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Yes, on 15th February five years ago, the London Social Media Cafe which was soon to become better known as The Tuttle Club held the first regular meetup at the Coach & Horses in Greek Street and we’ve done the same thing (more or less) somewhere or other every week (give or take) since then.
A bunch of lovely folk turned up this morning to do the same lovely thing as ever: talk, drink coffee, laugh, talk, meet new people, have a moan, whatever it is that you all do, I don’t know, I just wander around grinning inanely.
First thing this morning, Rob O’Callaghan showed his appreciation for #tuttle (which inspired his Tunbridge Wells group: (#twuttle and its various spin-offs) by treating me to breakfast at the top of the Gherkin in the City. Because it was something he could do. It was great. I’ve never been up in any of these super-tall structures before and the 40th floor with it’s 360-degree view is amazing. Thanks to Rob and Phil Macleod who hosted us.
Back down at the RFH #tuttle buzzed its way through three hours (at least). I was asked, by people who’d been around for a while and new people too, what I got out of doing it. It’s a question that obsessed me at the beginning, but the answers aren’t what I expected back then.
It hasn’t made me rich or particularly famous. I’m skint most of the time and I have been for five years, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been and anyone who wants to tell me that it’s all a failure because it doesn’t make money is missing the point of life, in my opinion.
About six months in, I decided that I would commit to just showing up and welcoming new people and I knew then that I wasn’t ever going to make money directly from #tuttle and that it wouldn’t thrive for long if I made it all about me and used it as a vehicle to get well-known and cash-in from there. And I wanted it to thrive for a long time. I still do.
But I’d already learned this from blogging – that you get your rewards *because* of the things you do, not *for* the things you do. So what are the things I got?
Well doing this thing changed the whole way I see my life and work and it changed how I am perceived by others. I no longer think of myself as any kind of consultant,(though I will still happily take consulting fees!) I’m an artist, I make beautiful things, and #tuttle is one of them. The biggest thrill I got today was being told by a newcomer that “it was beautiful”.
I’ve been able to do things that I didn’t think possible. I’ve traveled and written and photographed my way coast-to-coast (and friend-to-friend) across the USA twice and then hobo-ed around the UK for a whole year living and working with people I’d met on the internet who’d got to know and trust me because I did #tuttle.
I got to call myself Social Artist in Residence at the Centre for Creative Collaboration and then spend a couple of years really thinking about what the hell that meant.
I got to work with a group of the simultaneously nicest *and* smartest people I’ve ever met on creating a new approach to business consulting, a process that resulted in some fabulous open data and the creation of at least one company.
My recent work on #ourdigitalplanet and #wewillgather (I’m considering amending my bio to say just “I work on hashtags”) has been successful because of this weekly deep experience of organising without an organisation.
And I got to meet you all and share in your journeys. I got to see you grow and be encouraged and build your lives and projects and businesses. I got to listen when you were down and depressed and couldn’t see the light just around the corner. I saw hungry young things take flight and soar and become industry stalwarts. I saw a certain entrepreneur meet hardcore users of his product and get real user insights into the thing he’d later sell for millions. And I got to partake in the multitude of fascinating soap-operas of our intersecting lives, laughing and scheming and crying and dreaming and, conversation by conversation, reaching a far better understanding of this social web thing together than we could ever have done on our own.
Thank you all, everyone who’s been along on a Friday morning, even just the one. Thanks to everyone who picked up the idea and started one in their own town (otherwise how would I have ever known to visit Long Beach?!?) Thanks to everyone who offered suggestions and guidance on making it better. Thanks to the trolls who spewed and stewed and (thankfully) repeatedly went hungry; please, if they wake up, don’t start feeding them now…
OK, that’s all, go back to what you were doing. See you next week.
Two things I notice about this group of posters at Epsom station:
1. The common use of Black, Red & White both between the dark fiction titles but also with an exhibition about Victoria & Albert – does this tell us anything about our attitude to Victorian times?
2. Why are these books so popular with suburban rail passengers? Or at least why are suburban rail passengers routinely targeted by the publishers of these books? What does it mean that large numbers of people pouring into London every morning have just spent half an hour immersed in blood, slashing, and psychopathic torture?
Woke this morning to another sprinkling of snow in London. Probably more outside of town, but haven’t checked yet. Not much but clearly it came down through the early morning when there were fewest people about so it’s thicker than it would have been if it had come down at 4pm.
But my first reaction was “Blimey, this is going on for a long time.” (the current weather pattern of cold and snow)
And then I thought “Hang on, isn’t this what winter’s *supposed* to be like?” We’ve become so accustomed to having only a few individual days of snow that having a prolonged cold snap with associated precipitation feels out of the ordinary. It’s the corollary of “Oh, we had a sunny day, that’ll be our summer then!”.
But didn’t it used to be like this all the time? Why shouldn’t winter have a fortnight or so of snow and ice? Has anything actually changed here? Why is this so important? And so, yet again, I’m left wondering whether it’s the world that changed or that my dislocation is a result of warped perception. Is it them or is it me? Usually the answer to that question is… errrr… yes it’s me so forget it, ignore what I just said and let’s get on.
I enjoyed myself at rebootbritain this week (it was a bit of a bastard child of 2gether08 and Innovation Edge) I think I’d have preferred if it had more genetic code from barcamp and opentech but I’m fussy like that. I don’t think it was ever going to be a real “doing” place. More thinking, talking and connecting, all of which are still very important things to do, if we want to move on to “doing stuff”.
And I believe that we need to practice this a bit more if we’re going to get good at collaborating in spaces like this – it’s one thing to have a difference of opinion in a conversation about how someone’s project should engage online. It’s quite another if the group you are in is trying to actually make that happen there and then. It’s not that the doing is more difficult necessarily but I think collaborative doing is easier and goes better when people are well practiced in talking with each other in a small group. It’s yet another thing I’ve learned from growing tuttle from a small seedling and then going out doing consulting with people from the network.
Back to what actually happened on Monday. I see two basic models of how people can talk to each other at events like this. There are conference rooms where the speaker to listener ratio is between 1:50 and 1:700 (not including those watching live on the web) and the other “Coffee Track” mode of people speaking in pairs, joined by a third which gives the opportunity for one of the original pair to slip away and for a new pair to get talking. Of course there are other mutations and variations that spring up around the place but they don’t live for long, the ecosystem keeps returning to two dominant, parallel states, the very large and the very small. The flavour of discussion in each of these is markedly different. In large scale meetings, the speakers often speak about what “we” are doing – sometims that is a specific group of people, but often it’s a more slippery “public policy we”, or “we in society” it’s a Global we. Q&A where allowed gets dominated by those with something to sell (if it’s me, it’s usually my own cleverness!). Meanwhile in the corridors the conversations are led by the question “So what are you doing?” or if you don’t know them already “So what do you do?”.
This means there’s a very high level global conversation going on, and a very personal (but rarely intimate) conversation going on, but nothing in between.
So, encouraged by others to do something to reboot rebootbritain I sought out Steve Moore and got permission to use one of the rooms that was shown as empty on the schedule. Then I thought more about what I wanted to do. I wanted to create something tuttle-ish but more structured, so I plumped for conversation circles and added in a rule or two: 7 +/- 2 people popped into my head, whatever that really meant, I worked it out later – and remembered the reference. An another ‘rule’: you can talk about whatever you want. Then I wandered around pitching it to people in their twosomes and tweeted the time, location and basic form.
As I talked about it to my chums around the place, of course the pitch and my idea of what we were going to do evolved and I am an unreliable reporter of the exact sequence – just remember this is my post-hoc rationalisation, it was (even) messier than this…
So I let as many people as I could, know that we were doing “something”. Found that the start clashed ith sessions that people wanted to go to: “Is the Web Female” and the Social by Social launch – but then it had to clash with something. Only one person, noticed that I was interrupting their conversation to invite them to something which, on the face of it, sounded quite similar to what they were already doing.
I went up to the room at 2pm to find that the group occupying it had been told they could carry on for a bit but we soon managed to be turning the seats around from their parallel ranks into circles. Three or four people from this previous session asked what we were doing and on hearing, joined in enthusiastically. In fact, they were among those who eventually stayed the full three hours. And so, the conversations began. Two groups to start. I noticed quickly that there were a couple of other rules to add. Firstly an exhortation to come in, sit down and join in. And then another to encourage people not to interview each other but rather to focus on sharing their own experience. Interview-style conversations can easily slip into Q&A which is replicating the dynamic of the Global conversations, just with fewer people taking part. Oh yes, and I introduced the law of two feet although very few exercised their rights under this law.
Overall several people stayed for the three hours before Steve came and ushered us downstairs to listen to Howard Rheingold. Many others came and stayed for half an hour or so and then moved on. In the tradition of tuttle, I had no attachment to “success” or “outcome” and therefore there could be no failure.
Many people said to me on the day or since that it was the best bit of the day for them. There was even a brief flurry of tweeting suggesting that I should be gifted money by NESTA for instigating it. It’s a practice of mine never to say no to money, but it was interesting when this subject came up in one of the conversations on the day how difficult we all found to talk about it.
I do think that practicing conversation at this scale is important. I like it. I’m going to do more.
I also asked Tom why people should care about what goes on at the summit and he explains the importance of what the bloggers were doing to help us all make sense of the high-level economic stuff from our own perspectives.
Tom is one of the earliest adopters of online social tools among national politicians and he uses them to complement the doorstep manner that makes him a popular local MP. I remember hearing about his early blogging through Tim Ireland in 2004. He’s matured well with the rest of us – he’s a top choice to follow on twitter, skillfully navigating the line between speaking as just another tweeter and speaking as an MP and Government Minister.
Tom sat with us on the G20 Voice desk all day, even when he was in danger of being crushed by the hack-pack when Bob Geldof passed by.
Between them, Pret a Manger and McDonalds provide pretty good coverage for the urban digital nomad. Both provide free wifi access via The Cloud – pret asks for an e-mail address and your birthday, but underneath the arches, you can surf away by just clicking a button.
OK, so it’s not really free if you are obliged to buy something in order to secure a table, but Black coffee in pret is £1.50-something and in McDonalds £1.29 – in the former you may have to put up with loud middle class people, in the latter, the bawling of chavvy kids is drowned out by the boombox – take some noise-cancelling headphones.
Neither, however, seem to provide power sockets, so I recommend an hour or so in Starbucks now and then to recharge your flagging batteries. And don’t forget to swap water for caffeinated beverages occasionally to minimise the risk of over-stimulation.
Of course the ICA is top-hole for wifi, power, coffee, yummy food and PLU(!) but loses points by not being open (except on Fridays, you lucky people) until midday.
At some point in the late seventies or early eighties, the BBC ran a comprehensive season of Ealing Comedies. It stands out as an important part of my adolescent television experience – which many would say explains a lot.
A favourite has always been Passport to Pimlico (1949) for the location shots of immediate post-war London as well as the plucky defiance of the residents of Miramont Gardens. What’s disappointing of course is that it’s actually filmed in Lambeth on the other side of the river rather than in Pimlico itself. Nonetheless it formed an important picture in my young mind of “that London”.
If you haven’t seen it, get it and take a look. Spoilers may well follow…
Watching again, this weekend, I noticed many motifs that echo what I’m thinking about a lot with respect to self-organisation and emergent behaviour, but in particular two examples of herd activity – firstly, the way in which the idea spreads through the community that they are Burgundians and therefore need no longer comply with the post-war austerity measures or indeed any English law they dislike and then later how the crowd gathered to witness the defeat and evacuation copy the kids who have come to throw provisions to their parents (the kids who got the idea from seeing the penguins fed at the zoo).
And I laughed out loud a lot too.