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January 30, 2005

Save the Giroud Verifier!

Speaking of infrastructure, I was shocked to read that Amsterdam's museum of energy generating equipment and lifts - EnergeticA - is threatened with closure; there's also a danger that its collection will be broken up. EnergericA is in an old power station and most of its exhibits relate to electricity rather than electronics. I never head of the place until I read about its plight in the paper yesteday, and to judge by its remarkably clunky website the whole thing is a volunteer-run anomaly. But there are pictures of old storehouses full of gauges, and the exhibits mentioned online include strange devices such as a Giroud Verifier used (in 1789) to test the purity of gas. A lively discussion of EnergeticA is to be found on the website of the UK Vintage Radio and Repair Association.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

January 29, 2005

Distribute then socialise

A 30 million euro scheme in London will make high speed broadband connections available to 20,000 people in a comparatively deprived area.The scheme will be accompanied by local online services such as community information, message boards, and voting mechanisms to enable referendums.'This is the most ambitious experiment of its kind in the UK, and will offer tantalising glimpses of how communities might function and govern themselves in future" comments Will Davies, an e-policy wonk at London's Institute for Public Policy Research. Davies, who is currently working on 'Manifesto for a Digital Britain', cautions that the Shoreditch experiment 'will be as valuable for its failures as for its successes. Whenever digital exuberance has ushered in such a plan, optimism has turned to crushing pessimism once it becomes clear that the internet is not the answer to all our social prayers'. If the Shoreditch project does end up a disappointment, it will be because it was conceived as a point-to-mass distribution system for pre-cooked services:online educational courses and video on demand are mentioned as highlights. A better outcome would be that the free phone calls that are part of the project trigger unexpected bottom-up P2P applications. Of course, you don't need costly broadband to enable free phone calls - but the British government probably feels sorry for the hapless telcos who paid it so many billions for broadband licenses.

Posted by John Thackara at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2005

Professor of flows

When the Dutch word for urban planning, "planologie', was first used in 1929, its literal meaning was 'the study of surfaces'. Planners today work in a more multi-dimensional context - one that Luuk Boelens describes as 'a motley assemblage of multiple times and spatial realities'. Urban planning is doomed to fail, says Boelens, when it persists in treating cities as stable units consisting of a centre, a periphery, and around it a rural area where 'spatiousness and peacefulness are the predominant chacteristics'. That may have been true when there were just 68,000 cars in the country, says Boelens, but such an approach makes little sense when there are seven million vehicles and the whole country is conceived as a logistics hub. Boelens is so committed to a multidimensional approach to planning that he wanted to be called a Professor of Fluviology, and to play 'Route 66' at his inauguration. But even the world's most planned culture was unwilling to countenance that much change in one go. The lecture (pdf) is available here

Posted by John Thackara at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2005

For a food mile tachometer

Truck drivers already have to endure supervision by a tachometer which logs their speeds and driving times on behalf of myriad external authorities. Why not a tachometer for tomatoes, to monitor and make explicit food miles? Food distribution can be tremedously wasteful, but invisibly so. The concept of food dates back to a study called The well-travelled yogurt pot: lessons for new freight transport policies and regional production in which the movements of a number of milk carefully measured. All ingredients of the product were included, e.g. milk, jam, sugar and the packaging, the glass container, paper label, aluminium cover, cardboard box and cardboard sheets, glue, and foil. (The paper I've linked to is a pdf at the bottom of the list).

Posted by John Thackara at 11:09 PM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2005

Pre-Doors8 workshops

Several pre-conference workshops will take place in and around Delhi before Doors 8 itself - especially on Friday 18 to Sunday 20 March. Participation in a workshop is by agreement with the workshop leader concerned, and you have to register for Doors 8 first, to be eligible to take part. An equal number of places will be available for Indian and international delegates. Details and an application procedure will be posted here soon. If you are thinking about dates for your trip, bear in mind that these experiences will be be on offer:

PCW 01
Nomadic Banquet
Debra Solomon

PCW 02
VJ-ing in Delhi
Juha Huuskonen

PCW 03
Open Source Architecture
Usman Haque

PCW 04
Video Diaries in Design
Jan Chipchase

PCW 05
Service Design for Health Guides
Nesta Team

PCW 06
Locative Media
Christian Nold

Posted by John Thackara at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2005

Who will be who?

We have updated the speaker profiles (there's a button on the right of this screen). These should give you a better idea of the kind of people you'll meet and interact with in Delhi. Our week together features a range of activities :
- plenary think-piece presentations (Monday and Tuesday);
- Project Clinics and workshops (Wednesday and Friday);
- one-to-one conversations (every day);
- encounters and exchanges in the city and around.
We've added a new session on the Wednesday evening. Marko Ahtisaari, newsly appointed Director of Design Strategy at Nokia, and Joi Ito, a Vice President of Technorati (among a networked universe of other activites) will host a happening on the theme: 'Infra Of Sharing'.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:19 PM | Comments (1)

January 24, 2005

More for your book list

Zaid Hassan writes with the polite suggestion, concerning our list of recommended books (see button on the right) that "perhaps a couple of Indian/Sub-Continent authors wouldn't go amiss?". Mea culpa:my first list is indeed horribly occicentric. Here are Zaid's recommendations:
- Igniting Minds" by PJ Abdul Kalam (President of India).
- The City of Djinns - William Dalrymple (non-fiction - about Delhi)
- The Idea of India - Sunil Khilnani (non-fiction)
- The Autobiography of an Unknown India - Nirad C Chaudhuri (non-fiction)
- Indian: A Mosaic - Ed Robert Silver & Barbara Epstein (collection of essays)
- Anything by R K Narayan (The English Teacher, Malgudi Days, The Financial Expert...) (Fiction)
- Last Train to Pakistan - Kushwant Singh (Fiction - about the Partition)
- Ice Candy Man - Bapsi Sidwha (Fiction - about the Partition)

Posted by John Thackara at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

Man vs nature

What happened to the people who built the ruined temples of Angkor Wat, the long-abandoned statues of Easter Island, and the crumbling Maya pyramids of the Yucatan? In his new book Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed Jared Diamond suggests that the environmental crises which saw these civilisations collapse were self-induced. I have mixed feelings about Diamond's generally optimistic concluding chapter. He uses the analogy of 'the world as a polder' to describe how we might choose to succeed. For Diamond, the Dutch 'polder model' is an example of how the co-existence of the man-made, and nature, has already been shown to work in practice. And he's right: pervasive collaboration is essential if we are to secure a sustainable future. The reason I'm uneasy is that the polder model is right now under attack by the government now running the country; it presumably came to power after Diamond wrote his book.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2005

Study art and never be unemployed

'Those who enjoy what they do never have to work any more'. An intriguing article by Sybrand Zijlstra (in a new Dutch publication called Morf ) reports that 80% of students graduating from Dutch art academies pronounced themselves to be satisfied with their education. This is a surprise: endless reports describe art and design education as being in a mess. Among their older peers, only 2% of those with a degree in art or design consider themselves to be unemployed - which is even more surprising when one considers that the number of jobs available for artists is tiny.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:30 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2005

Watch out for that pesky eagle

When I googled "homeland security" and "design" today I got 1,350,000 hits - up from 600,000 back in August. An editorial site called Embedded Computing Design comes top. 'Many embedded devices are located in areas critical for homeland security' the text intones, 'from the power grid and the communications infrastructure to power utilities, railroads, and chemical and nuclear plants'. Yikes: and did we think about this risk before we deployed these devices? No, I don't think we did. Curiously, a beady-eyed eagle also features on the home page: it looks as it it's about to swoop off and eat a ton of these mission-critical devices for lunch. I also googled "design" and "freedom" and got....12,900,000 hits. That list is topped by a company that makes houses out of steel .

Posted by John Thackara at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

Kaos Pilots

On the heels of news that Media Lab Europe is to close, and that European IT research is failing (see below) comes a more cheerful message: Kaos Pilots in Denmark is to stay open. A new prospectus has been published with the announcement of a plan to make this unique institution, which is rather like a cross between Burning Man and a b-school, 'Scandinavia's most attractive and modern entrepreneurial program'. Kaos Pilots, which is 13 years old, lost a big chunk of state funding a year ago, but they have managed to fill the liquidity gap for now with support from the Tuborg Foundation and a dairy company. Earlier this week Kaos Pilots published 25 'Recommendations From Us to the World'. The list contains a lot of exclamation marks, and tends towards breathlessness - but what the heck, these guys are aviators. If the thought of going to HBS or Insead fills you with gloom, check them out.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2005

Danger zone?

Someone asked us if Doors 8 is near the tsunami danger zone. No, it is not. The distance from Delhi to Chennai (the Indian city where the tsunami hit hardest) is 2095 km, or 1301 miles. That's similar to the distance from Boston to Miami, Amsterdam to Athens, or Tokyo to Beijing. The real danger is that you'll miss this great event and kick yourself so badly that you'll end up covered in bruises.

Posted by John Thackara at 12:12 PM | Comments (0)

Time in design

A gorgeous 500 page gold brick of a book has arrived. Time In Design is based on a 24-hour conference by that name that took place last year in Rotterdam. But the conference proceedings (printed on gold paper) are just a start. The book ranges widely over what the editors call 'cultural lifespan extension - ways of designing and planning products so that their value is sustained and they can be lept in use for a longer time'. The secret of sustainability, the book proposes, is 'being prepared to let go, not to try and and define each and every property and quality of a product in advance'. Time In Design is edited by Ed van Hinte, designed by Thonik and Sander Boon, produced by the Eternally Yours Foundation, 2004, and published by 010 Publishers at euros 34.50 + postage. It's available from 010 or from: info@art-ants.nl or if you telephone +31 70 362 0577

Posted by John Thackara at 12:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2005

Why European IT research is failing

According to Computer Weekly today, a high-level European Commission assessment panel has concluded that European Union research into information society technologies (IST) is failing, despite it spending more than a billion euros a year on the area. The panel said "more investment and less bureaucracy" are required for success. Red-tape is indeed a problem: it can take 70 working days to complete an EC project proposal which - when a one-in-three success rate is factored in - means we at Doors used to employ a whole person just to make applications. But the much bigger problem than red tape is the EC assumption that designing an information society is only about tech. Last year, for example, we spent three months filling in a huge funding application for Doors East - an event whose entire agenda was devoted to social innovation in a network society using ICTs as support. Our application was turned down because our proposal contained 'insufficient technological content'. Doors has also been forced to stop participating in EC-funded programmes because of scale. Knowledge-sharing networks of excellence (of which we like to think Doors is a lively example) may only be funded by the EC if a network's member organisations have at least 50 (and preferably 100-200) PhD level researchers on their books. This number favours the dinosaurs of Big Science (who helped write the policy) at the expense of hundreds of grassroots organisations who have the ideas - and local connections - that the dinosaurs lack.

Posted by John Thackara at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2005

More b-school tosh

Am I alone in becoming terminally irritated by the macho posturing that passes for thought in business schools and their journals? An article about service design by Uday Karmarkar, in Harvard Business Review, is typical of the genre. "A tidal-wave of change bearing down on the services sector should make you rethink your strategy and revamp your organisation" it begins breathlessly. A tidal wave of tosh would be more accurate. Karmarkar's big idea is that "the industrialisation of services" will somehow help service companies to "focus their efforts on overcoming the feeling of disembodiment and depersonalisation that technology has created between companies and customers". Karmarkar seems blissfully unaware that the industrialisation of services will make things worse for those of us who have to use them,not better. But what really bugs me is his his blithe assumption is that the technology that causes all this disembodiment and depersonalisation somehow deployed itself. But guess what, Mr K: It did not: It was deployed by an army of managers, many of whom were taught to do so at business schools like your own. (His article draws on "surveys and interviews with 300 senior IT managers" carried out by the Center for Management in the Information Economy at UCLA). "Will You Survive The Services revolution" by Uday Karmarkar in Harvard Business Review. July 2004.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

Closure of Media Lab Europe

It's sad news indeed that Media Lab Europe (MLE), the European research partner of MIT Media Lab in the US, is to close.
Neither of the Lab's main stakeholders - MIT itself, and the Irish government - was prepared to fund the Lab once it became clear that it would not become self-financing through corporate funding for its research. MLE was on its third director in as many years when the decision to close was made, but these individuals were not the reason MLE failed. It was doomed by a businesss plan written during the tech boom which they had to implement during a tech bust. What will be hurting the 100 people at MLE the most, right now, is the knowledge that they were only just getting going. It takes years to build momentum in a research institute, and over the past year MLE had started to carve out its own agenda and develop an independent personality. It's a rotten business that it had to stop right now.

Posted by John Thackara at 06:38 PM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2005

Spatial slop

Tristram Hunt's terrific book about the rise and fall of the Victorian city in Britain is full of insights about about infrastructure. One reason for the decline of cities, for Hunt, was the failure to control housing densities. By 1897 the quaker inspired Cadbury Bounville estate was built at 20 dwellings per hectare, and Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City was built at a density of thirty dwellings per hectare - the latter being about one eighth the density of a traditonal nineteenth city street. The twentieth century carried on in this spatially sloppy way: Four million houses were built during the inter-war years in low-density suburbs; the greedy waste of land lasted into the 1990s when average density for new dwellings remained at 23 dwellings per hectare. The 1999 Urban Task Force chaired by (Lord) Richard Rogers proposed new build density of 50 dwellings per hectare, but this modest benchamark did not appear in the 2000 Urban White Paper. The developers and despoilers proved too strong. Tristram Hunt. Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004

Posted by John Thackara at 06:49 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2005

Don't they look young!

For much of 2004, the Doors of Pereception conference archive was inaccessible to the majority of our visitors. (The archive was built over a ten year period for browsers that became too clever and advanced to access material which we hadn't touched....). Well, we've quick-fixed a new architecture and most of you should now be able to re-visit classic moments in our history such as ... well, you tell me which bits you're glad to re-visit!

Posted by John Thackara at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

Fearful of the fear factor

Googling design + 'homeland security' yields 1,290,000 hits on Google today - up from 600,000 last August. The fear factor is fast becoming a big business. But how significant and extensive are the actual threats? A timely seminar on 10 February at the Oxford Internet Institute examines one aspect of the fear boom: spam. To what extent are organized criminal syndicates and terrorists using and abusing the Internet? DK Matai discusses the myths and realities of security threats from his perspective as chairman of one of the leading authorities on electronic security for major financial institutions, government agencies and multi nationals in Europe, America and Asia. Places are limited for this event and must be reserved in advance from: events@oii.ox.ac.uk.

Posted by John Thackara at 12:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2005

Fit, or fried?

Tech-filled "houses of the future" are usually grotesque but darkly entertaining, and MIT's new one does not disappoint. Hundreds of sensing components are installed in nearly every part of Live-In Place Lab. The sensors are used to develop 'innovative user interface applications that help people easily control their environment, save resources, remain mentally and physically active, and stay healthy'. The website says 'help' - but the details suggest...compel. Jason Nawyn, for example, is working on the use of so-called persuasive technologies to 'motivate behavior change' and (with Pallavi Kaushik) to extend a 'sensor-driven place and event-based reminders...encouraging a healthy life balance of work, entertainment, eating, etc'. I'm reminded (these houses are all basically the same) of the Electrolux future home I saw a while back: a poster boasted of a smart floor that, when an intruder was detected, 'turns on the lightning' (sic). The image of liberal Swedes electrocuting teenage burglars has remained with me ever since. Will MIT apply similar sanctions if I eat too much? Thanks to Institute for the Future for the lead.

Posted by John Thackara at 04:53 PM | Comments (0)

Design and disaster (cont.)

Many architects are eager to help with post-tsunami rebuilding in Asia, but "now's not the time for them to switch off their computers and rush for the next flight to Indonesia or Sri Lanka. They'd have little to offer, and would be just more mouths to feed. My advice to them is to study, to learn the skills that will make their contribution truly useful when diasaster strikes in the future." So counsels Architecture for Humanity's Cameron Sinclair in a story by Jonathan Glancey in today's Guardian . Zygi Lubkowski, the Ove Arup engineer and chairman of the Society of Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics, says in the story that there is a place for sophisticated new design and technology - but only when and where local traditions and ways of building and living cannot be readily adapted to cope with future emergencies."We need to plan ahead to make places that are both safe and special", he tells Glancey; this means "working humbly with local people wherever we are wanted or can help, but not imposing fashionable design ideas". Appropriate design knowledge is embodied (in people) and situated (in a context): this has to be one of our reference points when we discuss, at Doors 8, the kind of infrastructures we need to enable the timely sharing of design knowledge.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2005

Design school reputations

When potential students or project clients ask me which is the best architecture or design school, I usually give them the names of a few institutions but also insist: 'don’t take my word for it, get hold of current students or researchers there, and ask them what it’s like'. Even that approach is limited: people inside one institution are not ideally placed to compare their own experience with that of their peers in other ones. Citation league tables are a guide, but tell only one part of the story. I’m struck, in this context, by a Pew report which states that 33 million people in the US have rated a product, service, or person using an online rating system. If reputation systems already help so many people buy books, movies and so on, how long can it be before such systems extend to big ticket purchases of things like a design education?. Design portal Core 77 already hosts a lively forum in which potential and current students exchange opinions about design courses and schools. So far, these exchanges are anecdotal, but someone soon will surely build a ratings system for them to use. Some colleges have already implemented online ratings of individual teachers, and many students are assessing themselves and each other. In 2003, Yale's online course evaluation system processed 24,000 evaluations in its first semsester alone. I'm not sure that many design school directors have thought through the consequences for their institution once online user ratings take hold. There’s a bibliography on the subject here.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2005

How to play the innovation game + APOLOGY

"If you're a manager at a company that's going to compete globally by playing the innovation game, you're going to have to learn how to innovate. When people talk about innovation in this decade, they really mean design". That was Bruce Nussbaum in Business Week , Tuesday, January 04, 2005. And this is a shameless puff. for our design conference in Delhi in March.
APOLOGY: this month, this blog contains a number self-serving plugs for the Doors 8 conference in Delhi in March. This is because we decided not to print 60,000 brochures this year, as we did in the past, and to use this channel instead to tell you about the event and persuade you to come.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:47 PM | Comments (0)

Business, virtue and self-interest

There is still time for your company to sponsor Doors 8. We will use new resources from sponsors to improve the conference, and to enhance the Social Innovation Salon. We also want to provide travel scholarships to grassroots innovators with stories we want to hear.
A decision to sponsor Doors should not be considered philanthropy. We believe sponsors should support the event with the intention of gaining tangible benefit. Here are six reasons why the investment would be a wise one for an international company:
1. The industrial revolution was launched in part by knowledge about textile production brought from India to Europe. The same can happen with knowledge about daily-life services brought from India, today.
2. Doors 8 is about next-generation service and product concepts, and how to design them.
3. India is a world-class incubator of new business models. The 'Public Call Office' concept enabled hundreds of millions of people to gain telephone access, within a few years. What’s coming next?
4. India’s software companies are determined to move up the value chain, globally. They need partners to do that. Who is going to be those partners?
5. Grassroots innovators in India combine pre-industrial lifestyles with cutting edge technology. Innovating companies need to understand how they do that.
6. Doors East led to "brilliant insights into the internet and sustainability" (Economic Times of India).
Note: Doors of Perception is a not-for-profit foundation.

Posted by John Thackara at 03:59 PM | Comments (0)

January 06, 2005

Presenting at Doors 8

Many employers will only pay travel and registration costs if an employee has been invited to present a paper. This crazy policy implies that nobody comes to learn - just to speak - and it leads to over-crowded conference agendas. The policy is a pain for us, too: We want you to come, and we want everyone to be an active participant - but if we overload the agenda with one-to-many presentations, nobody benefits. But we live in an imperfect world, so here are the three ways by which people get to present at Doors 8:
a) By leading a pre-conference Workshop during the days before the conference: these events are an opportunity for incoming experts to meet local designers and design students and engage with a subject and/or situation in a rather open and exploratory way. We will announce these events and make connections between interested parties where we can, but will not provide financial support.
b) By speaking the Conference (Monday/Tuesday): the programme for this is full.
c) By presenting at the Social Innovation Salon (during Conference breaks, and all-day Wednesday and Friday): the Salon is a kind of bazaar in which project leaders and teams will present the results or work-in-progress of a live project. A small number of projects will be the focus of Project Clinics on Wednesday; others (we reckon 30-40) may be presented in the Salon where we will provide space, time, a table, and a noticeboard. If you have a proposal for (a) or (c), send a short email to Priya George (priya@ict4d.info) with a copy to Joost Wijermars (joost@doorsofperception.com) - and they will give you a speedy decision. We will not waive your registration fee if your workshop or project is included in the programme.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2005

Pyramids and campfires

A key question for Doors 8 is, how best shall we share design knowledge when and where it is most needed? Books, databases - or blogs - full of insights, tools and rules are a support, not the thing itself. The most important knowledge is embodied, and situated. There's a tension between the capacity of institutions to help us share (design) knowledge, and their opposite tendency to foster entropy. Martin Buber proposed that 'the tradition of the campfire replaces that of the pyramid'. And Bruce Chatwin, in Songlines, quotes an Indian proverb: 'Life is a bridge; cross over it, but build no house upon it'. Hmmm: now where does that leave architecture?

Posted by John Thackara at 07:39 PM | Comments (0)

Project Clinics at Doors 8

A core element will be Project Clinics (on the Wednesday and Friday). In these clinics, experts gathered together for Doors will evaluate real world projects and, we hope, help teams refocus their work in light of the lessons learned in the rest of the event.

We organised a similar event in Amsterdam in November and have incorporated the lessons learned then in the format for Delhi.

Here is how Project Clinics will work at Doors 8. The sessions are organised into blocks of time, each one containing:
- theme for block introduced (5 minutes)
- two project presentations (10 minutes)
- Q+A with presenter + plenary discussion (15 minutes)
- Experts Round Table (60-75 minutes)
- Plenary Report (2 minute per table)

For each case study, a Project Leader makes a 10 minute presentation that addresses a list of questions:
1) Why? = the main question being asked by the project
2) Who are the actors/partners?
3) Where? (the locality or situaton)
4) What are the desired outcomes/results of the project?
5) When (timeframe)?
6) HOW can the Round Table help? What are problem, challenge or dilemma does the project face, that the assembled experts can help with?

The meeting then breaks up into groups of about eight people each, sitting around two metres wide tables (labelled A, B, C, D etc). Everyone is allocated to a table in advance (so you don't have to choose). Each table has a facilitator (briefed in advance) who gets people to introduce themselves, leads discussion, and makes sure that someone takes notes and a final presentation is prepared. The table meets for 60-75 minutes and then the Plenary reconvenes for another round.

We will focus the project Clinics at Doors 8 on design efforts and innovative solutions emerging from South Asia. We anticipate that leading design schools and universities, NGOs, communities and independent innovators will bring projects to the clinics - and that they will leave them in better shape!

Posted by John Thackara at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2005

Technology, safety, community

This year's Computer Human Interaction (CHI) conference has as its theme, 'Technology, Safety, Community'. The event, says the website, confronts the 'challenge for technology to make people feel safe again'. The agenda sounds uncontroversial, but you have to ask if the resulting design effort will make anyone materially safer, or be directed to where the real problems lie. About 2750 people a day succumb to road traffic injuries, for example, but I don't suppose CHI will call for the abolition of the car: the car industry, after all, is among the world's leading users of information technology. 8,000 people die each day as a result of air pollution, but the CHI agenda does not explain how interaction design might deliver cleaner air. 30,000 people a day die from curable diseases; most of these unfortunates live in the developing world and cannot afford the prices charged by drug companies for remedies that might save them. The events and situations that kill people in the modern world raise complex and highly political issues, and it would not be fair to demand that CHI tackles them all. But CHI surely does have a responsibility to be critical on the safety question. Googling “Homeland Security” and "design" yields 1,250,000 results today - up from 600,000 six months ago. This is evidence, if it were needed, that the Age of Fear has become big business. The question is: do we want to be part of it?

Posted by John Thackara at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2005

Design and disaster

Our partner in the organization of Doors 8, Aditya Dev Sood, was in Phuket, by the sea, with 15 members of his family, on a post-wedding vacation, when the tsunami struck. Thankfully Aditya and his family, at least, are safe. So, too, so far as we've heard, are other friends of Doors in places hit by the disaster. The experience has been a shocking one, but it also brings the theme of Doors 8 - "infra" - into focus. We need to ensure that Doors 8 makes a meaningful contribution to the recovery process. There are at least three ways to do this. First, we will devote time at the event to an evaluation of the design challenges revealed by the disaster. We are therefore keen to hear from people in, or going to, areas affected who can brief us, first-hand, on some of those challenges. Second, one topic already on our agenda is: how best might we share design knowledge when and where it is most needed? Alex Steffen from worldchanging.com, and Jimmy Wales from wikipedia, will join our discussion on this issue. Third: Doors 8 includes two days for Project Clinics when the expertise of delegates can be applied to the development of future projects. More on all this in due course.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

Web collision space

In his new book 'Information Politics on the Web' Richard Rogers says that the Web can be a collision space for official and unofficial accounts of reality and, as such, an excellent arena for 'unsettling the official'. Tools developed by Rogers, such as the celebrated issue tracker, can be used in a new information politics involving competition between the official, the non-governmental, and the underground. For Jodi Dean, Rogers’ book is 'light-years ahead of other research', and Bruno Latour celebrates the fact that 'Finally, someone investigates the Web's ability to express, renew, and disrupt the age-old tools of political expression'. Rogers is Director of govcom.org in Amsterdam.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)