Sunday, April 13, 2014

Steven Johnson at UNI

Last week I went to a hear Steven Johnson speak on my very own campus. Steven is a popular science author and media theorist. He has done awesome Ted Talks and has published a handful of books, like Everything Bad is Good for You and Where Good Ideas Come From. He spoke to a surprisingly large crowd on a weeknight last week about technology and media in our society today. He was a great speaker and I really enjoyed listening to him. Although I was encouraged to go by my professor for my Technology & Human Communication course, I'm glad I attended--UNI payed almost $20,000 for him to come speak! He's pretty much a big deal.
He started out his speech by talking about markets and networks. He had a chart on his PowerPoint that intrigued me--it looked something like this:


Market Individual

Old billionaires who have lots of money

Market Network

Companies working off of each other to make money—example, iPod + battery, Apple buys the batteries

Non-Market Individual

Amateurs working on their own or small groups because they love it—example, Ben Franklin

Non-Market Network

No traditional ownership over an idea, passing ideas freely, the most active
“The Fourth Quarter”


He focused his speech on "The Fourth Quarter" section of this chart and gave so many great examples of things that we use every day that meet these standards. It was great to hear him speak highly of Wikipedia, because I love Wikipedia and all that it stands for. He refers to Wikipedia as a "peer network" that isn't owned by anyone but is maintained by a large amount of people. Wikipedia consistently outdoes Encyclopedia Britannica and it excelled at an amazing speed after its creation. The Internet, email, and GPS are all great examples of the "Fourth Quarter"and we use them every day!

He told a story about how the city of Portland, Oregon, there is a psychedelic intersection that has undergone "intersection repair". The intersection is painted in a beautiful array of colors and there's a 24-hour tea station available. The repair was all voluntary, which gave the people of the neighborhood the power to re-invent themselves and their neighborhood in their own personal way. A blog I read called The Show So Far describes the area perfectly, and even provided some photos. These people fit in "The Fourth Quarter" as well--the intersection arose by a group of people who don't have ownership over the area but rather work together to improve it.


He told another story, my favorite one, was about how in New York City in 2009, there would be days where the entire city would smell just like maple syrup. When it smelled like pure breakfast food, people would freak out! Around this time, the 311 resource was becoming popular. 311 serves as a non-emergency number that citizens can call in and report any type of activity that would serve for the greater good, like potholes, homeless people on the streets, or even information about an specific event going on. Eventually, so many people were calling in to report the maple syrup smell to 311 that they began tracking the frequency and the dates of each time it happened. Finally they were able to determine that these "Maple Syrup Events" were caused by the wind pattern carrying the smell all the way from a factory in New Jersey that manufactured fenugreek seeds, which produce flavors and fragrances in food. You can read the hilarious but informative article here.


The point of all of Steven Johnson's stories are all connected by one idea--the power of the masses working together for one cause can be tremendously great. Wikipedia, the Internet, 311, Kickstarter, and the intersection in Portland are all super examples of the power of "The Fourth Quarter". So I'll leave you with a question, what's next for us? What will be the next big Non-Market Network idea?

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