The number of days since I last posted here.
For those of you who still bothered to check in here, and to read what I’d written, here or elsewhere in the blogosphere since the turn of the century, thank you. And apologies for my absence.
I wanted to take some time off. I needed to take some time off. I wasn’t enjoying the experience of what the blogosphere had become, at a time when the use of the very word “blogosphere” was an anachronism, and showed my age.
It wasn’t a goodbye, more an au revoir.
The world had changed a lot since I began writing here, and I felt I should go silent for a while and concentrate on observing, listening, thinking and reflecting. It was all part of a considered plan to retire from full-time work, to leave my less-travelled path through the conferences and unconferences and suchlike, to reduce my presence on social media in general. That plan remains on course as I enjoy my time as a grandfather.
Some of those changes had perturbed me for some time, and I’d written about them. But first some background.
I was encouraged to get into blogging by people like Doc Searls and Christopher Locke and later Kevin Marks, by the multitude of Cluetrain friends and fan people I found myself spending time with and learning from.
I used to read Entropy Gradient Reversals whenever I could, and that in turn led me to reading Cluetrain. I got in touch with Chris, met him face to face a few times, even went to Bangalore with him. He was kind enough to share his learnings with me and my team a number of times, and I remain grateful.
I met Doc in similar ways; I think our first “formal” interaction was when he was writing a piece for Esther Dyson’s Release 1.0, (or maybe it was Linux Journal), and Chris suggested him that we chat. Sometime after that, Doc gave my name to Halley Suitt, who was organising a fascinating session in New York, I believe it was at the Harvard Club. She also organised a “blogger’s dinner” at Katz’s Deli that night, and it was there I was encouraged to go more public with my blogging. [Till then I was keeping a low profile, publishing to closed groups of people, principally at work].
All that was a long time ago. Much has changed since, but some things remained important to me.
One, blogging was “provisional”. It was a way of sharing what I was thinking about, not always fully formed, as a technique for eliciting comments, advice, criticism. The learner in me, the curious core of me, found this fascinating.
Two, blogging wasn’t “directed”. There was no onus on anyone to do anything. Nobody could be expected to read what you wrote, to comment on it, to provide any sort of feedback. Anything a reader did was a gift. Sure, you could pose questions, share observations, ask for feedback — but you couldn’t force anyone to do anything. There was no contract, no right to expect anything. It wasn’t a subscription service that someone else committed to reading, either by signing up or sometimes even paying. The blog was just there, and if you were lucky and someone deemed it worthy of reading, they would turn up. You learnt to be grateful for the time that people spent reading, reviewing, commenting, sharing.
Three, it was a space for civil discourse. Since everyone who turned up was a volunteer, it came with an innocence, a social mien that shouted softly. Not that there weren’t rants: what there was was a set of conventions that made ranting polite, civil, never ad hominem.
Four, it was open and non-proprietary. I think it was Doc who gave me this insight, when describing a conversation he had with someone, it might have been George Lakoff. He described a post as a snowball, which sometimes gathered mass and rolled away of its own volition, no longer under the ownership or direction of the original poster. And that this was to be expected, and it was okay.
Five, the learning often happened via links. You were encouraged to provide links in what you wrote, links to what you wrote, links to what others wrote. When people commented, they often provided links as well. Links were seen as a way of enriching and annotating what was said.
Six, it was non-hierarchical. Connected not channelled. I remember reading what Hossein Derakhshan wrote, about the “book internet and the cable internet”, and identifying very much with what was being said there.
Reading what became The Cluetrain Manifesto was the trigger to my experimenting with blogging in the first place: readers were human, in a community with significant reach; markets were indeed conversations; and the principle of links being able to subvert hierarchies was fascinating.
I’d grown up believing that the Industrial Revolution was a “supply side” revolution, and that the Information Revolution would redress this imbalance by empowering all of us, the “demand side”. Cluetrain helped me continue down this path.
You may think that I’m trying to describe that age in a rose-tinted Kumbaya way, and maybe you’d be right.
Things had changed. Debate had became more and more polarised: the ability to sustain civil discourse began to disappear. We began to operate in bubbles without overlap, unwilling or unable to recognise the other side’s right to exist; the question of giving their point of view a healthy airing didn’t even arise any more.
Politeness and civility had also begun to disappear, things were becoming markedly pointed and personal, even vicious.
Frictions and impurities in access and content were becoming more common, as the “book internet” began to get muzzled, ostensibly a sad byproduct of the mobile age. The open architectures of earlier times remained firmly in the past. Facts became unimportant.
Some of the cleverest people in the world had decided that rather than make it easier for people to find what they were looking for, they would make it easier for products and services to find people. Product privacy began to exceed personal privacy. The dream of an empowered “demand side” began to recede.
Yup, things had changed. The “facts” of the environment I was in had changed.
And when the facts changed, I had to change my mind. Step away for a while. Observe. Listen. Think.
I’m back, but with a difference. I’m only going to share things here which I believe will be useful, positive, uplifting, enriching. When I ask questions, they will be questions that look forward. I’m going to keep that glass forever at last 51% full.
I’ve never been one to concern myself with having an “audience” or a “readership”. In the past, while I’ve had days when over 7000 people were dropping by here, my core community of readers was probably no more than a double Dunbar. A single Dunbar will do me. A single reader will do me, as long as she helps me learn.
Hello world. Again.
To be continued. Occasionally.