Have I cracked the the telepresence conundrum?

Last evening I particpated remotely from my home in France in a pre-event in Amsterdam of ElectroSmog International Festival for Sustainable Immobility.

I didn’t use the fancy gadget in the photo above. My set-up yesterday was a bit, but not a lot, better-organized than the remote recording session (below) I did for a BBC radio programme last summer.

I said my bit to deBalie via skype, and followed the rest of proceedings, which were chaired by Eric Kluitenberg, on deBalie’s livestreaming feed.

The deBalie session was not, I know, a major event in the greater context of events concerning sustainability, media, and design. But I’m proud, nonetheless: I have not yet set foot in an aeroplane in 2010, and this event followed a new year resolution radically to reduce my work-related travel.

In preparing for yesterday’s modest exercise, I was amazed to discover that I have been writing about the substitution of telepresence for mobility for seventeen years. Writing, not doing, I know: By no means all my texts and talks are here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Although deBalie’s streaming video feed was clear (thanks to their industrial-quality cameras; three-times normal bandwidth; something called an h264 video codec; and Gerbrand); and Eric was a clear and well-organized compere; but the experience was as unrelaxing, experientially, as always.

I spent half-a-day spent fidding with lights and backdrops at my end. I had to miss lunch in order to test skype. And I had to work hard, during the event itself, to keep track of what was happening in Amsterdam. An abruptly broken connection, internet-side, just as the final Q+A started, was an abrupt but unsurprising conclusion.

Content-wise, the session was a blast from the past – in good ways and bad.

A guy from IBM demo’d a hideous virtual “creative office” populated by avatars. The avatar representing the IBM-er in Belgium failed to speak or move for five minutes; its human owner had apparently left his desk to look for a beer.

This was fair enough -a national beer strike in Belgium has only recently ended – but the jerky, implausible look-and-feel of IBM’s virtual office was less enticing than the pre-Sims demo given by Will Wright at Doors of Perception back in 1998.

(It wasn’t much better, either, than the time I did a video conference with Korea in which twelve corporate persons – not from IBM – sat in a row facing the camera. I was able scan the camera along the line, jerkily, from my end. But because my fellow videoconferencers were dressed in identical blue suits, white shirt and dark tie; and because most of them seemed to be called Mr Kim; I soon gave up).

But last night’s IBM demo *was* superior to the videoconference between a summer school in Lisbon, and the White House, that I experienced last summer.

Then, the link was enabled by Cisco Systems’ ultra high-end platform. We were all excited because our interviewee was said to have an office just down the hall from the Oval Office.

We all assumed that communicating with the centre of world power on the world’s fanciest videoconferencing platform would be fab. But the link, once opened, yielded sound and pictures worse then the ones sent back by the first lunar lander.

After ten minutes of torture, someone in Lisbon put their hand up and said” “can’t we use skype?” – so we we did.

But there were delights, last evening, too. Costas Bissas from DistanceLab told us, from a location somewhere in the wilds of Scotland, about a cow called Grace who has been fitted with a webcam.

Grace TV.jpg

It took me back to the time Bill Gaver and Tony Dunne attached web-enabled microphones to chickens in Peccioli.

I told Costas I would pay good money to see Grace charging a bunch of tourists, but he said that is not their business model.

As last night’s discussion continued, I had an epiphany: it is not my job to keep track of all these tele-tools and platforms – still less, to set them up and make them work when I need them.

I thought back to the early years of the telephone: for decades after the telephone was first publicly deployed, one would pick up the receiver – and a room full of operators would make the connection for you.


This is what we need now. We need the equivalent of a roadie for telepresence events.


Rock stars don’t have to fiddle about setting up amps and lighting and the stage before they perform – so why should I, or any other right thinking citizen who has a life to lead?

e-Roadies are the solution I have been searching for for seventeen years.
I haven’t worked out where to find them, nor how to train them – still less, a business model to pay for them. But I am surely on the right track because E-Roadies are a *human* solution.

Posted in [no topic] | 2 Responses

20. Bubble-glazing

Here is a late addition – number 20 – to our story of last week: 19 reasons to be cheerful after Copenhagen.
Instructions: cut-to-fit; spray with water; bubbles face inwards. Done.
(thx Miranda, for the new word)

Posted in transition & design | Leave a comment

Doors of Perception projects portfolio

Bulb-planting has started early at Doors HQ:
– We’ve posted summary descriptions of the last ten years’ Doors of Perception projects – the idea being that we plan to do more projects like these ones, only better.
– All City Eco Lab posts are now in one stack; [City Eco Lab never had its own website];
– So too are all posts on new economic metrics;
– We’ve started a new category on transition and resilience; here we reflect on our encounters with the Transition movement and the ways it is building resilience in communities around the world;
– News on new and recent books by John Thackara are now collected in one place – buy them all now, while books still exist;
– Back issues of our newsletterdating back to 2002, are still there at the Doors of Perception Newsletter archive.
– and (thanks Nique! thanks Kristi!) ) we’ve tidied up the navigation buttons on this page.

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

19 reasons to be cheerful after Copenhagen (+1)

The outcome of Copenhagen is depressing if you only look at what happened at the official summit, and persist in the belief that those guys are “world leaders”. They are not: they are followers, guardians of a dying regime. So don’t look at them. Hundreds of thousand of groups are already busy, in countless ways, preparing their communities for the changes and shocks to come. Elements of an alternative global framework have started to emerge. Several hundred of these groups helped draft a ‘People’s Declaration’ from Klimaforum09 entitled System change – not climate change. It’s a much better read.
Meanwhile, I thought it would be both festive and restorative to share with you the following 19 highlights of our 2009 re-localisation efforts at Doors HQ here in France.
1) KvR developed a killer grape syrup recipe (= off-grid sugar)
2) Off-grid shoe polish (= keeping up appearances as the consequences of peak oil unfold)

Read More »

Posted in transition & design | Leave a comment

Designing an associative life

Government departments or ministries responsible for sustainability, or “the environment”, are too often constrained by small budgets and modest influence. Their very existence allows traditional departments – “industry”, “economic affairs”, “finance” or “transport” – to carry on their ecocidal ways as normal.

A similar problem persists in business where Corporate Social Responsibility has long been treated as a sideline to the real action.

A growing number of individuals in government or industry silos want to work collaboratively with their peers in other silos – but they are often stymied by a system that imprisons them.
So what to do?
Rather than rage against the iniquities of politicians, a new French organization called La 27e Region (The 27th Region) has set out to help regional governments change by running collaborative projects that enable them to experience a new approach to social innovation in practice.

Read More »

Posted in transition & design | Leave a comment

Territorial development books

It has always been a point of pride at Doors of Perception events to curate the bookstore as carefully as we curate the speakers. We do this because when a conference theme cuts across disciplines – as ours do – no single bookseller is likely to know which are the best supporting titles on sustainability *and* design *and* culture *and* business; we select them collaboratively.

So it was a special insider’s pleasure to encounter a display of books at La 27e Region’s event in Marseille (see story above) on all aspects of territorial development.
The word territorial has no direct English equivalent: in French (and also in Italian) it describes a synthesis of the soil, the land, the earth, biodiversity, culture, law, philosophy and sustainable development. Among my scores were a book on Citizen participation and public action: cases from Dakar, Rabat, Cotonou, jerusalem and Sanaa. and another called “The Intelligence of the Other”. by Michel Sauquet which proposes an “ecology of different kinds of knowledge”; this, in English, would probably be called something less enchanting like ‘intercultural awareness’. I’m putting the online bookseller links here because I could not find any other references that show the books.
If you’re minded to buy these, please go to (I’m roughly translating again) the Territorial Development Bookshop.

If you’re thinking – “what use is this to me, it’s all in French!” – then I agree with you and apologise. But I also have a question: does anyone know who we might approach for funding to pay for an editorial service that would make French books, events, people and projects available to an English readership? We can make a start with one editorial post.

Posted in city & bioregion, transition & design | Leave a comment

Hand-made clothes for all

This Louis Vuitton ad features shoes which cost about 600 euros (US$700) in the shops. I don’t know how much Louis Vuitton pays for them, and I don’t know how much they will be paying Tony Blair to help sell them but I’d be surprised if the unit cost to the company is what: 60 euros? half that?
The numbers may be confidential, but it’s no longer a secret that Louis Vuitton products are not hand-made by horny-handed French craftsmen. On the contrary: the labour-intensive aspects of Louis Vuitton shoe production take place in India.
But final assembly and finishing happen in Italy – so the louche young man in the ad could well be genuine.

Read More »

Posted in development & design | Leave a comment

From King Parakramabahu to ethical fashion

Some people blame the Enlightenment for our present troubles.

The scientific revolution, they say, gave man ideas above his station. We frequently harm natural systems, goes the charge, because of our delusional belief that we are separate from, and have dominion over, nature.

This myth of apartness, the charges conclude, dulls the responsibility we’d feel if we felt ourselves to be co-dependent members of natural community.

History suggests that modernity is not uniquely to blame for messing with Gaia.

During his reign as King of Sri Lanka from 1153–1186, for example, Parakramabahu asserted that “not even a little water that comes from the rain must flow into the ocean without being made useful to man”. He went on to construct or restore of 165 dams, 3910 canals, 163 major reservoirs and 2376 minor tanks – all in a reign of 33 years.

Parakramabahu started a tradition whereby every Sri Lankan king would build dams; the island now contains more than a thousand. No country in the world contains so much man-made irrigation per square km.

Read More »

Posted in development & design, most read | Leave a comment

In the Palace of the Popes

Is culture something that’s produced to be sold, or a description of the ways people live? It’s an old question, but last week’s Forum d’Avignon (see also my story below) put a new spin on it: could the culture industries lead the way out of the economic crisis?
The debate did not take place on neutral territory. The Forum’s 300 grandees of media, economy and culture met in the Palace of the Popes. The event felt more like a papal conclave than a business meeting.

Read More »

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment