High-tech beads for the natives?

(COMMENT AT END: we’ve had to suspend comment function because of spam attacks)
You know what? I just don’t think Sunnyvale, California is the right base from which to save the world with Tech.
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Architecture for Humanity have announced a $250,000 competition for the design of technology centers in the developing world.
Dan Shine, director of the AMD’s 50×15 Initiative, says “the creative designs developed in this competition will contribute to our ambitious goal of connecting 50 percent of the world’s population to the Internet by 2015.”
Had the organisers spent more time in South Asia, or in Africa, they’d be aware that six million mobile phone accounts are being opened each month, just in India, right now, today, without the participation of a single “technology centre”.
The explosion in cell phone usage is even more pronounced in Africa – from just one million in 1996 to 100 million users today, and rising exponentially.
AMD’s 50% figure is likely to be reached years before 2015 because of the smart ways poor people share devices and infrastructures.
Shine says that the prize will be for the design of a “sustainable technology facility and community center which incorporates a centralized building equipped with internet connectivity solutions designed to enable an entire community to access the transformative power of the Internet”.
That’s two uses of the word “centre” in a single sentence. The words “old” “western” and “paradigm” spring to mind.
AMD’s new competition is as misguided as the $100 laptop project. It’s based on an outdated model of individual device ownership that may seem normal at the TED conference in Monterey, but has little to do with daily lives of the people it’s supposed to benefit.
The press release concludes that “we are challenging the creative world to design innovative structures”.
That challenge, too, is misguided. Amazingly innovative structures are already emerging in Africa and South Asia. As Aditya Dev Sood told us last week in Delhi, mobile communication is revolutionizing economic and social life in rural India, spawning a wave of local entrepreneurs and creating greater access to social services.
Amazingly, poor people are managing to do this without the participation of the “creative world”.
Check out the new study by The Center for Knowledge Societies (CKS) commissioned by Nokia.
Cheap phones and falling per minute charges in India
and elsewhere don’t mean that public places for people
to gather and use new-ish technologies are not useful.
Cheap paperbacks and Amazon did not close public
libraries. Video Volunteers in NYC have a successful
community video unit in India, and telecenters (just
about everywhere) have been important gathering places
for people to do other activities than go online.
Shared access to resources is more than a cost-saving
device. Media Labs like Waag and De Balie in your
town(Amsterdam) have partnered with places like Sarai
in Delhi and certainly serve a local purpose too.
While I’m critical of some parts of the XO (former
$100 laptop) project, I think you might catch up on
what’s happening with it before you dismiss it.
All that said, I will conceded that some really odd
tech projects have been deployed in developing
countries. LINCOS in Costa Rica and the expensive ITU
telecenters in Mali and Uganda. And writing from San
Jose I would agree that the best designs may not hail
from Silicon Valley.
-Steve Cisler
Thanks for that. The comparison is with deBalie and Waag would suggest I over-reacted. But these two Amsterdam organisations are political-cultural centres. Technology was added (in Waag’s case, c700 years after it was built) as extra infra, not as their raison d’etre. In the case of Africa and South Asia I make no claim to superior expertise on appropriate technology; it’s just that wise people on the ground have hammered it into my head repeatedly that progress starts with people, collaborating, not just with the arrival of tools. JT

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The carbon footprint of virtual worlds, Hummers, and Brazilians

I hear from Nick “still in the US without air conditioning” Oakley that a Second Life avatar uses about as much energy as the average Brazilian. Lesson: even virtual worlds have a real carbon footprint. I told a similar story, this time about server farms, in my book. Upon discovering that we share a (probably unhealthy) interest in climate infoporn, Nick went on to tell me that the Hummer H3, with a fuel efficiency of about 9 mpg, uses less energy over its lifetime than a Prius.
It’s Monday, we leave for India in a week for now, and things are rather busy – so I simply don’t have time to reflect on what these important developments signify. So you do that – and let me know your conclusions in a week or so.

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An angel called Pradsa

Are you shaping the tools or techniques that help other people shape their world? There is no job description for what you do. You mix dedication to social change, confidence with people and organisations, and technical knowledge or skills. You are part of a growing number of committed
people using innovation and ICT to help others work on social and political issues. PRADSA (Practical Design for Social Action) is running a series of workshops around the UK to share best practice amongst people with your hybrid interests and skills.If you are working, however informally, in this area please contact Catherine, by email at:

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India’s new design policy

When I first visited India 20 years ago, the country had fewer design teachers for a population of more than a billion people than had Wales – whose population is three million. The supply of teachers seemed to be stuck because India had just one national public design school: the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad.
NID had (and has) extremely smart faculty and students. But their number – 400 or so per cohort – is tiny in comparison with the 60,000 elite students who attend the country’s Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) – and who have played such a major role in the global IT boom.
It’s good news, then India’s new National Design Policy, which was published on Friday, decrees that four more National Institutes of Design, on the pattern of NID, will be set up in different regions of the country.
The new policy also encourages the establishment of departments of design in all IITs, the National Institutes of Technology (NITs), and in prestigious private sector colleges. The objective is to spread quality design education to all regions of India.
So far, so good. But I was shocked and dismayed to find no mention of climate change, sustainable development, or resource efficiency, in the press release describing the Cabinet’s “vision for a National Design Policy.”
The emphasis of the vision is on “making India a major hub for exports and outsourcing of designs.” This does not sound like the basis for a post-waste, post-consumerist, sustainable economy.
Frankly, if it ignores sustainability, India’s new design policy will make the global situation worse. A lot worse. 80% of the environmental impact of products, services and infrastructures is determined at the design stage, and India is a global industrial power.
Along with other friends of Indian design, I have been arguing for some years for a “leapfrog strategy” in which India jumps directly from a resource-guzzling productivist model to a more advanced, sustainable – and competitive – services-based model.
Doors has been arguing this case in India for six years. The focus of our first formal event in India, at NID in February 2000, was on the transition to a services economy. We expanded this discussion in Doors East in 2003, and at Doors 8 on Infra in 2005. The theme of Doors 9 on Juice , in two weeks’ time, returns once again to the leapfrog idea, this time on the context of food and energy.
India’s new design policy suggests that we have not argued well enough.
The leapfrog hypothesis is doing much better in China. Ezio Manzini, a pioneer of the idea, was on the front page of the Peoples Daily a few weeks ago on just this topic. Senior Chinese policy makers told us, then, that they are looking to develop a fundamental “transformation of our economic growth model”. They said they expected design to play a crucial role in this tranformation.
On a third reading of last week’s announcement from the Indian Cabinet, I discovered a nugget of hope near the bottom of the last page. Item xvi.11 of an Action Plan to implement the Policy says a proposed new India Design Council should “Take effective steps towards ‘cradle to grave environment-friendly approach’ for designs produced in India so that they have global acceptance as ‘sustainable designs’”.
This reads more like an afterthought than a ringing endorsement for design’s biggest opportunity in 200 years. But it’s better than nothing.
Will India’s design education fall further behind? I doubt it. India’s designers are fast on the uptake. Give them the tools – in the form of the promised new institutions – and I’m confident they’ll adapt them to the task of One Planet Economy design.

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Wanted: designer of a dreamy den or a tantalising tent

The culmination of Dott07’s year in North East England (where Doors is programming the content) will be a festival in October to celebrate the achievements, challenges and experiences of all those who have taken part in projects. Our dream for the Festival location is that it will inspire people to enter, and empower them, once inside, to engage with the stories and with each other on equal terms. In other words, the look-and-feel should be the opposite of a raucous trade fair or a self-obsessed art event. Keywords: encounter; participation; interaction; empowering; active, welcoming. When you leave you should feel inspired, not exhausted. Who do you think could do this best? Tell them to check out the Dott Festival Creative Tender

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Gone Juicing…

With four weeks to go before Doors 9, most of our blogging energies will be devoted to the Juice site. Why not join us? Or, nearly as good, please print the Doors 9 poster (5MB) and stick it everywhere in your environment. It will feel as if you’re in India with the rest of us. And if you missed our February Doors of Perception Report special “do it” edition, the archive copy is here.

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How rural India benefits from mobile comms

Mobile communication is revolutionizing economic and social life in rural India, spawning a wave of local entrepreneurs and creating greater access to social services according to a new study by Center for Knowledge Societies (CKS) – our partners for Doors 9.
The research, commissioned from CKS by Nokia, identifies seven major service sectors including transport, finance and healthcare that could be radically transformed through mobile technologies.
Mobile phone ownership in India is growing rapidly, six million new mobile subscriptions are added each month and one in five Indian’s will own a phone by the end of 2007. By the end of 2008, three quarters of India’s population will be covered by a mobile network.
Many of these new mobile citizens”live in poorer and more rural areas with scarce infrastructure and facilities, high illiteracy levels, low PC and internet penetration. The study looks at how their new mobility could be used to bridge the growing economic and social digital divide between rural and urban areas.
Read the full story here.

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Global place – or is it a hat?

The following is the text of my lecture at the Global Place conference in an unseasonably warm Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Joshua Kauffman has posted an excellent summary of the event here).
Some of you may know Oliver Sacks’ book “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”? It’s about people afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations – and in particular a man who looks at something familiar (his wife) but perceives something completely different.
Well, I’ve become one of those people!
It happened to me most recently at Madrid’s new airport. One minute I was admiring Richard Rogers’ gorgeous roof, and the play of light upon curves.
But I suddenly stopped perceiving these effects as aesthetic. In place of elegant forms and vistas, I started to contemplate the vast amount of energy embodied in the artefacts, structures and processes that surrounded me.
A big new airbus, taxiing in to park, made me wonder how many thousands – millions – of pounds of matter and energy must have been used to build it.
Beside me was an elegant concrete pillar. It looked benignly tree-like with a gently curving trunk and branches, higher up, that supported a soaring roof.
But how many carbon dioxide emissions were generated during its fabrication? A ton of CO2 is emitted for every ton of concrete that ends up in a pillar – or the miles of concrete apron that stretched, in Madrid, in every direction.
Millions of tons of concrete visible to the eye. Millions of tons of emissions out of sight.
Then there was the noise. I don’t usually notice the background hiss and hum of these great modern spaces. But this time my cognitive filters seemd to fail. I became aware of an ambient, angst-inducing roar.
All that air-conditioning, cooling huge volumes of empty space, blowing gales of out hot air to goodness knows where in the sky.
Eight per cent of the world’s total electricity supply is used to cool buildings in the United States.
Then there was the light! There was a bank of large plasma screens. On the screens, ads were playing – but all I could think about was their greed for electricity.
Did you know that flat screens use five times more power than the bulbous ones they replace?
And that’s just the power they use. Cathode ray televisons contained mostly air. These new plasma screens are packed densely with complex materials whose manufacture is highly energy intensive.
So I’m the man who mistook a concrete pillar for a threat to the world! But do you know what? I reckon my cognitive confusion in Madrid had just cause.
I read a text by Rafael Buitrago about our aesthetic and visceral responses to landscape. (My fellow speaker Anne Spirn, who I met in the break, told me Buitrago is an ex-student of hers).
The ways we respond aesthetically to our environment, Buitrago (and Spirn) argue, may be derived from psychology that evolved to help hunter-gatherers make better decisions: when to move, where to settle – to chase or not to chase – in varying situations.
Environmental stimuli as diverse as flowers, sunsets, clouds, thunder, snakes, and predators, activate response systems of ancient origin.
I’m a frequent flyer, not a hunter gatherer. But I’m sure now that feeling the creeps in Madrid was some residual survival instinct being triggered. Not by an inherited fear of snakes – but by a learned fear of degredation to the biosphere and the threat it poses to us all.
Many climate change activists complain that “climate pornography” – the promotion of apocalyptic climate change scenarios – is counter-productive. Climate porn, for one British think tank, “offers a thrilling spectacle, but ultimately distances people from the problem’.
These critics are right. To do things differently, we have to perceive things differently – but not be immobilised by fear, or guilt. We need to be startled out of our complaency, but in such a way that we feel motivated to take meaningful action.
A lot of people seem to have started. Paul Hawken reckons that over one million organizations, populated by 100 million people, are engaged in grass roots activity designed to address climate and other environmental issues. This worldwide movement of movements flies under the radar, he believes, but “collectively, this constitutes the single biggest movement on earth”
These one million grass roots organisations are just one part of the story. Many big organisations, too, are re-thinking fundamental principles of their business. For many multinationals, the consequences of climate change for the very existence of their business has moved from the realm of “future scenario” to be a real and present danger.
Let me give you some examples I’ve heard about just during the last month:
I heard about a top five logistics and parcel delivery company for whose CEO sustainability is the key driver of the company’s future.
I was told that one of the world’s largest shipping ports has decided it must render its operations carbon neutral within a decade. How, I have no idea – but it sounds as if they are completely serious.
A major European airport, I learned, is studying how it might feasibly prosper if air travel ceased to be an important part of its business.
Whole countries are getting serious about massive transformational change.
Sweden, for example, has made it national objective to be independent of oil within a decade.
Switzerland has set a target of becoming a “2000-Watt society”. That’s one third of the 6000 Watts of energy consumed by each of its its citizens today on food, goods, heating and cooling buildings, mobility and so on.
The most dramatic shift, for me, is emerging in Britain – until now, a byword for of wasteful consumerism.
The recent publication of the Stern Review Of Climate Change Economics – by a former World Bank chief economist – marks a step change in government responses.
It’s not just that Stern’s conclusions correspond broadly to what environmentalists have been saying for fifteen years. The fact that the report was commissioned by The Treasury, which control’s the nation’s taxation and money – is also key. Money is at stake: Something must be done!
Stern paves the way for so-called “external” costs to be counted properly for the first time.
(Notoriously, economists describe as”external” costs things like energy, water, minerals, the biosphere as a whole – that, until now, have not been properly counted as part of the game. We used energy to exploit resources – but did not pay the full price of the energy or the resources).
A government can use fiscal measures to make these so-called “external” costs internal costs, payable by the producer. Matter and energy flowing through the economic system will have to be paid for at full price – rather than taken for granted as a freebie. The Stern review provides an economic justification for dramatic changes to the ways we live.
There’s a truly gigantic design opportunity here. We have to re-design the structures, institutions and processes that drive the economy along. We have to transform material, energy and resource flows that, unchecked, will finish us.
In this new design space, the boundaries between infrastructure, content, equipment, software, products, services, space, and place, are blurred. Compared to physical products, or buildings, sustainable services and infrastructures are immaterial. They are adaptive in time and space.
So it’s a huge opportunity, but a new kind of design practice is needed to exploit it.
First: This new design practice is more about discovery, than blue sky invention. Many of the answers we need already exist. We need to become global hunter-gatherers of models, processes, and ways of living that have been learned by other societies, over time. We have to find those examples. Adapt them. Recombine them.
Just as biomimicry learns from millions of years of natural evolution, we can adapt the social innovation of other times and places to our present, ultra-modern needs.
For example, a lot of people already know how to live more lightly than we do. Hundreds of millions of poor people practise advanced resource efficiency every day of their lives. That’s because they are too poor to waste resources like we rich folk do.
Design schools should relocate en masse to favelas and slums. These informal economies are sites of intense social and business innovation.
A second key feature of the new design practise: it is less about control, more about the devolution of power. A good test is whether a design proposal will enable people to retain control over their own territory and resources.
A third feature of the new design practice: it does not have to think Big,or act Big, to be effective. On the contrary: we have learned about the behaviour of complex systems that small is not small. Small design actions can have big consequences, and these can be positive.
If someone builds a bus stop, in an urban slum, a vibrant community can sprout and grow around it. Such is the power of small interventions into complex urban situations. Read Small Change by Nabeel Hamdi for more inspiring examples of the power of designing small.
Item four: The new design practise looks for ways to replace physical resources with information. The information part is knowing where something you need to use, is. If you can locate a thing, and access it easily, you don’t have to own it.
Think of cars. Most of them are used less than 5% of the time. It’s nonsense. 600 cities now have carsharing schemes? The same goes for buildings. In a light and sustainable economy we will share resources – such as time, skill, software, spaces or food – using networked communications.
We don’t have to design sharing systems from scratch. Many already exist. Local systems of barter and non-monetary exchange, such as Jogjami, have existed in India for at least 500 years. A cooperative distribution system called Angadia, or “many little fingers”, enables people to send goods over sometimes vast distances without paying.
They just need to be internet enabled.
The fifth and hardest aspect to master of the new design practice is whole systems thinking.
The best example I heard recently is from an entrepreneur called Paul Polak, who helps people in developing countries develop more effective water distribution systems. Paul reckons the design and technology of a device, such as a pump, or sprinkler system, is not much more than ten percent of the complete solution. The other ninety percent involves distribution, training, maintenance and service arrangements, partnership and business models. These, too, have to be co-designed.
I began this morning by describing the curious perceptual delusions that I experienced, whilst staring at a concrete pillar in Madrid Airport.
I may be nuts, I said, but could there be method in my madness? The ability to perceiving disorders in the environment has helped a lot of creatures survive.
Besides, millions of people seem to share my unease. I suspect there are quite a lot of you in this room.
Big companies, and governments, are also readying themselves for transformational change. I promise you that strange bedfellows will be teaming up in the near future.
Eugenio Barba calls this “the dance of the big and the small”.
I don’t mind if you choose to dance. I’l be satisfied if, just once this week, you slap a concrete pillar and start to wonder…..
I very much enjoyed this post – thought-provoking, yes, but written in a positive and energetic style. Lots of arresting ideas to ponder.
And I really think you ought to strive to get wider distribution for this piece.
Fyi, I tried to post this comment on the blog but kept getting incomprehensible (to me) error messages.

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Doors 9 conference programme

We preview our main activities for the year – especially Doors of Perception 9 in India and Designs of the time (Dott 07) in the UK in January’s Doors of Perception report which (if you do not receive it by email) is here. Please make a note of the key dates. Please also pass this information on to friends and colleagues who may be interested.
Doors 9 opens with a introduction to the relationships between food, energy and design by Hannu Nieminen (Finland, Nokia), Aditya Dev Sood (India, Centre for Knowldge Societies), Debra Solomon (Netherlands, culiblog.org) and John Thackara (Doors of Perception).
Session 2 is about food in cities: Dutch architect Winy Maas (MVRDV) proposes three-dimensional agriculture, with a reference to pig cities. Urban designer Andre Viljoen explains his book about Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULS). David Barrie and Nina Belk describe their urban farming project for Designs of the time (Dott 07) in the UK. Designers Sanjeev Shankar and John Vijay Abraham compare old and new traditions of street food. Chris Hardwicke (Toronto) and Ron Paul (Portland) discuss farmers markets as hubs within food systems.
Session 3 is on food information systems. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, ponders new ways to think about browsing for food. Divya Sharma looks at food maps. Ellis Neder (USA) and Ian Brown (Fair Tracing, UK) look at identity management and food certification systems.
Session 4 of Doors 9 is on “juice”. Designers Jogi Panghaal and Ezio Manzini discuss the different ways European and Asian cultures think about food. Alex Steffen and Sarah Rich (editors Worldchanging: A User’s Guide to the 21st Century) describe small and large scale changes already under way with Walter Amerika, an advisor to multinational food companies.
Session 5 of Doors 9 (yes, it’s a full day, but there’s food throughout) is a social technologies bazaar featuring innovative food-related projects from around the world. Among those you will meet are: Garrick Jones (UK, Ludic Corporation); Georg Christoph Bertsch (Germany, Cargo Bathing); Giovanni Canata (Italy, DxH2O water project); Claire Harten (USA) and Maria Wedum (Denmark), Dirt Cafe; Kultivator (Sweden, agriculture as art); Dori Gislason (Iceland, new lives for fishing villages); Francesca Sarti (Italy, food kiosks in Florence); Marije Vogelzang (Netherlands, Proef project); Maja Kuzmanovic (Netherlands, Groworld) ; Margie Morris (USA, Intel, food repositories).

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