Sea of Noise

Mon, 04 Oct 2004

Subcultures Connected

Michael says that some subcultures are so far outside the mainstream that they wouldn't exist without the Internet. That makes perfect sense to me in theory, but in practice I think it's an overstatement.

Sure, there are some subcultures, e.g. geocaching, that are hard to imagine having originated in their current form without the Internet, and it's certainly true that the Internet makes them easier to organize and participate in. But before there was an Internet, there were newsletters, phone trees, regular in-person meetings, radio shows (think "Hour of Slack"), and so forth to keep people tied together.

Ironically, one the longest-running in-person meetings I can think of are the first Friday meetings organized via the back pages of 2600. Flash mobs? Well, sure, cell phones and the Internet make these easier, but before that folks had group pagers. Lindy Hop? Sure, we might not have exchanges and some of the other big events without the Internet to make organizing them easy for volunteers, but the majority of new dancers still find us via dead-tree flyers, the same as always. Blogs? They're just a more convenient form of 'zines. Raves aren't always easy to hear about and find, but they were happening before more than a tiny fraction of ravers had an email address and before there was such a thing as a "web page".

There's nothing new under the sun.

The Internet is just a tool. It's a great tool. But it's not the 'net--it's the energy and dedication of the folks who love what they do--that drives a subculture.

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Tue, 21 Sep 2004

Decision-Making in Organizations

An interesting story about making a decision about a naval vessel illustrates a problem with decision-making within organizations:

When a decision is made in an organizational context (as opposed to a decision by an entirely autonomous individual), additional layers of complexity and emotion come into play. The person who must make the decision is often not the person who has the information/expertise on which the decision must be based. Indeed, the information and expertise are often distributed across multiple individuals. These individuals may have their own objectives motivations, which may differ from the objectives and motivations of the formal decision-maker, and which may conflict with each other. And the making of the decision may alter power relationships within the organization, as well as influencing the phenomena about which the decision is ostensibly being made. The above factors are illustrated with crystalline clarity in the story of a seemingly very simple decision, which had to be made onboard a U.S. Navy destroyer sometime during the 1950s.


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Tue, 29 Jun 2004

Second-Generation Traffic Calming

Linda Baker writes in Salon about second-generation traffic calming:

. . . a combination of traffic engineering and urban design that also draws heavily on the fields of behavioral psychology and -- of all subjects -- evolutionary biology. Rejecting the idea of separating people from vehicular traffic, it's a concept that privileges multiplicity over homogeneity, disorder over order, and intrigue over certainty. In practice, it's about dismantling barriers: between the road and the sidewalk, between cars, pedestrians and cyclists and, most controversially, between moving vehicles and children at play.

Removing pedestrians, cyclists, and kids at play from the street, in effect, makes streets unsafe for anyone but drivers; and when traffic is carefully-regulated, drivers stop paying attention. The new approach engages drivers rather than regulating them:

Subvert, don't attack, the dominant paradigm. Or, as David Engwicht, a shared-spaces proponent in Brisbane, Australia, has written: "Implicit in the whole notion of second-generation traffic calming is the idea that significant social change only happens when we amplify the paradoxical 'submerged voice' as opposed to tearing down the 'dominant voice.' Engwicht . . . argues that controlling a driver's natural propensity for speed is futile. A more effective approach is to engage the driver by emphasizing "uncertainty and intrigue" in the street environment -- for example, planting a tree in the middle of the street instead of putting up a stop sign.

More than that, the new approach benefits drivers, by changing the way they interact with one another and making intersections less of a bottleneck.

[via boingboing]

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Thu, 03 Jun 2004

Structure, Scalability, and Situated Software

Adam Greenfield has some thoughts on the end-to-end model as applied to urban and interface design, in response to Andrew Otwell's thoughts on structure and situated software, which is in turn a riff on some themes in Christopher Alexander's "A City Is Not A Tree", William Blaze's observations about landmarks and chain stores, and Clay Shirky's essay "Situated Software".

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Aula is "a nonprofit cooperative that encourages professionals and enthusiasts from various fields to develop new projects together--for more innovative art, science, and technology, and for a better world, future, and quality of life."

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The Semantic Web

Pulling out some bookmarks on this topic so I won't lose them...

Clay Shirky posted the article "The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview" back in November 2003:

. . . This is the promise of the Semantic Web -- it will improve all the areas of your life where you currently use syllogisms.
Which is to say, almost nowhere

Paul Ford posted a response.

Peter Van Dijck summarized some of the discussion in response to Shirky's post.

Joseph Reagle also has some comments.

Clearly an area for future study.

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Wed, 02 Jun 2004

Sterling's Party Problem

Bruce Sterling has a problem:

So, this is my problem, right? I have reached some kind of critical limit in these parties. You keep adding quantity and eventually there is a qualitative phase change here. They were nice about it and finally I got them to leave. I just announced that all of the liquor had been drunk and they left. There were no casualties and it was fine. But that's not what concerns me. What concerns me is next year's party. Because I don't have any way to define the proportions of this party nor do I have any security mechanisms in place, nor do the police. Which is kind of interesting.

[via boingboing]

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Tue, 25 Nov 2003

Big Picture, Small World

meta-creation_date:11/24/2003 is the source of several small movies and accompanying teacher's/facilitator's guides designed to get people thinking about global issues. The operator of the site, Medard Gabel, was involved with World Game (I found the site while searching for a World Game Institute book) and also offers presentations for school assemblies, businesses, and other groups.

A good starting point is the BigPictureSmallWorld movie and the accompanying teacher's guide, which presents facts about our world by using 100 people to represent the earth's population. Endless hours of discussion could follow from this presentation alone.

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