Tag Archives: environment

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Media (Part 1) – guest post by Alexander Sheko

I asked my son, Alexander Sheko, (also known as Sasha) to write a post about how he uses social media for his academic and personal pursuits. He is currently in his second year of Master of Urban Planning at The University of Melbourne, and at the stage where his interest in mindful and pro-active involvement in urban and environmental issues have blended his studies, personal life and work. I have recommended the use of social media to him since his later years in secondary school, so it’s interesting for me to note that his use of Twitter and Facebook have taken off at a time when they could serve a real purpose in connecting him with experts/like-minded people and enabling him to organise and promote forums and events. As a teacher librarian with an interest in social media in education, this observation has confirmed for me that students will appreciate and use social media platforms when there is a real world significance – and this is often problematic in schools where the agenda is more about practising for life rather than experiencing life. If nothing else, I hope this post will help educators reflect on possibilities for real life connections made possible for our students using social media. 

Photo by Alexander Sheko

Social media – especially popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – are often characterised as frivolous time-wasters, manifestations of first-world banality and ennui. They are platforms on which to post cat pictures and selfies, the means of production by which we broadcast the minutiae of our lives to nobody in particular, craving likes, follows and other reassurances.

Certainly, they are often seen as counter to productivity, tools of procrastination. We might switch to another tab when a manager or (not so long ago, for me) a parent enters the room. Of course, there is more than a grain of truth in this perception. When attempting to focus on a set task or meet a deadline, it can be unhelpful to have the ping of a Facebook notification providing an excuse for distraction. And unless one is an academic in the field of communication analysing memes as “nuggets of cultural currency”, it is probably less than productive to spend hours looking at Doge, Dolan, Insanity Wolf and the such.

However, as with all tools, the utility of social media is determined by the user and the manner in which they are used. Contrary to the prejudices discussed above, tools such as Facebook and Twitter can be invaluable in finding information (and new sources thereof), sharing and discussing opinions, and making useful connections with others. Over the past year, having begun studying a postgraduate degree and exploring career opportunities, I have been able to use these tools to considerable benefit.

Finding information is perhaps the most basic way that these tools can be used. I often recommend Twitter to those reluctant to use it as a quick way to receive updates and notifications on topics of interest. For example, following a variety of news sources is a good way to get a large number of headlines and snippets of information that can be followed up (perhaps using a service such as Pocket to save articles for future reading), while following cafes and restaurants in the local area can provide updates on changes to menus or opening hours, special events, etc.

Of course, this one-way communication does not fully utilise the interactive nature of social media; however, it often does make use of social media’s networking effects. By following a particular journalist, politician, musician or writer, you are likely to see who they interact with and what information sources they use. You may also get useful recommendations from the social media platform along the lines of “people who liked X may also like Y”. This is a great way to expand your pool of information sources, providing a greater variety of perspectives.

For example, rather than only reading about sustainable transport (an interest and potential career path of mine) through local mainstream media sources such as The Age, Twitter has helped me find sources providing information and opinion from around the world, covering a more diverse range of topics and a broader set of perspectives. (For those interested, I often read The Atlantic Cities, Sustainable Cities Collective, Next City and Co.Exist, as well as blogs such as those of Mikael Colville-Andersen and Brent Toderian). Of course, whatever your interest or profession, finding and following a few key sources and active individuals will start a cascading network effect that will expose you to an increasing array of information and opinion sources.

I’ve talked mostly about Twitter so far, as I’ve found it the most useful platform for finding information in the ways I’ve discussed. Facebook can also be used for this purpose by following pages of organisations of interest (for example, I “like” the Public Transport Users Association page, which often posts articles and other updates on public transport issues in Melbourne). However, I find it is not as useful due to its more dominant use in socialising with people known in “real life” (friends and family). One aspect of Facebook that I do find quite useful, however, is group pages on particular topics that allow for sharing content and discussion.

For example, I often visit Urban Happiness, a group that was started by a professor from the faculty in which I am studying at the University of Melbourne. This is quite a successful group, with 650 members at time of writing, and frequent activity and interaction on urban-related topics, such as architecture, transport, placemaking, design, environment and policy. The group’s members include students (past and present), teaching staff and other interested people. Members are from a range of backgrounds (planning, architecture, landscape architecture, engineering) and include those employed or active in a variety of professions, sectors and locations. This diversity is incredibly useful in exposure to a broad range of information (when people post information that is relevant to their background or expertise), a variety of perspectives (when various people comment and provide their take on material posted by others) and a diverse pool of knowledge that can be accessed (for example, when posting a question to the group page).

I’ve published this despite the fact that it is only a portion of what Sasha had intended to write. When his life is less hectic, I hope to convince him to complete his post, or perhaps take part in an interview-style post. 

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Power of photography: Prix Pictet

I stumbled across this website and have been moved and absorbed by these images, as well as the artists’ thinking behind their works. The information in this post has been selectively copied from the Prix Pictet website.

Sponsored by the Geneva private bank Pictet & Cie, the Prix Pictet is the world’s first prize dedicated to photography and sustainability

Prix Pictet’s vision

Food riots. Loss of forest cover. Desertification. The ecosystems we depend on appear to face resource demands already beyond their capacity. As governments try urgently to stimulate growth, a central question remains. Can the earth’s complex living systems sustain the future consumption patterns of another three billion people in the world’s population by 2050?

Or are we making the transition, as the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen has suggested, to a point where the face of the earth – its soil, its waters, its groves, its hollows – is no longer natural, but bears the terminal scars of man’s intervention.

I was looking through the shortlisted artists, I thought I’d share some of my favourite ones.

Yao Lu : Dwelling in the Mount Fuchun

YaoLu

Photography can be understood in traditional ways: It can ‘record’ many histories long before our own time, and it can take people back to times and situations many years ago. But photography is also very contemporary. It can re-assemble and re-edit the things that we actually see in order to produce illusions that people see when they are in front of such photographic works. In these works, you see images that are both real and fictional.

Darren Almond: Shan Shui fullmoon

DarrenAlmond

 Since 1998, Almond has been making a series of landscape photographs called the Fullmoons. Taken during a full moon with an exposure time of 15 minutes or more, these images of remote geographical locations appear ghostly, bathed in an unexpectedly brilliant light where night seems to have turned into day.

Nadav Kander : Frozen River, Qinghai

frozenYangtze

China is a nation that appears to be severing its roots by destroying its past in the wake of the sheer force of its moving “forward” at such an astounding and unnatural pace. A people scarring their country and a country scarring its people.

Edgar Martins: Untitled from the series ‘The diminishing present’.

EdgarMartins

For all their historical evocation and appeal to the sublime, these images reflect on both the physical death of the landscape and the death of the landscape as a pictorial ‘theme’.

Chris Steele-Perkins: Early morning shadow of Mt Fuji from summit

MtFuji

Nowadays, Mount Fuji is a national park but it is covered in, or surrounded by, theme parks, golf courses, resorts, cities and scrap yards as well as being used as a military testing ground by both the Japanese and American armed forces. At the same time there are still magical areas of great tranquillity, but they are increasingly being eroded.

The Prix Pictet is born of a flicker of hope — that photographs … have the power, as Gro Harlem Brundtland put it in her remarks at the launch of the inaugural Prix Pictet in 2008 , “to move us and shake us”. To take the sustainability statistic, validated, econometrically correct, but devoid of emotional force, and make it something that moves us to action.

Sponsored by the Geneva private bank Pictet & Cie, the Prix Pictet is the world’s first prize dedicated to photography and sustainability. It has a unique mandate – to use the power of photography to communicate crucial messages to a global audience; and it has a unique goal – art of the highest order, applied to the immense social and environmental threats of the new millennium.

So much talent…

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Go underwater with Google Earth 5.0

Google Earth 5.0 has 2 new features. The first allows you to go back in time. You can go back in time to compare historical imagery of buildings, and you can compare historical photos of environmental features. observing changes to the landscape of our planet. The former will be of interest to history teachers, and the latter  to science teachers who will be able to use Google Earth to show students how climate change is affecting the Earth’s surface. What better way of learning than seeing for yourself.

This new application opens up exciting possibilities. When you click on the clock icon in the Google Earth 5.0 toolbar, the historical imagery time slider will appear and allow you to change your view to older imagery.

The Google Earth site includes a video which gives one of the examples of historic imagery, showing the  transformation of sports arenas in Philadelphia.


The Google Earth blog explains its exploration underwater:

But starting today we have a much more detailed bathymetric map (the ocean floor), so you can actually drop below the surface and explore the nooks and crannies of the seafloor in 3D. While you’re there you can explore thousands of data points including videos and images of ocean life, details on the best surf spots, logs of real ocean expeditions, and much more.

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