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Doors of Perception: January 2010 - Line Loss

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  • Eric Britton
    Doors of Perception Report January 2010 - Line Loss by John Thackara This free monthly newsletter brings you stories of how design can contribute to the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2010
      Doors of Perception Report
      January 2010 - Line Loss
      by John Thackara

      This free monthly newsletter brings you stories of how design can contribute to the
      resilience of communities and regions. It also announces Doors of Perception events.
      Subscribe/Unsubscribe: http://www.doorsofperception.com/mailinglist/
      Back issues: http://www.doorsofperception.com/mailinglist/archives.php

      **** **** **** **** ****
      Why Are We Here? - - - Greener on paper? - - - Telepresence With No Illusions
      - - - Designing An Associative Life - - - Transition: The Movie - - - Read My
      Lips, Not the Label - - - Hand-made Clothes Fort All? - - - Move Your Money
      - - - Visual Voltage - - - Sustainability in Bangalore - - - Social Media In
      Brazil - - - Mass Design of Health - - - World In A Shell - - - Barter
      Economy Section
      **** **** **** **** ****

      WHY ARE WE HERE? [Good question]

      In March, this email newsletter will be eight years old; its sister Doors of
      Perception blog will be ten; and the Doors website, where it all gets archived,
      will have been online for sixteen years. That's a lot of content - and to what
      end? The way we see it is that we hang out near the door of the design tent;
      look outwards; and tell people about interesting things happening outside.
      Sometimes we invite passing strangers into the tent to make new friends. And
      from time to time, we set up our own tent when we spot an interesting new
      challenge for design. People seem to find what we do valuable - if hard to
      place. And we enjoy doing it, even if the business model to pay for it
      remains... emergent. But if the stories below are true, we have to start
      doing what we do differently, and soon. All suggestions welcome.

      GREENER ON PAPER? [Communicating sustainably - or not]

      Are we e-writers really so green and virtuous? There's growing evidence that
      humble emails, such as this one, pack a hefty environmental footprint. McAfee,
      for example, calculate that a single spam email generates 0.3 grams of CO2
      emissions. On that basis, this newsletter has a ten kilogramme footprint. Once
      the internet's infrastructure costs are factored in, that number probably
      underestimates things by a factor of ten. Kris de Decker, in "The monster
      footprint of digital technology", has written an excellent explanation of the
      hidden costs of communications hardware; and Don Carli, who coined the term
      "media carbon", reminds us that "computers, eReaders and cell phones don't grow
      on trees; their spiraling requirement for energy is unsustainable". Buoyed by
      studies such as these, paper-using industries are fighting back. Martyn Eustace,
      for example, director of the newly-launched TwoSides initiative, states that
      "producing and reading a traditional newspaper can consume 20% less energy than
      reading news online for more than 30 minutes...print and paper products can be
      far more sustainable than the equivalent electronic version". Decker's argument
      is disingenuous. "Far more sustainable" does not mean sustainable: It means,
      "unsustainable, but less so than the other way". Greenwasherish language games
      diminish public appreciation for the many positive actions that the paper and
      fibre industries are engaged in. Framing the question as print vs. digital is a
      bad idea because the life cycles of both print and digital media have negative
      environmental impacts. Don Carli puts it well: "This is not a time for the print
      media pot to call the digital media kettle black. The fact is that neither print
      nor digital media supply chains are sustainable as currently configured".

      TELEPRESENCE - WITH NO ILLUSIONS [Tools for not traveling]

      So it seems as if carbon footprint of the "virtual" newsletter you are reading
      is heavier than we thought. But it's still nothing compared to the travel
      footprint of its author. For the last nine years my business model has been:
      write interesting stuff for free, and then get paid to give talks, run
      workshops, and organize conversational festivals. Face-to-face is always best,
      but the carbon footprint of my travel to work has been, and remains, excessive -
      tonnes and tonnes a year from my flights and TGV journeys. For the last three
      years I've reduced the total number of trips by ten percent a year - but that's
      too slow a change. I simply have to do a lot more of my work remotely. That's
      where you can help: tell me of real remote models that work for you, and how.

      LINE LOSS [The problem with videoconferencing]

      In power grid design, 'line loss' refers to the waste of electrical energy due
      to inefficiencies in the distribution or transmission system. Line loss affects
      mediated human communication, too. Despite decades of effort by engineers and
      designers, the experience of video-conferencing remains mostly awful. So what to
      do? and how? As a start, there are several events about the subject of
      telepresence one could go to this year: in March, "Electrosmog: A Festival of
      Sustainable Immobility" will It will take place in Amsterdam, Riga, New York,
      Madrid, Helsinki, London, Banff, Aotearoa, and Munich. Then, in November, the
      theme of the Saint-�tienne International Design Biennial will be Teleportation.
      In parallel with these events, Caroline Nevejan is editing a special edition of
      the research journal AI and Society about the concept of Witnessed Presence.
      Nevejan poses a question: Could the performing arts do better than the engineers
      and designers? After all, artists have practiced orchestration, dramatization
      and choreography for centuries; by now they know how to set a context, how to
      spark the imagination, how to show the unsaid.

      TRANSITION - THE MOVIE [More useful than Avatar]

      One way is achieve effective eco-communication is to be James Cameron and spend
      $300 million making Avatar. Another way is to be the Transition movement in
      which hundreds of communities around the world are both stars in, and users of,
      their own film. 'In Transition' is the first detailed film about the movement
      filmed by those who are making it happen on the ground - communities around the
      world responding to peak oil and climate change with creativity, imagination and
      humour. The film is positive, solutions-focused, and fun. It has has already been
      shown in communities around the world and is now available as a special edition
      two disc DVD set, "beautifully packaged in entirely compostable packaging".

      DESIGNING AN ASSOCIATIVE LIFE [Region-wide social innovation in France]

      Government departments 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 growing
      number of individuals in government 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 at:


      READ MY LIPS, NOT (JUST) THE LABEL [Transparency and labeling]
      The UK government has published a new food policy, Food 2030. Among the most
      feeble of its proposals is that companies should clearly label food with its
      country of origin - but voluntarily. As with Copenhagen, we citizens will have
      to do the work that governments cannot or will not do. Some great tools are
      becoming available: Platforms to enable citizens to communicate directly with
      the people who make or grow things. We have written here before about ThingLink,
      and about the Fair Tracing project at the Oxford Internet Institute. More
      recently, GoodGuide has been launched "to lift the marketing veil from consumer
      products and give shoppers better information about the impacts of what they
      buy". Also welcome is an open source project called SourceMap. This is "a supply
      chain publishing platform dedicated to transparency" that is dedicated to
      tracking, documenting, and mapping where all of the components for our everyday
      goods come from. What these projects have in common is a commitment to openness,
      and a degree of socially-grown trust, that today's supply chain monopolizers
      will find hard, over the medium and longer term, to compete with.

      HAND-MADE CLOTHES FOR ALL? [Platforms for design sovereignty]
      Could countries such as Sri Lanka achieve design sovereignty by producing
      clothes for customers using communication platforms that connect maker and
      designer and customer directly? A radically dis-intermediated relationship is
      feasible technically. But, as with food, a key requirement will be transparency
      conerning costs. Read more at:

      MOVE YOUR MONEY [How to be a David to a Goldman]
      What concrete steps could individuals take to help create a better financial
      system? A new web-based campaign responds with a simple idea: Move Your Money.


      VISUAL VOLTAGE [Design for energy awareness, Berlin]
      Myriel Milicevic writes with news of Visual Voltage, a series of Interactive
      exhibits at Nordic Embassies in Berlin that explore how to engage different
      senses in an awareness of energy consumption. A one-and-a-half day workshop for
      professional designers will explore design strategies for raising awareness
      about energy-efficiency without imposing a gloomy feeling of guilt.

      SUSTAINABLE IN BANGALORE [Sustainability conference]
      A conference in Bangalore called "Sustainability in Design: NOW!" will focus on
      opportunities for design research, education and practice in product, service
      and system design. Participants will share swap notes on ways to promote
      sustainable systems thinking in design education. The conference concludes a
      three year EU-funded programme called LeNS - Learning Network on Sustainability
      - whose partners are Politecnico di Milano; Indian Institute of Technology
      (IIT), New Delhi; King Mongkut's Institute of Technology, Bangkok; Srishti
      School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore; Tsinghua University, Academy
      of Arts & Design, Beijing; Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands; and
      the University of Art and Design (TAIK), Helsinki. 29 September to 1 October
      2010. Deadline for abstract submission 31 March.

      SOCIAL MEDIA IN BRAZIL [Rate our friends!]
      The Knight Foundation has committed to to invest at least $25 million over five
      years in the search for bold community news and social media experiments.
      The deadline for entries is now closed, but you can still comment on and rate
      the 320 entries for the 2010 challenge. There are some terrific projects here,
      but the Doors house favourite is MetaReciclagem. MetaReciclagem is an open
      network, present in all regions of Brazil, that connects together hundreds of
      people and several organizations with an interest in critical appropriation of
      technologies for social change.

      MASS DESIGN OF HEALTH [Coordinating multiple actors in a complex system]
      One way to redesign a health system is to allow an army of lobbyists employed by
      insurance companies to do it for you. That has been the the Obama way. Another
      approach, tested in Canada last year, is to design a process that allows all the
      different stakeholders to decide priorities together. From April to June 2009,
      close to one thousand health service providers, physicians, community leaders
      and local citizens had a chance to weigh in on health care priorities for their
      region. MASS LBP designed an innovative engagement model to capture this diverse
      range of voices. Their website describes how they did it:

      THINKING INSIDE THE BOX [Design tourism]
      "Indigenous peoples have been living harmoniously and sustainable with the Earth
      for millennia. They are not only the most affected by climate change, but also
      by its false solutions, such as agro-fuels, mega-dams, tree plantations and
      carbon offset schemes". The World in a Shell project will take a polliniferoused
      container on a journey around the globe to connect with a wide range of peoples
      and cultures. It is scheduled to visit Botswana, Greenland, Mongolia, New
      Guinea, Congo, Ecuador, Laos, the Solomon Islands, Mauritania, Rajasthan, and
      Queensland. The idea is that "it will become a metaphorical treasure box of the
      peoples, cultures, living conditions and natural surroundings of these
      locations". This sounds like another example of design students putting more
      effort into engineering than empathy - but I am sure the "indigenous people"
      they turn up to meet, with their box, will be unfailingly polite and hospitable.


      This newsletter is free, but it creates value through cross-fertilisation.
      Please share it with your friends, colleagues, clients and collaborators.
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      Back issues: http://www.doorsofperception.com/mailinglist/archives.php

      John Thackara, who wrote this newsletter, gives talks, and runs project clinics,
      that help organisations embark on transformational change. He also organises
      regional-scale events that help real-world sustainability projects
      cross-fertilise, and grow. If you would like to support this work, please send
      the speaker brochure below to someone in your company (or elsewhere) who
      organises events that include paid-for talks - especially remote ones. Merci!
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