A not so small piece

I try not to get distracted.

I’ve got e-mails I should answer, papers I need to write, papers I need to grade, and yet every time I look at this box I find something. I do my best to avoid marketing and software people on the web, but every time I turn around and I bump into them.

I just don’t like the mindset. I don’t want to be a product, though I do believe that being consumed is a good thing. I’m not using my web log as a means of increasing productivity, making a sale, or any of the above. I’m writing. Writing changes consciousness in a way that is deeper than any of the subsequent nuances gained through technology. The first web— the web I am most concerned with— is life itself.

I often turn to the Greeks these days. The Fates spin their own sort of web. Clotho, the spinner, produces the thread. Lachesis, weaves it into the events that shapes our lives and Atropos trims it at its conclusion. Is the web a space? I suppose it’s as good a metaphor as anything. To make sense of things, we try to distance ourselves from them. It’s the way the mind works. Having three women governing life is still an attractive, comfortable concept.

To give things power over us, we have to name them. The names of the Fates are not recited much these days, because humanity has moved past them. Instead, we speak of profit and loss, production and consumption, and a hundred other binaries. Yet we fall back easily to the sort of oral aphorisms that fueled the birth of society. Two steps forward, one step back. “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes” becomes:

“On the Web everyone will be famous to 15 people”

I read this in a review of David Weinberger’s latest book on Amazon. Is this really a change? It seems to me that in everyday life everyone is famous to someone at least, and usually the list could probably be extended to at least fifteen people. People form friendships and friendships are valued— this is news?

I’d never pick up the book under normal circumstances, because of my own mental filtering out of things related to consumer modeling. However, given Tom’s excellent review of it, I may have to rethink that. I don’t think I’ll gain any deep insight, but at the very least it seems as if it’s grounded in an appreciation of the larger web.

I have yet to see a convincing argument about what makes the Internet different from the larger web though. Take this fragment of Tom’s review regarding defining the character of this new discourse environment for example:

It’s as if our bodies and their nuisance appurtenances of time, space and matter were to be drained off, leaving a sort of puree of human intentionality.

That’s called writing. Now that writing is proliferating at an ever-increasing rate, in what is (for now) a largely democratic environment, these questions are pushed to the forefront in a way that is unlike any revolution before, except perhaps the invention of the printing press.

Driving back from school yesterday, it seemed like language is a giant fog bank that we all reach into, trying to touch the people on the other side. That started long before the Internet, and continues with all it’s problems regardless of the technology involved.

I do think of my web presence as a “space” and using it provides a place to stretch out, and sometimes touch a handful of people. It does not, however, have any special priority. This is a notebook. If people are interested in my “waxing philosophical,” fine. Otherwise, not. If people are interested in the stories, or anecdotes from day to day life, fine. Otherwise not. They can flit on to another site and find something that interests them more.

I do think of it as a bit of a social locus, but I constantly do my best to be a good friend and not dwell in one space too long. I don’t want to be boring, though I am sure I often am. That’s the nature of a notebook. Some pages are going to be more interesting than others.

Care to read it? It’s completely up to you. In the parlance of the linguists: “Hearer knows best.”