Small Pieces

A fair beginning

I finally got around to going outside and checking my mailbox. Dave Weinberger’s Small Pieces Loosely Joined was there. Another thing to add to my already massive reading list. But I couldn’t help but read the preface right away.

Just some quick notes to self. Though he aligns himself with a mode of thinking I resist (social constructivism), I agree with his hope for the web as infrastructure:

If a new infrastructure comes along that allows us to connect with everyone else on the planet and to invent new types of connections, this is big news indeed.

I remain cautious about proclaiming that the connections forged in this medium are “new types,” however. I agree with his emphasis on the acceleration and scale of the thing though. It places an even greater emphasis on understanding the modes and types of communication (connections).

I am also querulous of the assertion that “the facts of nature drop out of the web.” Weinberger’s further assertion that “we can see reflected in the Web just how much of our sociality is due not to the nature of the real world but to the nature of ourselves” is at odds with his previously declared stance that identity is socially constructed, because it assumes an individual “self” outside the boundaries of normal, real world social conditioning. It’s a thorny line to dance. I’ll be interested in seeing him try to make the connection. He’s right to assert that “every social act implicitly conforms itself to the geographic and material facts of the real world.” However, do we leave these things behind when we enter web world? I don’t think so. I think the web is a great leveler, where some conventions are left behind perhaps, but not all. We’re all looking for affirmation, even in [insert web spatial metaphor here].

As Weinberger says, “we care about ourselves and the world we share with others.” This means that social conventions may shift and change, but they still, to me at least, are grounded in fundamental human behaviors. I agree with him that the web gives us great opportunities to rethink those behaviors and our assumptions about them. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, but I really must get back to Defoe for now. I suspect that I’ll be chewing on Small Pieces in small pieces; every quote in this entry came from pages xi-xii. I think the book deserves to be read carefully; I’m sure it will be one hell of an epistemic dance.