Tag Archives: society

Living “off” the web – The Incursion Lifestyle

tim with his droid x
I fully expect this to happen.

My Droid X is in the mail. It’s a phone that happens to do internet things in a groovy way. It can also spawn multiple copies of itself that morph into common household appliances. I made up that last part. Having a smartphone (in the Droid’s case, a superphone) will change the way that I use the internet. Here’s how I think this will happen.

We’ve heard that the internet is quickly moving toward a social, semantic, app-driven culture of quick satisfaction and ex nihilo networks of limited temporal convenience that form and dissolve according to the whims of users. That’s a mouthful, but I agree with it almost entirely. Moving backwards…

Networks of Convenience

One of the big ideas in Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is that networks arise for a common purpose and then either continue or die out. What if ATT users began a campaign to purposefully overload the phone/data lines and shut it down? Even users on other services could play along. It would be like a DDoS attack, but covered by one’s monthly fees. :) Granted, this would be counter-productive for everybody, but it would show the power of quick organizing. When the campaign ended, say at the end of a 24-hour period, folks could go back to being regular iPhone users, and ATT could go back to teh suck.

Apps Rule Everything Around Me

Apps are, by their very nature, tiny bits of useful material. Some mimic certain websites, others carry information meant to replace a given website entirely. Why go to Webster’s dictionary online when you can have the whole thing in the palm of your hand? Apps are often one-off tools; we use them then we pack them away. I check in on Foursquare, tweet something, then upload a photo to Facebook. And I’m done – the phone goes back in my pocket. Apps enter the social web and exit, making incursions, if I may, as they are needed.

What Do You Mean By That?

Our mobiles are going to help us better “teach” the web to learn what we’re about, what we need, what we like, and what we’re up to. Every time we scan a QR code, checkin, or upload a purchase through whatever that website is that does that (I can’t remember), we are building out the trajectories of meaning around us. Somewhere, a machine is crunching those data, trying to figure out the next pattern – and what to sell us on Wednesdays.

Don’t Just Stand There Talking To Me – Talk To Me!

Once I finally get my Droid in hand, I’ll be able to carry on back-channel conversations and substream chat during events (specifically Tweetups and conferences) that I otherwise would have missed. Mobiles and the apps installed on them make it possible to interact on two layers. For the rare occasions when I’ve been able to connect my iPod to a nearby wifi network, this kind of “other-place” is astoundingly fun.


I have a wireless network at my home. I’ve found that when I’m reading books or making crafts or cooking,  having my iPod on hand (next to my phone, of course), makes it very easy for me to quickly drop in and drop out with regards to the web. It’s not simply a question of not wanting to scroll through an entire news article, which I don’t at all mind doing. It’s that I can, through apps and the way that things are now, accomplish what I want quickly.

When we’re out and about using mobiles, we don’t so much live in the internet as we make quick incursions into its various streams. If anything, mobiles have given us oodles of more freedom; I understand that this statement is old hat, but consider it in light of everything that I’ve just said. Mobiles are, by their very nature, contributing to less time spent truly “online”. It almost goes without saying that you’re less likely to follow the next 20 shiny blinky things if your mobile isn’t yet set up for that – someday, undoubtedly, it will be.

Incursions are less likely to contribute to distraction when we’re working. For those of us who have to manage multiple dialogue/creative streams at once, the ability to select when and where and how we dive into the web is freeing indeed.

*** This post is part of the “Blog Every Day Challenge“, which I have undertaken in homage to John Haydon, a captain of social media and inbound marketing for non-profits. A few months back he did the same thing. Granted, all of his posts imparted some kind of value to his readers (and he has many). I’m blogging about the same old stuff. Don’t call it “general interest”, because I think that it goes without saying that humans should generally be interested in what I’m doing. :) ***

Digital Social Contract, Part 1

digital social contract - the internet king
The Internet King

A lot of writers talk the web’s effect on how we communicate and collaborate and all kinds of other things. I’m more concerned with how the web is changing society and what it means for our future togetherness and apartness. Let’s drag up the old term “social contract” and stick the word “digital” in front of it.

I’ll paraphrase the Wikipedia definition: Social contract describes a group of theories that try to explain the ways in which people form states/countries and/or maintain social order. It is implied that people give up some rights to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order through the rule of law.

The most popular social contract theorists (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau) realized that it was better for a person to be threatened by a stationary bandit (a single king, parliament, ruling body) than by roving bandits (warlords, brigands, renegade counties). Makes sense – we sleep better if we have a short list of possible sources of death. The great thinker Max Weber gave us the notion of a “monopoly on violence” that characterizes modern states. It is more applicable, I think, to describe it as a monopoly of force or power.

People abhorred the “state of nature” before the formation of modern states. Life back then was, as Thomas Hobbes wrote, “nasty brutish, and short”, and to escape it we exchanged certain freedoms and status quos for protection and prosperity. It was simply smarter to be a part of a collective entity than to remain outside of it – you gained more by joining the party than staying outside. What does this mean for our digital lives today?

The basic idea is this: joining the internet/digital party (representing the social contract) is not absolutely necessary, but it’s certainly attractive. This goes for individuals as well as businesses. How many blog entries have you seen that list pros and cons of social media, or approaches for convincing reluctant supervisors to let you open a Twitter account for the company? One of the first big things that corporations learned on the social web was that the brand was no longer entirely in their hands. However, by joining the conversation and recognizing that a greater power is at work, those companies profit.

The same idea goes for us small people, too. Many of us work online in the knowledge economy, but even for those of us who don’t, the internet still provides ample opportunities to network, find new employment, and supplement one’s education. I’ve tried writing about this stuff before, speaking at first of what I used to call the digital contract, then discussing prescriptive analyses of social media and governance. Two other bits worth skimming are some quick thoughts about the modern nature of empire and the diffuse, scattered notion of authority at play in international politics.

So where do we see this going? Will the rush to the intertubes hearken the birth of a new digital contract, or will we return to the state of nature, where status updates fall in the forest with no one to hear?