My answer to How can New York City use technology to serve citizens?

    “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” – Peter Drucker

    4 suggestions related to the cultural and human factors dimensions. Probably not where you want to start out, capacity building would be a better focus, but something to consider and plan for sooner than later.

    1. “How to engage with City Staff” tech training
      Info for *both* tech-innovator citizens and city staff on how to work together on Open Gov tech projects. — Speaking from my experience with city staff on I found that the biggest bottleneck to civic innovation is informing & training of civil staff about OpenGov concepts. OpenGov needs to become part of the civil employee culture. This is a new interdependent virtuous cycle type of relationship between citizens & city staff that many excellent city staff veterans are not used to. Behind great tech are great ways of working with people to do it.
    2. Add qualified social/anthro ethnographic tech researchers to city staff.
      Since many civic tech projects are social tools about social life in this city huge quality improvements could be made with wise understanding of Urban dwellers & tech. Who to hire? Start with Keith N. Hampton at U Penn. See his research on “The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces” and PEW reports. The city’s investment in research entrepreneurs often can’t afford, for social human understanding technologists are often not aware of would be a great service. These researchers could also provide the best approach for success measurement. Keith’s site. I can also recommend others.
    3. Weave in human-centered Placemaking approaches and assessments for projects related to actual places in NYC. What is Placemaking?…
    4. Work with to learn best strategies to encourage bringing people together face to face in the places they care about. This must be key. As Douglas Rushkoff simply put it, digital media have an inherent bias towards dislocation– using dislocation technology for local connection has a built-in trap. The solution? Use it to get people to meet together.

    How can New York City use technology to serve citizens?

    6 Questions For Our Social Networked Globe

    Paul Hawken asks 6 great questions in his book “Blessed Unrest”.

    • “At what point in the future will the existence of 2 million, 3 million, or even 5 million citizen-led organizations shift our awareness to the possibility that we will have fundamentally changed the way human beings govern and organize themselves on earth?
    • What are the characteristics of leadership required when power arises instead of descends?
    • What would a democracy look like that was not ruled by a dominant minority?
    • What would a world feel like that created solutions to our problems from the ground up?
    • What if we are entering a transitional phase of human development where what “works” is invisible because most heads are turned to the past?
    • What if some very basic values are being reinstilled worldwide and are fostering complex social webs of meaning that represent the future of government?

    These are but a few of the questions collectively posed by a movement that has yet to recognize it is a movement.”

    He’s coming from his survey of the global and distributed environmental movement and his book is aimed at this diverse audience, but these questions are equally apt for the Gov 2.0/Civic 2.0 movement, or the Placemaking movement in urban planning, or the Ed 2.0 movement in education, etc.

    From where I stand his observations three years since publication resonate even stronger.

    The sheer size of the current paradigm shift can numb or make us cynical in the face of the parallel massive consolidations of power by those who already have too much. But take time to recognize the size of this massive change, understand this evolution, then get engaged with this world of ours and help figure out how to best live together. Get inspired…

    Civic Social Media – PARK(ing) Day Video

    “We now have all these powerful social technologies that instead of using them for entertainment purposes we can use them for civic purposes.”

    Been thinking about my product design work on mass collaboration and ongoing sustainability of peoples’ participation. The short video below on PARK(ing) Day includes nice shots of the site which I conceived and was the Senior Product Manager. began as my volunteer project with Transportation Alternatives’ Brooklyn Committee and came to life in collaboration and consulting work with The Open Planning Project, it’s one recent project that’s helped clarify the variables at play in civic involvement and also at play in the cultural assumptions of those working on civic collaboration tools.

    In many ways change is needed in the cultural understandings of human nature, the social animals we are, on all sides involved in civic social media from the makers and the participants of this media. More to come on this theme…

    For now check the video, the team quoted me and one of my favorite mantras these days, “we now have all these powerful social technologies that instead of using them for entertainment purposes we can use them for civic purposes.” Looking forward to more peers of mine joining in and switching their energy towards these challenges of renewing what democracy & civil-participation means in our networked globe.

    Follow… Me – Nationalism Diminishes In The Global Human Net

    Bandera americana, pin para solapa, photo by Daquella manera
    Photo by Daquella manera

    Tim O’Reilly said the following about Obama’s use of social media in a recent Q&A on one of IBM’s business marketing sites.

    “Clearly there are some new channels for outreach and new channels for listening to what people are telling you. Barack Obama built a really effective platform with—and it is really important to understand that it was a social media platform. If you went there you could set up your own blog, you could set up your own events, you could run a fund-raiser, so it was really a platform for organizing. In some ways you would have to say that was the most successful start-up of the last couple of years. After all, they raised $100 million dollars and then used it to take over the world’s largest company.”

    Putting aside O’Reilly’s corporatist metaphors for another time, from what little I know Obama ran a “50 state” campaign, in pursuit of taking the national office. He and Axelrod used a social platform to run a state-based strategy, with a national effect as a result.  What else do we mean when we say that “all politics are local”?

    I keep observing how we’re increasingly living in a more tribal environment, or in socio-political terms a more republic/state/city/group-centered game, rather than the federalist/nationalist game.  Maybe the republic of farmers that Thomas Jefferson envisioned have not turned out to plant seeds so much as grow code, media, music, global networks that are actually small networks (regional or niche subject based) of interested people…. growing consciousness.

    I don’t have research citations to satisfy the quantitative appetite, just a gut feeling from the sieve-like life I eek out. This gut feeling though seems non-trivial.  In my own trans-cultured experience (family histories with so much restless seeming immigration & colonialism, mixing, new world, old world, indigenous) and in academic media work I’ve been reading, what I keep hearing/feeling is that nations are really artificial, concepts, more than deep social human realities.  This matters a lot, we need to build social media environments that resonate with the reality of human experience, not ones based on artificial/ideal/false notions that came from the past if we are to make the epic changes needed now in the face of global environmental challenges of extreme proportion.

    “Of the many unforeseen consequences of typography, the emergence of nationalism is, perhaps, the most familiar” - Marshall McLuhan
    “Of the many unforeseen consequences of typography, the emergence of nationalism is, perhaps, the most familiar”  –Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

    Mass use of movable type helped homogenize culture. (Marshall McLuhan and others have talked at length about this.) Distribution of cheaply reproduced printed texts was instrumental in making a preferred language dialect and accent normative and other dialects or accents “lesser”, etc. Easy enough to do when people were ruled by texts and submitted themselves to texts via unquestioning belief, and looking at history this happened all too quickly– only 16 human generations since Gutenberg… and we each directly know 2 to 3 prior generations.

    Today, now that we’re clearly moving away from print-centered environments, and into multimedia centered modes (with massive generational tripping along the way; just look at the publishing industry), we’re arriving again at more oral centered environments (as Lance Strate mentioned recently), we’re more tribal… clear shiboleths abound in our network-converged global culture, and are continually created as people evolve them to maintain each tribe.  McLuhan’s conservative side in part feared the tribe I think, but today we see that we’re waking up to a new paradigm based on observing our social selves, together, in ways that only the social web makes visible, reintroducing us to our selves. Following flags seem less important than following friends. Yet big questions remain. How do we make the big changes needed to mend the gap between the reality of our crumbling health & environment and the unsustainable & depletist nationalist dreams we’ve been stuck in for far too long? How can we re-connect?

    Twittering led me to blog again

    The quote below pretty much sums up why I’m blogging again, actually not so much wanting more space than Twitter allows in terms of some topics for me, but about my move to study more of what I do, to develop a deeper cultural understanding of the social web, now that the scale is there.

    “…Maybe we are trying to change it too much. It’s time to redraw and to interpret it again, because do we really know what is going on today?

    What is going on today? There are old fashion theories, either Marxist or liberals who claim the same capitalism is going on. Then there is a whole set of fashionable terms like post-industrial society, post-whatever, information society, which I think don’t do the job. We even don’t have what my friend Fred Jameson likes to call “cognitive mapping,” you know, that you get an idea what’s going on. We need theory more than ever. Don’t be—don’t feel guilty for withdrawing from immediate engagement and for trying to understand what’s going on.” –Slavoj Zizek

    Zizek is good at making provocative statements, and the above is not about the state of cultural awareness of the net, but of general global deterministic speed and lack of understanding. I saw him on and this quote just resonated to my local position and place today. I’m more focused now on methods of social awareness, from ethnography to meditation. This post is as good a start as any.

    I had a filter blog 9 years ago mainly tracking web trends as they were rapidly evolving and only spent partial time on cultural observations and questions; quit after wanting my time back and seeing that so many other full time blogs kept better track. This time around, my motto is “less is more”. Quality posts less often, more around my current interests, more at length on the patterns that Twittering helps raise to the top of my awareness.

    Topically this blog will also more squarely focus on my search for the state of Digital Ethnography… for designing web presences/products today we have developed methods and knowledge about the presentation layers, and the business layers, the software layers, and now the social layers are being well mapped out…. but what remains most out of awareness is the silent language, the cultural layer. So, in many ways I find my self returning to where I was subject matter-wise at the time I left my schooling 12 years ago to join the circus of the internet. Back then working on the web was like some esoteric new thing you had to explain to most who asked; now the net is a pervasively woven element in our global cultural fabric… accordingly worthy of deeper cultural awareness and study.

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