The World is Sorting

Img_2533 The world is sorting.

That’s the phrase that lept to mind last night, as I sat in a South bank cafe.  I was sitting with a small group people gathered in the National Film Theatre cafe, one of those end-of-week drinking places that London does so well, people spilling out of doors (the liquor license, what liquor license?) into the street, in this case, a concrete plaza, drinking, talking, flirting, exclaiming, declaiming, carrying on, leaping from one story to the next, in breathtaking acts of barely managed continuity.  The balance!  The dexterity!  The English, they sure can talk. 

The world is sorting because this particular group of drinkers (Russell Davies, Mark McGuinness, Jennifer Lyon Bell, Tim Plester, Marcus Brown and Lauren Brown would not exist were it not for Interesting2007, and this would not exist were it not for the bloggable world. 

I sat there at one moment thinking what it would cost me in time and effort to meet any of these people.  Tons.  Tons of time and effort. But these people have found one another, thanks to the internet, blogging and of course, the present master of ceremony, Russell Davies. 

If we are not "on the same page" we found that page with a conversational short hand.  And when compressed speech and nimble orientation failed us, we fashioned "same pages" in no time at all.  It was wonderful to see how few questions any one of us had to ask to "place" the other. 

We come from disparate parts of the world (planner, film maker, anthropologist, poet) and there are great pieces of each world were inscrutable or opaque.  But a little scrambling about on a shared but unsuspected catwalk and people began to work out what the other meant, may have meant, or under the circumstances and given what the listener knew about proximate or equivalent parts of the world, almost certainly did mean (give or take).

The world is going in two directions.  These differences are expanding.  What counts in the world of poetry and film-making may not be so very different, but keeping in touch with the trends, inclinations and cultures that produce the people that produce the poetry or the films, that’s a different matter, and if once London nurtured a shared creative culture, now it encourages many hundreds of them.  (Was there a big bang at some point in recent memory, our life times, that produced this expanding universe?  No, this is one of those cultural things we (we, the West, we the species) have been working up to over thousands of years.  It’s just the we can now see changes happening in real time.) 

Good thing that cat walk is expanding.  Good thing we all are pretty good at mobilizing our way out of our present world and transplanting, if only for a moment, into the world of someone else.   Our cultural literacy has so expanded, it turns out that most of these differences are negotiable. 

But what about traversing this expanding world not intellectually, but actually?  What about actually finding somehow in these expanding galaxies.  And this is where blogging comes in, as my table at the NFT cafe last night demonstrated so convincingly.  What one needs to get a seat at this table is not any of the other gate negotiated affiliations: the right family, the right college, the right club. What one needs is a blog, a readable blog.  By this means, we identify ourselves, and one another, as interesting and engaged, and eventually we find one another. 

The world is sorting and the implications are, er, interesting.  We can imagine a perfect world in which an invisible hand sorts the world so that each of us is put in contant all but only the people we find most interesting.  What would happen to what we do, think, accomplish, create?  Tons.  But what about the collective effects?  What happens to the social and cultural worlds are integrated, cross referenced, interpenetrating in this way.  This is the $64,000 question, isn’t it, and the great challenge for the social sciences and especially anthropology.  After all, anthropology was about two things: culture and kinship.  Both of these are changed beyond recognition, but not beyond the possibility of anthropological investigation.

Which brings me to Lance Ulanoff and the column he posted in PC magazine on Wednesday.  Lance thinks that the social networks are goners.  MySpace, Second Life and Twitter are, he says, "doomed," symptoms of the hype that now surrounds Web 2.0.  Lance, Lance, Lance. The social networking has only just began.  None of these sites (or the others, Facebook, Dopplr, Jaidu, LinkedIn) has got it exactly right, but that can’t be for of.  Most of us are still making connections by hand, using the bloggable world has our source and our quide.  Once someone finds a way to industrialize this process, and harness the power of a machine to replace handcrafting, things will really get going.  It may turn out that the ability to watch change happen in real time will be a brief episode that will end as it begins to happen so quickly it evades overwhelms our optic abilities. 


Ulanoff, Lance.  2007.  MySpace, Second Life, and Twitter Are Doomed: these overyped social networks will soon crumble under the weight of overhyped expectations.  PC Magazine.  June 13, 2007.  here.


Oh, and the photo was taking last night about 9:00 and it captures a cloud showing off shamelessly, but quietly, in the sky above London, looking north from Pall Mall.  North?

8 thoughts on “The World is Sorting

  1. Pingback: The TrueTalk Blog

  2. dilys

    “Sorting” may be one of your most functional ideas. And as to networking, meta-sorting happens from my reliance on *your sorted sidebar* bloglist (many others are not so reliable IMO) when I want to broaden the stimulus with similar quality and subject.

    My own lapsed blog seemed to serve as an interactive, extended calling card: *Ms. D. is “at home” in certain conceptual categories.* Blogging lends weight, importance, and scope to the elementary socializing education to *learn-to-spell learn-to-type learn-to-think be-polite be-interesting*. Scope because eligibility for “sorting” is now not only social-class based. Anything that affects “being sorted” can be fatal, socially and professionally, or malform the forward trajectory.

    Surely this will lead to a market in ghost-bloggers, for even a pale placeholder blog (with occasional focused high points for specific purposes) will be better than none, preferable to “no mailing address.”

    BTW “leaping from one story to the next, in breathtaking acts of barely managed continuity” = best phrasemaking ever! Signification *parkour*! (metaphor NewYorker 4/16/07)

  3. collyn ahart

    Really wonderful to meet you this evening, and such a treat to hear you speak. The course I did at Saint Martins is called ‘Creative Practice for Narrative Environments’ or, what I would describe as ‘designing stories and experiences for spaces’….

    Most of the work we were doing was about using sensory devices to articulate stories. The course was multidisciplinary – very – and perhaps about (as you say) really ‘traversing this expanding world’ in actuality. I think, as I’m sure you gleaned from our rather brief chat this evening, that there is massive potential to apply this ‘doing’ into business and general business strategy. Taking from other disciplines is really just about looking at fundamental emotional and sensual responses to the way people exist… if something happens in a museum/whatever, who is to say it cannot happen in a tour bus? Or a library? Or a car show room?

    I would love to stay in touch. Do let me know next time you’re in London and perhaps I can buy you a drink/coffee?

  4. Peter

    Grant —

    The technology exists already to automate connection-making over social network sites. In part this involves automated reasoning and in part, the so-called semantic web. The latter is the idea of adding annotation to web-content in order to allow this content to be “read” and analysed automatically by machines. Folksonomy tagging is an example of content-annotation which could be used to automate connection-making.

    On automated reasoning, every version of Windows since Windows95 (released a dozen years ago!) has included some AI components.

    — Peter

  5. mark Earls

    Great speech yesterday (tried to introduce myself but you were deep in conversation) and another great post. Completely agree with you on the point of “pointless” social interaction and the real lure of social media btw

  6. lauren

    hi from another one at the table. it was great to meet you, have a chat and hang out on the day. pity i was lousy at saying goodbye after the conference! i hope your stay was a blast and if you’re in london or melbourne, do get in touch.

  7. Mark McGuinness

    Pleasure to meet you Grant and thanks for a thoughtful post about the new social landscape. I wrote somewhere that meeting fellow bloggers for the first time feels a bit like having beamed down from the Starship Enterprise. I guess that means blogs are the social equivalent of the Transporter.

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