Cyber Summit 2018: How to Fix the Future

Andrew Keen was the keynote speaker on the first day of the Cyber Summit last month, an annual technology conference organized by Cybera. They were gracious enough to host me this year as a guest. The theme for 2018’s event was “Mind the Gap: Surviving (and Thriving) in the Age of Disruption”. That’s exactly where Keen began.

“We are living through the age of disruption,” he said.

Andrew Keen

Keen is an entrepreneur who founded Audiocafe.com back in 1995, but he’s best known as an author and critic of Internet culture. I remember reading his first book, The Cult of the Amateur, shortly after it was published in 2007. As an entrepreneur myself (in podcasting) not to mention an early and enthusiastic adopter of Twitter, I remember strongly disagreeing with his critique of Web 2.0 and user generated content. It made me angry. I had read James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds around the same time and I couldn’t believe how different Keen’s perspective was. Why couldn’t he see?!

So, it’s no surprise that I started reading Keen’s latest book, How to Fix the Future, with some hesitation. Would it rankle me as well? I hadn’t finished it by the time the keynote rolled around, but I had read enough to have an idea of what to expect. And I was looking forward to it.

“Is technology shaping us or are we shaping it?” he asked. Keen spoke about Marshall McLuhan, lamenting that technology was supposed to create a global village. “We were promised that the new business models were truly revolutionary,” he said. We’d have greater cultural understanding, more jobs, and more equality. But, “something has gone wrong” and that promise “for the most part, has not been realized.” There have been other unforeseen effects too. He thought McLuhan would be “amused by the unintended consequences of technology.”

“I’m not a Luddite,” Keen protested. “I’m not suggesting there aren’t benefits of technology, that’s self-evident.” He also knows that there’s no going back. “Digital is the reality, for better or worse, and we need to make it work,” he said.

Not only has the promise of a better future not been realized, we’ve found ourselves with new problems to deal with. Inequality, the demise of expertise, the echo chamber, and privacy are all among the concerns Keen raised. “The inequality in economic terms is astonishing,” he said, predicting that there is a great jobs crisis on the horizon. Describing “surveillance capitalism” Keen suggested that “privacy itself is a potentially fundamental casualty.”

So, what to do about it? “We’ve been through this before” with the industrial revolution, he said. “We break the future and then we fix it; that’s what we do.”

In his keynote as in his book, Keen spoke about Utopia, written by Thomas More in 1516. It was “a call to arms, to make the world a better place,” he told us. It’s a useful way to frame his argument that each of us has a responsibility to be a part of the solution. “We have to be careful not to fall into the utopian discourse of the first generation of web tech,” he warned.

Keen suggests we have five tools with which to fix the future: regulation, competitive innovation, worker and consumer choice, social responsibility, and education. He only spent a few minutes on these in his keynote, but elaborates on each in the book.

The section on regulation stood out for me. He compares the current state of technology to that of the automobile in the 1960s when the lack of safety regulations resulted in high numbers of auto-related deaths and injuries. He shared the story of how Ralph Nader’s bestselling book Unsafe at Any Speed brought the issue of traffic safety into the national discourse and led to the passage of seat-belt laws and other traffic safety measures.

Could something similar happen in tech today? I don’t know what the digital equivalent of the seat-belt might be, but I do know that not a day has gone by since I read the book that some sort of big tech-related problem hasn’t been in the news. New privacy breaches, new abuses of power, and new unintended consequences seem to dominate Techmeme these days, usually in reference to Facebook and Google.

“There’s no app to fix the future,” Keen told the audience. “The only way we fix the future is in a human way.” In the book he says, “technology doesn’t solve technological problems; people do.” It won’t happen overnight, and Keen was upfront about that. “It will take a generation or two, just like it did for the industrial revolution,” he said. “But we have to begin to address it now.”

Andrew Keen

I have since finished reading How to Fix the Future and would recommend it. I think Keen raises some important issues and does indeed provide some thoughtful commentary on potential solutions.

Many in the audience found Keen’s keynote to be a downer, and there were plenty of comments about it being a pessimistic start to the conference. He certainly prompted a lot of discussion among attendees, which is all you can really ask for from a keynote.

But I found myself on common ground. Maybe in the decade since I read his first book I’d become more critical of technology, or at least more aware of the possible negative consequences. Maybe Keen had mellowed somewhat, adopting a more pragmatic approach in the hopes of effecting change. Or maybe, it was a bit of both!

Thank you to Cybera for hosting me at Cyber Summit 2018!

Mayor Don Iveson looks back on 2018

“I believe this was the year we made a shift to building Edmonton for the next generation,” said Mayor Don Iveson last week as he hosted the media at City Hall for a briefing and roundtable discussion on 2018.

Asked for a highlight from the past year, Mayor Iveson cited the new funding deal with the Province. The City Charters Fiscal Framework Act will provide Edmonton and Calgary with “infrastructure funding tied to provincial revenues, meaning they would share in Alberta’s future revenue growth.” It is both a replacement for Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funding and a new source of long-term transit funding. “We’re legislated now into long-term growth,” the mayor said. Last month he wrote that “the deal reflects the province’s economic reality now.”

Mayor Don Iveson

Here are some of the highlights from the roundtable discussion:

Budget Savings

Given the budget hadn’t yet passed when the roundtable took place, there were some questions related to cost savings. Acknowledging there were valid questions about the size of the City organization and in particular the size of management, Mayor Iveson said “it will be a continuing conversation for us.” He noted there are pros and cons to reducing the size of management that need further discussion.

In terms of savings, the mayor said that through innovation the City has harvested $68 million in savings in the last five years. And he indicated there was more to come. “I suspect there will be things over the next year that we close or significantly adjust our approach to,” he said. “We’re prepared to declare certain things no longer relevant.”

Culture of Confidence

Asked about his frustration this summer over the way Administration handled things like the bench plaques program, the mayor said “mistakes are going to happen given the complexity of what we do.” He acknowledged that Council had given Administration competing direction to both save money and to be as helpful as possible. “Both are values this organization has and they conflicted with one another,” he said.

The mayor made it clear he doesn’t want to micromanage things. “I don’t think every complex decision needs to come from Council,” he said. “It’s not an effective use of the thirteen members of Council.” Instead what he’d like to see is a “culture of confidence”.

“My expectation is that anyone working at the City with an idea that could lead to savings has the opportunity to bring that forward as opposed to being afraid to suggest it due to risk management,” he explained. That requires “a tolerance for failure and innovation” that won’t come easily. “We have to give some permission for it to not work out,” he said.

Mayor Iveson did say that he thought the “long-term culture change is moving in a good direction” at the City of Edmonton.

Edmonton Coliseum

On the question of what will happen to the Coliseum (formerly Rexall Place) the mayor said “it has no practical use or reuse that is economically viable” and as a result “it will be torn down.” He noted there are ongoing costs related to keeping the building secure and said, “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find a cost-effective and timely way to deal with the Coliseum.”

And what about the land? “We’re going to have some interesting discussions about how to redevelop those lands,” the mayor said. He’s not in a rush to sell the land, though. “In this market the land is probably not worth as much,” he said. “Where we try to rush land decisions that generally doesn’t go well for us.”

Media

Unsurprisingly, some of the journalists in the room were curious about the mayor’s thoughts on the media. He has made suggestions throughout the year that the City needs to do more of its own storytelling, and of course he continues to be active on Twitter and his own website.

“I think people expect a certain amount of direct content from their city,” the mayor said. “I think for most people the City of Edmonton is a credible source.” He doesn’t see direct communication from the City being the only channel, however. He talked about the importance of transparency and opening up multiple channels to the public. “Earned media is always going to be part of our day-to-day connecting with people,” he assured everyone.

Mayor Don Iveson

Innovation

Many of Mayor Iveson’s comments touched on innovation, but he used a question about the city’s economic outlook to share the majority of his thoughts on the subject. “We can fear the future or we can chart our own destiny,” he said. “This is why I put so much focus on the innovation economy.”

The mayor said he’s “excited” to work with EEDC’s Derek Hudson and Cheryll Watson further on a culture of innovation and said the recent scrutiny of EEDC “is really, really good.” He said the SingularityU conference that Edmonton is hosting next year “will be a platform for that culture to grow in our city.”

“As the world faces a lot of uncertainty, we can be problem-solvers for the world,” he said. “That’s not incompatible with our DNA as a city at all.”

Region

We didn’t have as much time to discuss the region as I’d have liked, but Mayor Iveson did touch on the subject. “If the region can speak coherently to the provincial and federal governments we can have much greater impact than historically we’ve had,” he said. The mayor cited work on transit, the regional growth plan, and economic development as recent successes in the region.

Mayor Iveson also spoke briefly about “shared investment for shared benefit” saying “it’s about the region getting to the point where we fix problems together.” He explained that the idea is “some of the new money that comes from new development goes into a pot that helps to pay for the next thing to attract jobs and prosperity to the region.”

Thoughts on Council

During the budget discussions Mayor Iveson expressed frustration with his colleagues on Council bringing forward ward-specific items to essentially try to “queue-jump”. He told us that he was talking to former mayor Stephen Mandel about it recently and realized, “I was doing the same things 7 years ago!” He added that “what we have ultimately is a Council that has come together remarkably well around this budget.”

“We have a group of very bright Councillors who have a desire to serve and to have their service noticed,” the mayor said. “It’s not a bad thing to have councillors with ambition to make an impact on the city.”

Third Term

“I really like being Mayor of Edmonton and I have no plans to enter federal politics, other than to stay on as chair of the Big City Mayor’s caucus,” he said in response to a question about running for another office. “I’ve got more work to do here.” Mayor Iveson told us “the City Plan is going to be a lot of fun” and that representing Edmonton through the upcoming provincial and federal elections would be “a great challenge”.

Noting “it’s a really long way to the next election,” he did acknowledge that others might be thinking about making a run for his chair. “I think it’s fair to say that some of them have their own political aspirations.” His advice to those Councillors? “Don’t get started too early.”

Mayor Iveson said he has not made any decisions about seeking a third term as mayor. “I want to focus on governing, and implementing the things I ran on,” he said. “If I can think of four more years worth of stuff to do, then I would look at running again.”

Mayor Don Iveson

Looking ahead to 2019, Mayor Iveson said “we must continue to rally for our city.”

Media Monday Edmonton: Update #327

Taproot Edmonton’s latest Media Roundup was published today. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Monday morning.

Local updates from the Media Roundup

Here are a few select updates from today’s Media Roundup:

  • I spoke with Marvin Polis about the state of digital journalism for the newest episode of the IABC Edmonton podcast.
  • Tracy Hyatt is the new Marketing & Communications Manager at the Downtown Business Association.
  • TSN’s Gord Miller tweeted that Rogers Place in Edmonton is “the worst broadcast position in the NHL by far.”
  • Episode 21 of Don’t Call Me A Guru features Alex Hryciw, Communications Advisor for the Office of the Mayor & Mayor Don Iveson.
  • MacEwan journalism professor Rey Rosales wrote about Maria Ressa, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year (2018), who “took a short breather from journalistic work and spent time with our students here at MacEwan University in Edmonton as a visiting lecturer and scholar in the winter of 2016.”

Mayor Don Iveson
Mayor Don Iveson speaking to the media after the budget passed

Media-related updates from elsewhere

And here is some non-local media news that I found interesting this week:

Follow Edmonton media news using the hashtag #yegmedia and be sure to check out Mediagazer for the latest media news from elsewhere. You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here. If you have a tip or suggestion for future updates, let me know.

At Taproot Edmonton we’re working hard to ensure that local journalism has a future in our city. Join us to be part of the movement.

Edmonton Notes for December 16, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Premier seeking industry interest in oil refining 124562
Premier seeking industry interest in oil refining, photo by Premier of Alberta

Upcoming Events

Between Christmas Trains
Between Christmas Trains, photo by Jeff Wallace

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Media Monday Edmonton: Update #326

Taproot Edmonton’s latest Media Roundup was published today. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Monday morning.

Local updates from the Media Roundup

Here are a few select updates from today’s Media Roundup:

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Premier Notley airport news conference, photo by Premier of Alberta

Media-related updates from elsewhere

And here is some non-local media news that I found interesting this week:

Follow Edmonton media news using the hashtag #yegmedia and be sure to check out Mediagazer for the latest media news from elsewhere. You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here. If you have a tip or suggestion for future updates, let me know.

At Taproot Edmonton we’re working hard to ensure that local journalism has a future in our city. Join us to be part of the movement.

Edmonton Notes for December 9, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

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Holiday Light-up at the Legislature, photo by Premier of Alberta

Upcoming Events

2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships Announcement
2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships Announcement, photo by Government of Alberta

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Media Monday Edmonton: Update #325

Taproot Edmonton’s latest Media Roundup was published today. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Monday morning.

Local updates from the Media Roundup

Here are a few select updates from today’s Media Roundup:

  • The political ads that have taken over radio and newspapers in Edmonton recently look and sound like news for a reason. Radio ads have run on 630 CHED, Sonic 102.9, 102.3 NOW!, and CISN Country. The front page of the Edmonton Journal has also been taken over with political ads, including one that took comments from former political columnist Graham Thomson out of context. “Thomson said a representative from Postmedia, which owns the Journal, personally apologized and told him his work would not be quoted in subsequent political ads.”
  • “Vue going down is not the end of culture in Edmonton, but it sure doesn’t help,” wrote Fish Griwkowsky in the Journal. He joined 630 CHED’s Friday round table with Stephan Boissonneault and Ron Garth from VUE Weekly to discuss the paper’s demise.
  • In his last column for VUE Weekly, Ricardo Acuña wrote about the federal government’s proposed funding for media. He says things will “only change when people realize the importance of independent media sources and actively support thoughtful and critical journalism with paid subscriptions and advertising.”
  • City of Edmonton Communications branch manager Mary Sturgeon said of efforts to boost internal news production: “It can’t be a propaganda office.”
  • 630 CHED celebrated its 25th anniversary as a news and talk station this weekend. “The station had been a successful rock station for years, but quickly suffered with the launch of FM radio.”

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Premier Notley’s opening remarks at today’s cabinet meeting, photo by Premier of Alberta

Media-related updates from elsewhere

Something a little different this week! Last Wednesday and Thursday I was in Toronto for a gathering of digital independent news sites from across the country. These entrepreneurs are building what comes next in Canadian media and I left feeling very inspired. I plan to write more, but for now check out:

Follow Edmonton media news using the hashtag #yegmedia and be sure to check out Mediagazer for the latest media news from elsewhere. You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here. If you have a tip or suggestion for future updates, let me know.

At Taproot Edmonton we’re working hard to ensure that local journalism has a future in our city. Join us to be part of the movement.

Edmonton Notes for December 2, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

  • On Thursday, the Government of Alberta introduced the City Charters Fiscal Framework Act which if passed would “provide Edmonton and Calgary with infrastructure funding tied to provincial revenues, meaning they would share in Alberta’s future revenue growth.” The proposed $500 million would be split between Edmonton & Calgary as a replacement for MSI which completes in 2022. “The deal includes a baseline of funding that can grow (and may contract) based on the Province’s actual revenues, which makes Edmonton a genuine benefitting partner in our combined efforts to grow employment, grow investment and help drive prosperity for Edmontonians and Albertans,” Mayor Iveson wrote about the funding deal.
  • Premier Rachel Notley announced today a short-term reduction in oil production aimed at protecting jobs. “Under the action announced, production of raw crude oil and bitumen will be reduced by 325,000 barrels per day to address the storage glut, representing an 8.7 per cent reduction.” The reduction will start in January and last until December 31, 2019.
  • Starting January 1, 2019 the City of Edmonton’s boundaries will officially expand to include 8,267 hectares of land from Leduc County and a portion of 50 Street in the Town of Beaumont. “We are looking forward to welcoming these new residents to Edmonton,” says Mayor Don Iveson.
  • Inflation in the Edmonton region moved down 0.3% in October to 3.0%. Despite declining gas prices, “gasoline was still up by approximately 21% on a year-over-year basis in October 2018.”
  • Despite just 6 cannabis-related charges in the first month of legalization, Edmonton Police want an $87 million budget increase, in part to hire 24 officers to deal with cannabis. Councillor Andrew Knack has quite rightly wondered how sensible that is and is actually suggesting a reduction in the increase EPS would receive this budget cycle.
  • According to a poll funded by Prosperity Edmonton, 73% of respondents want Council to hold off on tax increases. “Eighty-two per cent of respondents also said taxes will be an important factor in their voting decisions for the next municipal election, the poll suggests.”
  • Parking revenue downtown is less than projected which is a problem as it was supposed to help pay off the arena debt. So Council has decided to use funding from the CRL to cover the difference, which means less money for other projects.
  • Winter schedule adjustments took effect on ETS today. “Bus routes 2, 8, 9, 10, 15, 90, 100, 106, 112 and 143 have undergone significant and permanent schedule adjustments.”
  • This year 11 individuals were recognized at the 2018 Salute to Excellence Citation & Performance Awards. Congrats to all!
  • Councillor McKeen has asked the City for a report on ways to help homeless people in Edmonton while new supportive housing is developed. “[People] are leading desperate lives out there, and we continue to pay a high price for chasing our tail on this, whether it’s policing, bylaw, the folks who clean up these camps, (or) the business zones,” McKeen said Tuesday during a city council meeting.
  • This week Council officially nixed the need for a development permit for minor home-based businesses. They have also passed changes to the Zoning Bylaw that make it easier for residents to hold short-term special events.
  • The deadline for the Metro Line LRT signalling system is Tuesday and Thales insists the system is ready to go.
  • In the latest episode of Speaking Municipally, Troy is joined by Kirsten Goa to discuss parking revenue, budget, and child-friendliness.
  • Get the latest on Media, Tech, Health Innovation, Music, and Council with Taproot Edmonton’s latest roundups.

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New era for provincial, cities partnership, photo by Premier of Alberta

Upcoming Events

  • We’re into the time of year when it seems everyone is hosting a holiday party. Enjoy safely!
  • Zoominescence 2018 started on the weekend at the Edmonton Valley Zoo and runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to Christmas.
  • Holiday Magic starts at City Hall on Monday and runs all week.
  • The Alberta Legislature’s annual Light Up takes place on Tuesday.
  • Green Drinks: YEG Makers takes place on Wednesday evening at Yellowhead Brewery.
  • The Economics Society of Northern Alberta is hosting its Annual Outlook Conference on Thursday at the Quarter Note Hotel (formerly Hyatt Place in The Quarters).
  • The City is hosting a drop-in engagement session on Thursday night at the Stantec Tower lobby about the proposal for digital signs atop the tower.
  • Pitchfest takes place on Friday at the Shaw Conference Centre. It’s “an opportunity for technology startup founders to pitch their businesses and needs to a select audience of other entrepreneurs, private investors, public funders, service providers, business leaders, and community members.”
  • Royal Bison‘s second weekend takes place Friday to Sunday at the Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre.
  • The sold out Luminaria 2018 runs Friday to Sunday at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden.
  • The Oilers host the Wild on Friday and the Flames on Sunday.
  • URBANYEG is hosting its first Panel Discussion on Saturday at CCIS at the University of Alberta. Three panelists will share their experience with photography.
  • The Inspire Cheer & Dance Championship takes place at the Edmonton EXPO Centre on Saturday.

Cloud Factories
Cloud Factories, photo by Dave Sutherland

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Media Monday Edmonton: Update #324

Taproot Edmonton’s latest Media Roundup was published today. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Monday morning.

Local updates from the Media Roundup

Here are a few select updates from today’s Media Roundup:

Creating a Bighorn Country for all Albertans 123405
Creating a Bighorn Country for all Albertans, photo by Premier of Alberta

Media-related updates from elsewhere

And here is some non-local media news that I found interesting this week:

Follow Edmonton media news using the hashtag #yegmedia and be sure to check out Mediagazer for the latest media news from elsewhere. You can see past Media Monday Edmonton entries here. If you have a tip or suggestion for future updates, let me know.

At Taproot Edmonton we’re working hard to ensure that local journalism has a future in our city. Join us to be part of the movement.

Edmonton Notes for November 25, 2018

Here are my weekly Edmonton notes:

Headlines

Remembrance
Remembrance, photo by Jeff Wallace

Upcoming Events

Gray cup setup Edmonton November 22 2018
Grey Cup Festival Setup, photo by Jason Woodhead

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