Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

June 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm | In arts, business, canada, comments, ideas, innovation, writing | Comments Off on Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

I came across Brendon J. Wilson’s excellent blog post, Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? last week and felt compelled to comment.

Brendon’s post addresses a response to Macleans Magazine’s article You can’t buy that here, which, as he wrote, mirrored concerns he already expressed in a March 2009 post, Borders keep out innovation, too. If you’re Canadian (or maybe thinking of doing business in Canada) Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? and Borders keep out innovation, too are both excellent must-read pieces.

The Macleans article Brendon references had prompted a defense of the Canadian condition by another writer. Brendon’s Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? addresses both positions. He ends in favor of Macleans’, however, and writes that its “attempt to point out how Canada is missing out on the future, however small a piece of it, seems like a valid tactic despite the weakness of its execution.”

I agree, and also left a long comment on his post. I’m using my blog to remind me of what I wrote in response (most of which I excerpt, below), but really encourage people to check out Brendon’s original post(s). My comment (abridged):

I think you get at something very essential with your observations, Brendon, for example when you write about missing “the experience of using the device in your daily life, of truly understanding the implications, applications, and untapped potential of the device” (and while you were talking about the iPhone in that example, I think the point translates across the technology landscape.

It’s conditions like the ones that exists around technology and innovation in Canada that make the issue of Canadian culture so difficult, too, because the words “paternalism” and “tutelage [from authorities on high]” come to mind, not independence, liberation, freedom. And that, too, contributes to the niggling sense of inferiority.

Do you know what the wealthy establishment fathers of Canada told young artists in the Group of Seven (now recognized as the founders of national Canadian landscape painting) back in the early 20th century? “It’s bad enough having to live in this country. Why bother hanging pictures of it up on one’s walls?”

They preferred to collect Old European Masters instead – Dutch landscapes in shades of brown with brown cows. Instead of embracing the innovation that the Group of Seven artists offered, they turned to the past and haughtily told those innovators to learn to paint like the *Old* Masters instead. The innovators wanted to look to other innovators in Europe instead – Cezanne, cubism, futurism, abstraction. But the paternalists knew “better” – and with their “wisdom” helped stunt Canadian culture instead of furthering it. Take a look at the museums built on private collections in the US and you’ll see that contemporary American captains of industry collected European and American avant-gardists, not brown pictures of brown cows. Consequently, American culture benefited from their support, and – as a spin-off many decades later – there are now many seminal collections for the public to enjoy. Canadian collections from that period are small miseries in comparison, and viewing them isn’t nearly as satisfying. That’s how a culture of old-fashioned paternalism (with its flip side of “made in Canada” solutions – the Group of Seven worked often in isolation) has ripple effects that are felt for generations.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

June 14, 2009 at 2:28 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Last FOCUS mag uploads now on Scribd

June 9, 2009 at 9:04 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, victoria, writing | 6 Comments

I just uploaded my May and June FOCUS Magazine articles to – and wow, I guess I was so pissed off about the idiot letter in the May issue (which was in response to my April article, It’s the people, stupid) that I didn’t even notice until now how badly the magazine had botched my May article: fully twelve words went missing from the beginning of my text, so that it starts in the middle of a sentence and makes no sense at all.

Um, thanks for that…

I scribbled in the correction by hand before scanning the article, so at least my online version is corrected.

Without further ado, for your reading pleasure, please check out May’s Embracing complexity and density (where I tear into “Wil” and his pro-suburban low-density ilk) and June’s Blue Bridge blues, which criticizes our city council for wanting to tear down a bona-fide heritage structure without so much as a second thought. They’re just itching to rip it down.

A note to Victoria city council – Mayor Dean Fortin, councilors Sonya Chandler, Philippe Lucas, John Luton, Lynn Hunter, Geoff Young, Chris Coleman, Charlayne Thornton-Joe, and of course our esteemed “heritage-invested” councilor, Pam Madoff: you are wrong, wrong, wrong in rushing to tear down the Johnson Street Bridge.

As for the heritage crowd in this city: you have shown your true colors, and they’re all in various shades of hypocrisy.

n.b.: Note also that I updated my page (which has the Scribd links) to show that the June 2009 article is my final article for FOCUS Magazine.

Urban density and social media tools

June 8, 2009 at 9:40 am | In cities, creativity, innovation, land_use, social_networking, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Urban density and social media tools

It won’t come as news to those of us who love and defend cities, but it’s nice to have scientific research backing up what we espouse as urban positives: High population density triggers cultural explosions, according to a new study by scientists at University College London. The study was published in the journal Science; see also UCL’s page here (h/t Richard Florida/Creative Class blog).

The study reports that “complex skills learnt across generations can only be maintained when there is a critical level of interaction between people.”

I wonder how current social media tools mimic the benefits of density, or augment it in places that are emerging.

For example, I live in Victoria, BC, a medium-sized city that is approaching good density levels in the core neighborhoods, and I’m continually amazed by how social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and a local forum on Vibrant Victoria have allowed a speedier dissemination of ideas. The dissemination doesn’t necessarily produce “instant” results, but how much more bereft we would be without the various platforms for those conversations.

While web-based tools can’t replace actual rubbing-up against people, they do facilitate transmission of ideas as well as complex skills, particularly if those skills aren’t manual. Yet even in the realm of manual skill or physical production – say, vegetable gardening or backyard chicken-raising – I’m likely to turn to the internet to find instructional videos or a local group. Digital natives will always go there first (and I’ve been an immigrant several times over, so I consider myself fully “naturalized” here, too, thank-you!).

Online social media tools absolutely augment the benefits of “real” population density. Thinking about online density and actual urban density (and its benefits) together, as being of a piece, seems important.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

June 7, 2009 at 2:28 am | In links | 2 Comments

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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