Blogs Centerpoints Conference Notes

PUSH: Ze Frank takes Minneapolis

Ze Frank, the hilarious brainchild behind the show with ze frank videoblogs on his arrival in Minneapolis. He categorizes his post thusly: “minneapolis, target, symbols, word search, puzzles, ducks making poop, gonzales t-shirts, earth sandwich, holy crap, mom’s shoes.” And I’ll say no more. Watch it. (Via MNSpeak.)

zefrank.jpg

Ze Frank, the hilarious brainchild behind the show with ze frank videoblogs on his arrival in Minneapolis. He categorizes his post thusly:

“minneapolis, target, symbols, word search, puzzles, ducks making poop, gonzales t-shirts, earth sandwich, holy crap, mom’s shoes.”

And I’ll say no more. Watch it.

(Via MNSpeak.)

PUSH: Hope, Fear, Philosophy

With all these world-class thinkers gracing the stage of the Walker Cinema, it was refreshing to conclude the day with some wisdom from children. John Davis, founder of the Kids Philosophy Slam, welcomed a handful of 8- to 14-year olds onstage for a philosophical round-robin on fear and hope. It was really wonderful, and not […]

slam.jpg

With all these world-class thinkers gracing the stage of the Walker Cinema, it was refreshing to conclude the day with some wisdom from children. John Davis, founder of the Kids Philosophy Slam, welcomed a handful of 8- to 14-year olds onstage for a philosophical round-robin on fear and hope. It was really wonderful, and not just in a Kids Say the Darndest Things way (although there was a bit of that).

The big question they were to address:

Which is more powerful, hope or fear?

The answers were funny and, well, philosophical, from one self-assured little guy (Daniel, who at 8 or 9, ad-libbed about the “inevitability” of fear) who touched on the interplay of hope and fear (“They’re a team… like the sun and the moon.”), while eight-year old Elsie poetically said, “ Hope is a gentle breeze, but fear is a whipping icy wind.” There were moments of deep emotion that I hesitate to mention for fear of exploiting a child’s very real grief. Morgan, who’s nine, read a statement about her brother Oliver, who died in a car accident just last year, but her words became muffled by tears, making palpable that hope and fear are more than abstract concepts. Another girl spoke of her mother’s cancer, another of war in Iraq, and another of the fear of showing your parents a bad report card (although that was seen as one of the positive effects of fear).

The questions Davis asked the kids are certainly worth pondering:

To what extent can we control the fear within ourselves?

Can hope have a negative influence on a person’s life?

Can fear ever be a motivating factor in a person’s life?

What is the value of hope when faced with all of the death and destruction in Iraq?

As they tackled these questions, I started to as well, and the original question–about whether hope or fear was more powerful–took on new meaning, transforming from the poetry of optimism to the pragmatic realization that we live in a world damaged by people overpowered by their own fear. I found myself wanting to side with hope (isn’t that the right answer?), but the reality these days seems to suggest the opposite.

Seeing these young people giving voice to such issues–and in so cogent and compelling a manner–was really amazing. Fourteen-year old Aaron seemed to grasp the nebulousness of hope and the viscerality of fear:

“Fear can make you do things you never would do… Fear is what drives men to war. Fear is everything. Hope is nothing. A thought, a chance… something you grab onto for inspiration…. Hope is a nonexistent glimmer in the dark. Fear is real. Very real.”

Embedded in all that is… hope: that hope is merely and promisingly a chance.

PUSH: Caring and Sharing

The conference continued with a joint session by Howard Rheingold and philospher K. Anthony Appiah. Their themes–networked communications and cosmopolitanism–meshed well. Rheingold gave a Cliff’s Notes version of history, noting how collaboration is what makes us human: from the get-go, we’ve cooperated to gather food and defend ourselves, and this collaboration–given our lack of fangs […]

howard.jpg

The conference continued with a joint session by Howard Rheingold and philospher K. Anthony Appiah. Their themes–networked communications and cosmopolitanism–meshed well.

Rheingold gave a Cliff’s Notes version of history, noting how collaboration is what makes us human: from the get-go, we’ve cooperated to gather food and defend ourselves, and this collaboration–given our lack of fangs and fur–is what has been our saving grace. As we progressed past caveman days, revolutions, marked by key documents like Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” have sped along thanks to printing and distribution technologies.

As we look ahead to what’s coming next, cooperation will be vital. “ People cooperate to do nasty things,” Rheingold admits, “ but the whole story that has brought us here is in the balance, one where we cooperate to enrich all of us.” He cited: a range of promising innovations, from the “notoriously closed” pharmaceutical company Lilly that has opened up research and development to spark collaborative innovation; Amazon and Google opening up their application interfaces; open-source software developers like Linux, and others. New to me were ThinkCycle, “an academic, non-profit initiative engaged in supporting distributed collaboration towards design challenges facing underserved communities and the environment”; Folding@Home, a distributed computing project where users of PCs at home can volunteer their computing power to help scientists research protein folding; and Rheingold’s own Cooperation Commons.

howard2.jpg

Following Rheingold was Appiah, a Princeton philosophy professor and author ofCosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, which examines the history of cosmopolitanism. From the roots kosmos (world) + polis/polite (city/citizen), the word was first used by Diogenes of Sinope. Unlike Diogenes, who lived in what is now Turkey between 404 and 323 BCE, cosmopolitanism is actually relevant today (then, being a “citizen of the world” didn’t mean so much as people had little knowledge of fellow citizens a world away, and even less power to affect them). Defined as concern for all people on earth–“we’re all one, we’re all the same”–it was a belief held by Marcus Aurelius, who thought of it, Appiah says, as “the spiritual affinity of all human beings.”

Often the modern-day view of cosmopolitanism is as an alternative to nationalism, but Appiah calls them “necessary complements.” He adds: “ Nationalism in and of itself leads to immorality.” That is, if cosmopolitanism is the belief that “everybody matters,” then a philosophy that places one higher than another is immoral. But the two can–and should–balance: we believe in living in community as a nation, and we believe all people on the planet should have the same right.

Three points he made about cosmopolitanism:

1. “ We shouldn’t argue for world government…” We can see how one very strong country creates great imbalance; a single centralized government will be even less just.

2. “ We’ll all do better if we take care of one another.” Like Rheingold says, my self-interest is tied to yours.

3. “ Take good ideas wherever you find them.” The Right can learn from the Left, the Christian from the Muslim, the Jew, the Buddhist, the animist, the atheist, and people who listen can take away good ideas–even from people they largely disagree with.

Appiah adds that the tolerance that the third point suggests can’t come at any cost, thanks to the definition of cosmopolitanism. If, for example, a cultural custom hurts human beings (defying the “everybody matters” axiom), we needn’t be tolerant of it, he says. He mentioned slavery: imagine if abolitionists said, “Slavery is a rich part of Southern tradition,” and on that basis did nothing to change it. And so Appiah ended with a somewhat oxymoronic formula of cosmopolitanism: Universality + Difference.

Next: Kids Philosophy Slam

PUSH: Caring and Sharing

The conference continued with a joint session by Howard Rheingold and philospher K. Anthony Appiah. Their themes–networked communications and cosmopolitanism–meshed well. Rheingold gave a Cliff’s Notes version of history, noting how collaboration is what makes us human: from the get-go, we’ve cooperated to gather food and defend ourselves, and this collaboration–given our lack of fangs […]

howard.jpg

The conference continued with a joint session by Howard Rheingold and philospher K. Anthony Appiah. Their themes–networked communications and cosmopolitanism–meshed well.

Rheingold gave a Cliff’s Notes version of history, noting how collaboration is what makes us human: from the get-go, we’ve cooperated to gather food and defend ourselves, and this collaboration–given our lack of fangs and fur–is what has been our saving grace. As we progressed past caveman days, revolutions, marked by key documents like Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” have sped along thanks to printing and distribution technologies.

As we look ahead to what’s coming next, cooperation will be vital. “ People cooperate to do nasty things,” Rheingold admits, “ but the whole story that has brought us here is in the balance, one where we cooperate to enrich all of us.” He cited: a range of promising innovations, from the “notoriously closed” pharmaceutical company Lilly that has opened up research and development to spark collaborative innovation; Amazon and Google opening up their application interfaces; open-source software developers like Linux, and others. New to me were ThinkCycle, “an academic, non-profit initiative engaged in supporting distributed collaboration towards design challenges facing underserved communities and the environment”; Folding@Home, a distributed computing project where users of PCs at home can volunteer their computing power to help scientists research protein folding; and Rheingold’s own Cooperation Commons.

howard2.jpg

Following Rheingold was Appiah, a Princeton philosophy professor and author ofCosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, which examines the history of cosmopolitanism. From the roots kosmos (world) + polis/polite (city/citizen), the word was first used by Diogenes of Sinope. Unlike Diogenes, who lived in what is now Turkey between 404 and 323 BCE, cosmopolitanism is actually relevant today (then, being a “citizen of the world” didn’t mean so much as people had little knowledge of fellow citizens a world away, and even less power to affect them). Defined as concern for all people on earth–“we’re all one, we’re all the same”–it was a belief held by Marcus Aurelius, who thought of it, Appiah says, as “the spiritual affinity of all human beings.”

Often the modern-day view of cosmopolitanism is as an alternative to nationalism, but Appiah calls them “necessary complements.” He adds: “ Nationalism in and of itself leads to immorality.” That is, if cosmopolitanism is the belief that “everybody matters,” then a philosophy that places one higher than another is immoral. But the two can–and should–balance: we believe in living in community as a nation, and we believe all people on the planet should have the same right.

Three points he made about cosmopolitanism:

1. “ We shouldn’t argue for world government…” We can see how one very strong country creates great imbalance; a single centralized government will be even less just.

2. “ We’ll all do better if we take care of one another.” Like Rheingold says, my self-interest is tied to yours.

3. “ Take good ideas wherever you find them.” The Right can learn from the Left, the Christian from the Muslim, the Jew, the Buddhist, the animist, the atheist, and people who listen can take away good ideas–even from people they largely disagree with.

Appiah adds that the tolerance that the third point suggests can’t come at any cost, thanks to the definition of cosmopolitanism. If, for example, a cultural custom hurts human beings (defying the “everybody matters” axiom), we needn’t be tolerant of it, he says. He mentioned slavery: imagine if abolitionists said, “Slavery is a rich part of Southern tradition,” and on that basis did nothing to change it. And so Appiah ended with a somewhat oxymoronic formula of cosmopolitanism: Universality + Difference.

Next: Kids Philosophy Slam

PUSH: Beaker

The motif of this year’s conference is decidedly sciencey: the PUSH Institute representatives all wear long, white lab coats, and the imagery in the marketing graphics show mad-scientist-type lab setups, robots, and the like. So maybe that’s why I keep seeing one lab-coat-wearing PUSHer posing his Beaker doll for photos every so often. This one, […]

beeker.jpg

The motif of this year’s conference is decidedly sciencey: the PUSH Institute representatives all wear long, white lab coats, and the imagery in the marketing graphics show mad-scientist-type lab setups, robots, and the like. So maybe that’s why I keep seeing one lab-coat-wearing PUSHer posing his Beaker doll for photos every so often. This one, taken on our way to lunch, features Beaker’s first trip on the Siah Armajani footbridge.

PUSH: Beaker

The motif of this year’s conference is decidedly sciencey: the PUSH Institute representatives all wear long, white lab coats, and the imagery in the marketing graphics show mad-scientist-type lab setups, robots, and the like. So maybe that’s why I keep seeing one lab-coat-wearing PUSHer posing his Beaker doll for photos every so often. This one, […]

beeker.jpg

The motif of this year’s conference is decidedly sciencey: the PUSH Institute representatives all wear long, white lab coats, and the imagery in the marketing graphics show mad-scientist-type lab setups, robots, and the like. So maybe that’s why I keep seeing one lab-coat-wearing PUSHer posing his Beaker doll for photos every so often. This one, taken on our way to lunch, features Beaker’s first trip on the Siah Armajani footbridge.

PUSH: Julian Dibbell & the Capitalism of Play

While known primarily for using videogames in his art (usually inserting himself into first-person shooters, often carrying a video camera), Chinese artist Feng Mengbo is also a painter. One project he listed, among others, involved rendering Chairman Mao as a 3D model that can appear multiple times or superimposed on various backgrounds. The work, he […]

mengbo.jpg

While known primarily for using videogames in his art (usually inserting himself into first-person shooters, often carrying a video camera), Chinese artist Feng Mengbo is also a painter. One project he listed, among others, involved rendering Chairman Mao as a 3D model that can appear multiple times or superimposed on various backgrounds. The work, he admits, is purely about the art market: if you want three Maos (hmm, very Warholesque), or a single chairman floating on a digital background of, say, an idyllic beach, it’s yours.

This notion of technology and pure capitalism lead into topics discussed by speaker Julian Dibbell, who presented on the fascinating world of MMORPGs, “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” or MMOs for short. For his forthcoming book Play Money (Basic Books, July 2006), Dibbell set out to discover if he could make more money playing these games than he could as a professional writer. The games include complex economies, virtual currency, and intricate social interactions. World of Warcraft is the most popular of these insanely popular games (for some titles, hundreds of thousands play across the globe at one time), but others in the genre include EverQuest II, Lineage II, City of Heroes, and Star Wars: Galaxies. For his yearlong exploration, Dibbell played Ultima Online, one of the early MMOs. In the game, users interact and buy and sell goods using fake monetary units, but, as Dibbell points out, these games have real-world value.

dibbell.jpg

He uses the example of a castle he sold to another player for the tidy sum of “20 million gold pieces and a south-facing bearskin rug.” Since such items are for sale on ebay, he could calculate the “real money trading” (RMT) value in actual dollars: one dollar can buy you 50,000 gold pieces–which is a better exchange rate than, say, the Turkish lira or the Romanian lei. With a little figuring, he discovered that the virtual building he sold online was worth 425 crisp American dollars.

It’s a fascinating realm, this space where people play with pixels and faux money to generate actual wealth. Dibbell cited the research of Edward Castronova who calculated the GNP of the game EverQuest, discovering that, based on the money generated by its users per year ($135,000,000), the game would rank as the 79th richest country in the world.

If it existed.

Apparently the wealth generation of such games is well-known. Some have set up automated game play using multiple PCs to spontaneously play MMOs, with characters who, day and night, gather online bucks, while in China there are “gold farms” (see Ge Jin’s forthcoming documentary), where workers are hired to work in one of three shifts to generate online gold. “It’s fun,” one worker says.

This kind of thing happens outside of virtual gaming, says Dibbell. Topcoder.com is a site where programmers compete to write the best computer code and win small prizes; little do many competitors realize–or maybe that do–that they’re developing software and applications that are turned around and sold for a profit. It dawns on me that this is similar to BzzAgents, those word-of-mouth marketers who basically volunteer to talk up various products on the street, or Public Insight Journalism, a volunteer networker of bloggers who feed stories and ideas to Minnesota Public Radio (I just learned of it over lunch; thanks Kathy at MPR).

In the end, Dibbell discovered that writing pays better than gaming, for him at least (let me tell ya, his writing fetches a higher price than mine!): during a particularly robust month, he made $3900 playing Ultima Online. Not bad. Apparently there is power in play. And that’s Dibbell’s main point:

“ Play is going to be for the 21st century what steam was to the 19th century.”

Next up: Howard Rheingold and K. Anthony Appiah…

PUSH: Julian Dibbell & the Capitalism of Play

While known primarily for using videogames in his art (usually inserting himself into first-person shooters, often carrying a video camera), Chinese artist Feng Mengbo is also a painter. One project he listed, among others, involved rendering Chairman Mao as a 3D model that can appear multiple times or superimposed on various backgrounds. The work, he […]

mengbo.jpg

While known primarily for using videogames in his art (usually inserting himself into first-person shooters, often carrying a video camera), Chinese artist Feng Mengbo is also a painter. One project he listed, among others, involved rendering Chairman Mao as a 3D model that can appear multiple times or superimposed on various backgrounds. The work, he admits, is purely about the art market: if you want three Maos (hmm, very Warholesque), or a single chairman floating on a digital background of, say, an idyllic beach, it’s yours.

This notion of technology and pure capitalism lead into topics discussed by speaker Julian Dibbell, who presented on the fascinating world of MMORPGs, “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” or MMOs for short. For his forthcoming book Play Money (Basic Books, July 2006), Dibbell set out to discover if he could make more money playing these games than he could as a professional writer. The games include complex economies, virtual currency, and intricate social interactions. World of Warcraft is the most popular of these insanely popular games (for some titles, hundreds of thousands play across the globe at one time), but others in the genre include EverQuest II, Lineage II, City of Heroes, and Star Wars: Galaxies. For his yearlong exploration, Dibbell played Ultima Online, one of the early MMOs. In the game, users interact and buy and sell goods using fake monetary units, but, as Dibbell points out, these games have real-world value.

dibbell.jpg

He uses the example of a castle he sold to another player for the tidy sum of “20 million gold pieces and a south-facing bearskin rug.” Since such items are for sale on ebay, he could calculate the “real money trading” (RMT) value in actual dollars: one dollar can buy you 50,000 gold pieces–which is a better exchange rate than, say, the Turkish lira or the Romanian lei. With a little figuring, he discovered that the virtual building he sold online was worth 425 crisp American dollars.

It’s a fascinating realm, this space where people play with pixels and faux money to generate actual wealth. Dibbell cited the research of Edward Castronova who calculated the GNP of the game EverQuest, discovering that, based on the money generated by its users per year ($135,000,000), the game would rank as the 79th richest country in the world.

If it existed.

Apparently the wealth generation of such games is well-known. Some have set up automated game play using multiple PCs to spontaneously play MMOs, with characters who, day and night, gather online bucks, while in China there are “gold farms” (see Ge Jin’s forthcoming documentary), where workers are hired to work in one of three shifts to generate online gold. “It’s fun,” one worker says.

This kind of thing happens outside of virtual gaming, says Dibbell. Topcoder.com is a site where programmers compete to write the best computer code and win small prizes; little do many competitors realize–or maybe that do–that they’re developing software and applications that are turned around and sold for a profit. It dawns on me that this is similar to BzzAgents, those word-of-mouth marketers who basically volunteer to talk up various products on the street, or Public Insight Journalism, a volunteer networker of bloggers who feed stories and ideas to Minnesota Public Radio (I just learned of it over lunch; thanks Kathy at MPR).

In the end, Dibbell discovered that writing pays better than gaming, for him at least (let me tell ya, his writing fetches a higher price than mine!): during a particularly robust month, he made $3900 playing Ultima Online. Not bad. Apparently there is power in play. And that’s Dibbell’s main point:

“ Play is going to be for the 21st century what steam was to the 19th century.”

Next up: Howard Rheingold and K. Anthony Appiah…

PUSH: Julian Dibbell & the Capitalism of Play

While known primarily for using videogames in his art (usually inserting himself into first-person shooters, often carrying a video camera), Chinese artist Feng Mengbo is also a painter. One project he listed, among others, involved rendering Chairman Mao as a 3D model that can appear multiple times or superimposed on various backgrounds. The work, he […]

mengbo.jpg

While known primarily for using videogames in his art (usually inserting himself into first-person shooters, often carrying a video camera), Chinese artist Feng Mengbo is also a painter. One project he listed, among others, involved rendering Chairman Mao as a 3D model that can appear multiple times or superimposed on various backgrounds. The work, he admits, is purely about the art market: if you want three Maos (hmm, very Warholesque), or a single chairman floating on a digital background of, say, an idyllic beach, it’s yours.

This notion of technology and pure capitalism lead into topics discussed by speaker Julian Dibbell, who presented on the fascinating world of MMORPGs, “massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” or MMOs for short. For his forthcoming book Play Money (Basic Books, July 2006), Dibbell set out to discover if he could make more money playing these games than he could as a professional writer. The games include complex economies, virtual currency, and intricate social interactions. World of Warcraft is the most popular of these insanely popular games (for some titles, hundreds of thousands play across the globe at one time), but others in the genre include EverQuest II, Lineage II, City of Heroes, and Star Wars: Galaxies. For his yearlong exploration, Dibbell played Ultima Online, one of the early MMOs. In the game, users interact and buy and sell goods using fake monetary units, but, as Dibbell points out, these games have real-world value.

dibbell.jpg

He uses the example of a castle he sold to another player for the tidy sum of “20 million gold pieces and a south-facing bearskin rug.” Since such items are for sale on ebay, he could calculate the “real money trading” (RMT) value in actual dollars: one dollar can buy you 50,000 gold pieces–which is a better exchange rate than, say, the Turkish lira or the Romanian lei. With a little figuring, he discovered that the virtual building he sold online was worth 425 crisp American dollars.

It’s a fascinating realm, this space where people play with pixels and faux money to generate actual wealth. Dibbell cited the research of Edward Castronova who calculated the GNP of the game EverQuest, discovering that, based on the money generated by its users per year ($135,000,000), the game would rank as the 79th richest country in the world.

If it existed.

Apparently the wealth generation of such games is well-known. Some have set up automated game play using multiple PCs to spontaneously play MMOs, with characters who, day and night, gather online bucks, while in China there are “gold farms” (see Ge Jin’s forthcoming documentary), where workers are hired to work in one of three shifts to generate online gold. “It’s fun,” one worker says.

This kind of thing happens outside of virtual gaming, says Dibbell. Topcoder.com is a site where programmers compete to write the best computer code and win small prizes; little do many competitors realize–or maybe that do–that they’re developing software and applications that are turned around and sold for a profit. It dawns on me that this is similar to BzzAgents, those word-of-mouth marketers who basically volunteer to talk up various products on the street, or Public Insight Journalism, a volunteer networker of bloggers who feed stories and ideas to Minnesota Public Radio (I just learned of it over lunch; thanks Kathy at MPR).

In the end, Dibbell discovered that writing pays better than gaming, for him at least (let me tell ya, his writing fetches a higher price than mine!): during a particularly robust month, he made $3900 playing Ultima Online. Not bad. Apparently there is power in play. And that’s Dibbell’s main point:

“ Play is going to be for the 21st century what steam was to the 19th century.”

Next up: Howard Rheingold and K. Anthony Appiah…

PUSH: Liveblogging

For the next three days a group of maybe 400 futurists and forward thinkers descend upon the Walker for the three-day PUSH conference, put on by the Minneapolis-based PUSH Institute. The midwest’s answer to TED or PopTech, the conference features speakers who are looking far into the future through a discussion of “reality, its virtual […]

push.jpg

For the next three days a group of maybe 400 futurists and forward thinkers descend upon the Walker for the three-day PUSH conference, put on by the Minneapolis-based PUSH Institute. The midwest’s answer to TED or PopTech, the conference features speakers who are looking far into the future through a discussion of “reality, its virtual variations, genetics, politics, biological miracles, ethics, emerging forms of social organization, and the questions such change raises for us all.” From SmartMobs author Howard Rheingold to Chinese new media artist Feng Menbo, violinist Todd Reynolds (Ethel, Bang on a Can, Steve Reich Ensemble) to digital culture guru Julian Dibbell, the conference highlights an exciting array of thought and artistry in a wide range of disciplines. Keynote speaker Cameron Sinclair, who founded Architecture for Humanity and edited Metropolis Books’ excellent new compendium of innovation and art around problem solving in architecture, Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises, had this to say about the conference when I spoke with him recently:

Something like the PUSH conference is interesting because you have people who are thinking about what life will be like in 20 years. That’s what I’m thinking about as well. The big picture is: where will we be in 20 years as a species? And have architects actually helped? You can do two things as an architect: you can either improve the environment you live in or you can destroy it. Not saying that you’re doing it purposefully. But you just say, well, we should just clear out all the slums and put in high-rise towers for gentrification. I like speaking at things like PUSH and PopTech and TED, because you get an interesting group, not just of who’s speaking but who attends.

Through Tuesday afternoon, I’ll be blogging the conference right here, so check back often for updates. To help in that endeavor, Leif Utne, contributing writer at Utne magazine, as well as an activist, musician, and podcaster, has agreed to offer a guest post or two (use the Conference Notes tag to follow our progress). Thanks for the help, Leif.

Design Like You Give a Damn is available in the Walker Shop.

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