Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Berlin now, not then

In 1981 I spent a year in the Norwegian army some 500 miles north of the polar circle. It was in the middle of the cold war. Ronald Regan had just become president in the US. The Russians and Eastern Europeans were the bad guys. Alarms would sound in the middle of the night and we'd have to wade out into the snow and the dark to fight some (hopefully) imaginary enemy kids our own age from a "land called communism".

I've seen that enemy this week, 27 years later. They looked and acted pretty friendly. I found them quite welcoming.

Yesterday I went for a bike ride with my friends Martin Varsavsky and Barak Kassar. We cycled around Berlin, under the Brandenburg gate and past the Reichstag. I spoke with a woman at dinner last night, in a hip cool restaurant that is in the former East Berlin. She was born in East Berlin. The wall came down when she was three. She didn't remember the wall.

The web2.o euro-hipsters where there this week. It was full of energy. Martin described Berlin as feeling like the East Village in NYC 20 years ago. Parts feel like Williamsburg today. Trendy stores. Buildings old and new. Young.

We the people have an amazing ability to change. Change our perspectives. Adapt. Adopt. Allow change to be a constant force. There is an energy of optimism here. I like this place. Sure glad I never had to fire a gun as a kid, towards a kid from around here back in 1981.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

OMG, my mother is becoming a blogger

I just spent a short week-end in Oslo visiting my family between meetings and speaking engagements in Amsterdam and Berlin. After i arrive Friday afternoon and after giving my mom a hello hug, one of the first things she tells me is that she is writing a blog. "'Really?' I say. 'I didn't know you where a blogger.'" She admits that she does not really know what a blog is, but that she has something she has been working on.

A couple of weeks ago mom was in Madrid with a group of her friends. (She's the youngest in the bunch). They had a wonderful time and stayed in a wonderful little hotel. Upon returning home she realized that she had left something precious behind in her hotel room. Not of any monetary value, but of great emotional import. She tries to call but nobody picks up. Then tries to send them email but gets no response. Finally, after a second email they respond that, yes indeed they have her left article and will drop it in the mail (at no cost) the next day. She is so relieved and thrilled that she decides to "write a blog". 

Saturday afternoon I see my brother and sister and the oldest of my nieces and nephews, my brother's thirteen year old daughter asks me how she can set up a "net page" to write about fashion. 

My mom has had a computer for a while. She buys book on amazon, pays her bills online and googles now and then. She's also become pretty hooked on email, checking it a couple of times a day. My niece has her own laptop too. She mostly uses it to write stories and visit some internet sites now and then.

Why would they both independently want to become "bloggers"? What would compel them to share their opinions for the world to see? I something happening in my family? Is it a "tipping point" of sorts? And if so, what does it mean?

Not very much data to predict a big trend, but anecdotally pretty interesting that my seventy year old mom and thirteen year old Norwegian niece want to write blog posts. Seem like a pretty good indication that "citizen journalism" is a lot more real than not.

I was in Amsterdam and spoke at the World Association of Newspapers Digital Content conference on Wednesday. A pervasive theme was how people creating content, telling their stories, sharing their perspectives is something every newspaper and media outlet needs to integrate and leverage as a part of their strategy. Pretty real.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

So NOW we suddenly want the government to help

The crisis in the financial markets are revealing the fallacy of a "no government intervention, never" approach. That "philosophy" is just plain old ignorant. The world, the financial markets and the needs of citizens are too complex to be left to capitalism run amok. 

Governments play an important role in regulating and managing the societies they have been empowered to govern. Not perfect by any means. Nor particularly efficient either. No issues with those arguments. But, what do you think would have led to a greater waste of resources and loss of value over the past ten years. 1) Government playing a more active, regulatory role in areas like derivatives trading, leveraged debt offerings, hedge funds, mortgage backed securities. Or 2) The trillions of dollars of losses that have occurred in the last few months due to complete lack of oversight and regulation.

That was a trick question by the way. And while I'm on the subject of government playing a more active role. Social security. Education reform. Healthcare reform. Prison reform. These are NOT areas where free market forces alone will result in good solutions. Does a market based incentive model create a fair, just and efficient incarceration incentives and policies? Hardly! If somebody profits, and stands to profit big, from putting more people in jail, what will markets based incentives do? They will align and influence (with money) politics and public opinion to support putting more people in jail. The US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's inmates. Isn't something wrong with that picture. 

If one "good thing" comes out of the current financial crisis it's a willingness to question assumed truths and challenge the belief that market based approaches to public-good issues is a panacea. If nothing else, that is a BIG step in the right direction.