A colleague of mine pointed me towards this insightful piece by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy. In his 1929 short story, Chains (Láncszemek, but here translated as Chain-Links), Karinthy’s narrator describes the “well-connected game” he has been playing.
How do we think things that are both familiar and essentially unknowable? The mobile phone is a device that stands at the nexus of productive forces spanning thousands of lives and dozens of countries. At the same time, this massive assemblage lies dormant in its placement as the familiar functionary of Western daily life. A thing like an iPhone is a networked object. Like scores of communicative technologies before it, it produces (even as it is produced by) a global network of assemblages. The carefully polished glass and impeccably molded plastic are the congealed essence of a process of production that seems to leverage the effort of an entire global community.
Knowing where things come from is fundamental to humanity. Things are very different when they come from different places. We might speak of terroir as the earth in the food, the unique sense of locale imparting an irreplaceable difference that cannot be found in another place. The provenance of a work tells us the importance of not only where something has come from, but when it was created and who it was that fashioned it. Ancient vessels in Pompeii bear the eternal mark of Vesuvinum, and shelves of China are still identified by their geographic namesake. New terms in new disciplines all center themselves around the specific origins of production, seeking to follow the path of circumstances and making that lends the unique sense to the works of art and engineering that become the everyday objects of our lives.
SES is a world-leading satellite operator, providing reliable and secure satellite communications solutions to broadcast, telecom, corporate and government customers worldwide. It owns and operates a fleet of 52 geostationary satellites that are complemented by a network of teleports and offices located around the globe. This far-reaching infrastructure enables their customers to reach 99% of the world’s population and places SES at the heart of the global communications chain.
OpenStreetMap is a project about geography, and deals with the shape of features and information about places on the face of the Earth. Thus, the emerging question is ‘what influence does geography have on OSM?’ Does geography make some fundamental changes to the basic principles of crowdsourcing, or should OSM be treated as ‘wikipedia for maps’?
Processing raw ore into rare earths is an intensive operation that has been associated with radioactive water spills. But with China slashing exports of rare earths and Washington concerned the U.S. military could face a shortage of materials for lasers, smart bombs, guided missiles, night-vision goggles and jet engines, Don Ranta is optimistic about his Black Hills National Forest mine proposal.
Can an algorithm edit a journal? Can a library exist without books? Can students build and manage their own learning management platforms? Can a conference be held without a program?
CitySourced is a real time mobile civic engagement platform. CitySourced provides a simple and intuitive platform empowering residents to identify civic issues (public safety, quality of life, environmental issues, etc.) and report them to city hall for quick resolution; an opportunity for government to use technology to save time and money plus improve accountability to those they govern; and a positive, collaborative platform for real action. A picture tells a thousand words and CitySourced makes it a snap.
So Eigen left the World Bank in protest and started Transparency International. He tells us that the lessons learned in starting the project have implications for other issues, like the work Auret Van Heerden is doing on global supply chains. As with the supply chain, there’s a real danger that as you stop permitting bribery, you’ll get out competed by countries that do permit it. You have to overcome this prisoner’s dilemma by cooperating with businesses. Eigen advocates “antagonistic cooperation” – using a term his wife, a prominent political scientist coined. In Germany, he explained that in the first meetings, no one was willing to admit that they paid bribes. In the second, everyone admitted they did, and in the third meeting, they all agreed to change. This was especially amazing because the government explicitly didn’t apply pressure, and believed that bribery was necessary to keep German business competitive.