Idea generator: “Learn to Love the Revolution”

14 03 2011

I’m proud to say that I came across my second “idea generator” without the use of the conventional Google search, or the internet at all. After a wet and snowy morning of skiing, I was ready for a warm bowl of soup. Also, about this time, I started to feel guilty about not starting my Question homework, so I stopped by the magazine racks on my way to the café. “How hard can it be to find an article that relates to my broad Question on collaboration?” As I suspected, it was pretty easy and after reading a handful of headlines, I found this one in TIME and it seemed to fit. This particular headline caught my eye because I have always had this obsession with the idea of revolution, from childhood tantrums to reading Animal Farm in grade 10 to listening to learning about the hippies of my parents’ generation to teenage rebellion to my present, slightly more sophistically political charge. And of course it relates to my Question. Isn’t revolution a form of collaboration? Although much different than Botsman’s exchange of goods and services, revolutions are another form of people coming together to address a common concern.

In this TIME article, the author identifies five persuasive reasons why the recent revolution in the Arab Middle East should not evoke international panic or concern. In summary:

  1. Inadequate provision is the common and justifiable motive for all revolutions.
  2. Despite this constant, the history of colonial rule, international relations and culture characterizes each revolution as unique, making generalizations very difficult to make.
  3. This complex interplay of factors takes time to study and understand, so patience becomes invaluable.
  4. A sense of “state power”, which often comes in the form of political institutions, is important because Twitter and Facebook cannot govern a country…yet.
  5. The West does not have the answers, nor should we impose our theoretical solutions. A revolution is a way for local people to respond to the eminent problems themselves.

TIME Magazine’s large colour photos and minimalist margins highly restricted my side notes while reading this article. Similar to Botsman’s talk, it uncovered a wide range of possible fields of study that I am deeply interested in, but I hadn’t previously been considered integrating into my Question plan, such as history and religious studies. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to draw parallels between this article and previous courses I’ve taken, such as Communities and Conservation and the Great Bear Rainforest. International conflict demonstrates the significance of multi-stakeholder collaboration as well as the ability to work across different levels and scales, from local to global.

Above all, I am naturally intrigued by the complexity of the situation and the opportunity to understand the political situation entices me. This level of complexity provokes an endless stream of questions, but to name a few:

a) Can we apply lessons across different scales and contexts? To what extent can we do so while being judicious about generalizations?

b) How can we practically and efficiently facilitate collaboration on this scale? What are the limits of informal mediums of collaboration, such as Twitter and Facebook? Do they offer more promise of peace and stability than nation states?

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Idea generator: collaborative consumption

14 03 2011

To borrow a phrase from a eloquent Quest 4th year, Rachel Botsman is the “physical embodiment of my Question”. Botsman simple thesis persuasively argues that humans are evolutionarily wired to share and cooperate, despite the man-made capitalistic, egotistical culture that has emerged in the past century. Furthermore, tribes and “smart mobs” are emerging now more than ever (Seth Godin explains this phenomenon here). “Collaborative consumption” responds to the idea that we don’t actually want to own more “stuff”, we just want the services and experiences each “thing” provides. For example, rather than a CD, we want the music and entertainment of a CD. She proposes that ownership is an outdated concept. Botsman identifies four societal events that have catalyzed the emergence of this new consumption trend:

  1. Ÿ  A renewed belief in the importance of community
  2. Ÿ  Peer-to-peer social networks and real-time technology
  3. Ÿ  An increased awareness of environmental concerns
  4. Ÿ  A global recession to shock consumer behaviour

I did not choose this TED talk as my “idea generator” purely because it was one of the first hits when you search “TED” and “collaboration”. This TED talk connects many different academic disciplines and societal phenomena, such as the environment, science and technology, human psychology, economics. Like many of the TED talks, Botsman’s lecture epitomizes the interdisciplinary study that all Quest students should aspire. In addition, collaborative consumption offers a very useful application of collaboration that serves as strong evidence for relevance of my Question.

This TED talk gave me a lot of clarity on a wide range of topics, but a couple questions remain:

a) Does collaborative consumption suggest a dramatic shift in our economic system, from a monetary-based economy to a reputation-based economy that recognizes the Earth’s limits? Does collaborative consumption support economic “degrowth”?

b) How can we reverse the deeply engrained culture of egotism and individualism? To what extent is this possible? To what extent is self-interest in our human nature?

c) What are the limits to collaborative consumption? Would it be possible to eventually make private property an obsolete concept? What would be the political implications of this type of economic reform?