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• Small Pieces From 2002-03-23 •

Blogspot is pissing me off.

Advance notice: I am going to be moving this blog to shortly. This will not affect how people post, but it will affect (obviously) the URL through which the blog itself is accessed when reading it.

I won't do this right now, since Blogspot needs to at least be up and accessible for awhile so people can read this notice.

Loosely joined by The One True b!X20:28 UTC

I don't think meaning happens. I think context happens. I think framework happens, mainly because we don't live in a world populated only by ourselves, and so there's a grid of Other People's Meaning constructed over time and through which we move. But that's still not inherent in the blank template of the world.

What this lack of inherent meaning offers, IMHO, is the notion of responsibility. We are responsible for what we make and do here, and for the impact is has upon ourselves and others.

For me, this is precisely analogous to the contact offered by the Web. Tha same sort of framework exists here, and again created in an on-going fashion by the people here, but there is still no meaning save for that whice we ourselves decide upon.

The quote (and my interpreation/interpolation of it) has always been an encouraging one to me. Although the idea of so much responsibility can certainly be paralyzing, because it is somewhat overwhelming to consider.

Loosely joined by The One True b!X20:19 UTC

A belated greeting and expression of pleasure to be here. Can't resist interpolating that the discussion of inventing vs. receiving meaning in history has a sort of "applied laboratory" in the venerable field of philology, a practical discipline which we use every day. But, apart from a few mostly dead Germans, few current day ponderers of meaning seem to pay it much mind. In accounts of how "we" give or receive meaning from the world, the study of the actual transmission of meaning via speech is like the small piece, loose.

Loosely joined by tom15:29 UTC

Ok, ok! I've cleaned up my office! Here's a photo of me in it to prove it to you!

Loosely joined by David14:19 UTC

b!X!, all I know about the Bey quote is what you quoted, so I don't pretend to know what Bey really thought. But, what knocked my kneejerk is the idea that because there is nothing inherent in the world that suggests meaning (as you nicely put it), we therefore have to give it meaning. I was extremely depressed (passing thoughts of suicide) because of that idea at one point in my life, so I react to it disproportionately. I think the conclusion doesn't follow from the premise. There's little (ok, nothing if you prefer) inherent that suggests meaning, but we don't give meaning. Meaning happens. It has a history. We find ourselves in it. We can't jump over our tradition. We are grounded, although there is certainly a lot of arbitrariness to the ground we find ourselves on. The conclusion - which you, b!x, may well not come to - that we are free to re-mean ourselves, to re-give ourselves, to re-ground ourselves seems to me to be wrong.

Yeah, a lot to read into a brief quote...

Loosely joined by David14:06 UTC

Good to be here.

Well hello. Blogger finally let me in. I'm going offline this weekend to read SPLJ. I'll post my thoughts and a review thereafter but so far even the preface has me enthralled. Peace. Oh, David that photo of you in your den? did wonders for me when my wife saw it. She's going to give me a less hard time about the state of my office from now on. Thanks for that.

Loosely joined by Gary Turner09:11 UTC

Actually, and at the risk of digression, I don't see the Bey quote as claiming we get to invent the world, merely that (and this is pretty much me imprinting my own belief system upon that quote) since we cannot point to anything inherent in "the real world" that suggests its meaning, it's up to us to give our lives in it some form of meaning. Which is, ultimately, and at the risk of using a buzzword, empowering.

Actually, the degree to which we get to "invent" the Web varies with our respective position in the chain of things (if such a thing can be said to exist). The actual underlying code of the Web is something the vast majority of us do not participate in -- instead spending our time making use of that code. The code itself is a sort of architectural law (as Lessig says) within which we do that voodoo that we do so well. So even on the Web, most of us don't get to invent it, but we get to imbue it with meaning.

Or maybe there's something merely semantic in that. Depending upon one's frame of reference, creating meaning is invention.

Loosely joined by The One True b!X01:14 UTC

Let David eat cake!

Loosely joined by The One True b!X01:09 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-03-22 •

b!X, love your comments. Jeez, how could I not?

You may be surprised at what I say about the Matrix in the chapter on matter. I'm so far around the circle that you and I may actually be at the same point. Your Bey quote seems to say that because there is nothing, we get to invent the world. We thus have a meaningful world. I certainly agree that we need to focus on the meaningfulness of the world, although I don't agree that we are free to invent the world. It's already been invented for us by language and history. But this may be a distinction without a difference (or is it a difference without a distinction?).

As for the new normal: Yeah, I agree. We're already are the point where people ask "But has the Net had any real effect on how businesses are organized?" because they've forgotten what email has done to memos, meetings, and org charts. Totally taken for granted.

Loosely joined by David14:56 UTC

Slimeball Author's Request

I have a favor to ask. For self-interested marketing reasons, I'm hoping bloggers will write about Small Pieces on their own sites as well as at this one. Would you feel ethically besmirched if you were to point on your own blog sites to your longer-form comments here? E.g., "I've just blogged comments about the Space chapter over at SP:GB.." or whatever.

Forgive me.

(b!X, I understand that you're posting here because you had trouble getting to your own site. Can I please have my cake and eat it, too? Thank you.)

Loosely joined by David14:48 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-03-21 •

Lots of catching up to do, I can see - especially given the fact that I don't actually have a copy of the book in hand as yet (thanks for nothing yet again, Chapters. Sheesh). Even so, some of the comments here already resonate with me from my reading the online book-as-performance art.

In particular, B!X claiming back "the new normal" makes perfect sense - the Web is exactly that. It's the standard way by which many of us now live significant aspects of our "real" lives.

I was filling in one of those inane magazine sub-up forms recently and it asked the by now standard question: "How many hours a day do you spend online?" Never occurred to me before now - it's a really dumb question. I no longer differentiate between online and offline me - the distinction simply isn't relevant anymore. Nor is there any way in which it can be relevant or even useful to know how much time of each day I spend online. It's not like there's two separate states here with a 1/0 switch. Guess this is my new normal.

Loosely joined by michaelo03:19 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-03-20 •

Which, conveniently enough, brings us to the first actual chapter of the book, in which David posits that we've blinded ourselves to the ways of "the new world" by focusing so much attention upon its "anomalies" rather than on what is "ordinary" there.

Before I get to that, let me say that of course the most important aspect of Chapter One is the prominence of .Zannah -- a featured reference which will help all of us who are (as David himself once referred to me as) "punctuation enhanced".

Oh, okay. There's actual content in this chapter, too. In fact, it should perhaps be mentioned that this is the chapter that seems to have gotten David in so much trouble with Jon Katz and the Cult of Slashdot. I would go back and look at all of that again to see if my memory is correct, but frankly that whole thing was such a painful farce that I refuse to ever gaze upon its likeness again. But what I seem to recall is that there was some degree of criticism about David's telling of his little eBay tale as a way of starting to get into the issues the remainder of the book is there to address.

There is really only one important thing to recognize about why this is a story about something like eBay: It's an essentially "mainstream" website, recognizable by many, which nicely illustrates in a shorthand form some of the ways in which the Web is different than "the real world". Is it an all-encompassing example? An in-depth example? No. But that isn't the point. Rather, the point is to take an experience with which many Web users are familiar and use it as a way to get them to see how the Web is different. If something many of them now take for granted -- online auctions -- is, when looked at properly, so evocative of the Ways of the Web, perhaps they will begin to look at everything else they do on the Web a bit differently as well.

There was a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project that purported to show how, in many ways, pedestrian and utilitarian the Web and the Internet had become for people:

The status of the Internet is shifting from being the dazzling new thing to being a purposeful tool that Americans use to help them with some of life's important tasks. As Internet users gain experience online, they increasingly turn to the Internet to perform work-related tasks, to make purchases and do other financial transactions, to write emails with weighty and urgent content, and to seek information that is important to their everyday lives.

Okay, that quote doesn't really get at what I'm referring to, but the link is there, go explore the report. The point I'm trying to make is that on the one hand sources report that the Web is becoming more of an everyday thing without all of the hype and buzz and excitement. But on the other hand, I think what's really occurring is that the new ways in which the Web allows people to exist in their lives is, in some sense, becoming taken for granted. Regardless of whether or not people on the Web are overtly conscious of the Ways of the Web and how they are different, they are acclimating to them, and so they don't necessarily seem alien or strange, the way they did, say, five years ago.

Which might be yet another reason why it's been so difficult lately to try to explain/discuss the Web. Bits of it keep falling into place in people's day-to-day lives, and their lives shift to accomodate that, and so it all becomes, in a sense (and to steal a phrase more popularly associated with the post-9/11 world) "the new normal".

Loosely joined by The One True b!X02:48 UTC

So I'm now falling to Pieces, and will try to write something here as I finish each section, beginning of course with the Preface, which I suppose I could have done earlier, since it's online anyway, but I wanted to do the book, well, as a piece.

It's interesting to me how it's difficult now to hear the phrase "the real world" without thinking of The Matrix. At the end of the Preface, David asks:

What is true to our nature and what only looked that way because it was a response to a world that was, until now, the only one we had?

In The Matrix there was "the real world" and "the matrix" -- but what was interesting is that it was, in some ways, in "the matrix" that people were their true selves. In a meat sense, Neo was a battery plugged into a power generator for machines. But while that might have been his meat's reality, his mind -- as represented by his digital self in "the matrix" -- was any number of things: a bored computer programmer, a black-market hacker, a confused guy certain that there wa something more to his existence and he wanted to know what it was.

It's not a direct correlation, but in some sense, the Web is like that for us -- no surprise, certainly, since that's exactly the sort of recognition we were meant to feel when we saw the film. But what I mean is, to make it more directly personal: I would not be the meat person I am today if not for the past 8 1/2 years spent with the Internet and the Web.

The Preface makes mention here and there of "material things". I have nothign particularly cogent to say about this here, except that as I got to this phrase, I had to excuse myself to the restroom in order to blow out a piece of bloody snot. It doesn't get more material than that, methinks.

Especially resonant for me, in the end, is this bit:

The Web confronts us with a different sort of brute fact: we are creatures who care about ourselves and the world we share with others; we live within a context of meaning; the world is richer with meaning than we can imagine. [Emphasis mine.]

It reminds me of one of my favorite Hakim Bey quotes: "Existence itself may be considered an abyss possessed of no meaning. I do not read this as a pessimistic statement. If it be true, then I can see in it nothing but a declaration of autonomy for my imagination & will -- & for the most beautiful act they can conceive with which to bestow meaning upon existence."

Which is something that in "the real world" we would rarely dare to admit and seize upon. But on the Web, it is the norm of things. Perhaps it is precisely because the norm of the Web throbs with this sort of self-permission to live -- the sort we disabuse ourselves of in "the real world" -- that we have had so much difficulty in "explaining" just how and why the Web is so different, so challenging, and (to some) so damnably offputting.

Loosely joined by The One True b!X01:52 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-03-19 •

My turn to announce that my copy has arrived. Actually, it probably arrived Saturday or yesterday, but I forgot that it would be going to my now-previous residence, since I just moved. So I had to go over there and get it.

Meanwhile, the only reason this post is here rather than on my own site is because my server is mysteriously unreachable, which usually means the local Earthlink network is fuckered, but traceroutes from various machines in various parts of the country seem to fail in different places. So I have no idea what's going on.

I'm sure it must be a sign that I should retire to the coffeeshop up the street and start reading the book.

Meanwhile, although invitations to join this blog are obviously getting through to some people, since we've gotten a couple new additions recently, there are still two people seemingly stuck in the queue somehow. If you are one of them, if you still are having no luck come tomorrow, I will delete your outstanding invitation processes and re-invite you fresh (rather than simply clicking on "reinvite"). Maybe that will work.

Loosely joined by The One True b!X23:38 UTC

I'm going through the book again.

Tom's exquisite review convinced me to turn it (the book) upside down - it was the cover that got me - and its second reading is even more pleasurable than the first. The one problem I foresee, among many, is divorcing myself from the sheer delight of its reading to synthesizing David's message as Tom has managed to do.

"Once we are on the Web, we find the ground has dropped out from beneath us." It surely has, in so many ways beyond those thrown up by David's deft turning of our concepts of time and space onto their heads. The book's (and the Web's) weird attraction lies in its highlighting of paradox. Having created this new world in the image of ourselves more truly than we would dared to have imagined some twenty years ago (and more by accident than intent), we stand on firmer ground than ever before. The notion of a rock-solid foundation forms a strong undercurrent carrying the reader through a mass of seeming contradictions and myriad insights to distilled clarity. The Web, as has so often been said, is more about us than any technology we have ever dreamed of. We are that solid and ancient foundation on which rests a new world of nascent creativity and self-hood. David defines more clearly than any other Web-related text I have come across, the substance binding our new affirmation of 'self through the Web' to a courageous spontaneity of being. By doing so, he redefines and gives strong shape and form to outdated memories of that which we so often glibly speak of as 'voice'.

There is definitely more to this 'medium' than meets the eye and it is definitely quite unlike anything we have seen before. It's a great, booming, head-twisting mind blast, damn it. There is no longer any room for cobwebbed thought, and Web detractors have lost their last opportunity to condemn it without rhyme or well-founded reason.

That said, I think there is a particular need to take note of and include in this discussion the voices of people like Chris Kovacs and Turbulent Velvet, whose real dread of who we might possibly turn out to be is best summed up by in a comment to the latter's post as being part and parcel of the whole package. Everyday ugliness does not detract from the message carried by this book, us, or the reality of today. In fact, it strengthens it.

Loosely joined by Mike Golby23:02 UTC

• Small Pieces From 2002-03-18 •

Well, I've received my copy (there goes the break between terms!), and my review begins with the statement, made without fear of contradiction, that this snazzy cover looks a lot better in print than in pixels. I might even read the book, now.

Plus, it's good to join the team--thanks to b!x for persisting through the Blogger obstacles.

Loosely joined by AKMA16:37 UTC