A picture of me standing at a lectern, working on a laptop computer, on the stage of the FWD50 digital government conference

Hi! I’m Alistair. I write surprisingly useful books, run unexpectedly interesting events, & build things humans need for the future.

What I’d like to give for Christmas

The guys at Postdesk do a thing each year in which they ask a bunch of people a question, and post the results. Last year, they asked me what I wanted for Christmas. This year, they asked me what my ideal Christmas present would be; since I’d already answered it for myself last time, here’s what I told them.

It’s a bit self-serving to talk about what I’d like to receive, so instead, here’s what I’d like to give.

I’d like to give connectedness.

For some people, that means having access to information—something we’ve enjoyed unfettered for a couple of decades, in the Wild West of the Internet, but which is under threat from things like SOPA and the yoke of dictatorial governments censoring speech. I’m not sure how I’d “give” this gift; maybe a universal declaration of human rights that includes freedom to surf. But I do know that transparency, and the harsh light of data, helps us make better decisions as a whole.

For others, connectedness means kinship. Whether that’s knowing what your spouse is thinking; or whether that’s understanding that everyone around you is just as uncertain, just as self-doubting, just as frail, this is a good thing. We need more empathy in the world today. Short of a telepathy machine, this is a hard one to give, too: religion, language, and culture get in the way of things.

As I get older and more jaded, I realize that information without kinship leads to merciless, unfeeling technocracy that ignores the rights of the individual. But at the same time, kinship without information leads to tribalism and feudal bickering that ignores the rights of the many. We need to strike that balance if we’re to survive as a species, and for that, we need to be connected.