Why I blog about what I blog about

A dollar of trade is worth a hundred times a dollar of aid. It is better to teach a man to fish than to give a man fish.

These are things I have believed in for all of my adult life, influenced by things my father said, things I learnt growing up in India, things I learnt at school and at university amongst the Jesuits.

As a result, many years later, I still think education and enfranchisement are important, whatever the context. If anything, I think they’re even more important than I used to think they were. At some level of abstraction, the only way we can deal with sectarian issues and even with terrorism is via education and enfranchisement. There is growing anecdotal evidence that people who are denied both are more susceptible to joining cults and “movements”.
I think education and enfranchisement are important to each of us as individuals, in our private lives. Important to us in our professional lives, to the firms we work for and work with. Important to us in the towns and cities we live in, in the countries and continents we inhabit.

Education and enfranchisement may not solve all of the world’s problems, but they help.

So I thought I’d start a conversation about these things, with people who could help me learn more about them, who could point me to things I needed to see, and who could say things that let me see things in a different light, with a different perspective.

But how was I to start such a conversation? With a formal education in economics, and a career of over twenty-five years in technology, it made sense for me to concentrate on information and its enabling technologies and the business models used. So that’s what I did. Six months ago.

And that’s why I care about the internet and about connectivity. About intellectual property rights and digital rights management. About opensource software, technologies and platforms. About identity and confidentiality and privacy. About avoiding path pollution and avoiding device and vendor lock-in.
If we get them right, more people will have affordable access to information, more people will be enfranchised to participate in the world.

If we get them wrong, we will waste opportunities we have never had before. Opportunities provided by the continuance of Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law and Gilder’s Law. Opportunities provided by the Ohmae Three, Globalisation, Disintermediation and the Internet. Opportunities provided by the democratisation of innovation and the availability of social software. Opportunities provided by telephony becoming software.

Opportunities for whom? For the disenfranchised of today. Disenfranchised because they’re too young. Or too old. Disenfranchised because they’re not connected or unable to connect or unable to afford to connect. Disenfranchised because they’re unable to use “traditional” computers because of physical constraints. Disenfranchised because they’re always on the move. Because they don’t have access to electrical power. Because English is not their mother tongue. Because they’re too shy. Because they’ve never had the opportunity.

If we do the wrong thing about the internet, about intellectual property and DRM, or about identity and its  related issues, then we will miss the opportunity. But only for a while. Nature abhors a vacuum. The opensource community will find a way around the messes we create, the constraints we put in place, the barriers we raise.

If we do the right thing about all this, then we will have a different way of dealing with information. Because the underlying technology has caught up, information need no longer be trapped by its enabling technologies, information can begin to have the social life it was meant to have, as John Seely Brown has reminded us.

And that’s why I blog about Generation M, about Web 2.0, about Four Pillars, about Syndication, Search, Fulfilment and Conversation.

I wondered about whether I should only blog about all this in the context of the individual, then realised maybe a year ago that all this is true for institutions as well. Education and enfranchisement and Four Pillars are as meaningful in an enterprise context as anywhere else.

The Cluetrain guys called markets conversations, and helped me understand a few things. John Seely Brown and Steven Johnson placed a few other things in context for me about the social life of information and how it flows, how it emerges and moves. Doc and his Lakoff conversation helped me get snowballs.

So blogging it had to be. I don’t read blogs to find out things faster than anyone else; I don’t read blogs to find things to link to and comment on before anyone else; I don’t read blogs because I can’t find any books to read.

I read blogs because they’re participative, they are accessible, they help me learn. I write blogs because I want to participate. In a community. Everyone wants to make a difference, everyone wants to leave a legacy. Blogs are useful in both cases.

Someone I was reading, I’m afraid I can’t remember who it was or where it was, mentioned that conversations can be about events, people or ideas. People-related things tend to be best live and we will always have some form of radio and television, even after we’ve time-shifted it and place-shifted it and mutated it. Event-related things tend to be best in short “factual” bursts and we will always have old media around in some form or the other covering this. Sure, people and event conversations are migrating to the web, but I guess alternative forms will exist.

When it comes to ideas, the blogosphere is hard to beat. What Doc called a snowball is often a sense of revelation for me; I read something and my brain goes Ping, I see it in a different perspective. I experience a different understanding, walk away with a different meaning, all because somebody said something that triggered something else in me. And it helps me learn. When I write something, the comments and feedback and links help me learn as well. And I guess I hope that some readers get that as well from reading what I write.

You may have wondered why I blog about the things I blog about. Now I guess you know. Method or madness? You decide. :-)

11 thoughts on “Why I blog about what I blog about”

  1. Hey JP. I just read that one through. Bravo. A vision that sings and you are providing some answers to qustions I have spent the last hour composing.

    But let me leave them here anyway. i’d be interested to know how you react. When you write about education and enfranchisement and when you say I read blogs because they’re participative, they are accessible, they help me learn. I write blogs because I want to participate. In a community. Everyone wants to make a difference, everyone wants to leave a legacy. Blogs are useful in both cases. – I know that you and I have been thinking similar thoughts.

    I like your Ariadne Kernel very much. But part of it disquieted me.

    Here is what I just wrote before turning to see what you are saying.

    A final thought. Rereading JP’s very optimistic Ariadne speech that starts this essay and noting how this plenitude of choices and tools depends on the foundation of 60 years of relative global peace and prosperity, the darker side of my training as a Russian historian rears its head. This plenitude is dependent on peace and on a global economy that remains reasonably stabile. We have the freedom that JP speaks of because of this stability and its attendant economic prosperity. Generation M can have such lofty sights as a consequence of all this. Does Generation M realize what grace its good fortune rests on? Should anyone tell it?

    If the world were to explode in an ugly way, this progress would be set back, although I can see no reason why it would be irretrievably lost and that is good. In fact it might be very helpful in getting people through rough times. But there is a final element of the Ariadne talk that perplexes me: its hymn of praise to Individual Capitalism. Isn’t founding a future society on the fulfillment of the desires of each individual utopian? I am getting to be an old fart. I remember very well living through the 1950 and the 60s. I can remember when people could stand up and say something was in the national interest of public interest without getting laughed at. If there are only individual interests and no public, social or national interest how can society survive? And especially how can it cope with war or economic distress. Do we need nation states? Do we need a United States, or a United Kingdom, or a united India? Do we have responsibility only for self and none for others? I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1959. I loved it – I was enthralled. Almost fifty years later I have a very different opinion and will close these thoughts by asking where is the balance between the communism and socialism and against which she rebelled and the Individual capitalism the JP writes about with such inspiration?

  2. Maybe i am beginning to get it? Here I am browsing and I look at your “about me” and i see you mention Steven Johnson so I go check him out and wind up here


    Oh Ho! Of course even i did an interview with Sascha Meinrath on Katrina last September. provides a pretty good answer to my musings of worry about the system in disaster. Stronger than FEMA? You bet!

    I have had the New York Times set as my browser home page for a few years now. Read Seymour Hersch in the New Yorker magazine. Bad :-(

    I’d like a plugin for my browser, that would randomly open it to the top pages of the 20 best idea blogs. I am finding ones I like. But imag9ine a piece of software that would offer users sets of authoritative blogs on ideas, sports, science, economics, politics, etc – a knowledge tree of blogs .

    Tell the software what interesteted you and it might do a myer briggs like analysis on the way you answered the questions and come up with recommendations.

    Does such exist?Anyone willing to build it?

  3. Hi
    Until I read about u in the latest Linux Journal, you did not exist.
    Like all things in this world or universe, it does not exist until someone or something brings it 2 your attention. Now u are real. I read your blogs daily and am fascinated. Where do you get all the time u seem to have. As a professional (partly retired) I still have a major problem ‘ catching up’ on things i want and need to do. I also like u want 2 learn and do things but….

  4. Bjorn, Roopsing, welcome to the conversation. And hello again Gordon.
    Thanks for all your comments.

    Let me try and answer as many of the questions as I can. Remember all they are is one person’s opinion, provisional and vulnerable. I am no oracle, and don’t want to aspire to being one either…

    First, the comments by Gordon on individual capitalism. I think that we have avoided this term in the past because we haven’t trusted the individual. We have preferred to believe that any form of altruism is unlikely if not impossible, that man is essentially selfish. And so anyone who dared to venture into this space landed up being accused of utopian thinking at best, and rank stupidity at worst. I think we know more about man’s emotional make-up now (cf Nitin Nohria’s book, Driven; cf Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence; cf Johnson’s Emergence; cf the whole opensource movement). And with consilience amongst professions, we will learn even more. Man was born to bond, to act in community. To be altruistic. To make sacrifices for his family and friends. To belong. So the individual capitalist is not really an individual, but an active agent in a number of communities, only some of which overlap.

    Gordon also speaks of the uneasy peace we live in. I think that increased education and enfranchisement will make that peace more durable and less uneasy. When you get a real collective together, a real connected global democracy, with empowered and enfranchised and educated people, the system gets harder to game. Today we have weaknesses that can be exploited by extremists all over the place, for a variety of commercial as well as religious reasons. That’s why Fear and Greed are seen as important drivers. But not for long. [As an aside, I think human beings will blow the whistle against bad behaviour in the community much more openly and transparently going forward, but not in a Salem witch or McCarthyist manner. Peer pressure and peer reviewing and peer recognition are amazing things.

    When you can create closed cliques you allow power to corrupt. Openness and transparency are the primary antidotes to corruption. And peer pressure the best prevention.

    So I remain optimistic. I think the youth of the sixties saw all this, but the system could be gamed. It was gamed. And they lost.

    This time the mob is smarter. The tools are better. And gaming the system will get progressively harder. Especially if we get universal education and enfranchisement.

  5. JP, I am curious about that source you cannot remember with its claim that conversations can be about three things. My favorite reading these days seems to be Kenneth Burke (as I gradually work my way to the end of A GRAMMAR OF MOTIVES). My most recent blogging about Burke used him as a stick I could use to beat on IBM’s recent effort to “invent” the concept of “service science” and shape it into an academic discipline:


    There is a link to an earlier blog entry about Burke there that is more of a summary of some of his key ideas.

    In this context of this conversation, however, I would interpret Burke as saying that conversations can be about TWO things (possibly together) and is conducted on three levels (again possibly together). The two things a conversation can be about are nouns and verbs (or, to make it sound a bit less simplistic, objects and acts). The three levels on which we conduct the conversation are the grammatical, the rhetorical, and the symbolic. The grammatical level is where we clarify the categories that shape our understanding of whatever we are talking about (I really hesitate to use the word “ontology” because it has suffered so much absue over the last few decades). The rhetorical level is where we persuade others of our understandings. The symbolic level is where we recognize that both the words and the gestures we invoke in that conversation can be (and usually are) SYMBOLS that only acquire meaning by virtue of those OTHERS who “process” them.

    I wanted to raise this point, because I think it provides a valuable lens through which we can view both education and blogging. It was not hard for me to come into the blogosphere because I used to be very active in Usenet groups on both “serious” music and artificial intelligence. Later I was involved with an intellectual community that coined the phrase “persistent conversation” to characterize the study of this technology and how it was used. I really like that phrase because it couples the noun-like quality of persistence with the verb-like quality of the ACT of conversation. This Hegelian synthesis of the noun-based and the verb-based now seems to thrive in the conversation environment of blogs; and I simply cannot imagine education taking place in the absence of that synthesis. However, education also has to confront the three levels; and, if the blogosphere does that it all, it is only by virtue of contributors who choose to honor them. To some extent, I suppose, those three levels “fit” the mediaeval TRIVIUM, two of them in name (grammar and rhetoric) and one in spirit (logic); but the SPIRIT behind the levels does not offer as good a “fit.” The should not surprise: The context within which we now view education today is quite different from that of the Middle Ages!

    My point is that the current vocabulary of subject matter that reflects how universities are organized is now as outmoded as both the TRIVIUM and the QUADRIVIUM. Whether our conversation involves technology or the humanities, we need a new framework for the education that will prepare us for it (and prepare us to conduct a conversation in which BOTH technology and the humanities figure). Those of us who can work on that framework will be those of us who are as comfortable with verbs as they are with nouns, and I would like to believe that the blogosphere is the right place to cultivate a culture of individuals prepared for the task!

  6. Stephen, what’s your take on Abbott’s System of Professions and on Wilson’s Consilience? When you talk of a new framework, one of the first stumbling blocks is in that space; a number of pressures bringing hitherto separate disciplines together, and a number of pressures insisting on keeping them apart…..

  7. I am more familiar with Wilson than with Abbott, having enjoyed every occasion I have had to hear Wilson talk. However, I think that, in this exchange, there may be a confusion between WHAT WE TALK ABOUT and HOW WE TALK ABOUT IT. I think that Wilson (along with Abbott, to the extent that I have formed an initial impression of his System) is concerned with order in what we talk about, while Burke is concerned with the domain of how we talk about it. I have another Burke blog entry that elaborates on this at:


    From this you may deduce that I also believe that education should pay at least as much attention to “how we talk about it” as it does to “what we talk about,” if not more. My justification is very much a reflection of my own culture: I believe strongly that reality is CONSTRUCTED, partly through our subjective experiences but more so through our social experiences. Thus, our understanding of what we talk about it is very much a by-product of the conversations we hold; and those conversations “work best” when we are duly conscientious regarding “how we talk about it.”

    I read an interesting comment by Burke while waiting on line to buy Symphony tickets this morning: “For the most part, political platforms are best analyzed on the rhetorical level, as they are quite careless gramatically.” For my money this is a clever way of saying that there is not much (if any) “constructed reality” in the text of a political platform, probably because it has been deliberately designed to mean all things to all readers. An educational system designed to focus on “how we talk about it” should not only attune us to articulating our constructed realities but also make us more aware of the claptrap of others!

  8. Hi JP, thanks for your (discussion) clarification on altrusim and the “individual capitalist”. Very necessary. Best, chutki

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