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Small Pieces Loosely Reviewed
Recently I read Small Pieces Loosely Joined, a unified theory of the web, by David Weinberger. This by way of preparation for the Blogtalk conference in Vienna, May 23rd-24th, where David Weinberger will be a key-note speaker.
It is a well written, easy to read book, and that is where I at first got off on the wrong foot. The conversational tone of Davids book is not what I traditionally expect of serious reading, which Small Pieces is. But that, in the end says more about me, and about the environment I was taught in (what's difficult is serious, what's fun can't be worth much), than about the content of Davids book. In fact it's one of the points David wants to make, I think. (see the paragraph on knowledge further down)
Small Pieces Loosely Joined sets out to chart the Web as a New World, which brings with it the need to rethink our concepts of Space, Time, Perfection, Togetherness, Knowledge, Matter and Hope, to see how these concepts might work out different between the Web and the physical world of our everyday surroundings. No technology in this book? No, of course wires, chips, condensators, coils, are the infrastructure the web is build on, but that's not what takes place within it. The Web is a world we've made for one another. It can be understood only within a web of ideas that includes our culture's foundational thoughts, with human spirit lingering at every joining point. That's philosophy, not technology, and rightly so.
Central observations in this book are:
We experience the web as a world, a space, we can travel around in. That's because we've come to confuse Measured Space (the 3d grid we have laid upon the universe to specify locations) and Lived Space, the places we live in with the things that surround us with the emotions, associations and memories that are attached to them. On the Web there is no space at all, but it's full of places, which makes us experience it as a space. Nearness on the Web is created by interest; if something is interesting it will be linked to.
Time we generally perceive as a string of beads, when a moment has passed it is gone forever. On the Web past moments (messages etc.) turn into places, and become part of the Web-world. Also different timelines, different stories, we can leave and come back to when we wish. All these timelines intertwined become part of the one timeline that is my life.
Perfection is not something for the Web, except in places like on-line stores where we expect the information to be accurate and the functionality to be flawless. The Web celebrates our imperfection, which is a basic trait of humanity.(p.94)
Togetherness. The web is a new social and public place. We form groups there based on our interests that aren't unique. In the physical world however, when groups swell to masses we become faceless, our individuality becomes invisible within the mass. Not so on the web, there we retain our individual recognizability within the multitude. (p.120)
Knowledge has become too boney says David. Defining knowledge the traditional way as true statements we are justified believing, is like explaining sex without saying it feels good. (p.142) Boney knowledge is context-free and universal, whereas the Web adds context and locality again, putting meat and fat on the bones. It's a plea for knowledge as storytelling basically, and as a knowledge manager I recognize the value in that. However by denouncing 'boney' knowledge as reductionist David in my opinion goes of the track a bit. He uses a whole expose on thought experiments concerning artificial intelligence to show how 'boney' knowledge wants us to perceive our brain as a mere algorithm, and contrasting it with the full range of experiences we have. I don't know if David read Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel C. Dennett, but maybe it would help him appreciate the fact that reductionism in itself helps greatly in understanding how we came about. It's 'greedy reductionism' (the phrase is Dennett's) that is to be denounced. But reductionism in itself does not take away from the wonder of our full range of experiences, of feeling alive. It merely aims to provide a non-miracular explanation of how that came about. Greedy reductionism tries to do away with enjoying the wonder of the results as well.
We have become used to favouring the physical over the mental. We understand our mental processes somehow as representations of the outside world in our brain. Thus we say things like what we call 'fear' is really just the release of powerful chemicals in our bloodstream. How about saying the release of powerful chemicals into our bloodstream is really just 'fear'? (p. 154) The former is a picture of us locked into our heads, but we actually live in the midst of friends and family. Our passions and feelings are part of us discovering the world and assigning meaning to it. In the same way knowledge is made boney, the emphasis on matter versus mental takes our human contextuality out of the equation. The Web puts that back. The Web is all things considered unreal, bits don't exist yet they convey information. It's the connections, the links, that make the web what it is. Thus with our lives: it's the people we live with, what we share, that makes live 'real' to us.
The Web has been heralded as a revolution several times over. But after the dot com bust we could also say that nothing has changed much with the advent of the web. However the Web is not about revolution, but about evolution (and that's why I think David should not have done away with reductionism so easily). The idea of it will have its deepest effect, not it's current state or form. The Web is set to change and challenge some of the basic cultural default believes we hold, and will do so gradually, or better we will do it ourselves as the citizens of this new world the Web is. We will bind it to our physical world and existence in a myriad of ways, and will try to translate the things we think useful or special on the Web into parts of the physical worlds, and vice versa. It will take time, this journey to make our Web what we want it to be, and the journey will reshape us; the paradox of life itself. This blog is merely one little face in the mass adding to it.
I'd say read it, this conversational book of philosophy!
And the universal theory of the web? Oops, haven't mentioned it, now did I? Must be because it's not there, that one place that expresses our knowledge for all time and perfectly states what ultimately matters to all of us together. If you pick up the book hoping for the One Final Answer, that will be hope in vain. But on the other hand, the book will explain exactly why that is: the Web's about humanity. So pick it up anyway.
The Techie Viewpoint
Last Friday I attended the presentation of a fraternity friend of mine who presented his masters thesis, as the last step in finishing his study in informatics at our Alma Mater.
He had made a theoretical model for, and built a prototype of, a webportal for a defense contractor here in the Netherlands. From his presentation I concluded I have moved away significantly from the technological viewpoint and also the more industrial organisational model. In his presentation much emphasis was given to security issues, in fact the whole model was focussing on it. Not very strange for a defense contractor, but in all his story the people meant to use the system were never once mentioned.....
Pondering how it was that apart from the users, his presentation also left out almost all aspects I would deem important in these kinds of projects (e.g. sharing to name but one), I came to the conclusion I could have held the same presentation 8 years ago, and believe every word of it. It's just that I, while still understanding the technological aspects, have moved away from the techie viewpoint. It's in building bridges between people and technology that I have found joy in my work, and I now seem to have built my dwellings on that bridge in good old medieval style.
Merging Your Blog Seamlessly
One of the things that can become a pain in the proverbial you know what is having to do things twice. That's why I bought a PDA, and want to synchronize my PDA with both my Outlook and my CRM calendars, in stead of keeping more than one diary/calendar at a time. Via Terry Frazier here's the story of how to add items from your calendar to your Blog seamlessly.
As a result of Stuarts posting on the possible relationship between blog design and conversational effects, I decided to implement some changes to my own template.
It is a further adaptation of a default template by Blogger. I moved away from the blue color scheme that seems to be prolific in the blogs I read.
If you're wondering about the picture in the header: it's an adaptation of a picture I took in the fall of 2001 in my sisters garden in Reading near Boston Massachussets.
Conversational Blogging, or Lack Thereof
Stuart Henshall adds to the discussion of blogs as facilitators of dialogue. He is the first I've seen who takes the design of the blog as a possible cause of little interaction through comment-boxes etc. Personally I still feel that the dialogue blogs foster takes places in large parts in other media, with the blog as startingpoint, so that the dialogue is largely hidden from view for the casual blog-reader. But Stuart certainly makes a point worth contemplating.
Are You Addicted to Blogging
As a lot of us are preparing for a visit to the Blogtalk conference, some spending a lot of energy and time on academically sound research into the use of blogs, this simple test might be fun as well:
Are you a blogaholic? [found via Cyberwriter]
My score was 56 out of 100, which means You are a dedicated weblogger. You post frequently because you enjoy weblogging a lot, yet you still manage to have a social life. You're the best kind of weblogger. Way to go!. What better endorsement of my activities!
I was a little worried though when I realised that I have indeed dreamt about blogging something that happened in that dream, and that the answer in the questionnaire to this question would have to be a yes. :)
One point of critique ; who says blogging takes away from social life as the explanation of my score seems to imply? My social life has been growing through blogging by enabling me to meet new people. It's not as if it's replacement for face to face meetings, it's more like a catalyst for it.
Let's meet at Blogtalk
For those of you who, like me, plan to go to Blogtalk, in Vienna next month, a forum has been opened to meet those who plan to come, and perhaps set up some meetings in advance. This will help make you the most of your time in Vienna.
The Importance of Showing Appreciation
I have thought a bit if I wanted to blog this, but here goes anyway.
This afternoon we, being me and a couple of colleagues, organised a session on cooperation between organisations involved in youth care, and the role of ICT as an enabler for cooperation. There were three presentations and a forum discussion afterwards. The presentations were by two people from outside the company, and by myself.
At the end, as usual the presenters were thanked by the host, my CEO, and some gifts were exchanged. A bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers, and a gift certificate for a small amount. To all presenters,........except me.
Just before the session started I had already noticed that there were only two bunches of flowers standing ready in the pantry, so I wasn't really surprised. But I was a bit confused. Why did this happen? Who had decided this, and why? Over drinks the guests asked me why it was that they got something and I didn't, other attending people asked the same. I had no real answer. One of the other presenters had other engagements later on, and could not take the flowers and the wine with him: he gave them to me, and thanked me for a pleasant discussion-filled afternoon.
Thing is, I felt pretty unappreciated for my efforts. On top of that it has been a strange view for all the other people present, to see me being skipped. I talked to my colleague who had arranged for the flowers etc., and asked how this came about. Turns out she merely assumed that gifts were only for the external presenters, as I was also on the organising committee, and gifts in general were only given to external contacts. Last time we did a meeting of this kind, she hadn't been the one arranging the flowers, I had done it myself.
Lessons to take away from this:
Oh, and yes: it was a very worthwhile afternoon, with good presentations, good discussion, and interesting conversations afterwards.
Blogging: Why would you, why do you?
In preparation for her paper to be presented at the Blogtalk Conference in Vienna on May 23rd and 24th, Lilia Efimova published two on line questionnaires:
One for bloggers: http://blog.mathemagenic.com/blogtalk/blogger.htm
One for would-be bloggers: http://blog.mathemagenic.com/blogtalk/wouldbe.htm
The goal of this study is to understand factors that support or inhibit adoption of blogging by comparing bloggers and "would be bloggers". I would appreciate it if you can spend some of your time answering my questions. I estimate that it should take between 10 and 25 minutes (I took me 15 minutes).[Mathemagenic]
It took me around 10 minutes, but then I had been thinking and writing about the answers recently.
It would be great if you would be willing to take the time and fill out the questionnaire that applies to you. In that way we will be sure of one extra interesting story to listen to in Vienna!
Scope and Social Capital of Blogging
While I was referring to posts by Ross Mayfield on audience sizes and blogs, he himself brings them together in Social Capital of Blogspace.
Also interesting: John Udell on Scopes of Audiences. (via both Ross Mayfield and Lilia Efimova)
I would like to argue that overlap in scope is not only a matter of addressing other numbers of public (3, 300, 3k, 3M etc) but I believe that overlap in scope is also hugely interesting in terms of multidisciplinarity. It is very often that I pick up ideas from other disciplines that offer a view, or approach that enriches what I do in my own field. Now of course KM is multidisciplinarity turned flesh as it were. So is KM the art of finding scoping tools, and learning to be 'human routers' (Lilia) / 'community straddlers' (Ross)? (edited comment I posted in response to Lilia Efimova)
The Role of Blogs, continued.......
In the last few weeks we already saw several contributions by Lilia, Denham and others, like myself, discussing whether blogs can actually serve as a place for knowledge sharing, dialogue (or deep dialogue, although I don't really know what that is supposed to mean).
Lilia points to, writes and comments on some new entries into the debate:
Blogs, dialogue and identity building
Blogs, dialogue and identity building (2)
I wonder why it's hard to believe that weblogs are good
Blogs, dialogue and identity building (3)
Denham and Lilia also provide a place to keep track of the conversation as a whole: Is Weblog a Hype?
I really like that Denham Grey has stirred up this conversation, but I don't yet really know what his concrete objections and reservations are. I get the feeling, and I hope Denham will tell me if this is not correct, that the basic point of critique is that weblogs don't serve just the one purpose of deep dialogue and that dialogue is not contained within that single space, and second that the medium is not automatically a place for dialogue, but has to be used as such first. In other words that the medium in itself is not a real catalyst for dialogue.
Both objections I can agree with. But so what? Do blogs need to be?
When I wrote about listening, and knowledgesharing as storytelling and listening, one of the comments I got was that blogs are, since they're published on the internet, per definition broadcasting media.
My reaction to that is, that, yes, some blogs are more the broadcasting type, but some are not, mine certainly isn't. The fact that I'm sitting down with friends in front of my fav pub on the market square for a beer, and have a conversation everyone could potentially listen in to, or take part in, does not make me the town crier. On the internet it's the same difference.
The number of potential audience is irrelevant, it's about the actual returning audience, in this blogs case around 20 people, not counting the passers by. (Ross Mayfield has written interestingly about audience size and blogs: Blogging Bubbles, Repealing the Power-Law, and especially Distribution of Choice).
It is with that core audience that dialogue ensues, or debate. When the audience increases to several hundred 'regulars' one tends to see the author taking a less active stance in taking part in discussing postings, except with the core-group bloggers that have been around for a longer time. That is the transition towards broadcasting. So, no blogs are not automatically fostering dialogue: people have to make an effort, as always. You have to have a group of people around you, not too large, not too small, to have a dialogue. Or different groups for different topics.
Blogging functions both as a place to start building those needed trusting relations, and a place to have the dialogue, and write down the different inputs in to it. That does not take place automatically, you have to be committed, just as in any other setting for dialogue to ensue. The art of dialogue is therefore probably just as widespread here, as in other areas of life, with one advantage: it is easier to spot the willig amongst bloggers, than picking them from a crowd. I see no reason therefore to denounce blogs as unfit for dialogue.
The other assumption, that blogging does not have dialogue as its single purpose, nor that it is the single space in which dialogue takes place, I think isn't of real importance either in my opinion. The point is that I have dialogues with people. One on one mostly, and sometimes it's a multilogue, when there are more people involved. People. Now in my contacts with people I employ whatever means of communication is the most fitting at a given time. Can be face-to-face in different settings, can be e-mail, can be phone, and of course can be blogging. My blog often serves as a starting point, where I write something that has triggered my interests, follow ups by others in their blogs or in my comments-section then come into view. And from that it's a mix of the things I mentioned. I already know that I will probably be talking about dialogue with Lilia and Sebastien when I meet them in Vienna next month, or that I might have a conversation with my girlfriend about it tonight, and insert the results here. It's the conversational cloud I referred to in an earlier posting.
Dialogues in my view will never be confined to one single space, or medium. Even if you put a group in a room for a day to have a dialogue on a certain issue, it will continue and evolve beyond those walls, first during breaks, and then afterwards. To me it seems that the wish to have it all in one place reflects a deeplying command and control issue. Thing is, I'm utterly fine with chaos, as long as I am in command and control of just one thing: me.
And of course blogs do not have being a platform for dialogue as a single purpose. It is about maintaining a thought-record, it is about annotated bookmarks, it is about having a low threshold place to take down notes from wherever I am, and it's about added bonusses of doing that publicly: new social contacts and the resulting trusting relationships from them, some vanity when people say you posted great things, and dialogue. It's the basics that started me going in blogging, it's the bonusses that keep me doing it for you to see. If not for the bonusses I would have returned to the stacks of legal pads that served me well for almost 15 yrs.
Debate, dialogue and humour
Yesterday I was at the `Night of Philosophy` in Felix Meritis in Amsterdam. From that evening I took two observations home.
First Peter van der Geer, made a remark on the relation between debate and dialogue. Earlier on I wrote on debate and dialogue as opposites. He said that debate is a precursor, not an opposite, for dialogue. You have to switch to dialogue as soon as the debate has come upon questions that cannot be answered by debating them. Then the debaters have to engage in dialogue together to be able to move forward.
Second, I listened to an interview with British philosopher Simon Critchley (see profile at Essex University talking about his 2002 book on humour. (see
On Humour (Thinking in Action), at Amazon)
There are historically three theories of humour:
Now according to Simon Critchley using the last form of humour is at its root a philosophical act. This because it involves reflection upon the self, the other and the world. He cited self-ridicule as an example of this. I would say, self ridicule could also be a form of self-directed superiority humour. Which, as Critchley added, can also be a means of establishing your authority: I am so powerfull that I can make jokes about myself.
In the incongruity variety self ridicule shows that you feel comfortable enough to show weaknesses or be more vulnerable. But these are of course two sides of the same coin, as they mainly differ in nuance and intention.
After the interview we talked a few minutes about humour and knowledge management. Having fun and laughing is said to be useful for enhancing creativity, and facilitating the correct atmosphere for dialogue, by KM pros. Would humour in this case be a facilitator, a catalyst, or also a method in itself? First off, humour helps bring forward the informal structures in more formal settings. Self ridicule as said above can help bringing down authority and hierarchical structures. Also the relief kind can help solve tense situations in discussions and debates (as a step up to dialogue?).
But the incongruity type of humour is also an expression of creativity itself. It takes creativity after all to put a situation in a different light. And that is what the desired effect of creativity is: looking at situations from another angle, in another context, in order to discover new and alternative roads forward. It’s the need to jump ahead, when evolutionary progress is exhausted. Irrationality as a means to help rationality forward. It’s the classic boundary that scientific progress encounters and has to overcome time and again.
Building trusting relationships from blogging
In the past few months I've wrote several postings on trust and how blogging is part of the way I build my social networks.
Today I found a quote on David Weinbergers blog, that is a nice illustration of what I mean:
Paolo and I know each other through our weblogs and decided to meet in person. (We got a little encouragement from Marc Canter. Thanks, Marc!) We had a great time.
We talked about weblogs as building webs of trust. I met Paolo already knowing him through his weblog. I trusted him before I met him, and I had good reason to trust him. We were able to start talking as if we had been friends for months, which in a sense we had been. The Web is rewiring the real world. Just not fast enough.
It really is quite exciting how blogging takes effect on first meetings with people you've blogged with. That to me is what made my visit to KM in Europe in London last year so worthwhile. It is also the reason why I am still hesitating whether to visit the blogtalk conference in Vienna next month or not.
On the one hand I think it will be a great gathering of interesting people, people I've interacted with through blogs, and would very much like to meet in person. On the other hand, I don't know if I am willing to cough up the money to go to Vienna, as it will be a private trip and the week after the conference I will already be travelling to Liechtenstein on my own expenses already. Maybe I just need some more convincing of you guys! :D
UPDATE (April 3rd 2003): No convincing needed anymore, I've decided to go. So May 23rd and 24th, I'll be at Blogtalk in Vienna