Seb Paquet - guestblogger intro
Hi everybody - Sébastien Paquet here. Mark invited me to guestblog here for a little while, following in Rob's tracks. I'm glad to be here - I've looked at some of your blogs and am impressed by the quality of the thinking that goes on in them. Kudos to Mark for giving each of you a public voice!
OK so I thought I'd kick it off by telling you a bit about who I am and some of the things I care about. I'm 27, originally from the Ottawa region, and seem to be moving to the east every 13 years or so. I love making music and wish I had more time to do it. I love computers too, got my first in 1983 and my first modem a year or two later. On the academic side I'm interested in a lot of things. I started out in physics, dabbled in theoretical computer science, then got interested in computer graphics.
Then I figured out that what I really liked more than deepening knowledge in a particular field was to connect knowledge between disciplines, and ended up writing a Ph.D. thesis on just that, tools for interdisciplinary knowledge sharing. My thesis started from the observation that most physicists don't talk to biologists, most psychologists don't talk to philosophers, etc. This is a bad thing because some of the most interesting and some of the most pressing problems lay on the boundaries between disciplines. Progress on those problems will be slow as long as cross-disciplinary dialogue between scholars remains a difficult and unusual thing. In my thesis I examined the usefulness of tools such as weblogs and wikis for fostering interdisciplinary communication and scholarly networking. (I started my weblog as part of that investigation.)
And last summer I became a researcher in the eLearning group at the National Research Council of Canada's Institute for Information Technology in Moncton, New Brunswick. Our group has about a dozen members and does all kinds of neat research and development in the areas of learning objects, social software, web-based learning and such. The staff includes researchers, programmers, and business development officers.
I'd like to say a few words on the general problem of organizational inertia, which I think plagues our societies as change accelerates. So many of our organizational structures were invented at a time when we could assume that the context in which they operated changed slowly. In many cases that assumption is by now no longer tenable, and many organizations (especially the larger ones) appear frighteningly unresponsive to changing conditions, which sometimes renders them practically unable to fulfill what they are supposed to do.
Many people see this happening and try to do something to change these organizations using a top-down approach. They try to convince the people in the organization who have some kind of authority that things must change, and count on them to implement the required change. I'm skeptical that such efforts often pay off when the change that is required is radical and the context is complex and difficult to see through. First, there are all kinds of feedback loops and vested interests that make an organization very stable and resistant to change. Second, the people at the top are very often the best products of the system that now has to change, and as such have all kinds of habits ingrained in them that make sudden turns unlikely.
I am more interested in the potential inherent in the so-called DIY ethic. I think that when we see that some things don't work well it's often a good idea for us to try and personally take charge of making them work. It is not always possible, but as regards problems that at their core relate to information and communication, this era of ubiquitous networking and connectedness, cheap computing power, and improving interfaces means there's tremendous power available to the individuals who have decided to take things into their own hands.
I'm tempted to stop for now and leave the task of coming up with examples of individuals or groups who have used the network to take things into their own hands to the reader... can you think of anything?
Posted by Sebastien Paquet on March 12, 2004 | Permalink
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This idea of people using networks to take advertising into their own hands, may be a bit of a stretch. However, I believe advertising has changed and that many people are seeking out the advertising that they want. The "rip, burn, mix" culture applied to advertising from a consumers point of view. While company advertising through television and radio still claim remain strong, I think there has been a subtle empowerment in this area.
Posted by: Joshua | Mar 12, 2004 6:14:05 PM
This most definately resonates with an important discussion we've been having lately, which goes basically as follows.....
One of the most tenable lessons of this early phase of the networking era has been that the decentralizing forces of our new modes of communication, distribution, and conrol, give power and resources to those closest to the need or problem (so we more than ever can do it ourselves).
Praise the Internet. If only our social, legal, and ethical institutions could catch up to our tools.
If we can restore and maintain a simple unbiased end-to-end network and train our social insitutions to complement our modes- to lend their power and resources to those closest to the need or problem we can rebuild society from the smallest unit up efficiently and effectively.
Posted by: Mark | Mar 13, 2004 10:42:08 AM
I'd be interested in hearing more about your job at the National Research Centre, including what your role is and maybe even some of the projects you are working on, if that's possible. Very interesting first post. Thanks for taking the time to post on the NKDA weblog.
Posted by: Joshua | Mar 17, 2004 12:13:37 PM
Seb, some of the ideas we came up with in class include
- independent artists
- independent consultants
- people who generate their own energy
Do any of these hit the mark?
Posted by: Mark | Mar 17, 2004 5:00:14 PM
Posted by: Mark | Mar 17, 2004 5:14:01 PM
First of all, i would like to thank you for taking the time to contribute to the NKDA weblog. Very interesting post. I agree with your view on the power shift to the individual because of the advancements in our era. After reading your post i found a music artist that has taken the promotion of his work into his own hands. Although i have not heard his music (because of the "dial up era" that the community that I live in is a part of) Phil Gary is a great example of this. He allows the user to download his music etc and allow them to decide on whether or not they like it.
Posted by: Shaun Keefe | Mar 18, 2004 1:08:09 PM
Thanks for your interesting contributions, I was wondering what your thoughts were on this power shifting trend and how it will play a role in a government that seems to lack empowerment and accountibility? Not any specific example comes to mind but simply your thoughts on how it will change,(if it will change) the current hierarchical structure that is the federal government in Canada?
Posted by: Patrick | Mar 22, 2004 10:55:46 AM
A question about your thesis: What sort of boundries and problems are you talking about? Can you give an example?
Posted by: Mike | Mar 22, 2004 5:35:20 PM
Patrick: it's risky to speculate, but my feeling is that the governmental structures and culture will be difficult to change in the near-term. Collaboration between involved citizens will progressively heighten "collective IQ", and I believe that (with a few exceptions) the government will only start getting seriously involved with those collaboration networks once they realize that they are being routed around and are no longer perceived as relevant.
Mike: here's an example of the problem I'm talking about in the context of academia.
Posted by: Seb | Mar 26, 2004 3:18:10 PM
Posted by: Seb | Mar 26, 2004 3:20:46 PM