TED: What is the new Democracy Model for the internet age?

I was so pleased to get this article published on the ABC site – and it goes to an issue I really think our politicians should think more carefully about. It really is time we thought about upgrading the way we use technology in our democratic systems…

Right up top, [Pia] hit us with the quite confronting reality that our political system is “nineteenth century-designed and based on technologies of the fifteenth century.” How ridiculous is that? And she is quite right of course. Few feel fully engaged in the process that is articulated using – as Pia put it – language written “by lawyers, for lawyers” (“programmatic specificity” springs to mind!)

You can watch Pia’s whole presentation here:

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It is Better to do it The Hard Way

tufekciIn an echo of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2010 “the revolution will not be tweeted”, techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci unveiled at TEDGlobal 2014 in Rio de Janeiro last week her thesis that when it comes to using social media to affect lasting change, achievements are not proportional to the energy they inspire. This is a lesson entrepreneurs ignore at their peril.

Zeynep Tufekci is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and opened Session 2 at this year’s TED Global in Brazil. Session 2 set out to explore the dichotomy between the opportunities that technology offers us, such as affecting social change; and its dangers, such as how it compromises our privacy.

While many pointed to the Arab Spring as proof that Gladwell was wrong, Tufekci brought a different lens of reality to the belief that social media can topple governments. Just because it is “easier to mobilise does not mean it is easier to get outcomes,” she said. To illustrate her point, while alluding to the Arab Spring and set against the backdrop of the withering efforts in Hong Kong today, Tufekci pointed to the Occupy Movement which she said has not delivered on any of its promises despite its worldwide appeal.

This isn’t to say that these viral movements are not valid. The lesson of the Arab Spring uprisings during 2011 was that while the censored media was impotent amid government atrocities, Social Media was able to blow the lid on it. While “editors sat in their newsrooms and waited for the government to tell them what to do,” activists in Iran, Egypt and Libya were able to use Social Media to collect images of police brutality and violence and get them out to the world’s media via Facebook and Instagram with the use of just a mobile phone. Organisers could mobilise many thousands of demonstrators at just the click of a Tweet-button. The role of modern technology in these historic phenomena should not be under-estimated, but as the rapid dispersion of crowds in Hong Kong this week proves, “all these good intentions and bravery and sacrifice by themselves are not going to be enough” says Tufekci.

By way of contrast, she looked back at the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the US. Following the arrest of Rosa Parks in Alabama in 1955, supporters mimeographed 52,000 leaflets and distributed them by hand – an effort unfathomable today given our powerful social media technologies, let alone the far more prolific printing technologies available to everyone. While a gargantuan effort, the key lesson Tufekci highlighted was that the activists met face-to-face and bonded. “They created the kind of organization that could think together, create consensus, innovate, keep going together through differences.”

And here is the punchline: “Are we overlooking some of the benefits of doing things the hard way?” she asks.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and startups looking to quickly create growth to attract investors. Tufekci’s lesson is beautiful in its simplicity: “todays movements feel like startups that get very big quickly”.

Essentially the ability to create the appearance of scale at great speed using powerful communication techniques can be deceptive. Unless startups are able to create sustainability beneath that, they have essentially taken the easy road to what looks and feels like success but ultimately is not enduring and can quickly dwindle. The ‘hard yakka’ of Rosa Parks’ supporters bonded them tightly in an endeavour to which they became deeply dedicated.

The experience of Groupon perhaps exemplifies Tufekci’s message. In 2011 the darling of the group-buying revolution declined a USD$6 Billion acquisition offer from Google before its IPO debut at USD$20. Today, its share price is just USD $6 and its market capitalisation is USD$2 billion less than the Google offer its now much-maligned CEO Andrew Mason snubbed. Most commentators agree Groupon’s mistake was to focus on rapid new customer acquisition rather than sustainable customer retention. In building a lasting business – just as with affecting permanent social change – it is important to take the long view. The apparent might of social media to collect a huge audience can be a dangerous mirage. As Tufecki warns: “the way technology empowers social movements can paradoxically weaken them.”

Time to reclaim our privacy?

I was very pleased to have one of my posts from the recent TEDGlobal I attended in Rio de Janeiro published in Business Review Weekly – Australia’s most prestigious business magazine. You can read the edited version here on their site but I’ve pasted the full version  below…

As the internet turns 25 we have mostly lost the idea of privacy itself.”

Is privacy dead? Andy Yen strongly believes it isn’t and with a new email platform he co-founded last year called Protonmail, he hopes to turn the tables on how government, industry and society generally think about privacy and secrecy. Speaking at TEDGlobal in Rio de Janeiro this week, his radical new concept of how to protect our privacy has important ramifications for consumers, businesses and security agencies alike.

andy yenAndy Yen isn’t a technology developer by trade, but a particle physicist (hence the name) at (CERN European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. But as the full implications of the Snowden revelations became clear, he and his colleagues became concerned at the way that people’s privacy had become a commodity no longer respected by organisations, particularly intelligence agencies or online advertisers. Our personal email, secrets, intimate thoughts or intellectual property were being traded in the open market without our consent.

“We have largely lost control of  our data and privacy.”

So along with colleagues working in the CERN canteen, Yen developed Protonmail, a unique mail service that encrypts your email at the browser level, rather than at the server level. This is important because it means that Protonmail has no access to your account or mail. This not only locks out Protonmail staff themselves, but everyone else from government agencies to hackers or industrial spies.

The service has clearly hit a raw nerve, with over 250,000 users so far, and more than USD$500,000 in crowd sourced funding from Idiegogo – a record for a software project.

But the service is of course controversial. PayPal quietly froze Protonmail’s account when they became concerned that the company didn’t have permission to encrypt users’ emails. Set against a sensitive security climate where the Australian Attorney General is seeking additional powers for ASIO and concern rises about the way that companies like Google and Facebook access users’ content for advertising purposes; the service will continue to polarise. However at the heart of it all lie the questions: what is privacy, what responsibilities do businesses and governments have to protect it and why should we give it up now that technology exists to protect it? Yen’s Protonmail has certainly put the cat amongst the privacy debate pigeons.

 

TED: Davos for Optimists

Hello, my name is Jonathan Rubinsztein and I am a TEDdict. A TEDaholic. A TED junkie. But I suspect I will never be cured, and don’t want to be.

TEDLike any dependence, I crave the high I receive from TED conferences. As I sit on the plane to Rio for my 6th conference in as many years, I mind drifts back to my first. Unlike many addictions, the high I receive from each hit is as good as that first one.  Also, unlike most dependencies, the elation I derive from the profound insight, inspiration and – most importantly – ideas is worth every penny I spend… I have no regrets.

For those who have never been to a TED conference, I hope to share with you some of the experience. Most of you would be familiar with the TED videos on you Tube – there have been more than a billion views – and almost everyone who has must have been touched in some meaningful way by a TED idea. For me, for instance, this video by simon simek profoundly changed the way I view my own business. And yes, that is an important point. I am a managing director of a multi-million dollar IT consultancy employing hundreds of people across Asia and I have no problem prioritising 5 days in Brazil for this conference. The value I can contribute back to my business as a result will be immeasurable in terms of return on investment.

Imagine a fully packed schedule from early in the morning to late at night with 22 minute presentations crammed into the every space of the day. Music, performance, conversation, food and incredible conversations that constantly pushing and stretching the status quo and challenging your world view. The presenters and audience are both as fascinating as each other and you’re immersed in this pool of amazing, talented, interesting, people having dinner, lunch and breakfast with you; interacting, discussing the previous presentation or insane event. After five days of such creative binging I usually come back exhausted and yet exhilarated; with enough intellectual and emotional fuel to last me  months. It takes even longer to fully digest or integrate the insights and ideas

Why not just watch it on You Tube? Because the real benefit of the experience is as much about the audience as the speakers. While the calibre of speakers  extends to such luminaries as as Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell,Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, Bono, Mike Rowe, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel Prize winners – they also make up the audience!. It is the discussions after the presentations that are as valuable as the presentations themselves. To only watch the presentations on You Tube is as deficient as watching a concert on mute. For instance, one of my more lasting memories is a thoroughly scintillating business discussion with Jeff Bezos in LA that helped to revolutionise my business. I cannot think of another event that could afford me that kind of access to brilliance.

I have often heard TED described as Davos for optimists, and although the tagline is “ideas worth spreading” this is often much more than ideas and it really is about the people who are changing the world for the better. Throughout the coming week I will try to download some of that experience here. I hope you can join me and maybe even become fellow addicts yourselves!