Social is a six letter word

RU Sirius reviews Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, which is one wave of a supposed “tide of cyber-skepticism [sweeping] the US.” I haven’t read Turkle’s book. but RU’s review suggests an exploration of the disconnect between expectations of “social” media – that it will make us more social – and the reality, that it can make us more aware how alone we are.

I have a problem with broad assumptions about any phenomenon, and I know that the perception and reality of social media is too complex for any kind of generalization. Experiences differ: some have complete and powerful social experiences in virtual environments, while others might find that they’re lost in the funhouse.

And I think it’s misleading to analyze online social experience as somehow divorced from physical experience of the world and other people. While some might feel even more alienated as they’re exposed to the myriad plancasts within the social stream, others are living in what you might call a post-technological reality, where connected technologies are as inherent in the environment as running water, and are used to coordinate more expansive social experiences in the “real” or physical world. With smartphones, SMS, augmented reality, location-aware services we are doing more than merely “friending” on Facebook, and as we stare into the large and small screens within our environment, we see them not as trap doors, but as windows on the world.

Part of the problem may be in our expectations for “social.” Wikipedia tells me that social “refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence,” and that sounds right to me. But the “interaction of organisms” is not always wonderful. Humans interact and exist together, but the social parameters are as often challenging as satisfying. I.e. social interaction, however mediated, will have inherent frustrations, missteps, disconnects, and conflicts… parties are social events, but so are wars. In fact communities are often defined by their wars; the joining together of people by affinity or geography is as likely to produce conflict as harmonious connection.

I don’t know that I’m responding to Turkle’s book here, since I haven’t read it, and I probably should do that and write more in response. These are just some thoughts inspired by RU’s take on the book, but really more about my take on “social.” As so often happens, we’re using a word broadly, I think, without being clear as to its meaning.

So this is Christmas…

Empathy slaps me silly sometimes, and the “joy of Christmas” can be elusive when you see any fraction of the real pain and suffering in the world. In Buddhism, “suffering” is a technical term that has meanings so deep that words don’t suffice, but the fact is that many people are disrupted and disappointed in ways that scale from trivial to tragic. In this solstice celebration with its Christian religious and spiritual resonance, we try to be festive, to celebrate the life of someone who would have been bemused if not horrified by the material orgy produced in his name, now so vital a part of our economic life that we couldn’t lose it, even if we wanted to.

My paternal grandmother died on Christmas Eve when my father was ten years old. He revealed this to me when I was around the same age, and I realized from then on that Christmas had a far different sense for him than it had for me. Each year at Christmas he was reminded of death, loss, sadness.

I’m aware of many trails of sadness through this year’s holiday season, disconnections and deaths, as well as ordinary frailties and broken promises. In fact the whole world seems to be trembling at the moment, and our future is a blur. Celebration, like nirvana, seems almost selfish at the moment; the bodhisattva path makes more sense. I will celebrate this year as ever, and appreciate those close to me, but I will also find time to mourn the many losses and disappointments, and the divisions that have emerged in my life and others.

I do hope you have a Merry Christmas, forget for a moment the difficult realities that confront us and surround us, take the day to focus on love and fellowship. Subvert the darkness.

O you, happy roots,
with whom works of miracles
and not works of crime,
for burning predestined you were planted.

And to you, thoughtful fiery voice,
becoming the whetstone,
subverting the darkness.
Rejoice in that which is on top.

Rejoice in him,
who the many did not see on earth,
although they ardently cried for.
Rejoice in that which is on top.

~ Hildegarde von Bingen, translation by Rupert Chappelle

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

~ John Lennon

Ultramodern, stylin’ airports of the 60s

Airport or UFO?

Feeling nostalgia for 60s airport culture, not that I spent a lot of time in airports back then (I was a mere tad). But we saw the images reflected in popular culture. The Dapper Dude has posted a few — the futuristic airports of the past, when flying was a Big Deal, something you dressed up for. “Nowadays people fly in their goddamn pajamas because they want to be ‘comfortable.’ Its embarrassing. The future was going to be so cool, and look what we did to it.” [Link]

This reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s vision of the spaceport of the future, operated by PanAm:

Events this week – NPOCamp and Austin News Hackathon

Cross-posted from

Two great events coming up this weekend in Austin, sponsored by EFF-Austin.

Friday, join us at NPO Camp – a Barcamp for Nonprofits and Techs. We had one of these several months ago, and it was a real blast! The idea here is to bring the nonprofit and technology communities together for a day and talk about the technical challenges the NPOs face, while educating the techs about that world. Last event, we had 200+ attendees forming into sessions and pods; all were lively.  Greg Foster, our newest EFF-Austin board member, has done most of the legwork in organizing the event, with major production assistance from Maggie Duval, also a board member and producer of the annual Plutopia event during SXSW. Sign up here.

Saturday, coders and journalists come together to build innovative news applications at the Austin News Hackathon, cosponsored by EFF-Austin and the local Hacks Hackers chapter led by Cindy Royal.  The day will begin with a presentation by Matt Stiles and Niran Babalola of the Texas Tribune, talking about some of the news apps they’ve been developing. Then teams will form to match ideas from journalists with technical expertise from the coders who are attending. These kinds of events are the future of journalism!  This event also benefited from Maggie Duval’s production assistance. Sign up here.

Both events will be catered by Pick Up Stix of South Austin.

Keep it simple

Just learned via Twitter from someone who reads my blog that text instances of the Sociable social bookmarking links were piled up at the end of each of my posts as displayed in Google Reader. That’s nust not very poetic. Does anybody ever actually click through one of those bookmarking icons or links? I’m not convinced.

I turned all of that stuff off, as well as the Zemanta tracking pixel added to my posts via Scribefire. The web’s complicated enough; I’m making my presence as simple as possible and focusing on producing great content.

(If you’re reading this on Google Reader or some other news aggregator, and you still see something wonky, just let me know.)