Friday, February 27, 2009

Spreading Meanings, Not Viruses

Don't Flu Yourself
Originally uploaded by daviddaneman
Last weeks have been quite exciting in terms of finding a new way of working. Going from an office job to freelancing has meant learning a new sense of pace. All the things I do currently are assignments where my work is measured on the originality of the ideas I produce, not based on the hours I spend at the office. It has also meant that I need to learn a new way of implementing reading and browsing as an essential part of my weekly routine. They count in the end much more than coordination meetings. It is fun - I give you that -, but it is also work.

I have developed a completely new way of using the Web. At the hectic office I used the Internet mostly like fast food, like media snacks (munched easily with increasing frequency and maximum speed – like chips – a description from Miller in Wired) between emails and phone calls. Now I take daily an hour or two to go through a dozen or so blogs, mark interesting stuff on Delicious and develop a more systematic way of finding content. Finding content that matters takes time and diligence.

The best thing I have discovered is Henry Jenkins´ blog. MIT´s Media Professor Jenkins focuses on what people are doing with media rather than on what the media is doing to people. His approach is critical but enthusiastic and he does not shy away from using very current examples for making his case.

His 8-part essay If It Doesn't Spread, It's Dead is something I would recommend for everyone working with brands and media culture. Jenkins sees consumers as empowered and intelligent species using media for their own purposes and goes beyond the discussion on virals. He talks about the spreadability of media – that citizens spread and reform content rather than passively carry a virus. That spreading media is an essential part of reputation management online. Just think of your own Facebook usage – what you link and post tells your “friends” a lot about who you are.

A statement by Jenkins that is highly useful for instance for my work with StrangerFestival: loss of producers´ control over meaning is a precondition for circulation. Spreadable media memes have to available for remixing before transferring so that people can use them for their own purposes to recreate meaning. As John Fiske puts it: this is where mass culture turns into popular culture. From a producer´s point of view creating media content that “sticks” on people would be wonderful but today´s successful content is one that spreads, shapes and puzzles. Which is actually quite liberating and empowering if you really think about it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Greener Across The Border

Originally uploaded by rogiro
Today´s Forum Virium Hidden Treasure seminar showed the difficulty of international comparisons in policy debate. A presentation painted a picture of the Dutch innovation system and Innovation Platform as a smooth and efficient actor in fostering innovations. However, what was not mentioned was the heated discussion before the last Dutch parliamentary elections whether the entire organization should continue. It was largely seen as an inefficient bureaucratic failure. Alike what was not mentioned today at Vanha was the recent book by Frans Nauta, the first General Secretary of the Innovation Platform, in which he highly critically went through the setup and work of the body. Nauta, who is currently lecturing on innovation in Arnhem, left the office out of frustration quite quickly due to immense struggles with the government engine.

Before the last elections I did an article for Suomen Kuvalehti on the Dutch Innovation Platform as it was assembled following a Finnish example. Most of the interviewees then criticized the Innovation Platform for its broad agenda and the big publicity around its launch. Whereas in Finland the Science and Technology Council is not known by most people and is largely seen as a coordination body, in the Netherlands the government did a huge publicity stunt around its launch – i.e. it was doomed to fail in its delivery. As Joeri van den Steenhoven said in my interview for Suomen Kuvalehti then:”In Finland compromise means that people discuss, vote on the propositions and everyone lives with the result. In the Netherlands compromise means that we discuss and discuss, we split into numerous subcommittees and make an overall strategy so broad that everyone can keep on doing what they were already doing.” As someone on the coffee break rightly said in the Forum Virium seminar:”The problem with the Innovation Platform is that it has no money so it really cannot initiate much.”

I am all for international comparisons and learning from others. I also hope the Innovation Platform has learned from its start. I am also all for investment in innovation and R&D. But without a full picture of the international case, we end up making the wrong conclusions of it and therefore carry out our changes in false consciousness. But then again, I guess we have come full circle now in the Dutch-Finnish relations: some years ago van den Steenhoven´s and Nauta´s Kennisland was an active lobby in the Netherlands for learning from the Finnish model following Manuel Castells´ and Pekka Himanen´s work. Now we are presented in Helsinki the work of the Innovation Platform only to be followed by statements praising the leadership position of the Netherlands in investing in innovation. How did it go: what goes around, comes around.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Grand Night in Hollywood

They said in advance that the Oscars would be different - more serious - this year. It turned out to be not just another marketing gimmick, the awards evening was about talent and dedication. I like where they are going. The idea of having five previous winners handing out the actors´ awards emphasises what the Oscars are about: peer recognition.

The laughter was unforced but yet not missing. My favourite moment, both in terms of introduction and acceptance speech, was Best Original Screenplay presented by Steve Martin and Tina Fey and won by Dustin Lance Black for Milk. Also the way the nominees were presented was incredibly clever and showing the skill of a writer. Black´s speech for his first ever screenplay was the most moving moment of the evening.

All and all, the nominations went to the right hands and movies. Milk and Slumdog Millionaire are some of those rare films on important subjects that need the Academy Awards boost.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


As a preparation for a future work assignment, I am paying rather close attention at the moment on journalism around immigration. It is in general quite positive that at least in this country the quality media has realised that they need broader coverage over the subject to help people understand the reasons and consequences.

However, one seems to stumble at times. In yesterday´s Helsingin Sanomat journalist Riitta Vainio wrote a 3/4-page article with the title:
"Family culture amongst immigrants changes often painfully - Immigrant man seeks often for a good wife from the country of origin." Vainio´s article was published in the domestic news section but closer inspection shows that there is actually very little news or factual information in the article. The article´s references to its rather generalising statements are vague to say the least. Here are some examples:
"According to some local policemen a big portion of home alerts comes from immigrant families."
"In some families penalties to children are still accepted although they are known to be illegal."
"The portion of single parents amongst Somalis may be partly due to polygamy but there is no research."
"Child protection cases occur also in immigrant families."

There are only two quotes from experts in the article. Most of the article works on generalisations such as "the Russian-speaking", "the Somalians", "many" and "some". The article ends with the other expert quote being:
"Researcher Minna Säävälä from Väestöliitto emphasises that for a large majority of immigrants family is a resource, not the source of problems."

If I may, quite bizarre and somewhat sloppy journalism from a paper usually living up to high journalistic standards.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Right to Exclude

I guess it is OK to post twice in a day if you run into really good stuff. The Finnish Institute of International Affairs published today a clear and important paper on the relationship of immigration and recession. Researcher Toby Archer´s concise clarification is highly helpful in understanding the current sentiments in Finland and elsewhere regarding populism and xenophobia. As Archer writes, "during the recession there is a danger that the EU single market and labour movement become seen as negatives - taking away sovereign control from states: stopping governments from protecting jobs or from restricting foreigners from taking work away from local people".

Archer´s paper addresses a point I discussed last week in my meeting with designer Reza Abedini and graphic design agency Lava in Amsterdam: the sense of entitlement. Anti-immigration sentiments are a logical result from feeling like you are losing something you are entitled to. Proverbs like "to be born a Finn is like winning in the lottery" or "Favour Finnish" characterise what I mean. A notion that just being born to a certain citizenship means automatically a right to a certain standard of living is in great contradiction with global solidarity and openness to immigration.

As easy as it would be to judge all this as selfish, some of it has also more sincere and primal feelings behind it - especially in countries such as Ireland and Finland. In both of these countries the national identity is built on being an underdog and on relative poverty. When incredible affluence hit both nations during the last 20 years, people felt that their time had come, the hardships had paid off and that they would be able to leave their children a better place than the one they inherited. In countries like Finland, the post-war generation has gone through an incredibly rapid rise to the middle class.

When immigration is presented mostly as an economic and security challenge, it risks this dream of leaving a good world for one´s children as it brings more people to the kitchen table. And more importantly, these would be people who have not gone through the national experience from rags to riches.

Of course most immigrants come from conditions far worse than Finland during the last decade. Many immigrants, especially refugees, have gone through things no human being should experience - such as torture, starvation and persecution. But this is easily cast aside when one carries concern over one´s immediate family. This is not always loaded with racism or xenophobia but with parental instinct. I would dare to state that the more we can create trust so that people - immigrants and non-immigrants - feel comfortable expressing these fears and worries, the more interaction natives have with immigrants in professional settings and the more the media portrays immigrants who have made a significant contribution to the society, the more there are chances to answer and ease the fears and work towards an inclusive society.

Climate Change in a Nutshell

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

Quite fresh and factual explanation on what climate change is about and why we need to act now. The cockroaches and rats coming out of the burning globe is a gloomy sight.

Oh and by the way, I have forgotten to link this: an article of mine was published in a book of the Finnish National Gallery around intercultural dialogue. Download the book here, my article is on pages 12-18. (download the book from the right hand side, Perspectives etc..)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Some Men Are More Equal Than Others

Milk Movie Poster
Originally uploaded by monikalel42
"All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words." That quote from gay activist Harvey Milk was one of the most moving scenes in Milk, the film on his life and death. Milk´s bold stand on equality led finally to his assassination. Some of his positions sound radical still in 2009 like the strategy that only by showing that we all have gay friends, teachers and family members, you truly pave the way for general support for equality.

Gus van Sant´s film is a great act in showing the struggle Milk and his peers went through, how far we as societies have come from those days (homosexuality is largely decriminalised) and, sadly, how far we still are from living up to those words (Proposition 8 passed in California just a few months back). And in the Obama era, it is good to remember that he was not the first one coining a phrase like:"You gotta give them hope."

The Academy Awards take place in a week or so and I have now seen three of the Best Picture nominees: Milk, Frost/Nixon and Slumdog Millionaire. Even before seeing Benjamin Button and The Reader, I dare to state the wish that these three films would win the main prizes. As much as The Reader looks into guilt and human responsibility, I feel the other three films are ones that need more the boost of the win: Milk is a powerful caption of the human sacrifices on the road towards true equality and one of the people who have paved way for all minorities. Slumdog Millionaire captures the aspiration, diversity, celebration and inequality called India and is also one of the rare films that do not need a white man telling a story of Asia or Africa (read: The Last King of Scotland etc.). And finally, Frost/Nixon shakes us awake of the corrupting influence of power and shows what is really the power of journalism.

I would dare to make the following wishes:
Best Picture: Milk
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Frank Langella or Sean Penn
Best Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Actress in a leading or supporting role are tricky as I have seen none of the films and actor in a supporting role is hard to judge before seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michael Shannon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

March 28 2009, 20:30

I organised yesterday a seminar for Laundry Helsinki and WWF Finland on Green Office, a great concept for public and private institutions to reduce their carbon footprint at the office. Over 100 big Finnish organisations have already joined ranging from McDonald´s to Finnish Tax Authority and more keep coming.

One of the issues promoted yesterday was the importance of action following the declaration. Jos-Willem van Oorschot from the architectural office Venhoeven CS gave an inspiring talk on the possibilities for self-supporting cities and energy-producing buildings. One of the actions we all could do is the Earth Hour in the end of March. Watch the video and see what you can do.

I am convinced, also by yesterday´s talks that sustainability is not something some of us do as a hobby or a cool gadget - it is the only sensible way of living. Combating climate change is not an opinion, it is the only rescue plan left. We need to find ways to imagine our lives improving also through other things than material goods and consumption and find a low-carbon and no-oil solution for living together. As Jos´ speech and many others showed yesterday: we can if we want to. This is where creativity needs to be directed now.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The driver stops his black taxi on a parking lot on Shankill Road. Clear and crisp air flows in from the half-open window. Victor has been driving a taxi in Belfast for 32 years. “31,5 years too long”, he grins.

The entire end of the nearby house is covered by a massive, bright painting. The mural depicts a Protestant paramilitary fighter who was killed before reaching his 30th birthday. As we drive forward, the paintings continue. One celebrates Oliver Cromwell with a gruesome text:”We will not rest before the Catholic Church is crushed.”

This is my first visit to Ireland but these images on the walls are familiar to me through news coverage and popular culture. However, for some reason I had always assumed that these murals were old, from the time before the Good Friday Agreement and ceasefire. Victor sets me straight: most of them are painted in the last 10 years and more keep coming. Same continues on the Catholic side where the British flag is nowhere to be seen and the signs carry out the street names also in Irish.

But the murals were something I saw coming. I knew people have partisan sentiments and that they feel an urge to share them. But the thing that struck me was the so called “peace wall”, a high concrete construction splitting the Catholic and Protestant areas, with additional barbed wire to make the point clear. The backyards near the wall are protected with heavy metal frames to keep out the bricks and stones thrown from the other side. Images from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict pop into my head.

Victor tells us that the hostilities have mostly calmed down and that most of the city is a shared space where people live in peace next to each other. But still, if a Catholic girl meets a Protestant boy from the divided areas, they have no possibilities of living next to their families. A Catholic family would not consider moving into Shakill Road and apparently a house here in these divided areas is still a bit of a risky investment.

There is no plan to tear the peace wall down. Victor tells us that the wall gives people a sense of safety. This is also European Union, this is also in 2009.

On the evening before the tour we meet a friend of mine, a Belfast-based architect, for dinner whose stories validate that Victor is not fooling the poor tourist. The architect tells us that driving around the divided areas makes him so depressed that just some weeks earlier he had to drive over to the sea at Doneghal to get rid of the sense of anxiety. Similar stories occur. A Dublin-born friend tells us that he has never been to Belfast and would feel anxious going over. A Belfast-based Englishwoman tells us over a cup of tea that heading to Dublin for work makes her always much more relaxed. According to her, the tension can be sensed when living in Belfast. We also realise afterwards that Victor was very clear not to disclose his religious background.

Our restaurant on the first evening is called Made in Belfast, a trendy hangout focused on organic and local produce. It is obvious that humour is one way of dealing with the division in the city. The restaurant features a bright-red British poster from the Second World War stating in capital letters an advice that could function as a slogan for Belfast: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Project North

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
Just to set the record straight: my brother is way more street cred than I am. He has just published a new MTB documentary, Project North, with their collective, Dirt & Street Productions. With the risk of sounding biased, I think it is a great statement that they show amazing Nordic landscapes in their films. And hey, he is the only one in my immediate circle with a clothing sponsor, a chocolate sponsorship, energy drink sponsor and a national championship. And they have been even featured in French magazines so time to make room in the "Finnish wonder" spotlight, Nightwish.

And hey, the movie is distributed free of charge. Download it here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

That´s Me

I love these kind of projects. The Finnish Literature Society calls Finns every ten years to send in their stories of what they did on a particular day. These stories are important material to researchers in history and other cultural studies. Ten years ago they got 23 000 stories of Finnish life on a specific day. Today is that day again. I am taking part and encourage every Finn reading this to do the same. You can send in your story the latest on 28 February, more details here.

I am currently involved in a project where this kind of material would definitely be very handy. With a group of people we are putting together a cultural statement around national identity and self image. More details on that later.

When you talk about a self image of a nation, the last weeks have been interesting in this country. Helsingin Sanomat published a big story yesterday stating that Nokia has threatened to leave the country if legislation is not changed in a way that allows employers to look into the basic information (sender, recipient, form of attachment, time etc.) of an email if they suspect leakage of company secrets. Nokia and the government deny these accusations but it sure is interesting how the constitutional committee of the Parliament sees no problem with a legislative change that according to a great majority of legal experts they consulted is in full contradiction with constitutional rights to privacy of correspondence and freedom of speech. Not to take any stand on the validity of these accusation by Helsingin Sanomat but this is once again an example how the idea of civil rights and liberties is not really high on the Finnish political agenda.

This kind of discussion never really catches fire in Finland. This country has a tremendous amount of CCTV cameras and quite extensive rights to security guards but most Finns still think that this is all good and you have no reason for worry if you have not done anything wrong. It all stems from the idea that we are good and honest people and so are all the people holding these extensive powers. Following the same line is the idea that Finland is corruption-free. I have often wondered why there´s no more discussion about the way power ends in the same hands when a person can be at the same time in the city council, in the parliament and in the cabinet. The arguments I have heard are not very convincing:
1. this allows information to go smoothly through the system
2. people have the right to vote whom they want

Journalist Jarmo Aaltonen of Helsingin Sanomat follows the Finnish mentality disturbingly well in his article about politicians sitting in company boards:

"Of course different obligations influence people, some more, some less. This, however, does not make them automatically corrupt criminals. This is just the price one pays for democracy and open society. The alternative would be prohibiting all human interaction."

Seriously, this was published in the biggest daily of the country.