate in people coming and going. “If you stay too long, it makes you crazy,” he said. When I mentioned that wasn’t a very flattering comment on my mental health, he looked at me and said “Let me put it to you this way. I’m not taking it back.”
OK, point taken. I’ve spent 25 years trying to keep in balance the daily doses of despair and the general sense of hope that by making a choice to do something for the planet, people can actually achieve something for the planet. And there are days I believe that mightily, with all my being, and days I cluck with ancient pity at how naïve a 49-year-old man can be.
But I take comfort in that old Bernard Shaw chestnut: “The reasonable person adapts to the world; the unreasonable person persists in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable person.”
In short, you gotta be crazy to try. But if nobody tries, game over.
So Cathy Dees, wherever you are, I’ll drink a toast tonight to the heights of unreasonableness you introduced me to, and for making me stick my foot in a door called Greenpeace.
Then I’ll put down my glass, and get back to work.
The dacron of this sail passed over my hands as we raised the jib on the new Rainbow Warrior today, and I had the overwhelming feeling I was touching the soul of a living ship.
And I thought about Chris Robinson, fearless seafaring activist captain who outmaneuvered nuclear submarines and crossed the oceans in a tiny boat for Greenpeace and many a good cause before he departed from the shores of this world.
He was long an advocate of sail for all our ships. He was there with us today in spirit — a quiet gentle presence who would have been proud to stand on the deck of this testament to the power of a good idea.
For World Food Day and Blog Action Day, allow me to share one of the concerns that keeps me up at night. Imagine you wanted to take over the world. What might you do? Well, you could do worse than, say, control the world’s food supply, right? But how might you go about that. Let’s see, first you’d want to make all farmers dependent on the food YOU sell, by, for instance, pairing a herbicide with a gene in your food that makes your food resistant to that herbicide. Cool. Sell the farmers both, the herbicide wipes out other species and leaves yours alive.
First, patent your food so nobody else can plant it or use it without paying you. Sue anyone who plants your seeds without paying you. In fact, sue farmers who end up with your plants in their fields by accident as well — and invite them to come around to buying your product in the future, so nobody’s knees get broken, right?
Now, if you want to thing big, think “What’s the biggest food crop and the biggest consumer market?” That’s it: China. Try to get in a position where you can own ALL the RICE in CHINA.
Next, you want to make sure that you’re not giving anything away. Build in a terminator gene to your food, so that only one crop a season can be planted. Make sure farmers can’t plant the seed that comes from your crop for free.
Now, once you’ve done that, YOU decide who you sell your crop to. YOU decide who starves and who gets fed. YOU decide what extortionist price you can put on your product, because there is no other food to be had.
This is a good plan. And if we don’t keep an eye on corporations like Monsanto, this is what the world will be like. Because it’s the natural path of any corporation to seek market domination. You don’t even need to buy into the argument that they’re evil or even ill-willed: they’re just greedy. That’s in their DNA — it’s the way corporations are meant to be in a market economy — that’s what they HAVE to be.
The trouble is, when it comes to food, that’s a really bad survival strategy for human beings. You want diversity, not monoculture. You want multiple suppliers and tough competition to keep food prices low. You don’t want patents on valuable foods, and you don’t want food crops to be so dominated by one species or product that natural disaster or supply manipulation could threaten mass starvation.
Lest we forget, control of the food supply is control of a nation. Let’s not weaponize food. Let’s not trust Monsanto, or any multinational, when they say they want to feed the world. Because “feed” in this case just means “own.”
Penguins get to work too!
Guerrilla Gardening in South Africa
Sandra Antonovic is overseeing the planting of 101,010 trees in Lituaania!
Tiny little kayaks spelling out 350.
Polar Bears in the Amsterdam canals
Thanks to Wiebke Herding for circulating this at the E-campaigning forum. Great overview by Scott Douglas of the first four days of the Kit Kat campaign.
It’s a rare speaker that makes an entire room shine. Gary Vaynerchuk, the Wine Guy, is that guy. Journalist Jeff Jarvis, who was sitting in front of me during this presentation, tweeted that the key lesson of Gary is humanity. He’s a mensch.
My evil Thinkpad took one look at all the Apple gear here at SXSW and threw a jealous fit, vengefully refusing to recognise the conference WIFI. Add that to the half-functionality of a European phone that I can’t put in data roaming mode, without paying an arm and a leg, and you have a perfect recipe for feeling like.… well, someone without an arm and a leg, actually. At a Ballet Camp.
In a stunning blow to the heliocentric view of our galaxy, a newly-uncovered edition of the Vatican Index of Forbidden Books of 1635 reveals a number of previously unreported spelling errors in Galileo Galilei’s famous Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo. That work was widely regarded as the central scientific case against the Catholic Church’s depiction of an Earth-centered universe, and the lynch pin of Copernicanism.
Skeptics of the heliocentric universe theory were quick to suggest that the newly revealed errors undermine the entire body of Galileo’s controversial work. ” I think there’s no question we need to re-examine the theory, also supported by Al Gore, that the sun is the center of our solar system,” said Earl Billfold, an analyst at the Knot-Paydoff Foundation for Scientific Rigor. “This is inexcusably sloppy science, which has hoodwinked millions of people for centuries into falsely believing that our planet is not the center of the universe.”
Ok, too much panetone trifle over the holidays, let’s start back into the New Year light.
I remember back in the 90s being very excited about an application with which you could apply a virtual post-it note to a web page. We thought this was killer — you could surround greenwash pages with reality checks, you could cross-reference pages trumpeting nuclear power as a global warming solution with all the reasons the Kyoto scientists refused to put it in the credits column. But of course, it required a dedicated app for those who posted and those who read the notes, so we had a very small community of people reading one another’s comments. The app never took off in a way that it really made a hit.
But twitter has an API call that allows you to gather references to any page into a single set of tweets, and some clever git named Gombo has made a Chrome extension called Twitter reactions out of it. Hey Presto, post-it notes for the web, and another great way to do page commentary and brand monitoring with Twitter.
David Byrne and Brian Eno in a new collaboration, how cool is that. When I was in college I fell into a crowd of hyper-cool musical aficionados who one night, under the influence of some musical-appreciation substance, spun for me three licorice pizzas under a memorably full moon that shaped my tastes forever: Robert Fripp’s Exposure, Peter Gabriel’s first solo album, and Brian Eno’s Before and After Science. David Byrne was already one of my musical polestars. At some point, I was staring at the album notes for Eno’s album and listening to a voice I found familiar, when the title of the cut, “King’s Lead Hat” anagrammed spontaneously before my eyes to “Talking Heads.” Ever since that night, I’ve been hooked on everything that constellation of artists have done. Eno and Byrne’s collaboration on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts — with its exploration of the crossovers between musical and religious ecstasy — was a way-out wonder.
On these live shows I decided to use the connection of Brian Eno– as a collaborator, producer or musician– as the thread that links some material from the past with a group of songs done last year. Most of the time music listeners are blissfully unaware of the contributions of a record producer, and sometimes even of which musicians who play on a record as well…so the Eno linking device might not be as self evident as I imagine. However, the device also allowed me to include a fair number of songs in the live set that people are somewhat familiar with, which wasn’t exactly accidental.
Now, when I hop over to Peter Gabriel’s website, to remember which of his self-titled albums I listened to that night, and what have we here… He’s releasing an album in January of covers called “Scratch my back” which will include the utterly fantastic Talking Heads cut “Listening Wind” — a song I first learned to appreciate while driving across the Nevada desert in Saul Bloom’s beat-up Econoline Van, scouting nuclear weapons test facilities.
Fripp’s Exposure and Gabriel’s first album contained a track in comon: “Here Comes the Flood” — a truly prescient piece of artistry. On Exposure, the song opens with a simple Frippetronics guitar line and a voice over from J.G. Bennet:
From the scientist’s study it seems likely that we should soon begin to have a discreet change in the earth’s climate so people will not be able to live where they have, and the oceans will rise, and many cities will be flooded, like London, and Calcutta, and so on. These things, they say, will happen, according to scientific theories, in about forty years at the most, but maybe even quicker.
It was recorded in 1979.
Downloads of some of the songs on Everything That Happens will Happen Today benefit Amnesty International.
A little test of my mighty iPhone. Found the script which generates the map above in a tweet from Astrobabes, captured it, got into the admin here and created this post — without leaving the cozy couch.
The mini-Safari browser on the phone didn’t like the text input box in WordPress, (no keyboard popup) but a tap of the HTML tab and all is well.
I used to think the SonyEricsson P1 was a highly evolved phone, but since graduating to the iPhone 3gs those days look like the dark ages.
Now, let’s see if I can register a December 12th event with this thing, to counter the prospect of a return of the real dark ages by getting a fair ambitious binding climate deal in Copenhagen. After all what good is an iPhone if it can’t save the world?