September 2007
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Month September 2007


Billy created a wonderful little ruler for the iphone. Its interesting, its dislocating and its beautiful done, lovely to see wood grain on a device.

Parting is hell

Weep if you must
Parting is hell.
But life goes on.
So sing as well.

Joyce Grenfell

I struggle sometimes to define what I consider to be appropriate personal boundaries re: personal publishing online. As I type, I am flying back from a short trip to London where I went to the memorial service of my 36 year old nephew. What follows is a somewhat rambling post about these boundaries and some memories from the service.

Only connect
After the service yesterday other than sadness all that I could feel was a desire to connect. I called my wife and other family members, I just wanted to share the experience I had had with people I care about. Forester’s words come back and back to me over the years of working with online. As humans we have a deep need for connection — but what are the boundaries of those connections, what tools online serve to effectively share and connect with other human beings?

Online so many of the tools we are building are about public connections, public sharing, public publishing. Friends in the media world often wonder or don’t wonder they just state that people who today are sharing their lives openly on facebook, myspace, beebo, fotolog or any of the long list of other social publishing platforms will stop doing this when they grow up. I don’t believe they will — we are on path to greater and greater public disclosure. This is different to privacy and its certainly different to what people in studies say they want — but usage data is pretty clear, pointing in the direction of ever decreasing concerns about public/private boundaries.

Take Facebook. There has been an incredible explosion of activity on Facebook this year. Much of it is the arrival of the digerati, and many of those people are active bloggers so they fell right into the grove of publishing, posting pictures publicly and updating their newsfeed etc. But many of these new users have never blogged and in discussions with them I have heard them talk about how Facebook is giving them a new platform for sharing in public. But the platform is not new — the internet has offered this kind of sharing for a long time — what is new is they are accepting a new compact in terms of the public / private boundary under which they organize and share their lives using real identity (vs. fantasy which is most of what we see on Myspace, Fotolog etc.). As such Facebook is becoming a platform for identity on the web. New Facebook users are changing behavior, the technology and social context may be easing that change but its the user behavior that is shifting. Slowly, haltingly, people are opening up their lives and participating in virtual communites. It’s a similar but more extreme story over at Twitter.

I regard Twitter through the prism of presence management. Yes, it is a tool for communication and personal publishing, but so many of the posts and the activity on Twitter relate to presence. “I am here right now and its kind of interesting, here is a bit of here”. The shift the designers of Twitter made a few weeks ago — clarifying that friends are named as “followers” only serves to re-inforce this aspect of Twitter. The public / private boundary in Twitter has a couple dimensions to it. Foremost is location. People post and tell you where they are at random points in time. Its not random for the poster, its just somewhat random for the follower. Event happens and are posted when people want them to know something about the place. Its similar to a service in Japan launched years ago called Ima-hima, they did opt in location based posting from mobile devices. I think they are still around, hard to tell from the web site.

Personally, I have few concerns about posting location, heck, last year I played around with publicly posting my location for weeks, hour by hour, via GPS. Its the type of location posting on Twitter that I struggle to navigate. I have no interest in what I call observational broadcasting or egocasting — using Twitter to essentially say “here check my life”. There is a subtle point here I will try to unpack. Egocasting for me feeds two aspects of my relationship to the network that I don’t want to feed — both of these aspects are related let me try to distinguish them clearly. First it serves to increase my awareness of the network about my physical space, encouraging me to observe an experience vs. engage and hope to understand an experience. Second it serves to feed my ego’s need to push or publish that awareness to the public network. I personally, don’t want to develop either of these traits. When I am somewhere I want to try experience where I am, not the experience of what sharing the experience of where I am will be. This might be personal, I know its personally important to me — its somewhat I feel strongly about to ramble on about it here.

Back to London and the memorial service. I wanted to share my experience but I wanted to share it in a direct and personal way with a small group. The tools to do this dont really exist today beyond email. Years ago bullentin boards and communities like the Well or Panix served this need. But today the scope of Facebook or Myspace is insanely broad and as a consequence it lacks the dynamic evolution of human relationships. The designation of friends on many social sites is clumsy and broad — on Facebook I get to shoehorn the type of relationship I have with you into one of 14 categories. And then there is the issue of missing prana that I remember reading about in a piece by Barlow over a decade ago. Friends are not the 150 friends I have on Facebook, friendship is a dynamic human experience and shoehorning it into a set of categories is dehumanizing. The network needs to serve us, not us the network. To the extent possible, I seek to be very intentional about how i interact with the network.

One aspect of the network and the internet that I do want to feed is its capacity to enhance and help us remember. So let me close with the address that was given at the service.

The priests who gave the address at the service was the priest who had married my nephew eight years ago, he was also his god father. His address was very frank and ungarnished with religious dogma. He couldn’t avoid it — he wasn’t just the representative of a religion here he was the god father — he was someone who actually had to resolve how this kind of loss can sustain his belief not undermine it. He spoke very directly about how he resolves belief in God with the loss of someone in their mid-thirties, a husband, a father, who has spent fifteen years struggling with cancer. How do you square that circle? Here I am going to tread with clumsy steps on heaps of theological thinking, but I have asked this question myself, here and before and I haven’t heard many answers, he offered one.

He focussed in on the question of whether he views God as a personal, active God or a passive observer of life. He said that one time that God actively participated was when he gave his son to mankind. That one act aside he said God isn’t an active God. That one act was an act of giving, an act that ended with his son dying at age 33 screaming, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. That act, that intervention in our lives, he said, only served to illustrate that our lives our lived by us, but against a backdrop, of something greater than us.

In closing a piece by S Hall Young, from the service:

Let me die working,
Still tackling plans unfinished, tasks undone!
Clean to its end, swift may my race be run.
No laggard steps, no faltering, no shirking;
Let me die working.

Let me die thinking,
Let me fare forth still with an open mind,
Fresh secrets to unfold, new truths to find,
My soul undimmed, alert, no question blinking;
Let me die thinking.

Let me die giving,
The substance of life, for life’s enriching;
Time, things and self on heaven converging,
No selfish thought, love redeeming, living;
Let me die giving.