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Tuesday, 21 May 2019

All good things must come to an end: thank you and goodbye from the Futures Forum blog

We seem to have reached a certain point where we are very much looking to new futures, new starts and a lot of anticipation.

We have a substantially new Town Council in place - which met last night and voted for continuity but with renewed vigour:
Sidmouth Town Council appoints chair and vice-chair | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Futures Forum: Sidmouth Annual Town Meeting > Monday 20th May > challenges and opportunities

The District Council is now dominated by Independents:
Futures Forum: District Council elections: "Independents deliver blow to the Conservatives'" > further reports

And will be meeting tomorrow:
WEDNESDAY crunch day for Indies at EDDC … and us | East Devon Watch
Futures Forum: As Independents seek to create a working coalition, the District Council meets for the first time since local elections > Wednesday 22nd May

The EU parliamentary elections will be happening on Thursday - and will be having a profound effect on life in the West Country:
European Elections 2019: Why should you vote? | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the EU elections: the latest South West poll results
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the EU elections: Democratic Audit looks at what will happen in the South West

Back here in Sidmouth, not only do we have well-established festivals looking forward to the summer: 
The Sidmouth Folk Festival – 2nd – 9th August 2019
Paul Taylor-Mills returns to Sidmouth with Summer Play Festival 2019 | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

But we have thriving relatively new ones:
Sidmouth Sea Fest delivers diversity and creativity | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Futures Forum: Sidmouth Sea Fest > staging 'Fish out of Water', a new play on the life of Stephen Reynolds

As far as this blog is concerned, it started six years ago with Port Royal:
Futures Forum: Port Royal future: ‘Let’s get the community on board’

And we seem to have sorted at least the Drill Hall for the moment:

Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: selling the Drill Hall, rather than producing a masterplan > East Devon's MP calls for a "masterplan for the Port Royal and Ham car park in Sidmouth"

A less successful end-game has been the struggle over Knowle, which began here:
Futures Forum: Save Our Sidmouth

And has ended here:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: parkland transfer to Town Council > latest
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: an overspend on loans
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: or, how a new HQ costing £8.7m is valued at £3.5m

It seems the right moment, then, to allow fresh blood onto the Sidmouth scene and to make this the last - but the blog itself will remain online as a resource.

Meanwhile, here's a list of other news sources to dip into:
BBC Local News: Sidmouth
ITV Local News: Sidmouth
Sidmouth Nub News


Also:
News from Sidmouth Town Council
Latest News from Sid Valley Help

And of course:
Sidmouth Herald
Devon Live: Sidmouth


Plus the excellent and provocative:
East Devon Watch

And there is a lively local social media page:
Sidmouth Community public group | Facebook


Finally, there are of course the Vision Group's very own daily news pages: 

Recent news

Recent News - Vision Group for Sidmouth
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Monday, 20 May 2019

Brexit: and the EU elections: the latest South West poll results

It's difficult to make election predictions:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the EU elections: Democratic Audit looks at what will happen in the South West

The pro-EU website Best for Britain is predicting 36 seats for the hard Brexit parties; and 34 seats for the soft/no Brexit other parties:
National Poll - Best for Britain đź—ł

Here are the predictions for the South West:



National Poll - Best for Britain đź—ł
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Brexit: and failing to introduce transparency in social media advertising

The likes of Facebook and Google pretty much control what we see and do on-line:
Futures Forum: "Guided democracy" and the century of spin
Futures Forum: How to rescue our time from the digital giants

A problem being that a lot of this is not exactly transparent:
Futures Forum: Campaign to get social media to counter fake news 
Futures Forum: Brexit: and the EU elections: countering fake news from WhatsApp

And earlier this year, the government tried to push for a little more transparency: 

The UK government has called on the competition watchdog to launch an inquiry into the UK's digital ad market, specifically to probe the dominance of the Facebook-Google duopoly. UK chancellor Philip Hammond has requested that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launch a review after an independent report he commissioned detailed how the UK's competition framework isn't fit for the economic challenges posed by digital markets, at home and internationally. Led by Jason Furman, Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser, an independent panel of experts found that the digital advertising market "is dominated by two players and suffers from a lack of transparency".

UK government to probe dupoly's digital ad dominance | The Drum

Whether the UK government will push for a little more transparency over current uses and abuses: 

MIC WRIGHT: Efforts to introduce transparency in online political advertising are falling short

PUBLISHED: 10:00 10 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:55 10 May 2019

Mic Wright

MIC WRIGHT says that political campaigners are undermining the democratic process with manipulative, duplicitous online advertising and more needs to be done to introduce transparency.

There was great fanfare in October 2018, when Facebook introduced new rules for political advertising running on its platform in the UK. Requiring advertisers to prove their identity and location before their messages were shown and displaying the group behind each ad to users, along with the introduction of a searchable Ad Library, was repeatedly hailed as "transparent" in media reports.

But taking a look at any one of the current Facebook ads focused on Brexit reveals how the social media giant didn't so much install a window into the world of online political advertising as opt for some frosted glass.

Messages promoted by groups with names like Better Brexit, Now Brexit and the Brexit Defence Force are linked to pages with no indication of the individuals managing them nor of their ultimate funding sources. Facebook also remains reticent to show the targeting criteria used by the advertisers. So, while it's possible to view them in the Ad Library there is no way of knowing who is seeing these messages in their Facebook newsfeeds.

The Guardian reported in April that the Mainstream Network - an operation designed to look like a grassroots campaign made up of pro-Brexit Facebook pages backing a no-deal exit - is in fact overseen by Lynton Crosby's political lobbying firm CTF Partners, with a budget of more than £1 million.

The UK information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-Committee on Disinformation that the activity is being probed as part of her office's wider investigation into the use of political data online.

Denham told MPs that she was shocked to see that the government's recent White Paper on online harms did not significantly address the issue of political advertising: "I was surprised and disappointed that there wasn't more focus on what I think is a huge societal harm, which is around electoral interference and the need for more transparency in political advertising."

The information commissioner was asked by MPs whether Facebook's changes to its rules around political advertising go far enough. She told them: "You can't leave it to an individual company. There needs to be more robust transparency tools and there needs to be regulation that requires companies to have systems in place to give real transparency."

Her view is echoed by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and the independent fact-checking charity FullFact, which have both called for an industry-owned register of political advertising in the UK, with details not only of content, but of who is being targeted and how much is being spent to reach them.

While Facebook's Ad Library and other measures are clearly inadequate, Twitter and Google have yet to provide public archives of UK political advertising run on their platforms.

Current rules on electoral advertising were drafted to cover posters, billboards and leaflets, not micro-targeted social media posts and customised email campaigns. The Electoral Reform Society's director of research and policy, Jess Garland, put it succinctly: "The UK's analogue-age election rules are a meddlers' charter that leave our elections vulnerable."

While the claims made in commercials for washing powder or cosmetics can be rigorously challenged by the Advertising Standard Agency (ASA), since 1997, it hasn't regulated any form of political messaging. Lies that would be unacceptable in the process of trying to sell pet food go unchallenged when it is voters being served up rhetoric to swallow. It was easier to get away with falsely claiming that Turkey was joining the EU than it is to lie about the nutritional content of a turkey drumstick.

The official Vote Leave campaign spent more than £2.7 million on targeted Facebook ads during the EU referendum. Data subsequently released by the social network to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-Committee as part of its inquiry into fake news, revealed that Vote Leave had run ads with 1,433 different messages.

They ranged from bizarre claims that the EU was out to kill the British cuppa to emotional appeals featuring polar bears and bullfighting. The adverts were seen more than 169 million times in total.

As well as relatively straightforward adverts, Vote Leave ran a competition offering a £50 million pound prize to anyone who could predict the outcome of every match played in the 2016 European championships. It was a data harvesting exercise.

But while regulators are trying to get to grips with the online political advertising equivalent of muskets, campaigners already have machine guns and tanks at their disposal.

In 2016, the Trump campaign tested an average of 50,000 ad variations a day to micro-target voters, peaking at 150,000 ads on some days. It did that, in part, by using machine learning to quickly get rid of under-performing messages and formats and bring the most effective lines to the top. Voter profiles are ever more detailed and machine learning is increasingly making connections between data sets that human campaign strategists would never be able to make on their own.

We are not far from a time when it will be possible to quickly and effectively target single voters with messaging geared to their particular hopes and fears.

A recent Channel 4 investigation accused the Arron Banks-funded Leave.EU campaign of faking footage of migrants entering the UK and attacking women, but future political advertising could make even that look mild. Deepfake videos - clips using machine learning to turn real people into convincing puppets for words or actions they might otherwise never say - are becoming increasingly advanced. It is only a matter of time before deepfakes are effectively used for political disinformation and the waters are further muddied.

Last September, three members of Congress - Democrats Adam Schiff and Stephanie Murphy, along with Republican Carlos Curbelo - wrote to the US director of national security, Dan Coats, to warn that "as deepfake technology becomes more advanced and more accessible, it could pose a threat to public discourse and national security".

The issue is not just that campaigns could use deepfake techniques to spread rumour and gossip, but that an increased climate of distrust could make it easier to discredit real videos with plausible deniability.

Donald Trump initially apologised for his comments on the infamous Access Hollywoodtapes, but he later suggested that the audio was fake. In a climate where deepfake attacks on politicians become common that kind of obfuscation will become easier for figures who are so willing to brazenly lie about their words and actions.

Currently, the UK is in a situation where the Electoral Commission complains of campaigns submitting invoices for Facebook advertising that "[make] it difficult or impossible to know what the money was spent on and where". While the regulations don't even require that minimal meaningful level of disclosure, and technology companies are not forced to deliver true transparency, the integrity of UK elections will be in doubt.

Ensuring that all online political advertising in the UK has to abide by the same imprint laws as offline advertising is key - they must state who paid for them and published them. But it has to go further than that. We need a publicly viewable algorithmic ingredient list tied to every targeted online political ad - who is seeing this message and what criteria were used to decide that they would? Revealing the recipe shouldn't be left to the whim of individual companies, but a legal requirement.

Political campaigns used to have to shout their messages but Vote Leave's targeted Facebook ads during the EU referendum were whispers. The manipulation would have been far less effective if it had been done in the full light of public scrutiny, where the conflicting tones and disparate imagery would have been apparent. It's easy to sell a lie if only people who don't know any better can hear you telling it.

This is a Wizard of Oz problem: It's currently too hard to know who is behind the curtain, pulling the strings. If voters are able to see how they are defined by campaigns that target them, they may be a lot less willing to take the messages presented to them at face value. Offline political adverts are restricted by their context, jumbled on the doormat with bills and junk mail, or pasted on a billboard.

Online, the political messaging can hide itself as a plea to defend the polar bears or ban bullfighting, while its creators have another agenda entirely. We need regulations and regulators with the power to pull back the curtain and reveal the levers, who's pulling them and who is ultimately paying for it all.


Brexit: Efforts to introduce transparency in social media advertising are failing | Latest Brexit news and top stories - The New European
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Sunday, 19 May 2019

Sidmouth Annual Town Meeting > Monday 20th May > challenges and opportunities

There is quite a new tranche of Town Councillors at Sidmouth:
Futures Forum: BREAKING NEWS: Sidmouth shake-up

Tomorrow, Monday 20th May, they will be joining colleagues for the Annual Town Meeting - at which chair and committees will be voted in:
Agenda_STCAnnual-200519.pdf

The Town Council is responsible for quite a lot:

Including a substantial budget of over £0.5m:
Sidmouth Town Council agrees 4 per cent precept increase, a part of council tax, that will help pay for projects including swimming platform | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Grants galore for good causes thanks to Sidmouth Town Council | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

It supports important services:
Hop on! Sidmouth Hopper Bus reveals new routes and extra days for 2019 | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald


It has a key role in determining planning decisions, for example:
Town council support demolition of Sidmouth's St John Ambulance Hall for smart apartments | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

And is part of the Beach Management Plan's steering group:
The plan to protect Sidmouth’s crumbling cliffs is set to be finalised - Devon Live

It has taken the initiative over key issues:
Vision to make Sidmouth first mental health friendly town | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

And it's taking on more responsibilities:
Knowle parkland in Sidmouth could transfer to council by autumn | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

There are new challenges and opportunities - as highlighted on the VGS news pages:
Money available for Historic High Streets - Vision Group for Sidmouth

And there will indeed be money issues:
LocalGov.co.uk - Your authority on UK local government - Council governance systems ‘inadequate’ for austerity era
More freedom urged over councils’ finances | Public Finance 
Financial control needs to be devolved from Westminster | Public Finance
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Ken Loach’s "Sorry We Missed You" @ Cannes > "a grim depiction of gig economy ‘serfdom’"

What exactly do we mean by the 'gig economy'?
Futures Forum: 'Independent workers' and the 'gig economy'
Futures Forum: The sharing economy >>> “This on-demand, or so-called gig, economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.

And where is it going?
Futures Forum: The gig economy is 'exciting' and has 'huge potential'... or maybe not...

The director Ken Loach certainly has a few ideas:
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach up for Palme d'Or prize - BBC News
Ken Loach back at Cannes festival with 'Sorry We Missed You' - YouTube

 

Sorry We Missed You new clip official from Cannes - 2/3 - YouTube

And he isn't pulling any punches:

Ken Loach: blame 'fake left' politicians like Miliband and Blair for gig economy | Film | The Guardian
Cannes: Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You — a piercing drama about a zero-hours-contract driver | Financial Times
Sorry We Missed You review: Ken Loach delivers a stirring drama on the gig economy | Sight & Sound | BFI

This review is from the business press: 

Film hailed at Cannes for grim depiction of gig economy ‘serfdom’

Veteran director Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You is a ‘wrenching tale of ... how the gig economy screws over the people it promises to save’


18 MAY 2019 - 08:29 AGENCY STAFF

Cannes — Veteran British director Ken Loach was tipped for a third Cannes win on Friday for a powerful film which puts Amazon and other tech giants in the dock over their alleged exploitation of workers.

Critics hailed Sorry We Missed You, his heart-breaking story of an overworked delivery driver as a “wrenching tale of the way we live now and how the gig economy screws over the people it promises to save”.

The film — shot in the north-eastern English city of Newcastle, like his last Palme d’Or winning film I, Daniel Blake — takes “a white van man” and turns him into a martyr of out-of-control capitalism.

Hollywood bible Variety, not normally a fan of left-wing activist directors, said “the times have caught up with Loach and they have pushed him to the top of his game. He’s 82 years old, and he is now making films that connect, with a nearly karmic sense of timing, to the social drama of our moment.”

The Guardian gave it five stars and declared that “this brilliant film will focus minds ... in modern Britain, the land of zero-hours vassalage and service-economy serfdom.”

Loach, whose arm was in a sling after putting out his shoulder, said he and scriptwriter Paul Laverty had found Amazon drivers working with broken limbs. He said the system of zero-hour contracts and false “self-employed owner-driver franchisees” used by tech giants ranging from Uber to Deliveroo, creates massive misery by “putting all the risk on the workers ... who are made to exploit themselves”.

Sorry We Missed You shows how the relentless demands of the gig economy wreck a family of grafters. For their part, the tech companies say they offer the best working conditions possible for their workforce and provide much-needed jobs in often rundown and neglected areas.

Destroying families 

“We are supposed to work to provide for our families but for millions of us, work deprives us from spending time with our loved ones,” said Laverty, Loach’s regular creative partner.

The writer said he interviewed an Amazon driver on the day its owner Jeff Bezos became the richest man in the world. “His skin was grey, his eyes were red. He was absolutely exhausted,” Laverty said. “When I showed the driver the news, his jaw dropped. He realised he was one of hundreds of thousands of drivers across the world, a little drip going into the Amazon river.”

In the film, a delivery driver and his wife who cares for elderly and disabled people in their homes, work long, grueling days to hit inhumane targets.

Loach said the system is now stacked massively against working people, “who can be turned on and off like tap”, and warned that this is fueling dangerous populist anger.

He said the extreme right “rise when the soil is manured with this precarious work — that’s where people’s anger is coming from. People speak of the extreme right and left. I don’t see the extreme left. Where is it? I see the extreme right who thrive on anger and discontent. They say the person to blame is the poorest person next to you, or someone who looks different, or comes from another country. The extreme right thrives on fear. The left thrives on confidence. If you are confident you say, ‘Yes, we can change things.’ The right thrives on anxiety and insecurity.”

‘This system kills’

Debbie Honeywood, a teacher who plays the role of the van driver’s wife and one of several amateurs Loach cast, said three out of four children living in poverty in the UK have working parents.

“We know there is something badly wrong and intolerable about life now,” Loach said. “We know that healthcare and the way our old people are looked after is not right, and why, when we buy online, does everything come in a van? We cannot sustain that.”

The filmmaker said the family in his film, like most who work in the gig economy, are caught in a trap.

“There is no escape, the system has trapped them. We met people who work with broken limbs who drive with a broken leg and arm. There was one appalling case of a man who died because he couldn’t stop work for his hospital appointments because of the debt. This system kills.”

But Loach was sanguine on whether his film will change anything. His last film I, Daniel Blake on the injustice and cruelty of the British social welfare system, won the top prize at Cannes and was debated in parliament.

“But the government hasn’t given an inch. It is still as cruel. They still use hunger as a weapon. Charity food banks have increased in the last year alone by 18%. That will not change because they have to show that not being able to support yourself is a crime.”

AFP


Film hailed at Cannes for grim depiction of gig economy 'serfdom' - businesslive.co.za
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Repair Cafés: in praise of economic inefficiency

An 'economy' is more than simply being 'efficient' - and the Repair Café movement is challenging these common notions:

This is from the wonderful website InterAction Green: 






Have you ever heard of the “right to repair?”
Currently there are 16 states including Nebraska, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, Wyoming, Illinois and Tennessee – that are considering bills that would allow consumers and third party repairers the legal right to purchase spare parts and access service manuals.
Such legislative movement is a lot more revolutionary than it sounds, because it’s not just about changing how the repair market works. It may potentially change the way how the right to “control” products is spread across a products’ life cycle.
We purchase and “own” many products – especially electronic ones – that use state-of-the-art technology. Even though we are the owners of those products, ultimately the manufacturers “control” them because they are the only ones who know how they are designed and function. We can do little beyond using them as directed by owners’ manual, and are left in the dark when they fail. So essentially, except for the small window of “use” phase, a product is entirely controlled by the producers – from the concept stage to R&D, manufacturing, repair and almost through disposal.





Conceptual product life cycle



But a Repair bill could change the name of the game.  Producers, who now enjoy the ownership of intellectual property of a product from cradle to grave, will be forced to concede some of their design secrets to product owners/repairers so that they can be empowered to repair failed products. If this happens, it could allow the owner of the products to become tinkerers, researchers, designers and developers…like this:




Obviously, the manufacturers such as Apple are fiercely against such legislation, which is totally understandable. Design secrets are what make them unique and  competitive. Why would they have to share their precious assets, risking their business?
But then, there are companies like iFixit, that are advocating getting back the “right to repair” to the users’ hands.  IFixit is an online repair knowledge base where anyone can share their tips to repair just about anything.




iFixit manifesto



Producers say they have the right to keep the secrets of what they developed. And user groups say they should have the right to fix what they legitimately own. Both arguments sound reasonable. But why are their arguments so divisive? When did it start?
Back in the old days, most daily items used to be “open source” because the mechanisms were reasonably simple and intuitive. People would reuse, repair, repurpose and recycle them freely, and many of them made it their job. The boundaries between the producers and users used to be much more ambiguous, and products transitioned from one stage to the next of the life cycle –forward and backward – more organically. Product owners and a variety of skilled repairers such as cobblers and clothes alterators were actively involved to make most of any product.
But the clear division emerged between producers and users/repairers as products became much more sophisticated leveraging advanced technology. Before they knew, users and repaired were excluded from the loop and left behind.






Why do we have to face such division between producers and users? It all boils down to the principles of modern economics, which put economic efficiency in front of everything else and encourage trade as a tool to promote such efficiency. A classic example: if one region’s climate is suitable for banana growing and the other for apples, economic theory would encourage banana region to grow bananas only, and apple country to grow apples so that both regions could access bananas and apples efficiently through trade. The efforts of apple growers in banana region and banana growers in apple country is considered “inefficient” and would eventually be wiped out of the market.
The same principles apply to the producer–consumer relationship, which tell producers to focus on production including R&D, design and manufacturing of products. Meanwhile, they also ask users to focus on “consumption,” the only activity left after producers dominated the creative process. Whereas you can skip all the efforts needed to make cool and functional devices by becoming a consumer, it also means that you are deprived of opportunities to participate in creation. If you are not in creative process, there is no way that you can be involved in repair process.
Whereas the decoupling of creation process from general public achieved significant economic efficiency and made our market full of appealing products, one thing is becoming obvious: being a full-time consumer was not as exciting and accomplishing as it looked before.





So here we are now, entrapped in the dilemma created by economic efficiency. Surrounded by many products that deliver fast and easy solutions, we lost our sense of purpose and mission. And we are starting to realize that we miss excitement of tinkering, designing, creating and building using our own brain and hands.
One of the people who stood up to reverse the trend of the ever-shrinking freedom left for independent tinkerers was Kyle Wiens, the co-founder of iFixit which offers thousands of repair manuals for electronic gadgets and other products. Repair is a natural gateway for users to trace back and learn about the creative breakthroughs and design that made your favorite products work.







The iFixit website says: “You bought it, you should own it. Period. You should have the right to use it, modify it, and repair it wherever, whenever, and however you want. Defend your right to fix.”
OK, but who should we be fighting against? Apple or Samsung, to make them agree to share some repair parts with us so that we can fix our iPhone and Galaxy? That could be a short-term target, but ultimately, it is not so much about manufacturers versus users. It’s rather about people versus economic efficiency, which keeps telling us that we don’t need to create or repair because we are inefficient. Fine, it’s true that I cannot develop an iPhone. But should it mean that I cannot seek opportunities to learn and use my creativity because it is not good? Should it mean that we should let efficiency take care of everything, sit back and wait for satisfaction and happiness to be delivered?
A story of a stay-home-mom, whose child accidentally flushed her iPhone into the plumbing has an answer. When she finally recovered the phone, she searched information on iFixit to see if she could make it work again. She found that it was just a tiny charging coil on the motherboard that went wrong during the toilet accident. When she knew it, it dawned to her that it was something she wanted to do: micro-soldering to repair electronic gadgets. As it turns out, repairing small parts on a motherboard requires delicate and meticulous operations like brain surgery, and most of such repair jobs are outsourced to other countries (again, because efficiency tells us to trade). So the mom decided to become an expert of micro-soldering, at her home in New York. She now runs a company to bringing back life to the phones that were pronounced dead by other professionals.
“There is of course the personal satisfaction in taking something that is a paperweight and returning it to life again,” the mom said. “That always is a drug-like, positive experience.”
Even though specialization of expertise and concentration of resources on producers’ side maximized collective affluence, it did not necessarily guarantee satisfaction and happiness felt by each of us. As a matter of fact, we often feel great and accomplished when engaged in inefficient activities. Sense of accomplishment cannot come from easy, convenient solutions.
The “right to repair” movement helps to remind us that we have so much more potential if not judged exclusively by efficiency.
We must be proudly inefficient.






The world of inefficiency is full of new discovery, sense of engagement and accomplishment. Find businesses and organizations that are leveraging “repair” to unleash our unexplored potential.

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