Author Archives: admin

Ethical Design – Civic Play

For those that don’t know me, you may not know, that I used to want to be a Doctor. I struggled for a long time about what I wanted to do with my life after realizing that medicine doesn’t always allow you to heal people the correct way. (Or in my eyes, what would be the correct way.) So… I said peace out – let’s do something creative.

In the last few years, though, I realized that my desire to help is stronger than my desire just to make new stuff. And I realized that the tools that I had at my disposal – namely my fingers ability to type on a little keypad – was just as powerful at shaping and healing the world. More so, after the dawn of sites like Facebook – I came to understand that it’s every designer’s duty to design products ethically, with social responsibility, and with cultural understanding.

That is to say — the software tools people use in their everyday lives has more effect on them than doctors. And it’s my responsibility to make sure that effect is positive!

I recently applied to a phD program. My proposal was to study how games that have both a physical and virtual component can help rejoin broken communities and create positive social interactions. Specificially, imagine a world where things like park playgrounds are connected… how can this help people learn and create tighter communities? Well… the feedback I got was that that my ideas were “too idealic”.

Today, two and 1/2 weeks after the interview inwhich I got this interrogation, I read any article:

“Constance Steinkuehler is on an 18-month assignment at the White House, studying the civic potential of video games.”

Dream big. And big things happen.

The Detroit – Berlin Connection

Since I returned from Berlin last January, I’ve been really inspired by the things I saw there and how they can apply them to Detroit. Despite the radical differences in history, there are actually quite a lot of similarities between Detroit and Berlin. The post-industrial nature is only the tip.

I often felt like Berliners looked to the states for innovation. In particular musicians in Berlin were often looking at Detroit. It seems to me when you are thinking about reconstructing and resurrecting cities, though, there is A LOT that Detroiters could learn by looking the other way across the pond.

I’m so excited that someone, FINALLY, has documented some of the differences. The link below is a 7 part NPR radio series that compares and contrasts Berlin and Detroit.

What we can learn, we can repeat.

The Detroit-Berlin Connection:

Full 7 part radio series on NPR:


My So Called Modular Life

Today I finally signed up for a car sharing service,which let’s me take out cars and return them when I want.  I texted the make and model of the car to my mom to let her know what kind of car I would be in when I go to get her from the airport later tonight, my phone alerted me that my text was the first one of the day, so my $2.00 usage daily fee had been deducted.  I went online to look for apartments, furnished is better, why move all my stuff again?

Before, I left the country 2 and 1/2 years ago, I put my life in a box at the end of Pier 17.  It’s still there.

In the meantime, though, I’ve set up my life to exist almost void of location or physical possession needs.  I can travel between continents legal to work, health insurance intact, bank accounts synced, work/ clients in both places, and tools to still say connected to my friends on a real-time basis.  I am free of any long term contracts, commitments, or largely crushing “physical stuff” baggage.  I’ve bought the majority of the clothes I have from resale shops or discounted over 50% for the last 2 years… and I still think I look pretty good.

The majority of the things I need are held in the cloud and access is afforded to me through a number of physical devices.  Before returning to San Francisco, I had accessed this information through a 3 year old computer and a “dumb” phone.  Since being back in the Bay, I carry a tablet, 2 phones (one doubles as my home stereo), and I have a desktop at work and still a 3 year old laptop at home.  But, none of these devices really matter too much to me.  It’s mearly a matter of access speed and the commoditized purchasing of physical goods as anything more than “access conduits” is rather meaningless to me.

My life is completely modular.  Its shiftable at any moment and agile in it’s entire make up.  I can decide to travel for months at a time on a few days notice.  I just put in my new SIM when I land.  And yet I still hold  a “traditional” job.  I’m a designer and consultant.  The more interesting thing, though, is I’m not nearly the only person I know with this kind of lifestyle.  Many of my friends bounce from place to place, working on projects, living in the cloud and using airplanes in ways some people used to use cars.  The “eazyjet lifestyle” has been coined in Europe and has been largely responsible for the resurgence of Berlin’s local economy and entertainment industry – something the city itself is trying to promote more.

But what does this symbolize?  In my parents generation of the 50s and 60s, the notion of a “household” was valued alongside personal ownership as a measure of privacy and social status.  The extent that avant-garde is now associated with carefully remixed and recycled materials is only one sign of the significant shifts of our generation’s struggles and opportunities.

As more and more objects become connected, our lives increasingly become void of the need for physical ownership and the definition of “new” is redefined.  Distributed access points become more entwined into our physical infrastructures and our lives and cultures transcend into the cloud.  The “stuff” just doesn’t matter anymore — because most of the important “stuff” is just bits up in the cloud and the more places and ways I can access that “stuff” the freer I am to live and move more.

The project I worked on last weekend in Jackson, MS where were we made a musical playground – starts to explore further what happens as our civic infrastructures become connected?  When the price of creating a digital structure with reused physical materials makes common ground entry points into a cloud for all members of a community equal.  And so, I start to wonder, as distributed technologies afford access points to our lives, as sharing and reuse of objects increases, as we become more rooted in our digital “stuff” and less in our physical “stuff”.  Do the little modules of each of our lives, somehow start to become intermixed more and start to distribute ideas, wealth, and education.  Do our cities become more like social networks, than vise versa?  Do we model the physical, now, more after the virtual than the reverse?  And are we in fact creating a more sustainable and scalable global culture, where my life is just one widget in a much larger application?

Bits of…


Layers of the city: Remap Berlin

I recently found Remap Berlin — its an art installation that had been launched for the first time in Second Life, at the Odyssey art+performance simulator in July 2009 and at the exhibition hall “Altes Museum” in the virtual world Twinity, March 2010 . It’s an experiment in layering the virtual onto the real.   It’s so often that I only think the other way around. I loved working on the Twinity project for just this reason. Marco Cadioli here has mapped Twinity snapshots onto google maps and then massed it up with other aggregated photos from Panoramio. In his words…

“Remap Berlin” spreads a thin geographical virus in Google Earth and deals with different levels of reality. The project introduces a series of b&w photographs shot in Twinity, a mirror world that reproduces a realistic 3D replica of Berlin. The photos shot in Twinity, are then geo-localized in Google maps, re-mapped from virtual to real and positioned in the exact point where they have been shot in the mirror world. Once uploaded in the photo sharing community Panoramio, the pictures are mixed up with other ones shot in the same geographical point from real life users. Many of these pictures have been selected by Google and can now be found as “Popular photos in Google Earth”: his became a little geographical virus, parts of our memories of the real world. The photographs are cityscapes, shot by Marco Manray roaming around the still empty streets of Berlin in the beta version”

Check out the video:

Remap Berlin from Marco Cadioli on Vimeo.


taking a break…

So, if any of you are interested in why i’m going quiet for a little while… here ya go.  This is roughly a basic account of my ethical views of some social networking technologies and decisions that certain policy makers have made.  On a personal note: it’s summer in BLN, that’s enough of a place to be living for now! 🙂

I’ve struggled now for many years with the idea that technologists can become celebrities.  And I find it even more challenging now that because of how some social tools are currently being built — we are rapidly encouraging fame metrics as social capital.

Broadcast technologies: blogs, facebook, myspace, foursquare — you name it in “social media”, run on the same basic premise that virality is good.  This mainly has to do with economics of certain types of business models.  The problem is the lens’s that are created with this kind of discourse in mind, create certain kinds of interactions — which of course scale exponentially and grow virally.   Meaning, they are based on one sided growth models.  Models might create a “trapped” feeling.  I mean just think of a virus or addictive drug.  Something doesn’t feel balanced.

So my concerns and ethical controversies stem from the fact that … I believe technologists to be tool makers for the world.  In my eyes, in our current post-nu-neo-industrial age we are in many ways doctors and healers, while simultaneously artists and creators.  We are able to build tools for the world that can help shift cultures at a rate never seen before.  This however is not something to be taken lightly.  It’s like giving someone a super power, without a direction-steering sidekick.  The work we do has significant impact on the evolution of communities, cultures, and specifically on the growth and development of every individual we touch.  It’s a responsibility we have to our own communities to offer them helpful tools and not destructive ones. We understand this stuff, you should feel safe in our hands.

Facebook for me has done a lot of things to help advance the digital frontier in the last number of years.  Namely, it has brought identity trust to the web.  Most folks don’t know that Facebook’s main objective was to de-anonymize the web, thus making it not quite so “scary” of a place for most people.  They know their friends are there because there is the persons real name there, so then it must be ok.  This is actually a great advancement in the progress of digital technology.  However, the cost of this was that they don’t allow alias’s or “personas”.   That is they don’t allow for one persona to have a nickname or other identity — therefore they tie all connections to just one modeled identity.  This arguably is not a healthy strategy for humans.  Psychologically, we perceive ourselves performing in different contexts and those different situational experiences hold different performance identities for us.  Not allowing us transparent tools to manage this causes us more stress. Easier:  I wear different clothes to work than I do when I go out dancing and FB makes me basically always wear one outfit, this pisses me off cause I can’t dance as well in button up shirt as I can in a stretchy tank top.  And I don’t get the respect I deserve at work, when I come in 1/2 naked wearing a sweaty tank top.

Moreover, there are real privacy concerns that have been breached by some of their automated opt-in strategies for viral growth and also controversial decision making in the design of some of their privacy accessibility controls.

Over the course of the last two years, I’ve played with my own notion of identity and broadcast, using Facebook and trying to sort out it’s purpose to me.  My online social management is rather complex and includes many different spheres of both personal and professional relationships.  I’ve switched from mainly professional to mainly personal use on FB.  I’ve hyper-managed all the different contexts and groups, and broadcast only to those relevant information.  But finally, I gave up and left my own burden of choice to whoever the heck is reading whatever I am babbling.  In the end, it’s a challenging game and one that I’m beginning to question seriously…

Is this really a good and valuable tool anymore?  Or have the decision makers already set the direction in an irrecoverable direction?  Have we advanced past its use on the web now?  Isn’t it time for it to change?

Anyways, I’m saying all this basically… cause I’m bored of the interactions and lens’s to my relationships that FB is offering me.   So, with my summer holiday, I’m going to test out some time off for awhile.  I’ll see how it goes for a little while then make more lasting decisions.

It’s been totally fun getting back in touch with many of you and catching up.  Have fun and  enjoy the summer!

I highly recommend pools and dancing…


Communication Clouds in Europe

I have a couple things on my mind today.  First is that I’ve been thinking alot lately about just how much the internet has changed our world in the last 10 years.  Second, my time working in Europe and my frustrations.

First, I read today about Skype’s awesome-ness.   And it got me thinking more about how the internet is basically taking over every communication modality that we used to experience… mail, newspaper, radio, fax, TV, movies, phone, and that’s just off the top of my head.  As the article points out, soon, you maybe able to port your phone number to a skype number… meaning VoIP could really take off.  As the accessibility and infrastructure of the internet scales, it is slowly replacing every single communication technology that existed.  Its flexibility, low cost, and ubiquity on to different integrated platforms allows for this change to rapidly take place.  For some reason, today the future is NOW thing, really just hit me.  These communication patterns have already changed the world and it is so much different than it was 10 years ago, and is only increasing in change rate.

I sometimes think of my mother’s understanding of these technologies and  think about what was a “correct” lifestyle.  That kind of life or staying the same job, same home, blah blah, doesn’t really exist anymore as a successful model.  The entire world has a cloud above it now and it’s changed what it means for corporations to exist.  What it means for people to communicate and the quality of life in general.

This leads me to the second thing:  working in Berlin vs. the valley.  I also read this article this morning.  In general, its a great summary of many of my frustrations since moving here one year ago.  I have been working with  Nokia for the last year on helping them redefine and rebuild their company.  While the work is interesting, the goals ambitious, and people quality, I’ve really struggled with the difference in attitudes and work ethic.  While culturally, I think europe is often more open and accepting to a multitude of human behaviors, there is something still quite old about some of the centralized authority models.  I’ve felt little autonomy, little ability to be emotionally vested, and hence have felt very detached from anything I am doing here.  In the end, it just isn’t very satisfying.

What I do… I do because I love it, I enjoy it, and I WANT to work at it and I want to be part of changing the world for the better.  It’s not my job… it’s my life… and it’s mine to create.  My work is a large part of that… and I enjoy what I do because it is part of who I am and a message that I want to exist long after I am here.  That means, I want to produce things to the best of my ability because I believe they are valuable.  I want a structure that supports this ethic, that allows me to grow, that trust and builds my own decision making.   I don’t need 25 days of vacation, leaving work every day at 6pm, an “easy” job, or someone who dictates to me what I am to produce.  I want autonomy, flexibility, and porous security.  I WANT to work because I like it, not because I need to.

Anyways, there are still some older models here, that in the end, have been a really nice grounding lesson for me.  In the end, it’s a great experience to understand where my values, ethics, and motivations lie — that I work in an ecosystem, not a company.  Taking myself out of the center of this value chain and thrown into a different one has made this all much clearer to me and makes me feel lucky to have an understanding of the world through a supportive community of innovators, artists, and entrepreneurs.  The valley might be a competitive place, but it’s what I know and it’s a part of who I am.


So, it’s been almost 1 year since heading to Berlin and in that last year, I have learned more than I could ever put in just one post.  At the forefront, however, of those lessons is a word that has often come to my mind, while here… Transparency.

After reading this report on the celebration of open collaboration at a govt level.  I was reminded of why I love California so very much!

There is something about the culture and community there that embraces so much change and innovation.  And isn’t afraid to open themselves up to transparency.  Since coming to Berlin, I’ve struggled often, with my work culture.  For the last year, I’ve been back at a 500 ton gorilla trying to get them to see some new light and it hasn’t been easy!  I realized quickly that I was possibly a little nuts to most people there, by the number of emails I am willing to send, the wiki’s i’m willing to post to daily, and the amount of conversations I am willing to engage in.   And by “willing” I mean, “expected”.

It was just very different for me.  I honor, celebrate, and thrive in transparent environments.  I enjoy discussions and I enjoy San Francisco because it brings to me a playground for creativity and support for those who want to play.  In the last year, I have gotten used to being blind about many decisions, feeling no autonomy in my work, and getting very quickly emotionally detached from anything I have been making.  The result leaves me unsatisfied.

I don’t intend for this post to undermine the work that we have done nor my colleagues.  I believe the work to be great and my colleagues even better.  However, there is something very old to me about the culture at the 500 lbs gorilla and it runs deeper than I anticipated.  Despite the efforts that we have made, I feel that much of the change needs to come from the very top and I’m afraid that it will just take too long coming from the bottom, for me to be interested.  I don’t want to live in a world where folks tell me what to make.  I don’t want to live in a world where I tell someone else what to do.  I want to live in a world where I respect my fellow employees so much, that I want to help them grow to become the best they can and I expect they will do the same for me.

I want to live in a world where community and leaders, collaborate alike.  I come from this environment and I guess, I just kind of expect it now.  Transparency is powerful, enabling, and free.  It’s revealing of vulnerabilities and to those who don’t want to work to change, once they are revealed, it’s threatening.  I understand that, but I don’t want to be a part of those who feel threatened.  I want to be a part of those who are willing to open up and create a better, freer world.

I miss the culture of California.  I feel blessed to understand it.  In this spirit, I write this post, as I feel it’s time for more transparency and change.


Today, history was made!

Today this is what I watched,when I awoke in Berlin, Germany.  It was 7:00am. I cried.

I had yet in my lifetime, until this moment, been sincerely moved to this extent by any living political figure.  I am witnessing history, I thought to myself and my gut reassured my mind.  Barack Obama is a leader who has already changed the face the nation, literally.   He has brought down the notion that political power is only gained through the already weathly and powerful.  He has reached out to the people – in their own comforts – and speaks to them in their own language & with their own tools.  He has splashed color on our nation’s leaders.

He speaks to my generation.  He stands for the things my friends and I take for granted.  The things we always wish our parents would understand and often don’t.  He believes in working from the ground up, in community collaboration, and communication technology.  He is passionate, eloquent, and humble.   He still believes in the power of humanity and works with those common traits, instead of masking their vulnerabilities.

He is a man of color, yet this somehow has made no difference in his campaign message.  He speaks about the issues, tries to make them digestible enough for me to understand.  And really… speaks of nothing else.  He is confident, direct, and honest.   And for the first time in my life, I am proud to call him MY president!

I watched about 20 seconds of the speech and then loudly exclaim, “I want to go home”.  I want to be home to celebrate with my friends. I want to be home to rejoice in the spirit of change, acknowledge the hope I know have helped to create, and dance in the streets.  I want to be home because I am an American and I am proud.

I celebrated in a champagne brunch and in the spirit of the same voice, I cried again.  This time however, my tears were not externally motivated, but more internally derived.  I remembered a moment living in Chicago, when I had come to a decision to stop “wasting my time” and progress my life.  I was living on a block with drug dealers on each corner and section 8 housing next door to my own.  Every night when I walked home I terrifyingly walked passed kids playing and groups of meandering teenagers, trying to find something to do with their life.  One afternoon, I decided to set my own fears aside and look out at what I saw — people who may wish to have only a fraction of the opportunity and talent that I had sitting in front of me.   I realized that if I didn’t try to create all the opportunity that I could, I would be doing nothing fair for those who never had the possibility of having any at all.  It changed my life and I soon after moved to California to go back to grad school.

I feel now the same, that although I want to go home – I miss my friends and want to be celebrating in their company – that it’s this same spirit of progress that continues to change the world.  It’s unfair to those who never have the opportunity to leave the states, who never know a wider perspective than that one corner in Humbolt Park (chicago), and who may never experience a different culture.  I believe in this hope, in this progress, in opportunity, and exploration.  And I believe in Barak Obama who has proven to grow this even more than I thought possible in one person.  I feel as though he is my leader, but I also feel as though he is my voice.  A man who has the power and opportunity to witness and experience things that I never will… but that he is not doing it for himself – he is doing it for me.  For us!

Today has been emotional, [I also just got a call that one of best friends from when I was growing up is engaged (helllllls yeah!)].  It has elated me to see a world backing our nation’s decision, it’s been hard to experience this from a distance, and it has been hopeful and supportive in reminding me of the spirit of progress, growth, and courage.

Today, history has been made and I thank Barack Obama and all my friends and family for making it!!!

I love you all.


Helvetica – The Movie

If you love to make complex things simple and attractive.  If you love the idea of ice cream cones for the pure reason that they are both form and function.  If you think a driveway might better be called a parkway… then you should watch this movie!

I just got done watching Helvetica – The Movie and I can’t say enough great things. It’s an elegant discussion of simple/ clear graphic design.  It stresses the importance of looking through to the space that isn’t there, as well as the difficulty of how to make a “high heeled guchi” font vs. “a torn sneaker” or a “charlie parker jazz song” really sing.

In a walk through the city, it brings to life the messages that we are shown daily and the emotion that is formed as we interpret and own those forms.  It discusses the responsibility of the designer to give voice and message to artifacts.  It is inspiring.  And delightful to watch.

Helvetica, the movie.  Thumbs up.