Fixing Facebook, The Internet, Money, And Most Other Digital Stuff

Blockchains and other cryptographic protocols are useful for online payment processing and other digital exchange systems, and p2p protocols for decentralized or crowdsourced security validation are highly desirable features of a modern digital system of accounts. What I dislike about Bitcoin (the best-known blockchain implementation) is that it invites speculation just as if it were gold. A modern digital system of accounts is best served by a unit of account that is relatively free from intrinsic value and thus free from speculation.

My sense is that making a universal transaction accounting/auditing system (also known in distributed and p2p computing circles as a distributed ledger) part of a “native” internet protocol suite will make it more stable. If it is ubiquitous it becomes like air and people are less likely to speculate on air than on gold or bitcoins. Such a core Internet protocol would provide an automatic  “audit trail” of every applicable read and write transaction, including but not limited to every payment, that is posted.  Such a protocol could be used for many important applications:

  • intellectual property management, especially for individuals posting on blogs and social media
  • micro-payments such as those proposed by Jaron Lanier in Who Owns the Future
  • retail payment systems
  • international payment systems, exchanges, etc.

Because its use could become so ubiquitous it should be designed and built very openly and carefully by a large public institution such as W3C, or by open crowdsourcing — not by a lone entrepreneur or small shop. What I’m proposing is actually an upgrade to the internet protocol suite — the core internet protocols — that would maintain a link between every named resource and a metadata file. I’m not current enough on the tech to get more specific or detailed about the implementation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_protocol_suite

The innovation I suggest is to permanently and unbreakably link every named resource (or its URI) on the Internet to its own metadata file. I call that file the metadata “tail” or “fork”. Such a file might be a flat file, a structured database, a distributed hash table, an encrypted block chain, etc. — I leave that to better software engineers than me. The link between the named resource and its metadata tail must be unbreakable for the life of the resource and the metadata must be inviolable. The link should be maintained as deeply in the internet core protocols as possible. It may be possible to implement the metadata store itself at a considerably higher layer to allow for easier updates to the data store technology. After all I am probably advocating the creation of trillions of gigabytes of metadata here. A sort of audit trail of practically every read or write operation on the Internet.

Every resource’s metadata file would contain the following metadata:

1. At the minimum: creation date and author

2. Other optional metadata might include owner (if other than author), ownership rights, expiration date, etc.

3. History (audit trail) of every read, write, copy, payment, etc. transaction involving that resource.

We know that getting money is a means to getting many things of value, not that it IS value. And its fungible and persistent (durable) so its very handy and convenient. We’d be hard pressed to design money without this convenience, fungibility, and durability and still get people to use it. That’s the catch 22 for people hoping to solve ANYTHING by inventing new forms of money or non-money or whatever.

But we do have some serious problems with old forms of money. So I nominate (with tongue in cheek) dried fish as the new international standard unit of accounts. No, make that coconuts. Or barrels of oil. Or Bitcoins. or killoWatt hours (kWh) of electricity … Whatever we choose, if its a finite natural or virtual thing in limited supply people will rush to acquire it and if possible “corner” the supply. So maybe its best to use something in unlimited supply, such as plain, immaterial numbers. Oops, no, people have been speculating on “the numbers game” forever.

The more I think about all this the more I think my proposal to update the internet core protocols to add an “audit trail” of all transactions is the only solution to our problems —  with money, with accounting fraud, with social media content rights,  and with lots of other difficult problems  too numerous to mention at this point.

Poor Richard

PS My only innovation (if it is such at all) is placing the link to the metadata repositories deeply into the internet core protocol stack and applying the protocol to potentially all reads and writes on the Internet, not just financial transactions. It may also be innovative (or not) to propose individual and distributed metadata repositories, possibly using blockchain cryptography, rather than a common repository, for each and every named resource on the Internet. The main problem to overcome is the volume of metadata. The current Bitcoin blockchain would probably break under such volumes.

Related:

Further Discussion:

  • Poor Richard: Debates about money, accounting, credit, debt, etc. seem mostly anachronistic to me. What we should be more concerned with designing is the digital micropayment economy (protocol) proposed by Jaron Lanier in “Who Owns the Future” and which I try to imagine one approach to in my rough note  Fixing Facebook, the Internet, Money, and other stuff
  • Edouard Bry: Poor Richard, what about large purchases like a car, a house?
  • Edouard Bry: Poor Richard, that proposal negates anonymity. Personally I believe total lack of anonymity is not realistic from a human perspective. It’s OK conceptually but it does not take enough into account the need for some privacy most human beings have…
  • Poor Richard: An Internet-wide micropayment system can be used for all purchases, large or small, but at the small end it provides a unique service that Jaron Lanier explains in “Who Owns the Future” and related videos.  Thus far Lanier is not well-liked by many of the P2P, FOSS and “free culture” people. Lanier does not describe the implementation of the system, which is what I have tried to address. No one has yet proposed any specific user interface details, but the user interface would allow all internet users to make and receive payments of any size — but of special importance it would permit very tiny payments of fractions of a cent for comparably small services and goods like clicking a “Like” button or for posting or reading a facebook post.
  • Poor Richard: Edouard Bry, do you think Poor Richard is someone who would abandon anonymity? No. The application must include strong cryptography and access controls for varying degrees of privacy for different applications. Like block chains, a micro-payment protocol will be used by a wide variety of applications in addition to micro-payments. An Internet-wide micro-payment system can be used for all purchases, large or small, but at the small end it provides a unique service that Jaron Lanier explains in “Who Owns the Future” and related videos. http://youtu.be/cCvf2DZzKX0 So far Lanier is not well-liked by many of the P2P, FOSS and “free culture” people. Lanier does not describe the implementation of the system, which is what I have tried to address. No one has yet proposed any specific user interface details that I know of, but the user interface would allow all internet users to make and receive payments of any size — but of special importance, it would permit very tiny payments of fractions of a cent for comparably small services and goods like clicking a “Like” button or for posting or reading a facebook post.
  • Andrew Bransford Brown: I kind of agree, however, it is an incremental process. You might have a look at http://promiselanguage.blogspot.com It solves the payment part. The structure might also solve the “metadata” issue you are referring to. “Promise Language”
  • Bernd Nurnberger: Interesting. Not sure I can agree in light of this: “Silicon Valley megacorps have no interest in transparency. They don’t want to talk to reporters who would ask them real question about their for-profit surveillance business operations. Why would they risk it when they can fall back a trusted crisis PR technique: shut the doors, don’t pick up the phone, lie low for a while and wait for the storm to pass.” 

  • Poor Richard: Andrew, the applications, like payment processing, could be incremental, but it is fundamental to my idea that the various applications I mentioned would all share a common back end that I call an automatic audit trail protocol for the Internet core protocol stack.
  • Richard Saunders: A world citizens movement and ultimately world governance could be set in motion simply by updating the internet core protocols to allow for secure “voting” on nearly all internet content
  • Adam Lake: Richard Saunders, why not use a protocol like email for p2p social networking with all data on personal servers?

  • Richard Saunders: Search “p2p email”. I haven’t investigated any of them, but it seems like a good idea for us to adopt p2p versions of the apps we use. That’s a different level of interaction than the core internet protocols which everyone uses automatically by default. They don;t need to make any decision or choice about it. Everyone worldwide is already using a common set of digital “tools” to interact with the internet therefore building a worldwide movement by using those common tools is as much a no-brainer as possible. I suspect there are forces within the internet governance community that fear the idea of building secure voting technology into the core internet protocol suite because of the potential disruption of all the old vested interests and powers.

  • Marco Fioretti: “secure internet voting” cannot exist, period. It’s not even wrong.

    As for “p2p versions of the apps we use”, and just for general reference (I have NO time to work on it for free, you are all sincerely welcome to do it yourself, or find somebody else who can!) here is a faster, much simpler way to get something similar soon. An intermediate but IMO unavoidable step towards real “p2p versions of the apps we use”: http://per-cloud.com

  • Richard Saunders: @Marco Fioretti “secure internet voting” cannot exist

    Marco, is your objection to the word “secure”? I mean it only in a relative sense. If relatively secure financial transactions can exist, relatively secure voting can exist on the internet, can it not?

  • Marco Fioretti: “If relatively secure financial transactions can exist, relatively secure voting can exist on the internet, can it not?”

    No.

    Financial transactions are relatively secure only because if they go wrong someone surely notices it, often immediately, and comes asking for a refund or repetition. With internet voting, it’s impossible to realize that something bad happened. Unless it’s not secret, which would be so bad to be half disgusting half ridiculous.

    It’s absolutely impossible to guarantee that all software+hw combinations used for voting by people who by and large use their birth date as password or never update software etc… would be free of trojans, keyloggers and such. This has proved tolerable for making online payments only for the reason in the previous paragraph, it could never happen with voting. People who couldn’t be bothered to vote could even never notice that their computer was infected to vote on their behalf.

    If voting happens outside a safe place, there is no protection from abuse as in any variation of “vote now what I tell you and never tell anybody, or I’ll shoot you”

    etc etc. So no, relatively secure voting CANNOT exist on the internet. Period. Believe me I do NOT want to offend, but it makes me sad to see how many people who apparently thought of this for more than 2 minutes still propose Internet voting.

    And above all: WHY? Let’s assume just for the fun of discussion that all I’ve said doesn’t exist: what would be the REAL advantage of internet voting?

  • Richard Saunders: @Marco “what would be the REAL advantage of internet voting?

    I use the word “voting” broadly to include things such as “liking” and rating (+1, -2, etc.). Using an encrypted distributed ledger provides an audit trail. My point is that an encrypted distributed ledger (perhaps some type of “blockchain”) should become part of the core internet protocols. This would allow the world to rate any internet content or to “vote” in some fashion on everything. Security is always relative, so higher value data would need more protection, just as now.

  • Melvin Carvalho: …Using the new structured data layer of the web, contracts, governance, anything that an be modelled with data can be created. When you look at the web, try not to think of giant corporations controlling it, or locking it down, it was made for everyone to do anything they want. Any use case you can imagine with a block chain is doable on the dencentralized web.
  • Richard Saunders: Melvin, structured data and linked data are typically defined by triples: subject – predicate – object. This does not automatically constitute a strongly secure distributed ledger. If that is what one is after they still have to build that somehow. If we want to create a strongly secure distributed ledger, a bitcoin-style blockchain may not be the best route. BUT WHAT IS?

Human Broadband Connections

Source: Wikimedia

[Note: this is a reposting of material that is buried rather deeply in two other essays on this blog, xTopia and  The Meaning of Life.]

We all know things we don’t know how to express in words. When we try, they often sound like cliches and tautologies. But sometimes progress comes through persistent interaction with a friend, a partner, or a colleague. Sometimes two heads or three heads are better than one. Sometimes people who spend a lot of time together develop special kinds of connections. If we live or work together long enough and closely enough we may begin to establish what I call human broadband connections. This may evolve further as we keep house, interact with nature, travel, solve problems, share adventures, meet challenges and survive crises together, until we can finish each others sentences. We are beginning to realize that such intimacy can gradually change the chemistry and structure of the nervous system and allow for progressively increasing inter-personal communication bandwidth and synchronization. One example is menstrual synchrony.

Some might consider it to be an interpersonal spiritual connection, but it is a natural phenomenon that I would call bio-cognitive development (bio-cognitive = body + brain) and psycho-neuro-synchronization.

Bio-cognitive development partners are two or more peers engaging in an in-person practice that focuses not on learning facts but developing and practicing bio-cognitive skills such as high-bandwidth psycho-neuro-synchronization. Perhaps a more self-explanatory term is “interpersonal neural synchronization”. As psycho-physiological intimacy and coordination increases over time, the bandwidth and synchronization of the bio-cognitive communication increase. Some of the coordinating feedback channels are:

.

.

.Voice modulation, body language , airborne chemicals, and physical contact all stimulate the release of a wide array of neurotransmitters and other hormones throughout the body. These change the states of neural networks, nerves, and tissues throughout the body. That much is established fact.

Image: bigthink.com

My additional hypothesis is that all these channels of communication can gradually come into greater synchronization between people. Its similar to the way higher data throughput is achieved between nodes in a communication network as they each synchronize to the same timing, states, and protocols. The rate at which this happens between people and the degree to which it happens depends on the innate psycho-physiological characteristics of the participants as well as their acquired proficiencies. When well developed, interpersonal bio-cognitive communication bandwidth may change as much as the difference between a 300 baud asynchronous modem connection and a 10-gigabit broadband connection.

The importance of shared activity to developing bio-cognitive intimacy and high communication bandwidth can’t be over-emphasized. Important activities include, but aren’t limited to: singing and dancing, eating and drinking (especially alcohol), domestic housekeeping (especially kitchen work), manual labor (gardening/farm work, carpentry, etc.), professional work, artistic collaboration, dialog/debate, sports and recreation (camping is great), traveling, and adventure. Sharing risks and crises is especially effective for promoting empathy and trust. The more time participants spend together the better. Sharing living quarters and workplaces is especially effective, within the limits of intimacy fatigue. And of course if these things are done mindfully, with the intention of developing high-bandwidth intimacy, and with appropriate methods and skills, excellent results are possible. I have achieved such intimacy with several individuals and small groups who lived and worked together.

“There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others who have a large vision. The immense fulfillment of the friendship between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality impossible to describe.”
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

As my friend Natural Lefty points out, on some level this is common sense and I am merely stating a truism of social psychology: people who hang together synchronize their language, culture, and behavior to some extent. This can have survival advantages but it can also have negative consequences such as excessive conformity or “group-think”. It can promote cooperation or it can lead to intra-group or inter-group conflicts. Even members of a well-organized wolf pack may attack each other savagely. So the devil is in the details–what are the actual empirical effects of cognitive synchronization and development in practice, on the ground. What effects prove positive and what effects lead to negative consequences. The process of distinguishing between the positive and negative results, maximizing one and minimizing the other, can be thought of as a process of quality control and continuous improvement.

To achieve continuous improvement and positive quality control, we should systematize and instrument our intentional community of self-study and self-development. We should consciously formalize our group dynamics in a context of systems science and rigorous experimental design. Process transcends objectives, but measurable objectives provide important feedback for process improvement.

The prerequisites for bio-cognitive development and psycho-neuro-synchronization of groups are motivation, opportunity, and resources. It is important that various conditions and tools are provided.

One way to provide conditions for bio-cognitive group development is to establish venues for the kinds of activities mentioned above, in which those activities can be offered to the public and simultaneously shared by a residential staff group. Another approach is to establish intentional communities. These can be urban or rural.

In addition to the shared activities mentioned above, some of the possible tools and techniques for bio-cognitive development and psycho-neuro-synchronization include:

These and many other tools can be used for increasing adult brain plasticity and promoting emotional and physiological states that enhance learning, memory, and neural network integration. Conducted in groups they can also promote psycho-neuro-synchronization and bio-cognitive group intimacy.

All this provides a matrix for accelerated cultural and cognitive evolution that is independent of gross brain anatomy. (Lets face it, we aren’t getting bigger brains any time soon.) Nonetheless, there is good reason to hope that radical self-knowledge, bio-cognitive development, neuro-physiological practice, and psycho-neuro-synchronization may all work together to promote developmental changes in the brain’s micro-structure and its operational patterns. We can try to examine and consciously modify various aspects of our irrationality, automaticity, implicit associations, cognitive biases, etc. With all these tools and techniques we may have a shot at developing a kind of persistent group consciousness capable of hosting perceptions and representations of reality and establishing behavioral innovations and capabilities well beyond the confines of the mainstream culture and language.

This just might help us keep each other alive a few decades longer.

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2.0 Posts:

Related Resources

The Open Internet and Its Enemies

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...

Internet Freedom? Yes, of course…(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Can we in fact proceed or accept the outcome of any MS [multistakeholder governance] process without a very close re-examination and structuring of those processes; that is, to develop a means for providing appropriate safeguards against contamination, subversion, distortion or interest capture by or on behalf of one or another of the significant players whose interests in Internet development may be quite the opposite of the open, inclusive, transparent Internet that is the evident goal for most of those particularly from Civil Society who espouse MSism so passionately?”

The Open Internet Society and Its Enemies: Can Multistakeholderism Survive “Information Dominance”? | Gurstein’s Community Informatics.

 

The Internet Society, one of the active players in the debate on Internet governance, says this:

Each year, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) provides all stakeholders a unique opportunity to discuss openly critical emerging Internet-related issues.

This year’s overarching IGF theme is: “Building Bridges” – Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development”

As part of its engagement at the IGF, the Internet Society strongly supports the fundamentals of the open and sustainable Internet:

-Open Global standards for unleashed innovation;
-Open to Everyone: a freedom-enhancer for every Internet user;
-Open for Business and Economic progress;
-Open and Multistakeholder governance for transparent inclusion.

That sounds so very nice, vague, and naive (or maybe disingenuous). The bottom line: regardless of internet governance institutions, structures, or players we need to identify bad actors and deal with them appropriately.

Wikipedia says of multistakeholder governance:

“Multistakeholderism is a framework and means of engagement, it is not a means of legitimization. Legitimization comes from people, from work with and among people.”

So how do we identify good faith (bona fides) and bad faith (mala fides)?

One thing that comes to mind is “profiling” the way the FBI profiles serial killers on TV, that is, looking for behavior patterns that correlate with other bad actors in the past.

However we do it, we need definitions and tests of good faith and bad faith with some kind of empirical metrics.

BTW I think the US government fails all conceivable tests of good faith and should be put in the penalty box indefinitely.

PR

Rage against the algorithms | mathbabe

“[A]lgorithms are becoming ever more important in society, for everything from search engine personalizationdiscriminationdefamation, and censorship online, to how teachers are evaluated, how markets work, how political campaigns are run, and even how something like immigration is policed. Algorithms, driven by vast troves of data, are the new power brokers in society, both in the corporate world as well as in government.

“They have biases like the rest of us. And they make mistakes. But they’re opaque, hiding their secrets behind layers of complexity. How can we deal with the power that algorithms may exert on us? How can we better understand where they might be wronging us? […]

“Algorithms are essentially black boxes, exposing an input and output without betraying any of their inner organs. You can’t see what’s going on inside directly, but if you vary the inputs in enough different ways and pay close attention to the outputs, you can start piecing together some likeness for how the algorithm transforms each input into an output. The black box starts to divulge some secrets.”

More… via Guest post: Rage against the algorithms | mathbabe.

The natural history of knowledge

Natural History

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commenting on:

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Does your dualism lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?
Unblock your inquiry with a dose of Peirce’s Elixir Triadic❢

Inquiry Driven Systems : Are There Apps For That?

In which Jon Awbrey raises the subject of the “Relationship between emergent-evolved systems and engineered systems.”

That points toward what I like to call the “natural history” of cognition, inquiry, logic, mathematics, language, etc. We might learn things from the natural, sequential development of such faculties and systems that could be either prescriptive or proscriptive for modern engineering practice.

I like looking for the earliest and simplest instances of things. Unfortunately the early natural history of most things is largely unknown. Take the evolution of the triangle or the number three in human cognition, for example. But even in the absence of historical data we might gain something from thought experiments or inferences about what the evolutionary sequence might have been in the light of things we do know about the human bio-computer.

Incidentally, thinking about threes and triangles, the basic transistor (perhaps a fairly close man-made analogue of a primitive neuron or a even a bit of DNA) that we now “print” with exotic nano-particle ink is a thing with a tripartite configuration. I guess such three-part structure actually applies to most switches, many instances of which greatly predate biology.

Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...

Structure of a section of DNA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And commenting on a related post on Jon’s blog, Inquiry into Inquiry, Definition and Determination : 10 :

“Suffice it to say that a sign endeavors to represent, in part at least, an Object, which is therefore in a sense the cause, or determinant, of the sign even if the sign represents its object falsely.” — Charles S. Peirce

Typically symbols or signs are objects of higher compression (or lower resolution or complexity) than the objects they represent, but in some cases the reverse may be true.

I think of knowledge as consisting of networks of associations. If each association has a probability and each network has a geometry, then the structure of knowledge isn’t much different from the structure of physical stuff. Perhaps we will find a sort of quantum mechanics or geometrodynamics of knowledge.

Presumably the brain uses a wide variety of relatively specialized algorithms and heuristics (evolved and learned) depending on the kinds of signs, objects or data types and structures involved in a task.

fractal Von_Koch_curve

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How useful Is fractal geometry for representing recursive networks of objects-associations?

A mirror of silver and glass makes no critical analysis of what it reflects, but we think that few (if any) reflections are perfect. When light reflected from objects in our field of vision enters the eye a series of additional reflections are created by our optical and visual systems. The eye and brain apply adaptive-corrective algorithms all along the way. Among these are associations with previously recorded and computed objects, signs, rules, etc.that provide context and some critical analysis — a comprehensive (in some degree) grasp. Many “leaps and grasps” have occurred before we are consciously aware of an image at all.

What we know or comprehend about something is largely (wholly?) based on comparisons and contrasts (positive and negative associations) with other stuff we already know. Following the development of knowledge backwards to its origins, the original vestige of prior knowledge presumably comes somehow from the DNA and possibly other materials of the fertilized embryonic germ cell and this is inherited by the first neuroblasts that go on to form the brain.

Contrasts and comparisons (associations) are fundamental operations of the biochemical machines that run up and down the DNA chains making DNA repairs, copying it, building proteins based on it, etc. At the biochemical level reflections (associations) typically come in the form of positively or negatively matching shapes and electromagnetic charges.

I think we agree that the geometry of the basic unit of association is triadic. I tend to think of it most often in terms of two nodes and a connecting line, the basic unit of a network; rather than as a triangle. A triangle, it seems, has more than three parts (3 sides + 3 vertices + 3 angles + an enclosed area = 10 parts — at least!).

Poor Richard

“Internet Freedom” and Post-Snowden Global Internet Governance

“Internet Freedom” and Post-Snowden Global Internet Governance

by Michael Gurstein

And so we have the upcoming 8th session of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali with many of the main [“Internet Freedom”] protagonists having been more or less completely discredited…

So, what will be discussed at the IGF apart from the usual empty rhetoric about capacity building for LDC’s and legitimate campaigns against online skullduggery of the spam, kiddieporn, phishing variety?

Perhaps I could make a modest suggestion for the discussion. Perhaps we could discuss “Internet Freedom” but Internet Freedom in a post-Snowden world and without the hypocrisy and sanctimony of the previous discussions.

Perhaps we could discuss Internet Freedom as Freedom from undue and unaccountable surveillance; Internet Freedom as true Freedom of Expression where the forces of repression whether in Langley or in Moscow or Shanghai are made transparent and accountable; where Internet Freedom is anchored in the rule of law–not the, shall we say, rather “flexible” law of the world’s single superpower, but a rule of law to which all are expected to adhere and where mechanisms are in place to ensure that, to the degree possible, all are responsive and accountable; where Internet Freedom is not just for some but where it’s responsibilities and most importantly its protections are available for all of us — “foreigners” or no– and where all have some degree of input into how those laws are constructed and administered; where Internet Freedom does not mean that actions on and through the Internet will be subverted and directed simply to further enrich the already obscenely enriched, but rather to ensure that the benefits including financial benefits accruing from the Internet serve to reduce global inequalities.

I look for those who a year ago, were so eager to rally forces in support of Internet Freedom, to rally again to this somewhat battered standard; but now, one that is rather less naive and rather more reflective of the underlying reality of this technology enabled world in which we live. — Michael Gurstein [full article:  “Internet Freedom” and Post-Snowden Global Internet Governance]

[Is freedom just another word for the law of the jungle, the war of all against all, and might makes right? Instead of naive or disingenuous “freedom” rhetoric, we need the transparent, even-handed, rule of law starting with a Universal Internet Bill of Rights or “Internet Magna Carta.” The primary danger is always that lawmaking and enforcement can be hijacked by special interests. –PR]

Related PRA 2.0 posts

The Internet, Global Governance, and the Surveillance State in a Post-Snowden World (The Internet is Not Your Friend, Get Over It)

[This essay presents the issues without the spin and hyperbole common to most partisan and ideologically biased commentary. –PR]

Mike Gurstein’s “Post Script” is a good summary of the essay:

The dilemma of how to respond to the Snowden revelations–the loss of innocence with respect to the Internet, the very real threat of a totalized Surveillance (and Command and Control) Society–is a very real and immediate one.

Unfortunately none of the approaches so far being suggested seem capable of dealing with the realities which are being faced.

Challenges to these actions on the basis of existing laws (or constitutional guarantees) seem to be countered by processes of legalization and revision of constitutional interpretation (and very much depend on the existence of an enforceable rule of law which in some national jurisdictions at least seems questionable).

Arguments that current grassroots initiatives might scale sufficiently to present a form of counter-power or alternative technology/techno-social structures seem highly optimistic at best (open for example to intervention and manipulation as they might become successful and an apparent threat).

Technical solutions concerning encryption and structuring/restructuring of existing infrastructures appear dependent on the active involvement of significant technical and corporate bodies/individuals who to this point have been either complacent or even complicit in the developments noted above.

The development of broad framework agreements towards governing the Internet and the broad technical and telecommunications infrastructure are seen by many as quite unrealistic, however, they might provide the only realistic hope.  Their significance would be not so much in the capacity to enforce these agreements (the incapacity of existing of oversight and control structures in the face of political force, technology drive, personal and corporate interests and collective insecurities are not such as to lead to a great of optimism in this direction).  Rather their significance would come through the process of their formulation as nations and their citizenries globally would need to be confronted with the quite stark choice of acceptance of a Surveillance (and Command and Control) State or of a rule of law enforced through transparency and democratic oversight.  –Mike Gurstein

 

Related PRA 2.0 posts:

Gurstein's Community Informatics

Much has been made of the role that the Internet is playing in restructuring the way in which governance is executed both at the national and the global levels. The role of the Internet in supporting the rise of wide-spread autocrat-challenging movements in the Arab world, the role of the Internet in enabling middle class protests against out of touch officials and political structures in democracies, the power of the Internet to sway elections and directly influence policies are all obvious and widely commented upon.

Equally significant is the role of the Internet in creating global initiatives and global consciousness in a variety of areas–in supporting global movements in civil society; in making borders largely irrelevant in the transmission of information–importantly including images and direct communications; in allowing for the extremely low cost and largely frictionless sharing of experiences, good practices and how to’s in the whole range of areas…

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DISFLUENCY | Edge.org

[Some encouragement for amateurs and generalists –PR]

See on Scoop.itScience and Sanity

We’ve shown that disfluency leads you to think more deeply, as I mentioned earlier, that it forms a cognitive roadblock, and then you think more deeply, and you work through the information more comprehensively. But the other thing it does is it allows you to depart more from reality, from the reality you’re at now.

See on www.edge.org

Conversations That Matter

via Dave Pollard’s blog, how to save the world.

October 30, 2012

Conversations That Matter

Dave Pollard

conversation by pam o'connell

painting “In Deep Conversation” by Irish artist Pam O’Connell

When I was younger, most of my waking life was consumed in conversations. In my work life, I learned that most learning occurs, and most decisions are made, in small group conversations, often ad hoc. I was persuaded that good conversation skills were the key to good relationships. I believed, in short, that conversation mattered.

Now that I’m no longer working, and rarely required to converse with anyone, I’ve come to believe that, as GB Shaw put it, “the biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. In retrospect, I would guess that most of the conversations I was party to over the years were incompetently conducted and largely a waste of time. The conversants, for the most part, had already decided what they believed or what needed to be done, and were just looking for reassurance. Or they were talking to hear themselves think, and not listening to anyone else. There was almost never any real exchange of information, or ideas, or perspectives, despite the earnest attempts of the conversants to convey these things. Our languages are not very good at that, and the complicity of creatures that make up what we believe to be “us”, as individuals, rarely allows our minds — their minds really — to focus more than a small bit of our attention on anything not directly relevant to the needs of the moment. And our culture does its best to obfuscate and distort the meaning of words and the events of the day, so that most of what we manage to convey is probably lies anyway.

So lately I have chosen to converse less, even in the company of others. I begin conversations less often, say less, and become restless with what others are trying to say more quickly. I have become a more sensuous, perceptual and intuitive person and less conceptual and verbal. I would rather just be with the people I love than talk with them.

When I meet someone new who intrigues me, someone (male or female) I might like to spend time with in some shared activity other than talking — or perhaps doing nothing more than just being with them in some beautiful place — I now try to begin, like a feral creature, with non-verbal communication. Nature has equipped us, since the aeons before our newly-invented languages, with a very powerful set of tools to communicate without words. Body language, eye and facial movements, pheromones, a host of (to us) subtle means of conveying what we feel without saying a word. There are a million ways to smile at someone, to smile with someone, and our bodies are very adept at translating their meaning, as long as our heads don’t get in the way. Few joys can compare, for example, with flirting wordlessly with someone and knowing you have made a connection. Alas, in our desperate, lonely modern world flirting is too often seen as intentional, a lead-in to something serious, rather than just play, pleasure, joy, something done for its own sake.

Eventually, however, it is likely that I am going to have to engage the people whose company I like, or think I might like, in conversation. Our first conversation with someone is almost always precedent-setting: if it’s small-talk, or appreciative, or attentive, or inviting, the other person will probably come to expect more of the same from us. So the one who opens the conversation is now more or less obliged, committed, to provide more of the same, and if that opening was banal, or inauthentic, or hyperbolic, or aggressive, it does not bode well for the future of that relationship to be equal, honest and interesting.

In recent years, as someone with relatively high self-esteem and with nothing to lose for trying, I’ve tended to open conversations with an invitation. That’s true whether my tentative interest in them is intellectual, romantic, collaborative, or aesthetic. Being forward carries the risk of a direct ‘no’ reply to your invitation (or worse, an apologetic, ambiguous reply intended to be a ‘no’). But my sense is that we’re pretty quick deciders, we humans, and that by the time I utter the invitation the recipient’s answer is already decided, so preceding it with a bunch of polite and/or flattering blather is unlikely to change anything, and might create false understandings or expectations.

Lately I’ve wondered whether there might be a better way to start a meaningful conversation with someone. That has got me asking: What are the “conversations that matter”, if most of the conversations that consume our lives do not?

I’ve recently returned from a series of events at which I’ve been extolling the use of the Group Works deck, a set of 91 cards representing the characteristics, or “patterns” of exceptionally effective “group processes” — meetings, conferences, collaborative and deliberative events — that an event facilitator or participant can invoke or draw upon. It’s occurred to me that the same qualities that make for a great meeting — qualities like a great location, inquiry, advance research and preparation, playfulness, letting go, listening, openness, improvisation etc. — could also be the qualities of a great conversation. But, again, bringing these qualities to the conversation is, likewise, only worth pursuing if the conversation is one that matters.

To try to answer this question — what are the “conversations that matter”? — I’ve been reviewing and reflecting upon the conversations in my own life that have made the greatest difference — those that brought about a major, sustained change in what is done, what is believed, or what is understood by one or more participants in the conversation.

My analysis of these conversations suggests that “conversations that matter” tend to be one (or more) of five types, each of which has an essential question that the conversation generally turns on (the cards pictured above each type are from the Group Works deck — more about them later in the article):

1. Existential (Connecting) Conversations / What Do You Really Care About, and Why?: Not who do you care about, what do you care about deeply, with all your heart, to the point it drives you, makes you crazy, makes you leap tall buildings, commands your attention, affects your behaviour, profoundly informs your worldview, makes you ache so much that sometimes you cannot bear to think about it, or witness it? And why do you care so much?

It takes courage to have a conversation about such things, since we often can’t control our feelings about them, and that lack of control makes us vulnerable, defensive, self-protective. But what could be more important to talk about? These are the things that define us, and an understanding of them can clue us in to who we really are. To ask “what do you care about?” is to ask “who are you?”.

Ask me what I care about most and I’d say, I think, it’s the needless suffering of all the creatures of this world (including humans), and the needless and disastrous desolation of our planet. I know I can’t change it, I know no one can stop it and that it will get worse until our civilization collapses, and that no one is to blame. But knowing this doesn’t make me care any less about it. We can’t control or change what we care about. I care about this because I can see, sense, intuitively know that when we lived in the rainforest, for the first million years of our species’ existence, we had everything we needed for an easy, joyful, sustainable life and so did the rest of all life on Earth. I’m filled with grief that we lived an idyllic, harmonious life, and for whatever reason (the reason no longer matters) we abandoned it, destroyed it. Now we are facing the terrible consequences.

I care, too, about beauty and love and wild places and play and peacefulness. I can’t get enough of these things. I pursue them, always and everywhere. I have always cared about these things and they have driven me all my life, made me who I am, who I always have been. I care about them because when they’re present — when I’m present — time stops, and the grey disconnecting veil through which I see the whole world from inside my head lifts. I become another person, free, my true self, connected with and at one with and part of all life on Earth. Real.

2. Intentional (Challenging) Conversations / What Do You Most Want (to happen or to achieve in your life), and Why? If it’s unlikely to happen (the big lottery win) or likely impossible to achieve (the perfect happily-ever-after relationship/life), what is it that keeps you dreaming about it, what is the cost of your obsession with it (lack of presence, wasted life, lifelong dissatisfaction), and what would it take to let it go? And if it is realizable or achievable, why is it so important to you, and how might you free up your time and energy from the urgent needs of the moment to begin to begin to achieve it?

While we can’t control or change what we care about, we may be able to change what we want. We may be able to stop hopelessly wanting what we can probably never have (despite the media’s relentless want-creation and perfection-is-possible-and-desirable machine). And despite Pollard’s Law of Human Behaviour (the “merely important” things always get back-burnered in favour of what’s urgent, and then, in our exhaustion, in favour of what’s easy and/or fun), we do have the capacity to simplify our lives, reduce the number of urgent tasks we face each day, and the amount of stuff we have that we have to look after, so we can get around, at last, to realizing or achieving what we really want. Or, if that’s impossible, stop wanting it and move on with our lives.

Ask me what I want and one of my responses would likely be “a life without stress” (since I handle stress badly, physically and emotionally). It’s a foolish, impossible desire, even in my relatively idyllic retirement, and I would be wise to let it go, and instead pursue practices that increase my resilience to stress. Another response would likely be, perhaps ironically, I want to know what I really want. Since collapsing into retirement I have taken up a lot of hobbies, taken on a lot of projects, and done some very satisfying work. But I’m still not happy that I’m fulfilling my purpose in this world, and a lot of the things I think I should do, or should want to do, I somehow know I don’t want to do (though I’m not sure why). Get me in a conversation about this and I’ll have your head spinning. But for me, at least, it would be a conversation that mattered.

3. Learning (Exploring, Capacity Building) Conversations / What Information, Ideas, Understandings, Insights and Perspectives Can You (We) Offer (Share)? Learning is an iterative process. True exchange of knowledge and meaning occurs interactively and contextually. “What do you mean by that? Are you saying… If that’s true then… But what about…” — this back-and-forth struggle for coherence and appreciation is how true communication occurs. As TS Eliot put it, “Trying to learn to use words… every attempt is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure, because one has only learnt to get the better of words for the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which one is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate with shabby equipment always deteriorating in the general mess of imprecision of feeling.” Many of us blog principally because it enables us to have learning conversations with ourselves (with a little help from our readers). For many, reading is a learning conversation with the writer. And the best learning conversations are not debates or competitions for nods of agreement, but offers — of information, ideas, understandings, insights and perspectives. The point of the offer is not to get attention or appreciation, but to help.

Conversations, if the space for learning is held open by the participants, enables learning through exploration in a way other forms of learning cannot. Exploration (“What if…”) gives participants permission to stray from the script of the text, and it is in this way that unexpected connections and discoveries are made, and powerful collective learning results. And conversations can be interspersed with demonstration: “Let me show you… Now you try it… Why do you do it that way; what if instead… I don’t understand… Try this… — improving the capacities of both teachers and students, while often blurring the line between them.

These days, as I’ve written often on these pages, my beliefs and insights on the things I think important are so radically different from, and unsettling to, most people’s thinking that I have few opportunities for totally candid conversations about them. So my learning conversations with others are often of the “just help them get started” variety. By suggesting readings, providing factual information, telling stories, I can subversively impart radically different perspectives and understandings by allowing other conversants to draw their own conclusions. The games that I’m working to develop now, on the Gift Economy, and on Preparing for Collapse, are really just a framework for Learning Conversations about these subjects.

The conversations from which I learn the most are those that include masterful conversationalists, people who can (seemingly) effortlessly and unobtrusively steward and shepherd the conversation to make it more relevant, succinct, focused, articulate, and effective at its purpose. More about that later in this article.

inviting conv cards

4. Inviting (Engaging, Playing, Creating) Conversations / What Do You Like to Do? What Are You Really Good At? We all love to play, and conversations that invite others to play, that engage them and encourage them to do what they enjoy, things that stimulate their creativity, imagination and sense of humour, open us and them to the unpredictable products of any joyful activity that draws on our energies and passion. Invention and innovation. Enduring, creative partnerships. Works of art. Love.

Invitation is itself an art form, and the best Inviting Conversations are usually preceded by thorough research and carefully crafted. If the invitation is misrepresented or inauthentic, it will be a quick conversation-stopper. Paradoxically, we spend so much of our lives doing things we think we must do, that we are often unaware of the things we like doing, and the things that we’re good at doing, and Inviting Conversations can enable their discovery. These are often conversations where the non-verbal “conversation” is at least as important as what is actually said. Such conversations often benefit from the use of tools that allow visual expression of what is said or meant, to complement the verbal record.

In recent years, as I start to take my importance, and myself, less seriously, this has become my favourite type of conversation. Clever banter is not small-talk, it is a form of play that takes practice to become skilled at. My way of making new friends is to explore with people what they like and what they’re good at, and if these are things I also enjoy, figure out what we might both like, or what we might together offer the world, and use that as the invitation to both an activity and a relationship.

5. Problem-Solving (Collaborating) Conversations / How Might We Deal With or Respond to (a specific issue, challenge or predicament)? Of the five types, this is probably the most difficult type of conversation to facilitate and enable. This is because few people understand that most modern ‘problems’ are actually complex predicaments, and that simplistic solutions (despite what politicians, consultants, business ‘leaders’ and others try to tell us) rarely ‘fix’ them, at least not for long. In such cases it is usually more effective to look for ways to adapt to the predicament, approaches to deal with it, and mitigate its worst effects.

We all love a challenge, and conversations that have a purpose as pointed and explicit as solving a specific problem are often enticing. What is more difficult is facilitating such conversations in such a way that the tendency to oversimplify, create false dichotomies and choices, and rush to conclusions (who will do what by when) is reined in, and the true nature of the problem (and why it has resisted previous efforts to ‘solve’ it) have become clearer. Understanding  the true nature of a complex problem (predicament) and discovery of possible approaches to deal with it generally co-emerge from thoughtful, open, genuine inquiry through conversation. Getting all the voices in the conversation heard, ensuring the relevant information is at hand, getting participants to see things from different perspectives, and encouraging stories that help clarify and level knowledge and bring appreciation of the issues complexity, require patience from the group and self-discipline from participants.

These days I don’t engage in many Problem-Solving Conversations. Because they consumed so much of my work life, when I retired from paid work I also resolved to retire from such conversations. Much of the work of the Transition movement is conversations of this type, however, so my focus now is learning (slowly) how to be better at facilitating them to avoid the landmines so many of my work-life conversations encountered.

•     •     •     •     •

So how do we engage in such “conversations that matter”? Baldly asking the essential questions corresponding to each of the five types of conversations above, especially of someone you don’t know well, might well produce a defensive or even angry response. One possible way to broach an Existential, Intentional, or Inviting conversation might be to ask (especially of people with busy schedules): If you had one extra hour each day, what would you spend it doing? Their answer to this question might hint at what they really care about, want, or like, and precipitate a conversation on that subject.

What is most needed to make Conversations that Matter more effective, I think, is better facilitation of such conversations. That’s where the Group Works deck I mentioned earlier comes in. Although it was designed (by a group of 50 people, of which I was one) to help meeting and other “group process” facilitators design and conduct such activities more effectively, I’ve realized that Conversations That Matter are really just a form of “group process”, and while most such conversations are ad hoc and do not have appointed facilitators, there is no reason why all the participants of such conversations shouldn’t hone their facilitation skills and gently apply them in such conversations (in an unofficial role often called “guerrilla facilitation”) — at every stage, from pre-conversation ‘design’ (research, location-setting etc.), intention- and context-setting, tending the relationships and flow of the conversation, encouraging creativity, inquiry and synthesis, perspective shifts and trust, and modelling exemplary conversational skills and behaviours that others can learn from and emulate. The 15 card images depicted above show some of the 91 patterns of exemplary practice that might be applied to different types of conversations.

So the next time you find yourself in, or scheduled for, a conversation, ask yourself: Is it a Conversation That Matters? If it isn’t, see whether with some tweaking it might be made into one (or else consider whether you want to avoid it). And if most of the conversations you engage in are not Conversations That Matter, maybe it’s time to shift gears and find ways, and people, to initiate and participate in ones that are.

And when you do, pay attention to what’s happening in the conversation beyond just the words said. Chances are you’ll discover there are some masterful conversationalists in your circles (I’m not one of them, by the way, not by a long shot). Study them, learn from them, discover how they “guerrilla facilitate” the conversation, and follow their example. It’s one of the most important skills you can learn.

Dave Pollard

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1 Comment »

Poor Richard:

Dave, I love your ideas and your writing so perhaps I can be forgiven for quibbling with some things. You write:

“…I can see, sense, intuitively know that when we lived in the rainforest, for the first million years of our species’ existence, we had everything we needed for an easy, joyful, sustainable life and so did the rest of all life on Earth. I’m filled with grief that we lived an idyllic, harmonious life, and for whatever reason (the reason no longer matters) we abandoned it, destroyed it.”

How do you know this? It seems more like a romantic fantasy to me. Hobbes’ “war of all against all” is just as true (perhaps more valid overall) a description of nature as yours. Check it out @ Scientific American: 13 Horrifying Ways To Die (Arthropod Edition).

Otherwise, a great essay. Thanks.

PR

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via Conversations That Matter « how to save the world.

GMO — OMG!

(October 19, 2012) Gary Hirshberg is the Chairman of Stonyfield Farm, founder of the “Just Label It” campaign, and author of Label It Now: What You Need to Know About Genetically Engineered Foods. Last month [September 2012], Foodconsumer.org profiled Hirshberg’s support of California Proposition 37. The ballot initiative would require the labeling of genetically engineered food and counts Bill Maher among its supporters (via HBO)

via Bill Maher interviews Gary Hirshberg – YouTube.

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