I’ve just rejoined. I thought I’d explain why and how I’ll be using facebook differently than before.
My Mom keeps asking when I’m going to join again. She uses it all the time to keep in touch with my aunts, uncles and cousins. She’d very much like me to do this, too. I’m also making her (and a few other family members) upload photos twice — once to flickr and once to facebook. You can only be a jackass for so long.
Close friends use it to organise events. I’m making them email me separately to invite me to these events. Again, you can only be a jackass for so long.
As a UX Designer, I’m intensely curious about what facebook is up to. There are only so many blog posts you can read before you have to go see for yourself. I have immense respect for the designers and developers working there, even if I profoundly disagree with their stance on privacy.
I won’t be using facebook like I did before. I’m going to be fairly strict about who I friend. This is my current set of rules:
Friends I’ve known for over five years
Friends with whom I’ve had dinner (either at their house or mine)
This isn’t how everyone uses facebook. Because of this, I’m running the risk of being a jackass to a whole new group of people by turning down friend requests.
There are several spheres of my life, but they generally fall into private and public. I still feel that this distinction is important. I still value those conversations in the living room I talked about in my original post. And I still feel that they are richer and more meaningful when shared between close friends. I know this isn’t how facebook as a company sees it. Their position seems to be that a life that’s not lived completely in the open is somehow dishonest. I think that a life lived completely in the open is a fiction.
I’m using the dinner guest test to deal with this. I don’t get invited to dinner with everyone I work with or meet at event. And I don’t event everyone I meet to dinner, either. I’m treating facebook in the same way. At least for the moment. I hope I don’t offend too many people in doing so.
It’s not inspiration. I think inspiration is nonsense, actually. Every so often I mean like one day in 20 or something, you will have a day when the work seems to just flow out of you and you feel lucky… Most of the time it’s… a lot slower and more exploratory and it’s more a process of discovering what you have to do than just simply have it arrive like a flame over your head. So I do think it’s to do with concentration, not inspiration. It’s to do with paying attention and I think the business of writing a great deal of it is the business of paying attention to your characters, to the world they live in, to the story you have to tell, but just a kind of deep attention and out of that if you pay attention properly the story will tell you what it needs.
Salman Rushdie on the writing process. I think we all hope that our jobs will provide us with that flash of inspiration, but that’s rare. Most often, it comes from thinking about something until you feel like you can’t possibly think about it any more.
[La Grand Orange] is a little L-shaped strip shopping center in Pheonix, Arizona. Really all the did is give it a fresh coat of bright paint, a gourmet grocery and they put a restaurant in the old post office. Never under estimate the power of food to turn a place around and make it a destination… [I]t provided its neighbourhood with what sociologists like call a “third place.” If home is the first place and work is the second place, the third place is where you go to hang out and build community.
The idea of a “third place” appears to have been put forward originally by Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place. The Project for Public Spaces provides has some great quotes from Oldenburg on the subject.
Most needed are those ‘third places’ which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase ‘third places’ derives from considering our homes to be the ‘first’ places in our lives, and our work places the ‘second.’
The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.
Once again, I’m going to tie this to Steven Johnson’s recent work. His coffeehouses and salons are decidedly third places. I’m not sure if facebook or twitter are actually third places, but in today’s London, the various geek meetups serve the function of a third place.
I recently encountered this phrase twice in as many days. I can’t remember where I first encountered it (if only I could search my Instapaper history!), but the second place I encountered it was in a review of Peter Baldwin’s recent book that takes the phrase as its title. The book examines at the supposed differences between the United States and Europe, highlighting how minor those differences are through a series of charts and graphs. As an American who has lived in France and currently lives in the U.K., this is fascinating stuff.
But it’s the phrase, “the narcissism of minor differences” that really caught my attention. I brought it up in a conversation with Andrew, and he went off and did some research (he does this a lot). It comes from Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents. The original German is Der Narzißmus der kleinen Differenzen, which I’m reliably informed is better translates as “the narcissism of small differences,” but I vastly prefer “the narcissism of minor differences.” Here’s Freud on the genesis of the idea:
I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other — like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of “the narcissism of minor differences”, a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier.
According to Vygotsky, this is the beginning of thinking, this kind of dialog, and at this point, it’s completely external. It’s all happening in that space between the child and her mother, and only over time does it become interalized. And how that happens, Vygotsky thought, is that as the child gets older she’ll start to take on the dialog herself; she’ll start to talk to herself. This is the stage we call “private speech.” We’ve all seen kids do this, right? Where they narrate every single thing they’re doing: “Put the ball in the box. Take the ball out of the box.”
Now what then happens is a few years further down the line, these kids who were narrating everything they were doing then go to school and the teachers tell them, “Shhh. Don’t talk out loud.” So they get the message that they need to start doing this internally. So, they start to whisper to themselves out loud, and then they whisper to themselves silently because the words are now in their head. And that, according to Vygotsky’s theory, that is thinking. Only then, he says, is a child having a thought.
The always-excellent Radiolab disccusses Lev Vygotsky’s theory of Thought and Language with Charles Fernyhough in the Voices in Your Head episode.
This fascinates me for two reasons.
The first is that I have a son who is in the process of learning to speak. This is exactly what we do with him: talk to him about solving problems. I’m not sure I’m 100% convinced by Vygotsky’s theory, though. It seems clear that George is thinking even when we’re not talking him through problem solving. At least I suppose that’s what he’s doing when he’s flipping through the pages of Byron Barton’s Planes, but perhaps this isn’t exactly what Vygotsky means by “thought.”
The second reason this is interesting is because of Steven Johnson’s recent book Where Good Ideas Come From argues that good ideas come about when diverse ideas collide, such as in the coffee houses of the Enlightenment and Modernist Parisian salons. If Vygotsky is right, this may be because thinking begins—and to some extent remains—a social act.