When most of us refer to the “developing world” we are talking about technological, economic, and political progress along a particular spectrum (e.g. towards an economic model based on continual growth) and, more to the point here, implicitly expressing a model of change that flows in only one direction. The model is that countries are now in a given state and they can progress to a more advanced state. We typically think of education in the same terms. Now this seems clearly problematic for a number of reasons. The one I’ve been thinking about is the directionality: who is developing towards what? I’m particularly excited about the ways in which knowledge - i.e. development - flows the other direction, from less to more industrialized places.

In particular, I have a theory that much of the accumulated knowledge and expertise in the global South will become increasingly relevant to the North as we stretch our planet’s carrying capacity in the years to come.

I first thought of this in context of tool innovation and technological regression. 
Manual sewing machines, bicycle-powered knife sharpeners (and other machines), the sorts of amazing resource-conserving repurposing wonderfully collected on Afrigadget. It will make more and more sense in the North, if electricity becomes more expensive and harder to come by, to use people-powered tools. It’s the other side of “energy independence,” where we find ways to get by with less rather than coming up with increasingly-fancy ways of providing the same amount we use now.

More recently, I’ve starting wondering in what ways behavior - basic coping skills - might develop “here” by learning from “there.” In India, for example, blackouts are relatively common and one can presume that people have developed ways of coping with them, of accepting them into the flow of day-to-day life. What are those mechanisms? If Oakland starts having regular blackouts, how might I learn what folks in other parts of the world know about what to do? Not just right now - light a candle, leave the fridge closed, etc - but how to plan, in an everyday manner, for the certainty that the power will go out. And I can think of other examples, such as changing our cultural relationship to garbage

I’m not saying we should be happy for regular blackouts and overcrowding - I have no desire to roll back many of the world’s technological and social advances -  just that if we are going to survive what may well be an extremely difficult future, we need to find knowledge wherever it resides.

Just as the basic tools (if not necessarily the high aesthetics) of visual communication have been thoroughly democratized, tools for data visualization are moving to the mainstream. The most recent example I’ve seen, and it’s a lovely one, is The Gapminder World 2006. The exciting thing to me is not so much that the information design clearly and simply reveals unsettling truths (people in Africa live 30 years shorter lives than people in the US; think about that for a moment) but that the tool makes play out of the work of visualizing the ubiquitously invisible patterns of the world. Along with such as Stamen’s Trulia Hindsight and others, these tools are not only leaving the academy and the messy basement desks of government analysts and moving out into the world, but they are becoming more playful, more narrative, and more polemical. Let the spime wrangling commence (can people be Spimes?).

I heart culture jamming: Sniggle Net has lots of good stuff, including a bit on one of my favorite culture hacks ever, the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO).

Apparently rigid gender-stereotyping is OK again, as embodied in the pre-xmas interface over at Target.com: Funny how “Music” is the only overlap, though I suspect the girls’ side may be all about booty-dancing in the boys’ videos.

I hate to be negative, especially in the midst of so much web 2.0 circle-jerking that’s going on, but I’m not so happy that I have no control over where my stuff might appear. I just went to 43things (for the first time in months) and was surprised to see my flickr photo feed right there on the page. Is that not “commercial” use (which is prohibited by the “Non-commercial share-alike” license I used)? I don’t really mean to single 43things out, and in fact don’t really mind the feed being there, but this does raise the question of the consequences of all this “openness” everyone’s so fired up about.

Well, the Veronica Mars season premiere was last night and unfortunately I couldn’t watch it (that’s bad) because I was out on a date (that’s good). In the past, I would have Tivoed it, but since I’ve moved back to my house I no longer have cable or satellite. I’ve been debating whether or not to pay the 60 or 70 bucks a month for hundreds of channels of crap (that’s bad) and I think my mind just got made up (that’s good). You see, even though I can only get like 4 channels via the airwaves (that’s bad), I took a quick look for the show I missed this morning (the next day!) and there it was all patiently waiting for me (that’s good). An hour or so later (I didn’t notice because it was downloading in the background) and there it is on my desktop. So, Comcast, DirecTV, Tivo, et all: Screw you guys, I’m going home (and watching what I want when I want). A side note to the above mentioned companies: I’d happily pay let’s say $25/month for a box that sat by my TV and gave me a nice interface onto all those shows out there on BitTorrent. You’d have to do some work to make sure the files were high quality, etc, but since you have the originals that shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe there’d be a cap on how many I could download. Heck, with TV I’d even be willing to submit to relatively stringent DRM since I have no real desire to “own” the shows outright.

File under there-should-be-a-standard, Steps for finding a human on various phone systems. Some of them are pretty amazing, such as Delta, where you say ‘agent’ four times until it finally gives you an agent. This is firmly in that part of the Venn diagram where business needs fail to intersect with user needs.

This Rugby Logotype Comparison is a great “illustration” of the way Flickr facilitates an ongoing visual conversation.

My own private SFO: a personal geography is Mike’s map of a “place” he’s spent a lot of time in over the past year. Love it!

There seem to be two distinct approaches to the collision of space and information. The first is to create a new view to some portion of the world by collecting and organizing “reality” (photos, timestamps, GPS data) into a coherent information space. Examples include mappr, Mike’s own PhotoGeoBlog, and other 21st century variants on what is at heart a travelogue. The second is the reverse: layering information (annotations, reviews, links) onto real space. Examples here include HIPS, Vindigo, and lots more.

But I’m guessing the really interesting stuff happens when you drop the self-consciousness of either approach and build things that are what they are by virtue of knowing where they are and, further, where location-awareness is only one facet. So, for example, you’re driving to a family dinner in the next town and your car is low on gas and it knows that if you don’t stop and fill up over at that Shell station by the onramp you’ll run out of gas before you get to Aunt Vida’s house, so it tells you. I’m sure there are plenty of less-cheesy examples, but you get the drift.

Microsoft has posted a parent’s primer to computer slang, which will do them no good but is pretty amusing.

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