Thursday, June 21, 2007

Blogging Supernova2007: Can we innovate social structure?

Here at the Westin St Francis Hotel, I am lost in a sea of Illuminati--but I smile a lot. I'm attending Supernova 2007...spoke a bit at the Challenge Roundtable...everybody's on Twitter, using Jaiku....sending messages back and forth, but I look at the feed and wonder why I might want to read the musings of all these people...then again, why might they want to read my musings....series of thoughts expessed (by some) emphatically and declaratively....

At conferences like this--those that are high on techology--I sometimes feel the human element is lost in the massive conversations that take place on the stage. Theoreticals are great--but many of the theoreticals sound like oh so much "Technology, yay!" that I begin to wonder if the people are just a bunch of declaratives pumped out across the most AmazingNewPlatform....

But I got to meet Clay Shirky yesterday, and it was like encountering an old friend--who knows that community isn't just an abstract concept that needs just the right tool.

It's more than that. And we won't see how much more it is until everyone gets over the giddyness of MySpace and The Facebook--when all the dabblers and gawkers are burned away and we're just left with people who strongly believe that This Space is transformative and that there is, within this space, a capacity beyond tools to change human interaction...

So, I was very much looking forward to this morning's session with Clay and Denise Caruso on (I'll put up links to the recorded conversation as soon as it becomes available) Both talk about the human element of the Internet.

Denise raises several excellent points: about collaboration yielding better resuts, and how fears often hold it back. How many of these AmazingNewPlatforms (tools) aren't making us more social, but, rather, promoting something anti-social.

Against social. Siloing us off from one another in our own hermetically sealed thought bubbles....

Caruso raises the issue of how can we automate serendipity--well, we kinda do that now, but we complain when the app that recommends a new band isn't recommending the right kind of new band. We want directed serendipity. A serendipity that conforms to our tastes and likes and doesn't leave us with a nasty taste in our mouth or stale information about a travel destination we've already visited...

So, automating serendipity is, perhaps asking a bit too much. And automating a kind of social network serendipity--well, I'm not sure that would work either. Imagine the parents freaking out when, in the new social network, someone gets recommened to be a friend to their teen-ager, and they don't approve of this person....

Actually, that might be telling parents more about a kid than they'd like to know...shattering the illusions...

Denise leaves with an interesting question: can we build social networks of people who aren't like us??

All depends. I've kind of done it. We have some underlying commonalities, but most of the people I know are much higher up on the economic food chain than I am at the present moment, and sometimes we're not the people who might "friend" one another just on an arbitrary list of literary and musical likes and dislikes.

Shirky talks about a particular Shinto shrine, which is torn down every certain number of years, only to be re-built with wood from the same forest where the first of this particular Shinto shrine was built many, many centuries ago....

He talks about the "love" that flourished (flourishes?) in the perl community--how over ten years ago he could point to this community and get answers there quicker than from a manual...

And he brings up the "echo chamber" concept--and why don't we have a metric to help us understand when exactly the group has become so tight that it devolves into groupthink...

(because, really, sometimes echo chambers are communities of support--even in politics...)

Yet how do we get people to talk across boundaries?

Underneath all of this, we're talking about a fundamental social change in the way we view one another within This Space. Yet we talk about innovation with tools and technologies, as if these things are going to make it easier to be human....

But the thing is, no matter how much we worship at the altar of techology, it's still the face to face human interaction that gets us to stop disliking one another, that helps us to see, hear, touch, smell the humanity of another person, and helps us bring them into our tribe.

Still, I think, how are we going to innovate changes in social structure? It's like Journalists getting mad at the People who leave nasty comments on their sites--when they gave people only a legal Terms of Service and never a social Code of Conduct. As if good conduct will somehow inhibit Free Speech. Isn't that kind of retro-hippie thinking? and it's been a long time since the Summer of Love....

Bottom line, isn't it kind of condescending? Only those on the Inside know how to behave. The rest--the unwashed masses--can never learn.

oh. please.

So, where can we begin to innovate changes in social structure? Where can we begin to encourage people who transgress boundaries, the pionneers who are beginning to bridge the new social classes/tribes that are forming on and around the Internet. Because tribalism happens. We have an "A-list" and "B-list" and The Rabble.Even the Rabble has a Rabble. And, like information, the tribes tend to exist in silos, separate and rarely interacting with other tribes....

Is it about more face to face? or better tools--like live streaming--to help us facilitate face to face?

Or is it just that we need to present examples--people who move in and out of cultures, and classes, ages, and tribes. Peopel who teach and who will become the kinds of people who cause the social structure to change.

Maybe it's just too early for this. Then again, what I see in social networking is, in many ways, an encouraging of young people to hang around with people only like themselves. Will they venture out? Do they feel safe enough?

I don't know.

So, I'm here for another day. In a very expensive hotel room with a super-comfy bed and hamburgers made from Kobe beef. and I think "well, how did I get here?" and maybe it was transgressing a boundary, and making friends, creating connections and understanding that transgressers have to form there own tribe within a tribe....

And maybe this is how we being to change the social structure....

Maybe...

3 comments:

Bill Anderson said...

Tish, great blogging. I think the social structure changes, if at all, as you say, with each inter-action. You're definitely doing your part.

Thanks,

Bill

Mike said...

For my money, technology is making it much easier to live in our own bubbles.

* MP3 players let us shut out conversation on the street and in buses/trains. Doesn't sound like such a big deal, but a big part of life is such random stimuli -- someone will mention something you've heard of before, and that little cluster of synapses, ignored for years, will fire and stay alive.

* Cars (many equipped with MP3 players) do the same thing but they also keep us from *seeing* other people. We miss out on people doing interesting things in public view, because we're in private space.

* TVs and air conditioning have done the same thing as cars, but with our free time instead of with our commute time.

Robert Putnam mentions most of this in his book Bowling Alone, as we discussed. But I get annoyed thinking about it again. It makes me want to take The Geography of Nowhere back off the shelf and have a look through it.

Jenny Ambrozek said...

Tish, pleasure meeting you at Supernova and learning about your Assignment Zero project. It would be fabulous if you could share what you learned about managing participation in that effort to the collaborative article writing experiment I have underway with tight deadline. Your insights sincerely appreciated. Here's the link. http://connectedintelligence.wikispaces.com/