Friday, January 07, 2005

social entrepreneurship; aside on transcribing podcasts

another interesting talk from pop!tech 2004 via itconversations.

this one is by david bornstein, author of 'how to change the world' and 'the price of a dream' (neither of which i have read).

the talk is kinda on refactoring our notions of social chage -- how it is best achieved, who are the appropriate drivers & participants of such change, etc. he uses a few different examples, but one of the most interesting is childline, a service for street kids in india.

so how did [childline] come about? well jeroo [billimoria], when she wanted to spread [childline] around the country, she didn't know how to do that...[the] government didn't know how to create a national franchise -- she went to ogilvy & mather! they were the ones who knew how to create a national franchise. and so they taught her how to do branding, and what a brand is, and how you do this, and uniformity, and franchising, and so-forth.

and then when she wanted to create her computer systems, she went to the tata consultancy group and said, "can you show us how to make a system that will log all these calls?" so they created a wonderful system that the street kids has pictures because many of them can't read; it has software that identifies problems: boy, you have a lot of children in goa who are sexually assulted because of tourists, or it turns out that children in varanasi are often abducted because of their nimble fingers (they are needed in the sari industry)...that software reveals these problems...lot of tuberculosis in this train station.

and since childline is a governemnt program, this information is now used to fuel the governemnt's child protection policy -- so you got calls from street kids changing governemnt child protection policy! and all of that has been built up in the last eight years, and i would be surprised if one person in this room has ever heard of it, beacuse as ethan was saying, "we don't cover this stuff," and it's very very important. it's also very news-worthy.
historically, when we think of how social change happens, and if we think about the history of sociology, we have tended to focus very much on 'ideas'. you know, there's that addage by victor hugo, "there is one thing that is more powerful than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come." the idea is that really true? isn't environmentalism an idea whose time has come? why are we driving cars that are worse than 1978 gas guzzlers? you know?

what's the power of an idea? and i don't actually think that the relationship of ideas to people should be like that, i think it should be like this. because -- in fact --, ideas do not break through resistence, and they don't...people's behaviors and attitudes and thinking don't actually change through ideas. ideas are passive. it takes idea champions...idea marketers -- and i use 'marketing' in the sense of not putting an ad on tv, but persuading people...figuring out how to get an idea through a system, how to really change the way systems work over time. that's how social change happens.

(btw: a dvd box set of the pop!tech 2004 sessions is now being offered. i just put in an order...)

as an aside:
here's another data point in the growing body of evidence suggesting that the blogsphere moves in mysterious ways: udell discusses podcast transcription with kruszewski just 2 days before i transcribe this segment of bornstein's podcast. while udell points to some interesting technological solutions -- most notably a phonetic indexing system by nexidia --, i think that a social solution could work as a stopgap.

perhaps itconversations (if they ever move to a premium content model) should offer premium perks for those who transcribe. perhaps someone should start a wiki of some sort where the deaf (or others) could request transcripts for given podcasts and the most highly requested would garner community action. maybe instead of acting as transcriptionists, the people participating in such systems could act as editors akin to project gutenberg's proofreaders: dragon dictate can transcribe it and then humans would proof the expectedly crappy output -- which would probably be much easier to do while listening to a podcast. all these efforts can of course be distributed across many people so that the work units are manageable.

with all that being said, i will leave you with this quotation from marshall mcluhan, uttered during his playboy interview (via

PLAYBOY: What do you mean by "acoustic space"?

McLUHAN: I mean space that has no center and no margin, unlike strictly visual space, which is an extension and intensification of the eye. Acoustic space is organic and integral, perceived through the simultaneous interplay of all the senses; whereas "rational" or pictorial space is uniform, sequential and continuous and creates a closed world with none of the rich resonance of the tribal echoland. Our own Western time-space concepts derive from the environment created by the discovery of phonetic writing, as does our entire concept of Western civilization. The man of the tribal world led a complex, kaleidoscopic life precisely because the ear, unlike the eye, cannot be focused and is synaesthetic rather than analytical and linear. Speech is an utterance, or more precisely, an outering, of all our senses at once; the auditory field is simultaneous, the visual successive. The models of life of nonliterate people were implicit, simultaneous and discontinuous, and also far richer than those of literate man. By their dependence on the spoken word for information, people were drawn together into a tribal mesh; and since the spoken word is more emotionally laden than the written -- conveying by intonation such rich emotions as anger, joy, sorrow, fear -- tribal man was more spontaneous and passionately volatile. Audile-tactile tribal man partook of the collective unconscious, lived in a magical integral world patterned by myth and ritual, its values divine and unchallenged, whereas literate or visual man creates an environment that is strongly fragmented, individualistic, explicit, logical, specialized and detached.


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