Category Archives: Conversations in Public

A Quiet Revolution Is Happening

Cartoon from the June 1, 2015 edition of The New Yorker

Cartoon from the June 1, 2015 edition of The New Yorker

The other week I attended a Creative Mornings lecture featuring David Allen, founder of the forthcoming Jazz & Art Museum in Oakland. Each monthly lecture features a theme and this month’s was “Revolution.”

Allen spoke about the history of jazz, folding in its founders as key examples of revolution. He said that bebop musicians understood their present and transposed it into action –  men and women who struggled like crazy for a genre that would later be called “America’s classical music.”

A few hours later, news broke that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled gay marriage legal in all fifty states. What a glorious time to be alive as we fight for equalities on American soil and see real progress being made.

Revolution comes from struggle. Personal struggle funnels up to a group of individuals who share their personal experience with others and choose to take action.

As a society, we are in the midst of a revolution. It’s not experienced in the way it was in the past because its roots take place online. We are no longer observers. We have countless channels for communicating our beliefs and participating in public discourse. There are easy-to-access options for liking and sharing; simple tools to comment and express.

Thousands of people are at our fingertips while ironically enough we ignore the person in front of us. Still, we can be heard.

We are in the midst of a quiet revolution.

We are a version of the New Abolitionists – a force that is non-violent yet aggressive, independent yet united, creating a sentiment and building a mentality that’s impossible to imprison.

Protests have been replaced by individual storms that spread across the internet like wildfire, collectively building in strength. Sit-ins have been replaced by Facebook. Moral outrage has turned inquisitive, even irreverent. Daily, we fan the flames of our collective fire.

We are ambitious, informed, and connected all the time.

We are the first generation to have grown up truly digital. As adults, it is now our responsibility to make the world a better place. In this century of innovation we have awesome tools at our disposal and through ambition are all too aware that we have limited time on this earth. The goalposts have moved and our challenges are greater than ever before.

When we tell our stories and use our voice, somehow the world aligns. It funnels back to the feeling that we are participating in our own personal revolution. “This is mine.” The present has evolved from the future I had previously imagined for myself and my kin.

We, a united group of voices, continue to be relentless in building solutions and seeking better ways of doing things and treating people.

It takes civil disobedience to enforce and encourage Democracy, a word that hasn’t been used in practice for decades. That disobedience is really a mentality our generation has created through collective mindshare.

Together, we speak. United, we have the ability to create change.

 

Data is the new Journal. (2 of 2)

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Social sharing sites like Facebook and Google+ are great for countless reasons. The discovery factor is amplified and quick. We have the ability to catch up and communicate with people easily and on-the-go.

Our social networks, paired alongside various algorithms, place everything in somewhat omnidirectional proportion to our personal interests. Some folks watch the stream of information passively while others can’t help but participate. Frequently. Like a habit that’s hard to break. But habits are usually created because there’s some sort of personal payoff involved. What’s in it here?

Do we participate out of boredom? For entertainment? Documentation? Self-declaration? All of the above?

The things we share don’t go away over time. Our photos, links, and general top-of-mind fodder are almost immediately forgotten before becoming a very vague distant digital memory. Yet unlike a journal, they’re not stored privately somewhere to uncover at a later time. Our “shareables” publish immediately and are saved forever, for all to see.

The good, the bad, and the things that may or may not emerge later to haunt us. Profile photos, status updates, comments back and forth between old friends, lovers, colleagues.

It’s the personal information we post on a whim that documents where we were and what we were interested in at the time.  These bookmarks serve as a haunting benchmark – of not only where we were, but who we once were.  Some might agree that it’s a convenient way to journal — with only a wayward amount of revelatory truth.

These captured moments are issued a temporary place with degrees of importance that vary greatly. Will we care about what we shared five years ago? Probably not. It might be amusing. It may never be revisited again. But what if it were?

Not always self-aware, these tiny memoirs forget to note the times we were truly happy — because we were too busy actually being happy to take note of them in the first place.

Yet there we are — always seeming to document the times we were bored, overly caffeinated, or mildly interested  in the subject or moment at hand. And we just so happened to have the phone or laptop nearby to document said thought or story.

So how accurate is our online journaling? And would it become more truthful if we were aware of where it travels to and how it lives?

In time, all posts turn to dusty digital memories of broken links, imprints of ones and zeros lasting forever on a clunky server somewhere — available to the government along with everyone else, and yet no one at all.

The migration from analog to digital affects everything. From how we read, to how we take notes, to how we choose to access the latest episode of “Breaking Bad.” With new digital technologies, we’re even experiencing a major shift in how our own personal narratives are captured.

The media always places such huge emphasis on how the next superstars on the internet are members of its audience. Apparently anyone can be a star. In an era of reality TV shows and talent competitions, “the dream” is achievable with a little bit of talent — and a whole lotta self-disclosure.  Remember back in 2006 when TIME Magazine chose their Person of the Year?  That person has been replaced by groups of individuals. Movements. Memes. Flashmobs.

Yet stardom comes at a price. We’re encouraged to post, check in, snap photos and share, all because companies are farming our data and selling it to the highest bidder. They learn everything about us. We become numbers and marketing fodder to the most extreme degree.

So how often do we want to see that share button? We know it’s possible to overshare and likely know folks guilty of abusing it.  Even as I type this sentence into a Google document, the big blue “share” button looms above. It offers the temptation to publish or share my thoughts before the idea is even complete.

Day One is a new app for OSX that allows users to journal freely and privately. It encourages the user to create reminders to write. And for more fleeting moments, Path is an app that allows the recording of check-ins, tweets, and photos to share with a closer-knit community.

Whether it’s an advertiser or a prospective date, data mining is all too easy. We need more options for journaling privately based on the tools available to us. At the very least, we need more control over the release of our personal information. As we shift into digital and cloud-based methodologies for documenting our lives, we need to consider alternatives while moving our personal documentation to the digital space.

Revisit Part One of this series.

Data is the new Journal. (part 1)

I don’t have much room for storage in the small bungalow apartment where I live. I like to tell people that I adhere strictly to a “one in, one out” policy. When something new comes in, something old must go out. This helps to reduces clutter and the accumulation of “things.”

One mainstay that continues to grow is a small collection of boxes. They’re called “memory boxes” as loosely defined by my cryptic writing penned with a black Sharpie.

One is stuffed with ticket stubs, conference badges, matchbooks, and other random mementos. Another is filled with dog-eared journals. It’s not that I have no memory (this is debatable), but having these boxes of information helps to recall random events upon which nothing interesting happened “at the time.”

The journals are tattered and full, evidence of everyday journeys jotting down random notes during pause. They contain to-do lists, random thoughts, poetry, un-sent “love” letters, and general wordplay at-large. There’s a specific notebook I wrote in every day for about two years in high school. I’ve kept it securely in each apartment I’ve had during the last decade.

It’s funny because reading that particular journal now, I wrote about predictable teenage dilemmas like dating and school. I dutifully noted milestone events – like graduating from college – which makes me wonder why I wanted to keep it hidden in the first place.

I’ve written juicier stuff in a moleskin that sat next to the subject as he unknowingly rode in my car.

Point is, these boxes of artifacts and journals, although surface level at times, are rewarding to read now. Looking back, I wish I would’ve documented more.

Many of these physical tombs have since been superceded by the digital equivalent of the lesser friendly one and zero. The digital medium cancels out the physical product we’ve come to know and love under the genre of “things” and/or “stuff.” Digital documentation makes slightly more anonymous my own personal story, style as a writer, and self-described position as social misanthrope.

I imagine how it would have came across if it were possible to capture those same stories online back then. Would I have captured more detail? Would I have captured less? Would my writing appear authentic, or would it come across as impersonal because I was using software, an app, or had the option to make it available for all to see?

On my birthday last year, I happened to check Facebook only to notice a little box on the homepage where ads are typically placed. It read that on my birthday, two years ago, I ran 2.3 miles. Did I? Come to think of it, I did! I went home early from work and went on a run before going out to dinner with family.

The run was logged by Nike run, which was connected to Facebook. I wouldn’t have remembered what I did that day without the help of this little reminder.

If sites and services can tap into the information we enable it with, they should in turn deliver back useful patterns and information about ourselves we weren’t previously aware of. This creates a data journal of its own.

When everything else is going digital it only seems natural to document our lives in a way that makes technology work for us. Tools make it easy to document everything from how we slept last night to where we’ve been.

So, if our information is being collected to sell to others, where’s the payoff? There should be long-term personal gain from the use of it. At the very least, we should have increased control over where it travels to.

An app called Path is a step between Facebook and Twitter. It’s more exclusive than Facebook, and doesn’t speak to everyone like Twitter does.

The app has a limit to the amount of friends you can have. Specifically, it’s set at 140.
It allows you to connect with loved ones – people you actually know in the real world.

From their website:

“Path was designed with the people you love, your close friends and family, in mind. Share in a trusted, intimate, environment like the dinner table at home.”

I experimented with posting a few personal thoughts and opinions to Path – things I would never trust going to Facebook or Twitter or where everyone else is.

I felt that I was confiding in folks I already know, and trust, and don’t see very often. I also found that people were willing to express heartfelt thoughts and emotions back.

Journaling takes on many forms. The part where we monitor little things like where we were, what we were listening to and how we were feeling seem ok to share and syndicate to our social networks.

But deeper insights are long-form and will always be best applicable to the old-fashioned paper and pen. Don’t get me wrong, it can still be digital – I appreciate bamboo products just as much as the next nerd (maybe more), but that kind of stuff doesn’t need to go public. It’s more personal than anything else – critical to one’s personal expression, growth, and discovery for later on.

Continue to Part 2

Virtual Relationships and Reality

Habbo Hotel courtesy of blog.media-freaks.com

In today’s connected world it’s easy to initiate relationships with anyone from anywhere.

In our interpersonal exchanges we observe and learn, become challenged and entertained, provoke and be provoked, inspire and conversely dismiss. Then like any other online activity we (however conscious or purposely choose to) make, it’s on to something else.

Online, this exchange becomes easy through convenience. Comments can be short with responses seldom visited again. Time is be suspended or accelerated with little or no expectations on return.

Technology indicates how awesome our universal connectivity is on a very macro level. We read about it in case studies and are familiar with social media contributing to action on the ground.

Many of us are even likely to know someone who found their mate online, broadly taking into consideration the many meanings within the phonetics of the word “soul.”

Yet sometimes, the ritual becomes less filling with origins occasionally sketchy – not so dissimilar from last night’s dinner from Thai Surprise.

Like a game of roulette with a ball bouncing from red and black, positive to negative, in and out of our favor, our online repartee is at similar odds.

Yet any disappointment by means of negative or random activity can conversely lead way to positive benefits that only online conversations can provoke.

One up-side is that we forgo surface-level banter to focus on the topic at hand.

In online communicato the initial ice breaker or common ground is disregarded, therefore dismissing the audition to friendship required in real life. This forgoes the formality of polite cocktail-hour chatter, cutting directly to a brutally honest reaction directed towards one without a face.

These exchanges are random, they’re happenstance, they’re a one-off and pop-up experience. Will we ever message, reply, or chat with this person again? At this point a new relationship can be identified that’s not exactly “acquaintance” and far from being “friend.”

How do we taxonomize relationships of the 21st century taking into account fans, friends, followers, collaborators, and commentators?

Communications with these quasi-friends are fleeting with conversations that are quick, random, and only as meaningful as we allow them to be.

On the surface level it can appear strange and even invasive. Within the right context, the first exchange sets the tone and reason for present and any future mutual acknowledgement.

It’s the tip of a hat while crossing a busy intersection; it’s a joke exchanged on an elevator ride. 2-Dimensional friendships are exactly what they appear to be.

They’re direct, intentional, and contain observations typically requiring 140 characters or less.

Quasi-friends are steadily available to engage in conversation with across many mediums except real life. They’re not friends – not the type we’d freely invite to dinner at least – let alone feel comfortable telling where we live.

They’re characters, avatars, self-constructed personalities to be taken with any amount of quality proverbial grain.

The relationship build is a new breed of partially fictional and partially real. They’re folks we engage with over everything from news to work, from editorial banter to chatting over hobbies and interests. They’re celebrities with an assistant at the helm, they’re acquaintances from planet digerati.

Friends in real life are gems and snowflakes, each one inherently different with unique shared experiences and specific commonalities. Online, they’re a unique set of 1’s and 0’s whereby each meaning is whatever we choose to assign it.

Lovable quirks that members of our real-life community possess are stripped away online, bringing us the very frankness of a person’s interests and personality.

We can directly engage with whomever that person chooses to be, and their presentation is accepted by us as a quick fix for the brain temporal.

Groups At Work

Photo: Gogo colour wheel by ant.photos on Flickr

One of the great features the internet gives us is the ability to create and participate in custom-tailored groups. Groups are programmed yet unique, standard yet empowering, and  virtual yet oh-so real. The functionality of groups allow us to share info, plan trips, provide feedback, and collaborate to make things happen in the real world.
We can offer up news, media, and commentary while designing action items for rallying around the issues that matter to us. Groups are long-tail and egalitarian – everyone has a voice and similar to the early days of chat rooms, there’s usually something for everyone.
The groups you connect to may be public like niche interest groups on Facebook, or they may be private like an intranet you use for work. Maybe you’re working from a collaborative project management site like At Task or one of the dozens of others out there.
Groups for work make it easy to get things done from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. It frees and empowers the worker to incorporate a results-oriented philosophy, placing an emphasis on getting things done (known by devotees of the method as GTD). And as our tools improve, the way we work is changing. A smarter, more efficient method of time management has emerged that allows us to become tactical with our time by “working smarter, not harder.”

In a culture that values working ourselves to the bone, working less and getting more done seems impossible to do at first glance. Yet innovation continues to forge forward, allowing workers to increase their impact by working on several projects at a time. We do this by taking advantage of the tools – like groups – technology provides.

Virtual docs, cloud storage, online groups: tools for work allow us to accomplish more outside of the structured work environment. And when this happens, we begin to lean more heavily on the online world to Connect.

While the days of so-called water cooler conversation may be (thankfully) over, the concept has not entirely disappeared. It is possible to bring a sense of digital community to the physical world, and vice versa.

Digital communities, however long-tail they may be, heavily influence public discourse. The headlines we see, the videos we share, and the commentary voted as being Most Popular by the community becomes fodder for conversation in real life.

The literal meaning of a public sphere as defined by Jürgen Habermas is long gone.  Urban areas, particularly in the midwest, have become decentralized and in rural areas Main Street has been replaced by Costco, Starbucks, and vast outdoor suburban malls.

The 00’s gave organizations like Fox News an opportunity to direct news flow and selectively pump issues into the minds of Americans. This method of one-way communication creates biased and filtered news coverage, ultimately skewing our ways of analyzing news and creating awareness based on private agenda.

Now that the internet has gone social, we can (almost too easily) learn many opinions from a wide variety of sources. We can visit islands in a sea of information, staying as long as we’d like or skirting away for something else, ultimately designing our own narrative through information intake.

Through this sharing and individualized discovery it becomes easier than ever to connect with the issues that matter to us. We can bring our personal thoughts from around the dinner table online for broad discussion.

This creates a new kind of public discourse – it’s decentralized yet niche-specific. Most importantly, it’s free, public, and available to everyone.

The Great Internet Divide: Should all groups be made public?

Groups for work are usually closed off to the public. When it comes to other kinds of groups, sometimes there’s a requirement necessary to join (like for members who pay dues, or alumni from another group like a school or workplace).

In the interest of public policy and accessibility, on one hand the answer is a resounding YES – all groups should be made public. Information should be free and widely available to everyone. But in the interest of productivity and personal privacy, there’s a very strong argument for why they shouldn’t be.

Making a group public could deter to it’s overall goals by letting in those with a different approach or agenda (read: spam). When there’s work to do, making the nuances of all that stuff public isn’t necessary.

At the end-of-life cycle of a project, a group could collectively decide how to release their documentation. This provides transparency and accountability while encouraging further connection and credibility between the organization and it’s intended audience.

So, should all of our work emails should be made public? With the exception of some government officials, not necessarily. In the post-production phase of a project, releasing the source code or documentation files could be helpful. Google is all about open-source and it allows developers to better their products for you and me. It’s not a bad thing.

Workflow is slowly moving towards a cloud-based approach where we don’t need to have files with us at all times. Major corporations will continue to keep their work offline, and will take high-security measures to protect their documents there. It’ll be interesting to see what gets hacked as we slowly move to the cloud, and what we learn about the targeted organizations as a result. It’s not an improbability – just look at what happened to Sony.  The cloud is unavoidable, and working openly is just another reason to embrace transparency, take accountability, and do good in the workplace.

On a personal level, when group information is made public it may reveal slightly unsavory information about an individual to the other niche groups he or she is part of.

Facebook is an interesting mash-up of friends from all circles combined in a singular place. For example, my mom, sister, and cousins are on the site. I’m part of a college alumni group, a professional networking group, a group for work, and a group for DJ’s. What happens when one group posts something iffy and it becomes socially-pollinated in my feed?

Similar to how a college student wouldn’t want the proud photos of last night’s perfect keg stand to surface on a job site, we prefer to keep our spheres separate from time to time.

Most recently was the launch of Google+, allowing users to connect privately with groups of their own creation. Key features include virtual hangouts, huddles, and user-generated circles to share stuff with the right people (Saturday night friends, family, boss).  Currently, the service isn’t available for businesses yet.

Internet Groups and Class Divide

It’s important to distance ourselves from the idea of allowing groups of people to technologically evolve over others, particularly within this decade when things are moving at such a rapid pace.

Can privitazation of groups lead to rifts in class structure? Sure. Some folks become empowered while others do not. This is a hot-button issue that applies to everything from internet access to tiered subscription models in digital news.

And unfortunately, it’s nothing new. It’s simply another reason why we as citizens need to keep an eye on legislation in issues like online access, privacy, and accountability. We need to encourage efforts to allow anyone to learn — and for everyone to have access.

Group Accountability

Niche groups contain enormous sociological value, and the critical part is in how we use them.

It’s hard to argue that since the beginning of the internet, groups have helped us to discover and even rally around issues we find of interest. They make it easy to connect with folks in real life who share similar interests.

For better or worse, groups help us collectively to build upon ideas and possibly even get things done in the real world. And when we find each other online and rally together in real life, the possibilities are endless.