Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Making An Important Shift in the World

The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.

--George Eliot

More about this quotation:

A Paradigm Shift in Seeing the Potential of Paradigm Shifts

This is an old post brought over from the second incarnation of this weblog. It helps to show a small paradigm shift over time in terms of skepticism and even cynicism . I had participated in the Blog Day for the Environment action though with a good measure of skepticism. Following that effort, I decided to see if my skepticism was warranted. At one level it was but at another it turns out being right is not always the best thing. Regardless how right one is on a particular issue, one's own ignorance makes taking a position of generosity and equanimity the most optimal choice, if change is possible then improvement is possible. That does not make this wrong but it should not be the primary focus.

Using Sphere It!

  • For "Blog Action Day" 975 in the last 24 hours 8,730 in the last 7 days
  • For "Iraq" 2,375 in the last 24 hours 29,951 in the last 7 days
  • For "Burma" 276 in the last 24 hours 4,146 in the last 7 days (Free Burma 86 in last 24)
  • For "Britney Spears" 420 in the last 24 hours 5,035 in the last 7 days.

My point is not that these endeavors are a waste of time. Again, as was said before we are planting seeds. It is that grandiose worldwide attempts to use the web seem often times superficial. Not only did my feeble effort make little difference, which is quite understandable, it added only a thin veneer of connection and substance to the overall effort by simply upping the numbers. I suspect that there were few blogs which did not normally write on this subject that added any real weight to the momentum. A concerted effort by those blogs with the experience and insight into this issue working in a collaborative fashion rather than just adding numbers on might have served the cause better. Especially, if there had been some real dialogs regarding balancing environmental concerns and economic development which is both sustainable and enhances human existence. It seems that the current effort was more of a Digg-type popularity contest, "I'm for good environment" whatever that means.

I do believe that the potential to use the Internet as a collaborative tool is inherent in the system but most of what I have seen of Web 2.0 falls short of that effort. Most of what I glean from the web and pass on has already been recycled at least once before I get it. The fact that I can connect with 100,000 people and have pictures of their cats does not interest me. Ok, I am not that social. The more people or tags I add on the more superficial each connection seems to become. That's fine if my interest is only one way communication or a two way communication limited to some narrowly defined purpose such as selling something. Most "conversations" within the blogs I have witnessed are unilateral monologues with no real resolution just somebody being the last to post. This though has nothing to do with the web, it is the people using it.

I am not against blogs or the dialogs that I have participated in or a number of other online activities. I enjoy them and find them interesting and informative. Still, unless it comes from an expert in the field, and do not put myself in that category, most of what is readily available from Web 2.0 so far looks like fluff. The potential of what could be done by cooperative individuals working together however looks immense. This could take place in academic, professional and social change organizations. Perhaps I am disappointed that there is often more emphasis on overall expanse of the connections rather than the substance of those connections. There are though also glimmers of hope out there.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Reading to Discovery, to Know, to Understand

One past web journey included a Marginal Revolution post by Alex Tabarrok that pointed to Nepal It’s a blog world, which included a number of useful connections by the writer Ashotosh Tiwari. I can agree with him that the Marginal Revolution posts can provide an education in economics. Trouble is separating out the politically based diatribes and the fact, as somebody else pointed out, that they are impossible to keep up with. Especially, with not being focused solely on economics.

Online readings seem to come across at different levels 1. Quick review to see if it is of any interest. 2. Browse through to get basic facts and positions. 3. Reading to compare to other posts and stimulate thinking. 4. Deep reading for new knowledge and understanding of issues. The first three are usually short posts or responses which are prevalent on the web. They are necessary because there is so much interesting stuff available and one does not want to miss out. The last are full length articles and scholarly papers which take time to read and digest and are a requirement to my mind for learning. The instantaneous nature of the internet seems to discourage this approach. I have found a good deal so far to read and digest and knowing the nature of the net will likely find far more. Posting to this weblog sometimes becomes less enticing because there is more interesting things to read or watch than there is to write about. Then, to help put it all together and have it make sense, comes again the urge to write or comment, like today.

For today the video below gives a pretty good synopsis of the current economic situation

Transcending Economic Castes

Although it is not the primary purpose of this weblog, I will still contribute on occasions to the comments under the Marginal Revolution blog. One in particular was a post on the caste system in India.

One reader's comments struck me as being particular relevant for where we are today.

"The tribulations of Russia's economic liberalization teaches us that doing the right thing 'too quickly' can be sub-optimal in the wrong circumstances, posted by Nick seemed to me to be a very valid point.

It again raises a comparison with China which I originally did back at the Why the Left should learn to love liberalism post. Some comparisons seem obvious but some insights from those with more experience and education would be appreciated. George David of United Technologies provides some comparisons between India and China in this MIT Sloan video (don't remember exactly where but the entire video is interesting).

I realize that this was off on a bit of a tangent, but it seemed we are talking about economic systems and their sustainability. Cross comparisons of current systems seem more enlightening that overly in-depth analysis of a hopefully antiquated system.

Sounded something akin to the Law of Unintended Consequences though this time from the side of the unfettered capitalists. It also argues that understanding local culture is as important to creating beneficial paradigm shifts as understanding economic principals. Something that may be relevant to the study of the mosquito nets.

Questioning Assumptions

There is no great desire to get too immersed into what seems to be the tit-for-tat gotchas of Marginal Revolution coments again, because they either offer little real insight into economics just political bickering or are just too much technical minutiae. There are a few posts that get to the heart of what is of interest. One particular example directly questions a previously held premise. Tyler Cowen introduces us to Vivian Hoffman, currently a Ph.d. candidate at Cornell.

Here is the abstract on her main paper

This paper reports results from a field experiment in Uganda. Whether a mosquito net was purchased or received for free affected who within the household used the net. Free nets were more likely to be allocated to those members of the household most vulnerable to malaria, whereas purchased nets tended to be used by the household's main income earners. The effect was strongest for free nets received by the mother, increasing the probability that all children five and younger slept under nets by 26 percent relative to when nets had been purchased by either parent or given to the father.

This makes a seemingly substantial argument against the social entrepreneurship approach as it relates to the distribution of mosquito nets. Of course what it might be indicating is that women, in these situations, should be making the economic decisions and not men regardless of whether it was charity or social entrepreneurship. The social status of mean and women and their interrelationships has shown to be very important in these programs. The Grameen successes were, as I understand it, mostly with women.

Vivian does, however, find the discussion on the Marginal Revolution blog helpful having far greater familiarity with the language of economics.

Thanks everyone for your interest in my work. In my current revision I’m dropping the (tedious and unnecessary) theory section and dealing with the potential sample selection bias arising from the fact that I only observed net use in the households that purchased any nets. The new version should be up tomorrow (what timing!!)

Posted by: Vivian at Oct 16, 2007 7:39:29 PM

Learning to be True is Better than Learning to be Right

Another blog that this site connects to is Seth Godin's. One of Seth's post particularly applicable is on “The need to be right”. Often more energy is spent trying to support our positions than in trying to find the truth. Seth offers a different perspective.

I like being wrong. Not enough to make a habit of it, but enough to realize that I'm actively testing scenarios. Take a fact of dubious authenticity, riff a scenario around it and see if it feels right. That act of scenario building is a key factor in brainstorming, in creativity and in problem solving. If you need the core fact to be guaranteed right and perfect, you're doomed, because facts like that are in short supply.

Another insightful post was “What you need to fight the manual” on how to change yourself to keep from being outsourced. The idea of depending upon a manual can be expanded to the rest of life. Because we all write our own standard operating paradigms in life, which we come to depend upon. Combining both of these perspectives of Seth give the following insight.

I know, there's a huge need to have right facts and right practice, particularly in jobs where quality of service is essential. Got that. My point is that we're so good at getting those sort of facts right that maybe, just maybe, we need to spend more time teaching people the other stuff. Short version: if your job can be completely written up in a manual, it's either not a great job or it's going to be done by someone cheaper, sometime soon

Finally Seth provides a great connection for the Web 2.0 realm. How to do everything better (online). According to Seth,

The folks at mashable.com do absolutely amazing work. In addition to a useful news feed about what's up online, they regularly put together lists of stuff to make you more productive

Seth also provides his own list of impressive mash-ups

Power of Web 2.0

The good folks at Google found my second incarnation. So now I have the ability to pick and keep the good and leave behind the bad. If only life was like that. There were a number of posts that I liked, not because of anything I did, but because of what they connected to. They also connected to the flow of what I am trying to learn and accomplish with this weblog. This one in particular puts my desire to learn more about Web. 2.0 in a concise framework.

The Best Explanation of Web 2.0 So Far.

Self-Reflection thru Interconnection Self-Reflection thru Writing

Although this is definitely still a work in progress, I finally have a better notion of what I am trying to accomplish with this weblog. Despite having made pronouncements a number of times, the definitions remained vague and tenuous. This weblog is a vehicle for interconnected self-reflection.

Having lost the second incarnation of this weblog has made a difference. One is realizing how bad some of the writing had been. I need to realize that what is in my head is not necessarily what is on the page. To help with this, I am linking up to Whitesmoke and to the Paradigm Online Writing Assistant. Another realization brought on by self-reflection is that even though only a very few persons at best are reading this, I am still concerned about the quality. The mere act of externalizing some thoughts with only the chance of them being seen still creates a need to ensure that some level of quality is maintained and enhanced.

Still another realization is the truth behind Hugh Macloed's writings and of the Gaping Void video on Being Creative. It is the knowledge and experience of the person behind the blog or website that makes the difference, not the bells and whistles. Of course there is still the need to get the knowledge and experience in putting together the bells and whistles which is its own form of design and art. My newbie discoveries have not surprisingly done by others and better.

One self-realization is that at one level the writing has nothing to do with the web. It is the writing itself that is an exercise in self-reflection as a form of mental self-definition. The interconnected component of this endeavor allows me to connect with a wide range of other sources having a diversity of ideas and perspectives. It is again the individual behind the writing and who has the good or bad ideas, whether by web or by print, who is important.

Although not at the level of establish writer, the exercise does afford the novice some of the same insights. I ran across this article from the Los Angeles Times.

In Topanga Canyon, watching, waiting . . . writing - Los Angeles Times

I sit and write in the face of chaos because that's my job. How else would I be able to feel pain for those who suffer the results of fire and the anxiety that stirs all kinds of emotions in my gut? I need a flow of words to understand my own feelings, and to reach out to our neighbors in Malibu and to those in danger to the north, to the south and to the east." Al Martinez

This is by a professional writer in the midst of an ongoing tragedy but the concept applies to anybody trying to find their place in a constantly changing world. Now the fires have abated and people are starting to rebuild their lives. A very informative report on the fires can be found at the blog serendipityoucity, found previously by this site, which is an excellent example of some of what this weblog is trying to achieve. However, to get to the real heart of a matter for our own understanding can take the skills of a good writer.