Cloudy selves: navigational metaphors (just in time for summer!)

321148513_cad35b405e_b Each of us is a network.  A messy, crowded, cloudy network.  We are some rough, disorganized but not entirely unconnected composite of our experiences, relationships, interests and outlooks.  We are diverse, complex and multiple. 

So what are the structural properties of this network?  How do elements cohere?  How do they survive passage through space and time?  Why do they not just burst into flames and fall from the heavens?  Icarus, like. 

Like Icarus we should at least be punished for our presumption, the effort, in this case, to be all those people, engaged in all those activities, cultivating all those interests.  But presumption aside, the question is how humans can sustain this much internal diversity.  Are we "load bearing" and "aerodynamic" in ways we need to be? 

Russell Davies refers today to "taste stalking" and "social slipstreaming." 

By the first, he means using twitter and to keep track of the enthusiasms of our friends.  These friends are auditioning the world for us.  This used to be the job of magazine editors.  More and more, knowledge and inspiration comes us from the friends on Facebook or MySpace.

By the second, Russell means a kind of division of labor.  Each of us devotes the time and energy to cultivate an interest.  And then we trade.  You have access to my interests.  I have access to your interests.  We’re slipstreaming in turn. 

"Taste stalking" is a good thing to do because it opens up the range of input, interest, experience, all-those-other-things-out-there to which we want to have access.  Russell’s not crazy about the metaphor and I wonder if we couldn’t just as easily call these people "scouts."  We follow them. We don’t haunt them. 

"Scouts" is a bit "boys own," though, isn’t it?  "Guides" is too patronizing, too old media.  "Editors" is less bad, but it’s old media too. "Carnies" might work. (Carnies are those people who work for carnivals and shout things from booths.)  What’s wrong with all these metaphors is that they imply that the person we "stalk" knows the value they create.  And on the web, you may or may not know (or care) that someone draws value from your experience.  The thing about the wisdom of crowds is that we are usually created a utility unwittingly.  In we have no idea. 

"Space probes?" These really are witless machines, banging through space, beaming things home mechanically, and as long as the battery lasts. 

There are some probes that head for deep space, sending back impossibly exotic intelligience.  The Voyager is now 15 terameters from the sun, and the human-made object furthest from the earth.  We all have friends who "phone home" periodically with the most mysterious but precious of communications.  I am still waiting to hear from Terry, a high school friend.  We said goodbye, and he drove away in a typically exalted state of consciousness, and I couldn’t help noticing that his Harley ran 3 stop signs without so much as slowing down.  I would really like to hear from Terry. 

Navigational satellites?  The Global Positioning System consisted of 32 medium Earth orbit satellites in six different orbital planes.  This is more than I feel I need for getting and keeping my bearings.  But that could change and no doubt will change as my self becomes ever cloudier.  In fact, I quite like the idea of orbital planes, because in order to sustain a diversity of element within, I need quite a lot of diverse directional information. 

The issue here is how networks manage the great clouds of information they need to sustain themselves and to grow.  It certainly makes since to "shadow" or to "ghost" other networks, to choose what they choose, to exchange what we’ve got.  These cloudy selves are going too large to be sustained by their owners’ efforts only.  It is going to have to be a collaborative exercise.  We are going to have to pool our resources. We are going to have to put our head’s together.  We are going to end up with some out of body, out of mind, out of network, cross dependencies that put at risk our conventional ideas of the discrete, free standing, independent, liberty seeking individual.  Right?


Davies, Russell.  2007.  Taste salking, opinion surrogates, and social slipstreaming.  Russell Davies: we are observing your earth.  July 5, 2007. here.


The photo is from Eddie Dowds and his Flickr account.  I am waiting for Eddie to tell me how he wants to be acknowledged and cited.  I found this photo because the Flickr Nugget on my iGoogle home page is currently using "Ayrshire" as a key word.  Ayrshire is, distantly, where I’m from, and I like to visit photographically whenever I can.  Thank you, Eddie, for capturing a pretty good representation of my inner "complexity."

7 thoughts on “Cloudy selves: navigational metaphors (just in time for summer!)

  1. M E-L

    If you’ll forgive the pun, I like to think of my scouts as “clipper ships.” Sailing the seas of media, and sending back clippings — either broadcast (here’s all the stuff I’m doing and I like) or narrowcast (I saw this and I knew you’d be interested.)

  2. Jared

    “Carnies” is too general, the word you’re looking for is “barkers”: the carnies who specialize in yelling.

    Great post.

  3. Carol Gee

    What comes through to me from this wonderful post (with which I am – naturally – going to link) is the dynamism of the world you so insightfully describe. I am an analyzer/organizer, psychologically, and am inspired by your blog’s regular attention to that style. My network consists, generally, of “like-minded folks,” the most talented of whom walk before me as Path-Finders. They get me to moving, rather than circling in analysis, my way of avoiding. Life becomes action, rather than so much introspection. After all, my own navel is not really that inspiring.

  4. Andrew Walkingshaw

    We’re all tastemakers (or, as Carol says, pathfinders) now.

    I’ve done a little bit of club, and student radio, DJing, and it’s got the feel of that. We’re all crate-digging in the little bits of the web-of-human-experience we’ve mastered; uploading, remixing and editing our experience, knowledge and enthusiams for the rest of the world by installments, and forging links between each of the social, and cultural, and intellectual/semantic networks we live in.

    I wonder if the thing that’s changed isn’t that the audience can remix the DJs now, because they’re now us, and we’re everywhere, all the time….

  5. Asi

    Great post indeed.

    How about private-curators? What these specialised tastemakers do for me is very similar to the work of the curators – picking the great stuff that is relevant to a current ‘theme’ whether in art, music, blogs etc, I’ve got my dozens of these invisible private curators that feed me with all sorts of goodies.


  6. Anthrodiva

    “This used to be the job of magazine editors.”

    So true. I get Vogue, and consistently wonder that they don’t switch from throwing things randomly at the wall to explaining in detail who should wear what when and under what circumstances…

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