Feeling a little cloudy? Of course you are.
Because, I mean, to be fair, and let’s be honest, you are a cloud. You are an aggregation of interests, connections, and contacts, tagged in several ways, linked in all directions, changing in real time. I mean your mental world. It’s all hints and hunches, guesses and glimpses, shifting perspectives, tumbling assumptions. You take on clarity for clients. Then you’re all "let’s get on with it" pragmatism. But normally, and for most purposes, you’re as cloudy as can be.
How do I know this? Call me your consulting anthropologist. (No, don’t call me. Try a blog aggregator and call me in the morning.) Anthropologists have an old question: how does a culture define the self and the group.1 And now they have a new question: what difference does it make to the self and the group that they are now mediated by electronic connections (email, internet, SMS, IM, MMS, blogs, aggregators, shared search engines, social networks, p2p file sharing, online game play, etc.)
I think cloudiness might be an answer to the first question and especially to the second. My guess is that new selves and groups are richly heterogeneous, loosely and variously boundaried, capable of expansion, contraction and sudden reorganization, not very well governed, but still quite navigable and quite mobile, and, in still other respects, dynamic in content, form and operation.2
I think cloudiness was an emerging property of selves and groups in the late 20th century, but that cloudiness has been intensified by the new electronic technologies of the last 10 years. So the third anthropological question is now, "Where does cloudiness come from and how does it intensify?" Or to put this in a more pressing form: how’d ja get so cloudy?
For sake of argument, we need a working model of the self. Let’s posit the one proposed by Clifford Geertz who described the Western concept of a person as a
bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against its social and natural background.
Wave goodbye. That was you before you bought a computer and signed up for an email account. Those were the good old days, when people could still complain about anomie and being locked in the lonely confines of their selfhood…because they still had a selfhood, something impermeable that kept the world out and the precious self in.
That was then. This is now. We are no longer "bounded," "integrated," "centered," "organized" or "contrasted." We are now blurred, decentered, disorganized, and, well, a little vague. We are, I prefer to say, cloud-like. (It’s just so much more flattering. I mean otherwise we are the proverbial dog’s breakfast.)
Back to the third question: Where does cloudiness come from and how does it intensify?"
[ok, sorry, but I have run out of time, and I will have to finish up tomorrow.]
1 This question used to send us to other cultures. Now it makes us stay home. Our culture is changing selves, groups, and the groupings of groups at light speed.
2. This is the recognition that sent the post-modernists screaming into the night, epistemologically speaking. Or perhaps it was merely a culling exercise, a way to get the sheep away from the important questions. Too bad they ended up so near the students.
Stefan Hellvkist here for the magnificent cloud.
To a cloud of friends and connections: John Deighton, Tom Guarriello, Leora Kornfeld, Pip Coburn, Jerry Michalski, and Terry Gross, all of whom over the last couple of days forced the issue or at least raised the question: what is a self and what is a group now that we are so electronically mediated? Forgive the provincial anthropological phrasing.