YPP Network Description

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

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  • “You Never Expect It To Happen to You”: How Dayton Teens Are Coping

    by Emiliano


    The country turned its attention to Dayton, Ohio, when a gunman killed nine people at a bar in the city’s Oregon district. But for the residents of the city, this summer has felt like a never-ending onslaught. In recent months, the city has been hit with a tornado, a Ku Klux Klan rally, and now a mass shooting. 



    How are young people in Dayton coping with a shooting in their own hometown? Dayton Youth Radio’s Jack Long, a YR Media contributor, sat down with two teens who go to school and live near the Oregon district, Eleanor Dakota, 16, and Malcolm Blunt, 14. 



    This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.



    Initial reactions to the shooting



    Eleanor Dakota: I immediately looked up all the people that were hurt and made sure I didn’t know anyone. And after that, I felt a sense of relief — like everything’s going to be OK — but those [killed] are still people. And it feels a little inhuman that I would think that way. I feel guilty about not feeling as bad as some people feel right now.



    Malcolm Blunt: I was at camp when I heard. My mother told me about how my cousin was there. He didn’t get hurt, but the person right next to him had gotten shot. And he had to help a girl who was next to him. [He] pulled a dead body off of her. My sister was on her way [to the bar] when it happened. And I’m kind of glad she ended up being late because there was a chance that she could’ve gotten hurt too. 



    ED: I was at a motel [when I heard about it]. Where it happened was within earshot of my home, so I’m glad I wasn’t home for that. I didn’t really believe it at first, but I walked downtown the day after it happened. I didn’t want to go like in front of the bar, because there were bullet holes in the glass, and that made me really upset.



    Daily life in the Oregon district 



    ED: It’s like a historic place. There’s a lot of funky shops — like a really weird thrift store and a hat shop. There’s no big buildings. They’re all old buildings with cool architecture. Everyone kind of knows everyone, not like by name. You’d kind of see the same faces and you smile.



    Jack Long: How does it change from night to day?



    ED: In the daytime all the shops are open, but during the night, all the people are [at] bars. You just have to be careful about who you talk to.



    JL: Did you ever think that you would be texting [your friends in Dayton], “How are you doing? Are you safe?”



    MB: [No.] Because before really this year, [Dayton] seemed like a nice place where nothing really happened.



    ED: Like you never expect it to happen to you in real life. You see it on the news and stuff. But it really does. 



    Conversations with parents



    JL: Have you ever talked to your parents about shootings or mass violence?



    ED: Definitely after the shooting, my mom has been a little more cautious about having me go out and stuff.



    MB: I feel like I’ve been talked at by my parents a little bit more recently, because they’re worried and trying to make sure what happened to my cousin doesn’t happen to me.



    JL: So when [you] say they’re “talking at you,” what do you mean by that?



    MB: Since it’s so new and so fresh, they’re so worried about something happening to me that they just kind of forget that I have a social life outside of them.



    JL: Do you feel like you’re, like 10 again, being told where to go?



    ED and ML: Yeah.



    Encounters with guns on social media and in real life



    ED: On Instagram, people [are] like, “Yay, I have a gun! I’m going to point it at the camera and take a picture. That’s very funny, very cool.” [And I’m] like, “Ok, where’d you get that? Your parents? Where do they put it?”



    JL: Have either of you shot a gun before?



    ED: I have. I went once with my friend’s parents.



    JL: How did that make you feel?



    ED: I mean, I was good at it, but I don’t know. It’s silly to me why her dad would even need a gun. Like it’s nice to have, but it’s such a dangerous thing. My cousin got a gun when he was eight — it was like a BB gun. Things like that normalize the idea of owning a gun and needing to use that gun.



    Feeling desensitized to gun violence



    JL: Do you know anyone personally who has had experience with gun violence before this?



    ED: I think someone once brought a gun into our school.



    MB: Growing up in Dayton, it’s kind of out there that gun violence happens a lot. And so I have become desensitized to hearing, “Oh, this person got shot.”



    ED: It just doesn’t feel like [gun violence] should be a thing [that] people even have to deal with — the feeling of “Oh, it’s happening again.” It’s happened so much. And it’s just here [in America]. It’s really stupid.



    JL: When people say that they’ve become desensitized to shootings, what are your feelings towards them? It sounds like you would count yourself as one of them.



    ED: I’ve never been a fan of guns, but seeing it happen to your own people really shakes you.
    The post “You Never Expect It To Happen to You”: How Dayton Teens Are Coping appeared first on YR Media.

  • Training the next generation of ethical techies

    by Ethan


    My friend Christian Sandvig, who directs the Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing at the University of Michigan, started an interesting thread on Twitter yesterday. It began:
    “I’m super suspicious of the “rush to postdocs” in academic #AI ethics/fairness. Where the heck are all of these people with real technical chops who are also deeply knowledgeable about ethics/fairness going to come from… since we don’t train people that way in the first place.”
    Christian goes on to point out that it’s exceedingly rare for someone with PhD-level experience in machine learning to have a strong background in critical theory, intersectionality, gender studies and ethics. We’re likely to see a string of CS PhDs lost in humanities departments and well-meaning humanities scholars writing about tech issues they don’t fully understand.
    I’m lucky to have students doing cutting-edge work on machine learning and ethics in my lab. But I’m also aware of just how unique individuals like Joy Buolamwini and Chelsea Barabas are. And realizing I mostly agree with Christian, I also think it’s worth asking how we start training people who can think rigorously and creatively about technology and ethics.
    It’s certainly a good time to have this conversation. There’s debates about whether AI could ever make fair decisions given the need to extrapolate from data in an unfair world, whether we can avoid encoding racial and gender biases into automated systems, and whether AI systems will damage the concept of meaningful work. In my area of focus, there are complex and worthwhile conversations taking place about whether social media is leading towards extremism and violence, whether online interaction increases polarization and damages democracy, or whether surveillance capitalism can ever be ethically acceptable. And I see my colleagues in the wet sciences dealing with questions that make my head hurt. Should you be able to engineer estrogen in your kitchen so you can transition from male to female? Should we engineer mice to kill off deer ticks in the hopes of ending Lyme disease?
    That last question has been a major one for friend and colleague Kevin Esvelt, who has been wrestling with tough ethical questions like who gets to decide if your community (Nantucket Island, for instance) should be a testbed for this technology? What is informed consent when it comes to releasing mice engineered with CRISPR gene drive into a complex ecosystem? Admirably, Dr. Esvelt has been working hard to level up in ethics and community design practices, but his progress just points to the need for scholars who straddle these different topics.
    I think we need to start well before the postdoc to start training people who are comfortable in the worlds of science, policy and ethics. Specifically, I think we should start at the undergraduate level. By the time we admit you into somewhere like the Media Lab, we need you to already be thinking critically and carefully about the technology we’re asking you to invent and build.
    I was lucky enough attend Williams College, which focused on the liberal arts and didn’t seem to care much what you studied so long as you got into some good arguments. I was in a dorm that had a residential seminar, which meant that everyone in my hall took the same class in ethics. Arguments about moral relativism continued over dinner and late into the night, in one case ending with a student threatening another with a machete in her desire to make her point. It wasn’t the most restful frosh year, but it cemented some critical ideas that have served me well over the years:
    – Smart people may disagree with you about key issues, and you may be both making reasonable, logical arguments but starting from different sets of core values
    – If you feel strongly about something, it behooves you to understand and strengthen your own arguments
    – You probably don’t really understand something unless you can teach it to someone else
    My guess is that courses that force us to have these sorts of arguments are critical to unpacking the intricacies of emerging technologies and their implications. To be clear, there’s the field of science and technology studies, which makes these questions central to its debates. But I think it’s possible to sharpen these cognitive skills in any field where the work of scholarship is in debating rival interpretations of the same facts. Was American independence from England the product of democratic aspirations, or economic ones? Is Lear mad, or is he the only truly sane one?
    The fact that there’s dozens of legitimate answers to these questions can make them frustrating in fields where the goal is to calculate a single (very difficult) answer… but the problems we’re starting to face around regulating tech are complex, squishy questions. Should governments regulate dangerous speech online? Or platforms? Should communities work to develop and enforce their own speech standards? My guess is that answer looks more like an analysis of Lear’s madness than like the decomposition of a matrix.
    But liberal arts isn’t all you’d want to teach if the goal is to prepare people who could work in the intersection of tech, ethics and policy. Much of my work is with policymakers who desperately want to solve problems, but often don’t know enough about the technology they’re trying to fix to actually make things better. I also work closely with social change leaders like Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She came to our lab to learn about algorithmic bias, noting that if the NAACP LDF had been able to fight redlining two generations ago, we might not face the massive wealth gap that divides Black and White Americans. Sherrilyn believes the next generation of redlining will be algorithmic, and that social justice organizations need to understand algorithmic bias to combat it. We need people who understand new technologies well enough to analyze them and explain their implications to those who would govern them.
    My guess is that this sort of work doesn’t require a PhD. What it requires is understanding a field well enough that you can discern what’s likely, what’s possible and what’s impossible. One of my dearest friends is a physicist who now evaluates clean energy and carbon capture technologies, but has also written on topics from nuclear disarmament to autonomous vehicles. His PhD work is on Bose-Einstein condensate, a strange state of matter that involves superimposing atoms at very low temperatures by trapping them in place with lasers. His PhD and postdoc work have basically nothing to do with the topics he works on, but the basis he has in understanding complex systems and the implications of physical laws means he can quickly tell you that it’s possible to pull CO2 from the environment and turn it into diesel fuel, but that it’s probably going to be very expensive to do so.
    I’m imagining a generation of students who have a solid technical background, the equivalent of a concentration if not a major in a field like computer science, as well as a sequence of courses that help people speak, write, argue and teach technological issues. We’d offer classes – which might or might not be about tech topics – that help teach students to write for popular audiences as well as academic ones, that help students learn how you write an oped and make a convincing presentation. We’d coach students on teaching technical topics in their field to people outside of their fields, perhaps the core skillset necessary in being a scientific or technical advisor.
    There’s jobs for people with this hybrid skill set right now. The Ford Foundation has been hard at work creating the field of “Public Interest Technology”, a profession in which people use technical skills to change the world for the better. This might mean working in a nonprofit like NAACP LDF to help leaders like Sherrilyn understand what battles are most important to fight in algorithmic justice, or in a newsroom, helping journalists maintain secure channels with their sources. I predict that graduates with this hybrid background will be at a premium as companies like Facebook and YouTube look to figure out whether their products can be profitable without being corrosive to society… and the students who come out with critical faculties and the ability to communicate their concerns well will be positioned to advocate for real solutions to these problems. (And if they aren’t able to influence the directions the companies take, they’ll make great leaders of Tech Won’t Build It protests.)
    (I was visiting Williams today and discovered a feature on their website about four alums who’ve taken on careers that are right at the center of Public Interest tech.)
    Building a program in tech, ethics and policy helps address a real problem liberal arts colleges are experiencing right now. The number of computer science majors has doubled at American universities and colleges between 2013 and 2017, while the number of tenure-track professors increased only by 17%, leading the New York Times to report that the hardest part of a computer science major may be getting a seat in a class. Really terrific schools like Williams can’t hire CS faculty fast enough, and graduates of programs like the one I teach in at MIT are often choosing between dozens of excellent job offers.
    Not all those people signing up for CS courses are going to end up writing software for a living – my exposure to CS at Williams helped me discover that I cared deeply about tech and its implications, but that I was a shitty programmer. Building a strong program focused on technology, ethics and policy would offer another path for students like me who were fascinated with the implications of technology, but less interested in becoming a working programmer. It also would take some of the stress off CS professors as students took on a more balanced courseload, building skills in writing, communications, argument and presentation as well as technical skills.
    Christian Sandvig is right to be worried that we’re forcing scholars who are already far into their intellectual journeys into postdocs intended to deal with contemporary problems. But the problem is not that we’re asking scholars to take on these new intellectual responsibilities – it’s that we should have started training them ten years before the postdoc to take on these challenges.

  • Playlist: Songs to Be Sad To

    by Rohit Reddy


    The post Playlist: Songs to Be Sad To appeared first on YR Media.

  • Video: Is Disney Becoming More Diverse?

    by Chaz H


    Disney’s lack of POC representation has been an issue in the past. Do you think the new live-action remake movies are the solution? Kiarra, Nyge, and Merk break it down.
    The post Video: Is Disney Becoming More Diverse? appeared first on YR Media.

  • 5 Things You Missed in Music Business News

    by Noah


    Things are constantly changing in the music industry and it’s important to stay on top of trends and news updates, especially as an independent artist. We’ve got you covered with a weekly recap of the top stories you need to know.



    SONY/ATV GETS THEIR WRITERS PAID FASTER







    Sony/ATV has developed a new system to get writers paid faster. They have created a new system in which royalties will be accounted for and paid out at the same time. Soon, artists will have access to their royalties using the Cash Out feature, allowing artists to collect some or all of their royalties at once. 



    DRAKE LANDS PANDORA DEAL







    With the launch of a new shared radio station between SiriusXM and Pandora, the two companies quickly made a big move to sign a deal with Drake. With this deal, Drake will have his own stations, playlists, collaborations and more.  



    RAPPER NF TAKES #1 BILLBOARD SPOT FROM CHANCE THE RAPPER 







    Rapper NF knocked Chance the Rapper off of the #1 album spot on Billboard charts. Both artists utilized bundle deals to boost sales, but, as of August 4, 2019, NF was able to come out on top with 130,000 units sold while Chance had 108,000 units sold.  



    MARSHMELLO INKS DEAL WITH WME







    Monster producer Marshmello signs a deal with WME talent agency for representation. Marshmello is one of the top-ten artists in the world — racking up more than 10 billion streams and 45 million monthly listeners on Spotify. 



    BABY SHARK CEREAL 







    The people behind the hit children’s song Baby Shark will be releasing their own brand of cereal. With over three billion views on YouTube, the product will reportedly be available in Sam’s Club locations on August 17th as well as Walmart in late September.
    The post 5 Things You Missed in Music Business News appeared first on YR Media.

  • 5150’d: My Journey Through a Psych Ward

    by Rohit Reddy


    The post 5150’d: My Journey Through a Psych Ward appeared first on YR Media.

  • A Close Look at Gun Laws in Texas and Ohio

    by Youth Radio Interns


    In less than 24 hours, 31 people lost their lives in two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.



    On the morning of August 3, 2019, a 21-year-old gunman took 22 lives and injured 26 others at a Walmart in El Paso, located five miles from the Mexican border. Prior to the attack, the Texas shooter published a white supremacist manifesto. In it, he expressed hate against immigrants, Latinos, and both the Democrat and Republican parties.



    And within a day of the El Paso attack, a shooting in Dayton left nine people dead and 27 injured in the city’s nightclub district. Though the majority of lives lost in the shooting were black, law enforcement is not, as of now, calling the attack racially motivated.



    YR Media reporter Emiliano Villa took a look at gun access in Texas and Ohio. Here’s what you need to know about these states’ gun laws.



    Both are “shall-issue” states.



    This means that anyone can get a gun if they pass the state’s basic requirements, such as reaching the legal age and having no felony background. In Texas and Ohio, you can buy a firearm at 18 but must be 21 to purchase a handgun. 



    Both Texas and Ohio allow concealed and open-carry.



    Both states require people to apply for a concealed carry permit. One must demonstrate they have knowledge of safety in carrying and using a gun. 



    Gun control advocates have pointed out a loophole in both Texas and Ohio.



    Gun buyers who are purchasing from a private individual do not have to pass a background check. 



    Minors can have and use a gun.



    There is no minimum age to possess a gun in either Texas or Ohio. So while a teenager or child can’t buy a gun, they can, under the right conditions, legally be given one by an adult.



    Still, there’s a catch…



    In Texas, adults are criminally liable for gun activity by minors.



    The Texas penal code holds adults responsible if a minor gains access to a “readily dischargeable firearm” (i.e. one that is loaded) and fires it. The penalties are even stiffer if a person is shot by the minor. This means that adults can be held liable for something like a school shooting by a minor, if it can be proven that they were criminally negligent with regard to that minor’s access to weapons.



    For more on Texas gun laws, see YR Media’s first report on this issue, following the 2018 Santa Fe, Texas school shooting. 
    The post A Close Look at Gun Laws in Texas and Ohio appeared first on YR Media.

  • How Institutions Survive and Sometimes Thrive: A Challenge to Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by Howard Gardner


    by Howard Gardner
    American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson famously declared, “Every institution is the shadow of one man.” Though this phrase may have sounded apt in the middle of the 19th century, it is clearly anachronistic today. One obvious point: women should be mentioned as well as men, or a neutral term like “person” should be invoked. But I suggest a different edit: Successful institutions do survive—and sometimes thrive—after their founder(s) have departed from the scene.
    In recent months, I’ve had the occasion to ponder the course of two successful institutions within a university—the setting that I know best. Within that setting, institutions that lack an endowment need to secure support in order to survive—and in most cases, that means that the institutions are worth preserving. How that can be done—and what may prevent it from being done—is my topic.
    Case #1 is Harvard Project Zero—the organization that I know as well as anyone. “PZ,” as it is widely called, was launched in 1967 by a philosophy professor, Nelson Goodman. Goodman was a lover of the arts, and he wanted to cherish and promote them as much as possible. In his view, that aspiration required effective education in the arts. (As he once quipped, shadowing President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what the arts can do for you, ask what you can do for the arts.”) Goodman knew that there is considerable powerful educational lore in and across the arts; but he also believed that there was little successful, communicable knowledge. And so, as a man who liked to play with words, he said, “We are Project Zero.”
    After a few years, Goodman retired from the leadership of Project Zero, and he gave two young recent doctoral graduates—David Perkins and me—the opportunity to lead the Project. And so we did, for 28 years. After the turn of the millennium, we turned over the leadership to Steve Seidel (2000-2008), a long-time researcher at Project Zero; and Steve was succeeded by Shari Tishman (2008-2014), another long-time researcher. Since 2014, Project Zero has been ably led by yet a third long-time time researcher, Daniel Wilson. Promotion from within has clearly been the operative principle at PZ.
    Case #2 is The Media Lab at MIT. The brain-child of Nicholas Negroponte, a professor of architecture and a pioneer of visionary man-machine interface design, the Lab was established in 1985 with the support of Jerome Wiesner, a powerful and charismatic former president of MIT. Negroponte ran The Media Lab until 2000. He was followed by Walter Bender (2000-2006) and Frank Moss (2006-2011), both for reasonably short terms; and the Media Lab has been headed since 2011 by Joi Ito, a polymathic entrepreneur investor who had no previous connection to the Lab and did not have an undergraduate or graduate degree. (He has since completed a PhD through Keio University, Tokyo.)
    Both of these institutions have indeed survived, going through several leaders since the turn of the century. And they remain active, even thriving, despite multiple changes in the ambient cultures. What are some of the reasons?
    Structure
    Key at the university is the potential for raising initiating and directing projects. At PZ, housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, over a dozen persons are Principal Investigators: these individuals have the right to seek funds from any legitimate donor—and funders can be the government, foundations, or private individuals with the means to support research. There are an equal number of project managers. Typically having worked at PZ for many years, managers can direct projects on a day to day basis but cannot themselves be “PIs” on a project.
    The Media Lab (TML) was established and maintains a relation with a graduate academic program called Media Arts and Sciences. A much larger organization, TML hosts tenured faculty, ladder faculty, post-docs, and loosely affiliated Director’s fellows. Work centers around the interests of particular faculty members; these members have their own labs, in which researchers and their students and assistants work on specific projects. On occasion, labs collaborate and sometimes researchers move from one lab to another. But there is quite a lot of independence and autonomy—in an operational sense, it’s “every lab on its own bottom.”
    Funding Models
    The funding for these two institutions is quite different. TML offers sponsorship to corporations and other entities. In return for a yearly membership fee, sponsors (or “members,” as they’re called) have the opportunity to visit TML, learn what is happening, and make use of that knowledge for legitimate purposes without having the option of directing research programs. Beyond their share of the sponsors’ fees, investigators themselves may seek additional funds. And the University takes a certain percentage as overhead.
    In the absence of an endowment, all who work at PZ are supported by grants or gifts. In some cases, PZ members also teach; but they are more likely to teach single courses, and be compensated for that teaching, than to have an official part-time or full-time position. It is possible to supplement one’s salary by taking on “gigs” elsewhere; but it’s expected—it’s the norm—that any significantly sized endeavor will be done through PZ, with the requisite benefits and overhead.
    Purpose or Mission
    This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the comparison. From their names (Project Zero and The Media Lab), it is not at all possible—indeed it’s impossible!—to figure out what the workers are doing in their respective institutions. At PZ, all individuals are working on issues which are at least loosely coupled with education, but education can span from pre-school to life-long learning, within a school but also at a museum or corporation, or just about any other entity that seeks PZ’s services. And at TML, all individuals are seeking to develop projects or products or lines of thought that will be useful for individuals and society. But these can draw on any discipline, or interdisciplinary combination, or as leader Ito likes to say, on “anti-discipline.” And indeed, so long as the goal is something useful, it’s hard to delineate any kind of activity that would be clearly off-limits for TML. (If you are skeptical about this statement, just look at the range of initiatives detailed on TML’s website and note the intriguing tie between the arts and sciences, also characteristic of PZ, or look at this segment from the television program 60 Minutes.)
    Still, one can discern trends. Much work at TML is now in biology, neuroscience, climate change, or artificial intelligence/deep learning—subjects that were not at the fore when it began. At PZ, the creation of online courses, the holding of institutes in Cambridge and around the world, and a focus on leadership training were not at all envisioned by the founding members.
    Geography
    Initially, nearly all of PZ’s work was conducted in the United States. Now well over half of it is conducted in other countries, across five continents. At TML, investigators have long been carrying out work in many societies; younger members speak about how they are focused inward, on their life in the Lab; while their mentors, like PZ’s principal investigators, are focused on speaking to and traversing the outside world. This sentiment could be echoed at PZ.
    Institutional Culture
    People come to PZ and TML as young persons; and if things work out—as they often do—they stay there for their entire working lives. And not just if they have tenure; at Project Zero, several project managers have remained in the organization for decades. People fall in love, get married, and have children while on the project—it happened to me!
    Because of this continuity, the two enterprises have all sorts of unspoken norms and rules. Long-timers might not even have ever spoken about them overtly; but when these “understandings” are violated, it becomes clear very soon. And then the old-timers have a choice: either educate the violators, when possible, or ease them out of the organization, if deemed necessary.
    Examples of norms (taken chiefly from PZ):

    Individuals are expected to monitor their own time, put in their hours, and completing assignments promptly, but no one is overseeing them.
    Individuals are expected to be polite to one another, to respond promptly to messages, and to explain why they may not be able to do something in a timely fashion and suggest alternative arrangements.
    When mistakes are made, the person who makes the mistake takes responsibility. Supervisors and the rest of the team are not punitive, but the expectation is that old mistakes will not be repeated.
    When work is shared, so is credit. Members of the organization do not take undue credit for work begun or inspired by others.
    When a member of the organization gives a talk, or a distinguished visitor visits, others are expected to attend and participate—and that especially includes leaders of the organization. We call this “symbolic conduct.”

    Examples of violations of norms:

    Individuals repeatedly come in late, cannot account for their time, or pressure others to do more than their fair share.
    Members do not respond quickly to messages or, even worse, “kiss up and kick down.”
    The group leader takes undue credit for work done by others.
    Members do not participate regularly in announced events and seem to find excuses to miss them or ignore them altogether.

    Challenges
    It is exhilarating (if hectic) when things are going well. But the risk is that each research group will go its own way, not connecting to others, not being aware of trends, and overlapping too much with others without being aware of it. It’s the special province of leaders to ensure adequate cross talk; but anyone involved with the organization for a significant part of time should play his or her part.
    If a group has an ethos and a style of working, it is understandable that its members will look for newcomers who are consistent with these features. But there is the concomitant risk that the organization ends up reproducing itself with the same kinds of persons. This is neither good for the organization (which benefits from diverse perspectives) nor for potential members who are not considered because they seem not to possess the characteristics that happen to be valued by the current team.
    Responsibility
    Institutions do not survive unless there are individuals who care deeply about the organization and are willing to make efforts to keep it thriving. This is easier to do when the organization is small and the mission is clear and shared by all. As the organization gets larger, and the purposes become more diffuse, it is more difficult to feel responsible for the organization.
    Recently, TML has grown very large, and some of its “trustees” (meant informally, not technically) are made uncomfortable by its size and wonder whether there should be a limit. (I remember hearing a talk by clothing designer Eileen Fisher—she said that when her company had 800 employees, she felt comfortable and in control; but when it reached 1200, she no longer felt that way.)
    In a meeting of TML faculty which I had the privilege of facilitating, we began by asking the younger members of the group about the positive and negative aspects of working at TML. This exercise harbored the risk of younger members either feeling on the spot or believing that they had to accentuate the positive. Fortunately, the first person who spoke up—and also fortunately, it was a woman—talked about a problem about the lab and what she had done to solve the problem. Once the gate has been opened for frank discussion, other younger members followed suit.
    The discussion could have ended there but, as the facilitator, I felt that if we did not talk more generally about the health and continuity of TML, it would be a missed opportunity.
    Fortunately, we had a break scheduled—and during that break I reflected on what might be useful to the group. To avoid second-guessing, I deliberately did not share my plans with others.
    When the group reconvened, I asked each member to answer the question, “To whom or what do you feel responsible?” In our major study of Good Work undertaken over two decades ago at PZ, we had found that this was the single most powerful question that we had posed to professionals—and, indeed, we published an entire book on the topic.
    Members of TML were quite reflective. They spoke about responsibility to the planet, to the future, to their students, to their disciplines or problem spaces, and to themselves. (Interestingly, only one person spoke about responsibility to the past, to predecessors, or to mentors—perhaps that might be expected in a lab that is so future-oriented.)
    Then I asked each person to respond to the question, “Who is responsible for The Media Lab?” Again, there were a wide set of responses—ranging from the designated leaders, to everyone who has ever passed through the Lab, even if they have not been back in Cambridge in decades.
    As a final thought, I asked individuals to reflect on the relationship (or lack of relationship) between their answers to the two responsibility questions. In other words, how did they relate their own senses of responsibility to the responsibility for the overall welfare of TML? I suggested that if these senses are well aligned, that is a good omen. And so, for example, if a member of the Lab talked about being personally responsible to his students, and that the members of the Lab were collectively responsible for its welfare, those responses would be considered in alignment.
    Concluding Note
    With respect to institutions at colleges and universities, Emerson was more right than wrong. Indeed, within a higher education setting, most institutions either close down or are diminished when the founding member—usually intellectually and/or personally charismatic—leaves the scene. And sometimes, that departure is appropriate—indeed, those who lead colleges and universities may be relieved in cases where the once vibrant institution has outlived its usefulness. There are also scandals which may lead to the dissolution of the institution; at universities, these scandals are typically financial, sexual, or ethical in nature.
    But some institutions are special, and it is worthwhile to keep them well-functioning, even when the original leadership and members are no longer on the scene. Such survival—and occasional rebirth—is worth considering and worth understanding. I have suggested here some possible factors: the attraction of capable successors to the founding leaders; willingness to pursue new directions without sacrificing core values and robust norms; alertness to shifting funding landscapes; honoring norms as well as regulations; and nurturing talent and providing a comfortable base of operation.
    Doubtless, the phenomenon of institutional continuity is well worth probing. I hope that this modest case study of two long-lasting institutions stimulates further consideration.

  • Long Reach of Grief After Gun Violence

    by Rohit Reddy


    The post Long Reach of Grief After Gun Violence appeared first on YR Media.

  • Sunday Night Oldies V. 1

    by Rohit Reddy


    The post Sunday Night Oldies V. 1 appeared first on YR Media.

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