Opinion

I Am A Feminist

We all remember Emma Watson’s speech in the UN in September 2014 when she presented the #HeForShe campaign (http://www.heforshe.org). She was the voice for millions of women who daily experience obstacles, discomforts, pressures and also violence to live in a macho society. It was a voice to bring to reason many people who unconsciously continued to proliferate this way of social organization where there are certain rights that are traditionally reserved for men.

I live in Argentina, a country where the numbers of violence against women are significant. In 2016 there were 327 cases of death due to femicide in all of Argentina. This figure shows that a woman died every 30 hours in Argentina for a case of contempt for the female gender. They are only the figures of the cases denounced and that they have proof that demonstrates the bond with femicide. The number would be higher if we took into account that not all cases are reported and not all femicides are declared. By the middle of this February the figure for 2017 highlighted a total of 57 femicides, implying that there is more than one case per day.

These numbers call to action. Argentina took the initiative, the Argentine women took it to the street putting a voice and a face to social patterns with which they did not agree. Although our society evolved in many respects, such as the law of equal marriage, however in other respects it remained stagnant. In 2015 the “collective cry against gender violence” is born, as the #NiUnaMenos (Not a woman less – http://niunamenos.com.ar) page says. This was born from a group of journalists, activists and artists who saw the need and they took the cause as their own to generate a collective campaign. A campaign that became successful because of the high degree of adherence of women and men across the country and even reached neighboring countries.

 

What is sexist violence?

I hear constantly many men take offense at hearing the use of “macho” to describe this type of violence, on the grounds that they are men who never offended or denigrated a woman. But do not we live in a society that for years was built under the domination of men, and why not say it, white men, who banished women and everyone they considered different from the spheres of power and decision-making areas? Do not we live in a society where women earn a lower salary than men despite having the same training and the same hierarchical position? Do not we live in a society where women are judged by how they dress, how they act and how are their sex lives?

The woman problem has always been a man problem.” – Simone de Beauvoir.

Being a feminist is often misunderstood as to be against the male gender. But that comes from a high level of ignorance. According to the Oxford dictionary Feminism is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”, this means that women are equal to men, and do not want to subtract rights to men as many say. It is not a struggle of sexes, it is a question of gender ceasing to be seen as an impediment. As Emma Watson clearly explains:

For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes“.

But not only violence against women is seen in gender-based killings, it is seen in everyday actions. We live in a society that, although we fight continually and we rip our clothes to declare that we are open, that we do not discriminate and that we have tolerance, we are surrounded by prejudices. Violence does not necessarily occur in a physical form, there is symbolic violence, which is not minor, because it is the one that influences people and limits their way of acting in public spaces.

Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.”- Emmeline Pankhurst.

Symbolic violence is the one that constricts freedoms in an indirect way, which generates that the person restrains from certain actions because of fear or to avoid problems. That violence that occurs every day, is the one that causes the greatest damage. It is transmitted in the family, in education, in the media and in public spaces. It is our job to diminish it and make it disappear.

For now, it is more what was gained in law than in fact.

 

3 powerful techniques for problem solving

We, the Homo sapiens, solve problems every day. One of our greatest tools (but not the best) is intuition. Our most common method for solving problems is that of trial and error. Based on this context, we learn from our mistakes and when we get to the solution of a problem, we learn how we did it. In this way, we build a “bridge” in our brain, which helps us in the future when we want to solve a similar problem. The issue is that there are many techniques that we can apply to improve our ability to solve problems in everyday life, whether in study, work or any situation; Every day we face a problem, as simple as it may be. The key is to structure our analysis, which serves as a framework for later thinking the problem in greater depth and thinking alternatives. However, a word of caution: intuition is a double-edged sword. Thomas Gilovich couldn’t have said it better: “We believe certain things because they ought to be true.” Sometimes, just because we believe that something must be true because we believe it (sounds obvious), does not allow us to examine other alternatives to the solution of a problem.

Now, I present 3 tools that can serve to improve our ability to solve problems:

1) Divergence and convergence: With the first, we seek to explore and look for new things. It is a process to look for new options and ideas. Convergence is the opposite, we seek a response or conclusion. The idea would be to apply both concepts separately, and in different parts. The ideal would be to diverge and then to converge.

2) Restating the problem: In several different ways, is a divergent technique that opens our minds to alternatives. For example, changing the focus of the problem, rephrasing it in a broader context, or asking the question “how can we get employees to come to the picnic?”, to rephrase it to “how can we make employees not come to the picnic?”.

3) Applying the scientific method: Which was something I learned from my mentor Yimi, in order to solve problems. We present our problem as a hypothesis, and we want to see if applying a given solution, we arrive at the thesis is true.

I graduated… now what?

There are several types of crisis in this world and we all have experienced them at some point in our lives. Parents suffer when their kids grow and leave home, you can suffer a nervous crisis waiting for the grade of your last exam, we also have experienced as a society political, socioeconomic, financial and of course, existential crisis. But nobody anticipates the crisis that you are going to live when you have already passed half of your twenty decade … reaching your 30’s.

We are determined to follow an established pattern of stages to accomplish as we grow. We have a guide since our childhood that tells us what is the next phase that we must overcome. But what happens when you finish the cycle by which we are all immersed?

Knowing our path, that’s the importance

After a lot of effort, coffee cups and sleepless nights, you finish the major that you were forced to choose at your early 18s. You get a job, you become independent and you live your life day by day. It sounds like you’ve reached the top, but the truth is that you’re just starting to get to know yourself. There is no more pattern to follow. There’s only you. You and the decisions you make.

In my personal case, when I was 26 I suffered a strong stakeout in my life. I graduated and at 23, I came to live to Buenos Aires. Leaving your country makes you to live more intensely. Even though I was stable with a good job and a temporary department to live, I had my activities with friends and sometimes I got to travel, I felt deeply empty. That’s when the imminent question comes… where am I going? The end of the eternal adolescence hits you hard. According to Dr. Ricardo Rubinstein, Psychoanalyst of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association, “we live in times that are characterized by burning stages with urgency. There is a social pressure to achieve everything right away”. After spending several weeks locked up and having finished almost the 10 seasons of Friends in just one night, I decided to make a change. That change was going to depend on me and only me.

The million dollar questions

Before any decision, you need to organize yourself: What am I passionate about? What is my talent? What am I investing both my money and my time? What makes me happy? These are some of the questions I asked myself to start this new path. It sounds very cliché, but if we do not start to question ourselves is difficult to reach a goal.

In my case I felt a strong need of learning new things and I realized that it was not as simple as it was in the past. I started ukulele classes that, even though I’m really bad at it, distracted me from my duties and I could expose my brain to activities that required different attention. At the end of each class I felt exhausted and is to be expected since playing music is for the brain the equivalent of a complete physical training.

In my innovation journey, I joined UX Design classes. I’m intrigued to learn how to program and I knew that to get to that, I had to start from the basics. I’m still in the process of reaching that goal, but setting small short-term goals makes it easy to not get lost on the road.

Since I’m always willing to help my community, I decided to get into the TED world. I  took the license to organize TEDxRecoleta and with a group of friends, we organize the first edition of this event. This kept me busy for seven months in an activity that was completely extraprogrammatic bringing something positive to my community . We were able to make an event for 100 people that was a success and the satisfaction you feel after having achieved it, is indescribable (watch the talks here!).

As I am passionate about traveling I decided to get to know at least 3 new places every year. They didn’t have to be far away from where I live, just destinations I had never visited before. In some journeys I was alone and in others accompanied, but I never left apart what makes me smile, traveling. At this stage I also quit my job and now I work in a completely different area from the one I was used to. I have constant challenges that test me in all my capacities and it has helped me to know myself in facets that I had never experienced before.

This month I went to the Vital Global Partnership Voice Mentoring Walk, which takes place simultaneously in more than 80 cities around the world. The initiative consists in couples conformed by young women with potential of leadership, in which both are involved in the reflection on the professional and personal challenges. This was an unique experience in which I had the chance to talk with my mentor about the problems and questions I currently have in every scope of my life. She was the one who insert in my mental hard drive a new question and that will be the 2017 question for me… for what I do the things that I do.

It is important to know that there are years that ask questions and years that answer them. You only regain control if you start living more focused on your interests and values. The small goals that we propose define ourselves and we need to have that turning point to decide what course will be taken in our future. Do not be afraid of losing the guide we once had before and let’s take every opportunity to reinvent ourselves every day.

The technological revolution: freedom or servitude?

We live today a period of acceleration of time and complexity of the space. The moment when a new type of society is born. This is reflected in the constant transformations, both from the macro point of view, at the state level and the global order as well as in the micro level: attitudes or way of doing things in everyday life.

The application of technological advancement holds many advantages but also many challenges. Within the first thing we can list advances that have been simplified, improved and even prolonged human life. On the other hand the risks of this fourth revolution are not only challenging but also dangerous.

The application of the technological revolution to the labor market represents a serious challenge to the quality of life of millions of workers. It is a global risk the concentration of wealth in hands of a global minority. Today we live in a structurally unequal world, where a group of hundred people concentrate the same percentage of wealth that half of humanity, 3.5 billion people.

Technological developments and their profits concentrated in few hands will only lead to the end of society as we know since such conditions can not sustained in the medium and long term. Technology has increased the gap substantively. It has left many out of the benefits from the technological revolution and  it has concentrated the fruits in a few hands.

The concentration of wealth and high levels of inequality are contrary to liberal democratic state. But this is not the only thing that affects the state as we know

The real challenge of this new revolution is considering the human being in the heart of it. Scientific progress and technology development is meaningless if it is not serving humanity.

It is therefore essential the role of governance, both local and international, to guide the changes in benefits of all and thus enable sustainable development in the medium and long term. It depends on this a successful and fair transformation of our world.

Finally doing an analysis of our current situation, we are not very encouraging in the short term as global structures and effectiveness of state for allocating resources does not work properly. Perhaps the complexity of today’s world and the resurgence of anti-establishment and extremist elements can be understood from a model that does not answer to the needs of the human being.

In the policies adopted at regional and global levels we will see if the challenges become or not a opportunity to live in not only a more efficient but also more fair world. The fruits of innovation belong to humanity.

MERCOSUR is dead

With more than 1 million square kilometers, with a GDP of more than 4 trillion dollars and with a population of approximately 275 million inhabitants, MERCOSUR is characterized by a history of impulses and stagnation. After being born as a process that was disruptive for the time, and especially, to mark the end of the confrontation thesis between the two biggest countries of South America, MERCOSUR has been losing its impulse.

During the month of March 2016, MERCOSUR had its 25th anniversary, an event that was little promoted, which happened almost unnoticed for civil society and to which governments did not give much importance. The media, although they did not refer to this anniversary as an event of transcendence, recalled it in their publications with titles that reflect a pessimistic perspective: “25 years of MERCOSUR and very little to celebrate” (La Nación, Argentina https://goo.gl/s2ju3R), “A sad regional birthday” (El Observador, Uruguay https://goo.gl/ENlIOL), “MERCOSUR will celebrate 25 years of creation and will be without pain or glory” (ABC , Paraguay https://goo.gl/VxSKNE) or even Globo (Brazil https://goo.gl/YrL3E7) detailed that: “… the anniversary comes amid the political crisis in Brazil and the wear and tear of the bloc”. However, there were two optimistic headlines: “MERCOSUR, 25 years of success” (La Razón https://goo.gl/3oomlE) in Bolivia, which is currently in the process of joining, and Telesur (https://goo.gl/fNrXXI): “MERCOSUR celebrates 25 years betting on economic integration” highlighting the progress in social and cultural issues.

However, the current situation shows that there is a crisis and an opportunity for the process of integration. There are two possible ways, self-criticism and call to action, or resignation. The international system up to 2016 demonstrated the importance of every State to belong to broad integration processes and to large trade blocs, since it increases the possibilities of commercial transactions, with enormous political and economic opportunities. But last year was a turning point in the history of integration. The Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency who withdrew the country from the brand new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) shows an uncertainty in the economic, geopolitical and also social area, especially after a time when diplomacy and international negotiations had created a conducive environment for the trade blocs, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself to the Pacific Alliance, in an attempt to focus the world economy on Asia-Pacific, which is interpreted as the engine of the international economy in the next years.

According to many analysts, nowadays MERCOSUR is the moment of the ‘Black Swan’. This theory develops the possibility that unexpected situations lead to a rebirth of the bloc after a long hibernation in an unpredictable and uncertain international political and economic context. Among other things, this new impulse is brought about the emergence in Latin America of a new integration process, the Pacific Alliance, which calls itself as an innovative process which follows the patterns of the new international system focus on the new center of geopolitics and world economy. In contrast to MERCOSUR that was born in 1991 inspired by neoliberal ideas, after the change of political climate there were only advances in the social, cultural and, in some cases, political areas.

MERCOSUR needs to adapt to the new regional and international situation. Since it was born in the 1990s in a neoliberal context, it developed in the 2000s in a political climate framed in the ‘turn to the left‘ and is now in a different regional climate with the so-called ‘turn to the right‘ (1), into an international environment where it seems that the status quo is going to have an unpredictably change. This is precisely one of the weaknesses of the MERCOSUR project; it depends almost exclusively on ideological complementarity, extreme inter-presidentialism and pro-tempore presidencies pendulums. However, it should not be forgotten that this harmony between governments and presidential diplomacy is the success factor of the bloc (2), a bloc that does not fit the models of classical integration, because there is neither a significant institution nor a supranational level. We could say that MERCOSUR follows its own model (3) which is precisely the cause of its progress but also of its obstacles. There is no single model for the integration and cooperation processes, because each one is adjusted to its member’s reality (4). MERCOSUR was born with the deficiency that it followed the priorities and objectives of the governments of turn, reason why before each political change, MERCOSUR is stalled.

If we see the present, it is possible understand that after the first phase of economic complementation the bloc did not have more advances in that field, but it did cross with strength the 2008 crisis that was originated in the developed countries, the congruence of the politics of the ‘Turn to the Left’ made it advance in the social and cultural level, and the leadership of Brazil, on the one hand at regional level, on the second hand as an emergent power (5), gave some dynamics to the process but that could not cross political climate changes.

Nowadays, MERCOSUR is immersed in a crisis, but it is not the only integration process that is on crisis, even the European Union (EU) which is considered the deepest process of integration and the example to follow, is in its greatest crisis (6), or the Trans-Pacific Agreement which few months after seeing the light, goes through its first moment of darkness. However, MERCOSUR is marked by a change of political conjuncture of the ‘turn to the right‘, the strongest partner, Brazil is in a social, political and economic crisis, Argentina is politically divided but in a stable situation, Uruguay is in a cautious mode, Paraguay is expectant of the Bolivian incorporation to be able to increase the commercial flows and thus to leave the mutual geostrategic prison, and the most problematic partner, Venezuela, that after Chávez’s death, the country entered a political-social crisis that divides the country and makes the member be suspended from the bloc, but having the pro tempore presidency, a big deprivation.

That is why MERCOSUR is dead, because the bloc is experiencing a credibility and survival crisis. It was unable to adapt to the new era, to the new international and regional reality, and neither was there political efforts to have an economic deepening. It is necessary that the projects transcend political administrations and be guided by the wishes of the people, which at first are forgotten. Furthermore is needed a common external agenda, because that was built for the majority partners (Brazil and Argentina) for the benefit of their own interests, which sometimes are not complementary and even hurt the smaller partners. A common agenda would give the bloc the tool to go on new international negotiations, deepen current alliances and having a voice in international forums. With Brazil immersed in its internal sphere, it would seem the moment for Argentina to be the leader of the process, but for that to happen it must prioritize the interest of the bloc to the national interest, and generate instances that allow a better complementation after the changes of the administrations.

Between the 20 and the 24 of March, the XXVII Round of the Committee of Bi-regional Negotiations between MERCOSUR and the European Union will be held in Argentina to promote stalled trade negotiations. But the bloc also has several open fronts, negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and the rapprochement with Korea, China and Japan. In a Multiplex World, all actors have the potential to increase their international insertion, if they maintain a clear strategy (8). It is time to see if MERCOSUR can achieve this strategy.

 

(1) Carné, Jonatán. “¿América Latina da un Giro a la Derecha?”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/04/06/america-latina-da-un-giro-a-la-derecha/

(2) Malamud, Andrés. “La diplomacia presidencial y los pilares institucionales del MERCOSUR: un examen empírico”, Revista electrónica “Relaciones Internacionales”, 2010.

(3) Bizzozero, Lincoln. “Los primeros 20 años del Mercosur: del Programa de Liberalización Comercial al Plan Estratégico de Acción Social”, Revista Densidades, 2011.

(4) Peña, Felix. “Los 25 años del Mercosur y opciones en el camino de su evolución futura”, Newsletter, 2016.

(5) Carné, Jonatán. “¿Qué pasó con las potencias emergentes? El Caso de los BRICS.”, SABF Blog, 2016, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2016/07/06/que-paso-con-las-potencias-emergentes-el-caso-de-los-brics/

(6) Domínguez, Emiliano. “La encrucijada europea: ampliación y Brexit”, SABF Blog, 2017, http://blog.sabf.org.ar/2017/01/30/la-encrucijada-europea-ampliacion-y-brexit/

(7) Acharya, Amitav. “From the Unipolar moment to a Multiplex World”, YaleGlobal Univertisty, 2014.

Let’s play together

I remember going to the toy store with my parents for my 8th or 7th birthday to pick out my present. Those were the times when there was nothing as boring as getting clothes and there was nothing that could beat that trip to the toy store and those long aisles filled with fun.

I can’t recall if I wanted to be a marine biologist or a crazy scientist (special emphasis in the word “crazy”, because it was the most important part of the degree!), but I was looking for a microscope on that trip. Looking back I can see why may be the toy store wasn’t the best place to buy one! I finally found one, but of course it was a toy.

Disappointment didn’t last too long, since I kept looking around and I found it. The perfect gift. It was a box almost as big as me, and with big letters spelled: CHEMISTRY. When I bought it I felt so grown up, I could picture myself turning my house into an amazing lab. Each time I played with it, it felt like I did. The hours I spent with that chemistry set are countless.

What I didn’t see back then was that the box was decorated with different lab equipment, nothing else. Finally, on the side, the box specified the recommended age for the players. Leaving the specific age aside, the thing that stood out was the fact that there was a girl and a boy on the sides of the number.

As I grew up and started leaving my toys behind, I started paying more attention to the ads. The little kitchen, the register machine, the laundry set…the toy every girl wants for this Christmas. The workshop, the cars, the tools’ box, the little man of the house can’t have too many of those.

Sometimes, you don’t realize the effect that one can have on children. If you let them believe since that early age that they should play with something because it’s a “girl” or a “boy” toy, that kid grows up believing life is filled with “girl” and “boy” stuff and believing that decisions have to be made considering that, including of course, deciding which degree to pursue.

Usually school doesn’t help. If a girl does well on maths, it’s “impressive” and if a boy does poorly on literature, it’s “natural”. That’s because boys do better in science and girls do better in softer subjects. I heard that one between mothers so many times.

The world of science is seen as a man’s world, and if that was the case because it just happens, so be it. However, degrees in science are pictured as hard, intense, with a lot of manual skills. Therefore, boys are more encouraged to pursue them, since it’s risky for a girl.

We need to increase awareness on the impact we have on children and start thinking before speaking. If not, we are still raising adults that think that the natural place for a woman is the kitchen, while there’s nothing more charming than a man that cooks. We keep nurturing a society where is “amazing” that a woman pursues a degree in science. More important, we set what kind of aspirations kids should have.

If I ever have kids, I would like for them to grow up in a world where they don’t feel as a minority if they are the only woman in a class full of men or vice versa. If I ever have a daughter and she decides to study engineering as her mother, I would like for the first question she’s asked not to be: “Hey, it’s full of boys! When are you getting a boyfriend?”

Changes begin at our homes and we collaborate as a society. While playing they learn. Let’s learn to let them play.

How the SABF helped me in studying and learning

The amazing thing about the SABF is its great community. Period. Everything is possible thanks to the hard work of many people. SABF also nucleates a large number of intellects, it’s a “magnet” that attracts those who have much to give and receive. It is a very nice experience. This entry also tried to adapt to the themes of previous posts (mentoring and the area of ​​learning and problem solving).

I was a member of the SABF 2016 organizing team. Something great is that one has a mentoring program, among other things, that is, a person dedicated exclusively to talk about everyday things in general. Something I noticed was not taking enough advantage of such program. I only met once with my mentor, and although I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot, not organizing myself during my course of faculty, made it impossible to continue the program. Having learned of the error, luckily, I had a second chance. In August of last year, during the conference, the three most important days of SABF, I met Esteban (Tibi), who was an organizer of SABF 2011. He was in the same department as I was, in Information Technology (IT). I told him that I was having trouble with programming, that I had trouble solving programming problems; Moving from the problem to the paper or to the computer was my biggest problem, not a question of syntax. Tibi told me that he wanted to do a mentoring program, in which he would code with another person and learn from it. And I wanted to participate. Along with Yemel (Yimi), one of the IT department’s inductees, who also wanted to organize this with Tibi, I started meeting once a week in Voltaire and learning more and more. This learning helped me remove the fear I had in solving problems related to programming and to deal with them more easily, as well as to pass the college programming course (where I got an average of 9.25 points out of 10). Voltaire is a coworking space where several people and start-ups work. But it is also a community, where I got help from many and had a good time!

One of Warren Buffett’s commandments is to surround yourself with those people you admire and who you want to be. I think Mentoring is one of the best things, since it is a feedback, in both directions. Also, the role of the university is important, as it seeks to facilitate the problem-solving environment (one of the most important fields for being an engineer) and once again, to strengthen ourselves intellectually and socially through these extraordinary communities (and also approaching them!) 😊

And you, what are you waiting for to join a student organization in your college or university? There are many universities that have in their checklist “to participate in an organization”.

Our Digital Golden Age

By 2030, it is predicted that 2 billion jobs will disappear, approximately 50% of the jobs on the planet. What does that mean for our lives in just 13 years? Will we be ravaged by unemployment and social inequality? Or will we have entered a golden age of development?

The classical period of Greece (4-5th century BCE) was a cultural explosion that saw extensive development in philosophy, science, architecture, art, theatre, literature and the creation of the political system known as democracy. It was a period of intense creative production that arguably shaped the development of the western world as we know it today.

The catalyst that drove the birth of this period was a transition from subsistence agriculture and every man for himself, to the development of coinage, collective abundance and the merchant class. Here we see diversification of social, economic and political models. Above all, we see the development of the concept of leisure time. Naturally, how can a man who needs to work a farm develop time to ponder the ways of the world? He needs someone to work the farm instead. Enter slavery. With the hard work of the day covered, the man has more time to manage his farm and consider other things. The concept of work and leisure arrives and we have the beginnings of a new system of hierarchy: those who have free time and those who do not.

In the absence of a second wave of slavery, what could disrupt our economic and social system in such a significant way, what could free up our labour force to such an extent? Look around and you can start to guess: the development of AI and chatbots, driverless cars, IoT, wearable technology. In our modern world, humans are not required to do the work, we automate. Enter the robots.

It is estimated that by 2030, we will lose 2 billion jobs across the globe. Most of these jobs will be in unskilled labour. More and more jobs will require less human input because a robot can do the work better. Will this be a tragedy for unskilled workers? Or will our new found abundance of leisure time re-organise our world to engage more with abstract and creative thought? Will we move from working because we have to earn money to engage with our current economic model, or will we move to people working because they want to, because they feel passionate about something, because they have a talent?

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement in the USA since 2000 i it notes consistent numbers when it comes to employees who are active, enthusiastic and committed to their work. That number is 32%, with a global average of just 13%. The rest of employees, the other 68-87%, are significantly less productive but still paid alongside their highly engaged and productive colleagues.

Unhappy employees are not only disruptive to workplace flow, they can also put pressure on our health care systems. Ground breaking research in 2012 from the Carnegie Mellon University, was able for the first time to provide evidence that continuous psychological stress significantly contributes to higher rates of illness as the body’s inflammatory response is reduced. What would it look like for our health care systems if we were able to reduce the number of people being treated for stressed related illness?

In preparation for a digitally driven world, Finland has commenced a trial of the universal income where 2,000 selected unemployed citizens are receiving a living wage. They will continue to be paid this wage even if they find employment. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elon Musk warned that governments will need to start looking seriously at universal income as more jobs become automated. However, he expressed concern that the greatest challenge would be for people to find meaning in a world where so much of our purpose is derived from our employment.

So, here we are, at a pivotal point of time. Thirteen years away from 2 billion fewer jobs. We are on the cusp of something new, a time that will require changes to our economic, social and political systems. Will we respond fast enough? Will we embrace leisure time and shift our economic and political systems to suit? Will we adjust what we have or are we on the verge of creating something new? If our technology is already developing at an exponential rate, what new innovations will we uncover when we have more time to create?

Perhaps we are on the verge of our next creative cultural explosion. Enter 2030, the dawn of our next golden age.

Disinformation Era

Imagine the following situation: it’s Tuesday, it’s late, and you’re just arriving home. The day has been dreadfully long, so you choose to browse your favourite social network to unwind for a while. Your feed is full of the same old: funny jokes about the latest mediatic politician, videoclips of some corny pop artist, memes about some Turkish chef, and an avalanche of baby pictures and first wedding anniversary memorabilia. You scroll, scroll, scroll, until you find a video of a cat. Now, that’s relaxing.

This behaviour is hardly surprising. The excess of information creates an overload of our receptors, causing us to shut down our senses. There is so much of it around, that it really is an effort to take it all in. We tend to absorb only the information that’s preprocessed, the easy bits. This could be tightly bound to the fact that laziness is an evolutionary trait in humans[1]. We’re built to save energy in a calorie-restricted environment. Of course, that’s not our current reality, but the evolutionary trait still remains.

Which leads us to the main causes of disinformation: the lack of diversification and the lack of verification of sources.

Let’s start with lack of diversification of sources. Believe it or not, there are people who rely exclusively on social media to keep informed on current events. Facebook, Twitter, even 9gag! One of the main issues with this approach is that the information found on such media is highly biased. The feed is composed by people we choose to follow, people we choose to befriend. With that in mind, the information and points of view we will be presented with are limited.

“Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you what you know”

Not only are we conditioned by our choice of people to follow, or people to be friends with, but also social media will keep feeding us only a subset of the available information. Social networks will determine what to show us in our main feed based on what we have searched, what we have liked, and whose profile we’ve opened in the past[2], thus creating a retro-feeding loop of related content. We’re therefore being presented only with information that an algorithm calculated that we’ll like. The posts we see, the ads, and clickbaits, all relate to our history and encase us in a pattern which in itself provides the algorithm with more detailed information about our perceived preferences.

In addition to that, some social networks give you the option of hiding a certain type of posts, either by author or, more dangerously, by content similarity. In this case, people choose to ignore information. Of course, you might want to block content from someone you dislike (just unfollow/unfriend them, trust me on this one), but an alternative reason for it might be that the information we’re wanting to block makes us uncomfortable. We experiment cognitive dissonance: mental stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously[3], or when being presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs. The ways of solving this discomfort is by either changing our beliefs, which is the most difficult and unlikely solution of all, ignoring the new information that causes our discomfort, or seeking sources that coincide with our beliefs and allow us to deem the new evidence erroneous. This last solution is what is called Confirmation Bias[4].

This ultimately leads us to the second main cause of disinformation: the lack of verification of sources. On one hand, our need to get rid of our cognitive dissonance through confirmation bias will predispose us to believe whatever sides with our beliefs, regardless of the source. We will gladly accept the words of whoever confirms our theories and ideas, even when we might be wrong (there are still people who believe the Earth is flat). It’s quite unlikely for someone to seek alternative sources of truth, trying to find points of view that contradict our truth. On the other hand, our lazy nature will lead us to believing any plausible information presented to us blindly, without going to the extent of cross-reference checking with reliable sources.

Of course, not all the information we find on the Internet is true. The best way of finding reliable information is by consulting reliable sources. A potential sources reliability ranking could be the following (from most to least reliable):

  1. Official documents, laws, and decrees (true by their enunciative nature)
  2. Scientific papers (highly reliable due to the supporting research and scientific evidence, slightly less reliable because each research opens the challenge of disproving it)
  3. Highly renowned newspapers (you would expect serious newspapers to verify their sources and have editors who make a sanitization of the publications)
  4. Less renowned newspapers (articles are less serious and sometimes more oriented at sensationalism)
  5. Social media (absolutely unreliable, where every John and Jane can write whatever they please)

In this schema, information can only be as reliable as the least reliable source that’s been quoted as a reference (i.e. if a major newspaper shares news from a less renowned newspaper, the information will only have reliability of level 4). With this in mind, anything found on social media has to be regarded as highly unreliable information. And yet, some people end up believing even the most ridiculous Alternative Facts[5].

While there doesn’t seem to be a way of fixing the disinformation globally, there is a way of solving it on a personal level: inform yourself, look for reliable sources that confirm what you have read or heard, look for alternative points of view, try to avoid the confirmation bias. If you’re too lazy to do it on your account, get a reliable fact checker (like Chequeado.com or Politifact). Do not stay with the apparent truth.

Keep informed.

 

[3]: Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. California: Stanford University Press.

Success and the power of mentorship

 

“And you ask any successful person how they got to where they are today, chances are they’ll tell you about a mentor they had somewhere along the way.”– Barack Obama[1]

People are complex but, in a great way, we are defined by our environment and ambitions.  Having clear objectives, is the first step towards success, because after that moment you can work towards them.

Today, looking backwards, having gone through university and some first professional experiences I’m convinced that a mentor can bring down obstacles.  The first time I came across a mentor formally was during my participation in the SABF team and I will always be grateful for her dedication.

A mentor gives you the means to improve personal and professional skills. It raises awareness of your strengths and weaknesses to better align yourself towards your goals. It inspires you and brings more confidence when facing challenges.  It´s important to be open minded to receive advice and be willing to work on it.

To find a mentor the most important thing is to learn to approach people for advice.  And to take the most out of the relationship, you have to be honest about your own personal and professional objectives.

Without doubt, if you seek for a mentor you will win opportunities to meet interesting people and enrich your experiences.  Always be open to give advise, people are amazing!