A good quote

I’m up to my eyes at the moment so I apologize about using another quote.
Life returns to something vaguely resembling normal in about a month.

“At it’s best, the Internet can educate more people faster than any other media tool. At it’s worst, it can make people dumber faster than any media tool. Because the Internet has an aura of “technology” surrounding it, the uneducated believe information from it even more. They don’t realize that the Internet, at its ugliest, is just an open sewer: an electronic conduit for untreated, unfiltered information. Just when you might have thought you were all alone with your extreme views, the Internet puts you together with a community of people from around the world who hate all the things that you do. You scrap the BBC and just get your news from those websites that reinforce your own stereotypes.”

– Thomas Freedman, New York Times.


Good bye to all that

What is it about human nature that means we usually react after the event? Its was pretty obvious that one day my main computer’s hard drive would crash to the point where it would be inoperable or it would be stolen. So why wasn’t everything backed up? Answer: Backing everything up was always important, but it was never urgent. It was always something for tomorrow not today.

Actually I’m be a bit unfair on myself. 99% of my files were backed up, but I somehow forgot about emails and email addresses. There’s also annoying little things like printer drivers and bookmarks.

Thought for the day:

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is nature’s delight”
– Marcus Aurelius.

24,450 reasons to get in touch

Well brainmail is finally up. Two issues no less (don’t worry, that’s unlikely to happen again). BTW, if there are any journalism or media students out there that fancy helping out with future issues do get in touch.

So what else is new? Well I should have taken more notice of one of my computers when it said its memory was full. It crashed a few days ago taking 22,450 emails with it. All of the files were backed up, but none of the emails were. Hopefully I can get them back, although there is something rather liberating about having lost them all.

The books are going well. 50* is done and is being fact checked, although fact checking things that haven’t happened yet is proving rather fun. The other book (4*) is almost done, but needs a significant degree of polishing. Getting some scenario logic right is more difficult than I expected, as is separating the four scenarios, which have a tendency to merge together if you turn your back on them for more than a few days.

Other news? Some good stuff coming up with KPMG, GE and the London Business School and I’m almost back on the road with trips to San Francisco, Hong Kong, Lisbon, Frankfurt and Prague.

The image, btw, is the structure of the second book.

* Working titles.

Past views of the future

I’m researching a few ideas for one of my new books and just came across an old book called Looking Backward: 2000-1887. The book was written in 1888 about someone that falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000 to a socialist utopia. Here’s a bit of it.

“It was the sincere belief of even the best of men at that epoch that the only stable elements in human nature, on which a social system could be safely founded, were its worst propensities. They had been taught and believed that greed and self-seeking were all that held mankind together, and that all human associations would fall to pieces if anything were done to blunt the edge of these motives or curb their operation. In a word, they believed — even those who longed to believe otherwise — the exact reverse of what to us seems self-evident; they believed, that is, that the antisocial qualities of men, and not their social qualities, were what furnished the cohesive force of society … It seems absurd to expect anyone to believe that convictions like these were ever seriously entertained by men …”

What’s quite interesting about this, and other books like it, is they seem to go to one of two extremes – utopia or dystopia. Why is that do you think?

Why ten is the safest number

A few years ago a statistical study of murders in New York City highlighted some interesting trends. The study, covering all 1622 murders that occurred between 2003-2005, found that men (including boys) were responsible for 93% of all murders.

Victims tended to be other men and boys and in more than 50% of cases the attacker and the victim knew each other. 75% of victims and offenders were also of the same race. 90% of killers and 50% of victims had criminal records. In other words, Joe Average has very little chance of being randomly killed in New York City.

The most likely time to be killed was between 1am-2am and children are usually
killed by a parent not a stranger. Age 10 is the safest age for kids because they tend to be too old to be abused or neglected and too young to get caught up in violence on the street. The most alarming adult crime trend was that 25% of murders were committed by complete strangers, usually due to a dispute of some kind. This was up 50% on 50 years previously. As for why (and why the overall murder rate had declined), the answer was primarily social factors. Crime ere generally the result of local poverty, family disruption, poor schools and a lack of recreational or work opportunities.

Steam punk heaven!

This is too cool for words – a way to integrate your iPad with a manual typewriter keyboard. I don’t even own an iPad, but may now have to buy one just to get this out on the train (or you can synchronize with a standard PC or Mac, but that wouldn’t be quite so portable). Does this mean anything? I mean why do I want one? Is it just a pure nostalgia trip or is it saying something about our relationship with modern technology? You tell me!

More here (including DIY build instructions) or buy complete thing here via etsy.

Creative Cities

Found this last week…

Between 1551 and 1801 the population of London grew from 80,000 to 865,000. This was despite the fact that during this period overall deaths exceeded births in the capital.  This can partly be seen as London attracting migrants with energy and ideas, but can also be seen as people moving from the countryside because they had no choice, with traditional industries such as agriculture, spinning and weaving being hollowed out by mechanisation.

Digital cash – nothing to see

Here’s a link to the PDF of my 2012 map. Regarding Europe, which features heavily towards the centre of the map, I had an interesting chat with Anthony Hilton from the Evening Standard the other night about the European situation. He made the very good point that the EU is targeting the wrong problem.

The issue isn’t European solvency, it’s European competitiveness (or the lack of it), especially in southern Europe. That’s why there’s a problem with debt.

Also a good piece in the Telegraph this morning about QE (i.e. printing money). This, too, was on the money in the sense of highlighting how the UK government is playing with fire by digitally printing money to buy it’s own debt. You heard that right. It’s buying its own debt – to the tune of £50 billion (on top of the £275 billion it has already bought). Had the government actually printed real money and we saw truckloads of it being shifting around the city there would, no doubt, be an outcry. But it’s digital so there’s nothing to see.

What happens if you buy your own debt? In the short term a transfer from savers to debtors – so thrifty pensioners will be hit hard while profligate borrowers (who partly caused this mess!) will have access to further funds. Doesn’t seem right really. We are allocating vast amounts of money to individuals and institutions that speculate, or transfer money from one place to another, rather than putting it in the hands of people that actually invest in wealth creation and jobs.

As to longer-term impacts, who knows? This is part of the largest money printing experiment in modern history.

Seven Sides of Cyber

1). Everyday acceleration.
People are spending more time online and are increasingly ‘always on.’ I even heard a father recently say that his teen now exists in one of two states: “Asleep or online”.
Add to this the impact of globalisation (markets that never close), the fact that it’s becoming easier to do anything, anywhere (24/7 mobile access to many goods and services) and corporate downsizing (more than one job to do) and you end up with a culture of rapid response, hectic households and people with not enough hours in the day to do everything they think needs doing.

A demand for speed and convenience, an interest in filtering and currated consumption (because there’s now too little time and too much choice), multi-tasking (the erroneous belief that we can do more than one thing at once well), more mistakes (trying to do too much plus an increasing amount of distraction means getting more things wrong), less rigorous thinking (no time for reflection), less sleep, more anxiety and, ironically, a growing interest in trying to slow things down.

Another consequence is what’s been termed information pandemics. The idea here is that in the olden days (15-20 years ago) it took a long time for news to circulate. Therefore, individuals and institutions had time to properly consider whether threats were real or not and had the time to devise rigorous responses. Nowadays things circulate so fast (and people believe that they have so little time to react) that responses are often badly formulated or misjudged. The precautionary principle in politics, and society in general, fans this attitude of overreaction.

2). Data deluge
It’s become far too easy (and cheap) to create and distribute news and information.
The result is that everyone is now doing it and one consequence of this is a data deluge, with much of this news and information being of questionable origins or value.
This is atomising our attention, but is also making our relationships with individuals and institutions wafer thin and, at times, short-term.

We need to adjust our mindset away from the old idea that information is power. Nowadays it’s primarily attention that’s power and we need to better understand that not all material is useful or trustworthy. We need to create better filters for information and learn to ignore what’s not useful, whilst being careful not to shut out things that may become useful over time. In short, we need to slow a few things down, either by switching things off from time to time or by deliberately using certain channels or media depending on what it is that we are trying to achieve.

Expect to see more interest in filtering, digests, data visualisation and reputation scores and reliability metrics.

3). Image & Text
We are entering a period where the power of the image is rising at the expense of the written word. This is largely demand driven – a reaction to people being time starved – but it’s also being driven by the supply side. The internet started off as a text-based medium and is now largely image driven, with video being a key component. Meanwhile, graphic novels are booming and telecom companies are reporting a massive increase in text-based communication at the expense of voice communications.

Tensions in education with students demanding short, sensory and highly interactive instruction. Also, a danger of misunderstandings created by the lack of tonality and body-language contained within text-based communications. Also a growing demand for data visualisation and information aesthetics.

4). Online Anonymity
They say the things you love about someone when you start a relationship are the things you hate by the end of it. Our relationship with the internet has, until now, largely depended on anonymity. But the problems of anonymity are growing, such as lying, fraud, cyber bullying, or just outright bad behaviour and even hate. People behave differently online because they are anonymous. There are no real consequences.

Facebook and Google have started to change this. You have to use your real name to log on and everything you do is traced back to your real offline identity. This means your life becomes much more public and to some extent true, although my own experience of people using Facebook, especially with younger people, is that what they say is happening online is far from what is true in reality.

In the short-term expect to see more virtual courage and online hostility. Whether such nastiness, hatred and negativity flows out into the real world is an interesting debate.
Over the longer-term I suspect that online anonymity will go, although this point is open to discussion, along with the question of whether or not the generative nature of the internet will one day disappear, replaced by what is effectively a series of locked-down regional intranets (i.e. Apple owns Wikipedia, the information contained therein is fixed and can only be accessed by Apple products).

5) Transparency & Privacy
This is interesting because it both supports and contradicts the previous point.
On the one had digital information + connectivity means that things that were previously hidden, or only available to the eyes and ears of a few, is now open for all to see and hear. This is a good thing on one level because it fuels honesty and promotes collaboration and possibly empathy. But the corresponding trend is a decline in privacy, which not only includes what people say or see, but also where people are, what they are doing, what they are buying, whom they know and even what they think.

At the moment there are generational differences in terms of the response to this. Generation Y and below are generally unconcerned, although this can cause trouble. Generation X are concerned, but are not sure what can be done and Baby Boomers are generally blissfully ignorant of what’s occurring.

More honesty and accountability, but also more cyber and physical crime. Over time I’d expect our reactions to move towards the centre, with people becoming more aware of the dangers of over-sharing or placing information in certain formats or channels. Equally, calls for transparency will settle somewhere that’s realistic and practical and benefits the needs of all concerned.

6). Personalisation
One of the great things about digitalisation is that material can be personalised by users, often to the needs of a single individual. This can mean customising content generally or it might mean the customisation of content based upon precisely where someone is at a particular moment (i.e. locational services). However, there is a darker side to this. If we all, increasingly, live inside personalised bubbles of information, there’s a danger that we will become less tolerant of others, because we will not have our views or ideas challenged. A culture based on ‘me’ isn’t good for empathy or understanding of others.

More satisfaction and enjoyment on one level, but more selfish behaviour and intolerance on another, at least until society’s values and legislation catch up with the new technology.

7) Collaboration & Ownership
On one level, digital culture seems to be driving people apart, fuelling both isolation, passivity and self-importance. On another level, connectivity is bringing people together and is driving creativity and cooperation. We now, arguably, have a greater understanding of what’s going on much further away and we are more aware of the problems facing the world. Connectivity also means that it’s easier to find like-minded individuals and it appears that we are discovering that things we once assumed needed to be owned by in individual can in fact be shared by all, once we find something, or someone, we can trust. (i.e. Zipcar and iCloud being early examples of collaborative consumption and dematerialisation).

A realisation that none of us are as smart as all of us, a shift away from individual ownership towards shared or collaborative consumption and experiences.

Idea of the week

In the UK you can get free off-peak bus travel if you are aged 60+ So here’s a thought.

If the vibrancy and creativity of a city partly depends on the number of young people living and working in and around it, why not do something similar for the 18- 25s? Free off-peak travel on all buses, tubes and trains and subsidized flats for anyone working or studying in what society decides is a ‘useful’ profession (i.e. people working or training to be in the police, hospitals, firefighting, schools and libraries, but also musicians, poets, painters etc).