In this week's Off the Cuff podcast, Chris and Jim discuss:
- Bitcoin Bubble?
- The price action looks like one
- The Japan experiment
- Look East to see our future
- In Fraud We Trust
- Our banking system is run on accounting fraud
- Staying Sane
- Focus on what’s under your control
Qatar University to host Time Bank
Sheikha Abdulla Al Misnad, President of Qatar University, and Michael O’Neill, British Ambassador, with volunteers for ‘Time Bank’ at Qat
- Blue Angels Grounded by Budget Cuts for Rest of 2013
- Cyprus Faces Risk of Payments Freeeze, Budget Shortfall Looms
- Arizona gold bill moving forward
- Five million households in debt to energy firms
- Fitch Cuts China Yuan Debt Rating on Local Government Borrowing
- French economy stalls as budget deficit grows
- Stately Detroit Homes Rot As Appraisals Stall Sales
- US homeless numbers expected to rise as spending cuts deepen
- Italians' spending power crumbles in recession
- Bass Says Japan Bondholders’ Reaction to Stimulus Telling
- Interest on government student loans set to double this summer
- Americans Skipping Prescription Meds To Save Money
For college students, the end of the school year is near. Finals are being crammed for, summer adventures are being planned, job prospects are being explored and move-out plans are being made. But, over the course of a year, in addition to collecting knowledge and memories, students have also accumulated a lot of stuff; stuff that many of them won’t take with them.
So where does all the excess stuff—we’re talking desks, lamps, vacuums, couches, clothing, electronics, etc.—go? Too often, it ends up in campus dumpsters. But students and schools with a mind for sustainability have created programs that provide alternatives to throwing perfectly good stuff away.
Across the country, there are campus collection and redistribution programs that divert goods away from the landfill and into the hands of people who can use them. Programs include Arizona State’s Ditch the Dumpster, University of New Hampshire’s Trash2Treasure, UConn’s Give & Go, Yale’s Spring Salvage, UC Santa Barbara’s GIVE Sale, San Francisco State’s Sustainable Move Out and many more.
Some programs collect items and distribute them immediately to local nonprofits; some sell the goods and put the money into the community; other programs store the collected items and sell them to returning students in the fall.
If you’re interested in starting a collection and redistribution program on your campus, there are a couple of ways to begin. The first is to start on a grassroots level. Talk to those around you, come up with a plan for collecting and distributing the collected goods, and make it happen on a person-to-person basis.
The benefit of this approach is that there are no administrative constraints. You can simply coordinate locally, collect and distribute. The downside is that, without administrative assistance, transportation, storage and funding, all costs, marketing and organizational requirements fall on you. This approach, while effective for diverting a small amount of stuff from the landfill, may be overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that is thrown out on a campus-wide level.
Salvaging reusable items from NYU's dumpster. Creative Commons photo by mecredis
Perhaps the biggest challenge of collecting and redistributing items is storage. If you plan to redistribute the goods to returning students, you need a large storage facility to hold the collected items until the Fall.
“The problem is the delay,” says Hans Schoenburg, co-founder of Giftflow, who also founded a free store in New Haven, Conn. with items donated during a college move-out collection. “No one’s buying furniture when everyone is moving out. But there’s enormous potential to do good with the stuff.”
One way around the storage issue is to distribute items immediately to local nonprofits and community centers. Another strategy is to set up, like Schoenburg and his team did, a free store that’s open to the community at large.
“Running the free store with the discarded stuff was a wonderful opportunity to build community and bring together people who wouldn’t have otherwise interacted," he says. "It’s a great way to build community around reuse and bring awareness to how wasteful we can be.”
The Free Store in New Haven, Conn. Photo courtesy of Hans Schoenburg
Another way to go about starting a collection and reuse program is to get the administration behind you. While this approach may slow down the process as you’ll be in the world of proposals, budgets and boards, the benefit is that with the administration’s help, the program can scale to a campus level. There may be funds available to hire a small staff, provide designated drop-off bins and trailers and pay for the transportation and storage of the items.
Kristen Lee, Yale’s 2013 Spring Sustainability Fellow, who is running the school’s Spring Salvage, emphasis the importance of working with the administration to actually get things done.
“If a student organization is looking to be successful in the long term,” she says, “I would say support the interests of facilities management, or operations-type organizations within their college. If they’re met with open ears, the transportation and storage that that type of entity can provide is valuable. Don’t reinvent the wheel,” she continues. “Work within the infrastructures that already exist.”
Starting or supporting a program that diverts reusable items from the landfill is a great way to conserve resources and draw attention to how much we waste. As Schoenburg says, “The biggest problem with a lot of waste is that it goes out of sight, out of mind. We become unconscious of it. An effort to reuse and recapture,” he continues, “also brings awareness to the act of wasting itself.”
Tips for starting a collection and reuse program on your campus:
The Basics: Have designated donation days and areas then transport the items to a central location to be sorted and either stored or distributed.
Teamwork: “When 9,000 students leave campus in the course of a week, you have to be on top of your game,” says Elizabeth Kather, who is part of ASU’s Ditch the Dumpster team. “You need a dedicated team--one that can be nimble as things change and react quickly to the needs of the program.”
Start Early: If you want to make the project sustainable, you have to start early. Charles Zhu who started Yale’s Trash to Treasure program says, “Start as a freshman or sophomore and start building a community around this idea. That’s the only way you can sustain this idea for years afterward.”
Find Support: Partner with both the administration and also student organizations. Kather says, “We work hard to get other student organizations involved...Our team is very diverse and involves facilities, custodial, sustainability student organizations, university housing and our partner in donations and giving, Swift Charities for Children.”
Close the Loop: To minimize the amount waste being created, try to put the stuff back into the community it came from. Ideally, this means providing the goods for reuse on campus, but logistics may necessitate putting them into the larger community.
Scalability: Zhu advises, “Look for solutions that can be scalable across the country. So often, you see these programs have a spurt of growth for a couple of years then they just fall apart after the original students graduate.”
Get Creative: In addition to storing and selling items back to students in the Fall, Zhu’s Trash to Treasure program stored stuff for students who didn’t want to get rid of it but had no way to transport it. His solution was to park four large trailers on a vacant parking lot and store things that students wanted to have back in the Fall.
Do Something: As Kather says, “Start small, but start something. There is too much going into landfills and trash collection that can be reused or recycled. College students want to make a difference and just need an outlet.”
What’s your experience with campus move out collection programs? What works well? What could be improved? Share your experience in comments.
This podcast featuring Michael Shuman, Jenny Kassan, and Elizabeth Ü, is a “must watch.” It clearly explains the options available to savers, investors, and entrepreneurs.
One of my goals throughout this year of living in the Sharing Economy is to experiment with how the various sharing services can work together. In this experiment, I found a way to use the services of TaskRabbit to support my Airbnb microventure without having to pay a dime out of pocket for either service.
Sweaty Gear and Plastic Wrapped Windows
As I prepped to start renting my bedroom on Airbnb, I was faced with a pretty serious amount of cleaning. I spend most of my weekends outdoors so I have a fairly high tolerance for grime and discomfort in my personal living space. However, now that I’ll be sharing my room with paying guests I don’t think they’ll appreciate the smell of sweaty gear and the feng shui of plastic wrapped windows.
This is the general state of my bedroom (read: rock climbing crack house). My bed is awkwardly pushed into the corner to make room for the gratuitous amounts of outdoor gear sprawled out on the floor. Over 50% of the total items I own are pieces of outdoor gear, so it makes sense that they also occupy more than 50% of my floor space. To me this looks and smells like adventure, a constant reminder that the weekend is getting closer. The plastic wrap on the windows is a long story, but for the sake of my future guests I finally fixed the draft with a more aesthetically pleasing solution.
Using TaskRabbit to go from Sketchy to Marketable
Picking up my gear was easy enough, but my apartment floors needed a deep cleaning. Over the course of a week, I looked into several professional cleaners and their average prices were well over $100! For an easy job, I found this to be at the cost/convenience threshold where I would rather just do it myself. Also, I didn’t feel comfortable about any of the companies I researched because they didn’t have many reviews on Yelp so who knows if Joe Shmo Cleaning Company would be worth the $100 or not.
Then I went to TaskRabbit, a website that connects people who need things done with people who can get things done. It was my first time using the website and it was one of the best user experiences that I’ve ever had on the web. I was blown away with how simple and efficient the process was. Within one day of putting a solicitation on the website, I received 12 offers from individuals in Boston. I chose the lowest bidder ($60) because she had 14 positive reviews on other house cleaning tasks throughout the city (more than any professional company I saw on Yelp).
My TaskRabbit was enthusiastic, friendly, and spent three hours cleaning. Indeed, she did a great job but due to being fairly overweight, she couldn’t stand up on a chair to clean the tops of our windows. I might have been upset if a professional cleaning service had left with only cleaning half of my windows, but who really needs a professional service anyway? For me, choosing TaskRabbit was about time, money, and relying on positive reviews. I needed to complete this task quickly, with little effort, and on a budget. Professional services just didn’t offer this, so TaskRabbit was exactly what I needed.
Combinations in the Sharing Economy
One week after the TaskRabbit experience, I had Airbnb’s professional photographer come over to take pictures of the apartment. Airbnb offers a free photography service because it is in everyone’s best interest (guest, host and Airbnb) that the online listing looks good. The pictures came out great but there was a four-week delay between me requesting the photographer and Airbnb actually posting the photos online. After some digging, I found that this delay was due to a backlog at Airbnb so be prepared to wait. Also keep in mind that this service isn’t available in every city. If you’re not a photographer, I’d recommend recruiting a TaskRabbit and spend a few dollars to do a proper job. Avoiding sketchy cellphone pics will only increase the likelihood that a guest would book your place.
I get a lot of questions from friends about Airbnb like “What if they trash your apartment while you’re gone?” or “What if they steal all your stuff”. To the latter question, Airbnb has $1,000,000 in insurance that covers damage and theft. You can also warn other hosts by giving negative reviews to poorly behaving renters. These reviews stay with community members and will ultimately dictate their success as Airbnb guests. Therefore reputation is paramount and users of this service try very hard to keep up the good vibes. As for making a mess, Airbnb allows you to use a deposit that you can claim if your guests have abused your place. I require my guests to put down a deposit of $100 that would cover the cost of a basic cleaning on TaskRabbit and then some.
Ultimately, I plan to use my Airbnb revenue to cover my recurring monthly cleaning through TaskRabbit. Using these two Sharing Economy services to support each other means that I won’t actually end up spending any of my own money (read: from my day job). This will keep the apartment in tip-top shape, an overall win for everyone involved.
A bunch of great ideas and ways to use salt. Time to stock up!
- Doctors Driven To Bankruptcy
- Nearly 25% of Canadian nurses wouldn't recommend their hospital
- PoliceOne Gun Control Survey: Are legally-armed citizens the best solution to gun violence?
- RBC’s now tarnished reputation tangled up in government crosshairs
- North Korea - a country never at peace
- Japan increasingly nervous about nukes as North Korea warns they will ‘pay a dear price’ for backing U.S.
- Don Pittis: Iron Lady's economic secret was really crude, oil that is
- Green Living is a Necessity, Not a Luxury: Interview with Dan Shapley
- Think You're Eating Tuna? Think Again
- Stroll’s 2013 Locavore Index Ranks States in Terms of Commitment to Local Foods
Bitcoin is analogous to gold in that it is hard to produce and acquire, its supply is limited, it can be exchanged anonymously, and it’s path cannot easily be traced. That has some good socio-political implications and some bad ones. Here is an article that sketches a fairly clear picture of some of that. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-05/bitcoin-really-is-an-existential-threat-to-the-modern-liberal-state.html
The emergence of Partido X (Spain), Partido de la Red (Argentina), Red Sustentável (Brasil) and Wikipartido (Mexico) suggest a new era in politics. Net (InterNet) parties incorporate the open, horizontal and leaderless processes associated with free software and social movements such as 15M.
“The party is a platform, not an ideological stance”; “The party is a tool used to convert the ‘one for many’ structure, into a ‘many for many’ conversation”; “The party should be both a movement and a platform”; “The party aims to develop a method, not an ideology.”
These aren’t mere political slogans. These are statements which define, respectively, the essence of the Wikipartido (Mexico), Partido de la Red (Argentina), Rede Sustentabilidade (Brasil) and Partido X (Spain). All four first appeared in recent months. And together they seem to pose a question to representative democracy: If the Net is changing every aspect of society, how is it that democracy remains based on 19th century form and technology?
These four parties didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, they evolved from other parties, such as the Spanish Wikipartido, Sweden´s Demoex, Equo, the Pirate Party, Lista Partecipata from Italy or the Partido de InterNet. These parties, despite their differences, already shared some points in common. A big one: technology isn’t just a set of tools for spreading ideas. Technology is the new process that changes the way we work, make decisions, and communicate. For example, Equo open-sourced their program for the Spanish General Elections of November 20, 2011. Meanwhile, The Pirate Party uses a participatory, interactive program called Liquid Feedback, where each voter can cast their vote through a web of trust. Special mention goes to the Spanish Wikipartido, which, long before the birth of the 15M movement, was experimenting with building collective proposals. Using the motto “Collective Intelligence: Better Decisions,” Wikipartido proudly states in their wiki platform that “every citizen has the right to propose legislature”.
What do Net parties bring to the political scene, and what differentiates those described above? First of all, unlike Equo for example, they aren’t led by familiar faces. The Wikipartido in México clearly states that ”Any attempt to generate a new political option will undoubtedly fail if built around a personality.” Partido X goes even further. It defies persistent political self-promotion by continuing (despite criticism) to protect its members identities. The Argentinian Partido de la Red explicitly criticises the “personalismo” (self-promotion) of current politics in their highly recommended Web Manifesto, which states that: “#StuckDemocracy is a bargain-basement supermarket forcing the debate and election of prominent figures, as opposed to ideas”. One notable exception would be the Brazilian Rede Sustentabilidades, centered on the charisma of the popular Marina Silva, a fact which could be explained by the anthropology of the country´s affections.
Regardless, the biggest difference between the new Net parties and the old is something else: their open program. Both the Pirate Party and Partido de Internet have very specific objectives regarding Internet freedom, free licenses and participatory democracy. And Equo doesn’t try to hide its green face. The Candidatura d´Unitat Popular (CUP) - a Net-born Catalonian Party – defines itself as “Anticapitalist, Separatist Left.” Despite this, Net parties are, above all, open processes. They are also, by choice, unfinished mechanisms. The aim is to create platforms, protocols and tools that can employed by others. Anyone can use the mechanism, regardless of the content created with it.
The Partido de Red defines itself as “a #HumanWeb without a center, sharing knowledge, experiences and wisdom.” The Wikipartido of Mexico, in the word of its founder, Alfonso Tamés, “wants to work just like Wikipedia”. And Partido X, rather than develop a full program, insists on the construction of a basic infrastructure of platforms and tools to activate the collective intelligence. Their Democracy. Period – the only item in their program – is precisely that, a process. Social software, a space for dialogue. The party-as-software equation is one of the defining features of the new bottom-up dynamic being fostered by the Argentinian Partido de la Red: “#PartidodelaRed” uses Software for the construction of collective thought and the promotion of new interactions between citizens and policy.”
Another common thread is the perceived lack of ideology of the new Net parties. Traditionally, being “neither left nor right” was taken to mean being a centrist. Or anarchist, ultra right wing or apolitical. Within the new logic of the Internet, it can mean something quite different. In complex networked systems, 2 + 2, as the theorist Kevin Kelly likes to remind us, almost never equals 4. Asking an old question to try and explain something new just won’t work. For example, do transparency, participation and network horizontality have more to do with the political left than the right? Santiago Siri, expert on social networks and member of Partido de la Red, drops a few clues in a recent essay: “Never before have we been the objects of one another´s attention as much as we are now, in our routine online experience…and that is neither good nor bad, it’s simply new.”
What about traditional parties. Aren’t they trying to incorporate Net dynamics, open processes and interactivity? Antonio Guitíérrez Rubi, in his essay, The Political Party as a Social Co-Working Space complains that “the day-to-day workings of political parties are becoming less and less attractive, stimulating and creative for many citizens.” Additionally, Joan Subirats, director of the Institute of Government and Public Policy (Instituto de Gobierno y Políticas Públicas or “IGOP” in Spanish) states that certain parties, such as UPyD or Ciutadans de Catalunya, “are trying to play at New Politics.” They claim to be neither left- nor right-leaning. Instead, their operations and ideologies contradict much of the essence of what would be considered a Net party.
In fact, traditional parties aren’t even seeing themselves reflected in the mirror of the web. They don’t understand non-hierarchical leadership. The meritocracies that emerge in free-software and networked systems are unknown to them. One sentence from the Web Manifesto sums up the abyss separating traditional political parties from the Internet’s aggregate logic: “#Pairs are plural: not governed by adversarial logic, they seek synthesis, rather than displace the other”.
It´s possible that Net parties may never govern a country. But it’s also very possible that, before long, they may change the rules of the political game forever.
Originally in Spanish. Translation by Stacco Troncoso & AM Utronco/Guerrilla Translations.
Conventional thinking and reporting has it that Japan is conducting a larger version of the same monetary experiment they’ve been running for about 15 years. The implication here is that we can safely analyze what Japan is up to through the same monetary lens as always, but with a slightly wider aperture.
By now, we are all familiar with the details. Japan has initiated a program of monetary expansion that goes by the shorthand of 2-2-2. In 2 years, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) will fully double the monetary base as they seek a minimum of 2% inflation.
If you follow the River Dart from where it meets the sea in Dartmouth (a small harbor town in Southwest England) to its many sources high up on Dartmoor (one of England’s largest national parks) you would travel a landscape that is both timeless and ever-changing. Standing atop one of Dartmoor’s large outcroppings of granite, you can actually begin to see the planet’s carbon cycle at work.
Carbon is removed from the atmosphere when it bonds with calcium stored in this granite, eventually washing out into the ocean by means of the River Dart, flowing just below. Carbon sequestered in the ocean, and in Dartmoor’s granite, has helped cool the Earth for billions of years, which is why ecologist and author Dr. Stephan Harding has called Dartmoor the “Earth’s refrigerator.” But a bit too much carbon fills the refrigerator these days, in part because of a carbon-intensive, recklessly consumptive global economic system.
Thus it is no surprise that, also along the River Dart’s humble banks, sit two of the most innovative responses to this period of great ecological and social uncertainty: Transition Town Totnes, the birthplace of the global Transition Network and Schumacher College, an international hub of ecological thinking and transformative education.
Inspired by an emerging understanding of holistic science, and motivated by the manifold threats to the delicate fabric of life, Schumacher College was formed 20 years ago as a center for rigorous learning and holistic living in the spirit of E.F. Schumacher, the famous economist known for his seminal book Small is Beautiful. Building on many years of short courses, and the pioneering Master of Science in Holistic Science, the College began the first ever Master of Arts in Economics for Transition in 2011, to explore the evolving field of new economics and embody Fritz Schumacher’s mantra, “economics as if people mattered.”
Drawn by the integration of ecological thinking, community living, and the chance to learn from some of the world’s most dynamic thinkers and activists, I joined 10 others from around the world in the MA’s inaugural cohort. It was a wholly unique experience, educationally as well as personally. In integrating rigorous learning with the daily responsibilities of maintaining and providing for our collective wellbeing--through cooking, cleaning, gardening, and celebrating--the College community became a place to live toward our values, as well as a process of deepening into ourselves and our relationships.
Almost a year after leaving the College and forested banks of the River Dart, I spoke with program designer and co-head of economics, Julie Richardson, about how the Economics for Transition program is working to shift deeply ingrained worldviews, and give voice to more generative ways of organizing our economic relationships in an age of transition.
CT: E.F. Schumacher was known primarily as an economist. Why an economics graduate program now after 20 years of courses at Schumacher College? Why is his message uniquely relevant now?
JR: Well, I think it’s always been an ambition for the college to have a postgraduate program in economics, and ever since the college started, economics has been a core theme of our short course program. Much of the thinking for the MA Economics for Transition came out of the existing master’s program in Holistic Science. So I see this program as a combination of ecological thinking--new thinking in science, what we can learn from healthy living system to evolve healthy societies and healthy resilient economies--as well as integrating that with thinking from new economics, “Schumacher economics,” which is more relevant today than it ever was. In fact, Schumacher was one of the first economists to incorporate ecological thinking into the economic domain and was the inspiration for the whole “new economics” movement in the UK and Europe and worldwide.
Somebody once asked me, “Well, what do you think Schumacher economics looks like in the 21st century? Is it relevant in the 21st century?” I think even more so, but I think its Schumacher networked. It’s still the issue of appropriate-scale local economies, but networked with other similar projects and local economies worldwide, so you actually create a mass movement for change that is context-specific.
CT: What is the significance of the ecological worldview for addressing issues such as social and economic justice, which have really come to the forefront through things like the Occupy Movement?
JR: I think that really gets to the nub of the issue of where values come from, whether ecological thinking is enough in itself. Personally, I don’t think it is. I think it can help us learn about life-sustaining systems and principles around resilience and adaptation and cooperation. But I think the issues of our human social systems also have the important question of values. Where do values come from within ecological systems? Do they evolve out of the relationships? Or do you have a value-based system which is the founding principle, and then relationships evolve out of that? I think that is really where some of the most exciting thinking is happening at the moment. It’s around that role of values and how they are integrated with ecological thinking. Because I don’t think ecological thinking in and of itself is sufficient. I think it’s very important for understanding the qualities of a healthy whole system. But the issue of values is more about the evolution of human consciousness.
CT: How is the program interacting with and learning from the community in which it is embedded: Totnes and the Transition Network, as well as Dartington and its rich legacy of innovation and experimentation?
JR: Well, the strategy of the College at the moment is two-pronged. We call it: “rooted in place” and “networked worldwide.” The “rooted in place” is about putting the more academic principles into practice in the local community or in a region. Our vision would be that we work in partnership with Transition Town Totnes, Dartington Estate, other land owners, and the School for Social Entrepreneurs to demonstrate and co-evolve what a sustainable, resilient social and economic system looks like in our neighborhood. And then we work with others to create an international network of resilient economies and resilient societies. And they would all be different obviously because they would be context specific.
(Here in Dartington) we are setting up a new social enterprise incubator specifically for graduates from (the School for Social Entrepreneurs) to develop their own initiatives which will hopefully take root in their locality.
You know, after my time studying in the Holistic Science course, I thought, “what the hell does this look like in practice in the social and economic domain, and how can I communicate some of these principles?” So I set up the Landscope project on the Dartington Estate, which was very much inspired by ecological thinking. We were trying to create a network or a circular economy of small enterprises where the waste of one activity fed into another activity and they were connected together in what I call “economies of scope,” rather than economies of scale. The Landscope model is still the inspiration for the Land Use Plan on the Estate to develop this community of small scale social-environmental enterprises.
CT: How do you hope this course moves out into the world? In other words, how is it preparing next generation leaders to bring about systemic change in their own communities?
Learning at Schumacher College involves a wide range of teaching and learning approaches, including student-led classes (Photo: Brigita Laykovich)
JR: I think it gives a combination of knowledge, inspiring ideas and projects; it also gives people an experience of community living. For people in the West this is one of the challenges that we face: we are not accustomed to community living and collaboration and sharing. But not just in a sort of airy fairy way, it’s actually quite difficult to live in a community. I think that is a huge part of the value of the Schumacher Project.
So on one hand, part of it is the formal learning that happens in the classroom where students explore different concepts and develop skills in say, group facilitation. The other half of it is living and working in community in a more collaborative environment and learning it by living it. Practicing the values of bringing the new economy into being. Practicing cooperation and fair exchange, putting some of those principals into practice.
Interestingly, we have a delegation of 28 students coming from the London School of Economics--disillusioned students on their Environment and Development program. They are going on a tour of Transition Town Totnes, then going out to Dartmoor to learn about Gaia Theory and Deep Ecology, and then they are coming to live at the College for a day or two. They are seeking an alternative to the top-down, knowledge-based Master’s program. CT: So what were the major learnings after the first year of the course for you? Where is the program going from here?
JR: One of the learnings is this balance between breadth and depth. This year the second module is quite different. Rather than trying to do a huge canter through this very heterogeneous subject of new economics with many, many different strands, we picked up key questions like concepts of economic growth, sustainable growth and steady state economics and explored those over longer periods. There are now eight “Big Questions” which are explored in a balance of different types of teaching and learning methods--some presentations, some group discussions, some student-led sessions, which have apparently been the best! Surprise, surprise!
I remember when I did my economics degree, I came out and felt I couldn’t really read the newspaper and make sense of it. But I could use mathematical equations to differentiate, etcetera. I didn’t feel very literate and useful in day-to-day conversations around economics. That module now enables people to be much more literate about the big economic questions they are going to face when they come out of the program.
The New Economics module is also much more applied. We do a lot more visiting real projects on the ground, so the learning comes from looking at what’s working in practice--learning the theory from the practice.
CT: That’s fantastic.
JR: There’s also the whole theme of what we called “personal transition,” which underpinned the program but which didn’t come across so clearly the first year. We are trying to strengthen that much more by looking at people’s own personal learning journeys and having structures for them to form ideas around their own personal transition, which I think will help a lot in terms of next steps on leaving the program. And I must say that some of the most amazing and fascinating things that I was reading in the various assignments were those personal learning journeys. Really inspiring work. We are making that story much more coherent.
Growing fodder for animal feed is starting to catch on, and many homesteading families and small farm operations are exploring the possibilities of what this type of feed can do for the health of their animals and cost of feeding them. If you haven’t yet read the first two articles on growing fodder and building a simple DIY fodder system, you can find them here: http://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/growing-sprouted-fodder/72618 and here: http://www.peakprosperity.com/wsidblog/80359/diy-home-fodder-system.
It has been a few months since I wrote the DIY fodder system article for Peak Prosperity. It turns out that a lot of people are interested in growing their own fodder, as this article has been extremely popular. With the combination of all of the valuable feedback (thank you!) and a few more months of experience, we have some additional thoughts to share.
Submit an event for the events calendar.
April 12, 6:00 pm
OuiShare Drinks Firenze
ECO-SWAP (at the Green Living Show)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
April 13, 9:00 am
Universities for a New Economy
New York, New York, USA
April 13, 9:00 am
Culivating a New Food Economy
Medford, Massachusetts, USA
April 14, 7:00 pm
Money & Life Film Screening
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
April 16, 8:00 am
Pathways To 100% Renewable Energy
San Francisco, California, USA
April 16, 4:00 pm
Gar Alperovitz - “Is There an America Beyond Capitalism?”
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
April 17, 6:00 pm
Bike Share & Open Data: A Game Changer for San Francisco Transportation
San Francisco, California, USA
April 17, 7:00 pm
Gar Alperovitz: "What Then Must We Do?"
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
April 17, 7:30 pm
Cecile Andrews - book reading - Living Room Revolution
Santa Cruz, California, USA
April 17, 20, 22
Participatory Budgeting Vallejo Expo
Vallejo, California, USA
April 19, 8:00 am
Connecting The Dots: Pathways To A New Economy
Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
April 19, 9:00 am
Seattle, Washington, USA
April 19, 7:00 pm
Money & Life Film Screening
New York, New York, USA
April 19, 7:00 pm
The Emerging Prehistory of the Next American Revolution
Chicago, Illinois, USA
April 20, 10:00 am
Repair Cafe - Malvern Hills
Malvern, Worchestershire, United Kingdom
April 20, 11:00 am - 3:00 pm
Earth Day Seed Swap and Starting Seeds Workshop
Chicago, IL, USA
Cooperation, Community, & Complexity: Imagining A New Economy for the 21st Century
College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME, USA
Youth Power Summit 2013: Cultivating a Just and Sustainable Community
Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, USA
April 21, 11:00 am
Repair Cafe - Palo Alto
Palo Alto, California, USA
April 21, 1:00 pm
Earth Day Clothes Swap
New York, New York, USA
April 21, 6:30 pm
Money & Life Film Screening
Washington, D.C., USA
April 22, 6:00 pm
Shareable & OuiShare Social: Pub Quiz
San Francisco, California, USA
Blue Book Dash (book swap)
Drake University, Des Moines, IA, USA
San Francisco, California, USA
April 25, 7:30 pm
KPFA Radio presents Gar Alperovitz: What Then Must We Do?
Berkeley, California, USA
April 26, 7:00 pm
Money & Life Film Screening
Roanoke, Virginia, USA
11th Meeting of the Alternative and Solidarity Economy (IDEARIA)
Córdoba, Andalucía, Spain
April 27, 8:00 am
Vermont New Economy Series
The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, USA
April 27, 10:00 am
MoppetSwap: Clothes, Gear & Toys for Frugal Parents
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Money & Life Film Screening
Denver & Boulder, Colorado, USA
Slow Money National Gathering
Boulder, Colorado, USA
April 30, 11:00am
Repair Cafe - Brighton
Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom
May 3, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Thrive and Survive Skillshare
University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Catalyzing the Commonwealth: Cooperative Economics, Sustainability, & Civic Engagement
Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA
Building a Democratic City: Participatory Budgeting Conference
Chicago, Illinois, USA
May 5, 12:00 noon
Really Really Free Market in Anaheim
Anaheim, California, USA
Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy
May 11, 9:00 am - 6:30 pm
Co-op Power Sustainability Summit
Hampshire College, Amherst, MA, USA
May 18, 10:00 am
Repair Cafe - Malvern Hills
Malvern, Worchestershire, United Kingdom
May 18, 11:00 am
Repair Cafe - Brighton
Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Public Banking Conference 2013
San Rafael, California, USA
LeWeb'13 London: Create a New Sharing Economy
London, United Kingdom
June 8, 2:00 pm
Repair Cafe - London
London, United Kingdom
2013 BALLE Conference
Buffalo, New York, USA
June 15, 10:00 am
Repair Cafe - Malvern Hills
Malvern, Worchestershire, United Kingdom
June 15, 11:00 am
Repair Cafe - Brighton
Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Allied Media Conference
Detroit, Michigan, USA
Open Design/Shared Creativity International Conference
Fourth International Gathering of "The Workers' Economy"
Joao Pessoa, Brazil
July 13, 10:00 am
Repair Cafe - Malvern Hills
Malvern, Worchestershire, United Kingdom
Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Imagine the Common Good: an Intergenerational Dialogue to Inspire a Creative Leadership
Open Knowledge Conference
Austin, Texas, USA
Money & Life is premiering across the United States in April, including in the San Francisco Bay Area (SF - Wednesday April 10th and Oakland - Thursday April 11th), then east, including Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC. On May 1st the movie is slated for release world-wide. The trailer and premiere schedule can be viewed at: http://moneyandlifemovie.com/wp/.
In the opening scenes of Money & Life, Lynn Twist, author of The Soul of Money, states:
We make a dying rather than a living. Dying meaning we do things that we hate, doing things that really extinguish the very life force of who we are, to bring home a paycheck. Because money has gotten more important now, gotten more important than human life.
From there, Money & Life weaves a whirlwind glimpse into the role of money in our increasingly disordered global economy. The movie is a montage of many voices, a provocative stream of interviews with cutting edge thinkers speaking on both what is awry with our current economic system as well as ways to move it toward a healthier course. In other words, we have choices.
In the movie, Judy Wicks, owner of White Dog Café in Philadelphia, relates her epiphany around growing her business:
I would sometimes think, am I just a big sissy for not having a chain of White Dog Cafés around the country? I realized what was most important to me about my business was the authenticity of the relationships and the price you pay in growing larger is the weakening of those relationships. I started thinking about how we can grow in other ways than the material. We can grow by raising consciousness. We can grow by increasing our knowledge, by deepening our relationships, by being healthy, increasing our well-being, and by having more fun!
The author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins, suggests in one of his interviews for the movie (though not included in the final edit):
If we keep making choices to buy things, and only when we need to buy them, that are created with a social and environmental consciousness, then we’ll be headed in the right direction.
Recently I was able to catch up with the movie’s producer and director, Katie Teague.
What started you down the path to make this movie?
I started the journey 4 ½ years ago on the heels of the 2008 recession. I became very curious about the reasons behind the crisis and the role of money in our lives. Even before then, I had been feeling the heartbreak of how disconnected we are from each other and from our planet. As a psychotherapist, I have been sensitive to this suffering. Ultimately, making this movie has been an opportunity to explore one of the last taboos – money. The other taboos being sex and death.
What surprised you most as you interviewed the various contributors?
Discovering how many people are involved in looking at how money affects our lives and the interconnected subculture that exists. As I interviewed one person, they would often introduce me to someone else that also had something important to say. I have way more information than I can possibly use in the movie.
How did your vision change along the journey?
As I started out, I did not have a preconceived notion of what I would find. I wanted to understand why money dominates our lives. So, I have been led by my curiosity, listening to each person interviewed, striving to stay in the moment. I began to call it ‘my divine scavenger hunt.’
What would you like viewers to know going in to view the movie?
I would like to extend an invitation to take in the information with an open mind, leaving pre-conceptions at the door. Pay attention to how does it make you feel? What do you react to? Even now as I watch the movie, I notice new things.
What do you hope viewers will take away from the movie?
An awareness of how the information in the movie excites you, motivates you, inspires you. While the movie has a definite point of view, viewers will take away what it means for each of them.
What would you emphasize as the movie’s overarching messages?
The movie is really aimed at raising awareness and educating around the role of money in our lives. I look at money as one of the most influential human inventions. Money is part of the bigger changes underway, ‘the great turning,’ and the shift in consciousness that is happening around the world. There is no going back. We are moving forward, redesigning the systems to be more appropriate to our era.
How has the movie been received so far?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the reaction. At an early showing in Washington DC, a crowd of 110 people of mixed political persuasions watched the movie. I was amazed they stayed to the end, no one left early, and then participated in a 2-hour discussion. People are hungry for this information - there is so much shame in our culture around money.
How will the world-wide release work?
We are still working out the details. The intent is to sell DVDs from our website while making streaming digital downloads available via a commons license. I want to remove money as a barrier. The movie is my gift that people can gift back or pay forward.
If you are interested in supporting the movie, consider viewing one of the premieres or supporting its production and distribution via KickStarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1499037415/get-money-and-life-on-the-road).
For me, there were many ‘aha’ moments in the movie. For one, as currency is created via the Federal Reserve and banks via their loans, only enough money is created to cover the amount of principal loaned, which does not include the interest that needs to be repaid. Thus the system requires either economic growth to create the wealth to pay the interest, which ignores our planet’s limits, or results in added debt that cannot be repaid, which creates much individual and collective hardship. This is a major design flaw of our current economic system.
Regardless of one’s current point of view, this movie illuminates the relationship of money to the nature of our lives and to the state of our planet and the power of our choices.
Higher education is failing many Americans. What once seemed like a sound investment increasingly resembles a bill of goods. A recent high-profile post by a Yale senior articulates a prevailing sentiment: “We Millennials don’t stand a chance.”
The situation goes beyond mere post-grad angst during a flat economy: Tuition rose more than 400% since 1985, outpacing inflation and increasing the US student debt tally to $1 trillion. On average, members of the Class of 2011 owe $26,600 in debt, up from an estimated $22,900 owed upon graduation. Meanwhile, stable employment for grads remains elusive, with roughly 53.6 percent of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 un- or underemployed in 2012. Holders of advanced degrees fare little better, scrambling to pay mounting debt through a patchwork of adjunct teaching positions and part-time contract work.
In a bitter irony for the underemployed and indebted legions of college graduates, some of the most celebrated and successful figures of the past two decades — Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page — are billionaire dropouts. Successful dropouts are often considered flukes, a lucky handful who prospered despite choosing a life path far more likely to land you behind the counter at a Wal-Mart than in the boardroom of a Fortune 500 company. Despite this, the increasingly dubious value of a college education is prompting a growing number of people to reconsider that calculus.
In her new book Don’t Go Back to School, Kio Stark documents the experiences of over 20 professionals who have forgone advanced degrees and thrived, if perhaps not to a Jobsian level. They range from nuclear power expert Rita J. King to artist Molly Crabapple, sanitation expert Molly Danielsson to Obama 2012 CTO Harper Reed. In her interviews, Stark documents these independent learners’ perspectives, tactics, and what unites them — a passion for learning, strong knowledge-sharing communities, and a disregard for traditional gatekeepers and conventional wisdom.
Dale J. Stephens’s path is even more iconoclastic. The 20 year old founder of Uncollege, an organization offering resources and programs to “hack your education,” Stephens was awarded a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship in 2010, founded by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, an outspoken critic of the higher education system. In his book Hacking Your Education, Stephens details his experience as an “elementary school dropout” who pursued independent learning from an early age, and why he believes college is not only a bad investment, but also a substandard learning experience that fails to prepare students for professional or personal success.
I spoke with Stark and Stephens about their experiences, the advantages and challenges of blazing your own academic trail, the tactics of successful self-learners, and the key role learning communities play in any educational path.
Paul M. Davis (PD): Why do you both believe that students should consider taking a non-institutional approach to higher learning?
Dale J. Stephens (DS): For me the issue is the combination of the fact that we’re paying too much and learning too little. It just doesn’t make sense to spend four years and go into an average $27k in debt without guaranteed return, especially if you don’t know what you want to do with life.
Kio Stark (KS): There is just no scenario in which a degree is going to become cheaper to get and more valuable to have. I wrote the book to show people that there are alternatives, and to give them role models and strategies for succeeding as independent learners. I’d add that for many people, learning outside of school is more meaningful than learning inside it.
PD: For all of the well-documented issues with higher education, skipping college requires a certain leap of faith. There is a persisting conventional wisdom shared by students, their families, and many employers that for all of its problems, a Bachelor’s or advanced degree is the most sensible life path.
DS: I think that’s the case because the assumed default is that going to college is a productive use of time, while not going to college is an unproductive use of time. There can be false positives in both cases. You can go to college and spend all of your time drinking and partying, or you can go ahead and do exactly the same thing out of college.
What we’re writing about is less a call for people to not go to college, and more as a call for people to wake up and realize that they have to take advantage of the precious time they have to learn. Education isn’t something that is going to be given to them.
KS: I totally agree. One of the things that I was doing with Don’t Go Back to School is give people some methods and strategies, and give them some ammunition when they talk to people, whether it’s friends or family, who say, ‘why would you do this?’. During my research, I heard hundreds of examples of people doing this, who were happy they did it.
For the people who did finish college in my book who maybe didn’t want to, family pressure was the first, most central reason that they stayed in school, which isn’t necessarily a good reason.
PD: Yeah, I think a lot of people who are in undergrad believe they don’t have a choice in the decision. They feel that the path has been laid out by their family.
KS: Right. Dale, you were talking about how you can do your drinking with school or without school. For the people who didn’t go to college, one of the things I heard quite a bit is, ‘one of the things that I missed out on is the social parts of college, the Jello shots. It’s not like I needed to do that, but there’s a disconnection between me and a lot of people my age who did that.’
DS: I make jokes in my talks about beer and girls and champagne and guys being one of the more valid reasons to go to college, and I’m actually not joking. I think that there is an absolutely valid part of life where you go and do crazy shit, have sex with people you regret, and you learn from those mistakes. You don’t have to pay $40,000 a year to make it socially acceptable to do that, but I do think that is one of the absolutely valuable parts of college that we should consider.
KS: One of the geekiest guys that I talked to, who went to college off and on before deciding to finish, said, ‘y’know, the main thing I got out of it is that I learned how to talk to girls.’
PD: Yeah, I went to college for 4 1/2 years, mostly commuter schools, and missed a lot of those social aspects. So for a number of years after college, I just worked at coffee shops and played in bands, and it was almost like I was making up for lost time, while actually learning how to be social.
KS: I think the other thing to remember here is that the picture we’ve been describing of college, where it’s a pretty campus and most people are of undergrad age, is not the experience of most people in college. For most people, it’s more like what Paul described — it may be in and out, or going to a commuter or community college, or it may be going to college while you have a job and are taking care of kids. So the whole conversation around education is skewed towards a very narrow experience that most Americans aren’t having.
DS: That’s totally true. As well as the fact that I think Americans forget, that the vast majority of European colleges are not residential. The idea of a college campus is a concept that only really exists in America and Canada. Most people are off living on their own in their own apartments, supporting themselves, cleaning their own bathrooms.
KS: It’s interesting, that is a very important part of being independent.
DS: I think it is though! Do you not agree?
KS: I do. It’s a perfect symbol.
PD: I’m always surprised when I meet people who have gone on the track of high school to undergrad, and then directly into a grad program. I’ll meet these people when they get out in their late 20s or early 30s, and in a weird way, they’re often not quite socialized or maybe not prepared for, say, working in a non-academic work environment or taking care of themselves.
KS: Yeah, I think for both Dale and I, part of the issue is that you also don’t learn to take care of yourself intellectually.
DS: For sure. There’s a dependency on people who know more, or will give you permission, as opposed to having the agency to go out and start something yourself.
KS: It’s funny about the word ‘permission.’ One of the things with my book is that a lot of people wrote to me and said, ‘do you have a minute for me to tell you about my situation and whether or not I should go to college?’ I would ask them what they wanted to learn, and give them feedback about how they could go about learning this outside of college. Most of them would say, ‘oh, I’m already doing that — great!’ They just needed their experience validated.
PD: Yeah I think agency and asking permission are really important issues here. You’re both sort of empowering people to realize that they can do this. Which brings me to a point stated explicitly in both your books: once you take this step, it’s crucial to build or connect to communities of people who are also self-learning and teaching one another. It’s not the traditional idea of the autodidact that you’re talking about. Why do you both believe that these communities are so important, and how do you connect with these people?
DS: I left school when I was 12, and for me, finding a community of people was the only thing that allowed that to happen. There was no manual to teach me how to go out and find mentors, how to create my own courses, find educational resources, and develop my own agency. It was only through a process of osmosis that I was able to engage in this way.
Having a community of young people, who specifically had parents who were successful in traditional terms — doctors, lawyers, college professors — who had given their kids the freedom to try something else really validated my choice to my parents. They were afraid that I’d be going off and doing my thing all alone, and not meeting people who could support me.
KS: In the interviews I did, it was very clear that in almost every case, people were helping and learning from each other, and importantly teaching one another, which is one of the ways that they know that they have really learned what they’re learning — they could turn around and teach it to someone else.
But among the people I talked to, even the people who liked college said that the other students were the most educationally useful thing to them. It was that they had a readymade learning community, and that attests to how important learning communities are.
PD: Of course, there’s no single way to form or connect to a learning community, but in your research Kio, were there recurring approaches people took?
KS: Yeah. A lot of people looked around on the Internet, found people using technology, but they also found people in the places they went to, by putting up notes on the cafe bulletin board. There’s one woman I interviewed named Molly Danielson who wanted to start a composting toilet business, and she had to learn quite a bit of science as well as the legal situation. She was volunteering for an advocacy group, and started a salon called “Talking Shit” at her house, to invite a community to learn together about the scientific and legal questions.
One of the important things about joining or starting a learning community is that you have to be a good community member and be generous, by inviting people into your house as much as you’re going to their meetings, and sharing what you know.
DS: There are a lot of stories about creating salons in my book. There was a conversation group started at Michigan State University by a group of people who all ended up dropping out, but have since stayed in touch. They have a conversation group on Fridays called Gumball, and everyone gets together and shares their challenges, and that’s a way for them to build a community. One of the other people from that group decided that she was going to meet a new person every week and interview for them for an entire year.
I think the lesson to be learned there is that there’s a lot to be said about intentionality in doing this. It’s not something that just happens — you have to be conscious of it, you have to allocate a portion of your budget to buy people coffee and slowly learn from these people.
KS: I had a lot of people who said that you can get a whole education for the price of lunch, basically.
It’s also important, and I know Dale talks about this too, that the learning community is a reality check. If you were learning in isolation, you’d have no idea if you were internalizing information, you’d have no way of deepening your understanding of it, you’d have no way of knowing if you’re being intellectually sloppy. Being part of a community is what keeps you honest and on track.
DS: If you’re only learning in an echo chamber, it just doesn’t work. The biggest value of a school is that it has a monopoly on smart young people, and you’re able to find people who have similar interests, at similar places in life, with similar maturity levels. Going through that learning process with other people is what makes it valuable.
If you’re trying to replace the experience of school with something else, you’ve got to take into account all the aspects that go into that experience, whether it’s the people that you do it with, whether it’s the parties you go to, or the actual content.
PD: It seems it takes self-confidence and a sense of agency to take this leap, to reach out to strangers and take what may seem a risky life choice. That may come naturally to people with self-assured personalities, but what about people who are insecure or risk-adverse or don’t feel comfortable reaching out to strangers?
KS: I don’t think it’s about personality, actually. Both of our books are about giving people models and strategies outside of traditional school, so it’s not about depending on your personality, it’s about having models that have been successful.
DS: And even if there are some things that are traditionally related to personality traits, there are ways that you can develop these skills. Early in my book, some of the first chapters are about building self-confidence, getting used to being rejected, and defining success internally, so that you’re comfortable with yourself before you go out exploring the world.
KS: Definitely. Understanding that failure is a good thing can be very difficult for people, but everyone I talked to said they learned by taking risks and failing — not only by themselves, but in some cases, by failing in public, which can be an ideal learning experience.
PD: What are your thoughts on issues of privilege and access? The approaches you describe seem to favor those with the technical skills and access to find resources and communities, creating the risk that it becomes a self-selecting and homogenous group of people. Are there ways those in the self-learning and/or Unschooling communities can reach out to individuals who may lack access or opportunities enjoyed by other members?
KS: My book — both our books — were written to make sure that independent learning is open and accessible to anyone who wants to try it. There are socioeconomic barriers to learning both in and outside of school, and no mere book can solve those problems. The other barriers have to do with not having any models of people who are independent learners, and not knowing how to go about it, where to find resources, and how to join forces with others. I want to make sure nobody is stopped by those barriers, which are barriers a book can knock down.
DS: I think an interesting point is that self-education is free. Also, it’s not part of the whole class hierarchy that school perpetuates. But of course a book won’t solve that alone.
KS: Free, yes, I forgot to mention that! In terms of the class hierarchy, it’s so important that self-education doesn’t perpetuate that. Dale is spot on.
It’s also the case that you have the same challenges as an independent learner that you would have as a traditional student, in terms of being privileged or not, your access or lack of access to financial and cultural capital. School doesn’t solve that and neither does self-education. But self-education gives you more life/job skills, like being able to learn on the job, which is the thing that every employer I talked to said was critical in their hiring decisions.
PD: What surprised you both most during the research process? What did you, yourselves, learn during the process?
KS: I was surprised by how many people came out of the woodwork to announce that they were dropouts when they heard I was writing this book.
DS: Everyone told me dropouts had to be self-motivated. In fact, I found the opposite. Many were quite lazy, and because they were lazy didn’t have the patience to deal with the school system. This also lead to them finding high-leverage opportunities.
PD: That’s an interesting point, Dale. Most people don’t have a positive connection with the term "lazy,” but it sounds like in this case, a certain kind of laziness can be an asset.
DS: Being lazy allowed them to find high leverage opportunities. Also, they had a habit of not asking permission.
PD: Beyond productive laziness, what are some of the other key strategies or observations shared by the folks you talked to, Kio?
KS: My favorite strategy is summed up as “you can get a whole education for the price of lunch.” It’s really important to know you don’t have to be in an educational institution to get access to experts. If you have questions about their work, they’re more often than not totally happy to talk to you about it. A lot of people also told me that their best learning trick was “having smart friends.”
This article originally appeared on Greater Good and is republished with permission.
Eighteen months ago, Arturo Bejar and some colleagues at Facebook were reviewing photos on the site that users had flagged as inappropriate. They were surprised by the offending content—because it seemed so benign.
“People hugging each other, smiling for the camera, people making goofy faces—I mean, you could look at the photographs and you couldn’t tell at all that there was something that would make somebody upset,” says Bejar, a director of engineering at the social networking site.
Arturo Bejar, a Facebook engineer who has been leading its "social reporting" project, speaking at Facebook's second Compassion Research Day on July 11. Photo credit: Jeffrey Gerson/Facebook.
Then, while studying a photo, one of his colleagues realized something: The person who reported the photo was actually in the photo, and the person who posted the photo was their friend on Facebook.
As the team scrolled through other images, they noticed that was true in the vast majority of cases: Most of the issues involved people who knew each other but apparently didn’t know how to resolve a problem between themselves.
Someone would be bothered by a photo of an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, for instance, or would be upset because he or she didn’t appear in a photo that ostensibly showed a friend’s “besties.” Often people didn’t like that their kids were in a photo a relative had uploaded. And sometimes they just didn’t like the way they looked.
Facebook didn’t have foolproof ways to identify or analyze these problems, let alone resolve them. And that made Bejar and his colleagues feel like they weren’t adequately serving the Facebook community—a concern amplified by the site’s exponential growth and worries about cyberbullying among its youngest users.
“When you want to support a community of a billion people,” says Bejar, “you want to make sure that those connections over time are good and positive and real.”
A daunting mission, but it’s one that Bejar has been leading at Facebook, in collaboration with a team of researchers from Yale University and UC Berkeley, including scientists from the Greater Good Science Center. Together, they’re drawing on insights from neuroscience and psychology to try to make Facebook feel like a safer, more benevolent place for adults and kids alike—and even help users resolve conflicts online that they haven’t been able to tackle offline.
“Essentially, the problem is that Facebook, just like any other social context in everyday life, is a place where people can have conflict,” says Paul Piff, a postdoctoral psychology researcher at UC Berkeley who is working on the project, “and we want to build tools to enable people who use Facebook to interact with each other in a kinder, more compassionate way.”
Facebook as relationship counselor
For users troubled by a photo, Facebook provides the option to click a Report link, which takes them through a sequence of screens where they can elaborate on the problem, called the “reporting flow.”
Up until a few months ago, the flow presented all “reporters” with the same options for resolving the problem, regardless of what that problem actually was; those resolutions included unfriending the user or blocking him or her from ever making contact again on Facebook.
“One thing that we learned is that if you give someone the tool to block, that’s actually not in many cases the right solution because that ends the conversation and doesn’t necessarily resolve anything—you just sort of turn a blind eye to it,” says Jacob Brill, a product manager on Facebook’s Site Integrity and Support Engineering team, which tries to fix problems users are experiencing on the site, from account fraud to offensive content.
Jacob Brill, a Facebook product manager, presenting some of his social reporting team's preliminary findings at the second Compassion Research Day. Photo credit: Jeffrey Gerson/Facebook.
Instead, Brill’s team concluded that a better option would be to facilitate conversations between a person reporting content and the user who uploaded the content, a system that they call “social reporting.”
“I really think that was key—that the best way to resolve conflict on Facebook is not to have Facebook step in, but to give people tools to actually problem-solve themselves,” says Piff. “It’s like going to a relationship counselor to resolve relationship conflict: Relationship counselors are there to give couples tools to resolve conflict with each other.”
To help Facebook develop those tools, Bejar turned to Piff and two of his UC Berkeley colleagues, social psychologist Dacher Keltner and neuroscientist Emiliana Simon-Thomas—the GGSC’s faculty director and science director, respectively—all of whom are experts in the psychology of emotion.
“It felt like we could sharpen their communication,” says Keltner, “just to make it smarter emotionally, giving kids and adults sharper language to report on the complexities of what they were feeling.”
The old reporting flow wasn’t very emotionally intelligent. When first identifying the problem to Facebook, users had some basic options: They could select “I don’t like this photo of me,” claim that the photo was harassing them or a friend, or say that it violated one of the site’s Community Standards—for hate speech or drug use or violence or some other offense. Then they could unfriend or block the other user, or send that user a message.
Initially, users had to craft that message themselves, and only 20 percent of them actually sent a message. To boost that rate, Facebook provided some generic default text—“Hey I don’t like this photo. Please remove it.”—which raised the send rate to 51 percent. But often users would send one of these messages and never hear back, and the photo wouldn’t get deleted.
Bejar, Brill, and others at Facebook thought they could do better. The Berkeley research team believed this flow was missing an important step: the opportunity for users to identify and convey their emotions. That would guard against the fact that it’s easier for people online to be insensitive or even oblivious to how their actions affect others.
“If you get someone to express more productively how they’re feeling, that’s going to allow someone else to better understand those feelings, and try to address their needs,” says Piff. “There are some very simple things we can do to give rise to more productive interpersonal interactions.”
Instead of simply having users click “I don’t like this photo,” for instance, the team decided to prompt users with the sentence “I don’t like this photo because:”, which they could complete with emotion-laden phrases, such as “It’s embarrassing” or “It makes me sad” (see screenshot at left). People reporting photos selected one of these options 78 percent of the time, suggesting that the list of phrases effectively captured what they were feeling.
People were then taken to a screen telling them that the best way to remove the photo was to ask the other user to take it down—blocking or unfriending were no longer presented as options—and they were given more emotionally intelligent text for a message they could send through Facebook, tailored to the particular situation.
The emotionally intelligent message UC Berkeley researchers developed for Facebook "reporters." (User's name has been erased.) Courtesy of Facebook.
That text included the other person’s name, asked him or her more politely to remove the content (“would you please take it down?” vs. the old “please remove it”), and specified why the user didn’t like the photo, emphasizing their emotional reaction and point of view—but still keeping a light touch. For example, photos that made someone embarrassed are described as “a little embarrassing to me.” (See the screenshot at left for an example.)
It worked. Roughly 75 to 80 percent of people in the new, emotionally intelligent flow sent these default messages without revising or editing the text, a 50 percent increase from the number who sent the old, impersonal message.
When Keltner and his team presented these findings at Facebook’s second Compassion Research Day, a public event held on Facebook’s campus earlier this month, he emphasized that what mattered wasn’t just that more users were sending messages but that they were enjoying a more positive overall experience.
“There are a lot of data that show when I feel stressed out, mortified, or embarrassed by something happening on Facebook, that activates old parts of the brain, like the amygdala,” Keltner told the crowd. “And the minute I put that into words, in precise terms, the prefrontal cortex takes over and quiets the stress-related physiology.”
Preliminary data seem to back this up. Among the users who sent a message through this new flow, roughly half said they felt positively about the other person (called the “content creator”) after they sent him or her the message; less than 20 percent said they felt negatively. (The team is still collecting and analyzing data on how users feel before they send the messages, and on how positively they felt after sending a message through the old flow.)
In this new social reporting system, half of content creators deleted the offending photo after they received the request to remove it, whereas only a third deleted the photo under the old system. Perhaps more importantly, roughly 75 percent of the content creators replied to the messages they received, using new default text that the researchers crafted for them. That’s a nearly 50 percent increase from the number who replied to the old messages.
“The right resolution isn’t necessarily for the photo to be taken down if in fact it’s really important to the person who uploaded it,” says Brill. “What’s really important is that you guys are talking about that, and that there is a dialogue going back and forth.”
This post is a problem
That’s all well and good for Facebook’s adult users, but kids on Facebook often need more. For them, Facebook’s hazards include cyberbullying from peers and manipulation by adult predators. Rough estimates indicate that more than half of kids have had someone say mean or hurtful things to them online.
Previously, if kids felt hurt or threatened by someone on Facebook, they could click the same Report link adults saw, which took them through a similar flow, asking if they or friends were being “harassed.” From there, Facebook gave them the option to block or unfriend that person and send him or her a message, while also suggesting that they contact an adult who could help.
Yale developmental psychologist Marc Brackett discussing his collaboration with Facebook at the second Compassion Research Day. Photo credit: Jeffrey Gerson/Facebook.
But after hearing Yale developmental psychologist Marc Brackett speak at the first Compassion Research Day in December of 2011, Bejar and his colleagues realized that the old flows failed to acknowledge the particular emotions that these kids were experiencing. That oversight might have made the kids less likely to engage in the reporting process and contact a supportive adult for guidance.
“The way you really address this,” Bejar said at the second Compassion Research Day, “is not by taking a piece of content away and slapping somebody’s hand, but by creating an environment in which children feel supported.”
To do that, he enlisted Brackett and two of his colleagues, Robin Stern and Andres Richner. The research team organized focus groups with 13-to-14-year-old kids, the youngest age officially allowed on Facebook, and interviewed kids who’d experienced cyberbullying. The team wanted to create tools that were developmentally appropriate to different age ranges, and they decided to target this youngest group first, then work their way up.
From talking with these adolescents, they pinpointed some of the problems with the language Facebook was using. For instance, says Brackett, some kids thought that clicking “Report” meant that the police would be called, and many didn’t feel that “harassed” accurately described what they had been experiencing.
Instead, Brackett and his team replaced “Report” with language that felt more informal: “This post is a problem.”
They tried to apply similar changes across the board, refining language to make it more age-appropriate. Instead of simply asking kids whether they felt harassed, they enabled kids to choose among far more nuanced reasons for reporting content, including that someone “said mean things to me or about me” or “threatened to hurt me” or “posted something that I just don’t like.” They also asked kids to identify how the content made them feel, selecting from a list of options.
Depending on the problem they identified, the new flows gave kids more customized options for the action they could take in response. That included messages they could send to the other person, or to a trusted adult, that featured more emotionally rich and specific language, tailored to the type of situation they were reporting.
“We wanted to make sure that they didn’t feel isolated and alone—that they would receive support in a way that would help them reach out to adults who could provide them with the help that they needed,” Brackett said when presenting his team’s work at the second Compassion Research Day.
After testing these new flows over two months, the team made some noteworthy discoveries. One surprise was that, when kids reported problems that they were experiencing themselves, 53 percent of those problems concerned posts that they “didn’t like,” whereas only three percent of the posts were seen as threatening.
“The big takeaway here is that … a lot of the cases are interpersonal conflicts that are really best resolved either between people or with a trusted adult just giving you a couple of pointers,” Jacob Brill said at the recent Compassion Research Day. “So we’re giving the language and the resources to help with a situation.”
And those resources do seem to be working: 43 percent of kids who used these new flows reached out to a trusted adult when reporting a problem, whereas only 19 percent did so with the old flows.
“The new experience that we’re providing is empowering kids to reach out to someone they trust to get the help that they need,” says Brackett. “There’s nothing more gratifying than being able to help the most amount of kids in the quickest way possible.”
Social reporting 2.0
Everyone involved in the project stresses that it’s still in its very early stages. So far, it has only targeted English-language Facebook users in the United States. Brackett’s team’s work has only focused on 13 to 14 year olds, and the new flows developed by the Berkeley team were only piloted on 50 percent of Facebook users, randomly selected.
The GGSC's Emiliana Simon-Thomas discusses her work with Facebook at the second compassion research day. Photo credit: Jeffrey Gerson/Facebook.
Can they build a more emotionally intelligent form of social reporting that works for different cultures and age groups?
“Our mission at Facebook is to do just that,” says Brill. “We will continue to figure out how to make this work for anyone who has experiences on Facebook.”
The teams are already working to improve upon the results they presented at the second Compassion Research Day. Brackett says he believes they can encourage even more kids on Facebook to reach out to trusted adults, and he’s eager to start helping older age groups. He’s excited by the potential impact.
“When we do our work in schools, it’s one district, one school, one classroom at a time,” he says. “Here, we have the opportunity to reach tens of thousands of kids.”
And that reach carries exciting scientific implications for the researchers.
“We’re going to be the ones who get to go in and have 500,000 data points,” says Simon-Thomas. “It’s beyond imagination for a research lab to get that kind of data, and it really taps into the questions we’re interested in: How does conveying your emotion influence social dynamics in rich and interesting ways? Does it facilitate cooperation and understanding?”
And what’s in it for Facebook?
Bejar, the father of two young children, says that protecting kids and strengthening connections between Facebook users makes the site more self-sustaining in the long run. The project will have succeeded, he says, if it encourages more users simply to think twice before posting a photo that might embarrass a friend or to notify that friend when they post a questionable image.
“It’s those kinds of kind, compassionate interactions,” he says, “that help build a sustainable community.”
An amazing video clip that illustrates the amount of energy and effort it takes to build a man-made pond. As Joel Salatin mentions in our previous podcast with him, the building of ponds are one solution to mitigating drought conditions and hydrating the landscape of sustainable family farms.
- The Boomer housing bust: coming to Australia?
- Acute Gold Shortage Reported In Southern India
- The Template That Nobody Is Watching
- Dirty Harry to World Savers “You’ve Got To Ask Yourself… – Do You Feel Lucky?
- Bubble or No, This Virtual Currency Is a Lot of Coin in Any Realm
- Alberta oil field boom is a boon for thieves
- Rural Kenyans Are Bringing Their Cows With Them to Cities. What Could Go Wrong?
- When The Earth Moved: What happened to the environmental movement?
This post was written by Billy Parish, Founder and President of Mosaic, an online platform that makes it easy for anyone to directly invest in community-scale solar energy projects.
How do we get to 100% clean energy? I believe the fastest way is to allow more people to participate in building the clean energy economy.
Until recently, there were good reasons why almost all of us were energy consumers, rather than energy producers. We didn’t have good alternatives to fossil fuels and so we were hamstrung: concerned about the environment, our communities, and our children’s future, but able to do little more than change our light bulbs. We had little choice but to rely on a system in which only the biggest players—those who could blow the top off of a mountain or finance a billion dollar power plant—could profit from the world’s biggest industry.
The last few decades, though, have upended the game. In 35 years, the cost of solar energy has gone from $75 a watt to around .75 cents a watt and Citigroup recently projected.25 cents per watt solar by 2020. Electricity from wind turbines can now beat residential electricity prices in most countries around the globe. Combine these advances with developments in information technology, battery storage, energy efficiency, electric cars, and other technologies like geothermal and hydro, and it becomes clear that we are living in a new world.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we are about to host a conference called Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy. I think it’s safe to say that most of the speakers at the conference would never have guessed they’d be talking about 100% renewable energy in 2013.
The whole drift of this transition in our energy system is towards decentralization, flexibility, and resilience. New technologies are doing to energy what the Internet did to telecommunications. Part of the reason wind and solar have spread faster than anyone would have expected is because they are so easy for communities, small businesses, and everyday people to finance and create.
One sunny day last summer, Germany set a world record by meeting half of its noonday electricity needs—the energy equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants running at full capacity—with solar. This is an amazing accomplishment, but more amazing is the fact that major utilities own only 6% of Germany’s clean energy. Individuals and farmers own 51%.
We can do the same thing here in the U.S. In fact, there is no reason we can’t do more. We have more clean energy resources and—more important—a set of ideals that has always been about self-sufficiency and freedom from powerful interests.
We have much of the technology we need to create abundant clean energy for and by the people. It’s time to start breaking down the barriers that keep people from participating. We need to change the laws that prevent communities and individuals from creating their own energy projects, or that make it difficult for them to access government incentive programs. We need to create and scale businesses that make it possible for people to invest in, own, share, lease, and, above all, prosper from clean energy.
I believe this is the greatest opportunity of our time. Each person with access to the clean energy economy creates not only electrical power, but also political power. Each rooftop solar power plant produces not only 2 kw of clean electricity, but also two clean energy supporting American voters.
How do we get to 100% clean energy? I believe the fastest way is to do what we do best: share, participate, democratize.