Urban Edginess

Where the City Meets its Future.

Category: Effects of social media and mobile communications on infastructure and development

Community planning: Personal retrospective

Simulation - 7

Simulation – 7 (Photo credit: onestudentry)

 

Over two decades ago I had the opportunity to manage a governmental entity that among other things, was charged with resolving conflicts between development, community and environmental concerns. We developed a process, relatively novel at the time, encouraging those involved or concerned (later to be called “stakeholders”) to solve their disagreements among themselves.

 

The process required a team of technicians that could immediately turn a suggestion into a visual representation. This included someone capable of converting the discussions as they occurred into visual and organized notes for all to see. It also included a compendium of the financial and fiscal resources currently available thus forcing the participants to consider the same type of tradeoffs government and private interests must make in deciding what can be done and how long will it take. Finally it required an entity, in this case our agency, who could more or less on the spot make commitments to carry out or support with financial resources the carrying out of at least initial elements of the agreed upon program.

 

What surprised me the most was not that we were successful in almost all cases, as we were, but that despite the heated rhetoric expressed before regulatory or legislative bodies, or in the media the disagreements were so often so slight.

 

Although conflict resolution techniques and design charrettes continue to be used almost everywhere, our particular intensive program eventually fell into disuse. That was because the urban areas included in our jurisdiction were limited in number and once the specific issues in conflict were resolved in these communities they remained so for a decade or longer. Also the process was management and personnel intensive and inevitably such activities in any organization eventually are replaced by a more procedural and careerist focus.

 

Fast forward to today, modern communications technology and social networking appears to be transforming almost everything we do, from how and where we work to how we entertain ourselves and socialize.

 

In community and urban development we now have all the information we could want at our fingertips although not necessarily organized and usable. A simple internet research shows that we have a plethora online communities dedicated to community action of one kind or another. Yet what happens when these online communities conflict with one another? As anyone who has actually been involved in assisting in the resolution of significant conflicts, good intentions and talking things out are not enough. Not only must thoughts and ideas be converted into a communications medium so that each participant has the same understanding as everyone else, but immediate unbiased response on the technical facts must be available if the enthusiasm and commitment to the process is not to wither and die waiting for it. Finally the facts of the limits must be available in a usable form to the participants.

 

Social media, in regard to community planning provides an advanced medium for sharing of information and ideas and encouraging coöperation and should the participants agree collective action. However, before collective action can occur, especially for something a complex and contentious as community planning the most difficult form of group or collective action is the resolution of those conflicts that more often than not are the reason for undertaking the collaborative planning process in the first place.

 

Modern communications technology and social networks offer the promise of real resolution of community conflicts. Nevertheless, it remains a promise that needs to be addressed.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

From The Bard to the Sun King: It’s Always Something

In previous posts I focused on the effects of modern mobile communication technology on how and where we live and work and how it alters our lives. I tried to show how those changes impact not just the individuals themselves but society at large. In one of those posts I described how a retired judge used the technology to make it easier to change careers and become a fairly well-regarded sculptor in bronze.

Much more recently, I travelled to New York City where I met up with another artist, the well-known sculptor of many notable public art installations in California and Washington, Brian Goggin. He was on the East Coast working on what he describes as an immersive sculptural installation. A work of art that also will function as a restaurant to be called Preserve24 located at the corner of Houston and Allen Streets in the rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side of Manhattan. His intention is to turn the entire space into a single integrated work of art using primarily re-used materials in an artistically novel design. A design he believes will be “reminiscent of an expedition society.”

I caught up with Brian at a metal shop in Brooklyn where he was busily working on assembling the dramatic sculptural staircase that will lead patrons into the restaurant. The staircase is designed to look like an entrance to the elevated subway line.

I asked him if modern communications technology, mobile phones or applications has made a difference in how he goes about his business as well as where chooses to live and work.

He pointed out that he uses his smart phone and other technology in their most basic form as a tool, to gather information and to communicate visual images, text and vocal information. Nevertheless, he believes that it has made a substantial difference in how he goes about his art.

He describes what he does as similar to a film director creating a team to manifest a project; engineers, welders, carpenters and the like; the artist as director and inventor/visionary. In a way, he mused, his art can be thought of as almost the same type of business as producing flash mobs.

Photos of projects in progress and materials can be sent to his assistant as well as to clients increasing his ability to include visuals with conversation. Changes can be proposed and implemented immediately. There is no longer a need to take slides, duplicate them and send them through the mail. Costs are lowered and time waste reduced. He and his collaborators can work directly from drawings shared through text and email to enable him to work over great distances with his team members .

He can now manage much of his projects, like the one he is working on in New York, from his home in California half of the time. He can work in teams with other artists living and working in places all over the globe to produce a single collaborative work.

He said that although he now can live and work anywhere, he prefers to be where he can still interact directly with other people; conceptualization can occur at home and fabrication at suitable remote sites.

Cities have always been where artists gathered to meet clients, share ideas and fabricate their art works. Now, through modern communication technology, in our cities a new Renaissance may be in store for us as artists regather, not in low-cost deteriorating warehouse districts on the peripheries of urban areas but at their centers.

Peter Grenell director of the San Mateo Harbor District and a keen observer of history as well as an accomplished raconteur once observed:

“Never forget It was just 35 years more or less from Shakespeare to Louis XIV ; From the French and Indian War to the Louisiana Purchase ; From ‘Et Tu., Brute’ to the kid in the manger; From Fred Allen to Laugh-In.”

We tend to look back into history and see social change as a slow process when we view it through the prism of technological transformation or the speed in which the changes are disseminated. But those born into the frugal world of the Bard died in the extravagant age of the Sun King. Many of those that heard the cheers or jeers that accompanied the imperial pretensions of Julius Caesar ended their day’s hearing the whispers of a new king born in the East. Social change is generational. Its scope and reach often technological. But social change is also reflexive. The reaction to the changes also changes things, often in ways that cannot be predicted.

Tomorrows urban areas, impacted by modern communications technology will not be the same as the urban areas of today. The Cities of our fathers or grandparents that were the smoky chaotic centers of industry and trade were not the same as the urban areas of our time; uncertain places, slowly decaying as motorized transportation took people, industry and commerce away to less stressful environments. The Cities of the future, fashioned in part by the effects of the communications technologies of today will be different still, probably in ways we cannot imagine. They will be neither as bleak as feared or as paradisiacal as hoped, but in my opinion the experience of those changes and how we accommodate to them are much of what life is all about. It will be both frightening and exhilarating.

(The above post is taken from my blog that appeared is Smart+Connected Communities Institute.)

How Modern Communications Technology Makes You and Your Community Safer

 

English: Coachella Valley © 2004 Matthew Trump

English: Coachella Valley © 2004 Matthew Trump (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earthquake Preparedness, First Responders and Limited-Access Hybrid Communications Systems

“Articles about advances in personal electronic devices often seem focused on frivolity–playing games, seeing where your friends are eating dinner, and watching DVDs–but the real news is that these technological advances also provide valuable tools for personal and public safety.” — From a personal communication with Ruth Galanter, former Los Angeles City Council member.

A few days ago the Smart + Connected Communities Institute referenced a Berkman Center paper regarding Lessons Learned from the Great Earthquake. Included in the lessons learned was the significant effect on recovery created by destruction of or damage to electronic and other data caches. The paper urged, among other things, creation of a collaborative network to protect valuable information infrastructure in a crisis.

On September 12, 2012, California’s Seismic Safety Commission along with its technology partner Seismic Warning Systems Inc., took the initial steps to install such a system to deal with the needs of first responders to earthquake disasters in the highly seismically active Coachella Valley in California.

The system requires placing sensors every 6-12 kilometers or less along selected faults. These sensors will analyze p-waves (nondestructive waves that precede the more destructive waves in earthquakes) and, following detection of large earthquakes, send alerts to devices in major-emergency response facilities such as fire stations, public health facilities, communication facilities and the like. The devices, in turn, will pre-operate those essential functions often damaged when an earthquake hits, such as opening fire station apparatus room doors, turning on lights and displaying warnings of public safety and utility dispatch monitors, closing off gas mains, turning on emergency electric generators and so forth. Furthermore, it allows emergency services personnel to receive the early warnings by PA systems in their buildings to allow them to begin their preparation to respond to the event. Early warnings can also be sent to emergency personnel through their personal communications devices. (Variations of this system protecting individual buildings and related sites have been installed in several places around the country, including, for instance, on the Cisco corporate campus in San Jose, California and its day care center as well.)

In addition, as the Japanese study recommends, mechanisms for protecting the data in major data centers can be installed that automatically trigger data-saving measures and customer-transparent operations, such as switching over to redundant systems. Key personnel can then be notified that such operations have begun so they can take whatever additional actions may be required.

These types of pre-disaster management triggering systems, when combined with personal communication technology, could be called “limited-access hybrid communications systems.” Access could / would be “limited” to a particular set of users (e.g., executives, emergency personnel, facilities managers). “Hybrid” in the sense that the mechanical / electrical systems and the communications systems are intended to operate in tandem. (Of course, one could argue that a mapping application used to find driving directions becomes a hybrid system or perhaps a “mash-up” when the user jumps into his car and drives to his destination–or uses GPS while driving–but it is difficult to classify the user as a member of significantly limited user group…. Anyway, if anyone has the need for a better definition and has some ideas about it, I am all ears.)

Another example of a somewhat similar of system but focused more an individual property and personal security would be those home and facility security systems that notifies security personnel and the property owner via their mobile devices if something on the property has gone amiss — such as a break-in, a fire or even an appliance left running while an owner is on vacation — and allows for the remote operation of various systems on the property from the mobile devices.

Many medical and emergency public service personnel today carry smart phones, pads and notebook computers containing applications that assist them in carrying out their duties. Although they are clearly trained in the skills required for dealing with emergencies in the field, the amount of information required to manage complex modern emergency field equipment and execute the various protocols for dealing with the variety of medical issues they may confront while dealing with the other effects of the crises, (e.g. fires, structural stability and the like) makes reliance on human memory for procedures and protocols unsatisfactory, if not downright dangerous. The time pressures these individuals work under makes referring to handbooks and texts unwieldy and time-consuming even if they were able to carry around all the volumes required to cover every eventuality they may meet.

To deal with this problem, applications have been developed covering a host of those emergency protocols and procedures. These are not simply informational applications, like for example a handbook digitalized on to a smart phone, but often are applications capable of guiding and responding to the emergency personnel’s real time needs during operation of the equipment and execution of the protocols that may be necessary to save a life.

For example, the American Heart Association has produced a number of applications carried by many emergency services and medical personnel that contain protocols, procedures and check lists for operation of appropriate equipment and treatment of cardiac problems in the field. Many more applications like this exist and their number is increasing, especially in emergency medical and disaster prevention and recovery activities.

This appears to be a growing and welcome phenomenon. In fact, I recently heard that there may be applications under development by several international organizations that could assist medical personnel in treating biohazards in the field to stem their spread across national boundaries.

As Ruth Galanter mentions, discussion about modern mobile communication devices and their associated applications often focus on social media, games, and other ways to simplify some daily activities even if they do not necessarily simplify daily life itself. But the ability of these devices — often used in concert with various Internet applications–to extend the range and efficiency of various critical, disparate systems — some hard-wired and some virtual should not be overlooked in community planning to address community development and maintenance needs. No longer just an issue of budgets, personnel and existing infrastructure, community and emergency response planners need to ask also if application of modern communication technology can make whatever it is they are trying to prepare for simpler, quicker, cheaper and more effective.

When the forest fire advances on your house and you are packing the car to flee, you really won’t care about playing games! You will want the Fire Department rushing to your aid and the comfort of knowing they know what to do when they get there. Technology can take care of this.

 

Conflict Resolution in the Age of Mobile Communication Technology: Can it happen?

Simulation - 8

Simulation – 8 (Photo credit: onestudentry)

Over two decades ago I had the opportunity to manage a governmental entity that, among other things, was charged with resolving conflicts between development, community and environmental concerns. We developed a process, relatively novel at the time, encouraging those involved or concerned (later to be called “stakeholders”) to solve their disagreements among themselves.

We soon discovered that in order for the process to work effectively it required a team of technicians capable of immediately turning a suggestion into a visual representation. Also included in the team was someone capable of converting the discussions as they occurred into attractive visuals and organized notes for all to see. We also drew upon a compendium of the financial and fiscal resources. Knowledge of fiscal resource limits and how to apply them created a type of gaming situation that forced the participants to consider the same type of tradeoffs that government and private interests must make when they need to decide what can be done and how long will it take. Finally, the process required an entity, in this case our agency, that could more or less on the spot, make commitments to carry out at least the initial elements of the agreed-upon program.

What surprised me most was not that we were successful in almost all cases, as we were, but that despite what was suggested by the heated rhetoric expressed before regulatory or legislative bodies or in the media, the actual content of the disagreements among the contending camps of interest were often rather slight.

Although conflict resolution techniques and design charrettes continue to be used almost everywhere, our particular intensive program eventually fell into disuse. That was because the urban areas included in our jurisdiction were limited in number, and once the specific issues in conflict were resolved in these communities, they remained solved for a decade or longer or until new conflicts arose. Also the process was management and personnel intensive and inevitably such activities in any organization eventually are replaced by a more procedural and careerist focus.

Spending on information and communications tec...

Spending on information and communications technology in 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward to today. Modern communications technology and social networking appear to be transforming almost everything we do, from how and where we work to how we entertain ourselves and socialize.

In community and urban development we now have all the information we could want at our fingertips although not necessarily organized and usable. ( A deficiency that a site like the Smart+Connected Communities Institute seeks to remedy).

Simple Internet research shows that we have a plethora of online communities dedicated to community action of one kind or another. Yet what happens when these online communities conflict with one another? As anyone who has actually been involved in assisting in the resolution of significant conflicts knows, good intentions and talking things out are not always enough. Not only must thoughts and ideas be converted into a communications medium through which each participant has the same understanding as everyone else, but immediate unbiased response on the technical facts must be available if the enthusiasm and commitment to the process is not to wither and die waiting for it. Finally, the hard facts of the limits must be available in a usable form to the participants.

A diagram of the dispute resolution process, f...

A diagram of the dispute resolution process, for both content and user conduct issues. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Social media, in regards to community planning, provides an advanced platform for sharing information and ideas and encouraging coöperation and, should the participants agree, collective action.

Modern communications technology and social networks offer the promise of real resolution of community conflicts. Nevertheless, it remains a promise that needs to be addressed and nurtured.

Mobile communication technology and resilient walkable communities.

While at the health club a few days ago, I ran into a middle-aged acquaintance, a sailor in his working life, busily engrossed in his smart phone applications. I asked him how the device affected his life.

“Well,” he responded, “I don’t go to the movies, they’re free on-line. I don’t read books either. I shop on-line and the stuff is delivered. I live in the city, closer to medical services so I don’t need a car. I kept my motor bike for getting around. I keep in touch with friend’s all over the world, it’s cheaper than going there myself. Mostly it helps me save money for health care.”

A few weeks earlier, I asked my 20-year-old grandson the same question. He recently moved from San Francisco to the small Central Valley town of Reading where he does a modest business selling things on the internet.

“I can do business from anywhere now. Living is cheaper here. I’m nearer the mountains for skiing. I keep in touch with all my old friends. I have time to kick back with friends who live nearby.”

I am sure most people have had or heard similar conversations before.

These type of life-style choices go on around us all the time now. They have consequences; economic, social and on the community and its physical design.

For example, a decision by as little as three percent of potential second car purchasers to delay or permanently do without, could affect the entire automotive industry and those dependent on it resulting in companies like, say, General Motors unable to adequately finance expansion and replacement of assets by sales of equity thereby forcing a greater reliance on debt financing and cost cutting with the costs to be cut coming primarily in the areas of labor and innovation.

Although the two people quoted are definitely not “Main Stream” (e.g., house in the suburbs and particular consumption patterns), nevertheless, in social and economic contexts, those on the margins or edges can and often do have effects far greater than their numbers suggest.

There are many things that can be drawn from these conversations that one can speculate about. Although I may discuss some in later blog posts, my focus here is on the realization by many like my sailor friend and my grandson that mobile communication and the internet can cut down on their living costs in several ways.

For individuals, like the two above, the ability to do more with less and do it cheaper through modern technology transforms their life choices in ways that are only now beginning to be appreciated. Both men imply that modern technology lessens their need for high income to achieve their non-subsistence needs. They seem to view work as only the minimum needed to allow them to enjoy the full benefits of modern technology.

Imagine if you will, before embarking on their life’s work the young Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were offered a billion dollars to spend however they like, but they first must choose between working more than 10 hours a day six days a week in an exciting job as upper management in a large innovative corporation, or 4 hours a day or so working in some burger joint. Now, I cannot guess what Gates or Buffet would choose, but I suspect for most of us having more time to enjoy the billion dollars including using it to improve oneself or to engage in some appropriate life’s work would outweigh the less psychologically rewarding aspects of the burger job.

For many today like my two interviewees, modern technology offers them just that choice. Compared to say seventy years ago, modern relatively low-cost technology conceivably is comparable to the entertainment, informational and interpersonal benefits they could buy with a billion dollars (or the equivalent in today’s dollars) then.

So what does this have to do with smart and connected communities of the future? A lot actually. Both the sailor and the young man, largely because modern communications technologies satisfy so much or their needs relatively inexpensively, have settled comfortably into what has been referred to as “resilient walkable” communities. Older communities, with existing and less expensive housing well served by local urban amenities such as better transportation options. Ironically these resilient walkable communities tend to be denser than the suburbs and foster more interpersonal interactions (coffee houses and the like)

Recent studies seem to indicate that American neighborhoods with better transportation choices have far more discretionary income than the average American family or those who live in the outer, “Auto-dependent” suburbs. An average family earning $40,000 per year can save over $4000 per year by moving into a transit oriented development. They can then use that money to pay off the debts that they incurred to the banks that persuaded them modern economics can violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics and grow forever or they can spend some of it upgrading their personal communication capability.

During my talks with them I got the impression that the nature of their more mobile lifestyles lead them to prefer inexpensive rentals rather than being tied down to a fixed asset and that their living space needs have shrunk also.

I also surmise that they are not searching for expensive upgrades to their homes or neighborhoods such as energy independence or technological displays, preferring to save their money for better and more versatile applications to those devices that remain as close to them as their clothing, go where they go, satisfy their needs and connect them to the world.

They seem to be turning Thorstein Veblen’s observation on its head. We may be changing from a society of Conspicuous Consumption,” to one of “Conspicuous Non-consumption.”

Perhaps we are entering a time where for some, possibly even many, the future of community may be in an application and everything else merely a temporary accommodation.

Is a new world being created in America?

First some startling facts about life in America today:

1. Only 55.3 percent of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 have jobs.
2. There are 240 million working age people. Only about 140 million of them are working.
3. According to CareerBuilder, only 23 percent of American companies plan to hire more employees in 2012.
4. Since the year 2000, the United States has lost 10% of its middle class jobs. In the year 2000 there were about 72 million middle class jobs in the United States but today there are only about 65 million middle class jobs.
5. According to the New York Times, approximately 100 million Americans are either living in poverty or in “the fretful zone just above it.”
6. According to that same article in the New York Times, 34 percent of all elderly Americans are living in poverty or “near poverty,” and 39 percent of all children in America are living in poverty or “near poverty.”
7. In 1984, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older was 10 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger. Today, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older is 47 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger.
8. Since the year 2000, incomes for U.S. households led by someone between the ages of 25 and 34 have fallen by about 12 percent after you adjust for inflation.
9. The total value of household real estate in the U.S. has declined from $22.7 trillion in 2006 to $16.2 trillion today. Most of that wealth has been lost by the middle class.
10. Many formerly great manufacturing cities are turning into ghost towns. Since 1950, the population of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has declined by more than 50 percent. In Dayton, Ohio 18.9 percent of all houses now stand empty.

(See: http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/30-statistics-that-show-that-the-middle-class-is-dying-right-in-front-of-our-eyes-as-we-enter-2012#ixzz1pfpGZedV)

The most significant take away from the above dolorous statistics and the most predictive of the future of American society is the sudden and calamitous reversal of traditional American expectations that each generation is destined to enjoy greater economic and material success than the prior generation.

To step away from examining the political and economic causes of that reversal, hopefully without ignoring or diminishing them, it may be worthwhile speculating on whether or not there are other contributing or exacerbating causes.

One possible and I guess one can call a positive influence on this seeming slide is the emergence in our economy and society of the pervasive and ubiquitous impact of mobile communication and social networking. To look at it in one way, those most proficient in using the devices, have the potential to provide for pennies almost all ones needs except food and shelter. If that is even remotely so, what remains of the incentive to work hard and achieve material success, if such success is directed in part to acquiring those things necessary to travel to and impress others or to entertain oneself? And in terms of personal satisfaction, proficiency in manipulating the device may be adequate for many and if truth be known more personally rewarding than what was available for most people only a generation ago.

So, if I am right that access to basic food, basic shelter and inexpensive mobile communication devices and applications may satisfy an increasing number of the emerging generation, who grows the food, who delivers it, who builds the shelters and the devices? Robots? Perhaps that is why Amazon purchased Kiva Robots. What happens to the economy if a sizable portion of the population chooses to travel less, buy less clothing or cosmetics and the like?

And what sort of world is being created? Do those without food and shelter take it by force from those who have, like they did thousands of years ago? Who fights to preserve this rudimentary lifestyle? Does the industrial economy continue to contract and along with it the metaphors for work –  credit and money, find less and less upon which to, well, work so that gambling appears as valid a use for it as any? And what is the purpose of education? Are these new people, lazy parasites for opting out as they may do? If so, what do you make them do instead, work on the farms?

Are Economists Missing Fundamental Social and Economic Change Again?

Economics

Economics (Photo credit: markwainwright)

I previously have written here on my observation that we may be witnessing a basic change in economic activity. A shifting of fundamentals if you will.

In the 1700s economics, as we tend to think of it,  primarily concentrated on the fundamentals of trade and the incipient industrial and technological advances contributing to its growth. This was the time Adam Smith and his followers attempted to describe what they saw happening around them.

By the Nineteenth Century, industrialization spawned socialism and its neo-classical reaction in an attempt by the emerging self identified élite, now calling themselves economists, to illustrate the situation as they experienced it. Being addled by their own theories, they still relied on the analysis of Smith et. al. but added “updates” to attempt to preserve the theory and hopefully more accurately describe the situation as they found it at that time. Few if any (Marx excepted) recognized the circumstances were totally new and may require a completely new theory, analysis and description. After all, trade was no longer the driving force in society and in the economy, production and consumption was.

In the Twentieth Century things changed again. The central focus of the “economy” morphed from production and consumption to getting people from here to there in order to produce or consume. It could be argued that the major portion of economic activity was dependent upon transportation, not as merely the means of moving goods to market but the major driver of economic activity; in effect its purpose. The economists adjusted their old theories steadfastly refusing to recognize the fundamental change of everything.*

We are now facing perhaps another basic change in economic activity, social media and mobile communications have made transportation less central to ones life. as the following chart demonstrates, vehicle miles per person is steadily decreasing.
As a result, economic activity based upon getting people from here to there is also contracting. To a great extent, I suspect that is what is exacerbating the current economic turmoil (if not its cause). We may be entering a new economic age. Once again most economists fail to recognize it.

Should this most recent pattern change fail to mitigate the effects of climate change, expect the next so-called paradigm shift to focus on remedial actions to limit the effects on the environment from the carbon byproducts and waste produced by the industrial and transportation economies bringing with it a new economic template.

Economists at that time will still try to preserve their theories and will tell you that essentially nothing has changed in their analysis. Not only will they be wrong, but they still will not be able to predict anything of any importance to anyone with any greater accuracy than the flipping of a coin.

The reason for the economists almost always “getting it wrong.” appear to me to be twofold. The fist is that economists attempted to model itself on Newtonian physics in an attempt to make itself appear more “scientific” and separate itself from the other social sciences. However lacking some independent criterion, such as in science’s case natural phenomena, its theories cannot be effectively judged. A social science like economics deals with people who not only act on their own and influence the system in which they operate, but have their own views of the realities of the system in which they act.

The second, as described by George Soros recently, is somewhat more  complex and subtle.

What a person thinks is the reality he or she perceives is never the actual reality itself. The person’s perception is always incomplete. The person, in other words is fallible to use Soros word. He could be wrong to a greater or lesser degree.

When the person intends to impact the reality then his incomplete or fallible view that represents his understanding is supposed to determine the outcome. All well and good if for example you want to throw a stone. But as things get more complex more problems arise. As the reality becomes more complex what the person thinks is the reality becomes more problematical. Where a person intends to act on or impact something within that more problematical understanding of reality the nature of the effect becomes more problematical as well. In other words as a persons view of reality diverges from the reality itself, the outcome of his actions increasingly diverge from his expectations.

This syndrome affects all social spheres such as finance and politics inevitably producing actions or insights that have no greater accuracy or effectiveness than what would result from pure chance.

* Note: Between the 1960s and about 2010 some commentators have suggested that there may have been another fundamental shift; from a transportation economy to one based upon the exchange of financial instruments. It arose because there appeared not to be enough industrial and transportation projects to sop up all the money created. So, gambling on itself seemed to be a reasonable way to continue choosing winners and losers. This era appears to have been born and now be dying right before our eyes. It may have been either an exceptionally short-lived shift in the world’s economic foundation or merely a transition between two generations. In my opinion it is probably the latter.

_____________________________________________

On the Role of Civil Society:

“Why would anyone be morally bound or wish to be morally bound to a civil society that does not share the goal that it’s citizens deserve a fair distribution of wealth, income and power? If the civil society is not dedicated to that end what else could it possibly be dedicated to? What is freedom, to those without wealth, income or power?”

Trenz Pruca

On Economics as a Science:

“In Science. a physical theory that is logically consistent may be considered truth only until falsified. In Economics, a sociological theory that is logically inconsistent is often considered true even when falsified.”

Trenz Pruca

On Governmental Priorities:

“As with most fundamental freedoms, preventing those who wish to abridge the fundamental rights of others is a more important role of government than encouraging the exercise of those rights. Exercising our rights are our individual jobs, protecting us from those who would abridge are rights is the duty we collectively give to government. If government is not the guarantor of Freedom then it is a tyranny.”

Trenz Pruca

Share

More on Social Media and Mobile Communication on Urban Design

English: Infographic on how Social Media are b...

English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Previously in this blog and others I discussed some of my thoughts on how social media and  mobile communication potentially affect the physical aspects of how we live (here and here ). I focused not so much on what these technologies do to make our jobs and social lives better, but how this better life affects the physical and economic choices we make in response.

In the previous posts I explored whether the surprising decrease in per capita vehical miles driven could in part be traced to modern communication technologies and if so what it may imply.

Recently I came across another surprising statistic and wrote up a private letter to some close friends containing snarky speculation about the possible influence of modern communication technology on the trend and again its implication for community design and economic growth.

For those offended by some of my comments, I apologize. They were written to amuse the target audience. Nevertheless, the impact of these technologies on the particular community could be profound and its applicability to other economic and social communities potentially both revolutionary and disturbing.

This chart is fascinating to me. Some commentators have suggested that the decline in church building may represent a fall off in church membership or religious commitment. Others see current economic uncertainty affecting church finances. I suspect something a bit more complex may have influenced this particular decline especially over the past few years when the slide accelerated.

The sale of religious belief over the past few years, I suspect, to some extent has migrated from church pew to the airways and now to the internet. It may become more profitable for ambitious divines to take their ministry out of the stationary pulpit and move it to wherever a believer may be at the time; home, car, work. Now through the wonder of mobile communication, social media and the internet they can be reached from anywhere at any time by the Word of their choice. In addition, no longer need anyone sit silently in a pew while the sermon washes over them since they now can participate as well; comment on the message, share enlightenment with other believers, contribute to the ministry’s missionary work or political lobbying activity through Pay-Pal.

A Different Church Building

A Different Church Building (Photo credit: justshootingmemories)

This is just another example of the many ways new communication technologies may affect society, community and physical development. Will a new community need a building in which to worship or will God dispense his grace electronically? If a building is still desired, does it have to be big or just plush? Does it require soaring ceilings, stained class windows and gleaming organs, or just a chair, a modem, i-tunes and a wandering u-tube crew.

Will fewer churches be built, office buildings constructed, shops opened, parking lots needed? Will city halls and governmental buildings be necessary? If so, what will new communities look like? What happens to already existing structures? What happens to the economy if we build fewer churches, offices, stores, parking lots, governmental buildings than we did in the past? What will all those people who built things now do to make a living? Will we live closer together or farther apart?

What will the society be like were fewer people get their religion in churches, work in office buildings, shop in stores and drive about? What will we do with all that time we do not spend going to and from those places? We certainly will fill up the time. That is what people do. One thing we know we will not do with all that time; improve ourselves. That we never seem to get around to do.

None of these changes need to be universal or even particularly large in order to have a major effect on society. If say just five percent fewer churches, office buildings, stores and the like are built than what past experience dictated would occur in similar populations how great an impact would that be? What happens to jobs and profits? Is this what is already happening now? Could it be that the whole foundation of economics is wrong? That neither demand creating supply or supply creating demand is anything more than a temporary phenomena generated by technological change?

Reflections on the Impact of Social Media and Mobile Communications and Computing on Society.

First some facts:

1. Today, only 55.3 percent of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 have jobs.
2. In the United States today, there are 240 million working age people. Only about 140 million of them are working.
3. According to CareerBuilder, only 23 percent of American companies plan to hire more employees in 2012.
4. Since the year 2000, the United States has lost 10% of its middle class jobs. In the year 2000 there were about 72 million middle class jobs in the United States but today there are only about 65 million middle class jobs.
5. According to the New York Times, approximately 100 million Americans are either living in poverty or in “the fretful zone just above it”.
6. According to that same article in the New York Times, 34 percent of all elderly Americans are living in poverty or “near poverty”, and 39 percent of all children in America are living in poverty or “near poverty”.
7. In 1984, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older was 10 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger. Today, the median net worth of households led by someone 65 or older is 47 times larger than the median net worth of households led by someone 35 or younger.
8. Since the year 2000, incomes for U.S. households led by someone between the ages of 25 and 34 have fallen by about 12 percent after you adjust for inflation.
9. The total value of household real estate in the U.S. has declined from $22.7 trillion in 2006 to $16.2 trillion today. Most of that wealth has been lost by the middle class.
10. Many formerly great manufacturing cities are turning into ghost towns. Since 1950, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s population has declined by more than 50 percent. In Dayton, Ohio 18.9 percent of all houses now stand empty.

The most significant take away from the above dolorous statistics and the perhaps the most predictive of the future of American society is the sudden and calamitous reversal of traditional American expectations that each generation expects to enjoy greater economic and material success than the prior generation.

To step away from examining the political and economic causes of that reversal, hopefully without ignoring or diminishing them, it may be worthwhile speculating on whether or not there are other contributing or exacerbating causes.

One possible and I guess one can call a positive influence on this seeming slide is the emergence in our economy and society of the pervasive and ubiquitous impact of mobile communication and social networking. To look at it in one way, those most proficient in using the devices, have the potential to provide for pennies almost all ones needs except food and shelter. If that is even remotely so, what remains of the incentive to work hard and achieve material success, if such success is directed in part at acquiring those things necessary to travel to and impress others or to entertain oneself? And in terms of personal satisfaction, proficiency in manipulating the device may be adequate for many and if truth be known more personally rewarding than what was available for most people only a generation ago.

So, if I am right that access to basic food, basic shelter and inexpensive mobile communication devices and applications may satisfy an increasing number of the emerging generation, who grows the food, who delivers it, who builds the shelters and the devices? Robots? Perhaps that is why Amazon purchased Kiva Robots. What happens to the economy if a sizable portion of the population chooses to travel less, buy less clothing or cosmetics and the like?

And what sort of world is being created? Do those without food and shelter take it by force from those who have, like they did thousands of years ago? Who fights to preserve this rudimentary lifestyle? Does the industrial economy continue to contract and along with it the metaphors for work such as credit and money? Do they find less and less upon which to, well, work so that gambling appears as valid a use for it as any? And what is the purpose of education? Are these new people, lazy parasites for opting out as they may do? If so, what do you make them do instead, work on the farms?

(See also Trenz Pruca’s Journal)

Emerging Lifestyle Changes and their Affect on Development Planning.

1903 World's Work Article

1903 World’s Work Article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago,in my blog, Trenz Pruca’s Journal,” and more recently here, I commented on Naomi Wolf’s observation that a certain portion of the nation’s younger generation appears intentionally choosing to be less mobile and unmotivated to pursue the high intensity jobs that past generations aspired to. I pointed out that, if her observation is correct, this trend may become exacerbated by the increased use of mobile communication over the past decade or two. Perhaps a major portion of what we purchase, I surmise, is intended for travel to and meeting with other people. Things like automobiles, clothing, cosmetics and the like, for the most part, are intended to facilitate face to face meetings between people. With mobile electronic communication, at least to those who rely upon them (mostly the young who grew up using them for their juvenile socialization needs), such travel and meeting oriented purchases are less necessary, and the employment requirements to acquire the money to obtain them less pressing.

Such shifts in social goals need not be great in order to have a significant effect on the nation’s economy. As I mentioned a mere 3% of potential purchasers eschewing a second car could be enough to eliminate growth in the automotive industry for that year.

Some evidence that this shift already is occurring is provided by the chart I have recently come across that indicates Vehicle Miles Driven in America has declined for the past 7 years and the pace of the decline is quickening.

While the recession accounts for some of the decline, it began prior to the beginning of the rescission (as it did in 1980) but more importantly it has continued and even accelerated following the recession’s end.

If this chart is a harbinger of the future, just think about what it may mean for the future, on jobs, highway construction, automobile manufacturing, climate change, the textile industry and on and on.

What is curious to me is that few economists, commentators or financial pundits that I know of appears to have even glanced at the phenomena much less commented on it except as an artifact of the recent recession. Perhaps they think it is irrelevant.

Before the advent of the highly mobile society in the 1920s economics was the provenance of a few academic scholars. Since its inception the industry has grown such that every mid-sized institution worth its salt, has a house economist (as well as a lawyer and accountant, two other growth industries over the past 80 years). Could it be that they have really been studying the wrong thing all along?

The Adam Smith’s of the world in the 18th Century attempted to generalize the workings of traders and brokers meeting in a few coffee houses in London. Their musings were found useful but inadequate to describe the industrial economies of the 19th Century and by the Twentieth Century re-evaluated again. But were they not simply attempting to generalize the workings of trade in an agrarian society, the dynamics of industrialization and most recently the transportation based economy? In every case they proved to be somewhat satisfactory for describing what lay in front of them, but wholly inadequate in either predicting or describing the transition to another economic paradigm? In other words, perhaps the title of Macro-economics their practitioners assumed for their trade was never very Macro at all, but just a poorly written operating manual for a soon to be obsolete machine.

%d bloggers like this: