Most Facebook users have become so accustomed to working on the “corporate plantation” as "digital sharecroppers" that they lose any interest in controlling their own digital lives and content. It is a welcome development, therefore, to see enterprising souls like Owen Mundy develop a free app that lets people reclaim their data from their Facebook accounts.
Give Me My Data, which is officially in “public-beta” release, is an attempt to give social network users control over their own stuff. You might want to delete your account but retain your accumulated postings, for example. Or you might want to get around the Facebook interface, archive your content or perhaps make artwork from it. The content can be exported into a variety of common formats.
Give Me My Data is not only a useful free software tool (licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license), it’s a way of sending a signal to the corporate goliath Facebook that users have some choices and just might decide to go elsewhere. Mundy sees his app as a vehicle for public education: “While clearly utilitarian,” he writes, “this project intervenes into online user experiences, provoking users to take a critical look at their interactions within social networking websites. It suggests data is tangible and challenges users to think about ways in which their information is used for purposes outside of their control by government or corporate entities."
Kevin Hansen has released a twenty-minute trailer – really, more of an excerpt or preview – to his new film, Common Healing, which surveys the commons in a variety of international settings. The film contains some beautiful, inspiring vignettes, and is a great introduction to the commons.
Hansen has traveled the world capturing some wonderful images of working commons and the people who rely upon them. There is the Amazon Theatre Plaza in Manaus, Brazil, a gorgeous urban space in which people carry out their community life; the Gulf Coast off of Louisiana, which was decimated by the BP oil spill at the expense of shrimp and fishing fleets; and the climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.
Hansen also traveled to the Internatiional Commons Conference in Berlin last November, where he filmed a number of commons advocates describing various enclosures and explaining why and how the commons is important. Distilling some of the lessons from his travels, Hansen has prepared a short statement, “Twelve Benefits of a Commons-Based Approach,” which is included on the Vimeo website for the film. Here’s his list:
One: A commons approach is actionable now. It can resolve stalled situations by providing new opportunities for movement. A commons framing does not require government approval as a prerequisite. Two: A commons approach is declarative. By invoking action via a declaration, it redefines the entire situation on commons terms. The striking act of declaring a new sovereignty over a commons could garner wide interest.
It’s no secret that digital technologies and networks are becoming tremendously disruptive to academia by introducing new ways of doing research, publishing, teaching and collaborating with peers. But few universities have shown much gusto for tackling this very difficult topic, let alone trying to devise some working solutions. So USC deserves some credit for a serious and sophisticated one-day symposium on the topic in January 2011.
Hosted by the USC Office of Research and the Norman Lear Center at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, the event convened a highly interdisciplinary set of participants – from engineering, social sciences, medical fields and the humanities. The ideas was to explore some of the innovative ways that academic research is now occurring and what university administrations should do in response. Among the questions posed at the symposium:
- How do you get credit toward tenure or promotion if your work as an academic is part of a vast online collaboration?
- How should peer review be done now that online platforms make it easy to invite talented outsiders from other disciplines, and even non-academics, to review work?
- With everyone staring into the computer screens, how should research institutions design real-world spaces so that people can actually have serendipitous in-person encounters and collaborations?
I served as rapporteur for that event, and now the final report has been published. You can download a pdf copy of Creativity & Collaboration: Technology and the Future of Research in the Academy here.
Adam Greenfield, the founder of Urbanscale, a consulting firm concerned with “design for networked cities and citizens,” gave a fascinating talk at a symposium called Hyper-Public, convened by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
The conference was about “designing private and public space in the connected world,” and therefore focused a lot on how urban spaces and the Web ought to be designed so as to protect people’s privacy rights while enhancing public social life. Greenfield is the author of Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, and former head of design direction for service and user-interface design at Nokia.
Unbeknownst to most of us, the steady advance of digital technologies is starting to make buildings, billboards, traffic barriers and other urban infrastructure “declarative” objects -- if not interactive, networked objects. For example, the Tower of London now has its own Twitter account so that it can now tell potential visitors, “I am opening at [name a time]...” and “I am closing after...” (The Twitter account @towerbridge, an unofficial one started by a fan, was displaced when the museum itself asserted a trademark claim on the name.)
My commons colleague in Germany, Silke Helfrich, has pulled together a succinct, persuasive account of how the commons helps us get beyond the relentless growth imperatives of the contemporary economy. She presented her ideas two weeks ago at the Attac Congress, “Beyond Growth,” in Berlin. (A German version of her talk, “Commons Beyond Growth,” is available here.)
Below is Silke’s penetrating analysis about how the commons can help cultivate practical new models of provisioning without the pathologies of compulsive, unsustainable growth:
- Commons reduce money-induced growth because they make us more independent of money. The more we produce commons, the less we or the state has to pay for goods.
- Commons reduce population-induced growth because they are associated with a multiplicity of sufficiency strategies which create prosperity by sharing.
- Commons escape the growth compulsion, because all those things that are produced as commons, do not have to be made artificially scarce. And there is no incentive for artificial scarcity because commons are not produced as goods to be exchanged but they foster and maintain social relationships, satisfy needs and solve problems. Directly.
Thus far the vision of the future – but we have not got there yet. In the here and now a lot more must be thought through, discussed and fought for. Therefore, in what follows I will briefly give my reasoning.
For those of you who read French, a terrific new collection of 30 essays about the commons of knowledge has just been published. Libres Savoirs: les biens communs de la connaissance, edited by the French organization Vecam, features essays from authors around the world writing about the knowledge commons. The pieces focus on educational resources, open source software, open access publishing, the patenting of seeds, health, the commons as a movement, and many other topics.
Among the authors: Charlotte Hess, Prabir Purkayastha & Amit Sengupta, Jean-Claude Guédon, Philippe Aigrain, Peter Linebaugh, Michel Bauwens, Leslie Chan, Subbiah Arunachalam & Barbara Kirsop, Gaëlle Krikorian, Madhavi Sunder & Anupam Chander, Xuan Li, Claire Brossaud…and many others.
Libres Savoirs is the first such book on the subject published in France, and is available at the online bookstore of C&F editions. The organization that edited the book and provided French translations, as needed, is Vecam, a group dedicated to helping citizens understand the economic and political implications of the new knowledge commons. A hearty salute to Valérie Peugeot, Frédéric Sultan, Hervé Le Crosnier and Nicolas Taffin for their role in pulling this volume together! It is likely to spread awareness of the commons in France.
Some fascinating commons-animated political undercurrents are starting to surface in Ireland and Spain, two of the “troubled” nations of the Eurozone. (I will focus on Ireland today and Spain later this week.) In Ireland, a new all-Ireland political federation, Fís Nua hopes to shake things up. Its self-professed goal is “to bring together, under one umbrella, all those disaffected with the corruption in politics and government and who feel that they have been left without a voice within the political arena in Ireland.” (A tip o the hat to Michel Bauwens of P2P Foundation blog for this news.)
Fís Nua, a registered political party, wants to open up a new sort of political conversation and agenda. The catalyst for the movement is the systemic ripoff of the Irish people in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. As the Fís Nua website puts it:
We believe that up to 90 billion Euro of our tax money that is presently being used to ‘bail out’ or pay for the corruption of politicians and banking officials is the greatest crime in Irish history, one that we are paying for with a collapsed economy, soaring unemployment, diminishing social facilities and a scarred environmental and cultural landscape. We believe that this money belongs to the Irish people and it should be devoted to dealing with our present crisis rather than guaranteeing the profits of criminal developers, bankers and corrupt politicians.
As set forth in a bracing manifesto, Fís Nua seeks to draw upon the work of social justice, ecology and anti-corruption constituencies “with the intent of breaking the mould in Irish politics.” The party’s manifesto is comprehensive, thoughtful and well-worth reading. But what I found especially exciting were Items #6 and #7 in the party’s “Ecological Economics” platform:
The fight to stop global warming just got more interesting. A newly formed activist group iMatter and its litigation partner, Our Children’s Trust, have launched an ingenious new strategy to use the public trust doctrine to protect the atmosphere in conjunction with a mass mobilization of young people.
The project seeks to rally young people around the world to protect their futures, quite literally, by organizing street protests and other citizen action. But the project also casts young people as the lead plaintiffs in simultaneous common-law lawsuits against all fifty states as well as several federal agencies (EPA, USDA, Commerce, Defense, Energy and Interior) for failing to curb carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
It’s been 23 years since James Hansen, the eminent NASA climatologist, first raised alarms about global warming in testimony to Congress. Since then, the U.S. government and international bodies have done precious little to take action even as the evidence of an impending planetary disaster continues to mount. Bottom line: the government has been grossly negligent in protecting our atmospheric commons, and must be held to account.
One way to do so has been a series of marches in cities around the country, including Russia, Brazil, New Zealand, Great Britain and more than a dozen other countries. The iMatter campaign was launched on Mother’s Day (May 10) and will continue throughout the summer. But a key tie-in to the protests is a litigation strategy based on the often-overlooked “public trust doctrine.” The public trust doctrine is an ancient legal principle that declares that government must exercise the highest duty of care in managing property that is necessarily held in common by all – such as the atmosphere.
I delivered the following remarks on May 11 as part of The Illahee Lecture Series 2011, "Searching for Solutions: Innovation for the Public Good," in Portland, Oregon.
This evening, I’d like to get innovative about how we think about innovation itself. The corporate cliché is to “think outside the box.” That is such an inside-the-box way of thinking! I say let’s get rid of the box! Tonight I want to talk about a new vector of innovation: how we’re going to manage our dwindling, finite natural resources and arrest the pathological growth imperatives of our economy while recovering a more sane, socially constructive way of life for human beings. Now there’s a radical innovation challenge!
The subtext of most innovation-talk these days is efficiency and profitability. Innovation is essentially the bigger-better-faster ethic – the next super-computer or bio-engineered cow or Segue scooter. But the grim reality is that there are a whole class of societal problems that are not likely to become market opportunities,ever.
Worse, conventional markets, in the course of creating new wealth, are generating all sorts of illth, in John Ruskin’s phrase – cost, unintended byproducts that must be put on the ledger sheet in any calculation of our supposed wealth. Our market economy is generating whole new classes of illth such as global warming, dying coral reefs, biodiversity loss and species extinctions.