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Socially Conscious Hip-Hop and Rap

Adam Selon
Version: 
1
Problem: 

Too many young black Americans are pushed, in the face of bleak opportunities for employment and higher education, to resort to crime. While hip-hop has served as a crucial creative outlet and community-builder for black youths since the 1980s, much of hip-hop culture contains undeniable streaks of proud violence, misogyny, drug-use and general disdain for life that are civically unintelligent, to say the least.

Context: 

The so-called Hip-Hop Generation was the first to grow up post-segregation, and its members have blazed new trails with few resources. Black american males have endured decades of institutional failure and systemic oppression that has created lasting damage to the black community and society as a whole. Currently young black males are given fewer opportunities than most and are at disproportionately greater risk for incarceration.(1) The narratives in hip-hop and rap music seem to either reflect this survival and then encourage personal reflection, social awareness, learning and growth for the black community or reflect this survival and then instead endorse unhealthy and unrealistic lifestyles, drug use, gang violence, and misogynistic behavior.

Discussion: 

Socially conscious or political hip hop narratives are not new to the industry, on the contrary they were more prevalent in the early years of hip hop in the 80s. Inspired by poets and preachers of the late seventies, such as The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, young black musicians rapped about what they saw in their communities and started a trend. in 1982, Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five featured one such song--”The Message”, widely regarded as the first socio-political hip hop song--on their first studio album. This song would inspire many more like it for generations to come and effectively dislodge hip hop from the house party environment and into the realm of social commentary. Paving the way for artists like NWA, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine that took this a step further and made all their music socially and politically relevant. Doubtless, much of hip-hop’s dark imagery is autobiographical expression, a cathartic act that all people—and especially those from underprivileged backgrounds—have the right to. But this message has become confused or manipulated, turning a criminal lifestyle from the starting point into the goal. Rap Stars affiliation to very-real city gangs adds to the pressure for inner city youth to join gangs. that is not to say that one would join a gang simply due a rappers allegiance. Indeed most are pushed into gang membership by regional survival necessity and a lack of healthy alternatives. Kitwana, Bakari writes, “For many both in and outside of street gangs and cliques, selling drugs is one of the most viable “job” options in the face of limited meaningful employment...high imprisonment rates due to increased policing focused on drug crimes have landed nearly 1 million Black men, many of them hip-hop generation's, behind bars” (39-40). 2

Largely the public education system has failed young black americans. Today there are more young black high school dropouts in prison or jail than those with paying jobs. Black men are more likely to go to prison than to graduate with a four-year college degree or complete military service and the population of incarcerated peoples in America is in a significant majority black men. These statistics indicate a community under attack and in need of hope. Across Americas notorious history of oppression against the black community--from Slavery to the assassination of MLK and Malcolm X -- to the current overpopulation in prisons. Music and rhythm has been a community strength and vessel to carry messages of hope, solidarity, and culture. Like the spirituals that provided hope amid the ultimate despair of slavery, socially conscious hip hop and rap music that reflect current struggles within the black community can provide messages of healing and do so in a form popular among young black people. with tremendous detail and articulation.

Today socially conscious rap artists dominate mainstream hip hop charts--Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, CNas, common, Jay-Z,-but whether the same holds true in underground circles remains to be determined. But by comparison the artists that choose to speak about the institutional failings that have and continue to negatively impact the black community seem to garner a much less attention than those that choose (or are instructed) to rap about money, “hoes” and [insert product placement]. More and more new artists are embracing these same conscious perspectives and transforming hip hop simply by being different and gaining popularity for it. Macklemore is an interesting example of new avenues being paved in hip hop music--he is white, dresses extravagantly, created a hit song about gay love and together with Ryan Lewis recorded, produced and released their album, The Heist, which debuted at #1 on itunes. But hip hop is not only becoming more racially diverse it is also having to confront deeply held prejudices such as homophobia--Frank Ocean was one of the first major artists to announce he had fallen in love with someone of the same sex, prompting many in the hip hop community to speak out in support of Ocean and the many silent fans whom his actions might inspire. following his open letter Russell Simons was widely quoted saying “Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?”

The following are lyrics from Canadian producer and rapper“had..In the song Brother (Watching) he raps “(Saturated with negative images and a limited range of Possibilities is strange...)And it's sad cause that naturally do/ Sort of condition your mind and over time/ That's what's attractive to you/ So young blacks don’t see themselves in/ Scholastic pursuits/ Or the more practical routes/ It's makin tracks or it's hoops/ Or God-forbid movin packs for the loot/Even with this music we so limited - it's rap or produce/ And that narrow conception of what's black isn't true/ Of course, still we feel forced to adapt to this view/ Like there's something that you're havin to prove/ Now add that to the slew/ Of justification the capitalists use/ For the new blaxploitation/...”

Solution: 

Since socially conscious narratives have been observable in hip hop since its inception, the question becomes; what can be done to reinvigorate this and bolster the hip hop’s standing in political and social territory? “The cloud of capitalism prevents the Hip Hop audience from seeing that, for the conscious artist, it is the record company, itself that is "ground zero" for the battle for the minds of African people. But they rap about an external enemy when the internal, major enemy of Black Liberation is sitting in the boardroom two doors down from their recording studio. In order for conscious Hip Hop and Hip Hop in general to survive, it must become what the system never really allowed it to be; a way to educate, inform and inspire Afrikan people to become involved in the betterment of their global communities.”3

Youth organizations such as, Project Hip-Hop, are a great example of what it means to bringing socially conscious hip hop into proper frame. They seek to:

– Develop artistic leadership in youth – Challenge and shift societal narratives – Unite people through common culture – Use art as a tool for campaign organizing

An example of this is their Girlz and Guyz Cyphers program in which they “bring young MCs and poets together to strengthen their skills as performers, develop their content as socially conscious artists, and engage in conversations about their lives—all within a Hip-Hop-based social justice curriculum.”4

Kitwana, Bakari, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture (2002)

2 Kitwana, Bakari, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture (2002)3

3 Anon. n.d. “How Conscious Hip Hop Failed Us in Davey D’s Daiy Hip Hop News Forum.” Retrieved June 5, 2013 (http://hiphopnews.yuku.com/topic/502#.Ua6u9Jy8M3I).

4 Anon. n.d. “Project HIP-HOP » Programs.” Retrieved June 5, 2013

Categories: 
orientation
Categories: 
engagement
Categories: 
social
Categories: 
products
Themes: 
Digital Divide
Themes: 
Education
Themes: 
Social Critique
Themes: 
Community Action

Civic Intelligence Role Playing Games

Pattern ID: 
139
Discussion: 

 

Role Playing Games (RPGS) such a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) combine storytelling with a set of rules that determine the abilities of the players and govern the interactions between the players and their environment. Essentially, RPGs allow the players to simulate imaginary scenarios and act them out. There are many elements of RPGs that are similar to elements of Civic Intelligence (CI). The development of a CI-RPG could allow roleplaying game methods to be applied for practical social justice problem solving and team building.

At the start of a game, the players in an RPG gather together to form a team which is usually called a “party.” Then they are often presented with a mission, a quest which the party will attempt to complete. Before each game, each player develops the character they will play, and determines the Skills and Attributes they will have. This is similar to the Capabilities found in Civic Intelligence.

In D&D there are six Attributes every player’s character has: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. For each character each of these Attributes will have a number value assigned to it (randomly), which measures how much of that particular Attribute the character has. Characters also have Skills, such as Concentration or Diplomacy, which correspond to certain Attributes. For example, a character with high Dexterity who has the Use Rope Skill will be very good at that Skill. The higher the corresponding Attribute the better a character will be at a particular skill.

Different characters will have different Skills and Attributes and a party must work together and combine their capabilities to be successful. A Civic Intelligence Roleplaying Game could allow a group of civic-minded people to explore ways to improve their individual operations and cooperative interactions by simulating problems and imagining potential solutions. Where traditional RPGs often serve as escapism, a CI-RPG would seek to replicate the real world and experiment in ways that might be too difficult or dangerous to perform in real life without rehearsal.

Categories: 
engagement
Categories: 
social
Categories: 
resources
Themes: 
Research for Action
Themes: 
Community Action
Themes: 
Theory
Themes: 
Case Studies
Pattern status: 
Draft

Profit-motivated Health Care

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
25
Version: 
3
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Pharmaceutical and health insurance companies profit off of disease and injury, and so it is in their fiscal interest to keep patients ill and/or injured.  Band-aid "solutions" and expensive procedures target symptoms, instead than causes of diseases in this pattern.  Health through prevention should be studiously avoided as it leads to "prevention" in profits as well.

Consumerism

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
4
Version: 
3
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Quality of life is ultimately measured by on the acquisition and display of material goods. At the heart of consumerism is the thought that the “good life” can be purchased. Consumerism also contains a set of standards through which people can be judged based on material wealth.

Neighborhood based Community Health Workers

Pattern ID: 
913
Michael O'Neill
Healthy Living Collaborative
Version: 
1
Problem: 

Fragmented systems of service delivery that are intended to deliver health, social wellbeing, and safety are in need of course correction to address severe disparities in health and welbeing that exist.  The mandate of health care reform from the Affordable Care Act is to improve care, improve population health outcomes, and lower costs. In Washington State the timeline to accomplish this is five years.

 

How can organizations that have traditionally delivered units of care shift towards providing access to wellness for a population which creates health equity, increases local capacity, and transforms payment and delivery systems?

Solution: 

Community Health Workers are an emerging solution to this problem as shown by a case study of the Healthy Living Collaborative project in Southwest Washington and other similar projects which it is modeled after.  Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trusted community members among the people they serve who can fill a variety of culturally appropriate roles.  These roles increase access for the CHWs friends, family, neighbors, and peers to resources, knowledge, and skills that promote wellness.  CHWs are a credible voice for the lived experience of local needs and play a critical role in translating this information across cultural, social, and organizational boundaries.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Community Health Workers are an emerging solution to this problem as shown by a case study of the Healthy Living Collaborative project in Southwest Washington and other similar projects which it is modeled after.  Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trusted community members among the people they serve who can fill a variety of culturally appropriate roles.  These roles increase access for the CHWs friends, family, neighbors, and peers to resources, knowledge, and skills that promote wellness.  CHWs are a credible voice for the lived experience of local needs and play a critical role in translating this information across cultural, social, and organizational boundaries.

Pattern status: 
Draft

Inteligencia Cívica

Group Name: 
Spanish translations of Liberating Voices card verbiage
Version: 
1
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Inteligencia cívica describe que tan bien grupos de personas persiguen fines cívicos a través de medios cívicos.  Inteligencia Cívica hace la pregunta crítica: Es la sociedad suficientemente inteligente para afrontar los desafíos que se le presentan?  La inteligencia cívica requiere aprendizaje y enseñanza. También requiere meta-cognición – el pensar y realmente mejorar como pensamos y trabajamos juntos.

Explain Whole Systems Instead of Random Facts

Pattern ID: 
903
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
903
R Y Shah
The Galatic Institute of Root Journalism
Version: 
1
Problem: 

The problem with many news stories is that the reporter tends to assume far too often that the reader has been following the reporter's beat along with the reporter. (A beat is a journalism term that describes the type of stories that the reporter covers. Ex: sports, foreign policy, state politics, art and culture, etc.) Of course for a majority of readers, this is not the case. A typical reader has a job, a family, and other concerns to dedicate her time to aside from keeping abreast with the latest developments of a reporter's beat. So often I find it difficult to make my way through a news article without confronting a variety of questions that the writer assumes I already know the answers to. On top of that, the reporter will throw in random facts assuming I can put them into proper context concerning the subject matter of which I have nothing more than generalized knowledge about. The gravity of the situation that these facts attest to is lost due to my ignorance and the reporter's neglect to confront my ignorance. What does this lead to? Well, for many readers who find themselves in such a position, they grow frustrated at the inordinate difficulty in trying to understand what the hell is going on. They may also feel ashamed at not already knowing enough to tell what is going on, which - when you think about it - is absurd. Why read a newspaper that already assumes you know what is going on? From here many a reader disengage before they scream and tear the newspaper into tiny shreds. Thus the masses grow apathetic and uninformed. Business, politics, foreign policy and other important aspects of society become ever more distant and inaccessible. And journalism fails to do its job.

Context: 

Journalism grows ever more elitist by ignoring its duties to educate the common man. A way to battle this is to introduce more pedantic elements into journalism. News people must remember that contemporary society grows increasingly complicated as bureaucratic substructures abound in almost every endeavor modern society offers. Reporters can no longer be mere messengers in a society where the masses are estranged from corporate and political echelons. Reporters must also be teachers and illustrate what the latest newsbreak means within the entire functioning system of their beat. This will require a radical renovation of the news.

Discussion: 

Twenty years ago such a suggestion would be absurd. "Explain the latest developments in the context of the entire system?" A reporter would exclaim, "There's not enough room! I can't keep explaining the same thing, over and over, every single day!" Thankfully, these are the concerns of the print journalist, not his predecessor, the internet reporter (who has still to fully develop).

This is a perfectly valid suggestion against the backdrop of the internet. Let's say a news blog has released an article detailing a new contract between the US government and American contractor, Halliburton. Such an article will undoubtedly refer to some esoteric information that will stump anyone other than business executives and news junkies. With a simple click of the mouse, a befuddled reader could then be ushered to a page that would illustrate what this development means in the context of the whole system between contractors and the US government. Unlike newspapers, internet pages are infinite and (more or less) cheap.

Now the question is what would such a page look like? How could one explain entire systems of society to a reader who has almost no prior expertise? There are many ways to go about solving such a conundrum: the first would be to explain the system via text. But what are often undervalued in society are the skills required to explain complex systems simply and accurately to others: empathetic sensibilities bordering on ESP and complete comprehension of a subject matter. This skill set touches upon the core asset of good teaching. Many high-ranking academics (often professors at erudite universities) miserably fail to live up to this obligation themselves. But regardless of academia's problems, it's about time these principles were prized amongst journalists.

Ah, here we may encounter a dirty dirty secret: many journalists themselves do not know what is going on. It has almost become an industry standard to scan the internet and assemble one's article out of the disembodied parts of other articles, come Frankenstein. This shameful habit is almost an industry-wide practice. Don't believe me? Google a news story. Read the articles that pop up. Notice how mind-bogglingly redundant they all are. Rarely does anyone seek a different angle on a news story, let alone get different information from another relevant party. In fact, many quotes are the same en masse. As journalists grow increasingly lazier thanks to the internet and PR announcements, their collective knowledge grows weaker, their thoughts grow more dependent on others. Thinking and producing thoughtful work in the news industry looks reminiscent of mad cow disease: reporters eating and regurgitating the words of other reporters, who themselves have devoured and regurgitated the works of some public representative of the actual party. This pattern is a double edged sword, for not only does it seek to vanquish the reader's ever-mounting confusion, but it will undoubtedly rout out reporters who operate in partial or complete ignorance: the spores of mass confusion.

So, a reporter must be required to completely and thoroughly understand her beat. She is then required to explain the system as a pretext to her breaking story so that any reader, anywhere, will understand what the hell is happening. Not just businessmen, congress men, not just specific strata of society, everyone: housemaids, twelve-year olds, hippies, outdoor enthusiasts, former convicts, stay-at-home dads, artists, everyone.

The final benefit of this pattern is that the truth will be easier to discern from hype, spin and flagrant lies. How? Easy. Lies don't make sense. That's how we eventually know (other than a third party informing us) that we're being lied to. How do we tell the difference between a genius and a madman? The genius makes sense. Whatever explanatory system makes the most sense is the best candidate for the truth. There is nothing out there that can determine such a thing other than ourselves and our relationship to the truth. No matter where we stand in society, we all are tangent to larger operating systems that determine much of our lives. Systems of real estate development, agriculture, politics, and so on. We all have some first-hand knowledge of large newsworthy systems. That, combined with our intellect, is enough to suss out the truth. If someone can't explain to us how things interrelate simply and coherently, that's probably because they're full of shit.

Solution: 

Constructing news that attempts to place latest developments in the context of a large system should be an effective way to the cease the public's confusion over many issues and their resulting apathy because of it. Not only will the public be more informed, but news people will have more responsibility for the peoples' comprehension of the issues.

Pattern status: 
Released

Open Source Everything

Pattern ID: 
614
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
127
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Commercial interests in the form of large multi-national corporations strive to fulfill only the most profitable needs or wants. In many cases, the highest or easiest profit aims at wants that may not ultimately be in the interests of the targetted consumers (let alone the workers or the environment). For instance, many food companies focus on high fat, high sugar, high salt products that humans find tasty based on an evolutionary history in which these substances were difficult to find. For people in the developed world, however, having access to such foods is unhealthy. Furthermore, the way these foods are produced, transported and marketed involves unaccounted for costs to humanity. This is just one example. In general, corporations are not only motivated, but legally required to maximize profits, not meet actual human needs.

Furthermore, the economies of scale lead large companies to focus efforts on those wants that are best met by mass-produced goods and services. There are a huge range of very specific needs that much smaller groups or individuals have which do not provide suffficient inducement for large companies to provide.

Thus, the corporately created world both fails to meet many human needs and even when it does produce value, it tends to focus on wants rather than needs and do so in a way that has many undesirable side-effects.

Context: 

In a variety of arenas, including publishing scholarly work, the development of educational materials, and the development of useful, robust software, an "open source" process has shown itself to be very effective. There are a variety of reasons why such a process is now timely. First, there are a large number of people globally with access to the Internet. This allows global communities with common interests to work together without the necessity of physical travel (which can be expensive in time and money). Second, there are worked examples of people from many fields volunteering their efforts to create value for the common good of their community. These examples serve, in turn, as models for other communities. Third, there are a critical mass of people with time and knowledge to add value to such collective efforts. Fourth, although it has been common in the past for those in power to use their power to keep their power, in modern times, a series of social and legal processes have been put in place to consolidate power into structures that are no longer effectively regulated by countervaling forces such as local governments or community pressure. The first three factors make the use of Open Source feasible and the last makes it manditory. In addition, Open Source has the capacity to personalize and customize value to much smaller groups than is feasible for large companies. Thus, by offering Open Source materials, people may collectively fulfull a greater proportion of human needs and wants. This is currently referred to as "the long tail." There are a very large number of people wanting a few common things and a very small number of people each wanting something different. Open Source is much better positioned to fulfill those different things wanted by only a relatively few.

Discussion: 

Perhaps the most articulate introduction to the general concept of open source is the introduction to Eric von Hippel's Democratizing Innovation:

"When I say that innovation is being democratized, I mean that users of products and services -- both firms and individual consumers -- are increasingly able to innovate for themselves. User-centered innovation processes offer great advantages over the manufacturer-centric innovation development systems that have been the mainstay of commerce for hundres of years. Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfact) agents. Moreover, individual users do not have to develop everything they need on their own: they can benefit from innovations developed and freely shared by others. The trend toward democractization of innovation applies to information products such as software and also to physical products. As a quick illustration of the latter, consider the development of high-performance windsurfing techniques and equipment in Hawaii by an informal user group."

Probably the most notable and widespread success story of "open source" is the development of open source software. The "source code" of any computer program is the complete set of instructions that the computer follows to provide its functions. There are two competing philosophies that determine the rules regarding the distribution of software "source code."

The basic business orientation dictates that, above all, the source code should be kept private and that only people who are allowed to make changes to it -- either to add functionality or fix bugs -- are the people who are authorized by the company that owns it. Although there are several variants, the "free software" or "open source" model if more-or-less the opposite of the corporation model in nearly all respects. Anybody can obtain the source code without cost. Anybody can make changes to the source code. And anybody can distribute the code without restriction to anybody.

Besides its desirable price (nothing!), the open source model offers many advantages over the closed, corporate model. One is that many eyes can identify and fix many bugs. Software flaws such as bugs or security holes are more readily found and exposed. (This is the reason why fair voting advocates are generally in favor of open source voting software.) Another reason is that the open source model promotes innovation by allowing anybody to implement new functionality. Although many of the modifications may be unwanted, some may provide a foundation for desirable features. Although the open source approach has its own disadvantages (as do all approaches), it offers surprisingly stiff competition against deep-pocketed corporate behemoths. Linux, for example, is more robust, less buggy and on a faster release cycle than well-funded corporately engineered operating systems.

Although computer programmers have been at the forefront of this intellectual revolution, computer programs are certainly not the only complex artifacts that could be designed, built, maintained and improved through an open-source collective effort.

One obvious artifact to think about moving into open source development is the development of vaccines and other medicines. And in this arena, medicines that could reduce suffering caused by the worldwide HIV-AIDS epidemic come to mind readily. Of course, in so-called "primitive" societies, knowledge of how to find, prepare and use medicinal plants was a precious gift handed down from generation to generation.

With oil prices skyrocketing, open source automobile developers could work together on developing automobiles with super high mileage and other environmentally friendly features. Already (NY Times August 2005) hobbyists are modifying Priuses and other hybrid vehicles to pump up the mileage.

Because corporations are driven primarily to maximize profits, they tend to focus efforts on the very popular and tend to ignore small niche interests. For example, the open source music movement now allows individuals to create music collaboratively and globally. Probably the most popular of these, adding 200 users per week is MacJams. (See links below for general home page and to see what an individual's entry looks like). Albums can be built and distributed on a one-off basis without the high up-front costs of using a recording studio.

Similar avenues exists for poetry, stories, photographs, video and artwork. Examples may be seen at lulu.com, Xlibris, and publishamerica.

Solution: 

Use the mechanism of Open Source to meet needs that are not well-met by large institutions and corporations as well as areas where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the value provided.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

High profits for corporations can mean low benefits for consumers, workers, and the environment. In many areas, including scholarly publishing and the development of educational materials and software, an "open source" process can be an effective alternative. Open Source Everything can be used to meet needs where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the benefits.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ligeti Stratos

Socially Responsible Video Games

Pattern ID: 
605
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
126
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Video games are frequently violent, sexually explicit and exploitive and commercialistic. Whether their use leads inexorably to social exclusion or anti-social behavior and attitudes, the fact that their use occupies the minds of millions of people for billions of hours in a given year might make anybody question whether this is wise.

Context: 

Video games draw people in but people don't get much in return. Is it possible that this medium can be re-engineered to good purpose? Gamers and game designers should explore these possibilities as should policy-makers, NGOs, and other people interested in new educational possibilities.

Discussion: 

The idea of using computer games for socially responsible purposes has some intriguing arguments in its favor. One is that people are already spending enormous amounts of time doing mindless virtual driving (at least they're not wasting gas!) and shooting virtual villains, etc. If they're going to spend that much of their time gaming why not have them do something of value? (or so that argument goes.) On the other hand, it's not clear that it would work. Perhaps shooting is more fun than learning for some (or many or most?) people (but then according to the Harper's discussants, you can always trick them by giving them points or the right to use the virtual laser guns only after they did the "educational" thing, like adding the numbers or spelling the word.) But it's not obvious that even if people like playing an educational or socially responsible game that it would have any positive lasting effects.

Models and simulations provide ways for people to explore situations that can't be experienced directly — like the future. At the same time we must acknowledge that these tools aren't as compelling as they could be. Well-designed interactive games have the potential to be educational in that people learn about the world as well as compelling — they thrust the gamer into the scenario.

Certain types of video games are, on some level, not unlike simulations in which the computer extrapolates certain plausible outputs — both expected and unexpected — based on user selections or decisions. Simulations, however, are "serious" while games by their very nature are frivolous — or so it would seem.

What, in theory, could socially responsible video games achieve? One possibility is that they could improve cognitive skills including memorization of spelling and multiplication tables, as well as deeper skills such as analysis, interpretation, or evaluation. Another possibility is that one could learn a general feel or understanding from the games; just as people get some type of general knowledge from visiting foreign countries. One could, for example, get an impression of what it would be like to, say, deliver relief food to refugees in a remote war zone.

A video game, like a movie, book, or, even, a story told aloud, is not "real." It's a creation of a parallel artificial world, or a world "once removed" from "reality." In the early 1960s Yale psychology professor Stanley Millgram conducted a bold experiment that demonstrated (or was widely perceived as having demonstrated) how people were naturally inclined to follow orders from perceived authority figures, however illegitimate and immoral the orders might be. In those experiments, a "doctor" with official-looking garb tells the subject (misleadingly) that he or she are going to be involved in a memory experiment. In the course of this experiment, the subject will push buttons that purportedly deliver increasingly powerful electric jolts to an unseen person in the next room, a confederate who doesn't seem to be able to master the memorization of a few words at a level that sufficiently pleases the experimenter. After the hapless person with the poor memory cries out in [feigned] pain, the real subject understandably balks at delivering more pain to the person in the next room. After the authority figure explains that they "must continue" with the experiment, the vast majority of the subjects elected to continue their regiment of electrical shocks to the unseen victim. A notable exception to this excursion into a morally dubious zone were people who had spent time in German concentration camps during World War II. Many of them simply refused to deliver the punishment.

One plausible explanation is that the survivors who had actually witnessed situations in which blind obeisance to power led to barbarity, learned about its pitfalls, while those who had not been in such a situation had not. This suggests that video games could provide a type of rehearsal for situations that might arise in the future, serving much the same role as it is believed that play does for children.

It is the possibility that video games could provide meaningful instruction that inspired Paul Rogat Loeb to propose a video game based on former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" movie that explores the looming prospect of global warming and massive climate change: "The game could build on Gore’s existing movie, slide show, and website, adapting whatever elements were useful, but also making the process more interactive, more engaging for an audience for whom games are a prime language. Why not put people in the role of climate scientists assessing the evidence, governmental and corporate decision makers, citizens trying to keep our society from driving off a cliff? Why not let them try out different ways of acting? (Loeb, 2006).

Video games could (at least theoretically) help society learn how to deal with various problems that people might encounter: emergencies, stolen elections, loss of civil liberties, etc, The fact is that our globalized, mediated, interconnected world thrusts a multitude of issues into our face that reveal our impotence: although they demand a response, individually we have nothing in our experience that helps us truly grapple with it ‐ let alone determine what that should be done about it.

Several video games have been released, and several more are in planning, that are intended to teach people about real-world issues in ways that television new reports and formal education are unlikely to emulate. One game, "Food Force" developed by the United Nations World Food Program, puts players in the middle of a dangerous food relief mission on Sheylan, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean suffering from drought and civil war. Players airdrop food, drive down mine-infested roads, buy and distribute food and help rebuild. Surprisingly, the game has been downloaded by over three million of people and is second in the number of free downloads only to "America's Army," another "serious game," this one a recruiting tool for the US Army (Rosenberg, 2006).

There are several new games with socially responsible orientations. One is called "A Force More Powerful" and designed to teach non-violent strategy. Others are based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (PeaceMaker), genocide in Darfur, and Adventure Ecology in which two kids, Dash and Bay fight eco-threats and villains like Agent Waste and Professor Ignorance and the environment is represented as a "a highly complex and interdependent system in which every life-form, air molecule and pebble plays a part" (Snoonian, 2006).

While video games are often damned because of their total disconnect from the "real world," this separation may also have its virtues. According to Raph Koster (Wasik, 2006), there is a " magic circle" surrounding games and "it has to be a circle games of no consequence." Formal education, on the other hand, generally does not have a "magic circle of no consequence." In other words, failures — both small and large — at school have consequences that vary from minor annoyances and embarrassment to not being able to attend college or find meaningful employment after high school.

Solution: 

Will Wright, the designer of SimCity and other simulation games, commented on the goals he has for Spore, a new video game now in development: "I want people to be able to step back five steps, five really big steps. To think about life itself and its potential-scale impact. I want the gamers to have this awesome perspective handed to them in a game. And then let them decide how to interpret it" (Johnson, 2006). While we can't know how valid this perspective is and how his new game will promote those ways of thinking, it's clear that it represents a step up in relation to the majority of the other games that people play.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Video games can be violent, sexually explicit, exploitive, and commercialistic. Whether or not they lead to anti-social behavior and attitudes, the idea presents intriguing possibilities. Ideally they could help teach people about real-world issues in compelling ways. And models and simulations provide ways for people to explore situations that can't be experienced directly — like the future.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Faust_und_Mephisto_beim_Schachspiel_19Jh.jpg

Environmental Impact Remediation

Pattern ID: 
603
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
124
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Jim Gerner
Free Geek Olympia
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Although information and communication are often conceived as abstract, intangible and immaterial, the systems that maintain them are, of necessity, constructed with solid things such as paper, lead, concrete, rubber, glass, mercury, cadmium and silicon which are fabricated into the delivery trucks, wires, library buildings, computers, chips and CDs. The manufacture (and ultimate retirement) of all of these things is often accompanied with environmental damage, as the 23 "Superfund" sites in Silicon Valley will attest, In 2005, 63 million computers in the U.S. were replaced with newer models. Up to 80% of the waste is then sent to developing countries where it often contributes to environmental and health hazards. Additionally, energy is consumed — often in immense quantities — throughout every stage in the life-cycle of a product. As devices are made with shorter and shorter life-spans and the uses of ICS increases worldwide, this problem will become more critical unless something is done.

Context: 

Vast numbers of people are affected by the increasing "informatization" of the world. This includes people who are fortunate enough to capitalize on the new technology and those who are unfortunate enough to live with the refuse. This pattern can be used by people who have some control over the situation, including those who are in a position to develop laws and policies, producers who can lessen the effects of their products entering the waste-stream, and local communities who can develop policies and programs for responsible treatment of discarded technology. Community activists, health professionals, local governments, and neighborhood organizations will need to organize and work together in this effort. Other possible participants include computer geeks, social activists, environmental activists and those wanting to learn more about computers and new technology.

Discussion: 

The use of information and communication systems is expanding enormously in countries like the US as well as in countries like China and India. This is causing immense demands on their infrastructure and on the environment. Computer technology has grown increasingly more sophisticated in a very short period of time. During that same time, the costs have dropped in relative and absolute terms, thus resulting in a massive number of obsolete computers and other technology much of which has been dumped somewhere where toxins like lead, cadmium and mercury can leach into the soil and water.

In addition to the new intellectual and social spaces that the new technology helps provide, we need to think about the impact that information and communication systems are having on the environment. Although we associate physical spaces like libraries and auditoriums with energy and resource use, the creation, storage, and distribution of information requires energy and resource use as well. Some of this use doesn't square with conventional wisdom. Computer use, for example was supposed to lower the consumption of paper because everybody would simply read the computer screen. The amount of travel was also going to decline because business could be conducted electronically, thus substituting communication for transportation. The electronics industry was also celebrated as an environmentally friendly industry yet there are 19 "superfund" sites associated with high-tech industries slated for environmental remediation in Santa Clara county, home to more of these sites that any other county in the U.S. IBM and Fairchild Electronics were disposing their waste products in underground tanks which subsequently leaked trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, Freon and other solvents into the drinking water of 65,000 people. There also seems to be an unhealthy link between the waste producers and the people who must deal with it, specifically prison inmates who work with inadequate protection and no health insurance working in for profit prisons.

Why pick on information and communication systems? After all, other sectors use energy and cause pollution. One reason is that "electronic waste is the fastest growing part of the waster system," according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Another reason is that it's important for people to realize that information and communication technology is not a utopian, magical answer to all problems. Obviously we need to consider the entire life-cycle of all products — including those related to information and communication. (While this task is not trivial, thinking about the "second order" effects while extremely important, is even more difficult to do meaningfully. The effects of the automobile on all aspects of life, including attitudes on sex, as well as the effects of the size of the weapons industry in the U.S. on foreign policy are both intriguing examples of unforeseen side-effects.) Understanding the entire "cradle-to-grave" (and beyond! as in the case of toxins that can reach out from the grave to poison air and water) is critical, but what should be done with the information? It may be easiest to require that every manufactured or imported product is covered under an ecologically-sound "Take-it-Back" (SVTC, 2005) policy that requires the manufacturer or importer to pay for recovery or safe sequestering of hazardous materials.

Free Geek was started in Portland, Oregon in 2000 by members of the open source software community to bring resources to bear on the problems of e-waste and the digital divide by helping "the needy get nerdy." The Free Geek approach combines participatory education and environmentalism. Free Geek addresses the problem of discarded computers and other electronic e-waste can be diminished by reusing and recycling. Free Geek uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology. Volunteers are eligible to receive a computer after finishing a tour of service which educates the volunteer about computers and about the environmental impacts of ICT. The city government in Portland, as part of their effort to reduce e-waste helps support the project. A broad range of people are working together to cross the economic and social divides by working towards a common goal. The Free Geek concept has quickly spread to other areas including Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The Free Geek approach is not the only way to address the problem of lacking a community recycling program. There are many similar projects throughout the country that may or may not use open source software. But Free Geek is worth mentioning here for many reasons. First, Free Geek was developed by civil society; second, Free Geek is a partnership between several sectors and thus helps bring all sectors of the local community into a common struggle; and, third, Free Geek is an innovative approach that deftly addresses a multitude of issues within a common set of principles, assumptions and actions.

Starting and running a Free Geek or similar program requires a variety of skills and activities. The pattern can only be implemented by a group of people. To start that group one would post meeting announcements and invite members from local Linux users groups, college students and others. Since the overall environment for this approach will vary from community to community it's important to find out what's happening in your community and who's involved. The success of the project is likely to depend on how well you understand your community and can work with people in the community. Beyond that, there are many "nuts and bolts" issues including finding space and funding and developing programs. Associating with Free Geek is probably a good idea because of its network of dedicated people, useful documents and software for running an community recycling project.

The environmental problems associated with information and communication technology are severe and no mutually agreed-upon long-term, sustainable solution has been identified. People are developing a variety of creative and thoughtful responses to the problems of ICT-related pollution but more are needed. Information and communication technology can probably be part of the solution — but part of this involves stopping be part of the problem.

Solution: 

As a necessary part of stewardship and responsibility, it's essential to come to terms with the environmental impact of information and communication systems and devise suitable strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. Some combination of policy, consumer education, habits of consumption, social and technological innovation and recycling will probably be necessary for this take place effectively.

Introductory graphic located at http://freegeek.org/volunteer.php

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although information and communication may seem abstract and immaterial, the systems that support them are built with solid things whose manufacture and disposal is often accompanied with environmental damage. We must acknowledge the environmental impact of these systems and devise strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. One group, Free Geek, uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology by reusing and recycling.

Pattern status: 
Released
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