Dec 16, 2010 1
On arrival at Newsfoo a couple of weeks ago in Phoenix, Arizona, each participant was given a notebook. The notebook may have just been a rather fine example of conference schwag, but looking back at it after the weekend, I realise that mine speaks volumes – not what I jotted down during sessions, but what I didn’t. Or rather, the pattern of my note-taking during the event.
I noted down on a fresh page the name of the session I was attending, and the time, so I would later be able to piece together the sequence of sessions I attended at least, through a fug of jetlag. Underneath each session’s title, there follows about a page of notes – the questions under discussion, framing the topic, perhaps, or salient quotes and ideas. And then, by the time we get to the second page, the notes descend into lists – of names (people in the room and beyond), book titles, publications, other references cited, half ideas, questions – all headed by an underlined FOLLOW UP LATER.
This tells me two things about my experience of Newsfoo: One, that I was frequently too busy listening, thinking and participating to record the event. There was so much going on! And two, that each session acted as a catalyst for further thinking, reading, conversation afterwards. In other words, you needed your attention in the room; and the session was only the beginning.
This perhaps provides some context for the misunderstood suggestion from O’Reilly organisers, who dissuaded people from liveblogging and tweeting during sessions. Some – who weren’t there, incidentally – saw this suggestion on the event wiki and reacted angrily, referring to a “twitter ban” and alleging that this was part of a conspiracy to keep the content of the event secret, cabal-like.
On the contrary. My impression was that people were free to socialise and cover their perspective of the event (at least anything that wasn’t covered by O’Reilly’s famous FrieNDA, which is like a person- or statement-specific Chatham House rule), just not in real time. And since the weekend in Phoenix, there have emerged a number of stimulating, informative and thoughtful blog posts – and I expect more will emerge in time.*
So it’s not that nothing was said. It’s that, like coffee, Newsfoo reactions took time to percolate – though, as a non-coffee-drinking Brit, I’m bound to say that a good cup of tea needs time to steep (we call this “masting”) before it’s ready to drink. Whisk the teabag out too soon and your cuppa is insipid, weak – hardly worth bothering with at all.
In my experience, inserting a pause in usual social reporting activities/obligations provided time and mental space to listen to, reflect on and add to what was being said.
Read the rest of this entry »
Jul 26, 2010 24
In most digital workplaces, there’s an unwritten understanding that when someone has headphones on, they’re not to be disturbed. Most of the time, digital workers recognise that sometimes you need to get into a productive flow state, and that means being allowed and encouraged to immerse yourself in the task at hand, undisturbed.
Flow is important to web workers, because it’s hard to come by. As digital knowledge wranglers, just like the machines at our fingertips, we’re constantly context-switching, running multiple processes at once, streaming concurrent thoughts and projects and activities in real time, trying to devote sufficient time and attention to each, but usually failing because of unrealistic timescales, lack of data to complete the task in hand or multiple competing priorities.
Context switching is exhausting, especially if you’re doing it all day long. It takes effort to figure out the context when someone comes up to you and starts talking about that meeting or project, and you’re supposed to instantly know
a) who they are
b) what they’re referring to
c) all background knowledge about the context which may enable you to make a useful or insightful contribution.
I often find myself wishing people came with identifying headers, like email. Just a simple whois with a sensible subject line would do wonders for my ability to react reasonably and rapidly to a distraction, rather than staring blankly for a few moments while my brain variously clears to one side the other things I’ve been processing, then cycles through knowledge files to find pertinent entries, all of the while also trying to summon the person’s name and context based only on their appearance (I’m terrible with names) and the words “that thing we were talking about the other day.”
The phrase “continuous partial attention” was invented by Linda Stone in 1998, and it gets more true with every passing year, perfectly describing the constant infograzing state of the digital generation.
So for the most part, web workers need ways to signal to their colleagues that they are trying to crack on with something without distraction. For many, the universal symbol is ‘headphones on’ – even if you’re not listening to anything, it’s a way of visibly signalling to the world that your attention is in another place. Your body may remain in the room, at your desk, but your attention is in the task. This is what Bruce Sterling means when he wrote about “cyberspace” as the place your attention is when you’re focused on something else:
Cyberspace is the “place” where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person’s phone, in some other city. The place between the phones.
– Bruce Sterling, from the introduction to The Hacker Crackdown [PDF link to whole book]
So we work much of the time in cyberspace, trying to find focus and flow, trying to escape from constant distractions and demands on attention.
Of course, there are exceptional circumstances which mean it’s OK for someone to break into the attention zone. Indeed, we give certain people specific permission to breach the bulkhead. We switch on our “busy” signals on GTalk, but our loved ones know that it’s OK to ignore it. We set up our phones to divert all calls except those from the boss. We instruct our desk phones to deliver a voice message to all calls telling them to email instead. Then we sift through emails when time and attention allow.
We generally prefer forms of contact which can be skimmed, triaged and prioritised. We want to be in control of our time, in a world which makes it increasingly difficult to be so. We tend not to like interruptive, demanding contact like phone or face-to-face disruption, in which someone else takes control of the when, where and how much time the query will take – as well as what else we’ll be able to do during the contact.
Face to face interruptions can’t be compartmentalised, multi-tasked or pomadoroed: it seems rude, when in fact the imposition is on the part of the disturber, not the disturbee. But it’s hard to tell someone to IM instead when they’re looming over your desk. As a result, we digivores get a reputation for being anti-social; for preferring email to facetime; for conducting hour-long sporadic conversations via instant message rather than spending ten minutes on the phone.
So in a distracting and demanding world, we crave the perfect, all-too-fleeting feeling of flow, when dedicated attention combines with lack of distraction to form a productive, devoted, happy state. Nothing beats it: fingers flying, synapses firing: words (or code, or ideas, or photoshop actions, or whatever you do) spilling productively, consistently and cogently onto the screen almost as fast as you can process them.
That’s why dedicated attention time is important, and why geeks (technical, creative and otherwise) resent distraction. We’re not just grumpy sods: we need mental space to focus. Music through headphones helps. Switching off the IM and email clients helps. Making yourself unavailable to the world despite your continued presence in the office helps too, but can prove more problematic.
A year or so ago, in the face of a writing project which demanded lots of head-down time immersed in passages and focused on the screen, I made a little makeshift notice to put beside my desk. It said “Trying to concentrate, please don’t disturb”. I saw it as the physical equivalent of the notice on my GTalk status (“Trying to concentrate: email me instead”) or the voice message I’d set (“Hello, you can leave me a message if you want but I’d really prefer an email to…”).
It was small, and people didn’t notice it. I felt too much of a sourpuss to point it out to them, so it became pointless.
A week later, I came in one morning and discovered a new sign beside my desk, made (I think ) by a sneaky elf in the design team who sit not far from me. In brand-consistent font on a hot pink background, the giant-Toblerone-shaped sign said on each face: “Meg is trying to concentrate”. There could be no mistaking it from any angle. The message was clear.
I’ve tried to enforce a good routine with the sign over the last year. I only use it when I’m actually trying to concentrate on something specific (not multiple things which are distractable). I use it in combination with headphones as a double signal to the world of my unavailability. I take it down when I’m done focussing.
Here are the interactions I tend to get, when the sign is up. Each of these is accompanied by hand waving designed to induce me to take off the massive headphones I am wearing when the sign is up:
- Are you actually trying to concentrate?
- I like your sign.
- Hahaha. Meg is trying to concentrate! Very good! Does it work?
- I know you’re trying to concentrate [waves dismissively at sign] but I’ve got a question about…
- Are you interruptable?
- Sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to talk about…
- Ooh, where did you get your sign from? Did you make it?
- Can we talk about….[no reference to sign at all]
and perhaps most often:
Why do they do this?
I’m at a loss to know what to do next. Current favoured options include:
- A Lucy-style “The Doctor Is In/Out” sign
- Ignoring people if they ignore the sign when it’s up
- Teenage-style eye-rolling and deep sighing when interrupted
- Getting a bigger sign
- Amending the existing sign to include the words “Please do not disturb”
- A deli-counter take a number/now serving machine
If all else fails, I’m going to get a big piece of black cloth, and attach one end using velcro to the outer rim of my monitor, and drape the other end over my head, like a Victorian photographer’s light hood. This idea is, of course, based on the popular toddler belief that if I can’t see them, they can’t see me to interrupt. It also has the added bonus of shutting out all non-digital stimulus, which might help me to focus a bit better.
How do you find focus in a world of competing attention? Any suggestions?
Oct 26, 2009 1
Back in the nineties, when the web was young…
…most web pages took over a minute to load
…the song of one’s home 14.4kbps modem was more familiar than any novelty ringtone (what’s one of those, then?)
…AOL was a groundbreaking kind of company
…chatrooms were still a non-sleazy novelty
…marquee and blink tags were in common usage
…a web-ring was a social navigational device, not a gang of kiddy-fiddlers
…many web sites had an entire page dedicated to links
…the use of nested tables to layout a website was cutting-edge
…Google, Blogger and Amazon were just a twinkle in the eyes of their founders
…Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Twitter were just random meaningless utterings
…building a web page was something only total weirdos would do
…dear, (now) departed Geocities was a vibrant and bustling place for play and experimentation, consisting of “neighbourhoods” and suburbs with particular themes or personalities, named after real or imagined geographical locations – SouthBeach, TheTropics, EnchantedForest, Tokyo, MotorCity, PicketFence, Petsburgh, Athens.
And each of these was stuffed with hundreds of citizens, tending hundreds upon thousands of lovingly constructed pages, each brimming with animated gifs, eye-bleeding backgrounds and a never-ending stream of scrolling, blinking, neon, capitalised, centre-justified text and badly-compressed, rasterized photos.
Including me, for a short while.
At the time, one of the most common phrases on the internet was “this page is under construction” – a sort of excuse or explanation, I suppose, often accompanied by a representation or parody of the symbols usually associated with road-works or construction sites in the non-virtual world. Strips of black and yellow tape or triangular red, black and white icons of ‘Men At Work’.
But thinking about it, it was a strange statement to make. At the time, the entire Internet was itself under construction; being built and explored and defined and designed and conquered and claimed by users just like me. By definition, web pages could (and can) continue being constructed, built upon, refined and redesigned forever – there’s no end to the work: even now, a redesign is only ever a temporary thing and its unveiling tends to be just a brief resting status in between periods of intense redevelopment activity.
The point is, the Internet can’t ever be completed, at least in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a living work in progress. The constant ripple of activity keeps it being. When it stops evolving, it stops being relevant. That was the point of web pages versus print and then as now, the idea of publishing flat print-like pages without interactivity or hypertextuality or even contextuality and formatting to the web is quite daft.
The web is alive: as long as there is networking occurring – both social and electronic – the Internet will exist and be continuously re-invented, never quite the same from one second to the next.
Back in the nineties, I used the idea of being under construction as the central focus for my (now horribly outdated and quite shuddersomely facile) MA Thesis: Under Construction: (Re)Defining Culture and Community in Cyberspace.
Don’t read it though. You can garner more knowledge about internet culture and community from five minutes on Twitter these days – and if you do decide to plough through it, remember that in the nineties many, many people (including academics) didn’t know what the internet was, let alone a modem, which is why it’s so full of explanations and definitions of terms.
In fact, back in 1997 when I stated my intention to embark on research in this particular area, I was told by senior members of the Anthropology department that there was no such thing as culture and community in cyberspace, and that I should redirect my attentions to something proper instead.
WHO’S LAUGHING NOW, EH?
The phrase ‘Under Construction’ is interesting for Anthropologists and other social scientists, who sometimes theorise that that culture is itself a construction – made and reinforced by the actions of those who show up and participate. In my thesis, I explained that even perception is not a passive experience.
We are constantly constructing the world (through perception, etc.) as much as the world is constantly constructing (shaping, changing and influencing) us. The idea of a ‘passive media’ such as television takes on a new perspective when it is understood that the process of watching a soap-opera requires the brain to unconsciously perform startling feats of interpretation and imagination just to make sense – images – out of the millions of pixels and lines fired rapidly at the screen, not to mention understanding the plot.
Fascinated back then – and still – by the idea that just by showing up, we are causing the net to come into a new phase of being. Leaning forward makes that link even more tangible. That’s still true, of course. Perhaps moreso than ever?
As a sidenote, I was thinking the other day how long it had been since I used the acronym “IRL” or the expanded phrase “In Real Life.”
It used to be the thing we’d say when we meant “not on the internet”, and I’m glad that it has become gradually obsolete over the years, now that the internet is accepted as part of life.
The internet is real life: I am real, sat at my real computer, engaging with the screen and the world beyond that it unlocks, in real time, via my eyes, ears, keyboard, mouse, attention. Online and offline make much more sense, being descriptive of state rather than reality.
(Likewise, I’m glad that we don’t talk about “virtual communities” anymore – as if spending time with people interacting around common interests and deepening relationships over time was in any way less than real. Now we know it can be, and that gets proved and reproved every day.)
So anyway, today’s unplugging of the Geocities life-support made me think about how we shaped it, and it shaped us.
Geocities slowly became unloved, unused and eventually undermined by wave upon wave of new services which helped us to express ourselves; live out loud, on the screen; learn to create/tinker/experiment; play with our identities; find others; experience the thrill of seeing our words, our work in a public “space”.
But for all its faults, Geocities was, for many long-term residents of the web, the first place they called home(page). And because of that, we mourn its passing.
But its spirit lives on. The creative, tinkering itch still runs thunderous and irrepressible through us. Our web experiences – and we ourselves – are still under construction.
Oct 24, 2009 5
As part of Quadriga’s Online Communication 2009 conference, I was invited by the organisers to present some reflections about how to communicate with people online, drawn from both personal and professional experiences, in the form of an after-dinner speech. This was a new experience for me: I’ve never done an after-dinner speech before. Lots of presentations, lectures, debates and panels, but nothing in quite this format before, with no visual aid, nestled in between main course and dessert.
Rather than just post my notes, here’s a fully-written up version of what I said, including links to sources, resources, inspirations and further reading. Forgive the slightly odd formatting, with so many paragraphs – it’s structured this way to reflect the emphasis and pauses and topic sections as I spoke.
If anyone wants it, I was thinking about making an audio version available to download, because this is fairly long (about 25 minutes) – let me know if this would be interesting to you. And if you’re interested in me giving this presentation (or one similar) at an event you’re organising, do get in touch.
When I first told my friends I was coming to Amsterdam to speak to a room full of online communication executives, they asked me why I had to fly to Amsterdam to do that. Why do we all need to get together in one room? Couldn’t I just do it by email, maybe in a newsletter or a series of tweets?
Well, maybe – but if that had been the case, I wouldn’t have got to enjoy such a delicious meal and wouldn’t have met so many of you face to face. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that.
Actually, yesterday I asked my Twitter contacts whether there’s anything they’d recommend to a room full of the best and brightest communication professionals in Europe. I got a lot of interesting answers, many of which I’ll draw on later, but I particularly liked this suggestion from a contact who said:
“Just tell them they should promote the juniors for two months and let them run wild over the internet.”
Well, it’s an idea. Not sure it’s the first thing you could do, but still…
When Quadriga were putting together the conference programme, I was asked to present my perspective on online communication from “both sides of the wall” – as a keen online user both personally and professionally.
I’s just like to note that that implies the wall is somehow this insurmountable, divisive thing which is rarely scaled. In fact, the walls are coming down. I think it’s remarkably easy – and getting easier – to hop from one side to the other, and in fact the boundaries are blurring for many of us every day. I count myself as incredibly lucky that my professional life draws on my personal experiences and passions.
As part of that, I have a confession to make.
Read the rest of this entry »
Apr 1, 2009 1
I don’t often write about work here, but the news this morning is too exciting not to share.
1. The Guardian is moving to publish exclusively online after 188 years in print. This partnership between Twitter and the Guardian is called Gutter.
2. We’ve extended the Gutter partnership to work with WordPress, to build a bold new commenting platform which limits all responses to 140 characters or less. This is known as GutterPress.
I like the logos.
Mar 17, 2009 Comments Off
The Guardian is running a series in print and online at the moment detailing 1000 songs everyone should hear – it runs until next weekend, and provides thematic lists of songs (e.g. love, breakups, places) selected by critics, along with the stories behind the tracks in many cases. Online, there are links to hear individual tracks on Spotify, too.
But we’ve also added in a little HTML generation widget which means you can go through each list and check a box to say whether you’ve heard (or own) a particular track. You can then click a little button at the end and a tasty chunk of HTML will be produced, ready for copying into your blog CMS of choice, should you so desire. Each link goes to the entry in the data table on the Guardian site.
I’ve been through the first few days’ lists already, and I’ll add the rest as the series progresses.
NB, I’ve done these lists as being about songs I actually own in my music collection, not whether I’ve heard them at all. In cases where I own a version of the song but by a different artist, I’ve said I own it because it’s the track that matters most, I think.
Interestingly, my music collection appears to overlap about a third with what the critics think everyone should hear….
I own 46 from the Guardian.co.uk list of 131
- You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC, 1980)
- Love in an Elevator (Aerosmith, 1989)
- Smile (Lily Allen, 2006)
- When The Sun Goes Down (Arctic Monkeys, 2006)
- Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) (The Beatles, 1965)
- Je T’Aime … Moi Non Plus (Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, 1969)
- Girls and Boys (Blur, 1994)
- Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine (James Brown, 1970)
- I Want You (Elvis Costello and the Attractions, 1986)
- Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners, 1982)
- I Touch Myself (Divinyls, 1991)
- I Want You (Bob Dylan, 1966)
- Lay Lady Lay (Bob Dylan, 1969)
- Stutter (Elastica, 1993)
- Who’s That Girl? (Eurythmics, 1983)
- Stay With Me (The Faces, 1971)
- Relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 1983)
- Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel, 1986)
- Let’s Get It On (Marvin Gaye, 1973)
- Sexual Healing (Marvin Gaye, 1982)
- I Just Want to Make Love to You (Etta James, 1961)
- Pull Up to the Bumper (Grace Jones, 1981)
- Milkshake (Kelis, 2003)
- Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin, 1969)
- Don’t Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim! (Kirsty MacColl, 1989)
- Justify My Love (Madonna, 1990)
- Fastlove (George Michael, 1996)
- One Minute Man (Missy Elliott, 2001)
- A Case of You (Joni Mitchell, 1971)
- If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night) (Me’Shell Ndegeocello, 1993)
- You Can Leave Your Hat On (Randy Newman, 1972)
- Me and Mrs Jones (Billy Paul, 1972)
- Fuck the Pain Away (Peaches, 2000)
- Roxanne (The Police, 1978)
- Do You Remember the First Time? (Pulp, 1994)
- (Love Is Like a) Heat Wave (Martha and the Vandellas, 1963)
- Let’s Talk About Sex (Salt-n-Pepa, 1990)
- Hold On, I’m Comin’ (Sam and Dave, 1966)
- Reel Around the Fountain (The Smiths, 1984)
- I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges, 1969)
- Animal Nitrate (Suede, 1993)
- Love to Love You Baby (Donna Summer, 1975)
- Wild Thing (Tone Loc, 1989)
- Wild Thing (The Troggs, 1966)
- Desire (U2, 1988)
- Venus in Furs (The Velvet Underground, 1967)
Jan 13, 2009 13
Being on the road in various places, and out of the office at events a lot recently has made me realise quite how power-hungry I have become in recent months.
In fact, you could say that over the last few years I’ve been increasingly obsessed with power, as my working and personal lives have collided and colluded to mean I crave power more than ever.
It grabs me at random times and always in unexpected places. On the tube. At conferences and events. In airport lounges, conscious of a long stretch of bored hours ahead.
My need for power has even started to influence my packing decisions – at first it was just when I was going away for holidays and conferences, but increasingly, I find myself carrying around chargers and converters and cables just in case I need to jack in, plus peripherally scanning conference venues, hotel rooms, airport departure gates and even train stations for power-points with the half-formed thought of being able to boost energy levels for a short while.
The thing is, previous phones (mainly Nokia) and devices (e.g 80GB video iPod, Macbook) were built with decent batteries which gave (at worst – macbook about 6-8) several hours or (at best – my most recent nokia could handle a week, easy) several days of power to the device.
My more recent iphone and msi-wind/advent netbook cloud-computing and wifi-dependent/enabled lifestyle, combined with taking and publishing a lot of photos makes me incredibly power-hungry.
My netbook battery gives me 3 hours of use without wifi turned on, and a paltry 1.5-2 if connected. The iPhone can eke out a couple of days (as long as I don’t use it and it stays in one place so doesn’t need to hunt for a new cell) or drain out in mere hours if playing a game. Useless!
I feel like I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about and looking for cables and battery levels and converters and power points, and my packing lists regularly start these days with assorted cables and chargers rather than being the tedious nearly-forgotten scrawl at the very end.
When we went to California in December, I took:
- A power cable for my netbook
- A usb power cable for iphone and ipod
- A charger for my nikon camera battery (and spare battery)
- A charger for my nintendo DS
- oh and spare battereis for the Flip
That may not sound like much, but it’s ridiculous to have to heft all these things around with me whenever I take a trip of more than a few days. Bear in mind that I usually carry the first two and the last one with me every day in my handbag, too.
It’s good that I can charge the iphone via USB, but then I need to carry the netbook power lead, which is way bigger and bulkier than necessary, and doubles the bother of lugging it around. I’ve had people recommend a spare battery for the netbook, but that doesn’t solve the business trip problem. What I need is a lightweight, compact power charger for the netbook. Does such a thing exist?
Either that or a decent battery life for both netbook and iphone. Is that too much to ask?
In the meantime, until I can find a more portable or longer-lasting solution, I’ll just have to continue being a power-crazed geek. Welcome to my life.
Nov 27, 2008 6
I don’t often write about work-related stuff here (keep meaning to, just no time), but given that I’m at home with a stinking cold (no voice and you really don’t want to know what’s pouring out of my face…I barely want to know myself), and I’m particularly proud of this project, I’ll make a happy exception.
Since Obama’s historic election win, a few weeks ago, I’ve been quite heavily involved with the Message for Obama group on Flickr, which started out with a few snaps from my iphone (like the one above), taken around the Guardian offices, and snowballed in members and submissions over the following days and weeks. In fact, contributions are still rolling in, and the group continues to grow.
If you’ve got five minutes to spare, I heartily recommend having a flick through the slideshow of images in the pool. Fascinating viewing.
It’s three weeks exactly since the group was created, and I’m chuffed to say that there’s now an accompanying book, containing some of the most striking, thought-provoking, funny and interesting images and messages from the Flickr pool (with full permission from the contributors), as well as exclusive images commissioned from Guardian photographers around the world, capturing the global reaction to the election result.
The images selected for the book are representative of a wide variety of political views, cultural perspectives, positive and negative views as well as photographic styles. It’s absolutely not a giant backslapping happyfest, though it does in aggregate capture the interesting mixture of hopes and fears, joy and disappointment, expectation and relief which were all being exhibited during the time after the election result.
So the last few weeks have, for me, been full of corresponding with Flickr users and publishers, keeping permissions records, laying the book out gradually using Blurb’s BookSmart software, keeping an eye on the group and weeding out the occasional flurry of images of kittens, weird folk-art, gimps with their cocks out, rippling soft-focus flags etc.
(Aside: Seriously – you’d think the clue to the group’s criteria would be in the name of the group: is it a Message? Is it for Obama? Is it something that you’d like to address directly to him? No, it’s a picture of a rabbit. While I realise that may well be your personal tribute to the president-elect, in furry/naked/flag-waving/bad-photoshop form, unless you actually make part of it a message (title/description if nothing else) then it’s not a message for Obama, it’s a picture. Or people failing to grasp the rather simple point that a picture of the words “Obama is Rubbish” or similar is actually a message ABOUT Obama, which still isn’t a message FOR Obama, and that removing it from the pool has absolutely nothing to do with censorship (you could’ve happily put a message in which says “Dear Obama, I think you’re rubbish!”) and everything to do with our rather literal interpretation of the format. Sheesh.)
Anyway, after many late nights and computer fails and transatlantic phonecalls, the book is now available to buy from Blurb and I think looks rather spiffy, actually.
There’s much more background about how the project came about and my involvement in it in this interview I did with the lovely Mr Hg, for instance:
What has been the most striking aspect of this project for you personally?
The amazing creativity and thoughtfulness of contributions to the pool has been incredibly inspiring. It would have been easy to have ended up with a thousand webcam pictures of people with their thumbs up saying “nice one!” but actually, people have found interesting ways – and words – to express their hopes and fears about an Obama presidency.
Plus there’s quite a bit more detail in the comments of this article on the Guardian site (in which I attempt to put right some misconceptions about the project from people determined to believe the worst. Sigh. See that windmill? Excuse me while I wander towards it…)
All the Guardian’s profits from the same of the book will go to the Katine development project, which is a very worthy cause. So if you’re wondering what to get for the democrat/republican/interested outside observer/Palin impersonator in your life, look no further…
A couple of taster screenshots after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »
Sep 29, 2008 12
I arrive by cab from the airport and probably tip too much as I fumble with the dual challenge of semi-familiar currency and large banknotes fresh from the ATM.
I fill in a form at reception, always asking if I need to fill the whole thing in, and the answer is usually no.
They give me a key; a card; a breakfast voucher; a slip of paper with the wifi login credentials; instructions on how to get to my room, which I will forget the instant I walk away with my luggage.
I approach my room with trepidation, remembering all the others I’ve stayed in; the all-smoking, all-the time one; the one with the nightclub underneath; the one with the man snoring next door; the one next to reception; the one without a tv or radio; the one on the building site; the one with no windows; the one with the crazy art; the one on two floors; the one with the cockroaches; the one with no air con but a temp indicator telling me exactly how hot it was at 5am (34°C, thanks for telling me)
I unlock the door and dump my stuff on the bed. It smells – it always does – of nothing specific, and is too hot. The lightswitches are funny big squares, and there are more of them, and more plug sockets, than anyone could possibly need.
First things first: the tv goes on. Music, news, film, chat show, anything. I don’t want to stand in an unfamiliar space, listening, so there’s something reassuring about random background chatter and/or europop while I figure out what happens next.
The bathroom is clean, and there’s Stuff in bottles – or sometimes wall-mounted economy convenience dispensers – to be used, that I never will. There’s a heated towel rail that will not switch off.
I open all the drawers and the cupboards, to see what’s there. A dry-cleaning service bag, safe which I doubt anyone uses; those hangers which you can’t/wouldn’t want to steal; a bible (hello Gideons); a trouser press. I look at the minibar, but I never break in to it. Just not that thirsty, I guess.
I read impenetrable wifi instructions before turning on the laptop and just trying to connect anyway. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I end up stealing wifi from an open connection unrelated to the hotel. I pity anyone who lives next door to a hotel – they must wonder why their connection speeds are so shitty. Sometimes I go connectionless and frustrated.
I flip through the guest service folder checking out what myriad of pleasures are available to me, even though I’ll rarely use any – I’m never there long enough. There’s a gym; in-room massage services; bar and room service. There’s a nanny service; doctor; wake-up call; list of TV channels. You can borrow a DVD; an umbrella; an ironing board.
I retune the TV from whatever the waffle was before to something else. Invariably, inexplicably, it’s often Eurosport – odd sports which even when narrated in a different language can be understood: competitive paragliding from New Zealand or summer biathlon, featuring men with big thighs pumping around a green course on elongated rollerblades.
I’m on my own, and I’m already bored.
Read the rest of this entry »
Aug 27, 2008 7
I’ve got a number of friends who work in the same sort of industry as me (broadly: online media) and who blog eloquently and frequently about topics relevant to their work on their personal sites. In fact, some of them blog only about such things, to the point that the personal gets completely parked.
In a way, I envy them.
While I’ve been known to make the odd blog-type flutter in the direction of something professionally interesting (my musings on Facebook, for example), that’s ultimately not what this blog is about. See, this blog pre-dates (mostly) my professional involvement in digital strategy and social media (though my academic interest in online community pre-dates this blog (and any professional affiliation) by several years), and unlike blogs these days which need to be about something, this blog isn’t about anything (my stock answer when asked this question is that it’s about eight and a half years old), but is a filter for whatever’s going on in my head at the time: a Megafilter, an outboard brain. Sometimes that’s work stuff, sometimes it’s not.
Clearly, there’s a lot more going on relating to work than I ever talk about in these pages: partly because I’ve never really done so, and partly because it’s not really that relevant for the readers of this site. But for instance, in the last few months I’ve done presentations at the Don’t Panic Guide to Social Media event in London and the Association of Booksellers annual event at the De Vere Grand hotel in Brighton (thoughts and jokes about Norman Tebbit’s muscles kept dashing through my head during that one, but I resisted the temptation to share with the audience), as well as a seminar at the Online Media and Marketing show and two at the Arts Marketing Association’s annual conference at The Sage in Gateshead – an experience which was a blinder, both from a participation and location perspective (The Sage building is fantastic), and also because I got an ocular migraine towards the end of my second session, and consequently couldn’t actually see half the audience, or the stairs to the stage, or my presentation. Still managed to get through without issue, though I did have to go and lie down in a dark car for several hours afterwards, and then late the same afternoon went and bought an iPhone, which I must assume was some sort of delusional side-effect of the affliction.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time over the last few months locked in small rooms with technologists and whiteboards, which has been very fun, but rather draining and quite difficult to talk about or document in my usual social media ways. So I haven’t.
Read the rest of this entry »