Patchwork ideas

A lot of people have been linking to Warren’s post “The Patchwork Years“. I thought you might be interested in something I emailed him back in January, which is my take on the ideas he’s exploring in his post. (Which is to say, great minds think alike.) I think this email was occasioned by this post of his, at least by the date (January 27th) and the email subject, which is “lifestreaming”.

An aside here: I notice that a lot of the stuff of mine that people seem to read and think about the most tends to be correspondence or posts on message boards. No point, just an observation.

The problem, of course, is that information without context is useless. It’s ephemera, gomi, what T.S. Eliot called “a heap of broken images“. Sometimes this is amusing in a pomo sort of way — the juxtaposition of unrelated images and the forced perception of meaning within them is one of the particular centerfolds that postmodernists jerk off to. But most of the time, it’s no more useful than a schizophrenic’s notebook of random thoughts. (Which, if you’ve ever perused one, you’ll know is usually a lot more tedious than most people would think.)

A lot of this lifestreaming stuff — at least the part of it that is public — strikes me as unforgivable narcissism. My life just isn’t that interesting, even to me, and neither is anyone else’s. I do see the practical value of tracking your own movements and your own stuff, but only to a point. [Bruce] Sterling’s old line about finding your shoes always cracks me up. How fucking hard is it to find your goddamn shoes? Do you really need a high-technological solution for that problem? And this is coming from someone who loses his shoes regularly. (I keep a messy house.) Does the world really need a self-portrait of you every day? Or twenty? Does anybody really need to know that you’ve decided to move your laptop from your living room into your bedroom, because you just feel like working in bed?

Or the precise nature of your relationship with each of your social network friends? That’s what irritates me about Facebook — I never answer that dumb little “How do you know this person?” survey, because I just don’t care and don’t want to have to think about it. And I refuse to break something shaded and ambiguous and interesting down into a tick in a little box. How do I know this girl who’s befriending me? She used to date my friend, then I had a crush on her, then she sort of had a crush on me, but she decided not to get involved with me and started dating one of my other friends, so I stopped talking to her for a while…how the fuck do you incorporate that into a database? And why would you want to?

I think in many ways that these are solutions in search of a problem. I don’t begrudge the people who are trying to come up with problems to be solved, but it doesn’t interest me much. I love technology, but I think there are more interesting and far less wanky things to do with it.

To play devil’s advocate against myself: perhaps the problem is editing. There’s a reason that films don’t usually follow a character in a single shot for two hours. Most of life is dull. The idea I always liked about your feedsite listeners in Transmet was that, presumably, there were enough of them that at any given time, something interesting might be happening…and that they only started transmitting when it was. It’s like my family’s habit (starting with my late grandfather, and carrying through me) of leaving CNN Headline News on all day, which repeats roughly every hour until something interesting happens. It’s continuous partial attention — you leave it on in the background, and when, say, the Monte Carlo Hotel catches on fire as it did yesterday, you look up and pay attention.

Editing. Context. This is the true value proposition on the Net anymore. We’ve got more information than we know what to do with. Now we need curators. (We always did. This is what newspapers and magazines and record labels and publishers used to do for us — pick out the interesting things out of the shit pile and bring it to our attention. Of course, we didn’t always agree with them and there were never enough options. But there are now.)

This is what YOU do, my friend, on the Internet. People read your blog because they like your writing. They think you have good ideas about what’s interesting and good, ideas that extend beyond comics and novels. So you are a trusted contextualizer. When you post about a band you like or a blog you dig or what have you, your opinion is weighted by the whole context of who you are and how you think. Context is what you bring to the table, and that creates what I once called a “taste tribe” — people who respect your cultural context and trust you to tell them what’s good, at least most of the time. You’re a node in a network that includes Matt Jones and Ben Templesmith and the Coilhouse girls and me and Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling and all the rest of us who trust one another’s tastes and context, to greater or lesser extent.

And knowing about your jerky is much less interesting than your story about the jerky. The story is what you bring to the table.

I think.

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