From Gut to Gaia: The Internet of Things and Earth Repair

The following text appears in the inaugural edition of Ding, a new magazine about the Internet and things, published by the Mozilla Foundation. Ding will be launched at MozFest in London on 27-29 October.

On a recent visit to @IAAC in Barcelona, I was charmed by their Smart Citizen platform that enables citizens to monitor levels of air or noise pollution around their home or business.

The system connects data, people and knowledge based on their location; the device’s low power consumption allows it to be placed on balconies and windowsills where power is provided by a solar panel or battery.

Smart Citizen is just one among a growing array of devices that can sense everything from the health of a tomato in Brazil, to bacteria in the stomach of a cow in Perthshire – remotely. 

Low-cost sensing technologies allow citizens to assess the state of distant environments directly. We can also measure oil contamination in our local river with a smartphone. Thousands of people are monitoring the air they breathe using Air Quality Eggs.

This innovation is intriguing, but leaves a difficult question unanswered: Under what circumstances will possession of this data contribute to the system transformation that we so urgently need?

Read More »

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john chris jones at 90

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I’m reposting the piece below to celebrate the 9oth birthday (on 7 October) of john chris jones. For jones, writing and living are still intertwined in a sublime but grounded way.

I’ve been re-reading “the internet and everyone” by john chris jones.

I’ve been astonished once again by the sensibility of an artist-writer-designer whose philosophy – indeed his whole life – first inspired me when I was a young magazine editor more than 30 years ago.

Like another muse of mine, Ivan Illich, John Chris Jones was decades ahead of his time. The time is ripe now for a wider readership.

He wrote about cities without traffic signals in the 1950s – sixty years before today’s avant garde urban design experiments.

In the 1960s, Jones was an advocate of what today is called ‘design thinking’; (then, it was called design methods).

He advocated user-centered design well before the term was widely used. He began by designing aeroplanes – but soon felt compelled to make industrial products more human. This quest fuelled his search for design processes that would shape, rather than serve, industrial systems.

As a kind of industrial gamekeeper turned poacher, Jones went on to warn about the potential dangers of the digital revolution unleashed by Claude Shannon.

Computers were so damned good at the manipulation of symbols, he cautioned, that there would be immense pressure on scientists to reduce all human knowledge and experience to abstract form.

Technology-driven innovation, Jones foresaw, would under-value the knowledge and experience that human beings have by virtue of having bodies, interacting with the physical world, and being trained into a culture.

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Back To The Land 2.0
 – A Design Agenda For Bioregions

‘Post-truth’ politics are in fact pre-truth: Populists pick up on our anxiety about the world, but divert our attention from root causes. It’s easier to blame a Muslim, than entropy. Abstract words don’t make much difference. What’s needed is a new story in which care for the places where we live is a practical focus for solidarity instead of conflict.In that spirit, a series of xskool workshops called Back To The Land 2.0 brought local actors together, in diverse locations, to flesh out this new story of place with live examples. The text below (it’s about 4,000 words, a 20 minute read) is about the lessons we have  learned so far. It builds on the course we helped run at Schumacher College a year ago; we are running a similar course in June and will develop the theme in future xskools. (Illustration above: Terre de Liens)

1. Why we need a new story

We are cognitively impaired by a metabolic rift between our culture and the earth. Paved surfaces, and pervasive media, shield us from direct experience of the damage our actions inflict on soils, oceans, air, and forests. A unique epoch of energy and resource abundance added zest to a story of growth, and progress and development, that put the interests of ‘the economy’ above all other concerns

The comforting narrative of perpetual growth has now hit biophysical and financial constraints – and we all feel it. Only 15% of the global population feel that the system is working and ecoanxiety—the feeling of impending environmental doom—afflicts populations on a global scale.

This is why post-truth’ politics should be described as pre-truth politics. In this time between stories, populists have picked up on our justified anxiety – but divert our attention from the root but invisible causes of our predicament. It’s easier to blame a Muslim, than entropy.

But a new picture is now emerging in myriad projects around the world. Read More »

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of Druids, Biorefineries, Adventure Sport, Ecomuseums, Code Clubs…

I’ve been invited by Pontio Innovation to make a return visit to North West Wales and continue our exploration of Innovation In Small Nation. On Tuesday 6 June I’m doing a public talk, too: here is the announcement.

Pic Bruce Adams

BACK TO THE LAND 2.0
Tuesday 6 June, 18:30h Main Lecture Theatre, Level 5, Pontio, Bangor, Gwynedd.

Are innovations in adventure sport a signal of transformation in the global health and wellness industry? If the health of people, and the places where we live, are connected, what kinds of business can help them thrive together?

With its own unique assets, North West Wales has the potential to lead the world as a living laboratory for innovation where adventure sport, tourism, and wellness meet. To realise this potential, and turn ideas into new livelihoods and enterprise, the region’s assets need to be combined and connected in new ways.

But how? For John Thackara, hybrid approaches to innovation are needed that are centred on people and place,  tech enabled, and design-led. Opportunities include include food system platforms; fibersheds and grainsheds; biodiversity and river recovery; social and High Nature Value farming; land-based learning and ecomuseums; code clubs and the maker movement; ecological restoration; civic ecology; biorefining.

 

 

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Earth Repair In Your Bioregion: Short Course at @SchumacherColl

Ecological Restoration by Design  26-30 June @SchumacherColl

In the leave things better economy now emerging, ecological restoration can add new kinds of value to planning and design. But how?

This short course, which I am leading together with Lisa Maria Enzenhofer, will introduce you to a constellation of real-world ecological restoration projects, framed by their bioregion, in urban, peri-urban and rural contexts: regenerative agriculture; civic ecology; green infrastructure; river recovery; wetlands restoration; blue-green corridors; pollinator pathways; urban forests; and the use of plants to restore polluted soil and to create micro climates.

We will explore ecological restoration at multiple scales of geography and time – from micro-environments in former factories, to Ecological Restoration Camps at the scale of the bioregion.

The week includes encounters with project pioneers in South Devon involved in sustainable horticulture, the creation of a Bioregional Learning Centre, and the Deep Time Walk. 

Participants will also complete a design exercise in which lessons learned during the week are applied to a context of their own.

We want this course to be multi-disciplinary. We invite not only designers, architects and planners, but also geographers, ecologists, economists, and others. 

The course is for you if you want  to understand the principles of ecological restoration; read a territory through an ecosystem lens; and engage, on however small a scale, in your own context.

 

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Interview: Signals of Transformation and How to Read Them

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I was interviewed about How To Thrive by Sarah Dorkenwald for a new book, Visionen Gestalten, which will be published next week. The original English transcript is below. The German text is HERE.

SD: What is your vision of the next economy about?

JT: My book is for people who fear that there no escape from an economy that devours nature in the name of endless growth. I argue that another world is not just possible – it is already happening: a world in we value all of life, not just human life; a word in which progress is measured by Read More »

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Making as Reconnecting: Crafts In The Next Economy

The following is an edited version of my keynote talk, delivered by video to the Craft Reveals conference at the Chiang Mai Vocational School in December 2016. The conference was hosted (and my talk commissioned) by the British Council Thailand.

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Around the world, a new economy is being shaped by a “leave things better” story about the meaning of progress and development. In a million projects, people are growing food, restoring soils and rivers, designing homes, generating energy,  journeying, caring for each other, and learning, in new ways.

These activities are incredibly diverse, but a green thread connects them: Read More »

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Book launch in India

Amid the spectacular setting created by my hosts at (above) my talk was miraculously summarised on a single page by the talented @ragasy

There followed a #ThackaraThrive book launch in Mumbai at the Indian School of Design & Innovation / Parsons Mumbai  With many thanks to @isdimumbai @RoliBooks and @thamesandhudson

 

 

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Interview with Experimenta (Spain)

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On the occasion of the publication of  #ThackaraThrive in Spanish, I did an interview for Experimenta with Dr. Eugenio Vega Pindado. Here below is the English version.


Q1: This is one of the first interviews with John Thackara in a Spanish magazine. What do you tell to our readers about the main motivation for your approach of the problems discussed in this book? 



A: To people who fear that there no escape from an economy that devours nature in the name of endless growth, I argue that another world is not just possible – it is already happening. I know this to be true because Read More »

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