Cynicism, laughter, and not enough time

August 17, 2010 at 11:57 pm | In comments, just_so, social_critique | Comments Off on Cynicism, laughter, and not enough time

Davin Greenwell asked me, via comments, to elaborate on yesterday’s blog post, Cynical sex/uality – he posted his comment about an hour after I published my entry, but by then it was past 12:30am and I wasn’t going to stay up to answer.

So, I thought about his question (“I thought about it, but I don’t quite get what you’re saying about Olivia. Can you elaborate?”) on and off today, and had some crazy idea about how I was going to find the time both to respond to it and write a new blog entry tonight.

As it happened, I ran into Davin tonight as I was rushing out to a meeting – and my day had been one of those stupid days of running from one thing to another anyway, with no time for posting any replies (or answering emails or doing other desk-related things), but we had a chance to talk for 5 minutes about cynicism, laughter, and the differences between laughing with versus laughing at.

It’s all still just half-thought-out in my own mind, but after settling down at about 10:30 tonight (post-meeting), I did end up writing a response to Davin’s question. And my post for today is simply going to be a pointer back to my response.

Commenting around

June 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm | In comments | 2 Comments

Over the past few days, I’ve busied myself with comments on various blogs. Today, I’m taking the easy way out (of blogging) by posting links to those other entries.

Ok, I’ll sort them a bit…

First, while I’m trying to wean myself off a certain local political situation, I find myself provoked into the occasional loquacious fit. Hence, a comment on Vincent Gornall’s Blue Bridge “Road Diet” – Test the Idea, where I respond to an especially blow-hard comment by John Luton, lately a City of Victoria councilor. And in a similar (local politics) vein, a comment on Bernard von Schulmann’s post First Candidate for City Council – Barry Hobbis: my comment is about whether or not former Victoria City manager Don Roughley’s endorsement of the by-election candidate carries negative freight or not.

Second, a couple of other comments on more far-ranging topics: Doc Searls‘s May 26 entry, What if they can’t plug the well?, prompted me to post several comments. My comments comprise just a few of the twenty-five generated by Doc’s post so far – it’s a good thread. And David Weinberger found my Making the obscene seen post interesting enough to post a response, which in turn made me post a comment, wondering if what David termed my optimism wasn’t the (obscene) indicator of my deeper (off-scene/ un-seen) depression.

Between the Scylla and Charybdis of local politics and worldwide despoliation, depression would not be a surprise.


But then again, there’s KBO (much better).

Interruption: another word for clutter?

April 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In comments, fashionable_life, housekeeping, ideas | 3 Comments

When Google came out with Buzz, I wondered who would want their email cluttered up with constant (and probably inane) interruptions. I thought, I’m getting curmudgeonly, even cranky. I didn’t like Wave, either. Stupid idea.

But a post by MentalPolyphonics, Workplaces Are Poorly Structured, confirmed what I’ve been thinking.

It features a BigThink video, Why You Can’t Work at Work, in which Jason Fried (co-founder of 37 Signals) explains how constant interruptions at work keep people from getting anything done.

Well, d’uh…

I left a comment on MentalPolyphonics, along these lines: I’ve come to believe that another word for “interruptions” is clutter: A sort of mental clutter and time clutter that becomes a bad habit (“habit clutter”).

Much of that is inspired by Julie Morgenstern‘s kick-ass book, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck. Yes, another “self-help” book to help you get organized – but this one doesn’t just tell you to buy a bunch of stuff at the Container Store so that your place has the appearance of unclutteredness – as if that were all that’s to it. For one thing, Morgenstern doesn’t stop at physical clutter – she asks you to go after both time clutter and habit clutter, both of which can be very tough to deal with.

That’s where the overlap with Fried’s take on interruptions comes in. Bad habits include letting yourself be interrupted constantly, whether you’re checking email, checking Twitter (or whatever your ambient social media app of the moment happens to be), or are simply being “on.”

Consider trying the SHED diagnostic test here to see if you’re a candidate for SHEDing. It’s a fun way to get into what Morgenstern is trying to get across, but read the book for the full picture. Consider it not just cleaning up, but clutter therapy.

Over the  weekend, I popped into Chapters and had a chance to leaf through Youngme Moon‘s fascinating new book, Different.

(An aside: I really want to read this, but refuse to pay Cdn$32.00 in-store for it – heck, over the weekend, our dollar was at par with the US$, yet I’m supposed to pay $6.00 more than what this book’s suggested retail price is in the US? Not to mention that it’s available on Amazon for $17.16?)

Anyway, asides aside, one of Moon’s points revolved around reverse engineering (that’s not what she called it, but I was skimming while standing in the bookstore aisle): basically, once we are surfeited with choice(s), things tend to tip over, almost into their opposite, and the company or business that then moves ahead of the pack is the one that (almost counter-intuitively) does the opposite of what the others are doing. So, if people were saturated with search engines that practically come out screaming – with bells, whistles, and visuals – then what will grab people’s attention (even though it seems counter-intuitive to go down that route) is a search engine that’s bare and sparse (<ahem> Google). (Which makes Google’s current attempts to clutter up our lives with Buzz or Wave so much more pathetic, I guess.) Moon had a couple of other examples, but you get the point.

So… looking at all the ways that we let ourselves get interrupted now, I wonder whether the next killer app won’t be one that does the opposite: a digital cocoon, perhaps? An invisibility-maker, a discriminator, an exclusivitator, a zen snob app that let’s you say FU. Let’s call it the Garbo.

Just a thought… 😉

Follow up on commenting, and Facebook

March 27, 2010 at 10:29 pm | In comments, facebook, social_networking | 4 Comments

Here’s a follow-up to my Thursday post, Comment Quality?:

Lately I’ve noticed that my blog posts, which get posted to my Facebook account as Notes, are more likely to garner comments (or “likes”) over there (on Facebook) than here (on my blog’s comments board), and that it’s my local friends who are doing the Facebook commenting and “liking.” This got me thinking.

I love getting comments, so it doesn’t really matter whether they appear here or on Facebook. But whatever comments appear on Facebook are only visible to my Facebook friends, and no one else. I have some pretty draconian privacy settings on Facebook, while my blog is completely public and visible to anyone.

If there’s a particularly good comment on Facebook, should I port it over to my blog’s comments board, or leave it to its obscurity on Facebook?

For example, on the Comment quality? post, Rob Randall – who has commented here frequently – wrote a Facebook comment that I felt should go on the blog instead of remaining stuck behind Facebook’s garden wall.

Rob wrote:

Good point. Newspapers lost classified advertising to other entities that could do it better. They will lose commenting (and possibly the hallowed letter to the editor) if they don’t clean up the wild west aspect to their online presence.

Here’s relevant comment that I’m sure you’ll find agreeable from this week’s WaPo humour chat:

Santa Clara, Calif.: Since you have a poll regarding the comments following news stories, I feel obligated to share my beliefs about what works and what doesn’t. First and foremost, if you want good dialogue between people with differing opinions, unregulated and unmoderated commenting simply won’t work. As an online forum browser, participant, and moderator, I’ve learned a good commenting system takes a lot of effort from both the forum host and the participants, and has to have solid foundation of policies and standards.

I love WaPo and I’d really like to see good dialogue, but I’m almost always disappointed when I see most of the comments are crap. If you want to do this right, you need three essential elements:

– Active moderation. The best systems rely not only on the forum hosts, but on the participants themselves to filter or ban users when needed (qualified participants, see below).

– Qualification. New users should be identified as such, and they should not be allowed to freely comment without qualifying themselves first. Moderators and other “starred” participants can judge.

– Recognition. Use well qualified commenters as an extra resource. Identify and recognize them, and that will motivate participants to be that much more responsible.

The A-Q-R elements list really nails it. Q and R especially require a lot of human curation: someone from the organization (the newspaper, in this case) would have to be there to monitor the community, but it’s not impossible to do. It’s a comment that should be accessible.

Other recent blog posts that have generated comments (or “likes”) on Facebook (but not here) were Getting it up with coffee; City Hall sure likes to feather its staffing bed; Trust Agents, one; The future of publishing video; 28 seconds of reasons why I live here; and Theater of the absurd for 2010.

Most of those posts were about something local, and all of them were “liked” or commented on by local people near me, people I know. None were commented on or liked by far-flung friends. I guess that says something about the strength of Facebook in the local community – that people find it easy to use, easy to slip into, and that they’re comfortable with the level of privacy they feel it affords. I’m still trying to figure out how to transpose this into what I think should be a more truly public space.

For me, Facebook is not public – not like my blog is public, not like Twitter is public. Whenever I “like” or comment on anything on Facebook, I feel like I’m in a room (or walled garden). And there are several different rooms – I’m aware of the different levels of privacy / visibility I’m engaging in, and I’ve got some sense (right or wrong) of control – my networks or my friends-of-friends have some rights, whereas people completely unconnected to me have none. (I think.)

Whenever I comment on anything on a blog (my own or that of someone else), I know it’s public. No “rooms,” just an open platform. (The same holds true for Twitter, of course: completely public.)

As I said, I love the comments – whether they’re here, in public, or in that Facebook room.

But when push comes to shove, I’ll go for the open, public comments – breadcrumb trails that others can track.

Thinking out loud on social media platforms

March 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm | In authenticity, comments, social_networking | 2 Comments

A month or so ago I posted something rather personal on LinkedIn, a social media platform that till then I treated as strictly “business,” meaning no personal details, please-and-thank-you.


Making Friends, on HubSpot

Making Friends, on HubSpot


My post landed on the University of British Columbia (UBC) Alumni page, where UBC Alumnus Harman Bajwa asked fellow alums to join and introduce themselves. And off I went, for half a dozen or so (short) paragraphs. Amidst the success stories posted on the board, as well as war stories generated by the present economy, it seemed ok to write about how lost I’ve been for the past two years:

I graduated from UBC with a BA Hons. (’83) and an MA (’86), both in Art & Architectural History. Subsequently, I went on to earn a PhD (’91) in Art & Architectural History at Harvard.

I have an additional connection to UBC now – more on that in a moment.

After teaching in several New England departments while simultaneously starting a family, I found myself in the peculiar situation of …well, not being able to reconcile myself or my kids to the traditional school system. We started homeschooling, actually, and radically compounded that lifestyle change in 2002 by leaving the US to move to Victoria.

My additional UBC connection is my 15-year-old daughter …, a National Entrance Scholarship winner who is currently in her first year in UBC’s Arts One program. So, while I was the first person in my family in my generation to go to university (or finish high school), it appears my daughter is the youngest person in Arts One. …

At present, I am out of a job (that is, I’m no longer homeschooling my kids, since they’re now both at university) and am looking to reinvent my life. I’m pretty well informed about distance/ distributed learning and gifted issues at the K-12 level; I’m a blogger (since 2003); I’m a seasoned magazine writer (spent ~3 years writing for FOCUS Magazine, a Victoria monthly) on topics relating to urban development, the built environment, social media, and local politics and governance; I have successfully co-led a grassroots political awareness campaign to oppose Victoria City Hall’s plans to borrow $42million to build a new bridge (see JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG); I co-founded a local Victoria-based news & blog aggregator (which could be franchised across Canada – see; and as a volunteer member of the Capital Regional District’s Arts Advisory Council, I help adjudicate Project and Operating Grant applications from arts organizations of regional (Greater Victoria) significance.

… I’m reinventing myself yet again, and am willing to relocate either to Vancouver or even back to the States (I’m a dual US-Canadian citizen). Would love to hear from others who have embarked on similar journeys: how did you do it, what did you do, and where?

Standing in the middle of what feels like a slow-motion molasses maelstrom means being unable to recognize the obvious. Not till I wrote it, did I see it: “At present, I am out of a job (that is, I’m no longer homeschooling my kids, since they’re now both at university) and am looking to reinvent my life.”

Subsequently, I connected with a couple of other alums who are also in transition, although none seem to have been as foolishly reckless as I (or else they’re not saying). It perhaps takes a special kind of craziness to “fail” with a Harvard PhD.

While I don’t plan to make a habit of using (misusing?) LinkedIn for my own true confessions, it made sense, however, to articulate just this once my current sense of creative frustration, even on a site geared to professional interests. Yes, I do need to reinvent myself, and yes, I would leave Victoria willingly to do so. If I can’t tell that to my professional contacts, whom would I tell?

Meanwhile, almost two weeks ago Raul Pacheco wrote a blog post where he questioned the value of LinkedIn for himself, and …well, I wrote this long comment about how useful LinkedIn is for professional purposes. And that’s all true, it is very useful. But I guess I wasn’t entirely accurate if I suggested that the personal never intrudes.

PS: I’m still working on that reinvention thing. It’s a tough nut to crack.

(The above illustration, Making Friends in Social Media, courtesy of HubSpot.)

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

February 14, 2010 at 1:31 am | In comments, links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Excellent article by Sam Anderson, “The Human Shuffle,” about chatroulette.

    tags: chatroulette, socialmedia, socialtheory, sam_anderson, nymag

  • JP Rangaswami on what’s good about the World Economic Forum at Davos. Excellent article, with links for social media sites that bring WEF activity into the public sphere.
    “People who come to Davos have an incredibly rich array of options as to what they could participate in. In every case, they can pretty much be guaranteed access to some of the world’s experts on the issue. Whatever the issue. And it’s a broad range of issues addressed, far richer than the regular media fare of doom-laden politics and economics. Dismal sciences both of them.

    Davos is about bringing an eclectic group of enthusiastic people together for a high-intensity burst of activity, providing them access to expertise and to empowerment, and giving them an environment where stuff happens. “

    tags: confused_of_calcutta, jp_rangaswami, davos, world_economic_forum, activism

  • I’m really not sure that putting the equivalent of a high-tech textile paper bag over an ugly building can really “fix” an ugly building. On the other hand, maybe it’s an idea whose time has come, especially since it’s an alternative to wasteful demolition & rebuilding?
    “The “Tower Skin” concept is a transparent cocoon made of high performance composite mesh textile that is wrapped around an existing structure to act as a high-performance “micro climate”. Surface tension allows the membrane to freely stretch around walls and roof elements achieving maximum visual impact with minimal material effort. The skin is also easily repairable, is removable and upgradable and features a self-cleaning coating.”

    tags: architecture, facadism, retrofit, skylines

  • “Formed in 1974, Business for the Arts is a national business association dedicated to increasing the quantity and quality of partnerships between Business and the Arts through a cohesive set of programs that foster and promote business leadership in the Arts, facilitate funding relationships and connect business volunteers to the Arts. Founding members include Great West Life, London Life & Canada Life and Royal Bank of Canada – businesses that have set the standard for arts support in this country.

    We are committed to enhancing the quality of life in Canadian communities by increasing private sector support of the arts.”

    tags: arts, arts_development, arts_funding, canada, business

  • Love the sound of this panel (for a 2010 May conference in Seattle):
    Occupant behavioral change is key to the success of high-performance buildings in all areas, including energy, water usage, and livability. This session will focus on strategies to “recommission” occupant behavior. Participants will be tasked with imagining the future for occupants and providing creative solutions to solve the framed problems. Some examples of discussion questions: Should tThe changing nature of work, including increased capability to work in a multiplicity of spaces throughout the day with remote connection to people and information, . s. How should this impact the way we condition, furnish and use office space? ? Should conditioning be based on occupancy levels? 2. Should the building’s heating system always be required to keep the building at 72 to 75 degrees, or should the indoor temperature fluctuate with the seasons? Does occupant knowledge about the building’s performance lead to behavioral change to reduce energy or water use? What are other assumptions about ‘the way things are done’ that are increasing a building’s environmental burden? This will be aThe session is intended to be creative, foreword-thinking session, with an emphasis on out-of-the box ideas.

    tags: judith_heerwagen, seattle, conference, cascadia, living_future, environmental_psychology, green_buildings

  • My friend and co-instigator at JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG, Mat Wright, posts his thoughts on Google Buzz. I left comments.

    tags: gmail, buzz, mat_wright, comments

  • This sounds like a great initiative:
    Portland City Art is a public charity 501(c)(3) non-profit, whose mission is to serve the art community of Portland, by building upon the aspirations, vision and mission of the greater Portland art community and the businesses, organizations and individuals who support them, through organizing, creating and implementing solo and group art shows, art events, art forums and community art venues for the advancement of the arts and art community here in Portland.

    The vision of Portland City Art is to bring together a diverse array of both local emerging and professional artists, in an environment and dynamic which positively facilitates their individual career paths and goals through art display, art sales and a community supported social function. Portland City Art will create an environment for which artists may successfully and easily connect with one another, share ideas, pursue collaboration and merge resources for which to sell their art and further their art career.

    With the support of local businesses, charities, corporations, organizations and individuals who sponsor and contribute to Portland City Art events, we will successfully implement tangible, sustainable and comprehensive art shows, art sales and art careers for artists and the Portland art community at large, while also advancing, securing and investing in the future operations of Portland City Art as a charitable and resourceful non-profit organization.

    Something to model…

    tags: portland, art, arts_development, reference

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Another wave …of mirror neurons

February 10, 2010 at 11:44 pm | In comments, futurismo, social_critique, social_networking, ubiquity, web | Comments Off on Another wave …of mirror neurons

Well, it’s not called Wave, it’s called Buzz now.

I opted for it, used it a few times, and then doused it with indifference. Actually, more than indifference: an article pointed to by Dave Winer (via this tweet), WARNING: Google Buzz Has A Huge Privacy Flaw, prompted me to go to my Google settings to make sure that buzzy news wasn’t going to be publicly available. Call me old-fashioned, but I think email (and who I email with) is my business, not the world’s. Yeah, sure, the world isn’t interested in me and my email, but on principle, what Google did with default public settings is wrong.

Mat Wright blogged about Buzz earlier, and I left several persnickety (even curmudgeonly) comments. (Mat is used to this – we are co-conspirators on and co-creators of JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG and he has heard me rant often. It makes for a refreshing change that this time around it’s not about City of Victoria politics, I guess.)


Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (Louvre)

Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (Louvre)


What really intrigued me a lot more today than Buzz, however, was chatroulette (which I hadn’t heard of before, but read about on Fred Wilson‘s blog post here).

Just go read Fred’s post and then especially read through the many comments. I decided to leave a comment about chatroulette (also viewable on my Disqus profile), even if my thoughts on this app are half-formed – full disclosure: I haven’t used chatroulette and probably never will (just the mention of 4chan is enough to keep me off), but I was intrigued by the “don’t next me!” pleas from a user. The technology brings us “together” (in a weird way), but it then also gives us the power to delete people wholesale.  …Don’t taze me, bro! Don’t delete me! Don’t next me! I find this fascinating. It’s a dialectic of violence that’s built into the very thing we’re using to touch one another. The threat of harm in the promise of contact is part of the package.

If you’re really curious, you might even want to spend 8 minutes watching the …er, unusual video, 1 man 2 fish censored, posted on the blog comments board. Mirror neurons firing like it’s the Fourth of July – but what are they hitting?

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

November 22, 2009 at 1:31 am | In comments, links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • A listing of recently published and working papers by Ann Markusen, director of the Institute’s Project on Regional and Industrial Economics at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs (U of Minnesota). Her Areas of Expertise are:
    Arts, culture and economic development; regional economics and planning; industrial organization; economic development, local, state, regional; industrial and occupational planning; economic impact of high technology, military spending.

    Her current research “focuses on occupational approaches to regional development and on artists and cultural activity as regional economic stimulants.”

    Of special interest:… (“The Arts Economy Initiative at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs is midstream in a ten-year project on artists, their livelihoods, and their contributions, along with arts organizations and cultural industries, to regional and local economies.”)

    See also Markusen’s bio page:…

    tags: references, ann_markusen, urbanism, arts, culture, creative_cities, resources, urban_development

  • Thought-provoking post by Doc Searls: social media is “a crock.” What’s ignored in all the social media hype is the infrastructure that underwrites the private real estate of Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. The other problem with social media is that “as a concept (if not as a practice) it subordinates the personal.”

    “Personal and social go hand-in-hand, but the latter builds on the former.”

    “Markets are built on the individuals we call customers. They’re where the ideas, the conversations, the intentions (to buy, to converse, to relate) and the money all start. Each of us, as individuals, are the natural points of integration of our own data — and of origination about what gets done with it. “

    tags: doc_searls, socialmedia, infrastructure, internet

  • So, “…what would be the 19 urban development types for the creatives that fuel the knowledge economy? Here’s one look at it, based on a list initially produced by renowned urbanist Andres Duany:”
    A. Primarily Commercial Mixed-Use Buildings
    1. Pedestrian-Only Town Center Retail Entertainment Grouping;
    2. Standard Town Center Retail Entertainment Grouping
    3. Neighborhood Center Retail Entertainment Grouping
    4. Triple Mixed-Use Flat
    5. Triple Mixed-Use Mid-Rise
    B. Primarily Residential Mixed-Use Buildings
    6. Mixed-Use Loft Apartment Mid-Rise
    7. Mixed-Use Loft Apartment Flat
    8. Mixed-Use Mini-Condo Mid-Rise
    9. Loft Apartment House
    10. Live-Work Units
    C. Exclusively Residential Buildings
    11. Loft Apartment House
    12. Courtyard Apartments
    13. Townhouses with an Ancillary Building
    14. Green-fronting Townhouses
    15. Paseo Housing Grouping
    16. The Inn
    D. Exclusively Commercial Buildings
    17. Loft Office Mid-Rise
    18. Avenue Office Grouping
    19. Urban Villa

    tags: cooltown_studios, urban_development, urbanism, new_urbanism, andres_duany, chris_leinberger

  • When I read this pithy article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, I found useful parallels between an evolutionary take on economics and innovation, and what she describes as the 15-minute advantage. That is, if you’re too far ahead of the curve, you may make an evolutionary (or innovative) leap, but it won’t “take” – it will be like a leap from one peak to another, without successful landing. Instead, you need those increments that allow successful leaps.

    The Woody Allen backdrop story is such a great lead-in – makes her underlying idea very graspable, too. Moss Kanter lists 8 characteristics of innovation, some of which are straight out of our understanding of successful evolution:
    1. Tria-able; 2. Divisible; 3. Reversible; 4. Tangible; 5. Fits prior investments; 6. Familiar; 7. Congruent with future direction; 8. Positive publicity value.

    tags: economics, innovation, competitiveness, harvard_business, rosabeth_moss_kanter, evolution

  • A “rough unedited crib” of danah boyd’s Nov.2009 talk at Web2.0 Expo in NYC, which analyzes how information is delivered and consumed “in flow.” boyd notes,
    For the longest time, we have focused on sites of information as a destination, of accessing information as a process, of producing information as a task. What happens when all of this changes? While things are certainly clunky at best, this is the promise land of the technologies we’re creating. This is all happening because of how our information society is changing.
    She also some critical things to say about curating and/ or aggregating content:
    We need technological innovations. For example, tools that allow people to more easily contextualize relevant content regardless of where they are and what they are doing and tools that allow people to slice and dice content so as to not reach information overload. This is not simply about aggregating or curating content to create personalized destination sites. Frankly, I don’t think this will work. Instead, the tools that consumers need are those that allow them to get into flow, that allow them to live inside information structures wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. The tools that allow them to easily grab what they need and stay peripherally aware without feeling overwhelmed.
    That bit gave me pause. If I’m thinking of local context, I have no idea at this point what those tools might look like. Something to think about…

    Finally, one of the most interesting angles she discusses comes at the very end of the paper, in her discussion of how business models have changed/ must change:
    …we need to rethink our business plans. I doubt this cultural shift will be paid for by better advertising models. Advertising is based on capturing attention, typically by interrupting the broadcast message or by being inserted into the content itself. Trying to reach information flow is not about being interrupted. Advertising does work when it’s part of the flow itself. Ads are great w

    tags: danah_boyd, web2.0, talks, presentations, information, socialtheory

  • David Weinberger discusses Umberto Eco’s interview (in Der Spiegel) wherein Eco argues that “The list is the origin of culture,” a statement which Weinberger sets out to refute. In particular, I appreciated his view that lists are one-dimensional and therefore can’t be all that Eco ascribes to them. I left a comment about pattern recognition (which neither Eco in the interview nor Weinberger in his analysis mention).

    tags: david_weinberger, umberto_eco, taxonomy, comments, lists, pattern_recognition

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Toward a new medievalism?

June 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm | In business, comments, futurismo, ideas, media, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Toward a new medievalism?

I just left this comment on It’s me going off on a typical theory bender, but the idea of Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL) sparked another “here come the Middle Ages” image/moment for me. (As I note in the comment, they’ve been popping up for me since the late 1970s: my first one happened in the south of France, in a literally medieval town on a street with lots of commerce: pop!, a vision of what we could go back to – and I didn’t like the distinctly anti-modernist feel of it.)

That’s an interesting exchange between you and John Battelle, Fred. Now I’m going to go totally off-topic here and get all abstract, but I have to say that to my mind there’s something Medieval in some of the emerging business models and how they’re changing the nature of markets.

In the feudal Middle Ages, powerful patrons – either the Church or the Feudal lords – determined the markets. Markets weren’t free, they weren’t determined by market forces (as we think we understand them since the various emancipations) or really shaped by the “little people” (who in the modern period developed into powerful consumers).

When I read (as per transcript): “…if you think about what businesses and celebrities and brands need on Twitter and what they’re not getting today, there’s a whole set of premium services that are there,” I’m *understanding* something that reminds me of feudal medievalism where markets are determined by the needs of powerful patrons (church and/or lords). (John Battelle repeats the point further down when he says, “You said something about brands on Twitter, sort of like celebrities having the ability to sort of build an official presence.”)

I didn’t understand recent controversies about Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL). I saw Dave Winer’s tweets about the SUL, but didn’t understand why he questioned the concept. Maybe I do now – albeit in my own weird way (Dave probably would roll his eyes at my interpretation…).

The SUL concept nudges markets back into a feudal framework where forces other than actual market forces determine the market landscape.

Maybe I’m crazy – I’ve had occasional bad dreams for nearly 30 years now about how feudal Medievalism is clawing back bits of Modernity. (Blame Umberto Eco, whose writings encompass Modernity and the Middle Ages.) The idea comes to me in pictures, which is maybe why I struggle so much to get the words right (the anti-icons, the iconoclastics). Me no likey what I see with SUL-type aspects of the business model and how it has the potential to alter markets.

I love the internet and all the great stuff out there, I plunge right in, sound off, play along. I love pictures and emblems and icons, but at heart I’m a daughter of the Enlightenment (words, words, words). Pictures, specifically icons, are Medieval. Yet in the new world that we’re making, even words – such as passed links – are turned into image, into something that’s consumed like an image (in a glance, or uncritically). Exegesis – trying to understand and interpret words – is still important it seems, as per the comment that reading the transcript of the video is better than watching the moving image…! But you could chalk that up to Medievalism, too. They did a lot of exegesis back then. 😉

Ok, I’m generalizing (wildly?), and I’m going off into my own little theory-land here. But as you said yourself, “Social media together is going to be bigger than Google.” Google and the internet certainly changed our thinking about everything, including thinking about thinking itself. Tell me it’s not rewiring our brains – of course it is. Now social media are poised to rewire the market. I just happen to think that bits of it are kind of medieval, and every time the notion of the tribe (certainly an important idea in the new market place) is celebrated without critical reflection, something in me dies a little bit.

If my favorite enlightened Marxist, Groucho, were still alive, I wonder how he would position himself, market-wise, in the social media landscape, and if he would want to be on the SUL? 😉

Originally posted as a comment by Yule Heibel on A VC using Disqus.

Reblogged to here as mnemonic / string around the finger.

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