Peak Nation State?

You can’t really avoid the Scottish Referendum this week whether or not you live there. But I think the response to the surge for ‘yes’ from London’s politicians has missed the point. This isn’t just because people care about independence for Scotland — it’s a chance for them to stick it to Westminster.

Mure Dickie has a good column in the FT Magazine today:

In my ideal world, nation states would actually fade in importance and emphasis shift to a wider range of political units that would allow genuinely global co-operation on issues such as climate change and truly local decision-making for individual communities.

Until politicians in Westminster (and other national governments) understand that people want them ultimately to have less power, we’ll see a lot more political turmoil and chaos.

Good things this week #5

  • Catching up with friends and making new ones at SOCAP — it’s great to know that the impact investment community is growing up strong in the US and around the world.
  • The conference organisers getting Off the Grid on free vend to feed us at the opening party.
  • The fantastic Interval created by friends at the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco.
  • Buying new kicks at the Darkside Initiative.
  • Reading Player One by Douglas Coupland in a couple of sittings — including in an airport bar which was odd because that’s where it’s set.

Gadgets I’ve had for a while — Fairphone

When we first met Bas, Miquel and the team at Fairphone on Skype for their BGV interview a little over two years ago, we couldn’t quite work out whether they were mad. They were working at the Waag Society and had become experts in the negative impacts of the mobile phone industry. From the conflict exacerbated by the minerals in the electronics through to the conditions of the workers who put them together and the designed in obsolescence and failures to consider proper recycling, it was obvious that your standard iPhone or other mobile was not good. The problem was that when they had tried to campaign and lobby the industry they hadn’t got very far. They told us they’d come to the conclusion that the only way to change the industry was to design, manufacture and sell their own phone.

Fifteen months after they left BGV, they delivered their first handsets. Mine was one of them and I’ve had it for eight months now. When it arrived it was a bit ropey to be honest. It would crash pretty often and you’d find yourself running out of space for apps and media because the file system was idiosyncratic to say the least. It could also get you very lost as the GPS was shocking.

But the latest couple of software updates seem to have fixed all that. GPS is much better (it works fine with Runkeeper and Google Maps which are the two main things I use with GPS) and the storage problem has been fixed with the ‘Unified storage upgrade’ which does away with the false distinction that Android had between ‘phone’ and ‘internal’ storage. Battery life is excellent and I love the fact it uses the same charger as most of my other devices. The screen and camera are also very good and dual SIM is a genuinely useful feature.

So beyond the initial niggles it’s a good phone but that’s not really the point. Fairphone is more than a phone. It’s a symbol of how a small team can show up a huge industry and prove that there’s demand for something they’d rather ignore. If you want to show that you care about where your electronics come from and how they’re made you can buy a Fairphone now. As I write this there are about 14,000 of the current batch left.
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BGV Winter 2015 applications are open

We opened up our Winter 2015 Call for Ideas yesterday at the Tech for Good Meetup in London. Once again we’re looking for 10 great teams with ideas to use technology to solve important problems in health, education or sustainability. We’ll invest £15,000 into your venture, give you free office space in (very) Central London and a programme of support .

We’ve come a long way from the first BGV in the Winter of 2010/11. Back then, we kicked off on a Saturday because that was when we could get a room and cooked vegetable lasagne for about 30 people. Both the catering and the support we offer is a lot more professional these days but the ethos is still the same. We’re still trying to build a community of talented people who want to use technology to change the world.

If you’ve got an idea and a team that you feel could do with our support, applications are now open. We’re very happy to talk to you before you apply to give feedback or tell you whether it’s the kind of thing we’re looking for. Contact details are on the application page. Good luck!

Good things this week #4

  • A beautiful walk in the Peak District around and up Chrome Hill. I was amazed how much lycra and road cycling kit was on display as well — really glad Britain has got the bike bug.
  • BBC’s Horizon on meat — convinced me that there’s nothing wrong healthwise with eating meat in moderation but that the environmental impact means we need to cut back a lot.
  • Having a series of meetings that made me realise quite how far we’ve come with BGV since we kicked it off over homemade lasagne in Bethnal Green in late 2010.
  • Flying to San Francisco and having a movie and TV binge on the way over.
  • A run around Golden Gate park and then Four Barrels coffee and fresh Californian peaches from a farmers’ market.