This is another big old ramblin' post in the grand style of yore -- mashing up my own personal experience with art and etherial stuff I think, sparked by the news of the day. It just came out this way, man. I swear.
The Beeb says 32 Million Americans read blogs and research I saw presented a year ago shows that (at least in politix) online consumers are influentials. Interesting.
So does this mean I'll soon be able to sell out for big bucks? Will I and my cohort create the next online sensation to sell ad space on, or will Madison Avenue continue slowly catching up in it's ability to create faux internet projects which are really exercises in product placement?
Also, when will a viral bit of language blow "blog" out of the water? Do you want anyone with that much of a beard drafting your lexicon? What? Well, ok, so the recent merger of Six Apart -- the family biz of the Trotts until Joi Ito and his crazy Japanese VC skills got involved -- and LiveJournal, and especially this commentary by Danah Boyd, got me thinking about terminology vs technology. You can take the same fucking piece of functionalty, the same code even, and just give it a different stylesheet/brand/name and people will think about it differently, expect different things, use it differently. That's really something; what would Burroughs make of all this crazy shit, I wonder...
(2,000 words or so total; personal bits at the end)
I think the term "blog" has become rather strongly associated with professional pursuits, ambitious talkers and amateur punditry, in large part thanks to the 2003/2004 political cycle. The really addictive uses of these tools, though, are in creating communities of interest and inquiry. The publishing aspect is empowering, but my guess is at best that 1 in 100 people have the will to "publish" at any given moment, let alone consistantly enough to really create a "blog" or "ham sandwitch" or whatever it's gonna be called in 10 years. But the maxim applies: publish or perish. If you put yourself out in that melieu and your site doesn't have fresh and interesting content, your readership declines and you end up cold, lonely, howlin' at the moon. Or maybe you just eat some more skittles and call it a day. Whatever.
Anyway, it's a Real Thing to take up the responsibility of "publishing," but almost everyone will gossip, kvetch, banter, chit chat; and they like to do it a lot. Every day even. I sometimes find this annoying -- noticing that my friends have the same conversations over and over again for instance -- but there seems to be an impulse within human nature to do that sort of thing. It's backed up by science, it seems. Robin Dunbar (of the magic 150 idea) says this:
The group size predicted for modern humans by equation (1) would require as much as 42% of the total time budget to be devoted to social grooming.
My suggestion, then, is that language evolved as a "cheap" form of social grooming, so enabling the ancestral humans to maintain the cohesion of the unusually large groups demanded by the particular conditions they faced at the time.
I found that quote pulled out on another VC's inquiry into the solidness of the 150 number; his point being that 150 seems more like a maximum, not a norm. But the notion of language serving the same function within regards to social cohesion as social grooming (picking yr neighbors bugs, a core monkey value) explains the repetitive nature of many group conversations, and the uniformity also of small talk. This brings me back back to a little book on communication I found in my High School Library when I was developing anti-violence curriculum with Luke (and our AP psych class). It introduced me to the five levels of communication, which I made art about much later on, after college.
So then it's interesting to me to read Danah's bit about LiveJournal culture. Particularly this:
LJ folks don't see LJ as a tool, but a community. Bloggers may see the ethereal blogosphere as their community, but for LJers, it's all about LJ. Aside from the ubergeek LJers, LJers don't read non-LJs even though syndication is available. They post for their friends, comment excessively and constantly moderate who should have access to what.
LJ has a lot more social grooming going on than the "blogosphere," and I think that's a great thing. We could learn a lot from that. They seem to drive down further in the five levels, closer to truth. It's scary, yeah; communities of cutters, for instance. But that's the breaks. Humanity is weird and messy.
Weird and messy don't often combine well with professionality. That might be why you don't see much stuff in the "blogosphere" about feelings, about truth. It's too bad. I think that's what Uncle Weinberger and the rest of the cluetrainers all hope will happen; and I do too, because I think it will lead to Better Things. I was writing in my paper journal the other day about my blog (pomo to the max!) about how what makes blogs valuable is that they're essentially true. That's the "human voice" bit. Marketing and PR are lies in their hearts; blogs are people, and that's different. It's what differentiates them most, and it's really intriguing how the interplay between this value and the realities of politics took shape. It was a real nutbuster for me and many others this past year or two... whether we realized it at the time or not.
I mean, if your objective is to bring truth to light, to what extent can you compromise the truth in the pursuit of this objective? It's not an academic question, because in praxis it's going to happen.
This is all stuff I'm going to keep chewing on for ages and ages; but to bring it all back home, having re-read my out-of-date monkey page, pondered some old art of mine, and feeling two cups of coffee skimming around my nervous system making me bold and fast on the keys, here a story I'd label "confession" both for its titillating elements and the fact that I haven't told many people about it before.
Theres a bit from the art piece I referenced above:
But you know what the real bitch of truth is, in real life? It's that in interpersonal terms, the truth is often very unsatifying, because the truthful answer to many questions is "I don't know."
What do you want? What do you want to be? Where do you want to go?
We're faced with these questions all the time, and you look bad if you always answer "I don't know." It's like, "next time on 20 questions, a complete ass!" "I don't know", "I don't know", "Uhhh... shit, I should know that but...","I just don't know."
As with a lot of my performance writing, I pull things from conversations I have, overhear, etc. This bit came from a conversation I had with this woman Jill who I met because she was stage-managing another piece of work I had done. She was six feet tall and beautiful and I have a pattern of being attracted to stage managers (obvious power-play turnons, and for some reason I've had more hot girls in that role than you'd expect), and so I wooed her a little there in New York at the end of 2001.
We went out and saw a Norman Rockwell show at the Gugenheim. We went for walks along the Hudson and sat on the cold ground talking about life. The day before I was to fly back to Oregon for christmas, she called and wanted to hang out. I had gotten a little stoned previously and I wasn't sure if it was a good idea, but my then-roommate Christina told me I should, so I did, taking the bike ride over the bridge in the December air to clear my head a bit.
We met up and had coffee at this 24-hour french joint on Park Avenue, and she invited me back to see her place (a nice big spot; she came from well-heeled family) and one thing led to another. I remember that when I first kissed her John Lennon's "Imagine" started playing, and it seemed really appropriate. It was natural. It was good. She'd never had orgasms from oral sex before. But I couldn't sleep over or stay for another round even, because it was 1 or 2 in the morning and my flight was at 7 and I had to get my things and so on. It's never a good thing to leave at a moment like that, end the intimacy, but that's what I did.
I also started to feel a little weird because I knew my friend Sam had been pursuing her, and in all honesty I hadn't expected this to happen. Further, I'd just gotten done screwing up good relationships with two other quality women and recall feeling at the time like I aught not to keep blundering around, take a more monastic view of things. And so I kind of didn't follow up. I didn't really strike up an email dialogue. We didn't make small talk. No social grooming. No more conversations on the west side. No more rendezvous at french places, and certainly no more bedroom fun. I rationalized it in a couple ways, but it's something which I regret, obviously.
The point was, all this happened at the same time that I launched this blog, but I didn't mention it. I mentioned breaking up with Yuliya. I link back to my earliest collected thoughts about truth and identity online, but I said nothing about Jill.
This isn't self-referential narcissism -- or not entirely. It's an effort to recall the difference between what I said and what I did, to remember what I thought and the context in which those thoughts came forth. It's reaffirming to me to recall how my belief in "the truth always feels better" was born, and I take a kind of solace in how difficult a belief it is to enact in your daily life. Good living isn't easy. The truth sets us free from secrets and silence (the seeds of madness), but it can also make us vulerable. That takes strength, and in all truth strength comes not just from within, but from your social network.
To bring it all back home -- for real this time, no more tangents -- I hope we humans can work it all out. We're going to keep experiencing change, and I still believe we could be getting into something really good. Social revolution, information reformation, cultral cachetism, who knows. For really good things to happen, people are going to have to dive deep for the truth, and work on their social grooming at the same time. That means more than diplomacy and small talk: it means finding ways to be comfortable with one another, to be open and true, and finding the will to keep it up when the going gets muddled.
It's a tall order, but I think humanity just might be up to it. My role seems for now to be in making the tools, finding the names, and writing some of the words. Building and selling the dream. Yours may be too, or it may be completely different. Any which way, the process is a pleasure.