PopTech Blog

Matt's back and he's still dancing

The world first admired his moves back in 2008 when his video Where the Hell is Matt went viral. Now game designer and international traveler Matt Harding is back, shaking his thing in countries all around the globe. 

Check Matt out as he dances in Damascus, boogies in Bratislava, and juggles in Kabul. The latest video was shot in 71 locations, including 55 countries and 11 states. Seattle-based Matt says Americans should travel abroad more, and appreciates that his dancing gives him an opportunity to see places he would never get to otherwise.

Matt may have two left feet, but they certainly have taken him to some interesting places.

PopTech Editions II: Andrew Zolli on connecting the curves of the micro-everything revolution

Last week, PopTech launched its second Edition, Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution. Our Editions explore an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. In the coming weeks, we’ll highlight pieces from contributors who are exploring the dynamics of the micro-everything revolution, from design and engineering for radical affordability to overcoming hurdles to distribution. Today, we’re excerpting a contribution from our PopTech’s Executive Director, Andrew Zolli.

Today, there are two kinds of curves shaping technological progress. Their interplay will frame the micro-everything revolution for decades to come – and with it, our efforts to alleviate poverty, build resilience and drive social change.

The first kind of curve is one we’re well acquainted with here in the Global North: the accelerating, upward trajectory associated with many forms of advanced technology. Whether measuring computer processing power, data storage, network connectivity, bandwidth, gene sequencing, or solar panel efficiency, many technologies are undergoing a continuous growth in the upper bounds of their capacity. In the process, they are continually enlarging what we might call the Scope of the Possible.

When we hitch a ride on this kind of curve, the effects can be self-compounding. When the U.S. labor market was linked to the ever-accelerating World of Bits, for example, huge increases in productivity, knowledge and creativity followed. These increases fed on themselves, further fueling the upward tilt of what has become an (almost) perpetual motion machine of innovation. Yet, while dramatic, there is nothing inherently magical about the U.S. experience: stop by a place like Nairobi’s iHub today, and you will see a thriving community of African entrepreneurs and technologists who, like their Palo Alto peers, are busy inventing the future, and with it, one suspects, significant future wealth.

Slightly less well-appreciated is the second kind of curve: the plunging per-unit cost of various forms of technological functionality, which in turn has enabled access to technology across much of the Global South. The cost of say, wirelessly transmitting a gigabyte of data, sequencing a human genome or detecting a novel pathogen is decelerating rapidly. This is because, as the underlying technologies increase their capacity, they also become more efficient, in terms of materials, energy, economics, space and time. What yesterday took a million dollars and a machine the size of a school bus to achieve, will just as likely be done tomorrow in a millisecond, for a few pennies, in the palm of your hand.

Read the full article and check out the complete Edition.

Anand Giridharadas: To check in or to linger longer

In Anand Giridharadas' (PopTech 2011) most recent Currents column for the New York Times, Going Online to Check In, Not Check Out, he looks at the different strategies tech companies employ to keep us engaged. He suggests two schools of thought: In the Facebook school, it's about keeping you online as long as possible. In the Foursquare school, it's about checking in, checking out, and continuing on with your life, IRL. He elaborates:

Members of the “get offline” camp speak of their companies’ role in a customer’s life very differently — as episodic, fading in and out, there only in the key moments. As a result, their business models often come from taking a cut of the transactions they facilitate rather than from advertisements.

Giridharadas is an author who writes about a "world in transition," a transition that can be seen not only in virtual spaces but also in physical and psychologoical spaces. He addresses those physically- and culturally-motivated shifts in his PopTech talk, as well as in his book, India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking, when he returns to live in India as an adult and encounters a culture moving from traditional and collective values to a me-centric individualism.

Sounds like Iceland

In just over a week, PopTech will convene a network of resilience researchers, practitioners, and thought leaders for a unique gathering in Iceland to explore resilience in its many forms. We look forward to sharing this year-long journey, Toward Resilience, here on the blog. If you're joining us in Iceland, we'll see you soon!

To start getting in the Nordic mood, we've put together a mix of Icelandic music for your listening pleasure.

Here's the playlist: 

  1. Amiina - Over and Again
  2. Útidúr - Fisherman's Friend
  3. Of Monsters And Men - Little Talks
  4. Lay Low - By And By
  5. Sigur Rós - Gobbledigook
  6. Emiliana Torrini - Jungle Drum (Jai Paul Remix) 
  7. Retro Stefson - Kimba (Inspired by Iceland)
  8. Björk - Virus
  9. Pascal Pinon - I Wrote a Song
  10. Sin Fang - Two Boys
  11. Lay Low  - I Forget It's There
  12. FM Belfast - American

Sit back, relax and enjoy the jams.

Image: Brian Suda

Shout out to Siggi Baldursson and Icelandic Music Export for turning us on to some great Icelandic sounds.

This week in PopTech: Brain scans, sustainable finance and the micro-everything revolution

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

  • Adrian Owen (PopTech 2010) has found a way to use brain scans to communicate with people who are in vegetative states. This week, Owen talks to Nature about the fight to take his methods to the clinic.
  • If you missed it earlier this week, we released PopTech Editions II - Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution, the second feature in our series that examines an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. As with our last Edition, this one serves as a guide to a timely topic with original essays and articles from contributors, interviews from the field, videos on and off the PopTech stage, and more. Take a look.

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Kenny Stoltz

Rachel Hope Allison's sea monster story

plastic bags heading to the ocean

Most PopTechers know all about the massive vortex of plastic that swirls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We've written about marine biologists making monsters out of ocean trash and featured activist ocean rowers. The PopTech stage has hosted heartbreaking slideshows of plastic debris and its effect on animals and impassioned environmentalists describing sailing ships made of plastic bottles to call attention to these troubled waters.

There's a newly-published graphic novel that illustrates the problem of plastic. Illustrator Rachel Hope Allison created the book, I'm Not a Plastic Bag, to tell a story of "loneliness, beauty, and humankind’s connection to our planet". The book gently reveals how our carelessly discarded everyday items combine to create something truly monstrous. With its lovely images and simple, sad story of this monster who doesn't fit it, it's an interesting way to introduce the topics of pollution, conservation, and stewardship to a younger audience. 

Plastic monster in the sea

According to United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), plastic accounts for 90 percent of all debris floating in the oceans. It's also the majority of the trash that washes up on our beaches. With projects like Allison's bringing awareness to the issue and an increasing number of cities and states banning plastic bags (including, most recently, Seattle), maybe this real-life monster will one day be the stuff of fiction.  

Hat tip to Treehugger

Images: Publisher Archaia; copyright Rachel Hope Allison

Announcing PopTech Editions II - Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution


We’re excited to introduce PopTech Editions II - Small is beautiful: The micro-everything revolution, the second feature in our series that examines an emerging theme at the edge of change from the perspective of some of the remarkable innovators shaping it. As with our last Edition, this one serves as a guide to a timely topic with original essays and articles from contributors, interviews from the field, videos on and off the PopTech stage, and more.

In this Edition, we've called upon our vast network for their varied viewpoints on the dynamics that shape the micro-everything trend, from design and engineering for radical affordability to overcoming hurdles to distribution. How are innovations in low-cost manufacturing, information technology, design, and distribution making it possible to deliver goods and services that were scarcely imaginable a few years ago, at price points that were similarly inconceivable, to consumers who were previously excluded from accessing them? We've dug deep into that question -  and others related to it - in this Edition:

And in case you missed it back in March, check out our first Edition, Person-to-person: Social contagion for social good.

We'd love to hear what you think! Please let us know in the comments.

Reggie Watts: The man, the mystery, the music

In case you haven't been keeping up with your comedy news, one man band extraordinaire Reggie Watts (PopTech 2006, 2010, 2011) is the new bandmaster for IFC's weekly half-hour show, Comedy Bang! Bang! Hosted by Scott Aukerman of the well-known podcast by the same name, the show, which premiered this past Friday night, featured appearances by familiar names like Michael Cera, Jon Hamm and Zach Galifianakis. Comedy Bang! Bang! "cleverly riffs on the well-known format of the late night talk show, infusing celebrity appearances and comedy sketches with a tinge of the surreal."

Longtime friend of PopTech, Watts has performed in Camden three times since 2006. In celebration of his new show, we thought we'd highlight him in all his glory over the years. 

PopTech 2011: A send-off in style


PopTech 2010: Humor in music

PopTech 2006: A comedic trip with Reggie Watts

Designing for resilience

Earlier this month I had the privilege of co-presenting at SOCAP’s “Designing the Future” conference in Malmö, Sweden.

SOCAP, or Social Capital Markets, brings together social entrepreneurs, philanthropic funders, and impact investors dedicated to increasing the “flow of capital toward social good.” Back in September 2011, I led the Design for Social Innovation track at the SOCAP11 conference in San Francisco, and several others from Hot Studio set up drop-in consulting.

This time around I was joined by David McConville, President of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, and Mauricio Apablaza, from Oxford University’s Poverty and Human Development Initiative. Our talk focused on the idea of designing for resilience.

Concepts of resilience exist in the fields of physics and psychology. But our talk focused on a different, more holistic understanding of resilience; one that considers the capacity of systems—be they social, cultural, economic, or ecological—to deal with change and continue to develop, using disturbances to catalyze renewal, novelty, and innovation. In other words, how do systems respond to change, and how can they be improved by disruptions?

This aspect of resilience incorporates several different disciplines, notably the sciences and design, and stresses the interconnectedness of things and the way big systems work together. My co-presenters and I believe resilience has the capacity to fundamentally alter how human beings approach problem-solving on a global, systemic level.

One of the prime movers in the space has been the Brooklyn, New York-based Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI). Dedicated to continuing the work of the groundbreaking designer, inventor, and polymath Bucky Fuller (known for his geodesic dome, dymaxion car, among many, many other things), the BFI works to forward initiatives that fuse science and design. For the past several years, the BFI has sponsored the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, an annual design competition that awards $100,000 to support the “development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems.”

An example of resilience at work can be seen in the 2011 winner of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, Blue Ventures, which leveraged marine biology to solve socio-economic problems in Madagascar. For years, indigenous coastal communities had been overfishing their main crop, octopus. As a result, octopus populations declined, forcing fishermen to become more desperate in their hunt for the eight-tentacled mollusks. It was a vicious cycle: the more they fished, the poorer the villages became.

Read the full article here. This post originally appeared on Hot Studio's blog and has been republished with permission.

This week in PopTech: Transitions, infographics and laughs

There's always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week's highlights follows.

  • PopTech Social Innovation Fellow turned Fellows' faculty, Ken Banks, is handing over the day-to-day operations of FrontlineSMS, an organization he founded six-and-a-half years ago. Banks, who will continue on in his role as Chair of the Board, writes more about the transition on the FrontlineSMS blog.
  • A number of familiar faces have been included in an infographic chronology from PublicInterestDesign. They include D-Rev, a nonprofit tech incubator founded by Paul Polak (PopTech 2007) and currently run by 2011 Social Innovation Fellow Krista Donaldson, and Project H Design, an organization working to mobilize product design ingenuity for social good founded by 2009 Social Innovation Fellow Emily Pilloton.
  • Premiering tonight on IFC is Reggie Watts' (PopTech 2006, 2010, 2011) new show, Comedy Bang! Bang!, which he co-hosts with Scott Aukerman. The show "cleverly riffs on the well-known format of the late night talk show, infusing celebrity appearances and comedy sketches with a tinge of the surreal."

If you'd like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on TwitterTumblrFacebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: PublicInterestDesign.org