Thursday, August 06, 2015

Sharing the Work

Scanning the cliffs near Logan Pass for mountain goats (Citizen Science) (4427399123)
By GlacierNPS [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Working together, even to change the world, doesn’t have to involve a great deal of effort. In the spirit of the “work smarter, not harder” mantra, platforms for problem solving demonstrate that mass collaboration can result in successful projects while reducing each participant’s workload.
Anthony D. Williams, PLATFORMS FOR 

One of the benefits of Globally Distributed Creative Problem Solving is this ability to share the work of changing the world. In the face of a never-ending cycle of bad news, our natural reaction may be to turn away in defeat, thinking that the problems are too big for us to do anything about. What could we possibly do in the face of environmental and cultural inertia, a billion dollar lobbying industry, and years of poor education?

Well, hundreds of people around the world, using a simple disk and a data gathering app, can provide data that will help scientists create an accurate map of the world's phytoplankton population. "Citizen scientists" around the world can help provide data to numerous scientific studies, accelerating the research process.

If you are interested in participating, you can find a number of projects at Citizen Science AllianceScientific American, National Geographic, as well as this list on Wikipedia.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Distributed Imagination

I want to start this post by explaining why yesterday's post was so, well, abbreviated. When I returned to blogging this week, I made a commitment that I would post 60 entries in 60 days. I really want to make it a habit to provide you with a daily summary of what I'm learning in this new venture.

The problem is, I'm still getting the hang of coming up with material on a daily basis. Looking back on yesterday, I see that I would be better off firing off a quick thought that I had, rather than trying to analyze an article when I don't have the time to do it justice. With that in mind, I will try to handle those situations better in the future.

So, with that out of the way, I would like to get back to the paper by John Seely Brown.

Rather than summarize it, I would like to single out one concept that I found to be extremely thought provoking. That would be the concept of a "network of imagination". This relates to what Brown sees as the importance of play, and world creating in particular.

"World building unleashes human potential through imagination. It allows us to dream of something that doesn’t yet exist and construct the context and content around it so that it could be."
This is fascinating to me, because it touches on what I believe is one of humanity's greatest failures today--a failure of imagination. We lean so heavily on mass media for our collective imagination, that we seldom stop to ask whether or not this imagination is serving us well. The world that our collective imagination seems to be building at this point is one of fear. Whether it's fear of our future, fear of nature, or fear of those living among us, we begin to base our decisions on these fears, and we are building a world that is unsustainable. At some point, we will make what we imagine real, confirming what we feared all along.

This is a far cry from what could positively be imagined. I think of the world that Gene Roddenberry built in his conception of Star Trek. The future he ultimately imagined was one of peace and cooperation. Some of the physical things he imagined have become reality in our day and age: cell phones, mobile computing devices, blue tooth headsets....

We need to get back to positively imagining our future and the solutions to the great problems that face us. There are many people working on these problems with a positive future in mind, but that needs to extend to the culture at large. I think that one of the great tasks of science fiction is this imagining.

Brown speaks of "Networks of Imagination" and he imagines these networks rising from collective action. I think that these networks have to work hand in hand with Globally Distributed Problem Solving Communities. There is a place for everyone; problem visualizers, problem solvers, data gatherers, those who can reframe problems in new contexts, people who can provide nudges from seemingly unrelated fields, and people who can imagine how problems and solutions could play out in the future.

We don't just need experts. We need everyone.