Tag Archive for: Howard Rheingold

It’s a Small World After All

20 Jan 2003
January 20, 2003

The Net is redefining our social space. Hyperbole aside, in the last week I’ve discovered two new ways to define my net community.

Did I tell you I’m reading Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs? Howard has researched the ways technology is changing how we interact. Yet, as a coworker suggested, he writes about it as if he’s telling a story. Makes a potentially “geeky” read into a powerful and engaging one. Every so often I get really excited by someone’s writing. This is a book I not only can’t put down, but one that immediately puts me into a creative trance. Ideas, sometimes crazy ideas ensue. I must look pretty funny on the subway.

But Howard isn’t the only one exploring new socialspheres. Joshua Schachter has developed GeoURL, officially described as a “location-to-URL reverse directory.” Translated that means you can put code on your web page that describes where in the physical world you’re located (you know, longitude and latitude). Once you do that, you can actually see who (and whose sites) are located close to you in the corporeal sense. Hmmm, should I position myself from home, work, where I work out, or where my Web host is located? Hard decision. It seems I’m all over the map. Maybe I can devise a script that will read my GSM position hourly and update the code to reflect my new location.

Mark Pilgrim has devised another type of Net road map. When you input your URL at Recommended Reading it provides a list of blogs you might be interested in. Rather than your geographical position, Mark’s list is based on which sites you link to and which link to you. Since most bloggers link to sites they like or find interesting, this methodology assumes these links help determine relevance.

So what am I to do with these new connections, these Six Degrees of Separation type couplings? Why contact them of course. What good is a peer-to-peer network if you can’t cavort with your peers.

First stop: Peyser Associates, Inc., located right on top of me according to GeoURL (well, almost). From their front page I see they are “a Washington, DC based firm that specializes in helping its clients gain the resources needed to develop critical projects and programs. Begun in 1982 as a lobbying firm representing U.S. State and local government agencies, we have grown into a firm that succeeds by bringing to bear our formidable expertise and contacts to build support in the public and private sectors – inside and outside of Washington – for our clients’ initiatives.”

A bit of a run on sentence but that won’t matter if I can approach them with some art initiatives I’m heavily involved with. Artists could use a formidable lobbying effort on Capitol Hill.

Next stop was {confusion : journal}, Brian Jeffery Beggerly’s blog (located one mile from my blog via GeoURL). I have only looked around briefly but found a few overlaps there. My name is JeffREY, his middle name is JeffERY. He works for Lockheed (if only for a few more weeks). And my father worked for Lockheed for 35 years. Hmmm. Food for thought. I sent him a message.

• • •

Let’s switch over to Recommended Reading to see if our connection might be a tad more germane. This time I’ll start on the bottom of the list. Last, but certainly not least (I wouldn’t want to offend any of my newly discovered peers, even though the list is generated by a coldhearted algorithm) is overstated.net. Overstated’s subtitle: Anxiety is not a good thing. That’s a very good start.

Cameron, overstated’s author, is a Ph.D candidate at MIT’s Media Lab. I can see why his site was on my reading list. There are some interesting connections here. In a January 15th entry, he talks briefly about the origins and present day ramifications of the tenure system:

Tenure, an infrastructure most people think is as old as the university, is actually quite young institution in America. Based on the German concept of lehrfreiheit, or freedom to teach, tenure also has the effect of locking in to an age heirarchy that undermines young thinkers. While the ideals are good (i.e., disconnecting professors’ ideas from their employment), the resulting system lacks the adaptability and creativity necessary to bridge new ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we fire all tenured professors and replace them with younger, less experienced researchers. But when new professors spend their time appealing to the venerable members of their program, they lose their potential to break new ground through alternative methods and perspectives.

Cameron, I went that route for quite some time and I would agree with your assessment. That’s in part why I left academia to join the Federal government work force. New ideas need encouragement.

Speaking of irony, Cameron quotes Kirkegaard on the subject. I was dismayed when they said irony was dead. And to be honest, I didn’t believe them. And I still don’t. If you meet a tenured professor who isn’t threatened by new ideas, I’ll bet he/she believes in it too.

I sent Cameron an email too.

Recommended Reading’s list, made especially for me and based on Phillip Pearson’s Blogging Ecosystem, contains some sites I already read (Zeldman and Textism, both frequent reads). In fact, it helps you refine your index by asking if you already read a particular blog or simply aren’t interested in that entry.

I have always been a network kind of guy. Back in junior high school (when stamps were actually used to send mail), I had pen pals all over the world: Japan, Korea, Czechoslovakia, Norway, and the Netherlands. I still write to my friend John in Holland. So, this is not new territory for me.

I’m going to be making contact with others on my list in the next few weeks. Mark’s list constantly changes as new links come and go. So, like the diet I’m on, I may have to look at this as a long term lifestyle change, something that will be a constant in my day-to-day activities.

If nothing else, linking to them will emphasize the statistically significant relationship we already have. If they write me back maybe something more interesting will develop. We might even meet each other face-to-face some day.

Smart Underground Mobs

09 Jan 2003
January 9, 2003

I was deep into Howard Rheingold’s new book, Smart Mobs, when I looked up and discovered that twelve other people in the subway car were reading it as well. As I raised my eyes, everyone lowered their books to give me a knowing glance. Was this a peer-to-peer network Howard and Cory Doctorow were talking about? Persistant and ubiquitous communication. The wireless net on the Red Line just coming into Union Station. Howard’s books were the nodes.

Parts of my new community got off, but more walked in. Almost everyone now sported a turquoise-covered hardback up against their nose. I was starting to receive messages. A woman, a student I think, jabbered loudly on her cell phone to an unseen friend. She was on her way to her 8 o’clock class for a test. But she hadn’t studied at all. In fact, she hadn’t been to class in two weeks. I put my finger to my lips to reduce the interference as our eyes met .

The man sitting next to me voiced his objection to the measly cost-of-living raise government workers were getting this month, our sacrifice to Bush’s War Budget. “The increase cost of medical insurance will surly offset any gain. And my cable is going up 10%.” Pages rustled in agreement. The heated discussion permeated into the two adjoining cars.

As I turned the page, another query came wafting by me. Apparently, there were quite a few Web designers on board. Most worked either for the feds, outside government contractors (some defense-related) or news organizations. “Why the push for broadband?” pages murmured. Mobile networks will be the next social revolution. We should be planning for a very different information broadcast.
“If only our bosses would let us start thinking outside today’s box.” the woman across the aisle responded. Books dropped to the floor.

A man in an oversized brown overcoat and broad brimmed fedora suddenly stood up. He had been reading a Philip K. Dick novel, but I couldn’t make out the title. Taking off his hat he turned to me and said “you’re over burdening the network. I can’t understand a thing I’m reading.” We invited him to join us but he had much more ambitious plans.

As we neared the center of town, static replaced dialogue. We were right between the Department of Justice and the White House when somebody pulled out The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush by David Frum. The static gave way to complete silence. At the next stop I decided I’d better reroute my morning commute to the Blue Line to get a better connection. Others followed. I had never done this before. It was a little out of my way but I hoped it would be a much more pleasant ride.

Everyone looked up from their books when we entered the train. And the chat was loud and clear.

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