PopTech Blog

Contagious Gratitude: What are you thankful for?

Editor’s note: This guest post was originally scheduled to be posted yesterday—we are thankful for Frank’s post below, and hope everyone celebrating Thanksgiving had a lovely holiday. Read more below about ways we, as a community, can create ripples of thanks.

With Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaching, it is a time for reflection and gratitude for many. If this year was tougher than usual due to illness, physical or mental pain or financial struggle, it’s even more important to focus on what you have.

thankful for

Studies by thought leaders Robert Emmons at University of California Davis and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have shown that gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness. Through highly focused studies they shed some scientific light on the nature of gratitude, its causes, and its potential consequences for human health and well-being.

As a co-founder of Shiny Heart Ventures, I recently launched Thankfulfor.com, a social online gratitude journal providing a forum for expressing gratitude routinely as a foundation for happiness and well-being. People come to the site and post what they are thankful for to their personal journal of thanks. People can also choose to send each Thankfulfor post to their social network on Twitter, extending the good vibes far and wide.

We believe that through the use of social networks we can help spread more positive feelings and in some way, help improve many people’s daily lives. This approach has been validated by 2009 PopTech speaker James Fowler, professor at University of California San Diego, who studies the intersection of social and natural sciences and referred to this phenomena as “emotional stampedes”.

Emotional states like happy, unhappy and neutral spread through online networks despite location. For instance, an overseas friend who shares their thanks for a delicious home cooked meal can inspire you to experience similar feelings of joy after reading their post and reflect on things in your own life. Through Thankfulfor.com and its growing community, we hope to inspire waves of contagious gratitude moving through people’s personal networks.

For the holiday months of November and December, Thankfulfor.com is hosting a Gratitude Challenge inviting everyone to try Thankfulfor routinely and then report back with stories of how the experience may have impacted their lives. We’ve already received this thoughtful story of the use of Thankfulfor in a preschool by a teacher in Boca Raton, Florida.

We invite you to give it a try and send us your unique experiences of Thankfulfor in your life.

Movember: Growing Mustaches for a Good Cause

You may have noticed certain avatars around the Internet looking a bit more hirsute than usual. While it’s true that winter’s coming and folks tend to get a little scruffier to stay warm, there’s actually a method to this mustache madness, or at least a good reason for the facial hair season.


We’re in the midst of “Movember”, an international effort to draw attention to men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer by encouraging folks to grow mustaches. Movember participants are encouraged to register, then grow and photograph their mustaches as they unfurl. The ability to form teams adds a competitive edge, and women are encourage to join in the fun as “Mo Sistas” (that’s my company BatchBlue’s team BatchStash up there and yes, we are looking good!)

Started in Australian in 2003, Movember had nearly 180,000 participants last year. They’ve partnered with the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Live Strong (Lance Armstrong’s foundation), who split the funds evenly at the conclusion of the event.

So how does sporting big, beautiful mustaches help with fundraising? Well, just the sight of a mustache on a ordinarily nude lip can spark a conversation with friends and co-workers. From the Movember website:

“As an organization, we have a goal to change the attitude men hold toward their health. The moustache is the symbol by which we generate the necessary awareness and funds in order to be able to achieve this goal. It is a simple and effective way to achieve our number one objective – awareness.  The appearance of a new moustache opens up conversations, making the Movember participants a walking billboard, promoting men’s health for the whole month.” 

The rise in popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have helped give the project even more exposure. You can follow the hashtag or official Movember account on Twitter, join their Facebook group, or check out their Flickr stream showcasing mustaches from past years’ events.

But it’s not all fun and facial fur. So far this month, Movember’s raised over 20 million dollars internationally — that’s a lot of mustache wax!   

If you or someone you know has been affected by prostate or testicular cancer, please consider donating to this cause. If you just want to come out in support of mustaches, there will be Movember Gala Parties taking place across the globe in early December.

Remember: sometimes a mustache isn’t just a mustache. It’s an attractive facial hair embellishment that can save lives.

VIDEO: Anthony Doerr and Robert Guest on America and Migrations

Three new videos this week, two from writer Anthony Doerr (you can find his books on Powell’s Books) and one from Robert Guest, the Lexington columnist for The Economist.

Fiction writer and memoirist Anthony Doerr is the author of The Shell Collector, About Grace, and Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Here’s “Am I Still Here?”, about how networked technologies can alienate us from nature and the things that matter most. Read the text on the Orion site.

And in his beautiful “Butterflies on a Wheel,” Doerr’s narrator recounts having “traveled the great unspooling latticework of American interstates,” leading to a chance encounter between migrants in western Wyoming.

“What if the torrents of animals migrating past us every year left behind traces of their roots?…The skies above our fields would become a loom, the continents would be bundled in thread.”


Anthony has essays in McSweeney’s #32 and the upcoming #33, a full color newspaper.

Locate his upcoming appearances on his personal site.

Next summer, Scribner will publish his fourth book, Memory Wall, a collection of six stories.

Robert Guest covers American politics and culture as the Lexington columnist for The Economist. Despite some predictions otherwise, Guest suggests that America is uniquely positioned to be the world’s next hyperpower because the country has an unparalleled ability to attract immigrants from all over the world.

“America’s greatest strength, in my view, is that people want to live here.”


Learn about talent clustering through the CEOs for Cities Talent Dividend Tour.

Contribute to better cities with the just-announced Code For America.

Read Robert’s “Coming Out of the Dark” essay from The Economist The World in 2010 print edition.

What do you think about these videos? Let us know in the comments.

PopTech Part of White House "Educate to Innovate" Campaign

This morning, President Obama announced Educate to Innovate:

“… a campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This campaign will include efforts not only from the Federal Government but also from leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across America to excel in science and math.”

The “Educate to Innovate” campaign page lists the goals:

- Increase STEM literacy so that all students can learn deeply and think critically in science, math, engineering, and technology.
- Move American students from the middle of the pack to top in the next decade.
- Expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls.

The President also announced partnerships with private companies, non-profits, universities, and foundations, citing an initial private sector investment of $260 million, which he expects to grow.

PopTech is partnering with Time Warner Cable (TWC) as part of the “Educate to Innovate” campaign for TWC’s “Connect a Million Minds” initiative.

We are excited to have PopTech’s video archive used to promote STEM skills with a younger audience, and this effort joins our work on the new PopTech Science Fellows program (you can nominate a Science Fellow).

What PopTech videos in science, technology, engineering, and math would you recommend we include in our offering? Let us know in the comments.

Crowdsourcing Government Listening

The federal government is just beginning to use social media to talk to citizens. What’s needed now, says Web entrepreneur Anil Dash, is a way for government to use social media to listen.

Anil Dash at Web 2.0 Expo
Anil Dash at Web 2.0 Expo, photo by James Duncan Davidson and courtesy O’Reilly Media and TechWeb.

Expert Labs—one of the more intriguing ideas to emerge from this past week’s Web 2.0 Expo in Manhattan—is a new nonprofit that will seek to bridge that gap. Its mission is to use the Web and expert online communities to crowdsource solutions to social problems that state or federal lawmakers either cannot or will not devise by themselves: Dash, a co-founder of Six Apart, was tapped to lead the new effort, a joint project of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the MacArthur Foundation.

Dash says he sees Expert Labs as a way to make sure the smartest people (whether or not they’ve been elected) are always, at least virtually, in the room. “If we can bring the right resources to bear and sufficient numbers of the right experts to help solve our social problems, there really is an order of magnitude increase in the types of problems we’re going to be able to solve,” Dash told Web 2.0 conferees while unveiling the project during a keynote address.

Dash says he is clear that more brains are required in Washington. “No matter how smart the policymakers are in our government—there are many brilliant, passionate people in government—there’s always going to be more experts outside the Beltway,” Dash said. He also says he’s seeking to crowdsource innovation because in Washington, there’s often a lack of quality deliberation. “The tactics [government has used so far] have been holding a closed-door meeting with a half-dozen people for an hour and saying, ‘Well, we’ve talked to the industry experts and now we know how to make good policy,’” Dash said. “But you and I know the Web has changed the way that works. If I can ask my friends on Twitter what pair of headphones I should buy; if I can ask as a business person on Facebook, ‘What’s your response as a consumer of our product?’ then why shouldn’t the government be able to ask those same kinds of questions when shaping policy?”

Since it was unveiled November 18, the project has been getting mixed reviews, the most favorable from the Gov 2.0 crowd, which sees Expert Labs as a way to invite more input into the governmental process. But “smarter” doesn’t always mean inclusive. And if Dash’s effort is mostly aimed at tapping AAAS’s 2,000-plus members, what about the wisdom of the larger crowd? If the expertise being tapped by Expert Labs is limited to the 161-year-old AAAS, what’s to differentiate Expert Labs from any other higher-profile, closed-loop lobbying group in Washington trying to use social media to boost the clout of its members on Capitol Hill?

Further, crowdsourcing headphone recommendations is hardly the same as asking your company’s expert policy group or private engineering create-your-own-social-network service Ning for detailed solutions to the nation’s failing healthcare system, or for the best ways to wind down the war in Afghanistan without creating whole new sets of security threats and political minefields at home and abroad. Indeed, governing is inherently more complex than product innovation; smart isn’t always fact-based, nor wise—nor governable. And to be sure, scientific expertise can inform policy but leadership has always been far more of an art than a science.

Indeed, what’s most intriguing about Dash’s initiative is that it’s an ambitious, well-intentioned effort, one of many, that is seeking to invent new ways to use the Web to boost citizen participation, chiefly from highly specialized communities that haven’t always been tapped for their knowledge. Viva the experiment; after the last eight years, Washington can do with a more enlightened government. But beware the Web’s power, at least in these early days of Gov 2.0, to reward meritocracy and technological prowess at the risk of overlooking those without or less wired. Democracy has always, in theory, sought to raise all boats. Here’s hoping Dash’s experiment—and others like it using social media—also will raise tough questions about elitism and exclusivity, the kind that all of us living in democratic societies will, at some point, have to resolve.

FLAP Bag Update: Mozambique, Kenya, and Haiti

Editor’s note: PopTech staff Coco Rojas gives an update on the FLAP (Flexible Light And Power) solar bag project and who is helping us test it right now below—FLAP is a collaborative effort from PopTech, Timbuk2, and Portable Light Project. You can find out more about the project’s history and field work on the FLAP FAQ page (including how to order the bag) and join the FLAP project on our community site, the Hub.

FLAP received a tremendous response at the PopTech 2009 conference, and we are incredibly grateful to all the PopTech’ers who offered to help field test the bag. (Let us know in the comments or tweet @poptech if you would like to help too.)

You may have read Linda Raftree’s post last week on her FLAP testing in Mozambique. We were thrilled to hear yesterday that her FLAP bag helped her finish Bryan Mealer’s latest: (See tweet below.)

@meowtree tweet

Our partners at Timbuk2 were instrumental in getting FLAPs to Daraja Academy, the first free secondary school in East Africa.

Thanks to Laura Stachel from WECARE Solar for connecting us with Maison de Naissance a birthing home in Haiti. This week six FLAPs made their way to Haiti to be tested by mobile healthcare workers.

We will continue to post findings and footage on this blog and on our Web site. For those of you would like to get more involved in the project, you can visit PopTech’s FLAP project page on the PopTech Hub, our social network and collaboration space.

I’ll see you there!

VIDEO: Paul van Zyl, Alec Ross, and Erica Williams

This week, President Obama has spoken in China about openness and human rights, world leaders are meeting in Rome to talk about world hunger and food security, and it is Global Entrepreneurship Week, so we are releasing three PopTech 2009 talks on truth, politics and the art of diplomacy.

Below, Paul van Zyl makes the case for an American Truth Commission, Senior Advisor on Innovation Alec Ross argues for an overhaul of U.S. diplomacy, and Erica Williams tells how the younger generations participate in politics.

All three ask us to consider how we shape the future of the American political process. (We hope you will watch and share these videos widely.)

Watch Paul van Zyl, Co-founder of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) as he calls on America to hold its own mission to “openly and publicly” confront torture (also on Vimeo):

For more,

Download the .pdf transcript of Paul’s talk

Check the upcoming ICTJ event calendar

Read Ethan Zuckerman’s live blog post on Paul’s talk at PopTech 2009

Watch Alec Ross, Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and co-founder of One Economy on why 21st century statecraft based on new media (also on Vimeo):

For more,

Follow Alec (@alecjross) on Twitter

Listen to the November 9th Business Week podcast with Alec, How Can Government Spark Innovation?

Find out how to start and grow a social enterprise in this Stanford Social Innovation Review podcast

Watch Washington, D.C.-based activist and Deputy Director of Campus Progress Erica Williams (also on Vimeo) on youth engagement in politics:

For more,

Learn more about Campus Progress and their work

Follow Erica (@ericawilliamsdc) on Twitter and on her personal site

Read this Christian Science Monitor article about Millenial Generation values from May 2009

Thoughts? Let us know in the comments—

The Twittering’s On The Wall

Upon the 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city of Berlin has launched a remarkable “living” online memorial: the Berlin Twitter Wall.

Berlin Twitter Wall

Using the hashtag #fotw, people can share their thoughts on the Fall of the Berlin Wall and tell the world “which walls still have to come down to make our world a better place.” The Web site scrolls messages along a backdrop of the East Side Gallery, a famous stretch of the wall still standing and painted with murals. By clicking "stop" and "play", older tweets are shown. A click on the cameras up on the wall displays a selection of the domino-artwork that fell in a symbolic act on November 9th 2009 at the "Fest der Freiheit" (festival of freedom) at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

I love how the Berlin Twitter Wall intersects history and real-time action, memory and instant gratification, gravitas with graffiti, concrete architecture and virtual realm – and make all of that open and social.

Fellows Friday: Recent Tweets We Have Seen and Favorited

Our group of 2008 and 2009 Social Innovation Fellows is incredibly active—and they often work together and link to each other’s work.

Some of our favorite tweets from them in the past few days are below; you can follow them on Twitter on the PopTech SI Fellows List.

Jason Aramburu of @re_char is tweeting from the NE Biochar Symposium today:

re_char tweet

Heather Fleming ( @heatherfleming) is attending the Aspen Design Summit this week (through tomorrow):

Heather Fleming tweet

Ken Banks ( @kiwanja) of @frontlinesms congratulated @Afrigadget (founded by 2008 Fellow Erik Hersman ( @whiteafrican)) and recently contributed to by 2009 Fellow Paula Kahumbu ( @paulakahumbu):

Afrigadget tweet

And we are beginning to see tweets from 2008 Fellow Abby Falik’s ( @abbyfalik) @GlobalCitizenYr Fellows blog:

Global Citizen Year tweet

Follow all the PopTech Social Innovation Fellows on their Twitter list and look for more updates on their work in coming weeks (all 2009 Fellows have their PopTech video presentation up now).

VIDEO: Michael Pollan, Will Allen, and Marije Vogelzang on Edible Futures

We are delighted to post the delicious videos from the PopTech 2009: Edible Futures session today (you can see all the 2009 Social Innovation Fellow videos in last week’s post). We hope you will embed these videos and share them with your friends.

Michael Pollan spoke the gospel of sustainable food at PopTech and you can watch as he gives new statistics on the current state of our industrial food system and why we need to share meals around the same table (special thanks to Duarte Design who worked closely with Michael to bring this presentation to life):

For more, there’s a Serious Eats post on recent Pollan news, web video extras from the recent PBS program on Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire, and his upcoming speaking schedule.

Will Allen showed new techniques in urban farming and how his organization, Growing Power, is using aquaponics and vermicomposting to grow new soil. Watch his video below to find out why worms are our friends:

For more, read Allen’s Good Food Manifesto for America, sign up for a Growing Power 2010 workshop, and follow Growing Power on their blog, Twitter (@growingpower), and Facebook fan page.

Marije Vogelzang demonstrated why eating design experiments from her food lab Proef create provocative, intimate food experiences. Watch her talk below to find out how you might play with your food:

For more, read her book Eat Love, and learn about her “Pasta Sauna” installation last week at the futurist Performa 09 festival and see our “Pasta Sauna” video below:

Look for another batch of videos soon from PopTech 2009, and let us know what you think about Michael, Will, and Marije’s presentations in the comments—