Tag Archives: boomer

Articles I'm Digesting 1/11/2010

Here’s a few articles I recently digested:

Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada: Crown Commons Licenses, Copyright, and Public Sector Information by Elizabeth F. Judge

This piece (which you can download as a PDF) is actually a chapter in a book titled: From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright” : Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda.

This piece provides a fantastic overview on both the how and why Crown Copyright impedes the remixing and repurposing of government information. The only thing confusing to me about the article is that it focuses a great deal on data which, by the author’s own admission, is not covered by Crown Copyright:

With respect to data, Crown copyright does not protect raw data (unprocessed data, such as numbers entered into a database), but it does protect an original expres- sion of the data (for example, an original map is a copyrightable artistic work based on geospatial data) and compilations (including compilations of data), providing that there is an original selection or arrangement of the data (that is, there has been human intervention where skill and judg- ment has been exercised).

Given I often have to explain to government types that data is not covered by Crown Copyright (this is in part why it often has – more restrictive still – licenses attached to it) my only concern about the paper is that because of its strong focus on data it will inadvertently muddy the waters. However, still a good piece and I suspect many who read it will wander away hoping that some change to Crown Copyright legislation will be forthcoming.

The Global Debt Clock by The Economist Intelligence Unit

Few outside of Canada understand how much Canadian politics was dominated by the issue of “the debt” in the 1990s. When Bill Clinton made his first visit to Canada the headlines were more concerned with Canada’s bond rating being downgraded than the visit of the new US president.

The belief, however, that Canada has tamed its debt may be a myth. The challenge may be that it people are starting to wise up to all that downgrading. That the debt has simple shifted from the national (which people historically looked at) to the provincial level (which is rarely calculated into “national” debt). The Economist chart puts things into sharp (and dim?) perspective:

Canada’s public debt: $1,257,953,424,658 or $37,042.44 per person or 82.3% of GDP

America’s public debt: $9,117,200,547,945 or $29,491.12 per person or 62.0% of GDP

Of course Canada’s debt includes health care expenditures which in the United States are (more) born by private citizens, so the debt burden per individual once you factor in private debt may not be closer. But then household debt in Canada is about to overtake that in America so again…

This all said, pretty much every country in the developed world looks ugly in terms of debt… this may, sadly, be the boomers biggest legacy.

Disconnect: Why our politics is so out of touch and what it means for our future by Richard Florida and Jeremy D. Mayer

Written back in 2007 this article deserves a revisit:

“In our view, American politics today is distinguished by one feature: instability. In place of an enduring political force such as post-1896 Republican dominance or the Democrats after Roosevelt in 1932, American politics in recent years has see-sawed back and forth. Twelve years of Reagan-Bush were followed by 8 of Bill Clinton, and then Bush and Rove, now this. And, only 6 of those years saw one party with simultaneous control of the presidency and Congress.

This instability, in our view, stems from one primary source: Our economic system has undergone a tectonic shift, to which the political system is still trying to adapt. Just as our politics was recast a century ago by the forces of the Industrial Revolution, so to is it being reshaped today by the rise of the technology, innovation and creativity as economic forces. The rise of this innovative, knowledge-based Creative Economy is even more significant and more challenging to politics as the Industrial Economy. Today, this sector accounts roughly a third of the American workforce — or roughly 40 million workers – nearly three times the industrial sector and blue-collar working class. What’s more, these creative occupations account for the lion’s share of all wealth generation, accounting for nearly half of all wages and salaries paid in the United States. That’s nearly $2 trillion, or as much as the manufacturing and service sectors combined.

But the creative economy doesn’t just generate phenomenal wealth. It also sorts people across new economic and geographical boundaries and generates inequality between and within states and regions as great as that of the early Industrial Revolution. As a result, we’re living through a period of tumultuous political adjustment.”

and speaking of revisits…

American Backlash by Michael Adams

Offers an alternative explanation regarding the challenges faced by incumbent parties in the US. I remembered this as I was recently reading Wente’s piece about Palin and the Tea Party, where she cites pollster Scott Rasmussen:

“who argues that the major division in the country now is not between the Republicans and Democrats, but between the mainstream public and the political class – the small proportion of the population, perhaps 10 per cent, (including most people who work in mainstream media) that still believes that government tries to serve the public interest, rather than colluding with big business against ordinary people.”

This was, of course, the thesis of Adams book back in 2006. Nice to be ahead of the curve.

Open Data Hackathon page by Volunteers around the world

Hope that there will be a dedicated site for this up this week – have a few people stepping forward on that front. In the interim, please do consider adding you name if you are interested in helping organize one in your city.

The Neo-Progressive Manifesto Prelude (or why Generation M must be remixed)

On Wednesday Umair Haque’s posted a Manifesto for Generation M. The post has received some praise and some serious criticism.

I’d be lying if I said the post didn’t resonate with me on certain level – heck, that is why I remixed it (lightly) on Friday night. Many of the manifesto’s ideas and links – and above all, its message of institutional failure – tapped into the challenges and issues Taylor and I sought to weave together in Progressivism’s End: How the Left is Killing Progressive Politics.

Now, at the end of the weekend, having reflected on it further alone, with friends and with Taylor, there is still lots I agree with. We do face a crisis of institutions and, frankly, there are a large number of people who would like to simply dial back the clock (some 10 years, others 35) and say – that’s it, problem solved. I believe Umair is saying that isn’t going to work. And I agree with him.

So having said that, I’ve got two observations and a final mega-remix to make to the Generation M Manifesto.

1. It Ain’t a Generational Divide

In reading the comments (especially this one) and talking with friends I was reminded how Taylor and I shied away from using a generational analysis like that adopted by Umair. This was an explicit choice. Our piece is about the death of progressive politics and what we believe is emerging in its place – it is the kind of narrative that, on the surface, appears to lend itself intuitively to generational divide. But the divide is not generational. First, let’s be honest, there are lots of Social Darwinian, self-centered, materially driven people in every generation.

Consider Canada, which many falsely believe is broadly immune to such thinking despite producing Mark Steyn. But consider the research in Sex in the Snow by Michael Adams. Drawing from his social values surveys, Adams concluded that Gen X could be divided into 5 “tribes.” Two of these tribes – the ‘New Aquarians‘ (13% of Gen Xers) and the ‘Autonomous Post-Materialists‘ (20%) would probably find the ideas in Umair’s Manifesto (as well as, hopefully, Taylor and I’s piece) resonate with them. However, among the other three ‘Gen X’ tribes, many of the ‘Aimless Dependents‘ (27%), the ‘Thrill-Seeking Materialists‘ (25%) and ‘Social Hedonists‘ (13%) would likely fall along a spectrum defined at one extreme by mild interest and the other by outright hostility. Still more would probably feel complete indifference to either Umair’s Manifesto or our piece.

This breakdown is true among Baby Boomers as well. I suspect that Autonomous Rebels (25% of boomers) and Connected Enthusiasts (14%) would be more inclined to identify with much of the Manifesto while Anxious Communitarians, (20% ) and Disengaged Darwinists, (41%) would be less inclined.

In short, a generational analysis simply isn’t accurate. But that is only the half of it. The other reason Taylor and I shied away from generational analysis because such an analysis is likely to hamper the development of a self-identifying and self-organizing group to champion and implement the ideas we (and Umair) highlight. While the Manifesto will inspire some, it’s analytical lens will, however, also alienate potential allies while simultaneously assuming those potentially indifferent or even hostile to its ideas are in agreement. If there is going to be a movement, it is wise to know who’s in, who’s out, and who doesn’t care.

2. It’s About Values

What is notably absent from Umair’s manifesto is any mention of values. It’s not that they aren’t there – it’s that they are left implicit. The values I see reflected in Umair’s post aren’t new; in fact they are quite old. This is the central piece to Taylor and I’s argument – that progressives have become more attached to the institutions they inherited than to the values those institutions were built to serve:

The rise of industrial capitalism during the 19th century led to a series of tense societal changes. These included the emergence of an urban working class, increasing inequality and the new possibility of total war. In response, three generations of pragmatically driven “progressives” emerged. Opposing both the socialist left and the laissez-faire right, they championed values such as equality of opportunity, meritocracy, government transparency and empirical inquiry.

This is the source of the crisis. It is not that one generation held values that another didn’t. It’s that the institutions we inherited don’t always reflect those values in a world where globalization, technology and social values have altered how we work, play and live. Taylor and I (and I suspect Umair) are frustrated because we see enormous time, money and energy being spent in an effort to architect our economy, our government and our public spaces to serve and preserve these institutions, rather than ensuring these institutions support us and an economy, government and public space we believe are essential for a prosperous and sustainable future.

So the question becomes how to ensure the values of equality of opportunity, meritocracy, government transparency, empircal inquiry – along with human rights, and the environment, get imbued into the policies, institutions, communities and companies we will inherit and create? It feels like the first step is to articulate them clearly. This way, when some of these new institutions begin to change we’ll know it is time to reform, abandon or simply move on.

3. Post-Potter Authenticity; and Where are the Women?

Finally, some quick hits. In a post-Rebel Sell world we need to be really careful about talking about authenticity. Even the “authentic” is constructed…  (If you haven’t read The Rebel Sell – go find a copy. Heath and Potter are brilliant).

Also, where are the women? Umair’s manifesto lists Generation Mers but there is almost nary a women among them. (I only counted one – Flickr had a female co-founder).

Gen M is about passion, responsibility, authenticity, and challenging yesterday’s way of everything. Everywhere I look, I see an explosion of Gen M businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, government. Who’s Gen M? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr guys. Ev, Biz and the Twitter crew. Tehran 2.0. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Shigeru Miyamoto, Steve Jobs, Muhammad Yunus, and Jeff Sachs are like the grandpas of Gen M. There are tons where these innovators came from.

I’m sure this is a problem that can be crowd sourced – but it had better happen quickly. In our piece, Taylor and I used Tzeporah Berman (Environmental Activisit), Calvin Helin (First Nations Lawyer) and Dan Florizone (Public Servant) as cases. Here I think is another place the manifesto could do with more examples – those doing work in the non-profit and government sector.

A real remix

Again – there are a lot of people who are going to jump on Umair. Indeed on some sites the Law of Fail has already been reached:

Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation.

I’m not one of them. I understand why Umair is frustrated. I’m not certain that a generational analysis is the right approach but I do agree that we are not sufficiently wrestling with the question of how we redesign market regulation, democratic institutions, financial regulation, etc… to help foster the communities, environment and economy we want for the 21st century.

So with this in mind I’m going to take another cut at remixing the Manifesto. Indeed, it may be so dramatically different it is simply a re-purposing.  Increasingly, I sense that we’ve got to put values back into the equation and tackle figure out what are the cleavages in our society that do distinguish those opposed to reform from those in favour – in short, I’m going to remix it into a Neo-Progressive Manifesto.

Print Media: Nostalgia is not a growth model (or, on why being online is better than than paper)

Two years ago Taylor and I wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review (which they opted not to publish) critical of Kuttner and the CJR’s faith in the print-hybrid model for media.

After having it sit on our hard drives all this time we are putting it up for reading and commenting. It is, sadly, more or less as relevant today as it was when we wrote it. Here is a link to the full version of Missing the Link: Why Old Media Still Doesn’t Get the Internet.

And here’s another of my favourite passages, (written before the arrival of the kindle!):

Print Media: Nostalgia is not a growth model

Mostly, it is baby boomers who are nostalgic for newsprint, and they are not a growth industry. Sure, there are some, younger, holdouts. But these are generally students of the Columbia Journalism School, not those they hope to write for. Yes, the texture of a newspaper is nice – but the newspapers can’t afford to print and distribute them and, so far, you’ve been unwilling to pay a premium for it.

More seriously, media traditionalists often cite two examples— incidental reading and ideological objectivity—to explain why physical newspapers will and should remain the main distribution channel for print media. However, the purported value of physical newsprint simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Scanning the pages of a newspaper is indeed a virtue. It exposes readers to articles they might not seek out, broadening their range of news and opinion. However, this process is no different from what happens online. Links, aggregators and email steer readers to a far broader range of articles than they could conceivably imagine by simply flipping through a newspaper. Indeed, the internet enables this incidental reading better than newspapers. Take the BBC website, where any given article has links to related pieces both across the internet and in different sections of the site. A political article might cause a reader to click on a link to a related piece in the Science/Nature or Africa sections. Once there, they are confronted with an array of ‘incidental’ headlines. The tunnel syndrome argument simply doesn’t hold weight.

The other oft-cited example of the value of newspapers is that they prevent readers from falling into self-selected ideological silos. The argument follows that, when left to their own devices, innocent readers will gravitate towards the poles of their ideological bias. What they need, and should pay for, is a physical entity that provides them with a limited, but ‘healthy’, range of information.

This argument ignores the fact that many newspapers operate as ideological poles themselves. The New York Times clearly favors the left whereas the Wall Street Journal appeals to the right. More importantly the internet, unlike print media, provides tools to overcome these silos. Not all content delivered through an aggregator will be consistent with a reader’s perspective (indeed, one can imagine a customized aggregator that specifically targets news pieces that challenge its readers). More importantly, the internet gives readers the freedom (and safety) to select content from a broader range of perspectives. Most liberals wouldn’t be caught dead with an issue of the National Review in their hands, and when was the last time you saw a pinstriped Wall Streeter reading the Nation? But thousands of liberals read the Corner (the group blog of the National Review). This is because the ease, speed and anonymity of the web stimulates exploration that the physical world prohibits. In addition, many posts are written in response to other pieces, to whom they inevitably link (imagine the Nation sending readers to National Review!). Neither traditional nor New Media can single handedly mediate or resolve political difference, but at least New Media links the poles to one another, rather then creating isolated playgrounds where pundits can safely take shots at one another.

While sometimes seen as nostalgia, these arguments are simply a proxy for a deeper set of concerns felt by elites who fear the day the unkempt masses are finally freed to choose and read what they will. Controlling your customer has a never proven to be a sustainable business strategy, and for a business deeply concerned with freedom, it is disturbingly anti-democratic.

This piece is pulled from a longer piece we wrote called Missing The Link: Why Old Media still doesn’t get the Internet.

How GCPEDIA will save the public service

GCPediaGCPEDIA (also check out this link) is one of the most exciting projects going on in the public service. If you don’t know what GCPEDIA is – check out the links. It is a massive wiki where public servants can share knowledge, publish their current work, or collaborate on projects. I think it is one of two revolutionary changes going on that will transform how the public service works (more on this another time).

I know some supporters out there fear that GCPEDIA – if it becomes too successful – will be shut down by senior executives. These supporters fear the idea of public servants sharing information with one another will simply prove to be too threatening to some entrenched interests. I recognize the concern, but I think it is ultimately flawed for two reasons.

The less important reason is that it appears a growing number of senior public servants “get it.” They understand that this technology – and more importantly the social changes in how people work and organize themselves that come along with them - are here to stay. Moreover, killing this type of project would simply send the worst possible message about public service sector renewal – it would be an admission that any real efforts at modernizing the public service are nothing more than window dressing. Good news for GCPEDIA supporters – but also not really the key determinant.

The second, and pivotal reason, is that GCPEDIA is going to save the public service.

I’m not joking.

Experts and observers of the Public Service has been talking for the last decade about the demographic tsunami that is going to hit the public service. The tsunami has to do with age. In short, a lot of people are going to retire. In 2006 52% of public servants are 44-65. in 1981 it was 38%, in 1991 it was 32%. Among executives the average ages are higher still. EX-1′s (the most junior executive level) has an average age of 50, Ex 2′s are at 51.9, Ex 3′s at 52.7 and Ex 4′s at 54.1. (numbers from David Zussman – link is a powerpoint deck)

Remember these are average ages.

In short, there are a lot of people who, at some point in the next 10 years, are going to leave the public service. Indeed, in the nightmare scenario, they all leave within a short period of time – say 1-2 years, and suddenly an enormous amount of knowledge and institutional memory walks out the door with them. Such a loss would have staggering implications. Some will be good – new ways of thinking may become easier. But most will be negative, the amount of work and knowledge that will have to be redone to regain the lost institutional memory and knowledge cannot be underestimated.

GCPEDIA is the public service’s best, and perhaps only, effective way to capture the social capital of an entire generation in an indexed and searchable database that future generations can leverage and add to. 10′s of millions of man-hours, and possible far more, are at stake.

This is why GCPEDIA will survive. We can’t afford for it not to.

As an aside, this has one dramatic implication. People are already leaving so we need to populate GCPEDIA faster. Indeed, if I were a Deputy Minister I would immediately create a 5 person communications team whose sole purpose was two fold. First to spread the word about the existence of GCPEDIA as well as help and encourage people to contribute to it. Second, this team would actually interview key boomers who may not be comfortable with the technology and transcribe their work for them onto the wiki. Every department has a legend who is an ES-6 and who will retire an ES-6 but everybody knows that they know everything about everything that ever happened, why it happened and why it matters. It’s that person everybody wants to consult with in the cafeteria. Get that person, and find a way to get their knowledge into the wiki, before their pension vests.

Gen Y on Facebook – They Just Don’t Care

Last week I had the good fortune of being invited to give a talk and be part of a panel at a conference organized by Health Canada on Intergenerational Workplaces. I had a great time presenting, listening to the other speakers and meeting the participants.

Acknowledging the dangers of speaking in terms as broad as generations, there was a highlight moment about generational differences worth sharing. This moment reaffirmed to me how poorly Generation Y is understood – even the alleged “experts.”

During the panel someone asked (what has become and inevitable question) about Generation Y’s attitudes towards security and privacy. In short – don’t they know that the photo they are sharing on Facebook is accessible to the world?

Both the technology expert and the “generational” consultant on the panel talked about how Gen Yers obviously didn’t realize that when they post a picture (say, for example, a photo of them greedily swigging a beer at a conference they helped organize in Toronto) there are a ton of people who can access it – such as everyone in your municipal network (this could be, for example, all of Toronto). Both concluded that if Gen Yers realized what they were doing then they’d behave differently. As a result, it was up to us older – and obviously wiser – members of the audience to educate them.

deaves drinking on the job v2
This, to me, was a stunningly problematic diagnoses which in turn led to a flawed prescription.

My fellow panelists were basically asserting was that they – a boomer and a Gen Xer – had a better grasp of Facebook than the early adopting Gen Yers.  They were arguing that Gen Yers who share photos and information the panelists wouldn’t choose to share were – to put it bluntly – at best ignorant or naive, at worst, dumb. Remember, the conclusion is that these people mistakenly believe they are just sharing something with friends. If they knew it could end up getting shared more widely, they’d make a different choice.

Really?

When a young person shares a scandalous piece of news on Facebook or posts a picture of themselves drunk at a party you really think they believe others won’t be able to end up seeing it? More often than not… no! They know that all of Toronto may be able to see it. They just don’t care.

That’s right, many Gen Yers just don’t care.

Many take the attitude that what they do on their time is their business, and if you don’t like it… well that’s okay, I probably wouldn’t want to work for you anyway. And in an era of labour scarcity (who else is going to fill the jobs of all those retiring boomers) that attitude probably won’t push them out of the labour market.

What’s important here is that if you realize they don’t care – telling them that the photo they share is viewable by anyone isn’t going to change their behaviour. They already know it is viewable by everyone. While some may make different choices if they believed their career prospects might be impacted – many (and I mean many) will not. A number of Gen Yers (recognizing the enormous problems of using sweeping generalizations like generations) will be making different choices than both boomers and even Xers around both issues like privacy and what they feel is acceptable to share with the world.

I know many boomers believe this will impact Yers employment opportunities. Maybe. But then, boomers did elect a democratic president who admitted to smoking pot (but not inhaling) and a republican president whose done coke. Why shouldn’t a Gen Yer believe that if it is okay for the president to have engaged in that behaviour – how can a photo of me drunk at a party be a deal breaker?

The Boomer Factor

I’m not sure what to make of The Boomer Factor. In some ways it’s a fascinating read, a snapshot of how Canadians view themselves at the beginning of the 21st century. But while reading it you can’t help but feel that all the author has done is list stat after stat and link them together with a few sentences. This assessment may be a little unfair, but it reads more like a play by play of the data than as a thought-provoking analysis. Maybe it’s just that there’s very little prose between the streams of stats that inundate the reader.

I should also warn you that I have no capacity to assess whether or not the methodology used to generate these steps is it all sound. If there are true statisticians reading this I’d love your thoughts. That said I did find some of the presentation of the statistics deeply troubling. A notable example is the graph to your right. It shows two bars – one more than twice as large as the other – suggesting an increase of 100 – 120%. And yet, a closer looks at the numbers indicate there’s only been a 12 point difference between the two data points. This visual representation is thus grossly misleading, visually suggesting the argument is much more dramatic than what the data supports.

But these problems aside the book’s author, Reginald Bibby, keys in on several trends that are of interest. Some chapters, like “From Deference to Discernment” have been well documented by others. Others however, such as “From Tomorrow to Today”, a chapter on our quest for more time and the rising expectations we have of one another, along with Chapter 6 “From Knowing too Little to Knowing too Much” on the implications of the Internet and are increasing access to knowledge, are interesting.

But what’s most intriguing about Bibby’s concluding thoughts in these chapters – and the book overall – is that it departs from the book’s title. Bibby seems sanguine about the baby boomers’ capacity to adapt to our changing world, but is exceedingly optimistic about post-boomers – Gen Y and Gen X. Indeed, he terms these emerging generations “Reflective Post-Boomers” and says this about them:

Perhaps to a greater extent than any previous Canadian generation, they (Post-Boomers) have been able to have the time to assess what kind of lives they want to live...

…As they have been assembling their lives, post-boomers have been able to take a good look at how their grandparents, and her parents, lived. They grew up in homes were dads and moms, frankly, were experimenting with how to combine education, careers, raising kids, and marriages. The Post-Boomers saw how things turned out.

Such a vantage point has provided the emerging adult generation a unique opportunity to learn from the pre-boomers and boomer cohorts and extract the best and delete the worst from both. The preliminary evidence suggests that many younger adults are doing just that. They, like the boomers, have moved away from the racist and sexist tendencies of many older Canadians, to an extent as readily exceeding that of boomers. They also have recovered and restored some valuable pre-boomer “files” the boomers had tended either to use infrequently or delete – what people want most, the importance of family life, stability, and religion.on a

They have drawn on the boomers strong emphasis on education, discernment, and information. But they are determined to do a better job of harmonizing such themes with their desire for relationships, time to focus on their children, social compassion, spiritual fulfillment, and the opportunity to simply enjoy life. And so far, at least, they are reporting levels of happiness and for film and that match those of pre-boomers and exceed those of boomers.

Promising developments indeed!

According to his research Bibby also reports that younger Canadians — post-boomers — are more likely to be politically active than their boomer parents. given all the talk about political apathy this conclusion was counterintuitive and interesting. Sadly there wasn’t much discussion before the next statistic was thrust before the reader and the text moved on.

The two places where I think Bibby falls down is in his assessment of how Canadians are associating with one another. He refers repeatedly to the notion of how we’ve shifted from a we to me, while at the same time many of his stats suggest that people are actually deeply interested and engaged in communities. I’m not sure there we’re shifting from a we to me in an absolute sense. What is true is that people are more selective and have more options about who they associate with. Does this mean that we are more “me” focused? Or is it that we can afford to be more “we” focused in ways that make us comfortable?

The other place where Bibby lost me was in his discussion about religion. He suggests that many baby boomers are returning to religion to fill a growing spiritual void in their lives. I confess I don’t know. But this chapter had more analysis and opinion than any other, and so it felt like the story didn’t flow and it was less clear the data supported his assertions. A religious man himself, and an expert on religious trends I couldn’t help but feel that Bibby was inflating this chapter out of personal and professional interest. This could be a gross misunderstanding on my part, but while the rest of the book resonated with my personal experience from what I’ve seen of the country this chapter felt out of place.

Is The Boomer Factor a must read? Not really. But it was nonetheless an enjoyable read. For those interested, it will give you some compelling statistics to reinforce a number of trends you observe, and live with, on a day-to-day basis.