Tag Archives: history

[bds] Why not just use Facebook?

[meta advisory - for regular readers of this blog, you'll notice that the title is prefaced with the tag: bds for Bromsgrove Digital Shoebox.  I will likely be writing about this quite a bit over the next few months and I'll try to remember to tag the titles so that you can make a better informed decision about whether to read on or not - the project will no doubt have a blog of its own before long, but till then the best place to see what's really happening is the crowdfunding page]

I’m committed in this project to make as much as possible available via the open web, rather than via corporate service offers like Facebook – yes you can share anything you like and connect to people very smoothly, but there are a few costs on the user side that aren’t immediately obvious and I’d like to avoid them.

I’m not totally anti-Facebook – for many things I find their (free) service very useful and you’ll see that I’m using it a lot to get word out about the project.  It’s just easy to forget that there’s a downside and I think the downside is too big for projects like this, in these particular ways:

1. Ownership, Authority, Access.

It’s your material and you will have the right to share it however you want.  In an archive environment though, there needs to be some independent authority for resolving disputes and making  decisions about things.  That authority doesn’t have to be centralised, it can be distributed between members of the community, as it is for Wikipedia.

This openness will at some point bump up against concerns about personal privacy, but we will start with an assumption that everything will be open and free and only close down in response to real concerns not ones that we can imagine in the abstract.

I also don’t want access to our memories and digital assets to be subject to the continuing existence or shifting priorities of a publicly-owned corporation based in California.

2. Not everyone is on Facebook

We all know this to be true, but it’s easy to fall back into thinking that “loads of people, at least more people than I can keep track of” is a good proxy for “everyone”.  And if you’re not on Facebook, if you choose for whatever reason, not to join in, then you’re excluded from the fun that goes on around old photos.

So people can share stuff about you without you knowing.  In fact this can happen even if you’re on Facebook, but the person who “owns” the picture isn’t connected with you.

I want to create something that is at least available to anyone with an internet connection (and actually to a whole lot of the people who don’t too, but that’s another story)

3. Interoperability & Extensibility

It is in Facebook’s interest to keep you on Facebook where you might see and click on an advertisement that will ultimately bring them revenue, or keep you creating new content to keep other people on Facebook where they might see and click… etc.

I’m looking to create something that you can use however you wish.  I want to create a platform for you to do new things, for you to extend and improve what we have, without damaging the experience for others.  That means being able to link to things from anywhere, to be able to include and embed material wherever you like.  it also means creating feeds that you can subscribe to so that you’re alerted when new material is found/uploaded.

These aren’t just my prejudices, they’re based on the NEA principle – ie build things that (N)obody owns; (E)veryone can use; and (A)nyone can improve.  It will be a key guiding principle and differentiating characteristic for this project.

Backstory: The A-levels

I know you were completely hooked on the Audit Commission Crhonicles (*yawn*) but today was A-level results day here. There was a flurry of chat about it on twitter and I said what results I’d managed 23 years ago: Two Ds and an E. And when someone asked me privately “How did that happen? You’re such a clever guy.” I gave my stock answer, which is that I discovered the joys of beer and girls in my sixth form.

But because I’m thinking a lot about extending narratives and backstories, it occurred to me that there was more to the story than that – I mean that is the truth, that’s something that happened then, but it’s not the whole reason that I got two Ds and an E. There’s much more to the truth than that. So I started looking at what it was really about – what I don’t normally want to talk about, what I cover up with the stock answer.

Because lets face it, having a laugh about the joys of beer and girls is much more comfortable than looking at the whole truth.

So here’s some more of the truth.

First off, there’s more to the results – I also got an A in General Studies but I miss that out because it doesn’t fit with the story and because it’s too easy to get into an argument about whether General Studies counts or not and it doesn’t seem to matter whether people did it or not, they’re equally divided about it’s value, mainly on the basis of what grade they or someone they know got. So that gets left out. But it tells you something. It tells you that I do have some natural ability, some curiosity for current affairs and good general knowledge across a range of disciplines. I’m a good generalist. That’s more widely valued these days than it was in 1983 but if you started hiding it back then, it seems a little weak to bring it up now…

What else was going on? I was studying German, French and Latin. Yeah. How did that come about? Well specialisation started earlier then, I think. When you chose your O-level options before the fourth form you narrowed a lot, but also in the school I went to the timetable was less flexible – classes in the third form were based around it. There were 10 classes of about 30 kids each in my year. The “top” two were the ones who did Latin and modern languages. The middle ones were more technical and scientific and the lowest ones completely manual – technical drawing, metal and woodwork for the boys, girlie stuff for the girls. We all did a bit of music and art and RE but clearly being able to do languages was important and Latin was a badge of honour with teachers and disgust with other pupils.

I got a lot more positive attention, far more easily for having a talent for languages than I would have done if I’d had a natural talent for art or making things. So that’s what I chose. I didn’t have to work too hard at all and I got through.

That’s the beginning of the mistake, if you like, trying to take the easy way. But it cut me off from an important bit of me, the space to be creative. My only option was extra-curricular drama (no not knife fights in the park. Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Real Inspector Hound.) And I hung on to this, knowing that being creative was something that was really important to me.

So when it came to choosing A-levels, I wasn’t going to do Maths, Physics or Chemistry, I’d jettisoned everything else and because I fell out with the head of English, for the reasons that headstrong and arrogant 16-year-olds fall out with tired, middle-aged men teaching in a Midlands comprehensive, two years of English was a no-no. So I ended up doing a triple-whammy of translation and heavy literature.

Essentially decisions I made at the age of 13 together with the demographics of the time and the inflexibility of the timetable led me to an extremely constrained position five years later.

And I completely lost the will to work at any of it. I didn’t see the point in studying literature and I couldn’t be bothered. And it was a means to an end that I wasn’t interested in either (although I couldn’t admit that either). When it came out that I was applying for drama degrees, I had a long discussion with the headmaster who told me that a career in the arts was a ridiculous waste of the education I’d been given and that I should join an amateur dramatics group while doing a Modern Languages degree. He didn’t know that I already felt I was compromising but didn’t know how to get out of the ridiculous bind I was in.

So I did the only thing I could do to save myself from doing something I didn’t have the heart to do nor had the guts to refuse. I simply didn’t do the work. In particular, I didn’t read very much of the German, French or Latin literature that is (was?) a core part of A-level study in those subjects. So Goethe is still a mystery to me though I remembered “Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen bluehen” when I went through the Brenner pass last summer. I couldn’t tell you what La Chute was about except a guess that a guy having some existential breakdown in Amsterdam and while Aeneid VI is one of the more engaging books, Pliny and Ovid left me totally cold. And those are the ones that I can remember the titles of. I was never going to get the two Bs and a C that would condemn me to 3 years in Aberystwyth.

Result!

So I spent the next year still in Bromsgrove. Laying about on the dole. No! That’s another stock answer, that covers up what I was really doing. What I really did in the 12 months before I left home in September 1984 was that I became a political activist, learning rhetorical speaking and camaraderie and ways of organising people around passions – how pointless is that if you want a real job? And I spent the rest of my time working as a volunteer at the Swan Theatre in Worcester, effectively as an unpaid Acting ASM learning a bit of my trade as an actor, which of course although relevant to me spending three years at the Guildford School of Acting couldn’t possibly prepare me for doing something useful once I was over 40. Yeah, I didn’t do anything in my lazing-about year.

So there you go. More truth. Is there any more in there? I don’t know at the moment, perhaps there is. What other “cover stories” and “stock answers” are there?

Work Places

05112008518This is a photograph of what’s left of the car park that used to be on the corner of Rochester Row and Greycoat Place. In the top left-hand corner, you can see the windows of the offices of 33 Greycoat Street, now occupied by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. In 1999, the Audit Commission took on that building as part of it’s growth in preparation for inspecting Best Value (wha’ that?) and one of those first floor offices later became the place where my manager took residence and I’d sit with her, trying to avoid conversations about how well I was doing, what I wanted to do next and how the Commission “could help in my development”. I mainly stared out of the window, at that car park and wondered how long she would wait to change the subject.

I love these holes in the city. Demolition sites that, once flattened, last only too briefly. The chance to see through further than you could before, see the backs of places only imagined, see a bit more of the sky, regain a sense of scale. Maybe some of them will hang around for longer if redevelopment money is short. Mind you, there still seems to be plenty of activity of some sites, although those may be ones where the mentality is “we’ve started so we’ll finish”.

Which also reminds me of conversations we had early on about Tuttle that included a kind of office-in-a-box a travelling co-working space that could be set up anywhere we could find a space. I’m becoming attracted to that again. Perhaps Amplified08 might be a place to specify what’s needed.