Kicks Condor

Reply: Arduous Interfaces

L.M. Sacasas

I feel compelled to say that this version of the “global village” was not exactly what Marshall McLuhan had in mind when he coined the phrase. When one interviewer begins to say to McLuhan, “But, I had some idea as we got global and tribal we were going to try to—” McLuhan interjects, “The closer you get together, the more you like each other? There is no evidence of that in any situation that we have ever heard of. When people get close together, they get more and more savage and impatient with each other.” He added a few moments later, “Village people are not that much in love with each other. The global village is a place of a very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.”

Might we be converging on hatred?

This is a very good quote, very crystallizing. I’ve mentioned a few times in various writings here that I see a blog as a ‘home’—your design, your thoughts, away from everyone else—and that the current ‘news feed’ or ‘timeline’ trend has everyone living in the street together.

h0p3 recently pointed to this link The Gentrification of The Internet which draws a comparison between housing offline and online—but much of it covers the struggle of trying to live productively outside of the corpypastas (or CorpASAs). Life within is hellish, too, though. Everyone is just so packed in; the feed travels at such a rapid rate.

Finding your people implies, quite strongly, that there are those who are not your people. And, I suspect, the more powerfully (and more narrowly) we identify with our people, the more powerfully we are tempted to distance ourselves from those who are not our people. Differentiation and boundary work, both within and without the group, become the order of the day. If I may extend the territorial analogy, we find ourselves constantly involved in a war of unremitting skirmishes, which is how I would characterize life online in the more recent past.

Yes, but I think there is a difference between a group and a group that has an opposing polarity. Left versus Right is clear. However, if I am in an embroidery group, then—who exactly are we against? The knitters? Is there a cohesive anti-embroidery league?

For an embroidery group, this work of ‘differentiation’ and ‘boundary’ setting just doesn’t consume the same level of effort, does it? I mean if you’re hanging out in our group and you don’t embroider, I’m still somewhat tempted to let you stay, just to avoid a dust up.

I think that, again, a problem with the tightly-packed corpypastas is that you’ve kind of lost your people again, because they’re hidden in the landslide of the feed. Groups are fine—and they work well on Facebook and Reddit—but these groups become so centralized and massive that it becomes difficult to discover newcomers. Who are drowned in the noise. Who don’t have anyone to upvote them.

The thing, of course, is that while we might have gained greater access to groups of affinity, we have not ceased to belong to groups of necessity. Political life remains a matter of membership in groups of necessity, the town, the city, the state, the nation. And the habits and virtues formed in often digitally mediated groups of affinity seem not to serve us well when we inhabit groups of necessity (some of which may also be digitally mediated). We are, in other words, in the midst of a painful recalibration of the delicate balance between self, our people, and those who are not.

I like this point. I don’t have any argument with it—I do have something to add about the difference between physical and virtual groups that we still need to address.

We’ve long had some equivalent of Robert’s Rules of Order—now we see codes of conduct or forum guidelines. When we think of running an online group, we think of ‘moderating’ it. Policing the conversations, cleaning up spam and so on. And this is fine: probably necessary and I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of how to do it.

But I think we also need a librarian ethic somewhere among these groups. Maybe there are moderators out there who have this kind of commission. You are dealing with a community of writers, who are all filling the community up with their verbose output—this is all data that needs to be grappled with.

So, think of a librarian at work: putting books back under the proper heading, referring readers to specific titles, borrowing books from the outside—in fact, I wish communities were better about knowing what other communities are in the topical vicinity—to help everyone find themselves a home. (I do see this, though, in the Indieweb community—a person might be told to check out or maybe TiddlyWiki. However, I think we’re lucky to be a meta-community.)

I’m not doing a good job describing this position—I’m only just trying to put it into words right now, though, so forgive me. Perhaps the best way to put it is, again, I feel like I say this all the time: as a human algorithm. This person (or group) acts as the community’s recommendation and relations engine. It’s not inferred by upvotes but is much more active than that. (In the same way that I have absolutely no algorithm doing my work of curating

We so despise this task—we find it so painful, having never had to do it before—that we are pouring money and time into building software that will do it for us. But it actually can be quite enjoyable and can feel purposeful.

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