Sunday, May 31, 2009

My Hidden Talent

Tonight, plinky asks "What is your hidden talent?"

A good question. My youngest daughter was looking over my shoulder and suggested "guitar!" Maybe. Certainly, I have tried to teach myself guitar. A couple of times... Why? Well, a couple of years ago, I went to a Free At Noon concert hosted by WXPN. It was a Neil Finn concert. They were holding a draw to win a free electric guitar, signed by the man himself. So, I entered. And they drew the name was Stephen! However, he wasn't there any more (apparently not a big Neil Finn fan).

They drew a second name out of the hat was me! I rushed up on stage and claimed my prize. Naturally, I decided to learn how to play. (Truth to be told, I had learnt a couple of chords many years before during my Uni days). For a little while, I learnt, mainly by watching teach yourself guitar videos on YouTube. I got as far as barre chords...and that's where it ended. I have meant to pick it up again, but haven't yet. Maybe that will be my next 100 Day Experiment?

Well, I would say that - as far as a hidden talent goes - guitar playing is pretty hidden. Fun, though.

No, my real hidden talent is - wrapping presents. Yes! Amazingly enough, this is one of the few non-computer-related things that my entire family delegates to me. I don't know why, but I do seem to be pretty good at it. I don't think I wrapped many (any?) presents as a child. But I do remember watching a shop assistant wrap something in a department store as a young lad. And I recall taking careful note of how she did it. It still influences my technique, to this day.

There you have it: I'm a secret wrapper.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Statusphere is a Gift Culture

Over the last couple of years, I've played with various aspects of the Statusphere. Recently, I've settled down to a pretty steady pattern of using just Twitter and Facebook. As others have noticed that I use either one, they often ask me "What is Twitter for?" or "Why do people use Facebook?" At the time, I have generally mumbled something incoherent about "fun". In an effort, to work it out for myself, I've come up with a couple of theories. My current favourite is: it is best to view the Statusphere as a Gift Culture.

In a previous post (Coining the Statusphere), I explained that by "Statusphere" I mean all the ways of letting others know what's on your mind in a succinct manner. That includes Twitter, Facebook and FriendFeed.

In another post (A Gift Culture), I talked about the idea of Gift Economies / Cultures in which the biggest gift-giver is the biggest winner. I contrasted this notion of winning by giving with the popular conception of winning in market economies: winning by hoarding. (This is a over-simplification, a generalization and a severe distortion of what market economic theorists would say. I mean, I don't even cite a single bit of proof for this winning-by-hoarding idea as being a "popular conception". Feel free to supply all this on your own blog).

I see all the sharing of links to youtube videoes and sending each other sleeping puppies on Facebook as being gift giving. Crucially, it is done in public (or, at least, in front of an audience). And the audience can comment - or at least "like" - the gift. These two gestures - clicking "like" or making a comment - combined by IRL feedback of "I love your Facebook updates!" translate into accrued goodness. It rewards the gift giver.

Similarly, the "retweet" phenomenon on Twitter (in which someone repeats someone else's tweet and gives them credit) is a way of rewarding a gift to the Twitterverse. And there are plenty of gifts on Twitter. For example, the idea of "live tweeting" an event, in which someone relays the key points of the conference they are attending so that others my participate vicariously. Or sharing links to photos or audio. Or the crazes like #followfriday in which you recommend your favourite twitters to others. All gifts to the twitterverse.

A variation on this notion of gift giving is how you can ask questions and get group responses. On both Twitter and Facebook, I see people ask questions and get amazingly good answers. I've even asked some questions myself. The answers are the gift in my theory.

So, there you have it. If you don't *get* Twitter or Facebook, then try to see them as gift-giving competitions. The more you give, the more you get.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Gift Culture

A gift culture is one in which the person who gives the biggest gift is the winner.

The notion of a "gift culture" or a "gift economy" is often associated with "primitive" societies that haven't yet evolved to capitalist style economies. For example, you might have a society in which people vie with each other in order to bestow the most lavish gifts on the king. (In capitalist economies, of course, the person who has accumulated the most things is the winner).

So, you may be thinking, how could a gift economy work? If you're giving everything away, then you end up with nothing for you, right? Well, the trick is that the gift giving is reciprocal. For example, in the society in which everyone competes to donate the biggest and best gifts to the king, the king turns around and shares all the gifts with the donors. Or, if I give you a gift, you give me a different gift in return.

I've often thought that the concept of giving gifts is a pretty decent alternative explanation for why people work, even in notionally capitalist societies. Though financial rewards play a role, many people are clearly not entirely motivated by how much money they are making. Otherwise, in ancient times - like two years ago - everyone would have become an investment banker. But the idea of gift giving seems to me to explain at least some types of professional work.

But I think that this idea of a gift economy is an even more compelling explanation for another modern phenomenon. I'll explain tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coining The Statusphere

So, today, I want to introduce a new concept: the statusphere.

How do I know it is new? Because I just googled for a definition and turned up nothing. And, as of right this second, googling for any web documents for "statusphere" turns up the wrong definition first ( although the second hit is correct ( The third hit is for but that is a site that hasn't launched (as of now) so maybe it is what I mean and maybe it is not.

So, what is this neologism? By statusphere, I mean things like twitter, facebook, friendfeed and all the other ways of communicating what you're doing, what's on your mind and so on. This idea of setting you status for others to see dates back a long time (at least as far back as AIM and the other instant messengers of yore). However, I think that these various services, despite their differences, are sufficiently similar that they deserve their own collective noun. So, taking a lead from "blogosphere" (the totality of all blogs in their myriad forms) we get "statusphere" (the totality of all ways of communicating your status). (The term "blogosphere" is itself a modeled on "logosphere"- the world of words/the community of discourse. Or maybe it sounds enough like "atmosphere"?).

"Statusphere" has the added bonus of sounding a bit like "stratosphere". Paving the way for weak Facebook statuses like "I took month-long vacations in the statusphere and you know it's really hard to hold your breath."

OK. So, a "new" concept today. Tomorrow, a very old concept.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An Experiment

I am going to try an experiment.

I just heard about the "100 days project": the idea is to do the same thing for 100 days in a row.

Actually, this is not a single project, as it turns out, but a series of identically named efforts, each of which seems to relate a different set of people. For example, photographers
or teachers or a summer long effort to brings writers, poets and other wordsmiths together to create something. Some 100 days projects are (were) timed to coincide with Barak Obama's first 100 days in office.

So, I will do a 100 days experiment to try and write a blog post every single day. My theory in this is that it is important to "just do it", rather than it being important exactly what I do. Who knows? Maybe I will start to get the hang of it.

And, as I've said before, you have to start somewhere. Maybe (maybe) my blog posts over the 100 days will get a little less meta. We shall see.