LIFT07: Communication Revisited

In my much too long, much too Möbius-strip-like logic of the previous post there was much that I did not address, there are many missed chances to reference the excellent presentations that I did witness and to connect a bit more to what the whole of what Lift is about. The whole may seem that it went by me in a blur, but… well, there are always surprises.

This post by David Galipeau that I have referenced briefly before has however struck quite a chord with me for in it many of the elements of what evolving dynamic systems are about are included. I like it indeed. For any body interested in understanding this in any more detail I do recommend reading C S Holling “Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological, and Social Systems” which presents quite a few useful ideas about adaptive cycles.

I hold the view that the present technology – hardware and software – is still rather rudimentary to be used as a social interaction tool that empowers individuals and communities into the next evolutionary stage. This may be a particular bias from my side produced by having read one too many patent specifications that deal with such tools and that tend to bore the living daylights out of me not because of the complexity, but because of the lack of ingenuity and the continued obfuscation of the disclosure.

If we are going to address the challenges and opportunities of technology in our society, perhaps one should have gotten clear first as to what the challenges are and what the opportunities are. I think that technology and law are both here to serve humans, i mean, the collective society, not the other way around. We being wonderfully complex as a system do self-organize spontaneously and build communities along various types of ideologies from nationalism to buddhism passing right through A-Z in -isms. Furthermore most members of one community are also members of other communities, so there is a super-structure of communities that builds up.

All these communities or social systems communicate through the communication that its human members produce, and a lot of noise is produced and broadcast along side with all the ambiguities, disconnects and plain dead antennas and disruptive channels. It is messy really. We do struggle to keep one’s own attentional resources manageable, and somehow squeak through with our emergencies to that of others. I know that I deal with this by checking email on the hour, or depending how prone I may to distraction, less often. On occasions I also go off the internet, and produce what one would call real disconnection. I have always been fond of two buttons in my mobile, the off-button and the silent button. I keep the fixed line phone plugged in easy reach of a master switch. On occasions I also love to just listen to the ring tones, but mostly they irritate me. People have complained and written me snail mail about their frustration in reaching me. Snail mail does not really help, I am notorious about not checking my post office box, not always without unpleasant surprises. I have used IM from constantly to not at all for months and I have used it in a variety of setting from work to home, using my civil identity or a variety of nicks or handles. Of course I get some warm fuzzy feelings when somebody dear to me is online, be it my brother, or cousin, or friend, but I do not always interact. Some goes for Skype. I have met people face-to-face first and I have met people on the internet first, and I am convinced that there is a bit of a difference on the way that initial relationships get formed depending on which channel constituted the first encounter or the way of learning about each other. After all social interactions do involve learning about each other, even if all you want is to strike a good business deal.

I have had quite a mixed bag of reactions when it comes to LinkedIn that I happen to like, and to me the verdict is still not out on Facebook as there are elements of it that find irritation buttons with me all over the place, and some features seem really cool. The lack of permeability between LinkedIn and Facebook is obvious but it would be so desirable. Facebook’s email import tool sucks.

When it came to LinkedIn, I have taken my contacts from the mac address book and sent invitation to my real life contacts and the results have been surprising. Some, a minority, took to it without any resistance and was glad to see me using it and what not. I was myself initially invited to join by Jean-François Groff – whom I think still does not have a blog, brave soul! – but it took some convincing from his side. The interface is at best unfriendly, although once one has become familiar with it, there is a lot of good features. However I have gotten reactions that have included questions about it being spam or what on earth was I up to, and this from people who are otherwise rather cool and good buddies of mine in the face to face system. But I also have had many people simply not reacting to it, and I do suppose it is because it may have landed in their spam; this is a problem with my colleagues that are in edu environments and something that I do not take any pride in trying to figure out. One particularly interesting report from the users of LinkedIn was when one of my more reluctant LinkedIn invitation acceptors, and who happens to have a company producing some rather cool internet enabling software, discovered that there was somebody in my contacts whom he would like to be reintroduced to. I had already introduced them many years ago, and this person being modest, thought that a reintroduction was called upon. We then exchanged a few emails, I accommodated his request, then we exchanged a few more emails and I told him my two bits about LinkedIn. A few days later I get an email and find these words “I went on my long-dormant account on Linkedin and saw about 36 invitations over the last several years. I also learned a bit more about the service, cleared up some of my misconceptions, and I see the value. So I think I’m going to activate my account and start accepting all those invitations.” If this happens within the geek community, what are the rest of the folks facing?

I really wonder what it really means when somebody does not accept your Facebook or LinkedIn invitation. Can one really make any conclusion about it? Well, you can, if you take it personally, and that one hook does get me too. So when I deal with this kind of software it is always a good place to be reminded of being Zen. It really does not mean a thing… muuuh!

Where is this all going? To me face-to-face interaction can not be replaced, and the tools to provide some sort of virtual record for those real encounters are still at an early stage of development. I do think however that there is a great deal of social disruption that can be caused by reading in too much into any of these virtual communities, for as far as the eye can see they are infested with dys-functionalites. I think that the role of communication and information flow need to be addressed from the fundamental point of view of what challenge, if any, we are addressing. Or is the challenge just having fun? What on earth are we building here?

Still first, we need to understand just a bit better how it is that relationships are formed and how they are nurtured and cultivated in an internet obsessed environment,, and what purpose, if any, this all serves society.

Reboot 8.0 – Renaissance

After I was good and overwhelmed with all the interaction going on at reboot, Euan Semple held the last keynote presentation before the closing of reboot 8.0. It was a bit zen. If I remember correctly, and I made no notes, it was something about the internet being about love. Four letters of pure misunderstanding is what love tends to be about in a lot of occasions, but not always. Love I understood in this reboot context to be taking the form of connection which is what the live web does allow us all to do. Renaissance pure it is!

Take it for a fact that right now here I sit at my desk writing on a somewhat complex piece of electromechanical machinery and that within seconds my friends in India and California can be reading my opinions and then commenting on them. Furthermore, if they feel like it, then they can call or skype or email. It is all occurring at the speed of light? No… electrical signals do travel a bit slower. Anyhow, for human perception, we are all connected at the push of a button that takes less than one second to actuate, that is to say, instantaneously or thereabouts within seconds.

We are connected and we are autonomously alone simultaneously. The imperative duality of human nature (more on this later) is finally represented in our physical world, Euan is talking about love, others are talking about how to be a renaissance man and that markets are not just conversations, they are relationships (à la Doc Searls). Whatever…  markets are secondary expressions of human needs. The latter are simple: food, shelter and love. That is humans are social animals that eat and drink and are ill adapted for living on trees or on the hot sands of arabia.

I was born in the late fifties, went to college in the seventies and eighties in California and that puts me in a generation that arrived at the tail end of the hippie culture and Timoty Leary. For me drugs and sex were always there for the taking even if I was not at Berkeley; rock-and-roll was optional. This is the generation that gave us the personal computer, also known that instrument that marked the beginning of the erosion of slow communication and expensive advertising campaigns. In those days communication was specialized, slow and it could be controlled. Today communication is a commodity at the finger tip of any individual able to connect to the internet by whatever device. Although these days I am not willing to pay for what a Nokia N90 costs, it is one pregnant device with the shape of things to come. Make that same mobile device a plug in object into my PowerBook, and then I may not be able to resist. I like plug-and-play and multi-functionality that involves socializing hardware itself, not just humans. Besides that I need something that allows me to write fast enough and that allows me to think. I also do not always feel like voicing my thoughts, thus a recording device that writes may also not cover my needs.

But where am I going with all of this rambling about the seventies, the democratization of communication, the non-existense of markets in an abstract sense, abstraction itself and the renaissance man? Or to phrase it differently, what does sex have to do with software?

Really, I am talking about software, not some dysfunctional being’s fantasies or delirium. In this Renaissance of ours midwifed by the likes of geeks and hackers, software is going to be a commodity, like electricity is a commodity now, while energy may present us all a challenge. Our present wars are about land, water and oil. Technology is incidental and commodity-like. Terrorism is a form or warfare using intelligence as its key resource and not technology. It is perhaps not too surprising that using technology to fight intelligence is failing.

Could we perhaps consider that if we want to give this world another perspective we might want to be looking at what values are being served by the creation of new commodities?

Why do I blog this? These are incomplete thoughts that have been inspired by the multitude of experiences and exchange of ideas at reboot 8. I use blogging for publishing both drafts and lose notes of ideas. To me the web is alive and an ongoing conversation on several planes.