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everyone has a piece of the puzzle

Making public media future-relevant: everyone has a piece of the puzzle

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard has a paper out on the future of public broadcasting (download the PDF). Among the trends and forecasts, authors Pat Aufderheide and Jessica Clark note “a few participatory media public broadcasting experiments gesture to a future in which audiences are treated as both trusted partners and engaged citizens.” One of these experiments is Minnesota Public Radio’s Public Insight Network, whose members serve as sources, story suggesters, brainstorming allies, and volunteer interviewees for reporters. The other is the World Without Oil game:

“A web-based project of ITVS’s Independent Lens, World Without Oil not only demonstrated the potential of online role-playing games to spark participation around social issues, but foreshadowed public reactions to our current oil price crunch. More than 1900 gamers from 40-plus countries collaboratively imagined their reactions to a simulated 8-month energy crisis through submissions via blogs, Flickr, YouTube, and podcasts. Participants virtually carpooled and bought bikes, moved out of transportation-poor suburbs, and started backyard gardens—and then reported corresponding changes in their real lives.”

The report summarizes: “Such immersive, authentic engagement with both audiences and issues is what is needed to ensure public broadcasters’ relevance in an ever-more participatory media universe.” One exciting idea: Local stations could change what they define as their core task, becoming more like an electronic public library for the
community. Except that the “library” focuses on futures (and the local actions that choose among them) rather than the past? That’s a value proposition that’s relevant to our time.  Photo by Will Survive via Flickr.

Formerly vibrant neighborhoods

Formerly vibrant neighborhoods

The credit crisis is grabbing the headlines in America, as Fannie and Freddie starve on the empty calories of their bad loans, IndyMac Bank goes into federal conservatorship, and so on. The latest Harper’s Index gives the underlying numbers:

Chance that a U.S. home is currently vacant: 1 in 35

Rank of this among the highest recorded vacancy rates in U.S. history: 1

An article in The Economist (July 12) backs up the numbers: 18,600,000 U.S. housing units stand empty. It goes on to say that “formerly vibrant neighborhoods have taken on the dilapidated air of ghost towns” and “municipal taxes go unpaid” and “boarded-up homes invite looting, drugs and other criminal activity” – all outcomes foreseen in the WWO game. What we didn’t foresee: that cities would respond by demolishing the homes. But that’s actually being contemplated, according to the article.

The media hasn’t yet connected the 2008 credit crisis to the 2008 oil crisis, but again WWO teaches us the connection is there. As explained in an earlier post, the Petro Razor is at work here. Communities with forced commutes are on the wrong side of the Razor are likely never to recover; I’ve already heard anecdotal evidence that this process is underway.

Meanwhile, in a short article on Page 10A, we learn that Russia has reduced oil flow to the Czech Republic without warning or explanation. The move comes three days after the CR inked an agreement enabling the U.S. to build a missile-tracking radar station on Czech soil, So now begins the petropower plays among nations, also foreseen in WWO? The event that set off the global oil crisis was this: oil suppliers “unilaterally renegotiated their contracts,” delivering less oil than promised, which is exactly what’s happening to the Czech Republic. So is this a one-off, or a canary going thud in the coal mine? Stay tuned. Photo by judepics via Flickr.

The tip of the iceberg

The tip of the iceberg

One of the key lessons of the World Without Oil game: oil is everywhere and in everything, and once you start interrupting its flow, weird things start to happen. They can be little things at first, but as seen from the boots on the ground, little unpleasant things add up quickly to koyanniqatsi, a life that must be lived differently. An example: gasoline theft. If it happens once, you grouse. If it happens four times, you stop buying gasoline. Another example: food prices. Milk goes up: you grouse. What do you do when the price of everything in every store is going up (but your income isn’t)? Well, some people are going to start stealing gasoline.

The mainstream media hasn’t really absorbed this yet. The stories I read talk about these incidents as though they are isolated. But they’re not: they’re all the click of one domino hitting two others. So without further ado here are 50 clicks for you, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to WWO pal David Markham for the link; photo by timsamoff via Flickr.)

Envisioning a World Without Oil

Envisioning a World Without Oil

The mainstream media is catching up to World Without Oil’s vision for an oil-challenged future. Experts are “shuddering at the inflation-fueled chaos” and “foreseeing fundamental shifts in the way we work, where we live and how we spend our free time.” “You’d have massive changes going on throughout the economy,” said Robert Wescott, president of Keybridge Research. “Some activities are just plain going to be shut down.” Push prices up fast enough, said Michael Woo, a Los Angeles Planning Commissioner, and “it would be the urban-planning equivalent of an earthquake.” And S. David Freeman, president of the L.A. Board of Harbor Commissioners, said “The purchasing power of the American people would be kicked in the teeth so darned hard that they won’t have the ability to buy much of anything.” Do you remember the abandoned cars in WWO? Experts support this and offer a rough number: 10 million abandoned cars.

Read all about it in this LA Times article by Martin Zimmerman. Graphic from the article.

Global Oil FactsCourtesy of New Scientist, an interactive graphic about oil flows (and chokepoints) across the globe. Nice, but I wish it had included how oil flows will be changing in the next ten years… and I can’t believe their security risk assessment does not mention Nigeria at all, where oil flows are regularly disrupted by rebels. Most recently, a few men in a speedboat managed to take about 200,000 barrels a day off the global market.

Uptick in auto arson, by KalwithoutoilThe truth can finally be told. Those weren’t anarchists torching cars in Kalwithoutoil’s video for Week 4. That was a smokescreen (so to speak) to cover up arson fraud. And reality slips another few notches closer to fiction.

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Image from Kalwithoutoil video

Interactive graphic - New York TimesClifford Krauss is living World Without Oil, but it’s no game. Clifford wrote an article that appeared yesterday in the New York Times. It’s about the effects of high gasoline prices on rural areas in the U.S., where people are reeling under the triple strike of low incomes, fuel-inefficient vehicles, and long commutes to work. Folks, you have to read this article: this is not fiction, this is really happening.

Cars abandoned at the side of roads. A man loses his truck because he couldn’t afford the payments and the fuel.  People eating less meat, giving up video rentals to buy gas. People forced to choose between food and transportation. People praying to God for lower fuel prices. People unable to afford the transportation cost to get medicines. People defaulting on their electric and phone bills. People quitting jobs because working less is the economically rational choice: all the wages just go down the fuel spout.

And the ripple effects: stores and restaurants closing. Layoffs. Theft rising. Local governments abandoning services. A new calculus is at work to define the haves and have-nots: the Petro Razor. Fissures are appearing along the lines that WWO foresaw. 

 


Our web guy, Mark Bracewell (aka Yucky Muck) pointed my face at this one: www.ushahidi.com, a crowd-sourced citizen nerve center plotting incidents of violence in Kenya. The site receives reports via SMS from cell phones, plots them on the site, and then NGOs in the area check them for accuracy. It’s a fabulous use of technology to counter a crisis, and I’m corresponding with the Ushahidi folks just in case there’s anything valuable in the WWO experience that they can apply to their humanitarian efforts.

A good catch today by Gracesmom (Marie Lamb): Thieves take truck, gallons of oil in the Kennebec, Maine area. Eerily reminiscent of many reports we got in WWO…

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.