SMART CITIES, POWER POLITICS, & QUALITY OF LIFE: Technology and What It’s Used For

January 16, 2014

Techno-utopians.  It wasn’t long ago that we were being told that digital Information and Communication Technologies would solve nearly every problem and transform the world in wonderful ways, small and big.  Cars would be routed around congestion; government would more accurately chart population needs. Although there were some efforts to broaden the scope of “smart” to include people as well as systems, the vision was primarily about technology.

Most of us now understand that the promised land of technology-enabled paradise isn’t going to happen, or at least that change – even transformation – is not the same as progress, that making things faster or more efficient or more connected or more data-rich is not the same as improving the quality of life.  In fact, we’ve seen numerous ways in which digital technologies –when they actually work – have made things worse, or at least simply recreated existing hierarchies, inequalities, and problems.  And there are good reasons to worry that the pursuit of “big data” capabilities will be even more dangerous – as low-income recipients of social services often already experience.

The push for Smart Cities drew much of its original energy from the techno-utopian well.  It was popularized by multi-national technology firms seeking new markets.  If we’re lucky, the wave of big ideas has crested and we’ve moved into an era of more modest, decentralized, and do-able – one good example being Boston’s own “New Urban Mechanics” program.

Technology is just a tool.  And selecting the appropriate tool, an appropriate technology, requires first deciding what you are trying to use it for – not just the immediate task but the deeper social and political conditions.  Good technology is developed or adopted in order to strengthen core values:  democracy, community, equality, individual dignity.  Quality of life, in transportation and everything else, results from the successful cultivation of these qualities. 

———————

Digital Eden

The vision was that Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) would aggregate knowledge through crowd sourcing, wiki’s, and unlimited access to the world’s information.  Public education (and medicine) would be transformed into individualized services.  Rural areas and underdeveloped countries would become as economically vibrant as urban centers and the G-7, leading to a prosperous, innovation-based globalized economy much more resistant to war.  Our streets would be congestion- and crime-free.  Our vehicles wouldn’t pollute and we’d never get lost again.  The Internet would make censorship impossible, make everyone a content producer, and facilitate grass-roots mobilization.  The world was about to be transformed by the nearly-inevitable expansion of entrepreneurial-driven high tech that would disruptively force a paradigm shift for the much better. Our quality of life was about to be radically raised.

Things have certainly changed over the past 30 years when I was first involved with the emerging PC computer industry and began running across these rapturizing futurists, some of whom are still spouting!  Many of the changes are in line with those earlier predictions, and I welcome them.  But we certainly are not living in or even moving towards utopia.  In fact, there are ways that things are worse exactly because of the impact of the global digital web.

Network Negatives; People Positives

We now know that the Internet facilitates social separation as much as it brings people together.  The new communication tools are no barrier to the spread of fear and misinformation or the solidification of existing discriminatory or hierarchical patterns.  We’ve learned that the core needs of children (and adults) are not met through a digital screen.  Inequality has increased along with globalized business connections.  People still pour into cities because distance and proximity are still relevant.  It’s shockingly easy for both governments and terrorists to control, disrupt, or distort the flow of information.  Technology, including social media, has made possible new kinds of equally heinous crime and warfare.  And democracy is no stronger than it used to be.

What the pundits ignored is that technology is just a tool; that even if it is available to everyone, and even if it upsets some niches, those with the greatest power and wealth will be able to use it the most (or to hire people to use it for them) for the purpose of retaining their status and serving their needs and values.  To the extent that their well-being and values have a positive side-effect on the general welfare, everyone benefits. To the extent there is divergence, and to the extent that elites are not checked by internal or external constraints, the rest of us suffer.

I’m not anti-technology – which is mostly inescapable in any case.  There are some technologies, such as chemical weapons, whose dangers are so obvious that we need ways to prevent their development even, although probably impossible, at the pure science level.  But usually, it’s hard to know beforehand what a scientific discovery or a new tool can be used for.  (It would be good to create something like the Danish Citizen’s Technology Review program to help evaluate the societal implications before large investments are made.)

At the same time, regardless of the particular technology, we need to remember that the more democratic a society is, the better organized and demanding the “have less” and “have not” forces are, and the more that themes of mutual aid and equity are woven into the culture, the greater the constraints on elite self-aggrandizing there are – and the more likely it is that tools will be used to benefit broader sectors of the population.  We have to remember that issues of democracy, power, inequality, and humanistic values do not get positively resolved as an inevitable byproduct of anything else, including technological advance.  They have to be directly addressed.

Smart Cities From The Bottom Up

Which brings us to Smart Cities.  Embedding technology into our buildings, streets, cars, and governmental processes can be a good thing.  Just like Complete Streets, bike facilities, and parks.  But by themselves, neither technology nor infrastructure will fundamentally change our quality of life.   Some things may become easier.  Traffic may move more efficiently.  But the real determinants of value deal with the questions of: Which technologies; for what purposes? What infrastructure; accessible to which people?

In a recent interview, Anthony Townsend, author of Smart Cities, points out that after the finance industry’s catastrophic collapse in 2008, big corporations stopped buying new IT at the same time government was trying to keep the economy from totally collapsing through stimulus spending.  IBM, quickly followed by CISCO and others, then came up with various “Smarter Planet” strategies to sell “enterprise” systems to local and state governments.  The market didn’t take off, and the stimulus funds quickly stopped flowing, but this was the origin of the “Smart City” drumbeat.

Rather than the top-down, mega-project approach, which almost never initially succeed in either the private or public sectors (Healthcare.gov is simply more visible than corporate failures), Townsend touts  “incremental, ad-hoc” bottom-up kinds of experimental applications that may, eventually, be knit together by the likes of IBM and other big vendors.  (This is exactly the kind of work that will be discussed at an upcoming MIT Code For America event.)

Still, Townsend is cautious.  The value of the currently hot public-private partnership model is that “for cities those are, I don’t want to say a devil’s bargain, but they’re loaded with a lot of issues, particularly when you have data being produced about cities and citizens…[which is] where a lot of the value is for the private sector partner…[the misuse of which there are only] haphazard safeguards…And then Edward Snowden shows up and basically demonstrates that things are much, much worse than anyone feared. I don’t think there’s any level of alarm about this stuff that’s unjustified.”

In fact, even before the NSA began peering into all our homes, poor people were already experiencing exactly the type of 360-surveillance that the rest of us worry about.

Boston’s Opportunity

Former Boston Mayor Menino set a good technological tone – perhaps partly because of his own fear of losing control.  Menino’s “New Urban Mechanics” program starting by focusing on citizens’ ability to talk to and get confirmed follow-up from local government, on communication rather than data collection.  New Mayor Walsh will be smart to keep this same focus.  There is a lot to build on:  Citizens Connect that sends inquiries and complaints to the right person,  Street Bump that uses smart phones to identify road problems, One Card is a multi-purpose card for educational and transit access, Discover BPS helps parents examine possible schools for their children, Where’s My School Bus tracks the too-frequently worrisome trip to/from home, Adopt a Hydrant let’s residents take responsibility for removing snow from local fire-fighting tools, and more.

But for all the pleasure and efficiency that these types of applications provide, they are only important at an intermediary level.  The deeper level, the level that most fundamentally affects quality of life level, is about people’s day-to-day sense of security – which itself comes from the resources they have available to handle the inevitable disruptions of life, the power they have to control their environment, and the strength of their social connections.  Mayor Walsh’s own history of addictive alcoholism makes him a powerful advocate for providing a safety net for those with problems.  It will be interesting to see if his pragmatic approach will have as much impact as the more ideological egalitarian stance taken by incoming New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

However, neither de Blasio nor Walsh will have much impact on the increasing scale of our hierarchies unless public pressure creates a progressive political environment that makes equality and democracy explicit priorities.  Tools are good; what counts is how they are used, what they are used for, and who benefits versus who doesn’t.

————————

I spent several years on the national board of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, where I learned from some of the brightest people in the country about the ethical and social impacts of digital technological.  I particularly want to call out Gary Chapman and Cora Lee Whitcomb, both of whom led CPSR and both of whose untimely deaths leave us all the poorer.

————————

Previous blog posts related to this:

> THE NEXT MAYOR’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Creating Prosperity by Lifting the Basement Instead of Raising the Roof

> PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS The Priority Must Be Enhancing Public Value

> LIVABILITY, PUBLIC HEALTH, AND MOVING AROUND: A Healthy Society Requires Healthy People

> THE ADVOCATES DILEMA: When The Need for Action is Immediate But the Pace of Change is Slow

> GUNS, TAXES, TRANSPORTATION, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE: Why Government Is A Precondition for Livability

> IMPROVING LIVABILITY, CONTROLING DISPLACEMENT: Can You Upgrade a Neighborhood Without Destroying it’s Community?

> ELECTION EMOTIONS: Pride, Hope, Relief and the Need For More

> Thanksgiving and the Nature of Power

 

 

 

tags: ,
posted in CREATING SUSTAINABLE CHANGE by Steve Miller

Follow comments via the RSS Feed | Leave a comment | Trackback URL

39 Comments to "SMART CITIES, POWER POLITICS, & QUALITY OF LIFE: Technology and What It’s Used For"

  1. Jeremy wrote:

    Interesting post. Many people become too excited about technology, thinking it will solve all our problems and/or make them irrelevant. From a public transit perspective I frequently talk about how technology and “open data” can only be a small piece of progress and must be the last piece. First you need good service design, policy and operations. The best smartphone app can help with information but will never replace the actual service, or compensate for poor bus service.

  2. Steve Miller wrote:

    Jeremy: As a former high-tech employee and Board member of Computer Professionals For Social Responsibility I couldn’t agree more. Technology does have its own effect on the world around it; but the majority of its impact depends mostly on the socio-economic dynamics in which it is created, implemented, and used. Steve

  3. tan wrote:

    One of the leading results of extended hours of being underneath the intense burning heat of the sun is the growth and development of Cancer.
    Third tip for removing self tanner is by using lemon juice mixed with kosher salt.
    Moving to some sunny place can be an effective
    means to get an all round glow.

  4. deck restore vs deckover wrote:

    Islamorada tarpon fishing involves the fishing of an prehistoric rare
    fish tarpon through the scientific name Magalops Atlanticus which is a prehistoric fish considered to be one in every of the diverse &
    interesting creatures across the country which can be present in both side of Atlantic
    also referred to as as the tarpum tarpon or else the silver king due to it’s majestic
    appearance & colour which lays 15 million eggs. Wherever you go,
    different rules may apply, and some of them will be
    regional only. Use your guam tar on the net trap and go at least two
    squares away from it.

  5. holistic health wrote:

    Your mouth watering chicken salad is ready to serve. These supplements, accompanied by some determination and discipline,
    will truly make the difference in your life that you are looking
    to gain. The HCG diet is supposed to be a solution to permanent weight loss where it does not come back
    given reasonable diet and exercise.

  6. my hcg Weight loss journey wrote:

    There are some hindrances in you goal to lose unwanted body
    fat like oils, fats, ointments, and creams. Let these mistakes be your motivation for
    enhancing your body further. Until now, the only
    100% approved items for moisturizing on the HCG diet have been pure baby oil and mineral oil because
    unlike other oils, they have no nutritional value and are
    will not be absorbed by the skin.

  7. laser hair therapy cost wrote:

    Hair is linked to our self-worth and our personality. Vitamin C is found in many foods, notably the citrus group.
    FUE leaves only small, circular scars that heal without the
    need for sutures.

  8. hcg weight loss results wrote:

    While you are in the diet phase where you are taking your sublingual
    h – CG, you will need to be much disciplined in order to get the results
    you want. So possessing a spouse together
    with you on the diet will maintain accountability to oneself,
    to associate as effectively. Bones and nails are also
    strengthened, which is an important factor that effects
    more than your appearance.

  9. toilet stoppage pompano beach amphitheater wrote:

    Estimating the price of a kitchen improvement project will
    also involve negotiations using the skilled workers. Patch
    Small Holes in Drywall Home Improvement Project. Basic Project Control and Communication Plan: The project control component explains the tools that will be used to assist the project manager in tracking the project’s progress.

  10. allied moving and storage phoenix wrote:

    long distance moving companies, long distance moving companies.
    Our trucks are clean burning alternative fuel, biodiesel, hundred
    percent recycled paper products. Loading these moving vans is not as easy as tossing your possessions
    into your back again.

  11. whats the best fake tan wrote:

    With just few dollars, you can achieve a golden-bronze tan and also manage to look gorgeous and hot.
    The easier products to use are those that you rub into your skin. A tanning solution provides the
    right kind of solution which is always extremely helpful in showing the best kind
    of effect on your face.

  12. lasercap reviews wrote:

    They want you to come to the salon on a
    regular basis so they tell you that you need to get a haircut every four to six weeks, but it’s just a way for them to
    make more money. Purchase shampoo or other hair care
    products that are meant specifically for people with thinning hair.
    light of one wavelength, not of an entire spectrum like a
    light bulb.

  13. skin care products black celebrities use wrote:

    And, it just works with a soft laser which utilizes less energy than a 40-watt light bulb.
    Neither scenarios are conducive to the length of time (at least 30 days) most blacks wear cornrows, micro braids or single braids.
    Leeson said she decided to transform herself into a Kim
    clone after being bullied and called “ugly” all her life.

  14. nose job for long nose wrote:

    People have died on the operating room table even with the best of care.

    These types of surgeons are often targeting patients with big budgets who are ready to
    shell out the big sum of money just for looking better.
    Lack of hospital privileges really should sound alarm bells within your thoughts.

  15. laser hair growth helmet reviews wrote:

    Much less pleasant but equally essential is understanding expertise these kinds of as cleansing dentures,
    feeding individuals, having temperatures and measuring catheter
    output, all of which totally get ready students for the expertise evaluation test.
    Redheads and folks with course hair will typically be higher shedders
    than blondes or those with fine hair. The doctors and
    the physicians must be experienced and trained in handling the laser instruments.

  16. gym sammydress clothing haul youtube wrote:

    A lot of these symptoms also mirror another deadly virus – the Ebola virus.
    As what all of us know, Yoga is a sequence of workouts and disciplines to produce a wholesome, beautiful way
    of life that everyone is dreaming of. Your computer must meet minimum Windows 7 operating system requirements to get the Nortons
    Ghost 15.

  17. best hair Growth for men wrote:

    My grandmother always advised me to use onion juice on my hair, but I thought it was a crazy idea.
    Vitamin C is found in many foods, notably the citrus group.
    Men and women who have long, medium or short hair can benefit equally from
    products that contain this wholesome milk.

  18. celebrity wedding dresses long sleeve wrote:

    Cobras and Mambas inject Neurotoxic venom which will affect the
    nervous system and cause initial muscle weakness, blurred vision, difficulty in swallowing and breathing and eventually paralysis.

    On this site you will find other wedding dress designers with links
    to their sites. Cool, neutrals will always find a
    place in your summer wardrobes.

  19. nose job yahoo answers wrote:

    Just re-cover the counter with a new laminate sheet. They are more than just gaps
    in a wall that let in light or a way to see outside or through which we gain access or exit our properties.
    Structural problems to the nose even after rhinoplasty is
    also a possibility, and these problems include septal perforation,
    sinusitis, and an irregularity of the nasal form.

  20. deck sure jell freezer jam wrote:

    I also like that they are wrapped individually so I may open the package and take out what I need without worrying about re-wrapping the rest to
    prevent freezer burn. Would you like to advertise your
    fishing boat for sale. There are still unspoilt regions, but
    a lot of it is more like an open plan zoo that is not well
    maintained.

  21. ft lauderdale cpa seminars wrote:

    It’s important to consider the partnership, because you will be working closely with the
    accountant daily, so it’s vital that you feel at ease with them.
    Then based on that, decide what will be the best way to handle
    the accounts and finance of your business. Are your personnel
    good communicators who comprehend the importance of building enduring client relationships.

  22. fiberglass indel isotherm marine refrigerators wrote:

    She has a charm that is slightly reminiscent of the
    childhood favourite Rosie and Jim’s Ragdoll, with
    a modernized interior to suit the 21st century traveller.
    I have been using products from Newfields Baits for a while and their green lipped mussel extract is simply amazing.

    You can then take your armored vehicle and cash it in at a chop shop, creating a nice little criminal spree combo.

  23. commercial blount plumbing pompano beach wrote:

    But they also know that the cost of plumbing services does not
    have to be sky high; when they browse through the website of the plumbing company they ensure to find out
    about the services and rate of hiring a plumber. Often all
    of the plumbers have the knowledge, training and tools
    to be able to identify a problem and create a quality repair.
    With conscientious use, a programmable thermostat can save about $150 year
    in energy costs.

  24. storage units in nashville tn 37211 wrote:

    Take a separate quote from the company asking for coverage if you want
    insurance coverage to your furniture during transit. Article Source: Movers is a
    leading industry expert in the fields of web marketing, SEO, and internet
    marketing online. Here comes the necessity to contract close-by movers after they are experts and powerful.

  25. moving companies las vegas wrote:

    Duck in and out of cover until it’s clear, then move up
    to a display case. Payers and health carriers seems to
    be caught up in the uncertainties surrounded around these health
    insurance exchanges and how the payers should align their health products
    and business structures to quickly and effectively realign themselves with the different
    state health insurance exchanges. Several times people don’t want to shift their entire stuffs at once and need storage services to preserve their goods for some limited time period.

  26. fort lauderdale plumber reviews seattle wrote:

    The kitchen is used more than any other room in the house,
    therefore an inviting and well laid-out kitchen is instrumental in reducing stress and streamlining your life.

    The wooden steps leading up to your deck could be cracking or rotting resulting in the potential for a serious injury and subsequently
    a lawsuit. You may even want to use it for an appliance or seating.

  27. hcg weight loss injection dose wrote:

    He will sometimes guide you with extracting a unwanted food item like fatty, oily in addition to carbohydrates.
       Once you are on the calorie restricted diet and when the body demands energy, the HCG hormone will ensure that that energy is released from the stored fats and not from your lean muscle mass.
    Having a demanding work schedule, you need to look for ways in losing weight without having to
    sacrifice your job.

  28. marine how to replace refrigerator gasket wrote:

    Moisture may freeze at the expansion valve, giving some of the indication of under charging.

    Top mount refrigerators are excellent for storage space as they have wide shelves and
    a lot of door shelves for drinks and condiments.
    With so many options available, you should be able to
    find and ship models according to your individual needs without
    much trouble.

  29. devries moving and storage solutions inc wrote:

    If you are saying, “My wife moved out – can I get her back. And anyone reading these installments are now aware of how laid bare my life is becoming. Employers can post simple job listings or seek out full recruitment services to advertise to the 50,000 people who visit the site each month.

  30. social media marketing plan template wrote:

    Search engine optimization companies would not
    only offer your seo services, but they would also give you good
    online marketing services. Your presence online is what a majority
    of your customers will base their opinion off of, so spend extra
    time and money on cleaning up your name, if it’s been damaged by
    negative reviews or unhappy customers. SEO Traffic Lab can provide effective local SEO Lincoln services that can benefit your business.

  31. weight loss hcg atlanta wrote:

    One more thing on which you need to pay attention to is fats and this is something that you should not be
    consumed in the large amount.    Once you are on the calorie restricted diet and when the body demands energy, the HCG hormone
    will ensure that that energy is released from the stored fats and
    not from your lean muscle mass. The treatment comes in both drops
    and injections, which are given by a doctor.

  32. cosmetic surgeons wrote:

    If you have any questions pertaining to where and ways to utilize
    web site ( super fast reply ), you can contact us at the web page.
    The rhinoplasty surgeons India enhance the nose by reshaping it by using components like cuboids, gristle
    (fibrous) and a couple of fashioned elements as well.
    And premature skin aging is considered to be one of those problems.

  33. chest freezer bait tank wrote:

    It is a very strong line, but it is also very sensitive, making it a great line when fishing for trout.
    Methods for baiting a hook – Step 5: Use them for fishing.
    But have you ever thought about living in your boat full
    time.

  34. deck box storage sitting wrote:

    The anglers will have better luck hooking them if they go fishing after hours.
    Do not make the mistake of cutting down the tree yourself or hiring a regular tree
    removal company to do the job. Techniques
    Blue crabs are abundant all along the Jersey coast, in tidal creeks and rivers and
    in shallow, saltwater bays, from the Hudson River to Delaware Bay.

  35. cockpit freezers wrote:

    She has a charm that is slightly reminiscent of the childhood favourite Rosie and Jim’s Ragdoll, with a modernized interior to suit the 21st century
    traveller. After users select their avatar they’re transported into their apartment.
    You can then take your armored vehicle and cash it in at a chop shop,
    creating a nice little criminal spree combo.

  36. Repair Water Heater Pompano Beach wrote:

    Good quality in terms of workmanship may save you a lot of money in the future, preventing the risk
    of break down of a heating system, or worst still the damage to your house or safety
    caused by a faulty system. There are several positive aspects of community colleges that students can take advantage of.
    They are the professionals who help you decorate the entire
    structure of your home. Even if a long-term teacher is accused of generally being a terrible teacher, their union rep is at their side, pleading their case,
    ensuring the big umbrella union will cover them’no matter
    what. This is required for the lender to release any agreed funding for your home.
    Like with many services, price is often a major factor when shopping around for plumbers.

    There are two pieces of career advice I would offer here: advice for the fresh out of college grad and those already in the workforce looking to
    change careers. Teflon was invented by the fine folks at
    Du – Pont, and we owe them all a big thank you for many easily flipped pancakes
    and such. However, they should also come to
    the construction site to audit the progress. Our plumbers are the most
    experienced and are always ready to provide you services.

  37. laser hair therapy side effects wrote:

    Hair removal in some areas is essential to replace the areas where its growth has stopped.
    Consult with a veterinarian for the proper dosage based on the individual pig’s weight.
    light of one wavelength, not of an entire spectrum like a light bulb.

  38. hair growth products for women that work wrote:

    Will the doctor performing blind dissection be able to
    adequately account for this variability in the average patient
    and will he risk operating on an unwary patient in whom these differences might be profound.
    To get hair loss reviews for both male as well as female hair loss treatments
    along with extensive advice ensure that you visit is a fellow sufferer of hair loss and
    highly recommends the revolutionary Hair – Max Laser Comb to stop thinning hair.
    The doctors and the physicians must be experienced and trained in handling the laser instruments.

  39. nose job quick recovery wrote:

    Additionally, although a full recovery can be expected in a
    few days, the results of the RFF take a bit of time to show
    fully though. However it creates a subtle natural-looking
    result that doesn’t appear too overdone. Breast reconstruction, for
    those who have undergone a mastectomy, as well as cleft lip and palate
    surgery are common examples of reconstructive surgeries.

Leave Your Comment

 
Powered by Wordpress and MySQL. Theme by Shlomi Noach, openark.org