Showing posts with label TED. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TED. Show all posts

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why the Web Divides Us

The Internet has changed many things. But it has not changed the insular habits of mind that make us replicate in our online social networks the physical networks we already have; in other words, connecting with only those who share our interests, laying waste to the utopia of a truly connected world. Ethan Zuckerman's older TED talk on this topic - here . Author Eli Pariser 2011 TED talk on the dangers of a  "personalized web" above.

Both Zukerman and Pariser arrive at the same point: the need for algorithms that let us discover what we want to know as well as what we need to know. But that conclusion still sounds vague. The question is: can developers come up with curatoral algorithms that can look into a mish mash of  unfamilairity and spot in a culture alien to us, and in a context completly different from what we know, the sameness of things we value and cherish? Such curation is a tall order even for humans.

In the 2012 spring issue of the Wilson Quarterly, Ethan Zuckerman argues :
A central paradox of this connected age is that while it’s easier than ever to share information and perspectives from different parts of the world, we may be encountering a narrower picture of the world than we did in less connected days... Despite these lowered barriers, today’s American television news features less than half as many international stories as were broadcast in the 1970s... Search engines tell us what we want to know, but they can’t tell us what we might need to know. Social media such as Facebook or Twitter might tell you to pay attention to cassette recordings in Iran, but only if your friends include Iranians. Social media are a powerful discovery engine, but what you’re discovering is what your friends know. If you’re lucky enough to have a diverse, knowledgeable set of friends online, they may lead you in unexpected directions. But birds of a feather flock together, both online and offline, and your friends are more likely to help you discover the unexpected in your hometown than in another land.
The most powerful discovery engines online may be curated publications such as The New York Times or The Guardian. Editors of these publications are driven by a mission to provide their audiences with the broad picture of the world they need in order to be effective citizens, consumers, and businesspeople. But professional curators have their inevitable biases and blind spots. Much as we know to search for the news we think will affect our lives, editors deploy reporting resources toward parts of the world with strategic and economic significance. When mysteries unfold in corners of the world we’re used to ignoring, such as Tunisia, curators are often left struggling to catch up. The limits of online information sources are a challenge both for us and for the people building the next generation of online tools. 
If we rigorously examine the media we’re encountering online, looking for topics and places we hear little about, we may be able to change our behavior, adding different and dissenting views to our social networks, seeking out new sources of news. But this task would be vastly easier if the architects of Internet tools took up the cause of helping to broaden worldviews. Facebook already notices that you’ve failed to “friend” a high school classmate and tries to connect you. It could look for strangers in Africa or India who share your interests and broker an introduction. Google tracks every search you undertake so it can more effectively target ads to you. It could also use that information to help you discover compelling content about topics you’ve never explored, adding a serendipity engine to its formidable search function. Why aren’t engineers racing to build the new tools that will help unravel the mysteries of a connected world? They may be waiting for indicators that we want them and are ready to use them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Africa: Township Barbershops & Thoughts on New Social Spaces

Head to KMBA for some pics from British photographer Simon Weller's book “South African Township Barbershops & Salons” More pics - here.

Against the backdrop of barbershops as remnants of social spaces that still foster interactions in our increasingly wired townships and cities, Timbuktu Chronicles recently posted Nigerian TED Fellow Olatunbosun Obayomi of the BMW Guggenheim Lab sharing his thoughts on how to forge new urban systems that cater for interaction and interdependence yet preserving individual comfort:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Africa: Hans Rosling Puts the (3)D in Development Statistics

TED fixture Prof. Hans Rosling's passion is finding ways to help us visualize statistical data; utilizing enormous amounts of it to allow us to see holistically, over time, and observe, in motion, rates of change. Hence he is able to show various dimensions of development and dispel what he calls myths about the developing world.

Below, in the BBC's 'The Joy of Stats,' he makes the stats even cooler by going 3D - plotting life expectancy against income per person for every country since 1810, he shows development in 200 countries over 200 years using 120,000 numbers, and in just four minutes, shows how the world we live in is radically different from the world most of us imagine.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Africa/India: The Myth of Scaling When it Comes to ICT4D

So much aid money to burn in the face of the intractable nature of human development problems seems to drive the hunger for a panacea for, or for one or two magic bullets to the dome of, development, hence building myths and wrong expectations around development solutions - i.e information and communication technologies. Former Microsoft director of research, India, Kentaro Toyama, talks above at TEDX Tokyo about misconceptions about technology's abilities and the myth that by scaling technology for development, we can solve complex global problems. Over at the Boston Review's "Can Technology End Poverty?" forum, he writes:
If I were to summarize everything I learned through research in ICT4D, it would be this: technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute. If you have a foundation of competent, well-intentioned people, then the appropriate technology can amplify their capacity and lead to amazing achievements. But, in circumstances with negative human intent, as in the case of corrupt government bureaucrats, or minimal capacity, as in the case of people who have been denied a basic education, no amount of technology will turn things around. The myth of scale is the religion of telecenter proponents, who believe that bringing the Internet into villages is enough to transform them. Technology is a magnifier in that its impact is multiplicative, not additive, with regard to social change. In the developed world, there is a tendency to see the Internet and other technologies as necessarily additive, inherent contributors of positive value. But their beneficial contributions are contingent on an absorptive capacity among users that is often missing in the developing world. Technology has positive effects only to the extent that people are willing and able to use it positively. The challenge of international development is that, whatever the potential of poor communities, well-intentioned capability is in scarce supply and technology cannot make up for its deficiency.
A formidable array of respondents - everyone from One Lap top per Child's Nicholas Negroponte to FP's Net Effect Evgeny Morozov.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Africa: TED Prize 2011 Winner - Photography of JR, Cont'd

 JR , of the "women are heroes" fame, discussing his photography and politics of using his unavoidable blow ups to humanize the Other:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Africa: Melinda Gates on the Ubiquity of Coca Cola and why Human Development Needs to Take a Cue

You can almost hear free market libertarians smiling. Some other developers would actually like to hook up a development supply mainline directly into the coca cola blood vein:

Humanitarian design details.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Malawi: Winds in His Mills and Sails

The story of William Kamkwamba of Malawi continues to gain traction. Forced to drop out of school at age 14 because his family could no longer afford tuition, he comes across a library book showing a picture of windmill and he sets out to study energy and build windmills on his own.

Kamkwamba, now 20, built his windmill, by lashing blue-gum tree trunks together for the base and adding flattened plastic pipes for the blades and bike parts for the turbine, all the while relying on that textbook donated to his local library.

Since then, Kamkwamba's story has grown legs.

Sarah Childress's original story about Kamkwamba for the Wallstreet Journal is
here. Kamkwamba now has a blog and a short documentary that tells his story. Watch:

Here he is at

Ever since the story broke in 2007, a dimension of the narrative I always find missing in its telling is the story of books, especially library books. 

It is the story of the power library books can carry into the remotest of places. No doubt, William Kamkwamba is an amazing individual. But on the dusty shelf of his local library was, probably, a dusty, out of print textbook that talked about windmills and showed William a possibility into which he could pour the creative potential that set him apart. I recall Martin Scorsese's narrating in Personal Journey Through American Movies about how, before he could see them, he read of all the great films in a book he found at the local library when he was a kid. He borrowed the book so many times till he wore it out. Then he cut pages out from it and eventually ended up stealing the damn thing.

Thank God for libraries and those who build them.


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