Anil Dash has quite an remarkable post titled the “Web We Lost” (thans for the heads up Tim). I really like the bit below because it gets right at the heart of the Domain of One’s Own pilot we are running at the University of Mary Washington.
In the early days of the social web, there was a broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity. In this vision, you would own your own domain name and have complete control over its contents, rather than having a handle tacked on to the end of a huge company’s site. This was a sensible reaction to the realization that big sites rise and fall in popularity, but that regular people need an identity that persists longer than those sites do.
That’s beautifully stated, my only problem with that post (like many eulogies about the good ole days of the web five years ago) is that nothing is lost. Sure folks might have fallen into the corporate silos, but there is plenty of time to re-examine those choices and re-imagine the future. To this end I recently ordered (and just received) Jon Udell‘s Practical Internet Groupware because I’m increasingly inspired and fascinated by the ideas that started to break open both the thinking and reality of web as distributed platform. I want to get a sense of the thinking more than a decade ago in this realm in order to approach this particular bullet point by Anil Dash with a larger and deeper context rather than through the omnipresent apocalyptic ruins of the now.
Udell’s thinking represents a refreshing, optimistic approach to understanding why the web we are working towards is anything but lost. In a recent post on the Wired blog, “Goodbye Fax, Hello Personal Cloud,” he uses a story of sorting through the quagmire of medical bills and insurance claims to unpack the vision of a personalized domain as far more than an online address, but as an aggregator, syndicator, and router wrapped into one wherein we control and streamline the processes of connecting and communicating our personal information:
I authorize them to access my personal cloud. And the authorization is granular. The auto insurer has write access, so it can poke the Exhaustion of Benefits (EOB) token into my cloud data store, but no read access, because it doesn’t need that. The hospital and the clinic have read access to just that one document. (Separately they have write access so they can poke bills into my data store.) The hospital and the clinic can also subscribe to notifications, so when the EOB token hits my cloud they know it’s there and can access it. Since all access to my cloud is audited, I know when that happens — or if it doesn’t.
We’re faced with myriad problems that impede effective communication on a daily basis, how can a more intelligent design and architecture of the web help us solve some of those problems? This is the basic question Udell seems to approach most issues he faces ona regular basis, and it’s why I find myself returning to his work. There’s no doom and gloom sensationalism, rather its equal parts pragmatism and idealism, and all class. I want to be compelled to think long and hard about how we can teach for the future so that Johnny Can Syndicate—not play forlorn so that we can stop taking responsibility for what’s happening to the web.
“Nothing ever quite dies, it just comes back in a different form.” ~ Lester Bangs
“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost” … no doom & gloom – sure, we are surrounded by silos & gated online communities, but there are many amazing things going on in the alleyways and side streets of the Web. My message to doomsayers is, “stop moaning & start owning”.
“stop moaning & start woning” sounds like a great Dead Moocmen song 😉 When I think about ConnectCon, I realize that is the spirit of that conference that is most important. The web is still being imagined, getting caught up it would it could have been and what it isn’t seems pointless. Those alleyways are still 42nd street grand, Disney don’t own us yet 😉
There is loss and there is loss. There is loss as in “my photo is on someone else’s server,” there is loss as in “I lost that photo that was on someone else’s server,” and there is loss as in “time has passed, creating the past, to which all is finally lost.”
The practical nature of the first two kinds of loss is apparent, but the underlying theme of all of them is the third. The practical problems are easily solved, but why do we care? What’s wrong with loss anyway? Setting aside the ultimate metaphysical questions, loss is more common than pseudo-permanence and we the better for it. What happens if Bava Tuesdays goes away tomorrow, vanishes without a trace? It doesn’t matter. You don’t even have to rebuild. You would just build. Everything is lost and yet everything lives on in the ripples of the network.
I work with my students to have domains of their own. It’s a good thing. But a fixation on permanance is its own loss. It’s to focus on the guitar string and an eternal sustain rather than the sound of the musical notes and the composition of a presence that is always ephemeral…and should be. None of us are the same now as we were yesterday; there’s not only nothing wrong with writing one’s poem and sending it down the river on fire, it might be a significantly better way to transcend the technical issues and consider what it means to *be*.
As Borges said: “Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.”
Didn’t Faulkner say “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Like Faulkner, I think there is a important hubris in refusing the end of things, and taking the idea of our narratives seriously. Will we be gone? Sure. Might it all mean nothing at some point? Definitely. Is it important to believe that it might mean something Yes, I believe it’s essential to a sense of hope that is everywhere missing. I want to encourage a sense of value and hope that what we do now might have meaning beyond our own process. In fact, I want to believe by owning and sharing it as part of who we are it might inform someone else’s process. Not to mention the life as archive being a space of unbelievable poetry in and of itself beyond ourselves. Unlike Borges, I don;t want it to only be the I, it’s the cultural we I want to help imagine.
I’m not arguing for meaninglessness. I’m arguing for the fact that impermanence is treated as loss. Not many need to be taught to strive for permanence. Many, many need to learn that “loss” is as much a part of gives life meaning as accretion.
Nothing I wrote contradicts this: “I want to encourage a sense of value and hope that what we do now might have meaning beyond our own process. In fact, I want to believe by owning and sharing it as part of who we are it might inform someone else’s process. Not to mention the life as archive being a space of unbelievable poetry in and of itself beyond ourselves. Unlike Borges, I don;t want it to only be the I, it’s the cultural we I want to help imagine.”
And Borges wasn’t talking about the individual I.
I know you are not arguing for meaninglessness, and sorry if I came across suggesting as much. And your revaluation of loss as something not necessarily negative is powerful, and I am not trying to discount that. I guess my struggle around this idea of loss is that somehow we frame the state of affairs as something we have no hand in. We become a fiat of fate, and the history of the process becomes something that is out of our control—externalized and objectified. So “loss as in not gone” might dovetail with what you are suggesting. As for the impermanence as something to embrace, the dread of that loss of everything we have now can’t be overstated and I think we stand in opposition to that as a basic survival mechanism. I think about a sense of loss on deep, dark levels these days (as I imagine most Americans quietly are). And as much as I know there may be some other value in it, it’s hard to focus on that. It is hard to re-imagine the most current horror (and there will be more!) in a new, empowering way. That vision may be there, but I can’t see it. My feeble work in edtech is just one way to build a wall around the madness.
Man, I am not sure why this turned so dark. All that hardboiled literature I read this semester is starting to haunt me now. No more Ellroy 🙂
You should have said you were reading Ellroy, then I wouldn’t have reacted quite the way I did 🙂
It *is* hard to focus on the understanding of the positive aspects of loss (for which another word is often simply “change”– we contain multitudes, but not infinitely). Which is precisely why I think it needs to be explicitly invoked more often!
Maybe I’m just too Buddhisty lately. Maybe it’s just the meds 😉
Can I get some of those meds 🙂
To you larger point, though, right after September 11th my Ph.D. advisor co-edited a book called Loss: The Politics of Mourning does a very similar revaluation of the term in some very powerful ways. The intro might be a good read for your train of thought. See, this comment thread isn;t a total train wreck 🙂
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