The Next Step In New Approaches To Global Problems Is Making Them Tangible

December 16, 2007 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment

In today´s data-rich environment there´s an increasing need for knowledge based wisdom. The tips that are passed on from human to human. Several organizations have begun to be active in this field. They run massively interesting programs…

Organizations that specialize in re-connecting human beings in novel ways mostly focus on linking the individual to the communal. They create new presentations of what it means to be part of something larger, using technology but celebrating humanity, taking off at a point where we left off ages ago.

Next March, speakers at TED, a US organization that combines technology, entertainment and design (hence the acronym) will address such ambitious questions as “Who are we?” “What is art?” “What is love?” and even “What is evil?”.

If the organization´s reputation is anything to go by, attendees are in for one thing: surprising answers. The speakers list includes people that might classify as ´innovative´ but who in reality are sooo much more. They give their best in 15 minute speeches.

This week, TED published video clips of speeches delivered last March and these include Nobel Prize winner Murray Gell-Mann who addressed such poignant questions as to whether elegant mathematic formulas are also better and whether the ´theory of everything´ really explains everything. Other speakers include Philippe Starcke (the designer), Ron Eglash (the fractal mathematician) and Robert Full (who talks about insects).

The TED concept is similar to the worldwide rage known as Pecha Kucha – the Japanese invented evening meetings in cities around the world where people impress audiences with spectacular ideas by showing less than 20 slides.

TED conferences are fully booked until March 2008, when 1,000 of the world´s ´most remarkable people´ get together for fast paced presentations with 50 speeches booked over 4 days. “Many people come to TED seeking something out of the ordinary. A chance to mentally recharge. A chance to step back and consider the big picture. A chance to understand life in a richer way”, the organization states on its website.

Another organization that is similarly inclined is Pop!Tech. The organization approaches world change from a practical interdisciplinary incubator they have christened the Accelerator. Criteria for inclusion into the accelerator is that people use new tools and embody new approaches to ´significant global challenges´.

Pop!Tech organized a highly successful ´think-in´, in Camden, Maine, last October, which was a remarkable example of a highly unusual, ´missing link´ approach to modern issues.

The Guardian describes the event this way; “[Pop!Tech] took some of the world’s most intractable issues and applied social theory and thinking to them”. What happened was that the event moved on from visualization of issues, to making them even more tangible in a first step toward ´charting´ human problems the way they are in all actuality.

Over 500 ‘thinkers’ contributed their ‘thoughts’ about climate change and cultural disharmony in industry, business, technology, academia, journalism and the blogosphere. The organization’s curator Andrew Zolli explained how it tackled social change in what might be the most hands on approach that has ever been tried out on a significantly physically large scale, with the aid of technology. He told the Guardian “If you want to think about galvanising people, you have to start with a structure, a map. So when we talk about the human impact it starts by charting what is,” says Zolli.

Photographer Chris Jordan applied this mindset to digital photography and publicly available statistics. His pictures show real quantities of rubbish produced by US consumers. Based on true information, he photographed 426,000 mobile phones to show people the number of phones people throw out each day. He’s also produced photographic ‘evidence’ of the number of plastic bottles thrown out every five minutes (2m).

The newness of both organizations is that they point out how technology can be used to hit home a message that thus far we have hardly been able to grasp in any other way. To label these approaches ´refreshing´ or ´arty´ would both be wrong. They are not refreshing because they´re totally ´new´ and they´re also not purely arty because they involve real organizations. The newness is that people are encouraged to think in a new way. It feels like the truly exciting side of sociology.

Entry filed under: Green News.

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