Welcome to the 10th Edition of #Architalk, a volunteer consortium of architects who blog about a shared topic. This month’s topic is “Summer Break” chosen by Bob Borson, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP (author of Life of an Architect blog) and creator of the #Architalk series; you can follow our posts on Twitter using that hashtag. I encourage you to take a look at all of the entertaining and intelligent posts from the rest of the gang; links to their blogs are listed below.
Now, let’s get started with my take… after the break:
Caption: Circus Performer at The Muse Brooklyn, co-founded by Angela Buccinni
During school years, my father had one rule: Do your homework first, before you go outside and play.
An obvious subject to talk about with our “Summer Break” theme would be one’s vacations or family trips. One such trip I had also involves an unfinished “homework” assignment that Bob gave me back in October 2013. (Now don’t worry, what you’re about to read is even more relevant today, in my opinion.) You see, back then I had tweeted how excited I was over plans to attend the Applied Brilliance 2013 Conference in Brooklyn, NY and Bob, who was then Chair of the Digital & Social Media Committee for the Texas Society of Architects (of which I was a committee member), quickly tweeted in response, “I have a brilliant idea: you write about your experience and we’ll share it on the TXA website!” Sounded good to me. Assignment accepted.
However, I was overcommitted at the time, catching my breath from the NCIDQ Interior Design licensing exams on Saturday 10/05 and preparing for my trip to NYC on October 13-17th. The two-day conference was to be held Monday 10/14 and Tuesday 10/15 at the Wythe Hotel, Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, New York. I registered in May, 2013, looking forward to the promise of:
“vibrant conversations and interactive Dialogues focused on connecting the brilliance of our thought leaders to solving every day problems. So come with great ideas and the passions to share them.”
I was really looking forward to this conference. They were not only inviting input from the audience, but promising meaningful interaction between audience and speakers and an implied opportunity to “solve real-world problems.”
Applied Brilliance Conference 2013
Here is a partial overview from the brochure:
“It’s a brave new world. We make a purchase on Amazon riding in the car as we roll through the EZPass lane. We scout online for potential partners and new friends in the comfort of our kitchens. We design mind-bending places, spaces and things with digital tools, because we can. The mobile device has become the revolutionary’s tool of choice, and the digital imagery can incite a fundamentalist crisis.
“Digital technology, and its offspring, social media, is the single most powerful global connector we have. Applied Brilliance 2013 explores Being Human in a Digital Age. Learn from brilliant thought leaders what our global society is facing at the crossroads of change.
“Two tracks- Breakdowns and Buildbacks will take us on a journey through the unprecedented topography of being human and shaping the future at work, at home and at play.
Breakdowns (Day 1) explores how technology is impacting our lives, and changing our values and behavior
Buildbacks (Day 2) is a discovery of how technology is transforming creativity, innovation and the human condition
—Signed, Deborah Patton, Founder and Executive Director, Applied Brilliance, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
What’s This All About?
We were going to Explore Being Human in a Digital Age. How appropriate. Yet, I had little idea what to expect. And traveling from Houston, Texas with our then 7th grade daughter meant she would need to miss some school (which I wasn’t at all worried about as I value educational travel over classroom time 90% of the time– as long as she’s with me!) and would need to be entertained while I was at the Conference. So, she and my husband explored NYC, rode the subways, shopped at Abercrombie & Fitch, and hung out at our hotel at the base of the new WTC site– a total hubbub of activity as people visited the newly opened Memorial fountains (the museum was not yet open) and other sites were being developed. Plus, Wall Street was directly behind our hotel– oddly enough, I barely made it to the foot of the famous NYSE steps on the day we were leaving before heading to the airport and snapped a quick #selfie (though I didn’t use that term then). We had managed to visit Macy’s 10-story department store, the Apple store, FAO Schwartz toy store, The Guggenheim, The MoMA, Central Park, and the exterior grounds of Lincoln Center. There was still so much more to see and do than we had time for. One could walk faster by foot than by taxi. We walked past the famed Plaza Hotel. It was all a blurrr. Oh, and we visited Time’s Square every night and enjoyed shopping in the M&M Store.
Technical Paper vs Visceral Account
I sat down to write this post a few different times and struggled whether to share my personal experience in a relaxed story form or to provide a collegiate summary of each talk. Either approach would be helpful but the limiting step was to assimilate all of the information that I had acquired. There were many angles and nuances to my experience there; I could write a series about it.
For this post, I’m going to focus on the talks from Day One.
Day One: “Breakdowns”
I arrived one hour early to the 8:00am conference in time to enjoy a relaxed breakfast at the renovated Wythe hotel, which I highly recommend visiting. I was concerned about the safety of the area and the taxi ride– all went well. And this was before I started using (or frankly had not yet heard of) Uber.
Session One ran from 9:00am to 12:00pm and it was called Breakdowns: “How technology is impacting our lives, and changing our values and behavior. There were four speakers:
“The Future of Risk” (<<<===Please click on the title to watch the actual 20 minute talk)- by Alexandra Courtney, Conflict Specialist (and former employee of Booz Allen)
“Moral Ambiguity“- Jon Haidt, Ethicist (Professor at CUNY)
“Privacy”- Tracy Ann Kosa, Advocate (Privacy Director at Microsoft)
“The Internet”- Kevin Slavin, Provocateur (Professor at MIT Media Lab, Co-founder Area/Code (Zynga, NY))
Each speaker gave a short talk on their specific area of expertise and then ample time was dedicated for “Interactive Dialogue between the speakers.”
Here’s a brief summary of each talk.
‘The Future of Risk:’ – by Alexandra Courtney
I was stunned by this talk. Alexa’s appearance and fashion sense were delicate and feminine, being from Arlington, Texas, and they did not prepare us for the gruesome details we were about to hear as she dove head-in describing her travels to African nations and her deep knowledge of complex, remote networks of people. Her talk is best summed up with this quote from a short documentary she showed us on The Congo (where she had met one young mother of eight who’s leg had been amputated from the knee down and cut into 8 pieces and force-fed to her children):
“…because the bits and pieces [of metals] that keep our phones ringing and laptops glowing are funding the deadliest conflicts since WWII.” She refers to them as the 3 T’s– Tin, Tantalum, and Tungsten as well as Gold (also called “conflict minerals:).
She forged on, briefly outlining two other problems created or spawned by modern technology:
“Somalia Piracy”- exists due to having no government since 1991. They have spies in Russia and Europe who target shipping industry and are helped by the Russian Mafia. There are both Illicit and Elicit systems– some truly help needy people but all are derived from “Conflict Entrepreneurialism.”
- “Digital Activism”- she cited an example and shared a slide/picture of a young Tunisian guy (Slim Amamou- @Slim404 on Twitter since 2007, an online activist, who was being tortured in Tunisia, in the “Ministry of the Interior.”) When his online friends encouraged him to turn on his Google GPS, this seemingly small act catalyzed the overthrow of a 25-year regime in only one month’s time. She further emphasized the importance of understanding the effects of the availabiltiy of smartphones in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria where 50-70% of the population are under age 20 and yet offer little economic opportunity while they grow more technologically connected and aware.
She ended with a slide underscoring the importance of zooming out to see the connections and the intersections of various technologies (and the unintended and sometimes catastrophic consequences of the digital age).
‘Moral Ambiguity:’ – by Jon Haidt
Having researched a few of the speakers prior to attending, I was looking forward to hearing Jon Haidt speak (you can follow him on Twitter @JonHaidt). In reading my seminar notes, I scratched: “He was asked to tell stories and said that’s not what he’s good at.” Instead, he gave an anthropological history of humans using Chapters, writing them on a White Board:
Ch.1: Rising Up (7-5 million years ago)
- Ch 2: Handy Man (c 2.4)– the brain doubles in size (to make tools? he asks. Or due to relating?)
[Then, he observes, nothing happened for 1 million years!]
- Ch 3: The Rubicon (800-600 million years ago)– tames fire, makes spears, kills large game, shared labor, *key transitional period
- South of the Rubicon:- Language (a word is spoken, Cooperation, Division of Labor, a Moral Matrix, he shares a quote from William Gibson?: “Gods are like maypoles, they create cooperation.”
- Ch 4: Gene-Culture, Co-evolution (500-50 kya)– “kya” stands for Kilo years ago
- Ch 5: Tribes develop and create initiation rites
- Ch 6: Agriculture and surplus: Greece, Rome
[Another quantum leap occurs, and then…]
- Ch 7: Capitalism
- Ch 8: What’s Next??– “Strategic” (People trying to get nuclear weapons). He tries to calm us by noting: “But, per capita, the world is getting safer…genocide is almost gone. He envisions “what’s next” will be: More cooperation, less violence, less poverty, more education, a demographic transition, plummeting global [illegible notes here: “pg”?] by 2100, and more connectivity (as we already see).
Haidt ended by writing on the board:
“Humans gotta ___________________________” and he asked us to fill in the blank. He answered the question with these notions:
- be a part of something larger than themselves
- cooperate and compete
I certainly could relate to his ending remarks.
‘Privacy:’ – by Tracy Ann Kosa
I thoroughly enjoyed Tracy Ann Kosa’s talk. She took her mic and comfortably strolled through the room as she explained her stance on social media and the effect it has had on individual privacy. Could there be a way to be online and yet maintain one’s anonymity, was the gist of her talk. Tracy earned a doctorate in Computer Science from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and leads privacy oversight at Microsoft. What stood out most from her presentation was what I call “The Goldfish poem.” I will share it at the end of my summary of her talk. She began by describing her personal experience using “Fitbit”– the meter that is worn like a watch on the wrist and tracks fitness, food, even sexual activity (but now, they’ve made that private by default). It’s a way of quantifying ourselves. And she led into her discussion of privacy versus economy by noting how a “smart meter” will tell you a lot of things through tracking spikes in electricity. Her conclusion, like many digital futurists have observed:
Humans are now the product.
Privacy vs Public space, the notion of personal space and comfort zones applies to our digital experiences on the web, too. In a ‘word cloud’ on Privacy were:
- everyone has their own notions, thoughts
- the rights to my OWN data
But on the internet, NOTHING ever gets deleted. How folks feel about this are reflected in three types of groups, she says:
- Unconcerned (these people would give away their DNA for a Big Mac– Tracy has a sense of humor)
- Fundamentalists (she notes that this group is increasing)
“The summer of Snowden”, she coined, and asked us what we thought of him? Was he a traitor or whistleblower? She cautioned that our feelings reveal where we stand on Democracy, Privacy and that our visceral, gut reaction of someone getting close to you physically– and that should be how we feel regarding how our data gets used and disclosed. Laws versus Technology: she was not advocating more laws, e.g. “to regulate the hell out of it.” But that we need to be cognizant that government is watching us. And he who has access to data has power. She believes (and rightly so, in my opinion) that all of us want more obscurity, privacy! She closed her talk by reading this beautiful poem that really resonated with me. Here is the poem (with special thanks to speaker Tracy Ann Kosa for graciously sharing the link with me):
(please click the highlighted title above to see poem on website)- Copyright belongs to the original author
Oh you who are shy of the popular eye, (Though most of us seek to survive it) Just think of the goldfish who wanted to die Because she could never be private. There are pebbles and reeds for aquarium needs Of eel and of pike who are bold fish; But who gives a thought to a sheltering spot For the sensitive soul of a goldfish?
So the poor little thing swam around in a ring, In a globe of a crystalline crudity; Swam round and swam round, but no refuge she found From the public display of her nudity; No weedy retreat for a cloister discreet, From the eye of the mob to exempt her; Can you wonder she paled, and her appetite failed, Till even a fly couldn’t tempt her?
I watched with dismay as she faded away; Each day she grew slimmer and slimmer. From an amber hat burned, to a silver she turned Then swiftly was dimmer and dimmer. No longer she gleamed, like a spectre she seemed, One morning I anxiously sought her: I only could stare – she no longer was there . . . She’d simply dissolved in the water.
So when you behold bright fishes of gold, In globes of immaculate purity; Just think how they’d be more contented and free If you gave them a little obscurity. And you who make laws, get busy because You can brighten he lives of untold fish, If its sadness you note, and a measure promote To Ensure Private Life For The Goldfish.
‘The Internet:’ – by Kevin Slavin
Kevin Slavin’s talk was very helpful to me as it answered a lot of seemingly “unanswerable questions”, otherwise internet mysteries, that had boggled the mind of many, I imagine. I’ll divulge it now, but it wasn’t until the middle of the interactive speaker dialogue that he confided to us that he’d wanted to become an architect but his father, who is one, forbid him to do so…
He began by citing some of the most too big to understand digital events in recent history:
10,000 people play a game of 2 with writing algorithms
- Dutch satellite systems/radar– how to find out what’s going to happen before it happens to us…
- F-117 Stealth Fighter Jet technology evaded radar detection– he worked for Lockheed Martin. Hungarian physicists had been working on breaking stealth code (they actually made a black box to detect an electrical symbol moving through the sky)… <<related to the next point>>:
- “Algo-Trading” , i.e. called “Black-Box Trading”; Again, to the Hungarian physicists analogy: We try to engage in “Trading Camouflage” and this resulted in a Flash Crash in 2010, also known as ‘The Crash of 2:45″- where P&G traded at an all-time high and low in a split second- and 10% of the market DISAPPEARED. He concludes/observes/reasons:
We’ve written something UNREADABLE that even we [humans] cannot read.
There’s been 18,000 crashes in the market due to algorithms. Some are looking towards BET (Better Ethernet trading) for solutions to manage high frequency, millisecond trading. [“Scary as hell.”– a note I have written in the margin.]
Mr. Slavin sums up the then current state of digital affairs: ‘two algorithms– with NO human or adult supervision– are why some books are ridiculously expensive on Amazon for out of print books!
And he concluded his talk with a list of other digital happenings where the machines appear to be taking over:
- “The Syrian Electronic Army”- hacked the AP account
- Hollywood (using algorithms to write scripts)
- Netflicks (algorithms used to anticipate next movie rentals)
- Even books are being written by non-human algorithms
INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE between the Speakers:
The moderator asked the speakers to each describe the “perfect Design App.” Here’s what each one shared:
Tracy– A “Privacy Space app”- to create a tech bubble of privacy around her (a kill switch to enable complete privacy for a time) for her online. She mentioned Susan Cain’s book Quiet as being great for introverts, people who value privacy (opposite of Business school people).
Jon Haidt– he said people loved the Residency Halls at Yale instead of the modern residential places (designed by Eero Saarinen’s son).
Someone (perhaps Kevin? said):
Architects don’t have an appropriate term for building occupants:
And it was mentioned how Everything is measured in architecture EXCEPT those for whom it is designed: the “end-users.”
Alexandra Courtney– She wants an app to pinpoint scary areas in urban cities. Examples: dark, unlit alleys in cities where violence occurs.
The speakers then joined their assigned tables; Kevin Slavin sat at my table.
I would love to give a summary of the Lunchtime keynote speaker’s talk, Lewis Lapham. That will be for another time.
Now, here are the links to the rest of the Architalk 10 blog posts:
Bob Borson – Life of An Architect
Architectural Bucket List
Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture
Marica McKeel – Studio MM
Summer Break = Extreme Architecture
Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect
Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect
2 Simple Systems That Will Transform Your Studio
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC
Vacationing with an Architect
Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen
MILES AND MILES OF ROAD
Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design
Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project
#Architalks 10 – Give me a Break!
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect
#Architalks 10 – “”summer break””
Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC
Architalks: There, but not there
Amy Kalar – ArchiMom
Michael Riscica – Young Architect
The Architecture Students Summer Break
Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL
Architect: Gift or Curse?
brady ernst – Soapbox Architect
The Education of an Agrarian Architect
Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect
Eric Wittman – intern[life]
summer break [or] summer school
Sharon George – Architecture By George
Summer Break #ArchiTalks
Brinn Miracle – Architangent
Thank you for reading!