January 22, 2003


Category: Research — Biella @ 11:25 am

This morning, I was sleeping soundly when a dog, a sato, of course, starting to bark and howl expressing what seemed to be full-blown grievous pain. I could not help but wake up to the sounds and take a peek out the window to see a dog hobbling and howling away. There was not much I could do at 6 am, his agonizing cries leaving tight knots in my tummy and unable to fall back asleep.

So I rolled out of bed, turned on my computer and went through many emails that I have neglected in the past week. The stillness of the morning combined with some mini-travels and wanderings on the net calmed by tummy and it was then when I was struck at how emotionally attached I have become to certain parts of the net in the sense that I realized how it gives me a certain type of joy, happiness, and satisfaction. It sure is a uber-nifty tool for communication as well as a means to unleash hordes of information, and facilitate commerce or creative production, but it is also this complex multilayered social medium that draws in the human self in all its own variegated complexity.

One of the things I stumbled across this morning only added to my excitement. A group from the University of Chicago is organizing a conference on digital genres, this initial manifesto offering the underlying intellectual spirit of what they hope to accomplish. Among other things, I like how it emphasizes the social thickness of digital genres:

“Digital genres are not merely art, nor are they merely spectacularly efficient ways to move information between bodies. Digital genres do more than extend the human ability to communicate across space and time. They have the potential to create a world which we can inhabit. This potential of digital genres has become more and more emergent in recent days. Massively multiplayer games are not ways for people to communicate in the world, they are worlds within which people communicate. And they are just the tip of the iceberg.

I sometimes have this eerie feeling of “leaving” a place when I take off for a couple of days away from my computer to then return to this place and the people who inhabit it. Or I have this odd moment of finding about connections between people on the net that I had no idea were connected. Friendships blossom and follow paths online that differ from meatworld ones but then they tend to converge blurring that oft noted division between the on and offline world. The division is a useful and necessary demarcation although it is less of a steadfast division and more of a process of constantly shifting boundaries whose movement is predicated on the fact that these two domains converge all the time .

Some of my strongest friendships are those that have a consistent online and offline component, as those friendships develop around a multi-dimensional bucki-ball sphere of experiences in which the mundane, the emotional, the intellectual, and the creative unfold in realtime to occupy different parts of the sphere of friendship that you form with others. The sharing of the offline and online mitigates against the fragmentation that can mark life in a modern urban setting. I think we will look back to this time on the net to see it as something that has transformed the very nature of friendships, especially as more kids start this friendship building it in tandem with online and offline components from a young age.

But there is one thing that irks me about my life online. Just as James Gleick writes about in Faster, life online speeds things up. When I leave to places like Puerto Rico or go away for the weekend with some friends, finding myself unplugged, time slows down, and significantly. I like the molasses quality of life away from the net.

And speaking of slow as molasses, my friend pointed me to what seems to be one heck of an incredible bike tour across Africa. Wow. It is great when connections on the net (corresponding with a long distance friend about biking), lead you to great sites on the net, which in this case will probably not lead me away from the net (at $7,000 and over 6,000 miles, I don’t think my wallet or glutes are large enough) but at least it gets you to read some very inpsiritng words about the engineering and social beauty of biking:

The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.

Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scarce space, energy, or time. They can spend fewer hours on each mile and still travel more miles in a year. They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy. Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance. The advantages of modern self-powered traffic are obvious, and ignored. That better traffic runs faster is asserted, but never proved. Before they ask people to pay for it, those who propose acceleration should try to display the evidence for their claim.
Energy and Equity. by Ivan Illich: Toward a History of Needs. New York: Pantheon, 1978.]

The bike is self-limiting. It puts a barrier against a certain type of acceleration and definitely destruction. Now I have to think up of some tool to self-limit, to slow down my own pace on the net…. I don’t want to leave the net, but instead of driving through it, I need to find the equivalent of biking the net….

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