icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

Water in the net

Climate change and the clock metaphor

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2021). Water in the net. Climate change and the clock metaphor. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 10.7 (July). http://www.icm2re.com/2021-7.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2021). Water in the net. Climate change and the clock metaphor. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 10.7 (July). http://www.icm2re.com/2021-7.html

London, 17 November 2021 - During the summer of 1998 I spent one month in California, visiting the Country's extraordinary towns and natural parks. I wanted to learn as much as I could about what would be the next kid on the block in the Silicon Valley. e-Books, e-learning services, portable devices, search engines were on my radar at that time. And Google would be officially launched few weeks later, in September that year. There was some sense of trepidation all around.

However, I do not remember too much of the visits I made to companies and universities' libraries and the talks I had about the internet. Conversely I remember quite vividly that 1998 had been declared International Year of the Ocean and I was fascinated by the exhibitions I came across, the leaflets of the local museums and all the online resources dedicated to the theme of water. Water life, water resources, water management, water art, the aquarium, the whales and the dolphins, the high trees: it seemed that yes, I had come to learn more about the digital future but everything in California was actually talking to me about how important was to care about water.

The influence was so deep that once I returned to my office in Milan I started experimenting with something called "java art", sort of scripts that could make easier to embed within a web page visual components in ways that other more obvious technologies of the time would not allow. The aim was to test if there was any marketing or sponsorship appetite for a new format I designed and called "web exhibition" (Mostra web), the prototype of which was entitled "L'acqua in rete" (Water in the net) (1). Not much followed up but for my strengthened interest for using the internet for educational purposes.

Think about water

Seventy per cent of the Earth is made of Oceans. Human plasma is ninety percent made of water. Water also makes about the 60% of organs and tissues in the human body.

It is self evident that water is the most important of all the resources on Earth. I believe that making private profits from the management of water and waste water is unacceptable, although it is understandable that there is a positive element of accountability in it.

On this topic, Wikipedia has a very good page about water privatisation that offers an international, quite comprehensive desk research report inclusive of "a list of countries with formal private sector participation in urban water supply with number and type of contracts".

"Thirty years on, what has water privatisation achieved?" ask the authors of an article published by CIWEM, a charity that defines themselves as "leading royal chartered professional body dedicated to sustainable management of the environment, globally", with members coming from 89 countries. The question was answered by representatives from all the major political parties, with some saying that customer satisfaction from privatisation could not be higher since the bills have remained pretty much stable for ages and other saying that "over the past decade, water and sewerage companies have paid more than £1.8 billion a year in dividends".

Independent observers and researchers note that the public opinion is stubbornly against water privatisation although many do not think about water at all and do not even realise neither debate the issue.

Climate change avoidance

I have thought we could hear more about water, thanks to Cop26. Not really. Everybody was talking about the Doomsday Clock and similar ticking narratives - Doomsday Clock is "a symbol that represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the clock is a metaphor for threats to humanity from unchecked scientific and technical advances" says, again, Wikipedia.

The greatest test for change management experts is today represented by climate change, and for multiple obvious reasons. If corporate governance, productions, IT, marketing are able to make the same transformative journey towards zero emissions is most of the time because change has been taken very seriously within the organisation, with a long term view and planning resources.

Unfortunately, ten years ago, we had the "climate gate" - something very damaging for the public opinion, a nasty disinformation storm that has slowed down and compromised enormously the attention to environmental policies even from qualified observers, researchers, science journalists, politicians, educators.

I wonder what would it take to promote an acceleration of new policies across the sectors, and not just in respect of the emissions target - alright, that is the target. But it's how we get and we stay there that counts.

I am thinking of funding research into innovations that, for instance, could help recycle or destroy once and for all the plastic waste we seem drowning under, or incentives to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, or inventions to keep fish and other organisms safe from pollutants and preserve the food chain of other animals too. Also global rules to protect intellectual property with an updated system of patents registration would help the climate change cause, together with legislation to enforce in some ways better housing and diets for people, and less waste. And what about fiscal discounts for people caring for allotments and for themselves in older age? or new family planning policies to be endorsed worldwide by scientists and religious authorities altogether?

You can fill dozens of pages with lists of socio technical innovations that in any sector could bring their beneficial contributions for a cleaner and better world. But it does not seem these scientific and technical advancements generate headlines like the ticking narratives do.

However, if we want to make lasting behavioural changes and have new industrial policies we need to make sense of the devastating avalanche of data we have about the scale of the problem beyond any emotional sense of urgency.

The clock metaphor

Perhaps we need to reinvent the clock metaphor.

Time is the essence of our existence and wellbeing. Investigating the relationship with the clock can be an extraordinarily instructive self reflective exercise.

It is not a coincidence that the invention of the modern concept of standard time measurements and the industrial revolution happened at the same time. The idea of a universal time standard has changed our perception of time, making everybody on the planet feeling alive at the same time.

The representation of such worldwide synchronicity within the public discourse about climate change is awful, it pushes people towards information avoidance, it shows a fabricated sense of urgency and, at the end of the day, that rush for apocalyptic breaking news is not the real thing. Supper is.

There is also another clock, symbol of long time thinking, that few take the opportunity to talk about, and it is the 10,000 Year Clock under construction in Texas, USA, by The Long Now Foundation, funded by Amazon and other private investors. It is a slow project, with a slow title, started in 1996 - or, as they say, in 01996, because the clock clicks once a year - that will keep time for 10,000 years through a mechanical giant clock, the installation of which has started in 2018. The 10,000 year clock calls for a celebration of the great thinking that human beings are able of - although not always with a clear understanding of the consequences (the invention of plastic seemed such an endeavour in the 1960s!).

It is difficult to make sense of the amass of datasets that clog the mind of brilliant decision makers and impair the effectiveness of costly algorithms. Infographics and computation go fast. Sense making, very slow. Could or should the design of the first embed the last or the last put in control of the first?

Could not or should not we do better if we started talking of concrete, practical things that matter every day for everybody? Why do not we start from water? how clean and safe is the water we drink and we use to wash, to cook, to farm? how well managed are the pipes and the sewages? and do water companies need to make profits for private shareholders?


(1) My "Mostra Web L'acqua in rete" did not survive my several moves in Italy and in the UK and the losses of belongings and assets I experienced, including part of my technical equipment, computers, paperwork. It may be re-discovered at some point from old back-ups. For the time being, the only available trace about it exists thanks to the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive.