Monthly Archives: November 2004

Exercise in Perspective #4

New Notional Slurry exercise: Read your signature on the scattered ashes. The exercise includes:

What items there in the room with you could be used to reconstruct or rediscover an aspect of your life? What of your possessions differentiate your life from that of others in your demographic?

Again, consider the objects you have received from other people, which carry some of their story. What proportion of their material possessions do those objects represent? Now consider your own possessions. What proportion of yours would connote anything at all to an ignorant but interested detective or anthropologist?

Although i could make a psychologist giddy with this exercise and expound for hours in a state of utter procrastination, i’ll refrain. Instead, i’ll use this exercise as a prompt to offer a few “observations” that one would have, all of which say very different things about me.

There’s a sewing machine upside down on top of the sweaters. Taped to it are hand-written labels and instructions in someone else’s handwriting, pointers to what particular dials are and what to do to make the machine work. The gift card for the sewing machine will be found under my bed, with a note wishing me luck on learning to sew. In a bin, one will find a stack of things needing mending and nothing in the room will be found with mends having been made.

700+ books scatter the room, many in topical piles. Most are not duplicates, but there are 7 copies of one book and 9 of another. Upon opening many books, random things are bound to fly out. There will be hundreds of transportation stubs, fliers from parties and receipts. Surfing through the books, random phone numbers and to-do lists will be found.

A box of Lego Mindstorms is stashed beneath a 4′ stuffed dog. Inside the box, there is a list of all Legos included with this set. All of those Legos are there, but so are many more. Many of the additional Legos cannot be found in any set now or ever on the market.

Under the bed, there is a large box containing mostly photos. There are thousands of photos, mostly Polaroids. That box also contains a hand-made collage, a poster, a handmade box containing paper butterflies, a Self magazine, a bottle of perfume, three unmarked postcards, a signed Ani Difranco stub, an earring, a broken bracelet and a pacifier. There are many more boxes with mementos, but this one is at the front and contains very few mementos compared to photos.

OK… i’ll stop because this is too much fun. It reminds me of the time when a couple broke up across the street and one threw all the others’ possessions into the street for trash day. What a story those items told. Or, of course, the I Found Some of Your Life blog….

Note: mucho appreciation for Danyel for giving me an opportunity to procrastinate. He rightfully knew that i would love this post in context of the CSCW workshop on Representations of Identity that Liz, Michele and i ran.

deception vs. context in profiles

[From OM]

Consider a common housing-wanted ad on Craigslist:

I’m a mature woman who just moved to San Francisco. I’m friendly, considerate and pretty clean. I’m fairly quiet and am responsible about paying bills on time. I love arts and crafts, cooking and traveling.

In searching for housing or looking for a date, people often describe themselves in order to find others like them for a comfortable housing situation. People use the context of their search to help direct what aspects of themselves they share. When looking for housing, people are trying to be honest, direct and descriptive because the genuinely want to find a compatible roommate.

Yet, what does it mean to describe oneself as “neat”? What is the context in which this trait is being ascribed? It is very dependent on one’s experiences with other roommates. Compared to the roommates i’ve had in the past, perhaps i can describe myself as neat, but is that truly meaningful for future roommates? Traits like mature, neat, friendly, considerate, clean, etc. are only meaningful in context.

People seeking people online often express frustration over the self-depictions, irritated by what they perceive as deception. I would argue that most perceived deceptions are not lies, but moments where the presenter is trying to describe themselves as either 1) how they see themselves; 2) who they are working to be. I can describe myself as neat and you might see this as deceptive, but i see this as truth compared to my own experiences. I might describe myself as neat because i’m really trying to be neat and thus, i don’t see it as a lie so much as an attribute that i’ve not fully possessed. Of course, neither of these are particularly helpful to you who is looking for someone neat based on your calculation of what that term means. And thus, you see deception.

Trying to construct a portrait of myself requires a level of self-reflection that is not something that most people are comfortable or capable of doing. I must also assess the readers’ assumptions of ‘norm’ in order to build this depiction, yet how can i assess the norms of an unknown audience? I can’t. As such, i must first make a guess about these norms by constructing what i believe to be universals – universal conceptions of ‘clean.’ But who am i to construct a universal measurement of cleanliness with limited experience? And why should i expect you to have the same mental model?

Reading a profile of someone requires the reader to not read on their terms, but on the terms of the presenter. What is the presenter trying to say about themselves? What context are they in when describing themselves? How can you determine their sense of norms? Of course, this is not something that one can simply do by staring at a profile.

Most social tools center on profiles and while we’re becoming accustomed to reading and constructing these profiles, observing and developing productions of identity in mediated contexts is not a naturalized activity. So long as we’re building tools that rely on this, we must consider the complications that are being introduced by profiles instead of bodies.

hands-on science for adults??

Does anyone know of any good programs where you can travel to some place and spend a month or so doing intensive science learning as an adult while being out in the world where science is real? Think semester-at-sea for adults. Think learning geology while hiking in Peru. Thinking learning animal biology while in Africa. Think studying linguistics while working with people who speak a creole. Think adult Space Camp. A braniac vacation really.

apophenia and recursive moments

Last week, i joined a friend and some of his friends to see a DJ spin. We ended up at the Rx Gallery which made me smile since i had last been there for the Urban Probes event. We both had the eerie feeling that we should know people in that room, given the music and the vibe, yet we did not know anyone other than those we went with. Upon penetrating the packed room, i found Brian Knep’s Healing installation which gave me a fantastic grin, remembering hours spent playing with Anya at SIGGRAPH (she was obsessed with Healing and i knew Brian from college). Another piece at Rx struck my fancy, as folks tried to dance in front of it for it to record their patterns. I forgot about this, but i was reading Caterina’s post where she referenced Scott Snibbe, another old Brown pal. I surfed to his site only to find an image of Deep Walls, the exhibit from Rx. The whole point of this project is to create cinematic memories and i couldn’t help but think about how reading this injected recursive memories into my headspace, as i spiraled into all directions brought on by finding these, bridging connections over time, place and intention. I love apopheniac moments.

Visualizing FOAF

For all of you FOAF fiends out there, check out Paolillo & Wright’s chapter on “Social Network Analysis on the Semantic Web: Techniques and Challenges for Visualizing FOAF”. I have a feeling that it might be of great value since it deals with how people are using FOAF and how you back away from it to see what dynamics are occurring. [I still hold my reservations about FOAF even though i really like this paper.]

“LJ Killer”

Rachelle Waterman’s LJ is filled with posts about her life, depicting not only her daily activities, but also her depression and thoughts of suicide. Yet, it is the final entry that has caught the attention of so many: “Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered.”

A few days later, reports started appearing that showed Rachelle was arrested for the murder and has since been arraigned. Thousands of speculative LJers started posting in threads on her final entry. While some were trying to understand what was happening, much of the thread devolved into obscenity. The Anchorage Daily News has a poignant article on the situation: People flock to online journal after 16-year-old’s arraignment

Why do you articulate your relationships?

[From OM]

When Friendster, et. al. were the hottest thing on the block, hordes of people jumped online to articulate their social network for everyone to see. Analysts thought that they were buying in to the “goals” of the services – dating, job seeking, classified, etc. There’s no doubt that many people gained value from these services but is this why everyone was so keen on articulation?

Articulation is not new. Building an address book is a form of articulating relationships. The address book is considered to be a tool of memory, yet what assumptions are being made when an entry is created? I would guess that anyone who scribbles a new name in assumes that they will have some reason to contact that person again. There is an assumption of a future connection aided by the knowledge of a current or past connection. Address books are an articulation of our connections to others with pointers for locational reference. The primary purpose of an address book is to look up an individual. It is our own personal people dns.

In the technology sphere, there are plenty of tools that incorporate articulated relationships into their application. Consider LiveJournal or AIM. In both applications, one articulates the people one wants to keep in touch with and uses each application to connect with others voices either through static or synchronous text. Both are tools for presence and communication – the articulation is key to engaging with these people.

What then are the motivations behind articulating relationships in publicly articulated social networking tools? Certainly, many participated simply because it was the cool thing to do. For some, PASNTs offer a nouveau address book where people can have access to a collection of one’s relationships for future use. For others, it is a mechanism to keep in touch with others’ evolving representations of self. Yet, the public aspect of this articulation takes on an additional role, that of signaling connection (a topic that Judith Donath and i took up in Public Displays of Connection).

Because the public signaling is so deeply rooted in PASNTs, this is off-putting for some people. Not everyone wants to engage in this practice which can be seen as pretentious at best. This is not necessarily an empowering feature for everyone, particularly those who keep their relationships dear to their heart and see no value in public signaling.

While all social people maintain relationships, there is nothing consistent about how people maintain them, yet these tools require some consistency. Who does this limit and how?

For some, private articulation for a particular purpose (memory, reference to a connection, presence) can feel quite comfortable and thus the people engaged in tools that permit this may not feel nearly as comfortable in ones that require public performance of relationships.

I would be very curious to know what motivates others to articulate their relationships and in what situations. If you think about your blogrolling habits, your be-Friending on PASNTs, your address books, your IM buddies, why do you choose to put people there? What purpose does this serve in your life?

i am thankful

I am thankful for being alive and for having the most magnificent friends and family. I am thankful for the opportunities that i have had to follow my dreams. I am humbled by the privilege that i have. I am thankful for my life.

Thanksgiving for me has always had conflicting resonances. I was born on the day that we celebrate the kindness of a people before genocide. It is during this week that i reflect on the past year and seek to reground myself.

I will return shortly to the intellectual babble but right now, i am just appreciating life for a moment.

oh what a life

What a weekend. It takes a vision of hell to appreciate life. It’s Monday afternoon and i’m smiling, having experienced about as many different emotions and one can imagine in a span of 72 hours. On Friday, i found pain, misery, anger and frustration. On Saturday, i found sensuality, tenderness and bliss. On Sunday, i found goofiness and play. Throughout it all, i found love for my body, my mind and my friends. I will continue to process.