What’s next

From May, I’ll be joining the University of Southern Queensland for six months supporting “proactive, strategic, and sustainable engagement with key stakeholders and communities internal and external to USQ.”

Working with Professor Helen Partridge and her fab team in USQ’s Scholarly Information and Learning Services division, I’ll be acting as a coach and catalyst to raise awareness, understanding, and capacity in maintaining a sustainable community engagement program.

I visited USQ last year to talk about community engagement, healthcare, storytelling, digital media, and what really listening to people and technology in Australia might entail.

This new adventure is going to be cracking good fun – but there’s still a few more exciting things to come out of my extended residency with the State Library of Queensland, so watch this space.

Curiosity vs The Post-Truth World

Among my weekend reads was Tim Harford’s Financial Times piece “The Problem with Facts“.

We’re big Harford fans around these parts, not just for his podcast More or Less but also his book Messy, which I’ve been inflicting on various colleagues and friends around Australia.

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 21.19.28

In the FT piece, Harford takes us back from the fake news and false claims of political debate in the age of Trump and Brexit to the history of “doubt manufacture” in the 20th century, and the tobacco industry’s attempts to blur the links between smoking and cancer.

He examines the limits of fact-checking as a response or a rebuke to those who cloud public discourse with lies.

He tells us that scientific literacy is not necessarily the answer, that it “can actually widen the gap between different political tribes on issues such as climate change — that is, well-informed liberals and well-informed conservatives are further apart in their views than liberals and conservatives who know little about the science.”

Rather, he points to a paper “Scientific Curiosity and Political Information Processing” by Dan Kahan, Asheley Landrum, Katie Carpenter, Laura Helft and Kathleen Hall Jamieson.

Those authors argue that it is worth exploring further whether a person’s curiosity about science can counteract our tendency to view the world through the lens of political bias.

Their initial findings prompt them to explore whether

individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence.

As Harford puts it, “Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it’s also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don’t pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing.”

All of this is great news for those of us working at the odd intersection of knowledge and culture, where communities meet institutions like galleries, museums, libraries, universities, and healthcare providers.

I’ve been worrying for a while now, even with events as warm and cuddly as the annual Fun Palace celebrations of art and science, about the times we choose to take scientific claims on faith.

I worry too about what part libraries have to play in the battle against fake news and egregiously false claims in the media. Is the library a trusted dispenser of facts and information? A repository of the truth? Or, rather, a safe place for you to indulge your curiosity, to wander as you see fit through all the contested claims and different visions of human knowledge and culture?

Harford’s take on that research paper returns us to the notion of each individual’s curiosity and exploration as the basis of scientific endeavour and the quest for truth. It returns us not to blind faith in science or reliance on fact checkers, but a sense that we must always actively challenge and revise our beliefs.

It reminds me why, in the last few years, we’ve allowed kids to sketch time-travelling creepy crawlies from a steampunk world to encourage scientific observation; why we spent last week in the Aussie town of Bundaberg to help rural writers speculate  about the future of society; why we’ve been training health professionals using far-fetched and fantastic case studies like the Immortal Sock Monkey. It’s because these activities each became a matter of curiosity and wonder, rather than a mere transfer of facts from a person in authority. Curiosity and wonder might just be the best antiseptic for the spread of fake news.

If the formal research into scientific curiosity proves fruitful, it could guide and nuance our attempts to encourage  a world where people are free to learn, explore, create, and play as they wish to, not just in accordance with curriculums and constraints.

It wouldn’t just be about science, either. For isn’t art, too, a matter of curiosity about materials, expression, and representation? And don’t those of us who find ourselves on colonised lands need, as Columbia anthropologist Beth Povinelli has been arguing, to become more curious, too, about Indigenous ways of knowing and understanding the world?

This is a difficult moment for those of us who value the truth in public life and wish to push back against those who maliciously sow doubt and deliberate misinformation. But Tim Harford’s article reminds us that there are ways forward for those of us unwilling to embrace a post-truth world  – and that, wonderfully, those ways might even be incredibly exciting, incredibly adventurous, and incredibly good fun.

Visions from Bundaberg

Last weekend I was the guest artist at “Dispatches from Bundy”, a writing workshop in the Queensland town of Bundaberg.

Working with staff from Creative Regions and Queensland University of Technology, our team took a group of local writers and storytellers through a two-day session aimed at engaging with stories from the past, exploring visions of the future, and nurturing regional literature.

One of our activities saw participants creating science fiction stories and postcards from future worlds. We stitched these stories into a timeline of future history stretching a thousand years hence.

Check out the result via YouTube, incorporating images by Peter Miller aka Scribbletronics and music from Disasteradio.

Lake Mac GLAM

I’ll be speaking at the inaugural Lake Mac GLAM Symposium for museum, gallery, library, arts, and culture professionals in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales next month.

Lake Mac Glam logo

On 10th April, join me and other GLAMourpusses from across Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales to look at trends, challenges, and opportunities for Australia’s cultural sector.

Find out more & get your tickets here.

Social Media Training at the Queensland Country Women’s Association

It’s a busy old month here in Brisbane…

qcwa-cup-and-saucer-1920sl

Hot on the heels of a robot-training, cocktail-mixing event for librarians in Moreton Bay, I’ll be joining forces with my colleague Lyn Thompson to deliver three hours of training for the Queensland Country Women’s Assosciation (QCWA), the largest women’s group in Queensland.

Since 1922, the QCWA has helped women from across the state to celebrate their friendship and interests while supporting opportunities to make a difference in the fields of health, education, and the broader community.

Lyn and I will be teaming up on Saturday to deliver social media training for QCWA members across the regions, helping them make the most of the digital age.

 

Marvellous, Electrical: Vienna in Canberra

What values have migrants brought to Australia over the years? How have they changed the nation’s culture? Have they broken laws in an attempt to impose foreign ways of life on the population?

Letter to Gus Petersilka from Canberra government

Gus Petersilka of Canberra did. By putting out tables and chairs on the sidewalks of Australia’s capital, he forced the uptight city government to acknowledge, accept, and ultimately embrace convivial traditions of outdoor dining.

Gus' Cafe, abandoned in Canberra CBD, 2016

Now Gus’ Cafe is gone.

Read its story at Marvellous, Electrical.

Becoming death literate – panel discussion

website-banner2

After Brisbane’s first Deathfest – a microfestival which explores, challenges, and celebrates our understanding of death, dying, and bereavement – I’m pleased to share a panel discussion which addressed grief, death, and end-of-life care in modern-day Queensland.

Joining me were Fiona Hawthorne, general manager at Hummingbird House, Queensland’s first children’s hospice; Ian Mellor, who manages body bequests for Queensland University of Technology; and Dr Sarah Winch, healthcare ethicist at the University of Queensland and author of Best Death Possible.

In an age when literacy has come to mean so many things – always with a sense of empowering people to read or make sense of some new terrain, topic, or experience – what would it mean for us to become truly “death literate”?

You can listen to the panel discussion now by clicking on this link or visit the State Library website.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For more on healthcare and wellbeing work during my 2016 Queensland residency, read  “On Health and Wellbeing” and “Giant Robots Need Therapy Too“.

For more on Deathfest, visit the Metro Arts website.

Crawford Awards, South Australia

On Friday, I was guest speaker at South Australia’s Crawford Awards for Library Innovation.

It was a chance to explore how Aussie libraries ensure that they create services for and with their communities – and acknowledge the specific colonial history of this land.

It was also an opportunity to celebrate many of the friends and colleagues I’ve worked with during my residency at the State Library of Queensland.

The Award was given to the rural South Australian city of Murray Bridge for a project working with local Aboriginal elders, introducing the Ngarrindjeri language to a new generation through stories and song.

Congratulations to Tim Law, Georgina Trevorrow, and all at Murray Bridge who are working to acknowledge the traditional owners of the Murraylands and support their community.

Brisbane Deathfest 2016

website-banner2

This weekend sees the launch of Deathfest, Brisbane’s week long microfestival which explores, challenges, and celebrates our understanding of death, dying, and bereavement.

I sat down for a special panel discussion with three guests to discuss grief, death, and end-of-life care in modern-day Queensland.

Joining me were Fiona Hawthorne, general manager at Hummingbird House, Queensland’s first children’s hospice; Ian Mellor, who manages body bequests for Queensland University of Technology; and Dr Sarah Winch, healthcare ethicist at the University of Queensland and author of Best Death Possible.

We talked about green burials, rituals of death in the 21st century, and the largely hidden processes, procedures, and institutions which deal with death in our society.

In an age when literacy has come to mean so many things – always with a sense of empowering people to read or make sense of some new terrain, topic, or experience – what would it mean for us to become truly “death literate”?

Our discussion will be online soon.

For more on healthcare and wellbeing work during my 2016 Queensland residency, read  “On Health and Wellbeing” and “Giant Robots Need Therapy Too“.

Digital Inclusion Forum, Sydney, 16 November

On Wednesday 16th November, I’ll be moderating panels and giving a short plenary at GoDigi’s Digital Inclusion Forum in Sydney.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House, by Wikipedia user Hpeterswald – used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 licence

We’ll hear about innovation and equity, digital technology and social housing, and accessibility in the information age – from speakers like Rachel Thomson of Australia Post, Ishtar Vij of Google, and Laurie Patton of Internet Australia.

You can find out more about the Forum, and the accompanying Expo and Pop-Up Festival, at the GoDigi website.

It’s free to attend, so if you’re in Sydney and interested in our digital future, come along and say hi.