Last week I held the first of our second series of Digital Gymnasia with Alumni and Members of Goodenough College.
In 2017 Experion created it’s Your Data Self ads which, as the ad says, is what companies see when they’re deciding how to interact with individuals. One of my goals in these Gymnasia is to introduce particpants to their data selves and to demystify the digital realm so that they can more confidently navigate and negotiate their online lives.
In our first Digital Gymnasia series we made the most of the World going in to lockdown as we all experimented with living online. The more workshops I did the more I realised that there is a deep seated need for events such as these which both allow people to talk (and later think) whilst simultaneously giving them some practical tools to take away.
The feedback from those who have attended has been largely positive with many telling me they are using what they have learned in their private as well as their professional lives. But, as with all these things, there are some who have felt that I may be rather negative or cynical in how I frame my view of technologies and the world of tech generally.
This has given me pause for thought and so I am taking this opportunity to articulate my own ideas a bit further in order to provide additional context for future events and, perhaps, encourage some braver conversations.
I have always been interested in the interstice between technology, culture and society and aware that we, as a species, are at the beginning of a major technological revolution, something way beyond “industrial” and something we don’t even have the words to adequately describe as yet.
I bought my first Apple Macintosh when I was a student living in Goodenough College in 1985; I logged on to the early World Wide Web through the first version of the Netscape browser via Australia’s first public Internet Service Provider Pegasus Networks in 1993; I co-created my first Web Consulting company “New Media Connections” in 1995, and I helped to lead a major initiative in Australia called Print21 which sought to understand the impact of digital media on what was then the world’s largest manufacturing industry and the first to be digitised thanks to desktop publishing.
As a result of this I was recruited by Fuji Xerox Australia to help them envisage the future and there I spent almost a decade immersed in the work of the global Xerox Innovation Network researching and exploring the impact of the evolving World Wide Web on how we as social human animals interact and communicate online. This led to a focus on what was then called the Semantic Web, a set of standards which has helped lay many of the foundations for what we now call ‘Artificial Intelligence’. It also let me personally to begin working with many of the people who actually built the Internet and Web over the last six decades and who formed Web Science to ensure that it both survives but most of all continues to benefit humanity.
Every technological device we invent (including our laws and language) has our values and human biases built in to it, and manifests how we as human animals see the world. The affordances of all technologies are a manifestation of how we have crafted the world around us to meet a need and afford us a mechanism to do things – doors are for opening; cups are for holding liquids; chairs are for sitting on. This is one reason why I teach the history of digital information technologies – they have not suddenly leapt out of the ether, they have emerged as the result of centuries of thought and use to solve particular problems: Babbage invented his Difference Engine to automate long, tedious astronomical calculations; the Internet was invented to help fortify the US Defence Department during the Cold War; Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web to help researchers share documents; the PageRank algorithm was developed as a new type of search engine.
Each of these has changed the way we operate and go about our daily lives, and each exemplifies the fact that all human inventions have longer term unforeseen consequences.
The Internet and the Web were given to Humanity by their inventors with few, if any, restrictions on how they were used. As with all things that are perceived as free if there is a situation where individual users have open access to a resource unhampered by shared social structures or formal rules that govern access and use, they will act independently according to their own self-interest and, contrary to the common good of all users, cause depletion of the resource through their uncoordinated action (the Tragedy of the Commons). With the Internet and the Web both have created vast wealth for a small group, whilst also enabling access to knowledge and information on an unprecedented scale for anyone connected, but the social and psychological costs of this is something we are only just beginning to understand.
In a recent speech at International Privacy Day Apple CEO Tim Cook states that
Too many are still asking the question “How much can we get away with?” when they need to be asking “What are the consequences?” … A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe.
It is these consequences that Shoshana Zuboff focuses on in her most recent work. At an event in 2019 I asked her if she had seen this surveillance internet coming when she wrote The Support Economy in 2000. She answered that yes she had, but she hoped it wouldn’t happen. This is similar to Tim Berners-Lee’s response to hearing that there was pornography on the Web – “Just don’t look at it!”
Three things have combined to create the online environment within which we now live.
- The first is the generosity and näivety of the early digital inventors who were enamoured by the technology largely ignoring the science of human behaviour
- the second is the pure greed which was allowed to run amok and untethered in the wild digital frontiers largely due to the fact that the early technologies emerged within the West Coast of the United States with it’s free market approach to regulation and dare-devil attitude to innovation and novelty
- the third is the almost complete lack of understanding of the affordances of digital information by government regulators, policy makers and politicians which meant that they missed the early opportunities to reign in monopolistic and anti-competitive behaviour.
These have now played themselves out but the public and our governments are beginning to step up and demand that there is a new phase in how these systems operate – the Australian and now Canadian governments are beginning to challenge the current ad-based publishing dominance of the large tech platforms, and hopefully new business models for online commerce will emerge.
The key question is
“Which philosophy do you want to pursue? Do you want a business that serves your customers? Or one that takes advantage of customers to serve your business? (Justin Bariso)
As my dear friend Professor Dame Wendy Hall states if it wasn’t for the Internet and the Web we would not have been able to remain connected during the Pandemic and it remains the most powerful innovation of all time. Precisely because of this
we … need to be prepared for the internet that we know to evolve unpredictably, and work to ensure that it remains beneficial for humankind.
For me, as a full time philanthropist, Wendy’s words resonate deeply. When we created our family Charity Intersticia we chose to focus on working to support individuals as 21st Century leaders with a focus on helping to build digital fluency. To complement this we hold our Brave Conversations which are open to all, we partner with Goodenough College to hold our Digital Gymnasia, and we partner with Tech for Better organisations (such as Founders and Coders and Gaza Sky Geeks) who teach coding skills to those who seek to harness them for social good.
I am often asked why I do what I do and what I hope to achieve.
My main objective is to get people to think, to wake them up from the somnambulist state they are in as they go about their daily lives largely unaware of the systems which underpin each and every interaction. As Melvin Kranzberg states
Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral
We are our technologies and they are us.
There is much to be hopeful for in this new era, and the Covid corridor is speeding up technological progress by forcing us all to become more digitally fluent and savvy. It is empowering governments to be less passive and reactive in how they approach technology (which has both a positive and negative side of course) which means that the balance of power between governments and the tech companies is changing.
It is purely speculative to try to predict what will happen in the next month, let alone the next decade! but it is prudent to give people some tools to at least begin to imagine some of the possibilities. If the early tech inventors had studied more psychology, philosophy and history perhaps they might have had a clearer picture of what might happen themselves. This is why Web Science is so important – precisely because it does seek to bring together as many perspectives as possible.
As with so many inventions Web Science was inspired by Science Fiction, in particular Isaac Azimov’s Foundation series and the dream of Hari Seldon to build Psychohistory. This is why I stress to all who come to our workshops that reading Science Fiction is probably the most important way to begin to imagine the future.
This second series of Digital Gymnasia seeks to instill a confidence in the imagination and an ability to more robustly address and explore some of the thornier issues which are emerging.
I have crafted this second series to build on the first (which we are in the process of recording) and to work from the individual to the group and community. At present we have four to be delivered over the next couple of month:
- Your Digital Brand – Who are you online?
- Demystifying AI – What are we collectively building in the online world?
- Facilitating Meetings Online – How are we taking our work online?
- Digital Governance – How are we holding each other to account Online?
Some events will be more content heavy (such as Demystifying AI and Digital Governance) but I hope to bring practical exercises in to them all. As with every event I work with who is in the room at the time, the questions that arise, and largely let the group determine both the pace and how much we cover in the time allotted. This is a tricky balance and is a collaborative effort where we all learn from each other.
The most important measure of success is not that everyone agrees with or likes what is presented … it is that they are stimulated to think about their data self slightly differently and with a bit more agency and confidence.
For more information on these events please either contact me or Melissa Morley at Goodenough College.
There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin)
“May you live in interesting times” is an English expression that is claimed to be a translation of a traditional Chinese curse
2020 has certainly been interesting.
As we have all been hunkered down in our respective homes around the world locked up in various level of Covid tier we have connected as never before, created new ways of supporting our Fellows and others with whom we work, and truly begun to embrace the world of digital media that has been at the core of our beliefs about what is needed for 21st Century Leadership.
Intersticia exists to develop and promote digital fluency and develop smarter humans in terms of how we proactively create, manage, harness and utilise digital technologies.
We do this primarily through the following activities:
- We identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships
- We work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation
- We hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership
In the 2019 – 2020 year we built on the foundations that were laid in our first couple of years of existence and, powered by the opportunities afforded by the Pandemic, we have been busier than ever. At the end of 2019 I felt that we were completing the work of our first Horizon, developing our Fellowship; clarifying who we are, what we do and how we do it, and creating our partnerships.
As we embark upon 2021 our second Horizon is becoming clearer.
Identify, support, nurture and encourage individuals through our Scholarships and Fellowships
From the outset Intersticia has sought to identify and support emerging leaders who are a little different, are prepared to take risks, are generous of spirit and have a deeply ingrained need to make the world a better place. I am often asked how we find our Fellows and those we choose to support.
The first filter is through our values which are those of authenticity, integrity, persistence, courage and grace. We look for these in how people approach us, how they present themselves, how they interact with the world and the sorts of things they value in life. These are what drive those of our current Fellowship and manifest in how they demonstrate their individual leadership.
The second is our belief that Intersticia is a community. We are not a leadership development or training organisation, nor are we a Charity that ‘sets and forgets’. Our intention is to recruit and embrace individuals who will contribute to and expand the work that we do both individually and collectively, and as a group collaborate to bring about positive change.
The third is the filter of need. There are many who apply for our support who come with worthy ideas that many other organisations will see merit in, and we often encourage them to find those organisations. As a small organisation our interest is in those people who often fall through the cracks, who often straddle multiple disciplines and who don’t fit neatly in to one category or another. These people provide the hidden connections which we see of great value.
We now have 21 people we have supported through Scholarships and Bursaries and of these 19 have been made Fellows (see https://intersticia.org/fellows/).
However, bringing people in to our Fellowship is just the beginning, and one thing that our work thus far has demonstrated is that it is not broadening our reach which is important, but deepening our connection and strengthening our impact. Of those we support some choose to continue being a part of, and contributing to, our community, others choose not to, which is their choice.
For those who stay with us there are four main areas that we have begun to focus on:
- helping our Fellows develop their own Authenticity as emerging 21st Century Leaders
- creating our Fellowship as a Community that shares experiences and learning
- supporting our Fellows to find their Voice in the stories they tell and work that they do
- harvesting these factors to build a collective Resilience in their work and individual lives
This year we have not been able to come together as a group physically but we held our 2020 Retreat online and appended this with Small Group sessions which continue in to 2021.
We have embarked upon a series of Intersticia Brave Conversations interviews with each of our Fellows produced online and available throughout the community. As a complement to this we have begun working with our Fellow Jess Chambers in her professional capacity as a Voice Coach to give all within our community additional skills in how they present themselves publicly.
Finally we have expanded our group of Advisors with the contribution of key individuals who are willing to help and support our Fellowship group. These people have been incredibly generous with their time, energy and enthusiasm – without them we couldn’t do all that we do.
Work with like-minded partner organisations to support entrepreneurship and innovation
We also could not do the work that we do without leveraging the partnerships that we have, in particular Goodenough College, the Web Science Trust, Founders and Coders (FAC) and Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG). It is through these organisations that we have been able to find new opportunities and innovative projects.
Our support of the Founders Programme began our formal partnership with both FAC and GSG and has resulted in three cohorts of Founders from both London and Palestine, and our first cohort of Founders (Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Ramy Shufara) has created the first spin out in Yalla, “a Web Design and Development agency which helps non-profits and impact-driven businesses drive positive social change in the tech sphere”.
In 2021 we aim to take this to the next level through the development of a pilot Apprenticeship Programme with Yalla employing two Gaza Code Academy Graduates.
Hold public events with a specific aim of promoting conversations and building skills in digital literacy and leadership
From the outset Intersticia has sought to operate within the interstice between society, culture and technology, the space of the Social Machine.
Our flagship activity is our Brave Conversations events which seek to educate the general public about the Social Machine and act as an Outreach activity for academic research of Web Science. We have now held events around the world, and, with the opportunity afforded by Covid in 2020, online.
Our plan for 2021 is to build on these foundations to further expand the footprint encouraging a greater partnership with the Web Science Trust and its network of Web Science Labs, beginning with our second event hosted by IIIT Bangalore in February 2021. We will also be an integral part of the 2021 Web Science Conference to be held online in June 2021 and intend to integrate content from the Web Science Untangling the Web podcasts in to our activities.
All of our events are listed below and on the Brave Conversations website.
2020 Brave Conversations Kav Mashve
2020 Brave Conversations Arabic/English
2020 Brave Conversations Southampton Online
2020 Brave Conversations Gaza
2020 Brave Conversations Bangalore
2019 Brave Conversations London
2019 Brave Conversations Boston
2019 Brave Conversations Melbourne
2018 Brave Conversations Kingston
2018 Brave Conversations London
2018 Brave Conversations at the World Government Summit Dubai
2017 Brave Conversations Canberra
Digital Gymnasia Series
In a ‘normal’ year we would usually hold a series of workshops at Goodenough College to promote digital literacy and digital skills to current students of the College. Given the restrictions on travel we have instead now developed our Digital Gymnasia Series which has been delivered throughout 2020 to students and Alumni of the College around the world. In 2020 we developed and delivered eight workshops which attracted between 20 – 30 attendees each time. In 2021 we will be delivering an additional four Gymnasia to the Goodenough community in 2021 on the topics of Building Digital Brands, Demystifying AI, Facilitating Online and Digital Governance. All of these are now being recorded to be made available online to the general public, especially the Boards of Charities and Not-for Profit organisations.
2020 has taught us the value of our networks and connections, whether they be IRL (in real life) or via the virtual medium. What I have found is that whilst I have been ‘grounded’ in my physical space here up on Pittwater and have connected more frequently with my local neighbours and community, I have been much more active with a broader range of people around the World and my Global community. I have spoken to my family and friends more often, I have held more meetings and I have been more productive than I have ever been. Through this I believe we have been given the opportunity to deepen our relationships this year, particularly with our Fellows and Advisors, who have all brought their personal experiences and challenges of negotiating and navigating through 2020 and shared without hesitation.
We have been given the opportunity to slow down and consolidate rather than madly race around looking for new adventures and shiny new distractions, and for that I am extremely grateful.
So what comes next? We have talked about our planned 2021 Retreat in Devon and following that we plan to take our Fellows to walk through the Sinai Desert led by our Advisor Louise Sibley. These face to face activities where we don’t have to rely on words but can commune as a group of humans physically together are now more important than ever. As are our ongoing Brave Conversations events where we ask our Fellows to share their thoughts about the work they are doing and perhaps the theme for 2021 may be “Brave Conversations Unplugging” as the World gradually unfreezes from it’s Pandemic state (thanks to Sam Crock for that idea).
More on that to come!
Emergencies fast-forward historical processes. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. (Yuval Noah Harari)
For the past few years I have been delivering Digital Skills workshops to interested students at Goodenough College, but the travel restrictions of Covid 2020 means that I’m stuck in Australia and so, like everyone, we’ve had to come up with new solutions and ways to engage.
The flip side is that Covid has brought about ‘the digital moment’ and we are all now participating in probably the largest global experiment as we harness digital media to remain connected, to craft new ways of staying in business, and to keep the wheels of industry turning.
With this in mind Goodenough College Dean Alan McCormack, Alumni Director Hannah du Gray and I decided that it was the perfect time to reach out beyond the current student body to all of our Goodenough community around the world and offer them the opportunity to more consciously think about the digital tools that they work with, and begin to develop some real digital muscle in order to more safely and securely navigate and negotiate our lives online.
Thus was born our Digital Gymnasia, a series of workshops where the emphasis is on education, play, and skill building through conversation and coaching and where we can explore some of the questions and issues which arise in a safe and non-judgemental space.
The Ancient Greek Gymnasia were places for physical activity but also places for intellectual pursuits and philosophical discussion. The word gymnos comes from the Greek unclothed which implies not just nudity but also a vulnerability and a need to exercise in order to attain skills to better prepare for the world around. The Romans continued the idea of the gymnasia with their Baths and we still use the term for both exercise facilities but also schools.
As I thought of what to name the series of digital literacy workshops that have emerged over the past few months the idea of the gymnasia seemed most appropriate. What we need at this time is not something to cure an illness or seek treatment but a space within which to play and test the equipment around us in order to build our confidence, capacity and capability in using it to live better and more fulfilling lives. In short we need to exercise our digital muscles in order to both safely use the equipment and, even better, successfully compete in the digital games that now surround us.
We have become digital in the last few years (especially with our phones) as well as physical beings. There is nothing in physical experience that can fully equip us with what that really means. (Doc Searls)
The tools of the Digital era have been gradually evolving but pre-Covid the legacy and stickyness of Industrial Age thinking has persisted – just consider the World Economic Forum’s idea of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. I would contend that whilst we still live in an ‘industrialised economy’ ever since the birth of the Internet and the Web we have been moving towards a Network Economy.
The Pandemic has provided both the need and the curiosity for many to explore the digital realm in new and unexpected ways. Up until now we have largely been retro-fitting the way we do things in the physical space in to the online environment – insisting on having conferences and events from 9 am t0 6 pm and not taking account of the affordances of the digital medium and how that impacts our emotional and mental needs or reactions. This is still happening but gradually we are becoming more confident and creative and what has surprised and delighted me is how creative people are becoming at working with the online tools – the democratisation of the digital space is enabling and embodying new creative solutions and expressions.
One example of this is Ruby Wax’s Frazzled Café which provides peer support meetings online. Ruby started her in person meetings at Marks and Spencer cafes but Covid has forced them to go online. When I asked her what she will do then some sort of ‘normality’ returns Ruby told me in no uncertain terms that the online Frazzleds will continue because they are so powerful and can reach so many people.
Ruby, and many like her have found the confidence to go online, to a space that they may not have felt comfortable operating in, but bit by bit they are experimenting and developing their digital muscle.
But as with all new exercises and fancy gym equipment it is often best to start off with an instructor, and that is what we are seeking to do with our Digital Gymnasia.
The format of Digital Gymnasia
Our first Digital Gymnasium focuses on the topic Digital 101, a session designed to explore how the socio-technical systems around us have evolved in order to understand where they are now in 2020 and imagine where they might be going. We focus on a brief history of information technologies coupled with some hands on exercises to determine peoples’ levels of digital literacy and awareness.
The second Digital Gymnasium focuses on The Digital Agora where we explore the world of online community spaces and how they are enabling us to remain connected despite the global lockdowns and quarantines. We begin by considering the affordances of digital interaction technologies and what benefits they provide as well as their limitations and consequences.
The third Digital Gymnasium focuses on Your Digital Brand and how we each craft our presence online. This session is built upon the work I have done over the past 2o years (and resulted in my PhD research, see here and here) which at the core considers how our lives online produce our ‘brand’. Our aim here is to really think about how we are perceived by others online.
The fourth and fifth Digital Gymnasia focus on Protecting Yourself Online and provides an overview of tools and techniques to better deal with online safely and security. Our aim is to get people actively engaged with their online security and more fully begin to understand the idea of digital identity.
The sixth Digital Gymnasium focuses on The Politics of Digital Technologies with an overview of how governments around the world are utilising digital surveillance technologies and systems in the name of Public Health. At the core of this is the concept of Trust which is multi-layered and an expression of our cultural norms and expectations. It is also a clear example of the lack of digital literacy and awareness in the Pubic Sphere.
The seventh Digital Gymnasium focuses on Seeing the World through Data – how data drives everything around us and why this is important. Data has been described as the new oil of the digital economy, but there is a lot more to it than that. In order to build digital muscle we need to understand what digital is made up of (think of how we monitor our diet through exercise) and data is the source. This workshop seeks to demystify the idea of data, information and knowledge to more effectively work with it as our digital systems evolve.
Our final Digital Gymnasium focuses on what being Born Digital means – how digital businesses differ from traditional bricks and mortar ones, but also how they are changing and what this means for the future of work, education, health care and many other aspects of our everyday lives.
These workshops are an opportunity for me and my colleague Leanne Fry (with whom much of this material has been developed and who has lived through the digital transformation of the past two decades with me) to reflect on the work we’ve done and to offer what we’ve learned to others in a way that we hope is useful, empowering and entertaining.
We would love you to join us.
If you are interested please just contact me.
Founders Joe Friel, Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, Kristina Jaggard with Dan Sofer and Anni Rowland-Campbell
Founders and Coders started life as “Self Organising”, a MeetUp at the British Library which led to a 6 week pilot at the Camden Code Academy in March 2014. The next step was a crowdsourced 8 week programme in January 2015 (FAC4).
Founders and Coders are now about to graduate their 17th cohort FAC17, and have helped to initiate Coding bootcamps in Nazareth, Gaza and Hebron.
I met Dan in 2015 and quickly realised that his vision of bringing the ability to code to all those who are interested in developing a ‘literacy for the modern age’, and ours of developing 21st Century leaders, were closely aligned. This resulted in our support to help him create the Tech for Better Founders Programme and ever since we have been exploring new ways to work together and develop both the technical and social skills required to lead in the twenty first century.
Our first cohort of Founders, Joe Friel, Simon Dupree and Michael Watts have now founded the first FAC ‘spin out’, the Yalla Co-Operative with Gaza Founders Ramy Shurafa and Asala Kamal.
Our second cohort, Oliver Smith Wellnitz and Kristina Jaggard finished their Founders work and are co-ordinating the 17th FAC programme.
Tech for Better – Founders 2 Projects 2019
Oliver and Kristina worked with a range of Palestinian Founders on three projects: Commons, HOWL, Business LaunchPad
The Commons: Networked City sought to progress work towards their ultimate goal of creating an online platform for supporting the development of communities and networks, both in a spatial (e.g. a local community) and interest (e.g. supporting at-risk youth) sense.
Team: Kristina-Talisa Jaggard, London Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, London Haneen Shahwan, Gaza, Ali Haj Ahmed, Gaza
HOWL (The History of Women’s Liberation (HOWL) group) is a group of aged 60+ women who were active during the Women’s Liberation Movement between the 1960s and 1990s who continue to contribute to the contemporary feminist discourse. Their central aim is to create a collection of stories, visual documentation and ephemera relating to the Women’s Liberation Movement in the United Kingdom
Team: Kristina-Talisa Jaggard, London Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, London Orjwan Al-Rajaby, Hebron Muhammed Shareef, Hebron
Business Launchpad aims to support young entrepreneurs (16-30) through running free workshops and mentoring sessions with groups and individuals. Part of their work involves collecting and digitizing information related to each individual’s journey in order to both better support them and to inform the future direction of the organization. They sought to create an app that would help to facilitate their data collection while also providing something that would be useful for young entrepreneurs.
Team: Kristina-Talisa Jaggard, London Oliver Smith-Wellnitz, London Salwa Mugh, Gaza Shaima Azmi, Hebron
Gaza Sky Geeks Second Cohort Founders
Haneen Shahwan – Graduate Coder
Haneen Shahwan is a software engineer who graduated from Gaza Sky Geeks Coding Bootcamp in 2016. She worked in the management field for one year then decided to return programming. Code Academy has challenged her and helped her develop her software engineering skills together with her skills in systems analysis, and her English and communication skills. She returns to Tech4Better so further develop the skills she began developing during the first round of projects.
Ali Haj Ahmed – Graduate Coder
Alis has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics Engineering, from Al-Azhar University, Gaza. He graduated in 2012 and joined the Business and Technology Incubator (BTI) at the Islamic University (Mobaderoon 2 project) before starting his own business in CNC Zone. He then decided to learn programming and joined Gaza Sky Geeks in mid 2018. He is keen to further develop his technical and communication skills as a team and community member.
Muhammed Shareef – Graduate Coder
Muhammad graduated from Palestine Polytechnic University in Aug 2018, with a BA degree in Computer Science. He joined the GSG Founders and Coders program to strengthen his programming, management, and social skills, and also to make good relationships with people out of his country.
Orjwan Al-Rajaby – Graduate Coder
Orjwan heard of Gaza Sky Geeks after being unable to attend College and then entered the Coders programme after hearing about them on Facebook. She is now a Fullstack Developer.
Salwa Mughessib – Graduate Coder
Salwa studied Electrical Engineering at Islamic University of Gaza and applied for Gaza Sky Geeks Code Academy shortly afterwards. She enjoys the community and meeting new and interesting people.
Shaima Ihdoosh – Graduate Coder
Shaima has an information technology degree from Palestine Polytechnic University graduating in July 2018. After graduation she was unable to find work and then did volunteer work to gain experience before hearing about Gaza Sky Geeks when browsing Facebook. She was keen to learn programming and communications and work with a team of students from other fields and joined the first GSG Cohort in the West Bank.
All Tech for Better Project GitHub Repositories and Descriptions:
 Initial meeting – Self-Organising Meeting at British Library – http://selforganising.org/
 6 week pilot Camden Code Academy March 2014 – https://vimeo.com/88149344
 Crowdsourced programme for FAC4 –
 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/05/wireless-in-gaza-the-code-school-bringing-hope-to-the-strip and https://medium.freecodecamp.org/something-within-me-whispered-be-the-builder-9a47fcc013f
 See https://intersticia.org/founders-and-coders-tech-for-better/ and https://www.foundersandcoders.com/techforbetter/)
 See https://www.yallacooperative.com/, https://www.freecodecamp.org/news/the-most-international-micro-agency-how-two-london-bootcamp-graduates-built-a-remote-3eeda0be1b2a/ and https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/indyventure/founders-coders-software-developer-academy-islington-gaza-yalla-a8907586.html
In July last year, before we had Intersticia UK properly set up, I wrote this post.
We are about to take Brave Conversations to the next level with events in Melbourne, Boston and London.
If we know that alternative futures are possible then we can start thinking about better ones. (Cory Doctorow, What should we do about democracy?)
In my last post I referred to Psychohistory, Isaac Azimov’s fictional science which combines history, sociology and the mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behaviour of very large groups of people – in other words to explore alternative future.
It has been said that the World Wide Web is a portent of precisely such a thing which is why those who invented it created the interdisciplinary field of Web Science.
“Research tries to anticipate time. If you’re reading the Economist it’s interesting facts.” (Luciano Floridi)
Since its public release in to human society the Web has evolved from being a small academically orientated Read Only (push information out) information community to a global publishing Read-Write infrastructure upon which almost 50% of humans interact with each other facilitated by the largest companies of the modern era.
The Web is changing the World, and the World is changing the Web
(see 10th anniversary video).
Not only do we communicate via the Web but increasingly it is becoming an environment where we actually live (Luciano Floridi) and as with all social ecosystems our ability to co-habit as a bunch of evolved apes is dependent on the rules and norms which govern how we act and treat each other.
“Civilization is but a thin veneer stretched across the passions of the human heart. And civilization doesn’t just happen; we have to make it happen.” (Bill Moyers)
In previous eras the relative rates of technical and societal change have been roughly equivalent. In the digital age this is not the case, which is why we created Brave Conversations in 2017.
Brave Conversations is the first non-academic but publicly focused Web Science event to provide people from all walks of life – industry, government, academia, and the community sectors – with the opportunity to sit back, reflect and respectfully explore the socio-technical issues beginning to arise as a result of digital information technologies. It carries on from MetaLounge, our first attempts from 2008 – 2011 to create these types of event, and has now had four iterations around the world; 2017 in Canberra; Dubai as part of the 2018 World Government Summit; London 2018 in partnership with SoapBox Islington, and Kingston, Jamaica in July 2018 hosted by the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission.
At each event I have been humbled and privileged to help facilitate and encourage people to be truly brave in addressing issues which have been both confronting and uncomfortable, but most importantly to feel that at the end of each session they have left slightly more educate and enabled, but most of all empowered, to more proactively navigate and negotiate their digital lives.
Throughout we have continually been asked “what is a ‘brave’ conversation“?
As we were designing the programme it struck us that the most valuable thing we could contribute to the global dialogue would be to intentionally confront people with ideas, concepts and suggestions that they may intuitively be aware of but were unable to explore, understand or articulate in a public space.
Our Canberra event taught us the importance of actively listening to, and integrating the voice of young people. It also demonstrated the benefit of having a diversity of voices in the room, sometimes creating discomfort and tension when language was a barrier, by which I mean those comfortable with technical language and those not. This is why we chose to partner with SoapBox Islington and a huge thanks to James Dellow, Nick Crivello and all the team there for their wonderful hospitality and terrific group of young people who joined us. Thank you also to Tris Lumley, Lydia Hascott and Jo Wolfe for their incredible support and amazing organisational skills in supporting Leanne Fry, Bel Campbell and me throughout.
Brave Conversations London in partnership with SoapBox Islington
“Technology challenges us to assert our human values which means that first of all we have to know what they are.” (Sherry Turkle)
As we were framing Brave Conversations London we reflected on the 2018 Data breach scandals and the calls for ethics to be more proactively integrated in to the development of digital technologies. But which ‘ethics’? Ethics, from my understanding, is relative and is based on how you see the world, what matters and how things fit together. As we explored this we determined that what was more important was to help people focus on and articulate their values as a foundation piece in order to have brave conversations, particularly as the group was quite diverse having a good mix of sexes, around a third under the age of 35, together with a number in their 70s, and one family of three generations.
In understanding the difference I found this to be a very useful overview:
- Values are the basic beliefs that an individual thinks to be true. Every individual has a set of values through which he looks at all things and also at the world.
- Ethics are guidelines or rules that are set for a society or an organization rather than for an individual.
- Values can be said to be the guiding principles in one’s life. ‘Value’ can be defined as a bridge by which an individual makes a decision regarding good and bad, right or wrong, and most important or less important.
- Ethics can be defined as set of rules formulated by a country or a company or some institutions. Ethics is mainly based on the moral values.
We crafted our values framework based on both an interpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs combined with Moore and Khagran’s Strategic Triangle for Creating Public Value. Not only did we frame our questions around the questions of ‘what Can we do‘ (logos, the technology) and ‘what Should we do‘ (ethos, culture) but we also highlighted the need to ask ‘what May we do‘ (pathos, authority).
In addition we created a very simple, but quite informative, algorithm to poll the group about their feelings towards technology asking four questions to elicit their confidence that five potential technology innovations would improve their lives.
This graphic shows the results - a score of -0.18, in other words they were not confident at all.
Whilst the exercise was both crude and we did not have a lot of time to explain it in detail, it was indicative in terms of the general feeling in the room over the two days and the flavour of the discussions that were held.
What we learned in London then informed how we framed the conversations for Jamaica.
“We need to ensure that future citizens have the human capacity to operate in the digital world.” (Dr Andrew Wheatley, MP, Jamaica)
I met Cordel Green at the Harvard Kennedy School and our mutual interest in digital literacy and the need to empower people in the digital world resulted in his very kind invitation to travel to Kingston to hold Brave Conversations.
Not only was I welcomed with open arms but I was almost overwhelmed by the hospitality I was given and a huge thanks to Cordel, Karlene Salmon, Don Dobson and all at Broadcom for giving me such a privileged insight in to Jamaica. Thank you also to Kemal Brown and his wonderful team who recorded it all.
Broadcom is the communications regulator in Jamaica, but not only is it doing that it is taking the lead in educating the Jamaican community about the world of information and both their rights and responsibilities in it. We kicked off with an interview on Smile Jamaica, the opening of the Jamaican Teachers’ Federation Conference, and a radio interview, all of which gave me some initial insights in to this wonderful country.
Many of the conversations I heard in Jamaica were similar to those I hear elsewhere, but with their own unique twist. Jamaica’s history, geography, climate and demographics have created an island paradise from which individuals have always shone on the world stage and of course writers such as Ian Fleming have been at their creative best.
Jamaica’s most pressing challenge is its crime rate. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017-2018 the most problematic factors for doing business in the country are Crime and Theft, Taxes and Corruption. But this links to so many other factors, and what resonated deeply for me was the determination to help young people develop the resources and resilience through both education and opportunity to help change this and determine a different future. This was coupled by the high level of religious affiliation which was proudly displayed and acknowledged.
When I was crafting Brave Conversations Jamaica I wondered what impact this would have particularly as one of the key thinkers we reference is Yuval Noah Harari, whose Homo Deus and interviews directly challenge traditional religions comparing them to the “playing of virtual reality games in order to give humans meaning and purpose”.
It proved to be a core part of the conversations, and an opportunity to push both boundaries and ideas.
Fear and love
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)
We chose the word brave because any discussion around technology forces us as human beings to confront our deepest beliefs, aspirations and above all fears – how we see and make sense of the world and above all the things we are afraid of losing – from the basics of safety and security, to the intimacy of love.
At each of our Brave Conversations a mini-community evolved within which there was a degree of discomfort, people did have to explore and listen to different, and often challenging, viewpoints, but there began to emanate both a sense of trust and the preparedness to be brave.
“The real existential risk is a loss of the ability to make sense of the world around us: what is worth doing, and what the likely effects of things will be.” (Daniel Schmachtenberger)
Having now run Brave Conversations in numerous countries, and with other invitations in the pipeline, we are keen to do whatever we can to help people better understand and appreciate the new digital space within which they are living.
What I have learned is that if we can provide the framework, the information and safe space for people to take a risk, present themselves as truly curious and smart humans, they will be brave and they willingly embrace the opportunity.
The real question of course is that armed with the insights of research, coupled with the power and communication afforded by our technologies, and with Humanity’s future at stake, can we afford not to be brave?
“Knowledge is power. To scrutinize others while avoiding scrutiny oneself is one of the most important forms of power.” (Frank Pasquale, The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information)
Recently I joined Tris Lumley and Baillie Aaron at New Philanthropy Capital’s Ignites Conference to talk about data. What was pleasing was that we had a room full of people genuinely interested in having a mature and robust conversation about data and it’s context, and that throughout the conference digital and technology pervaded. As Fran Perrin commented these issues which digital technologies raise are now becoming mainstream, and finally people are beginning to focus less on the technology and more on the skills, knowledge and resources that people need in order to work within the digital space.
I believe that we have now moved past the ‘digital’ age and we are entering the Age of Cognition, the age where everyone and everything, is rapidly being connected in to a Global Societal Mind, the ultimate Social Machine, where data is coming from all sources, not just digital. In December of this year a group of luminaries within the Internet/Web Worlds is coming together to celebrate the point in time where 50% of humanity is now online. As with all technologies there is a Faustian Bargain – whilst connectivity brings access to information, resources, communities and networks, underpinned by a disconnection to geography and place, it also brings forth challenges to individual privacy and liberty as the price to pay for security. The original vision of those who built the internet and the Web was to bring global connectivity to all humanity, but the consequences are only just beginning to be understood.
Amidst all of this progress the focus on the Machine is paramount, but what of the humans in this machine, and particularly those who lack the personal power and resources to push back and create some personal boundaries? To me this is this is why the Charity Sector and the practice of Philanthropy is so very important.
In May of this year I spoke at the Quilter Cheviot Charity Seminar (see my interview https://vimeo.com/276237074) and there were four key points that I made concerning our Sector:
- we need to recognise and appreciate how important we are, and the power that we have to represent the human in the digital age
- we need to be beneficiary, not funder, driven – we need to focus on the human needs of those we seek to help
- we need to lead the regulation rather than let the regulation lead us, precisely because we are beneficiary driven, and
- we need to embrace the emerging world of data as a positive challenge, not something to be afraid of, but rather something to harness but also to understand.
Phil-anthropy quite literally means “love” of “Man” and is traditionally interpreted as meaning the desire to promote the well-being of others through the giving of alms, or money to good causes.
As I see it the cause of humanity is the most important we currently have, in both the short and long term, and the three key challenges facing our very existence – which include Climate Change, Nuclear War and the rise of Artificial Intelligence – are those which should be just as important as the more immediate ones relating to everyday life.
Throughout history technology has been harnessed to address societal challenges, and in the 2000’s it was digital media that began to determine societal systems and processes. It changed business models, it changed expectations and provided hope for a better way to govern our societies. Many felt that by making information more open and accessible the power imbalance between the government and the governed would be redressed (see the Power of Information Report) and many governments professed to embrace the principles of the Open Data movement which sought to provide Transparency, Participation and Collaboration as a path to more open and accountable government. (For more on this see https://www.finance.gov.au/blog/2010/07/16/declaration-open-government/, https://opengovdata.org/ 8 Principles and https://www.opengovpartnership.org/open-government-declaration).
The promise of open data resulted in whole bureaucratic processes changing in the rush to publish public data, but sadly much of it was published in a way that was relatively useless (see the 2016 Open Data Report) where there developed a focus on the collection of data for its own sake, “just in case”, because one day, as our technologies become smarter and more powerful, the data collected would potentially be useful.
Underpinning all of this was the thinking that
What gets measured gets managed. (Peter Drucker)
If we could only gather all the data, measure everything that we can, and then apply smart algorithms and increasing processing and storage power, we could more effectively understand the world around us and solve the problems we face.
But do we all want to be managed? Where do we draw the line between privacy and security, between freedom and control, between dignity and insignificance, or perhaps irrelevance?
If Philanthropy has any role to play in the Age of Cognition it is, in my opinion, to fight to maintain the rights of human beings to retain their dignity, to recognise their value, and to maintain their sovereignty.
The more I have thought about this over the past couple of months the more the word Sovereignty keeps resonating in my mind.
Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.
Historically we have thought of the word in terms of nation states or kingdoms, but as the individual becomes both more empowered and more measured it is the dynamic between the individual (in the libertarian sense) and the individual as a cog in the wheel of the Social Machine that for me is the central issue which will determine the lives of each and every one of us.
So, as we increasingly become more and more an integral part of the Social Machine how do we slow things down and take the time to think about how we design our systems – of government, society and community – to ensure both human dignity, but also human sovereignty?
In a very early Web 2.0 Conference Professor Genevieve Bell asked
What if we designed for data the way we design for people?
This question is the most important of our age, and as Bailley talked about her work in prisons, and the rising awareness of the value of personal data, the need for everyone – but particularly those working in the Charity Sector – to understand that link between data and these fundamental human values is crucial.
At a Royal Institution event I heard Professor Gina Neff make no bones about the fact that Artificial Intelligence is becoming social infrastructure. The values baked in to the algorithms and operating systems that underpin our societies will determine how authority is given, taken and utilised in the digitally mediated world.
It will determine who we are, how we live and how we treat each other.
We cannot sit idly by and allow corporations and governments to determine these values, it is our sector, with our focus on our fellow human beings, that must take the lead and put true phil-anthropy first.
In my next post I will explore in more detail some ideas for precisely how the Philanthropic sector can take on this leadership.