Reactions to Mark Pesce’s keynote

September 28, 2008 – 11:14 am

Vinay’s response to Dr. Horrible was the only one that made me stop and think amidst all the “that’s hilariously cool!” reactions I’ve seen about it (it is tremendously amusing). I will also note here that the Evil League of Evil is accepting applications.

Just read Mark Pesce’s keynote on hyperconnectivity. It definitely reads better as a speech than as a long written strand of text, health but two ideas stood out to me. One was what Mark said about the need for social contextualizing tools, sanitary mental prostheses that prompt us to remember our now more-numerous-than-Dunbar relationships.

I was surprised by the alacrity of my knee-jerk reaction to that passage, and how negative it was. After all, I use tools like that all the time; we all do. My calendar reminds me when my friends’ housewarming parties are. I search my inbox to backtrack through conversations to get context before shooting off email replies to questions. I don’t have a Rolodex, but I pick up stubs of dead trees at conferences to remind me that I want to follow up with an acquaintance, and shoot coworkers messages on IRC asking “who’s that person on the left of so-and-so?” during meetings. I can’t hold everything I do inside my mind alone, and the way I show I care about something is by making it so that my system – not just my brain – remembers and responds to it the way I want it to.

Technology enables more people to effectively harness hyperconnectivity, but people are still the ones that have relationships. I’m hesitant to say “it all comes down to intentions,” because it seems like a rhetorical cop-out, but in a way, for this, it does. In terms of faking what ought to be a real human contact moment, sending out Christmas cards to people you no longer know or care about is worse than having a little cheat sheet pop up on your screen when someone you want to connect with, but haven’t seen for years, opens your office door.

The second part that struck me was Mark’s description of how he inadvertently – and unwillingly – found himself expected to start a carrier service. He’d complained about the current poor service, floated the idea of a community-run one, and basically got hit with tons and tons of people saying (but non-explicitly, which makes it worse) “That’s a great idea! I want this, but I’m not willing to put in my own time to make it work out. I do expect you to step up and do it, though.”

My first response: “Well, that sounds awfully familiar.” (Insert anti-apathy “do I have to do everything around here?” gripe here – pure indulgent self-pity, since I do know many, many people who Step Up and Make Stuff Happen.)

My second one: “Wow, what an awesome opportunity.” Large numbers of people who have a problem they want solved without work on their part – now, where I come from, we call these kinds of folks potential customers and partners. And they’re giving you their contact information. And telling you they think that you can solve their problem, fill their needs. If you can fix the thing that Mark (and I) complain about – making people understand that a solution to their problem has an (opportunity, not necessarily monetary) cost, but that this cost is worth it and that they can and should pay it,then…

…then I’m essentially saying “Yay! We’ve solved the tragedy of the commons!” That’s like saying “I found a way to open this unopenable vault door! All we have to do is find the key!” The problem’s still hard, but it’s rephrased, and maybe now we can tackle it from a different angle. (Not that this rephrasing is original; the business world has been trying to convince people to pay for stuff for years.)

So now there are two not-particularly-well-formed questions going around my brain. First, what do we want (or not want) from our relationships that tools can and should help us with – and what can’t and shouldn’t tools help with in terms of how we understand and what we do with other people? (Does it make a difference if that tool is purely mental – for instance, mnemonic devices?)

Second, if you want something but don’t want to pay for it, what are your options?

I need to nap. I’ll nap on this.

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  1. One Response to “Reactions to Mark Pesce’s keynote”

  2. So, I know this is ages old, mentally, but I still feel like I need to respond to it. (Note: this is seen through the lens of something I was reading in the library today, but I don’t remember if it was in MacLife or Wired. At any rate, it was bashing Facebook for preventing natural ends to relationships that weren’t particularly meaningful to begin with.)

    My parents have a pretty long “Christmas letter” list. This includes my mother’s large family, people from my parents’ youths, and friends they’ve made in the 30-something years of Army moving. A lot of these are people that they no longer communicate with outside of these exchanged Christmas letters. But it is very much important that we get those letters, and that we give them. This has particularly mattered during times of difficulty, like while my mother was being treated for breast cancer. She had a lot of friends who showed up out of the metaphorical woodwork to offer sympathy and support. These are friends who care, but generally don’t need more than once or twice a year updates.

    I guess my point is that there is still a big question that technology doesn’t answer: how do you determine or define what is a worthy (of time/attention/caring) relationship?

    By Bonnie on Oct 20, 2008

What do you think?