I've yet to fully grasp the significance of what took place last night. I understand rationally what happened. I can recall quite clearly the events that came about. I can remember the details, each moment, but I don't think I have fully internalized the implications of it all.
Let me take a step back and describe it to you, perhaps writing it down will help me get a more gut feeling of the situation.
It's New York City, Harlem district, circa 3AM. I'm waiting for the metro train downtown, when I discover it's closed down due to construction, and I miss the shuttle bus. Bummer. I wait for the next shuttle, casually listening to the latest Freakonomics podcast. Then I suddenly see some lights at a distance. I quickly realize it's not normal, and I get closer. It's a fire.
On that moment a few thoughts run through my head. It is a very unusual feeling agnizing that you are about the break your routine and that a major event of your life is about to unfold. For a moment I think it isn't anything of particular significance. A couple of minutes before I heard a few teenage girls screaming and making noises, only to disappear and leave me alone on the empty streets of Harlem, in the middle of night, while thousands of unaware souls are being lulled to sleep in the arms of Morpheus.
The moment I approached and realized it was a fire.
Without indulging into my own train of thoughts, I grab my phone and dial 911. I give a detailed description of what I am seeing, give my coordinates and personal information. It's only after the phone call ends that a stream of thoughts begins to invade my head. Here I am, a young, foreign, white guy at the heart of the infamous Harlem neighborhood, in the middle of the night, calling the police. As I am constantly reminded by the locals here, the only white males in Harlem at that time of the night are either drug dealers, or dangerous criminals (or both). What if they think I started the fire? What if they ask what was I doing here? What if they don't believe me? What if they throw me in jail accusing me of a crime I didn't commit? What if.... All these thoughts and a lot more go through my head in a split second, only to be replaced by the more important thought of trying to help whoever is in the building.
I call the people I knew who lived there, and I instruct them to wake up, warn as many people as possible, get outside, and wait for the firefighters to arrive.
As I frantically type messages down on my phone and make calls, I see the flames increasing, moving up into the air, coming dangerously close to the copious trees that surround the building. It's in this moment that I understand things can get ugly very quickly: if the trees catch fire, the fire and most importantly the smoke (most deaths are due to carbon monoxide inhalation, not the fire itself) will spread into the building. Hundreds might die. I can't tell. All I know is that I'm glad I made that call right away, and now it's a race against time.
The fire rising, getting dangerously close to the tree branches.
About three minutes later, the firefighters arrive, and begin to extinguish the fire. A cloud of thick smoke rises and engulfs the entire block. A exhale deeply, in relief.
About an hour later the fire was completely extinguished, and nobody was hurt. Most people were completely unaware of the disaster that didn't happen, and simply woke up the next morning, knowing nothing of what happened, or what could have happened.
By the time they arrived, the fire was over two stories high.
Quick video while I was on the shuttle bus, stuck in front of the closed street as the firefighters begin to extinguish the fire. Apologies for the colorful language.
The cloud of smoke rises, as the fire is being extinguished.
I was called back by the police, checking on the situation and confirming that it was under control. I was not questioned nor accused of anything.
I take home a few lessons from this experience. First, you never know when a major event of you life is about to happen, and most likely you will not recognize it as such, until much later on, probably days, weeks, or in some cases even years. Second, I was happy to observe that my instinct of helping others overcame the logic of self-preservation, which kicked in later on. And last, the amount of effort one has to make to potentially save hundreds of people can be very small, compared to the work real heroes have to do every day on duty. The police, the firefighters, they all acted beautifully coordinated and incredibly efficiently, in a moment where a difference of a few minutes can literally represent the different between an interesting anecdote on a blog, and tragic accident on the next day newspaper. They are the unsung heroes, I was merely a spectator who did the minimum effort and performed his duty as he was supposed to. Sure, I had to spend a few hours there and came back home as the sun was rising. The next day I had to attend a conference, and I didn't get much sleep. A minor inconvenience.
Compare that with the potential catastrophe that could have unfolded, had I looked the other way and simply went home.
If that is the price to pay to make a tangible difference in people's life, it's something I think we can all afford to do. We just have to keep our eyes and our hearts more open.
How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Social Evolution Through Massively Decentralised Distributed Resilient Networks
I entered a Scientific American contest with an essay titled "Social Evolution Through Massively Decentralised Distributed Resilient Networks" on How Should Humanity Steer the Future. Help me win by reading and rating the essay here :D http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2074
Direct link to the PDF file: http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Pistono_steer-humanity-futu.pdf
Book Project: http://opensourcesociety.net/
Essay Contest Guidelines: http://fqxi.org/community/essay\
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7HenehoarY
I'll be presenting Esplori at SWSXedu Conference & Festival 2014, held in Austin - Texas from March 3rd to 6th. The conference is today one of the leading education oriented events in the country. It seeks to drive meaningful conversation and collaboration around the most promising practices to improve teaching and learning by bringing about a forward-learning community of education innovators, all committed to creating a brighter tomorrow.
The Conference introduces thought-provoking featured and keynote speakers - from recognized scholars to CEOs and members of innovative education organizations - that will attempt to shed light on today’s leading topics in education. Also, the conference is enriched by a diverse combination of additional sessions and workshops which follow the same pattern of speakers and topics.
I will be participating on an one hour Core Conversation session on the topic Survival in the New Knowledge Economy with professional musician David Brake - founder of the online education organizations Teacher 2 Go LLC and LRNGO.com. Here's the summary of our discussion:
What effect do the economic and technological changes taking place today have on adult education inside and outside of the classroom? Are the goals the same, or have the rules changed? Are we addressing these changes holistically, or ignoring them hoping they’ll go away? Let’s take a step back, and have a conversation about the challenges and opportunities these changes present.
Thursday, March 6
10:30AM - 11:30AM
Hilton Austin Downtown Salon A
500 East 4th Street
See more at: http://schedule.sxswedu.com/events/event_EDUP23324
This year the Nobel Peace Prize has been very personal for me. I was flown to Oslo to speak at the Telenor Youth Conference, to give a keynote speech to a wonderful group of 25 social entrepreneurs under 25, to share my vision with Esplori, the startup I founded, on how to democratise the tools for teaching and learning worldwide. I told them my life story, the mission that drives me, and some life lessons that I've learned along the way, that might be useful to them in pursuing their projects.
We did this in collaboration with the Nobel Peace Centre, and we were invited to the official Nobel Ceremony, at the Oslo city hall. As I write this on my phone, I'm sitting behind the king of Norway (trying to put my thoughts into words without getting caught).
This year's prize goes to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The speech justifying this choice outlines what the OPCW has achieves in the last 15 years, with a significant reduction of chemical weapons worldwide, many countries signing the treaty, and the steps they took in making the world safer.
All this is very good, chemical weapons are a real threat and I'm sure OPCW has done excellent work in the past three lustra. However, I find myself in a state of emotional conflict. While I understand the reason for this choice, I see its merits, and I'm honoured to be here at the ceremony, I also feel that this has been a very, to use a mild term, safe choice.
What I mean by that is that there are a few elephants in the room, and this year prize seems to be ignoring them wholly. The United States is the country with the most troops deployed worldwide (1,3 million in more than 150 countries), and plays a crucial geopolitical role. The fact that Obama, a warmonger, received the prize a few years ago is a disgrace, and it undermines the credibility of the organisation as a whole. Giving the prize to OPCW is a safe choice, one that offends no one, and it could have been given any year, since they've been around for so long, and they are (luckily) likely to stay here for some more, hopefully until there are no more chemical weapons in the world.
But the political climate of 2013, I think, was not in need of a safe choice. It required a bold action, one that would send a strong message. Personally, I think it should have been given to Manning, Assange, and Snowden, for exposing war crimes, government abuse, and bringing the topic to the public spotlight, while also carefully selecting the material, ensuring that no human lives were at risk as a result of the leaks. This would have been a smack in the face of governments and agencies that are committing crimes against humanity, against millions of people every day, and would have put into question the imperialism grandiose plans that are being enacted without us knowing, without our consent, against most constitutions of civilised countries, ironically using public money to do so.
This is my two cents, and while I'm honoured and humbled to be here at the Nobel Peace Ceremony, I have a bittersweet taste in my mouth, thinking that it could have been so much more than a safe walk in the park and pats on the back.
Maybe a mid way would have been more appropriate, with a shared prize between OPWC and the whistleblowers, though I don't know if that's even allowed by the rules.
Perhaps the future will change my mind, but as of now, I think that bold actions, not safe choices, are required to restore the credibility of this ceremony. And in a perfect world, next year they would take away the prize from Obama, but maybe I'm just being delusional.
Esplori at the Telenor Youth Summit, Oslo, interview
Join the community: http://esplori.net
Help translate the video: http://dotsub.com/view/a396e32f-4967-4ac8-88c9-2a5e7fe6b422
Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4sDsUFJEgY