PopTech Blog

Announcing "Social Mapping and Social Change": PopTech Salon

What is social mapping?

How can geolocative info systems and visualization tech be applied to new fields for social change?

On May 12, 2010 from 6:30 – 9:00p (CT) at at the Graham Foundation in Chicago (4 West Burton Place, Chicago, IL 60610), PopTech will bring together three speakers (and a smart audience in this city of news aggregators and social good organizations) for a special salon event on the current and future impact of these tools.

Register here; event is free, and an RSVP is required (hashtag: #socmap).

PopTech Social Mapping salon


- Gary Slutkin, Executive Director of CeaseFire,

- Katrin Verclas, Co-Founder of MobileActive,

- Patrick Meier, Director of Crisis Mapping, Ushahidi

and you, in an audience Q&A after the presentations.

Hosted by Andrew Zolli, Curator of PopTech

PopTech would like to thank the Graham Foundation for the Arts for their generous support of this program.

Note: This event will be held in the ballroom on the third floor which is only accessible by stairs. The first floor of the Madlener House is accessible via an outdoor lift. Please call 312.787.4071 to make arrangements.

Questions? Let us know in the comments. We hope you will join us on the 12th!

Make a Camera for World Pinhole Photography Day

Today is World Pinhole Photography Day, and you can learn how to make a pinhole camera in the video with Bre Pettis below. A fun way to spend what is, in New York, a rainy Sunday afternoon, projects like these also help us to see the world differently. After all, In the words attributed to Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

Who knows what new ideas for social good might emerge?

For more information about pinhole cameras and more ways to make them, see the World Pinhole Photography site and find other pinhole camera pictures in the image-sharing site Flickr’s pinhole photography groups.

Marketing/Partnerships PopTech Internship

What are you up to in the next few months?

Want to join the PopTech Brooklyn team and help accelerate projects and people that are changing the world?

We are looking for an incredible intern to help us support new projects and upcoming events, including the PopTech 2010 conference October 20-3 in Camden, Maine.

We are a small team (there are twelve of us in two offices—Brooklyn, NY and Camden, Maine) committed to making great things happen in social innovation.

This internship is in our open office in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, near the park, in a building full of creative people. You should be prepared to harmonize happy birthday with us, understand that we walk around the office juggling and know we do our own dishes.

In return for your hard work for three months, we will give you a ticket to our annual conference (join us and 600 amazing conference attendees—there is usually a long, long waitlist to attend).

We need you to:

- write weekly copy for our e-mail newsletter (where we release new PopTech videos)

- promote our online media content in all the places it goes

- support our current media partnerships and research new partnerships

- manage metrics for online content campaigns and come up with new ways we can reach new audiences

You should be:

- an excellent writer and voracious reader

- active on social websites (we would like to see where you live online)

- happy to work independently

- keen to hone your uncanny ability to recognize patterns of success in our content and network

- know a little bit about web development and design (wireframes are your friends)

- enthused about the power of learning new concepts and radical ideas, especially where fields intersect

- able to work from our Brooklyn office twenty hours a week for three months

If this sounds like you, please send us an e-mail (jobs [at] poptech [dot] org) with the subject line INTERNSHIP and attach your resume and a cover letter.

Make sure you tell us your favorite PopTech talk, why you like social innovation, and a little about why you want to join us for a few months.

And please help us spread the word!

World People's Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia

PopTech photographer Kris Krüg documented the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth this week in Cochabamba, Bolivia:
(Click the arrow below to play the image slideshow.)

GRITtv interviewed some conference attendees at this event intended to be an alternative to the Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009:

And as part of Earth Week and in support of his travel to Bolivia, Kris auctioned off a photograph donated by PopTech speaker Chris Jordan, who highlights the consequences of consumerism in his work; you can watch Chris’s 2009 PopTech talk on plastics and see the startling photographs he took in the Midway Atoll:

You can also watch Chris’s 2007 PopTech talk on his “Running the Numbers” series here.

Earth Day 2010: Living in a Material World

Earth Day can bring out the best and worst in many people – and I’ll admit to frowning on occasion at anyone wishing a happy Earth Day. There are debates around the hypocrisy or perhaps ignorance in celebrating such a day with numerous flyers and special offers to consume more green products. But despite these very valid criticisms, Earth Day does matter if only that we all need a day to stop and take stock of our life. It is a time to celebrate our accomplishments because let’s face it change is hard. We need to figure out what comes next and this may require we look at some of our less appetizing behaviors, which we often do such an excellent job of avoiding on a day to day basis.

With that said, Earth day shouldn’t be a giant guilt-fest. We need to use it to recognize our weaknesses and figure out how to move forward constructively. What are for example, the innovations needed to address issues around toxicity, resource scarcity and geographical constraints to name just a few. Or when do we rethink our current norms – like heating our houses to 80º in the winter donning short sleeved shirts and cooling them to 65º in the summer while sporting long pants? How do we find a solution that meets the cloth diaper user’s concerns around limited landfill space and the disposable user’s concerns around energy usage?

This year, I’ve had the pleasure of working on the PopTech Ecomaterials Innovation Lab, whose goal is to foster breakthroughs in next generation ecological materials, industrial processes and critically, beginning to identify the steps, from effecting a change in consumer behavior to governmental policy, necessary to accelerate their adoption. The Lab is kicking off this summer with a three day working session. In my hunt for participants, I’ve had the opportunity to interview an incredible cross section of experts in relevant fields from green chemists and materials experts to industrial ecologists, designers and behavioral scientists to name just a few.

A couple of random yet staggering facts I gleaned from my conversations and research:

- If you were to close Sweden’s borders to any new shipments of clothing, their current stock would clothe the population for approximately15 years.

- The world consumes 67 million tons of natural and synthetic fibers annually.

- 75-80% of your clothing’s lifecycle impact comes from laundering.

And here I thought I was doing so well with my ongoing moratorium on new outfits while I was chucking clothes into the wash that were essentially barely worn.

These discussions have not only taught me a tremendous amount, they have helped me think differently about the challenges at hand such as defining what is truly green, splendidly illustrated by the fact that one industrial ecologist opted for cloth diapers while the other chose disposable. They made me realize I need to reconsider what is deemed acceptable behavior and initiate these conversations with others.

We at PopTech are incredibly excited to embark on this journey and hope you will join us. To be kept informed about the Lab and its progress, please email us at labs [at] poptech [dot] org.

As I reflect on another year gone by, what I am realizing now is that Earth Day is not just about caring for the planet but those who inhabit it. The choices we make have far reaching impacts over space, time and species. As I mentioned earlier, change is one of the hardest things and personally, putting a face to who is and will be impacted is a big help. So here are a few faces worth changing for:

Mother and baby
CC image from Flickr user randomwire.

Mother and child
CC image by Flickr user Mishimoto

Mother and baby
CC image from Flickr user prolix6x.

Father and child
Image courtesy of the author.

A Few Links on Earth Day 2010

Beyond the events listed on EarthDay.org, here are a few more ways to research climate change, environmental policy news, greenwashing, and personal energy auditing:

- The new Climate Desk is a collaborative journalistic effort on green reporting from The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, Mother Jones, Slate, Wired, and PBS’s new program Need To Know.

Climate Desk

- The comprehensive blogroll on The New York Times’s Green blog supplements the posts; yesterday, the blog announced its new name (“Green,” formerly “Green Inc.”) and expanded coverage.

NYT Green blogroll

Identity pranksters the Yes Men (watch their PopTech 2006 talk) organized zombies for a Dow “Run For Water” event on Sunday in Brooklyn, New York.

Dow Yes Men

In 2008, Saul Griffith presented at PopTech on ways he learned to audit his personal energy usage:

Saul developed WattzOn, a free tool that you can use to track and monitor your own consumption.


What online sources do you use for environmental ideas and updates? Let us know in the comments.

Robert Fabricant and Jay Parkinson on Designing Health

A few days ago a friend emailed me a picture of a sign that read, “Design won’t save the world. (Go volunteer at a soup kitchen, you pretentious **ck.)” I smiled at the snark, but was frustrated with the sentiment.

As designers, we are saddled with many images of the aloof artist: the hip urban designer, beebopping from office to art opening to downtown loft; the starving artist who wastes away, as their art does the same in a mildewy basement; or the desktop publisher, banging out lifeless brochures as they sneak away to the supply closet to pull out their hair. None of these stereotypes suggests design can alter habits or behaviors.

Last Tuesday, as part of the New York SVA Dot Dot Dot lecture series, The Entrepreneurs of social design presented a few possible ways designers might save the world. A few of my favorite moments happened in talks by previous PopTech speakers Robert Fabricant and Dr. Jay Parkinson:

Three of the five designers featured at the event framed their role as designers in the medical field:

Doug Powell – Designer and Brand Strategist, Schwartz Powell

When his seven year-old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Doug and his family were thrown into the painfully undersigned, over-textual world of pediatric medicine. Once they got their head above water, Doug and his wife created the Health Simple product line, focused on delivering easily-palatable information to get the patients and their families through one event at a time. Doug created a balance with these fun products, taking into consideration the educational and emotional needs of all involved.

Robert Fabricant – VP of Creative, frog design and Speaker at PopTech 2009

Robert laid out some humbling guidelines for designers, and touched on some of the health and wellness behavioral projects that frog is undertaking. Robert’s work on the PopTech Accelerator’s Project Masilueleke has helped change the face of mobile healthcare for HIV and tuberculosis patients in South Africa.

Jay Parkinson, MD – Founder: Hello Health and Futurewell, and PopTech Speaker 2008.

Jay outlined the need for the redesign of the entire health care process in America, taking into consideration the prevalence of the internet in everyday life, the importance of the patient/doctor/community when administering healthcare, and the changing intersection of the insurance, healthcare and online worlds.

With their teams, these three are part of the growing movement to redesign how individuals receive healthcare—and who would argue that isn’t going to save the world?

The Trash in Our Oceans

Photographer Chris Jordan specializes in large-scale works that depict the magnitude of our consumerism and its impact on our environment. [To get a sense of the magnitude of the trash produced by discarded consumer goods that statistics alone can’t reveal, watch Chris’s PopTech 2007 presentation on his project, Running the Numbers.]

For the past several years, Chris has been photographing the “garden patch,” an estimated several million tons of plastic floating in the remote open ocean. Powerful ocean currents concentrate floating debris into subtropical gyres and, in the process, break it down into tiny pieces that are easily ingested by animals.

At PopTech 2009, Chris shared images from his recent trip to the remote Midway Islands, where he photographed the carcasses of ocean-dwelling birds who live near the Pacific garbage zone.

Relying on the data from thousands of drifter buoy monitoring our oceans as well as oceanic expeditions, researchers affiliated with Five Gyres have been mapping the extent of plastic pollution around the world. They recently discovered what has been long suspected, that more garbage patches exist in other oceans.

5 Gyres
Image courtesy of 5 Gyres.org

As with any number of critical environmental issues, addressing these challenges requires a commitment to reduce our consumption but also to visionary innovation. Recently, a group of Dutch architects have envisioned recycling the Pacific’s floating debris into a floating island.

What do you suggest might be done about the millions of tons of marine pollution?

An Environmental Video Playlist for PopTech Talks

We celebrate thoughtful stewardship of natural resources and new ways to tackle issues of conservation and regrowth throughout the year, but as part of Earth Week, we would like to highlight a few PopTech speakers on these themes:

Fuel Alternatives

2007 Speaker Stefano Merlin on renewable bamboo, coconut waste and sawdust to power factories in Brazil.

2008 PopTech Fellows Chip Ransler and Manoj Sinha convert rice husks into electricity at their Husk Power Systems (HPS) in India. (They’re hiring in Bihar, India; details on their site.)

2009 PopTech Fellow Jason Aramburu’s re:char converts agricultural waste into biochar—sequestering atmospheric carbon and improving soil quality. (Congratulations to Jason for recently appointing Dr. James Lovelock to the re:char Advisory Board.)


2009 Speaker Willie Smits is using the forest (and with his company, Tapergy, the Sugar Palm) to generate biofuels with a carbon-positive impact:

2007 Speaker Sarah Otterstrom uses partnerships and employment generation to rebuild Nicaraguan forests.

2008 PopTech Fellow Tevis Howard alleviates poverty for rural Kenyan families with commercial tree farms that provide income and preserve indigenous biodiversity with his organization KOMAZA.


2009 Speaker Katy Payne founded the Elephant Listening Project (Facebook fan page) in 1999 to learn how acoustics shape these communities. Listen as she samples elephant sounds:

2009 Fellow Paula Kahumbu builds community through blogs in WildlifeDirect, as Executive Director, aiming to halt the loss of endangered animal populations in Africa (and globally) with awareness and donations (you can select a region and a species to protect on the site).


2008 Speaker Carl Safina shows how simple solutions can help ensure we only catch what we are fishing with long lines.

2007 Speaker Enric Sala talks about perception, the lack of memory (he takes us back to a pristine remote archipelago 500 years ago), explaining why 99.9% of the world’s coral reef research is flawed.


2004 Speaker Ben Saunders was the youngest person to ski to the North Pole at 26; find out why, when the ice wasn’t flat, he “didn’t have a hope in hell.”

2008 Speaker John Priscu and his robots show what’s happening miles below the Antarctic ice, beyond the blue and the green of the planet.

Who are your favorite environmental speakers?

An Update from PopTech Fellow Deb Levine

It’s spring here in California, and there is a lot blooming at ISIS:

ISIS made it to the second round of the Social Impact Exchange Business Plan Competition. We were one of 14 organizations out of 42 applicants invited to continue, and we have applied for Mezzanine Stage Growth—for organizations that have successful service adoption, demonstrated positive outcomes, and defined strategies for scaling.

Also, the upcoming mHealth conference Mobile Health 2010 on May 24th and 25th at Stanford University is the third of its kind hosted by BJ Fogg. 2010 has a special emphasis on what’s working to change behavior today in the mHealth field, and in my talk, I am looking forward to highlighting our partnerships in this sphere. In preparation for my talk, I realized that ISIS has over 20 mobile health projects under our belt to date! (Other PopTechers involved with the conference include Robert Fabricant, of frog design, one of the mentors for PopTech Fellows, is speaking, and another 2009 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow, Josh Nesbit of FrontlineSMS: Medic, is on the Program Committee.)

ISIS staff will also be attending the 2010 Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup. This is an important meeting for sexual health professionals, because as I’m wont to say; “Only those in the field can manage to make an interesting topic (sex) oh, so boring.” I learned quite a bit from the corporate marketers at the last two meetings about how to engage youth in an authentic and meaningful way – all the more important in our case because we’re not selling commercial products, but lifelong sexual health…

I will be moderating a panel at the Mashup pre-conference on May 24th about “Youth, Health and Social Media Marketing.” Jason Rzepka, PopTech Board Member, will be a keynote speaker at the pre-conference. The panel I’m moderating will feature:

Tom Subak, VP for Online Services, Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Jose Villa, Founder and President, Sensis

Whitney Smith, Founder and CEO, Girls For A Change

Chris Youngblood, Director of New Media, To Write Love on Her Arms

(Use the code “SEXTECH” for 10% off the conference registration.)

I’ll keep you posted on ISIS events, and I look forward to hearing what others in the PopTech community are up to this spring.