City Folk Eaten By Code

Out of the woods, into the City!

I went to the Ethereum Meetup last night. A suitably informal tuttle-ish mess of conversations about blockchain applications. Developers, startup founders and me, the social artist elephant in the room, wondering what this all means for the milling crowds of financial services workhorses I’d just passed through at Liverpool St Station.

It’s early enough for the “scene” to fit into the upstairs room of an Aldgate pub. And the talk reminds me of the way the web was in the mid-nineties. “All of this sounds great, it’s conceptually beautiful, but after working in a bank, actually running a business, trying to sell this stuff to people, it’s all just so messy!” said one participant.

It may be a long way off, but there is a feeling of inevitability about it, the way that it was obvious that our manufacturing industry would be replaced by some form of technology or sent somewhere else, but we just didn’t want to talk about it. I do feel a bit like someone standing in Longbridge in the late 1970s saying “You’re going to be a robot. You’re a robot. You’re a robot…”

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Wandering in the woods

I’m remembering after the relative structure of commuting to Sittingbourne for #workshop34 that just wandering is an important part of my practice – it’s a way of processing what’s been going on and that I have places to go locally that are great for reflection and self-restoration.  I’m also cheered to remember that I carry some high-quality multi-media content production equipment everywhere I go.

So I denied myself a walk in the woods over the weekend but by Monday it was irresistible and when I got there, these words fell out of my mouth.  Here’s video and audio for those who still subscribe to the podcatching form of distribution.

#tuttle tokens

“Tuttle is like networking but isn’t the kind of thing where you pass around your business cards”

There was a time when this was a radical statement.  We were doing something new here by putting the focus on the personal relationship rather than the exchange of information.  You come along, you talk to people, you have ideas, you go away together and do stuff.  As opposed to: We meet, we exchange data, I give you a line in my database and hope that you’ll reciprocate, then our customer relationship management systems spam each other until one of us gives in.

I haven’t seen so many business cards on Friday mornings lately.  But when we closed down C4CC I found that the kindly folk had been preserving my card collection and so it was one of the few things I took away at the end.

This weekend, I sat down to look at them all. Now, not all of these are from tuttle, I will have picked some up from other meetups or through working with people at C4CC but there’s a lot of them.  I met a lot of people since 2008.

The first thing that jumps out is the weird branding choices we were making five or six years ago.  Mainly in the form of oddly-spelled business names and kooky sounding job titles.  I’m not going to single anyone out because we all did it in one form or another.  I suppose it was part of a whole bunch of people creating their own personal brand for the first time through trial and error.

There were a lot of people who are now Facebook friends or whom I follow on Twitter.    We’re connected, I can get in touch with them, I know who they are – was there a time when they had to give me their card?

And then there are the hundreds of people who I have no idea about at all, I don’t remember their name, I don’t remember their business, I kind of understand why I might have bumped into them, but the handing over of the business card was the last I knew of them (presumably because neither of our customer relationship management systems were that hot).

We talked about exchanging tokens last Friday.  A general conversation about cryptocurrency turned into a more specific “What would a TuttleBuck be like, what would it be for, how would they be created, what would they be worth, how long would they last, would there be unexpected consequences?”

I’m interested in the idea of creating something that marks attendance and then seeing what happens to it.  If you accumulate 20 Tuttlebucks in the next six months what would you do with them?  It’s not meant as an incentive, it’s not for the purpose of increasing attendance, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see what effect it has?  Which points me to thinking “What are the questions to ask when you’re creating a currency like this?”  Because there are going to be a lot of them and we’re going to have to get used to dealing with other more sophisticated forms of contract than cash.  Is there a checklist of things you have to think about?

Postmodernist Parties

Not well thought through, but rattled off after a good night’s sleep – fill in the gaps and polish up for me, would you?

I’m noting that one issue is political parties’ separation from culture which means they’re unconsciously driven by cultural trends rather than being on top of them.  Long words made shorter: this election was not a fight between political parties but between re-enactment societies.  We were asked to choose between present-day representations of aspects of the 20th Century.

So Labour offered the Spirit of ’45 – the party of the NHS and the broader Welfare State.  UKIP are Mosley’s blackshirt re-enactors, while the Tories and LibDems present the Downton Abbey tableau, respectively taking the stereotype roles of firm but fair toff and the wild idealistic toff.  Actually the LibDems also still have a strong social democratic streak and so get blurred with some Wilson-esque “White Heat of Technology” stragglers.  The Greens are probably the most present of the bunch but that’s just because it really is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius!  Or something.  Still, to most people they’re muesli-knitting Greenham Common protesters with an “Atomkraft? Nein Danke!” bumper sticker.

About Last Night…

When the exit poll came in, I was just thinking of writing something here about the likelihood of a shock election result, given the filter bubble/echo chamber effects in social media.  I didn’t know what the shock would be, but it seemed to me that my feed was so strongly in tune with what I was thinking that it was likely to be Facebook’s algorithm trying to make me happy rather than a true reflection of the polls.

And that’s as far as I got when the first shock came.  It was like hearing something that sounded like a car crash outside your house just when you were expecting visitors – things slowed down as I raced (while marvelling at the haircuts and overall maleness of the BBC coverage) to understand what might have happened – surely it would be alright, don’t be silly, go to bed, it will all seem better in the morning.  I stayed long enough to see the Tory win with only a tiny swing to Labour in my constituency.   It was going to be bad.

It was.  In the morning, the BBC was (correctly as it turned out) forecasting a Tory majority.  This was really not what I’d expected.  I hadn’t even thought of that as a likelihood, to me it had all been driven by the opinion polls pointing to a neck-and-neck race, so all the talk was about what compromises would have to be made.  Now we know that the only compromises that will have to be made will be within the Tory party.

I thought, this morning that, I felt disappointed.  But disappointments pass – I saw people pick themselves up, dust themselves down, start all over again, but I didn’t feel able to do that.  I went to Tuttle and we picked over the bones of it – it was good to not be alone with my head.  Then I walked all the way home and had a cry and had a sleep.

When I woke, I realised what I was feeling.  It feels like grief.  It feels like someone died.

It’s not quite grief for the Labour Party, that died for me in the early nineties, Blair never worked for me although I have continued to faithfully vote for them (and I still will until something better comes along).  I’ve marveled at people who said they needed to think about who to vote for.  I’m just not that sort of person and no amount of information, reasoning or shouting abuse will move me, save your energies for someone else.

No I think what I saw dying overnight was the Welfare State.  We, as a country, voted against the Welfare State yesterday – the NHS is the most obvious part of that but, as a country, we said yes to the Bedroom Tax and no to a Mansion Tax.  Saying “I believe in the Welfare State” used to sound ridiculous to me, as ridiculous as saying “I believe in sausages” – sausages just are, there’s no believe or not believe.  And, in truth, the idea has been dying since 1979 but now it really feels like it’s gone.  We’re going to have to come up with another way of looking after each other.

I can see the positive in there, because I’ve held on to ideas and behaviours that needed to die and eventually gone through the process of letting them go and finding that there’s something so much better on the other side, but I’m afraid of going through it and I’m afraid for other people who might not be as strong as I am.

We are going to have to come up with another way of looking after each other.  Because the state isn’t going to do it and the market isn’t going to do it and the Big Society isn’t going to do it and if we don’t do this we stop being civilised.

Dougald wrote some great notes today.  Including: “11. This is not just a battle of ideas, it is a battle for the soul.” For me, the root of this is “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”.  Easy to say, hugely rewarding to practice, bloody hard (though not impossible) to do.  There aren’t any quick and easy ways through this, but accepting that it’s here and that the solution is within us is the key.

In the meantime, I’m going to look after myself the best I can, talk about things, preferably in a more human way than writing blog posts and posting to Facebook, be as excellent as I can be to everyone around me.  And I shall be looking out for those who are suffering too.  Especially to anyone with mental health issues, disabilities or long-term illness who might feel like hope has gone, you’re not alone, we’ll get through this together.

Living in the future

I’m sitting here in my living room, listening to Louis Prima, recorded in 1956, somehow ending up on my phone and being played through my phone’s network connection to my television set.  I’m typing on a computer that’s not much larger than an A4 pad of paper and you’re reading this wherever, however, whenever you might have made the mistake of clicking on a link or firing up your feed-reader.

I can also use my phone to watch TV versions of comics that I read as a child.  I could probably, but don’t, get digital copies of those same comics to view on whichever device I choose.

I can find and play just about any piece of music recorded (just about) just by asking my computer and I can record my own music and make it available to you in the same way.

Wow! Still haven’t got over this.  Wow!

I went to see the latest Avengers flick this week.  I’d been looking forward to it but felt a bit dissatisfied at the end, it was a bit like Christmas, so much anticipation and it was fun while it lasted, but then… then well back to the future.

Every now and then I’ve seen artists asked “What do you think you’d be like if you’d had access to YouTube when you were a kid?”  I have no idea.   It would have been so different.  How could I tell?  I expect I’d be very different.  I mean, all of the above is still wowing me but my way of interacting with culture through my teens was to engage intensely with a (relatively) small pool of stuff and to do so over and over again.  Listening to records until I knew every note and cassettes until they literally wore out.  Reading comics and novels over and over, finding more each time.  Getting hugely excited by a re-run of some beloved TV or film.  Let alone organising all free time around the contents of the Radio & TV Times.

Which I guess is why, when given the choice, I’m listening (again) to some Italian-American guy from 1956.