It’s Monday, 2 May 2022 in Portland, Oregon and it is not a sunny day. It is not a cold day, either, and it is not a calm day. It is a day with treetops all antsy, like me.
I have spent the last 30 days debugging why my monitor keeps blanking in and out and complaining that my monitor is not HDCP compliant, digging around in console.app, unplugging, re-seating, resetting-SMC-ing and rebooting and… everything’s just working again. I do not know what happened.
I am trying not to just throw it all in the bin and upgrade my computer to the shiny new Mac hotness.
Alongside mid/long-term statement-of-work work and short-term work, both of which are more often than not in the Cleaner category, I’m adding a new thing to the kind of work I do.
It’s essentially consulting-by-the-hour.
It’s not quite coaching and not quite business therapy, because I work with an actual business/work problem you have that while it may involve people, doesn’t have people as its focus.
It’s priced at a your-boss level, which means 90% of the time it’s a work thing, not a personal thing. Although I am totally happy to do those.
I’ve had one booking already, which I’m pretty excited about.
If you’ve got questions, drop me a line.
Okay, let’s go:
Apropos of nothing, internet friend and now-recluse Robin Sloan wrote down some thoughts about social software. I say Robin is a recluse because he is not on Twitter anymore, which is an outlier because Robin is a) a writer, b) an author and c) communications chief of Fat Gold, an olive oil company.
That is enough preamble. Some notes on, uh, Robin’s notes, which are themselves in bullet-point form.
… And now a connection in my head: software, “apps” as cells. And so, I can feel it in my mind, we excitedly run off in a new direction, the stimulating diversion. Let’s break out of bullet-points for this part.
Let’s talk about eukaryotes! These are the cells that we (and plants) are made of, and they’re interesting because they’re the cells that have a bunch of stuff inside them. Cells are super complicated and also messy and beautiful. Messy, because: have you seen this universe and life? Stuff is messy. And yet: cells are beautiful, just take a look – those are visualizations and renderings of cell methods and technology used in cell signaling.
My point here – the sideways jump/analogy is that “apps” are cells because on one level the equivalent of, I don’t know, mitochondria, is embedding sqlite in your app, totally makes sense, but now I’m thinking of “the bit of an app that does email” or the bit of an app like Instagram that was threatened by TikTok so went and ate a bit of TikTok (figuratively, it just reproduced the functionality) and now Instagram has a mini TikTok inside it. I’m super distracted by this direction, now. It’d be interesting just to put together a visualization this way of “an app” and how it’s cell-like.
What struck me about Robin’s riff on “what other social spaces might look like” were these two bullet points:
As a writer, looking for evidence of readership and engagement on Twitter makes you into the drunk looking for your lost keys under the street light.
Many people don’t want to quit because they worry: without my Twitter account, who will listen to me? In what way will I matter to the world beyond my apartment, my office, my family? I believe these hesitations reveal something totally unrelated to Twitter. I don’t have words for it, exactly, but if you find yourself fretting in this way, I will gently suggest that it’s worth questing a bit inside yourself to discover what you’re really worried about.
First, I love the analogy of looking for something and only looking under the light, and ignoring absolutely everything that’s in the darkness because… you have no light there.
But second, this idea of a social space that isn’t designed (accidentally?) for “if nobody sees me, how do I know I matter?” sounds to me like the wish for a space by someone of a certain age who’s both had and grown as a result of a reasonable amount of therapy. I wrote to Robin:
Perhaps we are getting to the age where the net is old enough, and enough people who have used it are old enough and/or have had enough life experience to influence and do something about it, where a different-type-of-space is imaginable.
This is absolutely not to say that these spaces for other-than “notice me, notice me” have been imagined. Just that, well, I have a whole bunch of projecting here and am counting myself amongst the group, a bunch of men of a certain age are starting to think of these spaces deliberately. Which is a problem in and of itself!
Robin’s piece sticking in my head was one of the reasons why I had the thought of “a Twitter where you have to write long things, not short things”. Or that people have always had ideas for networks that don’t do the whole sharing thing, or networks that don’t have the liking/favoriting/scoring mechanism built in. There is a cynical part of me that wants to disagree with Robin that Twitter will go away. Of course he is right because eventually everything goes away. I am more interested in what will replace it, and whether there’s any chance the parts of our brains that like to make comparisons, that like to see scores and make them bigger. It would be boring to say that Twitter is junk food, and it would be boring to say that it meets needs and is the sugar high, carb-loaded, snacky-yet-unfulfilling thing.
What Robin is saying, I think, is that The Timeline Is Not The Only Way. Almost like a theory-of-time everything, everywhere, all at once, frozen view both static and full of every single potential at once, that contains fleeting and gone-in-less-than-a-blink ephemeral and also lasting for longer than your lineage down to the first eukaryote to heat death and the subliming and evaporation of everything solid.
Ted Chiang’s Story of Your life, the novella that was the basis for the Villeneuve/Heisserer film arrival has at its core the interaction between a very alien alien and a human human. If you’ve read it, then maybe this: what’s a social network like, if there even is one, in the world of the Heptapods?
That’s it, today. It’s been a Monday.
I’ll see you again tomorrow. How are you?
“Maintaining” is interesting here. Obviously there’s the maintaining in the sense of a social space that is in use. Less clearly (or, rather, less seen in practice) is the act of maintaining a social space after it has been used, for example, what happens when people move on? Or more practically, what happens when the social space is acquired by a new social space owner/developer? We know what normally happens: the spaces are unceremoniously thrown in the digital /dev/null pyre to moloch. But what of digital preservation? And in some cases, what if we want digital social spaces to gradually fade away, on purpose? ↩