Skip to content →

Category: digital

Learning what else you can do with a Juniper Berry

Juniper berry

Clay Shirky’s comparison of Gin and Television as mechanisms by which pain is soothed, and a cognitive surplus created, connects with a number of things I’ve been thinking of recently. The appropriate response to Shirky’s essay is to create another essay, or perhaps a photograph, that comments and connects to it. We live in a consumer society, and thanks to folks like Ralph Nader, we have some rights as consumers. But we are coming to the end of the era where we define ourselves by what we consume. 

With the vast new set of consumption choices flowing through the network, the issue of gluttony arises. You can’t just eat everything. Human beings don’t scale, and human attention doesn’t obey Moore’s law. What happens when our total number of waking hours, and not just for today, but for the rest of our lives, can be filled with high quality “content” programmed by the best curators and editors on the planet? Fill out a profile, push a button, and the entire sequence can be put into a feed ready for your attention. As material is consumed, and new material becomes available, a constant recalculation of your feed will occur assuring that you will always have the highest quality and most appropriate “content” available. Philip K. Dick is smiling somewhere.

The assumption built into this model is that we just need more and better gin. Shirky points out that if we went on the wagon, we’d have a tremendous surplus of time on our hands. And if we look at what the digital natives are doing, we’d see that 100% consumption is boring. They want all transaction to be full duplex, read/write, consume/produce. At its origin, Tim Berners-Lee created a 2-way web, but the conversation shouldn’t be limited to the network.

If we become a nation of producers as well as consumers, won’t there even be more content to consume? Yes, but there will be no obligation to consume it all. It’s also important to remember that all conversations don’t happen with words (written or spoken). A photograph can speak to an essay, so can a melody, a video, a dance, a scribble in a notebook or a painting. With a whole new set of tools and media widely available, I see a nation returning en mass to their parlor pianos and singing a song about “gin and television” and then uploading a video of it to YouTube.

Comments closed

Times have changed, and space has changed too

Sottsass Typewriter

I’ve been thinking of the dis-intermediation of printing. The disruption of the book, the magazine and the newspaper are in the headlines. A change is upon us, the valuation of things and the physics of the economy are irreversibly new. The big companies that employ thousands are the ones we think of most. The ones with the most reach, the powerhouses, the giants, the ones with the furthest to fall seem the most tragic. It’s a trans-valuation of all values.

But my mind wanders to the little literary magazine, the publishing project done for the love of it. These little magazines always seem to lose money and struggle on year after year. There’s an industry of writer’s workshops across the country that coach and prod writers to fill the pages of the little literary magazines. The interesting thing about these little magazines is that it still takes a lot of money and infrastructure to publish them. Desktop publishing brought the price down, but there’s still the editing, design, printing and distribution.

We now have a publishing medium that allows direct distribution of text over the network. Blogging software has become the new typewriter, and publishing is as easy as Tim Berners-Lee originally imagined it would be. The little literary magazine serves the purpose of a filter, it finds the best writing. But the cost of the filter is not much more than the cost of producing the printed matter. Is the writing about the tradition of ink on paper, or is it about the art of putting one word after the other?

The other thread this tangles up with is Hugh Macleod’s idea of the global microbrand. Hugh writes and draws cartoons from a small town in Texas called Alpine. It’s just up the road from Marfa, Texas, the place where sculptor Donald Judd established an outpost for modern art and minimalism in 1971. Times have changed, and space has changed too. Used to be that Marfa was a long distance from New York City, now it’s just a click away.

Of course for the UNIX operating system, 1971 was the beginning of time. It probably also marked the date when distance began to shrink at a visible rate.

Audiences for the little literary magazine, or Hugh Macleod’s cartoons, no longer need to be locals. They don’t have to live in Alpine, they can see it all through the network. It’s a gathering of tribes from across the globe, not tribes based on proximity or kinship, but on a common social object. We like Hugh’s sense of humor, or the taste of an editor who assembles a collection of short stories. We form a bond.

The highest value in the swirl of texts, images and sounds that roar by us minute by minute, second by second on the network is the good editor, the curator, the finely-tuned filter. Philip Roth, in an introduction to a collection of eastern European writing during the cold war, made an insightful comment: when nothing is allowed, everything is significant; when everything is allowed, nothing is significant. When we can see everything, where do we choose to rest our eyes?

Comments closed

The Politics of Technology: The Technology of Politics


The network can’t congregate in a single physical location. Compare and contrast to Woodstock, or the gatherings of the 60s. It’s a limit of the current 802.11 wireless network technology. Perhaps no one anticipated that everyone would be able to and want to connect. And many people want to connect both with their laptops and their phones.

Given the current models, the physics of the event dictate that as the particles converge on a location, the network pipes clog to the point of stillness. The mass of people can talk to each other, but they can’t broadcast to the network.

Live blogging and Twitter have moved beyond the technology conference into both our politics and our lives. The Democratic Convention in Denver will feature a blogger assigned to each of the delegations. As we attempt to broadcast our politics into the network, in the interest of full and open disclosure, we’ll find we occupy a black hole. The density of the particles will prevent any light from escaping.

Of course, we’ll find a way to get reports out. Twitter, with its minimal requirements and multiple network paths, may be the most usable live reporting tool. The pulse of our politics could be largely expressed in bursts of 140 character SMS messages.

Comments closed

Twitter: A Simple Tool for Connecting Two Nodes

The viral contagion that is Twitter is directly related to its simplicity. Twitter is one of the smallest possible connectors of nodes on the network. Follow. Unfollow. Block. Post 140.

Some think we want more complexity. We want more depth, more features. But the fact is we want to build up complexity out of simplicity.

Comments closed