Stories, moments, people and ideas of interest from within the worlds of innovation and design, spotted and written about by Helen Walters, design writer, editor, and ideas editor at TED. Attitude, errors and opinions obviously all the writer's own.
Ask me anything
July 11, 2012
"Civility isn’t fancy-talk for “being nice.” It’s the essential quality we require to live together in complex social structures built on our jumpy, irrational primate brains. Online, where we increasingly live, we need it more than ever."
Then I read Erin Kissane’s beautifully thoughtful piece about trolling and the hate spewed at women and minorities of all forms, and was reminded that this is not an abstract issue, nor one that can be got around via critical thinking or philosophical theorizing alone. As Kissane writes: “Online threats derive their force from offline violence. A quarter of women in the US will experience domestic violence. One in five high school girls have been raped or sexually assaulted. By the time they finish college, that number goes up to one in four. And the people who hurt us take comfort and encouragement from a culture of violent threats. “Ignoring them” is not going to do the trick.”
This, in other words, is a real world matter that needs real world conversation and some serious mirror-gazing, as we contemplate attempting to build a society of which we can be proud. Kissane concludes, “Let’s start talking about what it’s going to take to fix this” with some beautiful thoughts about the place of civility and love in our lives and hearts. Designer Jason Santa Maria commented that the piece is “beautiful, sad, empowering, sobering… required reading for humans.” Couldn’t agree more.
"Just today, a stranger came to my door claiming he was here to unclog a bathroom drain. I let him into my house without verifying his identity, and not only did he repair the drain, he also took off his shoes so he wouldn’t track mud on my floors. When he was done, I gave him a piece of paper that asked my bank to give him some money. He accepted it without a second glance. At no point did he attempt to take my possessions, and at no point did I attempt the same of him. In fact, neither of us worried that the other would. My wife was also home, but it never occurred to me that he was a sexual rival and I should therefore kill him."
"What is the message that it conveys? It says that a brown kid who never intended to hurt anyone because of their sexuality will do jail time, while politicians and pundits who espouse hatred on TV and radio and in stump speeches continue to be celebrated. It says that a teen who invades the privacy of his peer will be condemned, even while companies and media moguls continue to profit off of more invasive invasions."
Thank you, Danah Boyd, for voicing the same unease I’ve been feeling in the wake of Dharun Ravi’s conviction for privacy invasion, tampering with evidence and bias intimidation in the case of the suicide of Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi. Just read Ian Parker’s astonishingly detailed New Yorker profile of the case, the evidence and the protagonists and wonder if this, too, isn’t an occasion when we’re over-simplifying the tragic, complex facts of a situation in the name of emerging, nominally triumphant, all in the name of righteousness. Only, as Boyd writes, “Sending Ravi to jail will do nothing to end bullying. Yet, it lets people feel like it will and that makes me really sad. There’s a lot to be done in this realm and this does nothing to help those who are suffering every day.”
Writer and “optimistic doomer”, John Thackara is always good value. Here, he chats about the crisis (and opportunities) facing the design industry with Rob Huisman of the Association of Dutch Designers. I particularly liked his breakdown/definition of social innovation, a phrase that has become so ubiquitous as to become meaningless:
Use design skills to address social problems such as obesity, crime, looking after older people.
Develop services with a social need, such as ride-sharing or health applications on iphone. These services are social rather than commercial.
Create a new kind of society in which we get food, shelter, move around, look after our children in different, less costly ways.
Thackara confesses on multiple occasions that he hasn’t quite figured out the economics of this type of work for designers, which is clearly an issue. But he’s also clear on one point: designers can’t wait for people to come to them. See the work you want to do, he advises, and go and offer your services, explaining to would-be clients what you bring to the table and why they should bother to have you around. Right on.
It’s hard to tear your eyes from what’s going on in England right now. Riots, nominally sparked by the shooting of a man in north London, have spiralled out of control, leaving a shocked populace, a completely unprepared government and a police force in danger of losing control of the situations popping up in the capital city and elsewhere. The woman in this video highlights one of the sadder realities: the rioters aren’t fighting for a cause; they’re fighting to get more stuff. “We’re not all gathering together and fighting for a cause. We’re running down Footlocker and thieving shoes,” she yells. Meanwhile, founder of the charities The Place 2 Be and Kids Company, Camila Batmanghelidjh writes a searing piece in the Independent, Caring Costs—But So Do Riots in which she outlines the disconnect between those rioting and those purporting to be in charge. There’ll be more to come, of course. But one other thought: those writing about how Blackberry’s BBM system is the real focus of the story are totally missing the point. Sure, messages are helping the looters to organize. But this story isn’t about the use of a faintly new-fangled communications system; it’s about what happens after decades of systematic cuts and policies cause a huge divide in society. Once invisible or at least well-suppressed in England, the disconnect between the haves and have-nots is certainly front and center now.
The Paradox of Choice depicts the words of Professor Renata Saleci, who argues that despite our hopes, increased choice is not actually related to meaningful social change. Instead, we feel overwhelmed by choice, which simultaneously makes us anxious and pacifies us. Fascinating insight into why and how this happens—and its impact on society—with personal insight from Saleci’s own upbringing in communist Yugoslavia.