Status casting and persistent friends

Dsc00040 Status casting.  What a lovely term.  We know what it means at a glance.  It is process by which we let the world know of our existence, our condition, our location, our intentions.  Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, Dopplr, MySpace, all of these allow us to status cast. 

I first heard this term from Marc Davis.  I heard Marc speak a couple of weeks ago at the MIT C3 "Futures of entertainment" conference.  This is one wonderfully smart, well informed fella, and I sat there thinking, why is this the first I am hearing of him?  At Jerry Michalski’s get-together, I heard a guy called Christian Crumlish, Yahoo’s "pattern detective," and thought the same thing. 

Is there something in Yahoo culture that insists on hiding its lights under a bushel?  Does this corporation work under deep cover?  If Yahoo is smart enough to hire people this talented, why isn’t it smart enough to publicize them?  They "add value" like crazy and some of the credit should go to the company that sustains them.

Forget Yahoo.  Doesn’t the world distribute more successfully than this?  Isn’t that the point of all these new networks?  Davis and Crumlish are exactly the guys the new technologies should help us find.  These are status-casts I would like to follow.  Apparently, our status-casting still has some considerable way to go. 

Anyhow, Marc says he heard "status casting" from Leonard Lin, the co-founder of  I sent Leonard an email asking where he heard it.  He’s now checking.  (Thank you, Christian for Leonard’s address.)  Here’s the latest as of December 19, 2007: Leonard and Edward Ho recall using the term "status casting" while working together in the summer of 07.  They make no claim to being the originators of the term, and suppose that it was in wide circulation. 

When we status-cast, we’re a little like animals.  As I argued in my post on the "puzzle of exhaust data" I suggested that one way to think about exhaust data was to treat it as phatic communication.  (In humans and other animals, phatic communication consists in non-verbal gestures and small, sub-linguistic noises.  Murmurs, shouts, groans, all of these are phatic.)  We can say that tiny posts on twitter are phatic, too. You may not care that I am "feeding my cat."  But knowing this tells you I exist, my location, my condition, my, er, status.  Twitter data are not "exhaust data" precisely because they serve this locational purpose. 

When we status-cast, we are also a little like machines, like those brave little Mars probes phoning home periodically before they eventually disappear from view.  It’s a good metaphor, I think, because we live in a world so reckless with risk and dynamism that it is probably wrong to assume that our friends and acquaintances are safe and sound.  Maybe it’s just me playing the fretful Canadian, but I worry about people. 

I mean, I haven’t talked to Tom Guarriello in a week or so.  How is he?  What about the Russell Davies who is, I believe, away and offline?  What about Jan Chipchase, the hardest working man in anthropology, the James Brown of the social sciences.  This guy is on the road almost all the time.  I am still not sure what happened to Geoffrey Frost, the man who saved Motorola, but I think it had something to do with the punishments of life of the road, life in a fast lane.  (There but for the grace of…)

But you don’t have to be on the road to be in harm’s way.  The subprime debacle puts us all at risk.  Any one of us could find our livelihoods disappearing out from under us.  In the old days, you could make assumptions about the persistence of someone’s good fortune.  In the old days, we could make some enduring assumptions about Buddy’s well being.  These days even Buddy’s career is the plaything of unpredictable events and global forces.

I like the idea of people throwing off signals, casting their status, phoning home.  I mean, it’s a cruel world out there.  There’s lots of chatter in our world about persistent virtual worlds.  At the moment, I’m more concerned with persistent friends. 


McCracken, Grant.  2007.  How Social Networks Work: The Puzzle of Exhaust Data.  The Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  July 19, 2007.  here

6 thoughts on “Status casting and persistent friends

  1. O.S

    Quite a coincidence to read this today after having used the exact same word about the phenomena (actually about the status line you can type in on MSN, but the same goes, of course, for twitter and the rest of your examples). In this discussion, about a client and the future, we’re also applying the fact that in 5-7 years around 50% of handsets will have GPS functionality. I wonder what happens then with this status casting?

  2. fouro

    Hah! Here I was thinking, damn, I haven’t visited so many of the bloggers I really enjoy in ages. You and Tom were my “status casting” picks. (Quotes because I’m learning a new term too!) Hope all is well, Grant, and jealous to see your stamina still matches your mind. Best for the hols and hope to link a bit more in the 08.


  3. Tom Guarriello

    Dr. Guarriello reporting in as requested, sir!

    Status: somewhat dazed but upright.

    Terrific post, Grant. It is, as is your wont, highly timely. This is the week I really got serious about Twitter, following a lot more people and sending their pings to my cell phone as an experiment. The rats are still running the maze on that one but I’m finding it hugely interesting. Many of the folks I’m now following were at Le Web 3 and I received many more status updates, er, casts, via this method than I would have in any other way. Right now the biggest problem is recruiting and screening: finding the right people to follow, at the right frequency, and turning down the noise generated by blabbercasters. Not enough or too much: the age old human problem.

    Talk (imagine that!) soon.


  4. petar


    could it be that the new status is being “hard to find”. perhaps these two fella’s don’t want to have a ton of friends on facebook, etc. if time is the new luxury, than one’s availability is the new (old) status enhancer….Just some random thoughts..

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