Saturday, April 25, 2009

Online Gaming Community

When I was a youngin, I used to be deeply involved in the online gaming community. I played religiously, placing myself in front of the computer for 3-4 hours on end each night. Throughout high school, homework got done, but it was secondary. While other kids experimented with weed, drinks, and the opposite (or same) sex, I spent my time online. The "real world" wasn't really a priority.

I played all sorts of games, but the majority of time was spent on Starcraft, Diablo II, Age of Empires and Half Life's online team component.

The gaming community (and I don't use the word community lightly) drew me in because of its inclusiveness. Unlike the social exclusion of high school, I felt accepted by my fellow anonymous mystery gamers who had user names like Morlock67 and CommanderCXX8X. We were all connected in our love of play. We chatted, played together, swapped stories of the past (gaming experiences) and joined into groups (clans) adding pals that you wanted to play with in future games. After a while you'd get to know some of the more familiar faces.

Once you jumped into a game, one of the first questions you might be asked (prior even to where are you were on the game's map) might be where abouts everyone was from? San Diego, Virgina, Korea, Frankfurt might all pop up and in an instant you'd see just how far ranging our online community was.

The community of online gaming was recently chronicled by the London Times, though in a different light. According to a new study quoted in the article, 1 in 10 American kids are pathologically addicted to computer games. These kids display the symptoms of addiction including lying about the number of hours spent online, using games to escape their problems, and becoming irritable and frustrated when not playing games.

The article goes on to declare 90% of the children admitted to playing at one time or another with the average for boys of 16.4 hours spent online a week. The study further connected "pathological addition to video games" with poor school marks and generally with social dysfunction.

While few people would argue that maintaining a work ethic (and some perspective) is important while indulging in any community, I tend to wonder whether many critics of online gaming and its effects on youth give the idea of community in the online gaming world much credence. Is it just wasting time playing games or is there something more at work here?

Often the amount of time kids play online is lamented by critics. While I would certainly not argue that when you start lying about the amount of time you're online or can't function in everyday life without playing games is problematic, I think it behooves us to take a step back and sperate the idea of addiction from the connection to community that it is often masked by.

I don't doubt that sports, theatre, television, or other hobby enthusiasts would feel similar feelings of irritation should they be told constantly that they should not be indulging more than an hour or so a day (if that...) in their chosen hobby and passion. Further, the sportstar would probably be even more non-plussed by the social and communal ramifications of his scaled down participation in the team.

Gaming, and the community it fosters no different than this in many cases. In the end, many critics - and parents - to paraphrase Carmine Falconi of Batman Begins, "will always fear what they don't understand." But by not trying to understand the unique online community and its draw to young people, many critics are doing a serious disservice to their children and themselves. The end result can put strains on the partent and child's relationship, while at the same time disconnecting the teen from one of the few communities they still feel a connection to. Not a good thing for anyone.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Serving our Community: from Obamania to Rwanda

Leave it to Obama. In tough economic times, when citizens are struggling to make ends meet what does the President do? He pushes through bi-partisan legislation embracing free labour. Yeah, I know managers and directors and CEOs can't afford to pay their staff, but, come one! Basically, he's mandating that people work for nothing. That's right. No wages. I don't know what kind of perverted, crazy voodoo socialism this guy is tryi-

What? The bill is about volunteering and community service? It's a good thing? National Service? Encouraging Americans to push aside petty, partisan values and work together to make their communities better places? Passed into law just 22 days after being proposed? Wow. That's pretty cool.

Sorry about that, folks. I got a little carried away there. And, for the record, I like Obama. A lot. Not just because of all the hope, either. Or because of his sincerity. Or because of his amazing oratory skills that inspire millions - nay, billions - of people around the world. Mostly, I like Obama because he collaborates with Spider-man and Abraham Lincoln to create amazing, progressive and world-changing community-service legislation that does so much to make America the leader that so many people around the world want it to be. Or so my sources tell me.

Moving on...

Friends, we're at the end of National Volunteer Week! On Tuesday, April 21 President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which "reauthorizes and expands national service programs administered by the Corporation for National Service...[and seeks to engage] over four million Americans in results-driven service each year." On April 22, the Corporation reported that AmeriCorps received 17,038 online applications in March, nearly triple the number from 2008. From Senior Citizens to students, from NGO management to service learning initiatives, the Serve America Act provides millions of dollars that, according to Corporation Board Chair, Alan Solomont, "...will help unleash a powerful new wave of service and civic action to help tackle our nation's toughest challenges."

From Millennials to Baby Boomers, Obama has people moving. And, clearly, for the patriotic, narcissistic, spiritual, community-minded, and apathetic alike it's the stuff of inspiration.

So what are we up to in Canada? Well, my grandma, Betty, just got invited to a volunteer lunch as a thanks for all the service she does for the Senior community in the Comox Valley. And about 21 of my students here at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business are volunteering with the Strathcona Business Improvement Association on three service-learning projects that will help expand the community's "Green Zone." And speaking of talented young people, a few weeks ago, whilst in Toronto, I met a young man named Billy Strachan, who has embraced Social Entrepreneurship with his not-for-profit A Day for Africa. Check it out!

Those are some micro-examples. What about pan-Canadian initiatives and our general approach to volunteering as well as giving? According to a 2004 report called, I kid you not, The Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, 85% of Canadians collectively give annually nearly nine billion dollars (average donation of $400). Religious organizations receive about 45% of these donations. About 45% of Canadians over the age of 15 volunteer for about 168 hours per year, and their total contributions amount to two billion hours, or the equivalent of one million full-time jobs. The top 10% of volunteers, though, contribute to 52% of all volunteering in Canada. We help each other without going through registered charitable organizations, too. About 83% of Canadians reported helping others who did not live in their own household with a variety of tasks and projects (shovelling snow, car repairs, cleaning, gardening, painting, cooking). Needless to say, we're good at getting involved. But we can do better. And should do more.

And, sometimes, you can easily combine volunteering and helping others with spectacular adventures. Speaking of adventures, this one time, I went to Rwanda and helped organize an East African youth employment conference. I also played on a basketball team (can you find me in the photo?). Recently, my Rwandan brother Edouard Umunyarwanda (on my left, your right) let me know about a project the team is launching called Safeball. The program is meant to build community through basketball, dance and song as well as educate youth who are drawn to the celebration about HIV/AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, physical violence, post-genocide reconciliation, and safe, healthy living. When he introduced me to the idea, Edouard said, "we needed something original, big, and new and also something that would always makes youth think about being safe." My friend, you're there and you are about to inspire a lot of people to help you.

So, we've gone on a service-related journey from the Comox Valley to Washington, DC to Vancouver to Kigali and back again. And we've learned a few cool ways to build community through service. And we've heard some stories that are pretty darn inspirational. So, what next? Well, if your from The Gumboot's neighbourhood, start by hitting up and see how you can get involved.

As for who has a better plan to unite its citizens through service, well, readers, I'll leave that to you. Both the Canadian and American models are wide in scope and ambition, but, when it comes to being nationally inspired/motivated, I think Canadians might fall a bit short. Or, hey, maybe we're so good at helping that we don't need to be inspired to go out and do good things.

Whatever the case. There's no better time than right now to get involved. And, while you're helping, remember to have fun with it. After all, smiles are totally contagious!

Thanks for the memories.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Online Communities - Managing your Personal Brand

Do you twit-blog the interscape? Do you or your organization distribute information through the comprehensive and amazing medium of an "online blog website"? Do you have an account on the new social networking tool Bookface? Perhaps you employ these mediums as a means of connecting with friends, or maybe you're a "pyjama job hunter" (someone who looks for work by emailing job applications through rather than physically connecting with people), or maybe you've got a blog and/or an ex-boyfriend you follow and/or stalk through Twitter.

Whatever the case. However you do it. The vast majority of people today have some kind of online presence.

Here are some amazing findings relating to our online community's behaviour:

Twitter is arguably the hottest thing in new media. Usage is up 752% since December 2008. Last month, about 7.7 million people used the professional social networking site LinkedIn (being mindful of these tough economic times, if you haven't already, get on there and get connected). If Facebook was a country, it would be the eighth largest in the world. Speaking of Facebook, did you know that 20% of Facebook users do not use
any privacy settings? And of the users who do use some or all of their privacy setting, last year nearly one-quarter of them still shared their telephone numbers. Nearly 50% of users concerned with divulging their political views still posted them. And nearly 20% of Facebook users employing their "top" privacy setting.

So, would you like a job one day? Or maybe you fancy yourself as the next Gregor, Gordo, Merkel, or Obama. Maybe your family's opinion of you is the most important thing in the world. Get this. About 25% of graduates from 50 countries say there is something about them online that they do not want their parents or employer to see. And, last year in North America, 83% of employers searched online to learn more about applicants. Of job-applicants who were dismissed in 2008, 43% were turned away because of what recruiters found online.

So that's the game. But how should we play in it?

For students and young people:

- According to the Vancouver Sun's Mitch Joel, "the amazing thing about developing your personal brand in a world of online social networks and blogging is that you can home in and really focus on meeting and connecting with those that have shared values."
- You can be social and professional, people. Trust me, employers, recruiters and friends alike want to make sure you separate work and pleasure. Man, no one wants to check out a Facebook profile that looks like a resume. It's just not fun. Now, you should still strive to build an amazing social and personal brand by using Facebook. Check this out:
- I have a lot of students who are smarter than me. One of them sent me this link to Guy Kawasaki's blog, which outlines 11 key ways to use LinkedIn to connect with professionals in your field. In these tough economic times, take full advantage of this advice!
- Long story short. Having fun is important. Being social is important. Being classy is important, too. Maybe leave the funnel out of the picture next time, dude.

For teachers and counsellors and parents:

- Teach and encourage your students/kids about the concept of Link Love. Get them to collaborate in a positive way and to connect their online communities. The more things written about people and groups, the more "searchable" they become. And when the "link love" is positive, once a group or individual is found, say, by Google, their online brand will be well-received by its audience.
- One of the reasons Generation Y is incredibly useless when it comes to comprehending the implications of putting career and socially damaging photos and information online is because they have not been taught proper online community etiquette from their parents and role models. I mean, Shaquille O'Neal is a Twitter MVP, but that doesn't mean he should replace you/us, parents and teachers. We need to get involved, too.
- First step, get your kids/students to explain to you how an online community works!

For employers and recruiters:

- Is Facebook reflective of a new way of doing business? Find another tool that can put a grassroots movement or a cool new product past the tipping point on a global scale in a more collaborative way in a shorter amount of time. There probably isn't one.
- With our global networks expanding at lightspeed, this figure has never seemed so real. Organizations must be sure to utilize internal and external social networks to attract, engage and retain top talent. Spreading your company's brand through the word of mouth of an elaborate global network, after all, is pretty powerful stuff.
- Recent findings show that a cross-section of industry experts believe that the majority of employers suggest several HR professionals see the world of work transitioning from a "machine" to a "community" and from a hierarchical system of management to one that is more reflective of a social network. If the medium is the message, what do employers today need to know about Facebook and Web 2.0? Probably lots.

The Globe and Mail
recently profiled the, um, online profiles of Gordon Campbell and Carole James. Like much else in British Columbia's election, neither candidate showcases the stuff of inspiration. When managing one's online presence, it's of course important to be sincere, authentic and to have integrity (in the article, the closest Ms. James or Mr. Campbell got to being authentic was when Mr. Campbell chose a quote from the author of Faust, Wolfgang von Goethe, perhaps all too reflective of devilish deals politicians and their ilk have forever made). With so much noisy information clogging the series of pipes and tubes that make up the internet, those of us twitblogging are way through it must also strive to be unique, interesting and entertaining in addition to being sincere. Whether you're a student, educator, employer, or politician, think about how you`ll be adding value to the experience of those connecting to your online community.

We here are The Gumboot add value by talking about pirates, communal nudity and cutting edge architecture way before fringe media groups like the CBC or up-and-coming politicians like this guy Stephen Harper do. Some people talk about what's already cool. We make it cool.

And that's how you manage an online presence. It's a beautiful thing!


Friday, April 17, 2009

Progressive Community Eats its Own

These days things are starting to heat up with the coming provincial election. Both the NDP and BC Liberals are campaigning like mad. While Gordon Campbell champions his environmental policy and economic plans in the oil and gas sector up north, Carol James is lampooning the controversial carbon tax, trying to wave it around like the red flag of a mantador in front of the bullish voter.

It's a wedge issue for many voters in rural ridings and one the NDP is hoping to exploit. They were certainly making head-way with their "Axe the Tax" campaign last year, though the boiling rage of voters of yester-year when oil prices were at all time highs and the sting of the tax was still initially being felt, has not (yet) returned.

Enter Tzeporah Berman. A well known activist and greenie, Berman was one of the key activists at Claquot Sound as well as the executive director of PowerUP Canada and a cofounder of ForestEthics. You'd think her credentials as a environmentalist couldn't be in doubt. And they weren't, at least not until Berman wrote an email to Carol James accusing the NDP of using climate change and the environment in a hypocritically political way. The response online hasn't been pretty.

Like many environmentally minded people, Berman has become quite frustrated by the NDP's attempt to capitalize on the green revolution while avoiding making any political sacrifices. The Liberals, love em or hate em, took a hit when they brought in the carbon tax, and while nobody (except the liberal spinners) say its the be all and end all, it is a big step in the right direction.

Meanwhile the NDP say they have a better idea. Cap and trade. Why? Because "working families (read: rural drivers) are bearing to much of a burden. Ok, fair enough. So bring in something in addition to the carbon tax. But don't come to a voter like me and say, its all about the environment and then in the same breath pitch me with the "axe the tax" catchphrase.

By far the worst part of all this is the fissure the environmental issue is creating in the lefty political camp. Increasingly it is becoming apparent that many in the labour movement (not all by any stretch though) don't share many of the values of the greenie urban dwellers that used to vote predominately NDP. This tension, and the frustration it has elicited, has manifested itelf in a fairly strong worded attack on Berman and her credibility, pilliaring her as an NDP traitor and sell out to Campbell, BC liberals, and even the oil/gas companies. BC's Patrick Moore has been one comparison that has been bandied around.

Unfortuntately, the reality of the situation is much more complex. Berman can be an environmentalist and a supporter of the carbon tax. The two, in fact, go quite well together. She can also be a supporter of the carbon tax and a progressive at the same time. This is something it'd be important for many to remember, particularly those hoping to take the orange and blue flag to Victoria in May.

In the end, it seems to me the more environmental measures the better. Carbon tax? Good. Cap and trade? Great. Rather than campaigning to destroy the tax, the NDP would be more diligent to campaign on augmenting it with a better system (if that's really what they want). But then, that might not play so well in the polls, now would it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

(Photo Courtesy Xinhua News Agency.)

Something that continues to strike me as remarkable about nature is its knack for perfect timing. Frankly, Mother Earth simply knows better. Just when we humans think we’ve got things under control – Kyoto-ized, carbon taxed and plastic bag free, nature throws a punch and reminds us who’s the boss. We are not the boss and dare I say, neither are the pirates. In fact, dolphins are this week’s winners.

Recently, pirates have found themselves on international media radar. The big story broke last week when Somali pirates kidnapped a U-S Cargo captain. Three pirates were killed during the Navy’s rescue operation. Even President Barack Obama has pirates on his mind as he’s vowed to “halt the rise of piracy.”

The Xinhua News Agency reports a school of dolphins appeared at just the right moment to stop a group of Somali pirates from taking a Chinese cargo ship last week by swimming in between the two vessels and effectively blocking the pirate’s access to their "booty." It should be noted that the Xinhua reported the dolphin intervention as fact: that it was the marine mammals complete intention to prevent the pirates from pillaging.

This dolphin behavior should come as no surprise to the U-S military say, circa 1989, when the United States Navy sunk $30 million dollars into training dolphins to guard a nuclear submarine base (dolphins and sea lions, actually.) The project took a turn however when, as outlined in the Navy’s report, the dolphins began refusing orders. Clearly, the dolphins knew better.

Based on the evidence, I think it’s safe to say that if our planet ever does find itself scheduled for demolition to make way for a hyper spatial express route, dolphins will, in fact, jump ship and leave earth.

Did those dolphins intentionally prevent pirates from capturing that cargo vessel? I doubt it. It’s more likely the school of fish they were following happened to be passing that way. But it’s a nice thought: dolphins acting as an alarm system for a group of sailors working a cargo ship, minding their own business. It makes you wonder how may more “alarm systems” nature sends our way. Do we notice them?


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Community...of Dance!

A few weeks ago, my special lady and I completed a pretty darn fantastic beginner salsa class. Our group included people from pretty much every culture, socio-economic background and "beginner" skill-level imaginable, and we were lead by an excellent dancer and teacher, the amazing Karlos Reyes:

With this collection of aspiring dancers and Karlos leading the pack - joined by a few of his friends who showed up every now and then to help out - it was impossible to not have a good time as we salsad (functional grammar is so in these days) our way into a smiling, healthy and semi-coordinated community.

Now. The correlations between dance and community as it relates to our class were pretty substantial. Take equality: background, status, income, culture, age and/or style becomes irrelevant when you step on to the floor. Dance: the great leveller! And with a Cuban at the helm, equality (as well as baseball and outstanding health care) were sure to join rhythm, laughter and basic salsa moves as most excellent outcomes of the class.

But don't just take my word for it. Michelle is going to weigh in on the community of dance as well. We have outlined a few themes and highlights from the class, and are happy to provide a balanced perspective on 'em for you, the reader. And here we go:

Dancing in a Circle with Different Partners

John: "When I signed up for salsa lessons, I was under the assumption that Mich
elle and I would be doing all of our dancing together. I was wrong. Due to the gender imbalance (about 70% of the class was female), we men had to be shared with all the ladies. Learning how to adapt to different styles and skill levels - not to mention body types, smells and talkativeness - made the experience all the more interesting and enjoyable. For example, a lovely woman, who happened to be about five feet tall, struggled to not be stretched and lifted off the floor during a move called "sombrero," as my 6'3" and misinterpretation of "leading" saw me rigidly not bend down to accommodate her. She was a good sport, gave me feedback and we shared a laugh."

Michelle: “On the flip side of this experience, being in the more represented female component to the class oftentimes left me partner-less in this circle of dance. John speaks of having to adapt to different partners? Try adapting to a solo sombrero. While not as much of a “community”
experience, it sure makes you aware of what moves you’ve got down pat … and which you don’t!"

The Actual Steps

John: "It's not that men are slow-witted and poor dancers. It's just that women are smarter and, therefore, are asked to carry out all the complicated steps to all the complicated moves. Fellahs, if you like simple, then salsa is your thing. Let me walk you through it: 'one-two-one-two-one-two-one-two'... Yeah, and sometimes to spin the young lady 'round and 'round. But that's pretty much it. Way to go, ladies!"

Michelle: “John, I have to disagree. As Karlos so enthusiastically demonstrated in class … if the women aren’t given direction as to the next move (you young men have to be assertive!), they’re left spinning aimlessly in circles of confusion and pacing in perplexity. While it’s true we women may move our feet a bit more, you strapping gentlemen give the overall guidance and really drive the dance, if you will.”


John: "They totally ran the gamut of sensation. We saw some flowing dresses, emo-hipster-punk-hippie-hipsters, button-down retirees, and serious dancers in serious heels.”

Michelle: “Which totally speaks to the notion that our community of dance really was a community of acceptance. Within our circle of dance, flowered dresses, skintight emo-jeans, corduroy jackets and mumus complemented on another like, well, well-paired Salsa dancers.

Side Conversations

Michelle: “There’s nothing like a 10 second conversation while spinning and turning between dame unas. Like in every community, you don’t always have an ideal amount of time in an ideal setting to get to know all of the fantastic people out there. But the friendships we created in these short bursts of time just goes to show that a few sentences to get to know your grocery store clerk, librarian, waitress, bus driver, or the neighbor-up-on-the-fourth-floor-who-you-hardly-ever-see-but-plays-his-music-really-loud, can go a long way.”

John: “An icebreaker I liked to try was asking a woman if I had the sweatiest hands. And if I didn’t, that I wanted to know who did and who was ruining the good name of men in the room. Yeah, it usually went well. The group was very open to shenanigans.”

Etiquette & Teamwork

Michelle: “Karlos kindly provided us with some general “rules” for leaders and partners. As I read through them, I saw how they hold true for any community:

- Be aware of the space between you and other dancers. Just like you need to be conscious of the impact you have on your neighbours and your environment.

- Maintain a good connection with each partner. In salsa, so much depends on the way you hold your wrist, your elbow, and how you respond to your partner. If we’re not able to connect with those around us, well, we just won’t be as good at what we do.

- Help each other out. During salsa class, people would miss the dance move call. Sometimes, it was because the music was too loud. Other times, it was because the person in question was “talking a bit too much”, or has a bit of “trouble attending”. Okay. These ones “may or may not have been me”. Regardless, as a community, we’d help each other out by letting your partner know what they’d missed. And we were all better because of it.

John: “And the laughter. Once you’ve shaken your bum and grinded your hips and yelled very animatedly in front of people, well, you’re all pretty much part of a special community. So much support, sharing and ideas came out of this class. It started with Karlos, and was contagiously taken up by everyone very quickly!”

Every Tuesday, our community of dance would convene at Brittania Community Centre. While in our “non-salsa-lives”, we’re teachers, musicians, electricians and stay-at-home-moms, on the dance floor we melded into Cuban Salsa Rockstars, teaching, learning, and having a great time doing it. Now that’s community.

Friday, April 3, 2009

HELLO new-new urbanism

The idea of new urbanism was developed a number of years ago by architects and planners in order to combat urban sprawl, tract housing, and all of those evil ideas.

A common criticism of new urbanism is that it exclusively creates community or private space; you are either always around people who you sort-of know, and are accountable to for your actions, or are by yourself/your family and are accountable to them. There is no 'public space' --- areas where you can be anonymously public or free to be loud or quiet, private or open without fear of long-term social consequences or judgements.

There is a corresponding concern about the architectural aesthetic that is often built in concert with new urbanist communities. Rather than encouraging or allowing diversity in the urban form, design is handicapped by neighbourhood restrictions (not always a bad idea...). An extreme example of this is the Disney-town of Celebration, FL. However, this is not the place for a discussion of architectural aesthetics but rather of community.

Returning to this idea of private/public/community space. One reaction to this criticism could be the new HELLO development in Brooklyn, NYC. The development is urban infill -- ie creates space within the existing urban fabric. The key word is 'within the existing urban fabric'; rather than demolishing or redeveloping an entire block, the buildings are small-scale interventions carefully inserted into a few block radius.

This allows the existing community of businesses, residences, etc to maintain their internal dynamic while slowly integrating new residents. Rather than a downtown-eastside feeling of 'street, big fence around wealthy enclave with amenities, street' (woodwards redevelopment?), they are forcing their residents to interact with the community at large. They are carefully placing a new social/built network into an urban environment.

The network is facilitated by the following: within each building in the HELLO development there are community facilities available to HELLO residents: a pool, wi-fi lounge, exercise room, kid's area, etc. They are accessed by a key card available to all residents. This means a trip to an amenity could start in 'private' space (your home), enter 'public' space (the street), and end in 'community' space (HELLO's gym). This combination allows residents to feel safe (at home), interact with the community-at-large on the street, and finally exclusive (only they access their amenities).

I know there are numerous discussions about the merit of exclusivity and community; at the same time everyone loves the feeling of being in a secret club!

Are developments like this the future of new urbanism? How would this work in Vancouver? Could this be applied to other communities -- artist's studios, offices, etc -- could we create networks of communities that require the same resources, but do not need to share a physical, built connection?