Colin: Without waxing poetic on my love for my friend Ethan, I want to note that what is even more amazing than the scholarship and artful storytelling in this natural, readable, and thoughtful book, is the way he did it: as a tremendously committed, generous, genuine colleague. For some of us who wrote with Ethan in the book club and work with him at Berkman, what comes up time and again is his intellectual insights, humanity, and scholarship.
Ethan: I want to start by thanking two groups of people: you for coming out on a hot, sweaty night -- but it’s also my first book and didn’t realize until it was in print the extent to which a book is an imposition. Giving someone a book is asking for 10-15 hours of someone’s time. :) Thank you to anybody who reads. It’s an incredible thing to put this out and have people react to it. It’s an incredible honor, I’m grateful.
My name is Michelle Kessler, and I’m the editor-in-chief of Qualcomm Spark. First, we want to thank Charlie DeTar, J. Nathan Matias and the MIT Media Lab for participating in our most recent video, “Hackathons: Tech’s Answer to Big Problems.” Also, thanks to Charlie for giving us the opportunity to respond to his comments and ideas.
The goal of our video was to shine a light on this phenomenon: Hackathons have transcended the world of technology, and are being employed for everything from voter rights to disaster relief. They provide a methodology for addressing problems that may seem insurmountable to everyday citizens. Where existing systems fail, hackathons can create a new path toward a successful outcome.
Qualcomm, a company known for their manufacture of semiconductors, stopped by the Center for Civic Media a few weeks ago to interview people about hackathons. Today, they released the video, which features Nathan Matias and I:
Thankfully, all of the words that I say on the screen in the video are words that I actually said. But the edit and framing message that they present is literally the opposite of what I said in the interview.
I've been working on online tools for consensus for the last 2 years. Here's what motivates me to work on this.
1. The water heater
For my first five years in Boston, I lived in a housing co-op in Dorchester. It's a classic Boston triple-decker, which the 13 residents own collectively. That means that we didn't have a landlord, but we were in charge of the mortgage, maintenance, utilities, and everything else. The house operated by consensus, and all decisions happened at weekly house meetings.
At one point, one of the three water heaters that serviced the house died, which left our main kitchen without any hot water. One of the residents (a well meaning, competent, and all around good person) took on the task of fixing this, and called up a plumber for an emergency job. The plumber charged us the emergency rate; almost $2000 to install a new water heater, very similar to this model here, which rings in at $358 at Home Depot:
In an insightful essay at the New Republic, Evgeny Morozov raises a powerful critique of what he describes as "Internet-centrism" in Steven Johnson's 2012 book Future Perfect. Morozov identifies in Johnson's book a strain of popular rhetoric which holds that the Internet is a model of decentralization, horizontalism, and leaderlessness, and that the world would be improved by applying these features to other domains.
While most of the essay is spot-on, I'd like to complicate and dig a little more into the role of leadership in horizontal decision making and organizing within activist movements, one of the subjects of Morozov's critique.