day 99. an interview with simon slater

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simon slater, a fellow traveler from the UK and around america 2.0's cousin, emailed me a bunch of really good questions.

when i taught at Digital Bridge Camp, i had an opportunity to meet fellow vlogger freeman murray. though our frank discussions, we agreed that once on the road it's hard to reflect. if you have any questions, comments, ideas, concepts, feedback or suggestions - i'm always open to new ideas.

if you've been following my twitter feed, i've recently had to respond to some unjust criticism. hopefully, the critical party will allow me to publicly post my response. until then, here are my thoughts to simon's questions.

1. How have you gone about finding agents of social change, and can you describe the outcome of the most notable meeting? Have you discovered any new ideas that can be shared? Have you come across any major environmental breakthroughs?

one question? looks like a three parter to me... :P finding agents of social change has been a bit easier to find than original imagined. i have a fair share of sources that i read (slashdot, globalvoices, other blogs) then i have friends and contacts who've been monitoring different conversations to provided extra input. for example, i was exchanging a few ideas on a facebook "wall-to-wall" when Mary Joyce, chimed in and sent me a list of email address, urls and phone numbers of people whom i should contact in cairo. very helpful and super timely.

the most notable meeting was with stalin k. of drishti media collective and video volunteers. through their work, a few rural villages in india have their own video news magazine. with a majority of the population "uneducated" and "illiterate", drishti and video volunteers helps organize small groups of regional villagers to create citizen video units or CVUs. these citizen video units film, edit, produce their own stories, detailing their solutions to rural problems. every month, the video is presented in regional rural villages and conversations are held discussing the subjects from jungle malaria remedies, farming tips or general news of who's doing what.

in short, the villagers create their own media. as we move from one form of entertainment to another, we too need think about our own citizen video units.

as for major environmental breakthroughs, naw... we're still screwed... i think my major breakthrough came when i went to the local markets in india and cambodia and saw that everyone uses plastic bags and plastic bottles. then when i walked the surrounding streets, i saw the same type of bags littered everywhere. if we really want to clean up our environment and change the way the world works, we need to change the way we think. connivence isn't everything.

2. During events where people from the world of vlogging and blogging come to meet and share ideas, is there a general consensus on a particular direction that the world of SNS is taking us, or are the possibilities endless?

well, it depends on whom you ask. some think it's going to augment or replace the news-reporters of tomorrow. other's think their blog is the end all be all. if you ask me, i'm tired of living in a broadcast world. if video killed the radio star, vlogs killed TV. i see the future of media in outlets like Alive in Baghdad, Video Volunteers, Jetset, The Burg.tv... well that's just to name my friends... these outfits throw debt to the wind and refuse to allow anyone else dictate their "feed"... somewhere between networked journalism and citizen journalism is the future. (see jay rosen & jeff javius for more fun)

in reality, the possibilities are endless. one has to think of the internet and the devices that connect to the network it as tools. these tools, like hammers and shovels, can be used to build or destroy anything. from complete virtual worlds to a simple connection between two people, i don't see these "things" as just tools but pathways connecting emotions. regardless of where emotions happen, they are real. the other reality is that this world can easily be flipped and everything we do can be monitor, tracked and controlled. chris messina wrote an interesting piece on "big sister" but until that day, we still have agents of power "reforming" long lasting liberties into shadows of their former self. just take a look at the past three issues of the economist where they detailed the erosion of civil liberties within britain and the united states.

wether it's a hammer, shovel or iphone, i prefer to see tools build society not destroy it. then again, anything is possible... we could be nursing a life force that will kill us one day by building the next atom bomb. as of today, science fiction has turned out to be fairly real. who knows what's next?!?!

3. Your trip aims to inform and inspire ideas among its viewers. Considering the high number of young people taking gap years before and after higher education, in what other ways do you think people can follow your example without necessarily repeating your idea? Did you have any other plans formulated before embarking on 'luck of seven'?

actually, i started this trip to educate my parents on the work that i've done. it's since then, i've found my own inspiration within the voices of everyone whom i've met. i think that the "gameboy" or "myspace" or "facebook" generation needs to see how their goods are produced... it doesn't really matter what you consume, there needs to be some type of physical connection to the items we consume from cold air conditioned shelfs.

first, i know that i'm really lucky to have the fortunate to make this voyage. as every day passes, i think about how we can change our lives to help others and make this mess a bit tidier. internal and external exploration is the key. i see the world a bit more conservative than i first thought, but also very friendly. you don't have to have a penny to be nice. dream frequently and follow your passion. if we only have one life, make sure it counts for something. if we have more than one, let them build on top of each other... last time i checked, there is only one earth but a several billion people on it... question everything, explore what you can and try to understand the rest.

did i have any plans other plans? yes, but being the first lawyer on mars really doesn't seem to be appealing.

4. Could you explain what you mean when you say there is an 'art' to discovering, for example, someones facebook page?

yes and no. when i talk about discovering people i talk about two things - a physical meeting and an online meeting. as there are tricks to meeting people, there are tricks in meeting people online.

a physical meeting is the hardest. one has to be inquisitive and highly adventurous to ask the right questions that lead to a common bond to build a platform for further conversation. regardless of gender, it is a simple pickup line. with native english speakers it's easier. with ESL (english second language) it becomes harder but ten times more rewarding. i say it's an art because like art it is hard to find the beauty within everyone. i know everyone has something worth admiring.

as for meeting people online, most people place a good deal of personal information into their profile, and therefore it's easy to "profile" people. more importantly, it's easy to find people with similar interest. when it comes down to couchsurfing, there is a great deal of trust between two parties. therefore it's important to look at someone's profile details and see if they share similar interests (photos, interests, groups, books, movies, etc). it sounds easier than reality. sometimes i'm right, sometimes i'm wrong. most of the time, i'm right about a few things and wrong about others. in the end it comes down to the adventure.

also, i can't help to think that it helps looking like broad brutish male. when i seek adventure, i feel safe knowing many people won't give me flack. when i talk to female friends about their adventures, there always seems to be a question of physcial security that never comes to mind when i travel. then again, huixian he, a petite female friend in pheom phen, has traveled a good deal of asia by herself. sure she's had a few bad experiences, but she's always has her running shoes.

in the end, looking like a sucker will always get you into trouble. having a positive outlook and being ready for anything is the best way to take on the world. it takes a great deal to escape your comfort zone, but meeting the world is well worth it. i'd like to think that there are more of "us" than "them."

5. Will you be seeking a platform for greater recognition of potentially important ideas that you have gathered once you have returned? Will this branch out to other media and if so how?

yes and no. besides my blog, vlog and photos - i'm writing a children's book, seven lessons learned from the seven continents. maybe an adult piece detailing the intimate parts of my insanity. without a doubt, i will make a documentary film of this journey. when on the road you have a great deal of time to think. i think these ideas and the solutions to these ideas are worth their weight in gold.

in the end, i'd like to think that i'm a simple man, but my girlfriends will tell you otherwise. i see many wrongs that need to be corrected. i also see many complex problems that have simple solutions. where i go after this is unknown. while i would love to have greater recognition of the ideas, these are complex ideas with simple solutions mired in selflessness. i still have a much to learn about the seven issues i have selected, the world that embody them and the best way to discover solutions to our problems.

6. And finally, if Jack Karouac was the inspiration of the term 'beat generation', does this new couch surfing movement have a name?

man that's heavy. if you look at history, you'll always find travelers and 'beatniks.' i'd like to think we are more than 'surfers'. every statistic says we (the global digital middle class) are driving quickly into a world where we refuse to accept broadcast solutions. (i need to find sources, but i know they exist! until then i will just refer to the ecology of free culture solutions that i am exploring on this journey.)

"starfish and the spider" is a simple book that illustrates examples of centralized and decentralized networks. if you look at decentralized networks, you see a starfish. if a starfish is cut in half, it will regenerate the other half. if you look at centralized networks you see a web. if you cut a spider or a web in half, you destroy the network.

as the old New Yorker cartoon illustrates "no one knows your a dog on the internet." i now see generations spanning the technological divide. as our ideas grow, replicate and get remixed, i see us in an androgynous world. frankly, regardless of time zone, age, gender, race, income and nationality we are making a starfish generation.

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on the luck of seven was an open-source, around the world project by noel hidalgo, a new york city based activist, organizer, barcamper and coworker.

for seven months, he traversed the globe. using a new media voodo (blog, vlog, wiki, flickr, couchsurfing, twitter, myspace, dopplr, and facebook), noneck harnessed the collective knowledge of the internet, and report on seven topics of freedom. this trip was funded by 253 people and supported, house, fed, and loved by countless others.

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