spimes and blogging affordances

An excellent book about the design of technology and how things work is Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things. It’s one of my favourite nonfiction books and it’s all about what our tools allow us to do and make us do. The idea is that technology has moved through different stages through history, affording us different roles.

From Cory Doctorow’s review of the book on BoingBoing:

Sterling traces the history of tools from artifacts (farmers’ tools) to machines (customers’ devices) to products (customers’ purchases) to gizmos (end-users’ platforms) and to the future, which is defined by what Sterling calls Spimes.

A Spime is a location-aware, environment-aware, self-logging, self-documenting, uniquely identified object that flings off data about itself and its environment in great quantities. A universe of Spimes is an informational universe, and it is the use of this information that informs the most exciting part of Sterling’s argument.

The book came out in 2005, but as Foursquare and all the other locative services continue to gain traction, that spimey future looks a lot closer.

In regards to the specific affordances of blogging I find it funny that as Twitter gets taken up, blogging is where people are going to express their lengthy thoughts. Blogging as the means of talking out serious issues instead of just tossing off a couple of one-liners with a good hashtag isn’t something I expected when I began. But blogging is a platform for putting different subject matter into. Twitter is awesome for jokes and conversation. Way better than a blog where you have to go through the monumental effort of publishing your text. It takes multiples of seconds to log in and pick New Post and all that. So terribly slow. (And seriously, as qwerty keyboards on phones are replaced with touchscreens the annoyance of typing out anything more than 140 characters at a time does make Twitter more attractive.)

And then there’s this interesting post on how Twitter beats Google+, which twists the idea of expressing complete thoughts from a single brain further. The thesis there is that G+ isn’t a new enough medium, because storytelling there feels too much like blogging, and isn’t as collaborative as the exquisite corpseishness that is Twitter.

But maybe I’m just a stick in the mud with wanting things to come from one mind and human’s fingers (ignoring the publishing machine behind everything. I like the myth of the heroic individual that’s enabled by the culture of blogging. What about you?

4 Responses (Add Your Comment)

  1. I enjoyed this sentence a great deal: “I like the myth of the heroic individual that’s enabled by the culture of blogging.”

    Is your idea here that with blogging, “the little guy” can have near-instant access to a worldwide audience for his thoughts? (Or at least, the world that has Internet access?) That you don’t have to please a publisher, an editor, or really anyone at all in order to publish your thoughts, feelings, political commentary, jokes, and random musings?

    In my past life, I have worked as one of the “gatekeepers” of publishing, making sure that text met certain editorial standards (grammar, style, subject matter) before it was released to the public, so the instantaneous nature of publishing on the web is still a little strange for me. But the ability of anyone with Internet access to self-publish their ideas has definitely exposed me to thoughts and feelings I probably wouldn’t have ever experienced otherwise.

    Huzzah for the heroic individual!

  2. I enjoyed reading your post, Justin. And like Rachel, I’d like to comment on your final thought re. “the myth of the heroic individual that’s enabled by the culture of blogging”.

    I think there is some truth in this but that it is also largely, as you say, a myth. That blogging allows some individuals to communicate who may otherwise not have such a public forum (due to barriers of expense and so forth), is self evident.

    However, the impact of such a tool is not, I don’t think, half as grand as our individualist culture would like to think. It has indeed been recast into this ‘story of the age’- the little guy being heard without being ‘subjected’ to some kind of authority. This is the same cultural story recycled from other times and places – how about Western culture’s love affair with modern art? that is, when art stopped being about what your patron wanted and about the artist’s own self and/or what he/she felt he/she wanted to express without being constrained by an official academy and so forth. Whilst such freedom did lead to new creativity and so forth it also lead to the commodification of art through the art market and the dog eat dog profusion of artists and their works, each clamouring for attention. Nothing wrong with this for sure, but the outcome of such a change in the way society produces its cultural artifacts is complicated and far reaching, and thus can’t be distilled into that sort of truism.

    I think we love the idea that we are free to ‘publish’ what we like, but I don’t think any of this is impacting who controls real decisions with political impact or the dominant ideas in our society. It seems that the marginalized are still marginalized and those in power are still those in power. And someone blogging about their lives is great and often enlightening to their followers, but has little real impact on global events. I came across this article in the New Yorker that speaks a bit more to this. It’s interesting to think about in any case.

  3. That Gladwell article is a little bit embarrassingly out of date now after Tahrir Square and the ongoing revolutions in Egypt. I’m not disagreeing with the idea that real engagement is more difficult than retweeting something, but just because political movements look different and are leveraged differently today doesn’t make them inherently worthless the way Gladwell kind of comes off as saying there.

    Also, I completely agree with you about the commodification of art, and the commodifcation of blogging. It is a mythical ideal that one person can do all this stuff and make a difference, but a whole bunch of individuals can use these tools to mobilize, like in Egypt, and that’s not nothing.

    If you’re interested in social media and Egypt check out @acarvin on Twitter. He tweets about this stuff all day. It’s pretty awesome.


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