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My maybe-talk at Veerstichting

I’ve been working hard on a new presentation, to be given tomorrow at the Veerstichting conference in Leiden, in the Netherlands. After tonight’s speakers dinner, I’m thinking maybe the last half (including the Wikipedia portions) of my Everything is Miscellaneous talk would be more suitable. I don’t what I’ll decide.

Here’s the gist of the new talk. I’m going to be sketchy, because I have to go to sleep very soon, but mainly because there’s something missing at the talk’s core. The title is something like “The Challenge of the Implicit.” It’s a 20-minute talk.

The Web is best understood as a social realm. But groups (vs. mere groupings) become real when people know more about one another than they can say. For example, I can’t tell you much of what I know about my kids. And when you can express a character in just a phrase, the character’s been badly written. What makes a group a group is not the lines among the people, but what is unsaid and can’t ever be said fully

But computers are monsters of the explicit. That’s why in the 1950s they symbolized the mechanizing of relationships. From the beginning, information itself was invented to manage, and thus reduce, complex relationships. Now this poorly defined word (few use it in Shannon’s sense) has become an assumed part of how we know our world.We think we’re constantly emitting info. E.g., a street scene used to be a river with eddies of public and private. Now it’s all info. This has enabled a switch in how we think of privacy, from that which we exclude from the record, to what the authorities are not allowed to pay attention to in the record that now includes everything.

The Web is a disruption in this informationalization. It is built of links, which use language to contextualize relatioships. Links are the opposite of databased information: They enrich rather than reduce, are decentralized, personal, and fundamentally social in that they are written by one person for others to use.

Yet the Web is (in a sense) lousy at the social. It knows about links but not about people or groups. That’s why social networking sites are rising so quickly. They internalize the Web, providing the connective features we’re used to on the Net (email, IM, etc.).

While groups depend on the implicit, social networking sites start by asking for explicit info about our network and interests. But that’s ok because they so quickly transcend those sticks and twine. Real, messy social relations grow. Good!

But: (1) Making things explicit can be highly disruptive. Computers — and software designers — are not always good at this, especially since we don’t have good norms yet, and perhaps never will. (2) Much of what’s of value in the implicit was created without intending to. There are thus issues about how much we are entitled to make not just explicit but public. (3) The implicit is by its nature messy and connective. It always drags more into the light than it intended. It’s thus hard to keep the above issues separate and containable. (4) We have an obligation and an opportunity to increase and preserve the unspoken. Explicitly.

The end.

I’m thinking that this talk is not ready to be presented. Too bad. I’ve worked hard on it. I guess I’ll decide tomorrow morning. Sigh. [Tags: implicit sociality veerstichting ]

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