Something to fall back on

When I was in the Sixth Form and applying for drama degrees, my headmaster invited me in for a chat one day.  He very much wanted to impress on me the folly of relying on the arts for a career.  Little did he know at the time that I was doing so little work on my A-levels that I wouldn’t have the grades to meet the offers I’d already got, let alone anything more academically stringent.

He felt (it was it first year there, he didn’t know me very well) I should have “something to fall back on”, do some acting while studying by all means, but do my degree in Modern Languages or Classics and then I’d have “another string to your bow”.  As you can tell, he wasn’t a very creative man himself, having used the two top clichés for headmasters wanting to discourage young artists.  I thought he was wrong then and I think he is now.  Having something to fall back on is a great strategy, but the something you fall back on needs to be something that won’t make you want to kill yourself!

I was thinking about this because I’ve recently been working on rebooting my facilitation practice.  I’ve had a lazy old time this year, I’ve done some nice work on unconferences for Mattereum and the OU and I organised my own SteemCampUK in April but this year I’ve mostly been writing (cough or thinking about writing) and getting a feel for the vibe in Guildford.  I realised that the way I think about my facilitation practice has been as a way of doing social art and as such it has tended to be at the edge and that tends to mean (I don’t think this is right by the way, but it’s how it is) Open Space with people who are pushing their own thinking to the edges.

And there’s just not enough of that to keep me stimulated.  I haven’t been turning down “ordinary” meeting work, but I’ve cultivated the stuff that’s more edgy.  And since I let go of Tuttle, that’s cut me off from all but a few (lovely, but few) people.  So some more structured, pre-planned, easier to sell to higher-ups, possibly with an explicit preferred outcome (!) is what I’m limbering up to fall back on (does that work?)

That means I’m looking at how I can get back to helping more people with more ordinary, everyday tasks of getting stuff done together.  Just being helpful again, not pushing people to their limits, but holding space for them to move forward in whatever it is that they’re trying to do.  That’s what I do well.  Give me a shout if I can help you.

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One way to get people in

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It’s the time of year that without cultural cues like sweet sticky chocolately smells or repetitive music from (mostly) happy times in our childhood, we’d stay at home.  But that would be derelicting our civic duty to shop and engage with our favourite brands downtown!

So someone hires the chocolate peanut man and pays the PRS for tunes and erects a great massive lit-up billboard to help spread the word about the SHINY LIGHTS that will now be twinkling above Guildford High Street until well after Santa’ been.  Bring the people out of their caves.  Lure them with lights and music and chocolate, because the machine needs to be fed!

It’s an important part of following the money – who pays for the lights?  Who pays for the publicity around the lights?  Why is it so important for people to keep shopping? What would happen if they didn’t?  What is the payoff to retailers of having an intense commercial season like this?  What are the costs to people?  What are the costs to the environment?   Why the appeal to charity?  Some of these questions are easy to answer, some of them are a bit more meaty.  All of them lead to further questions.

keep building the web

Look, it’s only been twenty-five years we’ve had this thing, it takes time to understand how it works over longer time periods.

I know that for some people the web is over, blogs are over, because FB is where everyone’s talking. And I do know a lot of people who seem to spend a lot of time posting stuff there. And every now and then I’m one of those people, but even if it’s a walled garden bit of the web, a machine that tries desperately to convince you that there’s nothing better than feeding the innocent little machine, it’s still part of the web and it relies on there being a web. OK that’s not a good reason to keep building the web, but that’s what blogging’s like, you start off making one argument and find you’re mildly contradicting yourself by the end of the second paragraph.

I feel the pull of FB, the desire for company and recognition and the admiration of my peers, the opportunity to make a fool of myself and make fun of some of the things that I take too seriously, the connection with members of my family and old old friends whom I couldn’t bear to talk to on the phone this often, but whose clunky little copypasta warms my heart a little, because it shows they care.

Resistance to the machine means building the web, the organic, flexible, super-linky web. It doesn’t have to be full-on indieweb but I think that hypertext is what I’m missing most.  It’s the links that matter, that’s why it’s really anti the FB experience to have more than one link per post. The links send people away and as a wise old creator of RSS once said “People come back to places that send them away.”

So for now I’m going to try practicing something new.  Every time I feel like sticking something on FB or even Twitter, I will try to put that something here instead.  Except when I forget – I’m still not perfect but I intend to keep adding value to this network.

How do you add value to a network?  You build new nodes and create links between existing nodes.  A link on my blog is a node and a link to another, that’s how the web survives.

Here’s a little example that predates my new resolution by a matter of minutes:

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Or as we say around here in slimmed-down, minimalist hypertext land:

It’s been bloody ages!

 

Humanising the High Street

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I’m thinking about this a lot.

When we moved to Guildford eighteen months ago, I would find myself gobsmacked at the zombie-ness of the Saturday shoppers – wandering the town centre looking for something, anything to fill the hole in the soul. Bloody Surrey! Bloody boomers with their early retirement and 10x property value increases.

Over time I’ve come to see it differently. It’s not the people’s fault, it’s never the people’s fault. The High Street is a machine. Of course it’s not actually a machine but it’s the “shop window” if you like for the machine, for capitalism-as-usual. And we’ve come to treat the machine as all-knowing and all-powerful as if it were the only way to be.

Douglas Rushkoff calls it “the unchallenged, underlying operating system” for our economy. It’s unchallenged because for most people it’s the only way they can imagine to organise society. Well we just have to feed the machines because they give us so much prosperity and Christmas decorations in September. I really recommend Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast by the way, it’s reflected and amplified a lot of my thinking about this stuff since I ran #workshop34 in Sittingbourne and got a feel for just how embedded machine thinking is in the High Street, a place where we really should be connecting with each other as people, if we’re going to do it anywhere.

So I’m now looking at how to shift my thinking about our town further and find useful things to do here. And I think it’s worth first digging into how this operating system works, for real, here and now. Analyse the machine in order to be able to subvert it, hack it, make it work better for us, without them sending the terminators out to get us.

The first thing is that so much is hidden – how do all these shops stay open despite the fact that they don’t seem to sell all that much and they have massive rents and business rates to pay – what gives? And what humanising hacks exist already? I suppose busking is one of them, creating a human experience on the side of the street, in front of an empty shop, without swearing fealty to the man. But interesting then how that’s becoming mechanised, a recognised part of the young musician’s apprenticeship, a way to get instagram followers and sell more stuff online.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. If you want me, I’ll be outside Burger King, staring in to space and thinking deep thoughts.

Wake Up!

Sorry.

This is a bit of a filler to say that I’m intending to be writing here again more. I’ve been blogging over on Steemit the blockchain-based blogging platform where you get paid in cryptocurrency for writing, commenting and curating and I’ll still be over there, but because of the market-like nature of it, it doesn’t feel like the space to be doing free-form, rapid-fire blogging like nobody’s reading, at least not all day every day. I’m going to use this place to get my thinking going about a few things which will probably feed into Steemit and perhaps Medium too when they’re a bit more polished.

So yeah, this is just a heads-up and halloo to anyone still subscribed via WordPress.com, e-mail or good ol’ RSS letting you know to run for the hills now (or just unsubscribe) if you aren’t interested in a daily-ish ping from me in this form.