Katrina

Katrina

What can be said that hasn’t been said already somewhere else. Another reaction among multitudes, all genuine, all searching for something to do or some idea that makes the situation better. Well I’ll talk to myself in text, rather than circulating through my thinking. It’s so often these days that events are so dramatic and overwhelming, the futility of operating according to standard procedure. But there are slow motion and fast motion events, and modes of attention, sometimes you have to come up to take a good look around, and sometimes you have to heads down get on with it.

I’m absorbing media, messages ideas, experiences. To people here in EU, it’s another humanitarian disaster, notable for being in the developing world, in the US. Perhaps similar to the 2003 heat wave in France with over 15000 fatalities. The tsunami kicked all these thoughts out before, and here it comes again. Otherwise there is a struggle everyday to help refugees from natural and manmade calamities. Some play out almost invisibly in slow motion. This event pulls so many things sharply into focus: the ecological destruction of wetlands, global warming, poverty, race, the iraq war, the dissolved social fabric of the us, and the confused dismantling of functioning gov’t.

What I do is build software, sometimes useful, sometimes wowfactor geeky, sometimes just encoding an idea. Loads of similar folks wonder what they can do, sitting on their asses remotely from the computer screen. Can ad-hoc distributed collaborations actually perform functions useful to these kind of situations? I think so, but there are hard limits to what these method can directly accomplish. Gov’t and agencies with clear access to physical resources will always be necessary — I don’t think distributed networks can respond physically in a rapid manner. Not sure if anything like Burning Man, the antimatter, mirrorworld of New Orleans this week, could possibly mobilize. Information in New Orleans is only useful if it is acted on. No doubt, information harvesting and decision making is extremely hampered by traditional organizational structures. Collaborative cartography and opengeodata blurs the boundary of these structures, supplementing their capabilities, and sometimes transforming the operating mode. Wiki’s have performed standout functions .. the cheap flexibility of wikis seem to make them ideal for quick collaboration. Distributed data entry and radio frequency monitoring, wow. The trick will be to get underfunded relief organizations to embrace the initiative and methods of the cheap, flexible web. Could UN reliefweb harness the Google Earth community? Could FEMA use a wiki? The challenge for hackers is to engage with these organizations — they are more vital than ever and need inventive thought and energy to help dissolve legacy structures and transform into positive agents of change in a ever more complex world. Similar and more organized thoughts from Jaron Lanier.

I’m just reminded of E-Sheep : The Spiders, the alternate history of the Afghanistan War, if Gore had won the 2000 election. Small disposable robots self-organizing, swarming over the desert landscape, each connected to the web, a person performing human pattern recognition in the search for “that bad man”.

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