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The socialite, the social network and the outcast

June 21, 2011

I am not the first person to think (or write) things such as what follows, but feel the need to express them here anyway:

There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between social behavior, and social networks.  Social networks allow one to keep people at arms length, or further, rather than have meaningful conversations– all this while increasing the virtual contact with other people (both the number of people that one is “connected” to, and many times one “communicates” with those people.)  It is the illusion of the social.

I was not certain where my initial revulsion to MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc… came from, but the revulsion was (and to a decent part, still is) there.  On the face of it, these places provide a means and an opportunity to share your life with many people– some of them people who are separated by geography, some of them people that you wish to keep at an arm’s length (or further.)   The problem is: these relationships take the skin out of the game.  They are superficial– because they are, by design, subsets of the “real you” distilled for online consumption; they are a poor substitute for genuine humanity.

The contexts are mixed online, and in ways that significantly make social networks dangerous.  People are not one thing to everybody.  My mom shared a story (a decently long time ago) with me once that helps to clarify this:

My mom was involved in a great many activities at college, and she had a collection of different people who were friends.  In many cases, these people had things in common.  In many others, the thing they had in common was her.  She had said that she thought she’d have a get-together, and introduce them to one another (after all, if they all were her friends, they could also be friends with one another.)   Now, it being years ago, I don’t recall the specifics, other than to say that I am pretty sure this story was a lesson for me: Not all of your friends will like one another, even though they like you.  The get-together did not go as planned.

The logic makes sense, it is almost like transitive math, until you put real personality into the picture.  The math.  A likes B and C.  B likes D and E.  C likes F and G.  Therefore A should like D and E, and F and G.   Put them in a set, and A thru G should be one big posse.  Enter human nature: We are not one thing to many people, we are many things to many people.

The partitioning of our selves into different aspects is common in the real world.  It is essential, in some cases.  Many people are blessed with doing the things that they love for a living.   In order to pay the bills, many others take one kind of job, and keep their passions in their projects and hobbies.  (The reasons are varied and numerous for this, and outside of the scope of the blog post.  Rest assured, if you allow for this as a premise, I can take you somewhere useful.)  Some people call this particular division “Work/Life Balance”.  We do work at work, we do home at home.  At work, we use different skills (and are often required to deal with people we might not otherwise choose to spend time with), and therefore, we are, essentially, someone else.  This division is greater for some people than others, but usually, there is some sort of split.  (When there isn’t a split, it is usually the “home” persona that suffers.)

We have the self that we show to the world in general.  We have the self that we show to acquaintances.  We have the self that we share with friends, with our extended families, with our immediate families, with our partners…  And then there is the self that we show to no one, or not if we can help it.  There are places where we feel insecure, and places where we feel confident.  There are personalities that we use to adapt to each of these situations.

Social Networks collapse these boundaries, and force, in many, the integration of these multiple personas in ways that may not be healthy.  They place the sum total of the people you have known in your life (at least those who are online, and on the network) into one great big mixer of a get-together.  They encourage the sharing of photos, and thoughts, and the bringing together of people.  The impersonal nature of the social networks mean that the context for such communication is blurry at best.  The fact that policies that govern the information you place there make it unclear which acquaintances of your acquaintances can actually see what you put there, you make a trade off.  For the people who care, you post what you post.  You let your guard down, and assume that what you post for a small group will interest a small group of your “Friends”.  And indeed, those who think like you have the offline context to understand the posts and shares.  Those people who do not know you in that context (and perhaps, the world, depending on your settings), can see such communications in a different context..one they set based on what they don’t know about you, and form certain opinions of you that can spill over into your real world interactions with them.

So, you say, don’t “Friend” them.  Were it that simple.  People find you, and you are, after all, in a public forum.  Many peoples’ default is simply to go ahead and let these people in.  The other option says “I do not like you, get away.”  — even if it isn’t fully what you intend.

Let’s say you’re out with your family at the park (do people even do that anymore?).  You see someone from work there, and they notice you, and start to approach.  Very few of us say “Hey–I’m with my family.  You are ‘work’.  Talk to you on Monday.”  We are not wired to do that.  We are wired to seek out other people, and society marks that type of behavior as “rude.”  So there is a more polite way to handle this.  “Hey Bob..  How are you doing?” (and we don’t care–this question never means that, it is one of the social niceties meant to keep things civil.)  We hope that Bob will answer with the socially acceptable “OK..  out with the family?”  so you can say “yeah … we’re having great family time.” .. We hope  Bob won’t actually tell us how he’s feeling–we simply don’t see Bob that way 🙂

The point of the above is that it is awkward to have someone peek over the wall into our private lives, even if we know them somewhat.  It is even more awkward to have to figure out how to tell them “no”, without making this online slight turn into an offline slight.  The alternative, again, is to let them in.  And this is where a scenario plays out that is  “Six Degrees of Separation”  meets “Oprah” meets “Lord of the Flies”, and the walls that keep our lives sane can crumble.   It is how people wind up with hundreds of Facebook friends, and forget what it is like to hang out with real friends.

Partly, this is by system design.  Facebook is a company, with share-holders, and profit incentives.  They are interested in getting the largest set of “people you know” communicating with one another superficially.  They want the eyeballs to show content to, they want the bellies and the gullets to feed, they want the backs needing shirts and the feet needing shoes.  With everyone all in one place, they want to perform some educated guesswork on what it is you want, and then provide you (and your posse), on a platter, to those people who sell it.  They are not interested in the many yous.  They are interested in the one with the credit card.  Again, “companies making profit” is not a bad thing, but when you choose to spend your time (hours, days) on social networks such as Facebook, remember that it is not you that they want.

Facebook does not believe in multiple personas.  It is believed that you are who you are, and should be one thing to everyone– after all, what do you have to hide?

People are wired to behave differently in public than others.  Some people are true socialites, and they lay it all out bare, in public sight, on public sites.  Facebook is perfect for people who measure their worth in the number of people who can see them, and want to see what they are up to.  I think most people want to “be liked” … and they want to share meaningful things with people.  Putting people in a situation where they are among “Friends” makes them share more… after all, “these are 500 of my closest friends!  what could go wrong?”.

Our lives are more online than ever.  That is true for most people.  To what degree differs.  People who wish to interact with us know this.  Prospective employers, people from our past that we’d rather leave there, you name it.  What we are encouraged to say to our closest Facebook friends has great impact on our privacy.  We take part in the pseudo-conversation, and risk exposing information to people (unintended third parties, friends of friends of friends, etc..) that have no right otherwise to see it.   Our employers can spy on us, find things they don’t like, and find reasons to no longer employ us.  Our future employers can see into our private lives in ways that are not legally available to them otherwise.   People that we want to avoid can find out what we are doing, what we are thinking.  Perhaps you can make a list of your own group of people that you would never dream of saying some of the things that people say on Facebook to.  Chances are, with a little work, and possibly very little work, they can read it, in multi-media glory.

Online can be an escape, and it most likely has become so for many.  It certainly can feel liberating to invent yourself in a brand new persona, a personal self that exists only on the web.  A person maybe you would never have the courage to be in real life.

These social networks fill a gap in our current society.  Driven to be online more than ever, and to put more of ourselves online, we are left with a chasm between real emotion, and online wordplay.   Sure.. we can be “Friends” on Facebook:  There’s  no skin in the game.  As long as our paths are somewhat and in some ways intersecting, we can share two directional one-way dialogue all day long.

In a world where our lives are moving at break-neck speeds to “online”, a real hunger for actual human contact is being met with the trappings of a virtual society– a place we call home that is akin to a digital refugee camp.

On this patch of land … (or: Organic growth still requires intervention)

June 12, 2011

I spent the majority of the day working on my garden.  And yes, for my area (and for many) it is a little late to be planting — the truth is, another power did the “planting” for me this year, for the most part, but I think we will hold that bit for later.

Working in my garden involves the following:

  • Clearing weeds.
  • Clearing old plants from previous planting seasons (such as winter/spring)
  • Amending soil (organic compost)
  • Deciding which volunteer plants stay, and which volunteers go
  • Planning where everything that is left will go this year
  • Planting, if possible ( *hopefully tomorrow 🙂 )

  I suppose that this can be considered a pretty mundane task by many, but to me, it is a spiritual process.  You see, natural (organic) growth still requires a lot of intervention if something useful is to remain.   Consider the following:

  • You can start all the seedlings (indoors or direct sow) all you want, sometimes you get nothing, and sometimes you get too much of one type.
  • You can plant the seedlings in the “best of all” places/conditions {at least, as far as at the beginning of the season} and still wind up with nothing to show for it.
  • Sometimes, the garden surprises you in unintended ways
    • Sometimes this is in good ways ..
    • ..sometimes this is in bad ways.
  • Sometimes, outside forces take decisions out of your hands, and leave you with the “best of the worst”

Nevertheless, gardening is an endeavor that I have a passion for.   Sometimes I do not have time for it, but I certainly hold the passion.  It is similar to how I feel about the internet.  And while it is not the first time I have thought it, today, a conceit (extended metaphor) came to me that I thought could focus my thought on the internet.  It is not a fully thought out idea, so it may seem a bit odd at first.

The internet is facing my organic gardener’s conundrum: The internet is my garden, year 4.

Read more…

Rain from The Cloud doesn’t fall in this desert

May 31, 2011

I am working on a piece about “The Cloud.” I have some initial feelings about this new phase in computing, but those feelings are merely gut reactions… I have not come to an informed decision. For any of you interested, I am applying the filter of Lawrence Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (the first edition) to Nicholas Carr’s The Big Switch: From Edison to Google.  Neither of these books came out recently, but due to the period of time I spent avoiding all things internet that were not directly related to the paying of my bills and expenses, they are new to me 🙂 .

This piece is not about that.  This piece is about access to whatever it is that The Cloud does offer.  It is about the plumbing.

The Cloud and Utility Computing:

While the subject of this piece is not a discussion of the merits (perceived, actual, and mis-represented) of The Cloud, it will help, I think, to frame the discussion:

There is a great deal of hype, and bandying about of the term “Cloud Computing” in the media, and in technology circles.  The first three times I tried to explain “The Cloud” to someone who didn’t already know what it was, I tripped over terms and phrases that made it sound fairly indistinguishable from “The Internet”.  Essentially, the internet evolves, and part of that evolution are new technologies, or new ways to use old technologies; at first blush, they don’t seem much different.  Also, many times certain “category killers” utilize these new (r)evolutionary paradigms before they’ve been given a public face (think: Google, Salesforce.com, Amazon…).  Also, I think technologists like to know more than the rest of the population …  All of these things combine to make the “revolution” seem like “what we have now” {those not at the cutting edge actually missed the coup occurring ;-)}

I didn’t want to get into a long discussion about this new piece of the internet puzzle, but I think it is important to understand what we are talking about.  Companies who came to the internet early did so as a competitive edge; companies that came to the show late did so out of some measure of desperation.  The internet came to become a de facto requirement for doing any measure of business.  (Actually, the Nicholas Carr book points out that this is somewhere along the line of evolutions that have brought us to Utility Computing, or The Cloud.)

While everyone was racing to the internet, they found themselves building their own supporting infrastructures (application servers, database servers, corporate networks including massive client-server architectures.).  These corporate networks come with costs of their own (hardware expenses, software expenses {both application, and security software to keep the data and network safe}, and employees to keep the whole thing running.)  These costs are fairly identical across different companies, and different market segments.  They are bottom line “cost of doing business” expenses, and companies “grin and bear it” to keep from being marginalized in their real core business (whatever that may be.)

The Cloud promises to change that.  It takes this “wasteful” duplication of physical resources across the board, and focuses it into enormous data centers, places whose entire role  becomes the providing of information processing centrally.  Massive clusters of information processing and application space, it is said, will bring about an era of computing as a utility.  Everything can run in the cloud, store in the cloud, and exist in the cloud.  Thin clients (hardware that runs the smallest amount of software) will be able to harness this power.  On the surface it certainly does make sense.

Broadband: Herald  of utility computing:

Read more…

Hark! The (Auto)pen is mightier than the Sword of Liberty! (or has apathy done the slicing and dicing?)

May 27, 2011

9-11-01

I remember that day.  It all happened while I sat in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, on my way to work.

Then came the calls and the emails.  The shutting down of the airlines.  Friends and colleagues stuck across the country at a trade show, everyone just really wanting to get home.  To figure it out.  To find out the fate of friends working in The City.  Fear.

Started out writing this:

I can’t remember when I started (or when I actually gave it up), but sometime around then, I created my own rudimentary publishing system, and posted a blog at Geocities.  (Don’t look, it is gone now 😉 ).

And then found a link on Doc’s old weblog, and found this:

[Edit] Link removed for personal reasons — it was the Way Back Machine, and it was there 🙂

So — it looks like that was 9/16/2001.

The immediate and imminent fears of September 11th had passed.  A different kind of fear surfaced.  And as I quote a memory of nearly a decade a go, of the voice inside my head, it said something like:

Holy <expletive> <expletive> Dave!  This is what they were waiting for.

Read more…

The Pragmatic Rapture

May 26, 2011

Let me begin by saying that the intent of this article is not to find common and well-treaded paths of cliche’ regarding the named subject.  Bear with me for a little background, and hear my proposition.

Background:

There are a group of the faithful who insist that the “End of the World” is approaching quickly.  In some circles, it is proposed that this apocalypse is preceded by an event, “The Rapture”.  At the time of this event, those who have achieved a state of grace, will be rescued from the impending apocalypse, and brought to a place where they can live out their eternity in the presence of their God.

There are naturally strong opinions on both sides of this argument, and one could possibly  bring to question the maths that have set the dates.  In fact, even amongst many who are certain that the End is indeed near, there is no clear agreement as to when this all happens.   Common belief, though, is soon.  Like, October 21, 2011 soon.  Or December 21, 2012 soon.

Part of my point, is this:  Such claims are not really verifiable, and if there comes a time when they are verified, those people who remain  unsaved are then essentially screwed.  Sure, at least they can be spared the “See, I told you!” snipes, as anyone who can say that with a straight face has become Homo Emeritus .. they have retired now from the race that we humans run.  And our connection with them, just as their connection with the world, has been severed.

Post Rapture concerns:

Or has it?  Do we mourn the loss of our friends and family, if we are indeed one of those not chosen?

Maybe, it really depends on the individual…

Read more…

Hey there old friend! (cc:world)

May 25, 2011

I’ve tripped myself up with writer’s block on my first blog post, otherwise, this would have arrived minutes after creating my wordpress site.  People who know me well might be surprised at the thought of Dave with “nothing to say”.  But, when trying to re-enter the world of blogging, a simple  “Hello, world!” seems unworthy.

 My son suggested that I just “write” (a suggestion I’ve often made to him, so, turnabout and all that … )   Doc Searls suggested that one trick he uses might work for me:

“I think of blogging as writing public emails. Basically, cc:world. It’s a mind trick, but it works.”

 (I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing 😉 )

So, here goes. 

I’ve spent the past few years ignoring the internet as much as possible.  Coming from a technologist, this might sound like an odd confession.  There are so many exciting (and scary) things going on these days, why avoid even looking?  Perhaps it was technology overload or  some idyllic hope that it was just me dreaming, and that social networking sites had not replaced genuine human interraction.  But, the world is indeed what it is.

Recently, I’ve had the yearning to be involved, even moreso than in the past, and I have been immersing myself in some of the old posts and letters of the web, “catching up”.  While looking on to the conversations on the internet, I have  exercised an almost self-imposed period of silence, reflection and thought, mixed with a slight bit of inertia (or apathy, if you will.)   I have had things to say, but neither the forum to do so, or the will to dive in.  This changed yesterday, when I realized the following:

But for the absence of a blog of my own, there are many things this past month that I would have spoken about.   I’ll provide a short list, in no specific chronological  or symbolic order of importance:

  • Ubiquitous high speed internet, in general, and North Carolina’s latest example of squashing fair competition in the name of protecting fair competition.  See here, and here (a link in Lawrence Lessig’s open letter to Governor Perdue on Huffington  , or even here (if you like the nitty gritty of the actual law)
  • The Rapture.  If you need links, you haven’t been paying attention 😉
  • “The Cloud”.  Ditto.
  • The abysmal performance of my organic seed starts this year (as opposed to three years’ previous when my germination rate was near 100%, the last of which featured some form of inability {driven by economy [new job] and massively tiny start obliterating heat surge that coincided with a new 1 hour commute, leaving less time for watering} to get the whole thing working as hoped for.)
  • And conversely, the amazing sheer performance of volunteer vegetable plants in last years’ weed-pit of a former garden.  (70+ tomato starts, a basil plant or two, some lettuce, and 4 already massive pumpkin vines out back)

Sitting here thinking .. “but wait, Dave, there was plenty more!”.  Call it time shortage.  Call it laziness.  Call it my mind not as good at instant recall as it was in my roaring twenties (or even early thirties) … but that will do as the list for now.  More on all that later.  I end this blog post as I began it, to those who will read, to the internet as it is now, and as it was:

Hey there old friend!  (cc:world)

Testing the waters ..

June 4, 2002

I am trying, now, to publish another blog, for today..

Again… the 3 month hiatus is since March…is that three months?

~off