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A couple of @jonl tweets re #OWS:

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Revolutions won at a superficial level take us into similar power games because we haven’t addressed fundamental issues that are deeply embedded in our thinking.

“A man will renounce any pleasures you like but will not give up his suffering.”

“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”

Both quotes from G.I. Gurdjieff

Worldchanging Interview with Jean Russell on Thrivability (2009)

In September 2009, Worldchanging published my interview with thrivability consultant Jean Russell. I’m republishing the interview here in its entirety. Jean and I have had many conversations since, and I’m persistently intrigued by her well-grounded positive vision of a world in which we humans not only survive sustainably, but thrive. (Last February, Jean arranged for Todd Hoskins to interview me – that interview’s at Thrivable.net.)

Technology consultant, entrepreneur and thrivability theorist Jean Russell joined Jerry Michalski’s August 3 Yi-Tan Conference Call for a conversation about thrivability as a conceptual replacement for sustainabilty. After that talk (which you can hear via the above link), I asked Jean to join me in a brief but enlightening Worldchanging interview.

Jon Lebkowsky: Let’s start with the definition of thrivability I found at http://thrivable.wagn.org/wagn/Nurture, that it’s “our path out of unsustainable practices toward a world where all people have a high quality of life, a voice, and a nurturing earth supporting them. Using whole systems approach, it demands that we evolve our way of being together, of collaborating, so that our collective wisdom and action bring forth a flourishing world and thriving life.”

What’s the origin of this definition, and what led you to start thinking about “thrivability” vs sustainability?

Jean Russell: At a Recent Changes Camp in Portland Oregon in 2006 I had a powerful two-hour conversation with Jair. I have not stayed connected to him, but in that conversation he mentioned the word thrivability. And it took hold of me for several reasons. Jair and I share a connection to Tom Munnecke, and I had been engaged in conversations with Tom on the Omidyar.net community. Tom wrote about solution-focus, positive deviance and other ideas that informed my concepts of thrivability. So I chewed and chewed on the idea, starting a blog to track my explorations.

This definition of thrivability evolved from that blog. Because this was so alive for me, I would talk with people about it wherever I went. And so I really feel that the idea is less mine and more the ideas of people who have shared with me. It is also strongly informed by the three years of conversations on Omidyar.net. I came to the Omidyar.net space as a writer focused on philanthropy, but while there I learned about such a wide variety of elements of social benefit work. I let my curiosity lead me, and the great wisdom of many there guide me. So, for me, thrivability is the umbrella that holds all of these efforts — it speaks to the unified whole of our efforts and the world those efforts aspires to.

I have puzzled over the connection between sustainability and thrivability. When I started the thrivability blog, I wondered if it was simply a language shift or if there was something deeper. Thanks to the network of people involved in the conversation, I feel clearer now than I did in ’07. If we drew a Venn diagram of the two, there is significant overlap. A lot of the work done under the umbrella of sustainability totally fits the concept of thrivability too. It is less that the actions are significantly different as much as the approach and aspiration is different. The language of sustainability is about neutralizing. Thrivability is about succeeding.

An example can help. If we ask, when building a home, “what isn’t sustainable here?” then we get a list of what we could do to make the house sustainable: maybe it says something about the materials we use and how the energy flows. If we are innovative, it also includes water flows and a green roof. If we ask instead, “what would make this home thrivable?” I want thrivable materials and thrivable energy. But I also want thrivable design — how do the living creatures of the home move through it? And while putting in a green roof, did we make it something that can be a garden? Did we consider the interior lighting of the house — not only for heating and cooling, but also for seasonal affective disorder? How does the house play together in the ecology of the neighborhood? Who works to build it? Are their lives more thrivable for having created the house? What else is an input/output or otherwise impacted by this house — and how can that be thrivable? Do you see how the shift from problem-focus to solution-focus includes the strategies employed in addressing the problem but also goes further?

JL: I understand the difference between the two, but it seems to me that you could have a ‘thrivability’ that isn’t sustainable, or that diminishes the sustainability of related or dependent systems. Would it make more sense to talk about “sustainable thrivability”?

JR: I think Arthur Brock points to the answer quite well. He recently wrote:

Thrivability builds on itself. It is a cycle of actions which reinvest energy for future use and stretch resources further. It transcends sustainability by creating an upward spiral of greater possibilities and increasing energy. Each cycle builds the foundation for new things to be accomplished.

Thrivability emerges from the persistent intention to create more value than you consume. When practiced over time this builds a world of ever increasing possibilities.

Thrivability already includes what is meant by sustainability. And it goes beyond it. To say sustainable thrivability in some way limits it, in fact. Think of life forming on Earth — to sustain single celled organisms is one thing — to transcend that and create multi-cellular organisms in another. The earth has conspired for life to thrive, creating upward spirals, building resources, and evolving greater complexity.

It was Arthur who first pointed out to me that the last few hundred years of consuming resources might have been just what the earth required for us to transcend this way and move to the next form of interaction, the next level of complexity.

Collaboration, cooperation, democracy

Everybody’s head is a strange universe filled with echos of voices they’ve heard over and over again. Against this, we try to manifest our intentions, to persuade with more voice, more conversation. Sometimes we get through, but even when we get through, we’re often filtered, just as we’re filtering. Is it any wonder that it’s so difficult to build and sustain an effective collaboration?

I’m looking at the ways that we strive to aggregate our attentions, find common ground, and work together. Over the years I’ve approached this through the lens of democracy, or what I’ve referred to as the “democratic intention” to create a participatory process that works. The older I get and the more I think about it, the more I realize that this intention, though we so often profess it, is actually rare. Most of us would really like to assert our self interest, our own preferences, but society is a collision of interests and preferences, we have to give in order to take. In a recent discussion of the book The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod, I was struck by the hardwired assumption that self-interest inherently rules, and cooperation is reached most effectively with an understanding of that point, thus the prisoner’s dilemma. In fact, I find that real people are fuzzy on that point, they’re not necessarily or inherently all about self-interest. We’re far more complex than that.

There’s a force of democratization in this world that I suspect is an inherent effect of two factors, population growth and density (which forces us to socialize and co-operate) and human evolution (hopefully we’re growing wiser, more capable, and continuing to adapt). I see aspects of it in work that I do. My internet work is often about building contexts to bring people together for shared experience and collaboration. At the Society of Participatory Medicine I’m involved in communications, and the concept of participatory medicine is driven by a democratization of health information and process. In politics I’ve focused on grassroots emergence, ad hoc and headless organizations, methods for effecting and enhancing participatory culture and activism. In thinking about markets, I’m drawn to the Cluetrain Manifesto and Doc Searls’ current Project VRM, or vendor relationship marketing, which is about giving consumers tools for symmetrical power within the vendor/customer relationship.

I’m thinking about all this in the context of my ongoing fascination with culture, media, and the Internet, and developing thinking that might feed into several interesting projects here and elsewhere. One thought I had was about a potential revival of Extreme Democracy and new conversations about emergent democracy. These are potentially lush gardens of thinking and doing that at the moment are barren, having been untended for a while.

Gil Scot Heron, 1949-2011: “The revolution will be live.”

In my years of drinking beer and talking trash with the late Bill Morton, he seldom wrote letters to me though I wrote many to him. The one letter I did receive was a handwritten transcription of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scot Heron, who got the the revolution isn’t in the streets and isn’t in the institutions or legislatures or meeting halls. It’s in our heads.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the 
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
bbout a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

“That was about the fact that the first change that takes place is in your mind. You have to change your mind before you change the way you live and the way you move… the thing that is going to change people is something that no one will ever be able to capture of film… it will just be something that you see, and all the sudden you realize, I’m on the wrong page, or I’m on the right page but on the wrong note, and I’ve got to get in sync with everyone else to realize what is going on in this country.”

Emerging thoughts

I’ve been in conversation with a diverse group of people who are interested creating a next version of the Internet that’s more peer to peer, more open source/open architecture, less vulnerable to government or corporate restriction. Some aspects of the various threads of conversation are idealistic – not wholly unrealistic, but so far a bit fuzzy and not fully baked. However there’s substantive, useful, and promising discussion in the air, and I’m hopeful that something viable and helpful will emerge.

Coincidentally, the concept of emergence came up, via this article by Margaret Wheatley, who calls emergence “the fundamental scientific explanation for how local changes can materialize as global systems of influence” as networks evolve into communities of practice, and then systems of influence begin to emerge. This she calls the life cycle of emergence.

This resonates with the Emergent Democracy discussion and paper that Joi Ito, Ross Mayfield, and I (along with several others) worked on in the early 2000s. But what’s missing in this talk about emergence and changing the world is the role of intention. Who sets the goals for changing the world? Who catalyzes networks and drives them in a particular direction? No person or group decides to make something emerge or to make specific changes – emergence is about force and evolution, not human intention. And when you talk about changing the world, by whom and for whom, and with what force, become relevant questions.

The Tea Party and the Koch Brothers want to change the world, too. Is their vision less valid than mine or yours?

But there are forces that transcend Internet theorists and instigators, Tea Parties, partisan movements, idealistic next-net theorizers, rebels in the street, corporations, governments, etc. – forces that emerge out of control; evolution that occurs, not created or driven by some interest group, but driven by complex social physical, psychic, and social factors that have unpredictable effects.

We’re just another set of smart people who think we know how the world should work, and we probably need more humility. How can we be effective in a context where there are forces that are truly beyond our control? What intentions should we support and honor?

Doings

Irons in the fire:

  • Plutopia Productions projects are on fire… including the Plutopia 2011 event during SXSW and the Plutopia News Network that Scoop Sweeney and I will be launching within the next month. Scoop and I are also producing events on the side, like last Friday’s “From Jerusalem to Cordoba” performance by Catherine Braslavsky and Joseph Rowe. Scoop and I, like our Plutopia Productions colleagues, see event production — creating compelling experiences — as an art form. We expect to produce at least one event per quarter, either as part of Plutopia Productions or onw our own, in addition to our work on the content site, which will include podcasts and god nose whatever other media.
  • I’m partnering with other web developers in creating Teahouse Media, a web consulting and development cooperative. Web development is my day job, and I pursue it with relish… an avid builder of information environments and systems. As in the past, I’m focused on open source platforms, primarily Drupal and WordPress.
  • With a loose group journalists and other thinkers and doers, I’ve been exploring the future of journalism and the emergence of digital news applications; set to moderate a panel on the subject at SXSW Interactive.
  • Trying to get my head aorund the future of the Internet. I gave a talk on the subject at a recent meeting of the Central Texas World Future Society, and will give another similar talk at Link Coworking at noon on January 8.
  • In that context, I’ve also been tracking the Wikileaks controversies, thinking to convene a public forum on the subject via EFF-Austin. Is Julian Assange shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre? Or is he a contemporary Daniel Ellsberg variation? Also thinking about transparency; working as an organizer (with the LBJ School) of the Texas Government 2.0 Camp, which will be January 28-29.
  • A practicing Buddhist, I’m looking into the Gurdjieff work, a different system of thinking, but similar in its cultivation of mindfulness. True mindfulness is easy to conceive but hard hard hard to achieve.
  • I’ve signed up to be a reviewer for the City of Austin’s Grant for Technology Opportunities, which awards money to community technology projects. I’ve always had an interest in community technology, and that’s revived somewhat as I note that there’s still a digital divide, and it’s even more significant as so much more of what we do in our daily lives requires access to technologies and networks. Also interseted in digital literacy; not long ago Howard Rheingold and I were discussing his next book, which will be on that subject.
  • The world is incredibly screwed up at the moment; I feel an obligation to get into an active an visible advocacy for the things I think are important… a humane progressive agenda, a positive and transformative cultural agenda, depolarizing politics and an end to the cultural cold war in the U.S. and beyond, commitment to the ideal of sustainability, acknowledgement of and response to the problem of global warming, etc. Can a web developer do all that much? I’m with the army here… we should all try to be all that we can be…

Link Coworking

Last Thursday, the day after Austin was swept by a tropical Texas frog-strangler, I met with Liz Elam and toured her new coworking facility, called Link Coworking. It’s on Anderson Lane, across the street from old Northcross Mall and near the Village Cinema ( 2700 W. Anderson Lane, Ste. 205 ). Liz’s facility will have access to an outside deck for parties, like the October 15 Grand Opening (6pm-9pm). 

Coworking is the wave of the present, and I expect and hope to see many more coworking facilities opening in Austin. (I spent a lot of time at Conjunctured on East 7th, but if you add the capacities of Conjunctured, Link, Texas Coworking, Tech Ranch, and any others that might be brewing or launching, you’re still just scratching the need for informal, low-cost business spaces. (Liz noted that her space would be less tech-focused than Conjunctured).

The rains last week revealed one interesting feature of Liz’s new facility: the roof leaked like a sieve. The place was drying out with multiple fans and the roof was under repair when I visited.

Rescue

“Life is as ephemeral as dew.” I think that’s from Rashomon.

The black kitten we found two weeks ago, aka Midnight, died this morning. We thought we were nursing him back to health, but the vet said he probably never had a chance. She said his mother might have abandoned him as the runt of the litter; he was malnourished when we found him and evidently never recovered.

MidnightHe seemed okay last night, but Marsha found him this morning so still she thought he had died. Then we saw he was laboring for breath, and called a local vet, who referred us to a pet emergency clinic, the AMPM Animal Hospital. The vet was sensitive and helpful; said aggressive measures would be costly and unlikely to succeed… and the kitten died as we were holding him and saying our goodbyes.

We rescued the kitten from real misery and gave him a good couple of weeks. We did all that we could for him – food, shelter, love.

I’m thinking our life is just a series of reciprocal rescues like this. We help each other along, give comfort as we can. Some need more than others, some can give more than others. In the end we all meet the same fate, but if we’re lucky someone rescued us, fed us, kept us warm and reasonably content until the end.

(Originally posted on Facebook.)

Public Access

Last night, the City of Austin’s Telecommunications Commission had a roundtable discussion – actually a series of panels – on the state and future of public access television and community media. I led a session on innovation, including as panelists by close friend Rich Vazquez, web developer for Community Impact newspaper; Ronny Mack, IT Project Manager for the City and former President of the ACTV Board of Directors; Gary Dinges, editor at Austin360.com; Korey Coleman of spill.com; and Chris Holland, a marketing consultant for independent filmmakers. We had a great session where we were thinking outside the public access box (which is shaped like a television set). Here’s the text of my introduction:

Public access television is a product of the broadcast era, when media was distributed from the few who owned the means of production to the many who owned the means of reception. Eventually pretty much everybody had a television set, and cable access proliferated as well.  In order to give the public more of a voice and support free speech, it made sense to have a public facility that could offer anyone access to the means of production and to a channel for distribution, i.e. public access television via cable.  

The key concepts here are the public access was access to PRODUCTION and to ATTENTION.  Over the last two decades, the Internet has evolved from a computer network to a media environment, a public media network with very low barriers to entry. Anyone with access to a computer can have the means to produce media and make that media public.  However with so much media, it’s harder for anyone to get and sustain attention.  

As part of this evolution, television audiences are moving to computers and committing more mindshare to social media. To the extent they watch television at all, more and more are watching on their computers. Given this environment, do we need to redefine public access?

In response to this intro, panelists talked about how television just becomes one of many modes of distribution, and how access has to be about using Internet channels as well as the cable channel. The emphasis now should probably be more on teaching people to produce better and more effective media, and helping find ways to build audience and attention.

Digital Habitats/technology stewardship discussion

Digital HabitatsNancy White, John D. Smith, and Etienne Wenger have written a thorough, clear and compelling overview of the emerging role of technology stewardship for communities of practice (CoPs). They’re leaders in thinking about CoPs, they’re smart, and they’re great communicators. Their book is Digital Habitats; stewarding technology for communities, and it’s a must-read if you’re involved with any kind of organization that uses technology for collaboration and knowledge management. And who isn’t?

It’s my privilege to lead a discussion with Nancy, John, and Etienne over the next two weeks at the WELL. The WELL, a seminal online community (where Nancy and I cohost discussions about virtual communities), is a great fit for this conversation. You don’t have to be a member of the WELL to ask questions or comment – just send an email to inkwell at well.com.

The manifesto that made my day

Earlier today I listened to a Buddhist Geeks talk with Stephen Batchelor, who said he was pretty sure there is no god… but then Chris Carfi sent a link to an email list we’re on that aligned so completely with where my life has been going that I thumbed my nose at Batchelor. There clearly is a god, and he made sure that I saw Maureen Johnson’s manifesto today: I AM NOT A BRAND. Have you read it? If not, stop now, go read it, then come back and we’ll talk.

“We can, if we group together, fight off the weenuses and hosebags who want to turn the Internet into a giant commercial…”

The rest of this is about me, and who cares? But I do want to download a bit and make a point.

All I’ve wanted to do for the last couple of decades is help people have meaningful conversations and solve problems together, i.e. build communities and organize effective collaborations. I’ve been in conversatoins about this with all sorts of people, including conversations in the early 2000s about social software and online social networks and how the web that was evolving – conversations captured to some extent in the collaborative paper “Emergent Democracy” that I had worked on with Joi Ito and others, and the post by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Daugherty that described “web 2.0.” I spent a lot of time thinking about political uses of the technology, with the Howard Dean campaign as a laboratory, and co-edited a book about social technology and politics called Extreme Democracy. About four years ago I was working on a consulting methodology that would help people leverage their physical and online social networks more effectively, and while I was working on this people started talking about social media. Specifically social media marketing.

I understand social technology and I get why the social web is attractive and compelling and starting to get all the mindshare we formerly committed to television. Clay Shirky talks about this in Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age: maybe we really wanted, needed, to have two way conversations all along, and broadcast television was just an alternative we had to accept until we got the technology we have now.

Television has confused us, it makes us think that media is (are?_ a vehicle for commercial messages, and without ads and persistent selling, a medium is broken. (This makes me remmber Lance Rose’s contention more than a decade ago that THE INTERNET IS NOT A MEDIUM, it’s an environment, and that’s probably another conversation we should be having.)

I’ve tried to establish my social media cred, but in a world where social media, as a profession, is supposed to be about marketing and selling, I don’t completely fit. It’s not that I’m against selling, but it’s not really what my life’s about, and I’ve never been attracted to the world of sales and marketing, even less so when I found myself in the middle of it.

But I love the idea of building relationships – that businesses can build symmetrical relationships with their customers, and vice versa. Is that the new marketing? Time will tell. I was raving supporter of the ideas in The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition, and I’ve been edging my way into a conversation started by one of its authors, Doc Searls, labeled Project VRM. Doc recently posted a piece called “Manage relationships, not each other,” that makes the point:

During the Industrial Age, the power asymmetry between vendor and customer got so steep that vendors got to talking about customers as if the latter were cattle or slaves. Customers became “targets” that vendors “captured,” “acquired,” “locked in” and “managed.” As the Information Age dawned, however, customers gradually became more independent. So, midway into the second decade of the new millennium, customers were no longer the ones being managed. Nor, however, were vendors. Instead, relationship itself was managed by both parties.

This perspective lines up pretty well with Maureen Johnson’s manifest. “I am not a target” is not unlike “I am not a brand.”

Every person I meet is a universe of experience and intelligence and spectacular complexity. I’m learning to appreciate this point, I can no longer easily and readily reduce someone to a statistic or a line of text or a bald concept bouncing around in my brain… there’s too much. We need more respect and reverence in our lives, and less of the reduction and dehumanization that we’ve somehow fallen into, no doubt driven by old media and mass marketing conceptual shorthand.

So this is where I have to quote, in full, the “I am not a brand” manifesto:

The Internet is made of people. People matter. This includes you. Stop trying to sell everything about yourself to everyone. Don’t just hammer away and repeat and talk at people -— talk TO people. It’s organic. Make stuff for the Internet that matters to you, even if it seems stupid. Do it because it’s good and feels important. Put up more cat pictures. Make more songs. Show your doodles. Give things away and take things that are free. Look at what other people are doing, not to compete, imitate, or compare . . . but because you enjoy looking at the things other people make. Don’t shove yourself into that tiny, airless box called a brand -— tiny, airless boxes are for trinkets and dead people.