My day at the Community Forum
Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 October 2013 14:41
I went to the SFU Public Square Forum: Charting BC's Economic Future on October 4th and the first thing I thought of when I entered the front doors of the Conference Centre was, "Gee, am I the only guy who is not here as part of his job?" It looked like every guy except me was wearing a grey suit and very few of the women were not wearing grey or black, either. This Forum was the culmination of SFU's Community Summit and I was invited because I had facilitated one of the 100 Community Conversations on a particular theme of own. I figured that everybody there would be one of these people. No, it turns out I was mistaken about that. The opening panel was Institutional leaders. In fact the whole room was full of these folks. Except me. I thought, Hmmm.... this is gonna be innerestin. And it was.
It was extremely high level and to a great extent it was very top down. In attendance were politicians and heads of major institutions: the BC business council, the BC Federation of Labour, Native chiefs and all sorts of others whose names I recognized and many who I'd seen on the local news. The opening panel started the day off well. While some of the panelists said fairly "stock" phrases such as Yuen Pau Woo from the Asia Pacific foundation saying we need to go beyond the transportation function of the "Gateway" to take advantage of so much flow going through BC. Even if it's not just the traditional transport function. Examples include companies doing work on global scale that isn't necessarily taking place here.
However, other panelists really set the tone of the day.
Greg D'Avignon from the BC Business Council asked: how do we change the tenor of discussion among institutions? How do we change the approach and [methods] of institutional problem solving in BC? Looking after health and welfare of kids ensures their success in school and in life. BC needs their success and participation. Yes, the BC Business Council said that!
Tamara Vrooman, CEO of Vancity: why is it that businesses can't have policies and practices like Vancity? Often they are held back by myths, while adapting to community needs actually lowers risks and costs.
Finally, Chief Sophie Pierre, really made the point of the whole day: there is no single solution but we need a common direction or we won't be able to move forward.
After lunch, however, there was a wake-up call presentation from Roger Gibbins from the Canada West Foundation. He reminded us of some of the stark realities of BC. For example, the vision of the purpose of resources in the economy is, on the surface, very different between Vancouver and Prince George. Even when Vancouver thinks we can stand on our own as a "world city" because we think our social and natural capital is unique, our world competitors lie Barelona or Sydney (or even Seattle) think theirs is too and are selling their so-called uniqueness to the rest of the world. In Gibbins' opion, Vancouver needs inclusion of BC resource wealth to compete with those others who also think their capital is unique.
A good spectrum of powerful Native leaders were also in attendance and, they, and eveyone else, actually, seemed to agree with Miles Richardson that we need to build a mutual, respectful relationship with Native people before their issues can be resolved. In fact, it was pointed out that beyond what Richardson said, we need to build respectful relationships between disparate groups across the board: labour vs. business, urban vs. rural, and so on.
These thinkers smart were also respectful listeners, I discovered. Especially in my breakout group that included Krishna Pendakur, Tamara Vrooman, Peter Robinson, Adrian Dix, Dorothy Sayer, inter alia. We had two breakout sessions with the same group. In the morning we were asked "what are the issues" and in the afternoon, "what are the solutions". In both cases I'm happy to say that I was able to bring the essential conclusions from our Librarians' Conversation: that the documents and process from the 100 Community Conversations were too top down; that institutions need to go back to the communities with open agendas and let communities choose their issues and what they want to work towards. We even talked about the subversive idea of disassembling our institutions and rebuilding them with community input. Discussion around those issues were interesting, informative, and introduced new (and, sometimes, old) ideas back into the discourse. Someone said we shouldn't deny politics; it has a lot of power to change for the good. Others wanted to start with the fundamental issue: the land and the fact that we have to, in particular, let native communities help determine what we do with it. There was also a discussion that local governments should and could be bigger parts of the solution but short terms-of-office and restricted municipal power holds them back.
At the end, there were repeated calls for doing this again but with more background work. That sounds great, and I think it would be great but I was also left with lingering questions. I do wonder if all these institutional leaders, especially those for whom straying from the status quo brings great risk and who preside over the top-down domination of economic decision-making, could adjust to local/community desires to make their own futures, or at least have an equal, collaborative role. I fear that some of these leaders were there to protect their organizations. I guess time will tell whether the positive responses to the day end up in a report that fades away or whether they result in new dialogue and, ultimately, actions and change.
Container ships and me
Last Updated on Saturday, 17 August 2013 16:23
I spent a week on Pender Island sitting on a nice little beach . It faces Boundary Pass through which all the freighter traffic to and from Vancouver Ports travels. I started thinking about the basics of our economy: heavily loaded bulk carriers head out to the Pacific. Container vessels carrying cheap crap come back. When I got home I posted some pictures to twitter.
Pointing out what's wrong with all those things made in China is really about us, not them. I keep buying so I can't blame them if they keep making. And does a beach chair matter anyway? In fact, I'm finally learning that even electronic devices don't matter individually; just their capabilities and their access to the net matter. I greatly admire Bruce Sterling's Last Viridian Note: Don't worry about using cheap junk but don't hoard it (I'm paraphrasing with great license). Most stuff is, let's face it, disposable and you should only keep it around when you need it. Concentrate on the stuff that counts. For Sterling it's shoes and a multitool. Sitting on the beach I did a bit of inventory and at that point in time, for me it was (some) clothes, a multitool and a Vaho bag (which is valuable more for its associations with an inspiring trip to Barcelona last year than for it's quality, but anyway).
Why do I look down at stuff made in China? It turns out to be a deeper question than you would imagine. The answer might start with thinking about the lousy jobs in lousy conditions and feeling that "I wouldn't do that job" . But maybe that's not true. I've never had to do that job and I probably never will but who knows. If I wasn't lucky enough to live here, what would I do to make a living? And all this cheap-junk-in-China-navel-gazing might seem a bit pointless anyway. There's probably no going back. There's lots of talk for years about whether we should worry about this . And it's all over the political spectrum and, unfortunately, it gets really xenophobic really fast and none of it is really all that helpful .
So, I don't presume that I can unravel this intractable, jumbled-up subject but I keep wondering about these questions : should we moderate consumption from China? Is it only to protect middle class jobs? In BC, what jobs are those? Processing natural resources? If we can't hang onto that, how else to protect our middle class? Can we do anything to keep the price of resources up? I know these are big questions and it seems that sometimes everybody is asking them and at other times no one wants to think about it. But a certain "everything is connected" vibe has hit me about this. As I was sitting on the beach watching the freighters go by, I was thinking about the discussions of SFU Community Conversations and reading Manuel Castells' Networks of Outrage and Hope. On a very simple level, I think there's two related themes: the Arab Spring is about the rise of an educated middle-class who are then given no opportunities. The Spanish and U.S. Occupy movements are about retrieving the lost opportunities of a struggling middle class.
Is this the real concern for us in BC: that we are always doing the things we've done before to generate wealth, and having the arguments we've had before about it, because "before" we had, and maybe still have, a wealthy middle-class? We can see that middle-class-dream dwindling away in other places, especially in industrial heartlands in Europe and North America and that is, let's face it, very close to home! Don't doubt, despite what Vancouver urbanites like to tell themselves, that the BC economy is still ruthlessly dependent on the value of our commodities and our strategic location for transportation. That's an important subtext, I think for the Community Conversations.
What can I do with this old slow phone?
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 July 2013 15:40
Last week I bought a case for my two year old phone. It was cheap, ten dollars, at the chinatown nightmarket and it's just what I need right now. But now the question is, how much does that extend the length of time before I can replace the phone altogether? And that question started me thinking about why I would keep it. Or, more to the point, why would I replace it: it doesn't last long on a battery charge; it gets hot and sucks the battery down in certain situations; it's really slow to respond sometimes (and "sometimes" is starting to become "most of the time"). The newest Android version it is running is essentially too much for it, but that's not the only problem.
Now, let me re-orient my thinking. It's not a "phone" . It's a handheld computer. I've been using those for twenty years since I bought one of these
. At the moment, I also have a 6 year old laptop
and it's not done yet, although this might be an unfair comparison, I know. There's something about thinkpads that makes them last. One thing, of course, is that still a more powerful computer than my Nexus S, even if it is four years older. For the detail oriented: the T60 runs Win7 and Linux.
The other thing this has me thinking about is the operating system on the Phone. I have eagerly accepted Google's updates for my phone model but the latest one is, unfortunately part of the problem. It's just a bit too much for this phone, I"m afraid.This isn't just my imagination
. The irony is that I don't think my Nexus S will get the Android 4.3 update (but I don't know for sure). The good news is I should be able to run "TRIM" sessions with my current OS. At any rate, while I'm looking at that, I'm also now looking for ways to slim down the apps and many of the heavy apps are in fact ones that come from google: Search, Now, Maps, and so on.
So what else can I do? Well, I might try this
but, of course, I'll have to do a bit of homework first. The danger is that there's a meeelllion
ways to hack a Nexus S
and I can easily fall into the trap of losing my stopping point
. If nothing else, I'll want to find out: is it faster? Is it easier on the battery? or at least can I control battery drain better? Do my critical apps run on it? Evernote? Locus Maps? Twitter (of some sort)?
Of course, you know what happens to the best laid plans. I could easily drop this phone somewhere where it won't recover: somewhere wet, somewhere too far from the point of impact, somewhere while at speed. I use the phone as my GPS when I'm on long bicycle rides. Even though I have a very tough case for it, it's not a guarantee.
And that brings me to: what the "phone" really is for is as a connection device: yes it's a computer, but it's a computer that's so network-oriented, it's not the same as a "computer" as we've been thinking of them. But, actually, I use my laptop that way, too,. mostly. It always seems so limited and I feel that it only does very limited things when it's not connected so the distinction is clouding. hhmmmmm. That's clearly a bigger topic for another post..... and I haven't even mentioned my Microsoft Surface RT! In the meantime, I'll just try and make this phone run a bit faster.
JustAsk virtual reference is a glimmer of what our irrelevance looks like
Last Updated on Saturday, 29 June 2013 15:03
I was cleaning up some old email the other day (finally!) and I came upon a folder full of the gory details about herding the cats, errr, I mean scheduling the libraries who participated in public library AskAway, the collaborative virtual reference service I ran for a few years. Askaway had its provincial funding cut in 2009 and had to close the service in 2010. I always felt that Askaway was cancelled at a critical time but I couldn't always put my finger on why it seemed that way. Now I think it's because, while we didn't realize at the time, we had built a customer base who were using the service intensely and recommending it to friends but they were not using it because of some allegiance to libraries as a whole.They were sticking (at least for a while) with the service that they used but they were not going to stick with libraries for the sake of using libraries.
And then Askaway was gone and a year-and-a-half later, JustAsk started up. The customer traffic for JustAsk is a fraction of what we experienced with AskAway: during peak months from autumn to spring when schools and colleges were in full-swing, Public Library Askaway averaged over 3700 sessions per month. JustAsk appears to average 840 sessions during the equivalent months. Even taking into account the fact that JustAsk serves only a portion of the province, it still covers the libraries with the highest use of AskAway, and the difference in traffic is far greater than just for that reason. There has been some explanation about this that school-aged kids are not using chat-messaging anymore like they used to. I don't think this is an adequate explanation. It's not that chat messaging has become a "niche" communication vehicle, maybe it's because asking the library questions is a niche activity (!!!) and we haven't wanted to admit that to ourselves until it's too big to ignore. As usual, we've spent our time looking away from the big scary answers; preferring instead to believe the little answers that don't speak to our looming irrelevance.
A wrinkle in all this is....
Are We Irrelevant Yet?
Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 July 2013 09:12
A screencast of the slides from my BCLC 2013 presentation is now up: Are we Irrelevant Yet? Facing up to the Hardest Thing.
It's not a "live" screencast, as the voice recorder I used at BCLC 2013, errrr, ummm, ran out of batteries :-/ but this recording will give you an idea of the session, at any rate.
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