Plus ça change

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Holiday weekends, especially the ones that bracket the summer months, tend to be stress tests for the tech media. With the proliferation of smart phones, social media aggregators, and of course the Twitter clonestakes, it’s now trivial to get a snapshot of what is going on throughout the “time off.”

Is nothing going on? Has the TechMeme conversation dried up, as Robert Scoble entertainingly baits? Are FriendFeed conversations more viral and link-inducing? Of course. There’s nothing like a few days off to cull the herd and make it achingly clear how parochial the “news” can become. But let’s use the quiet after the cherry bombs subside to measure how far or not we’ve come.

A year ago, we stood on line for the iPhone. Google Reader ruled the roost, the inheritor of the crest of the RSS wave where mainstream and insurgent media stood side by side and worked together to suck most of our online time away. We and our friends were complaining of information overload, the networks were complaining of YouTube sucking away their audiences, and the TechMeme talk was, well, about Scoble’s post on being a month into Facebook and Twitter v. Pownce and Hugh Macleod on why the A-List is dead.

Plus ça change. RSS becomes Twitter, Twitter breaks, Facebook becomes FriendFeed, Twitter breaks, Pownce becomes Identi.ca, Twitter breaks. Or as Scoble puts it, Twitter continues to suck less. No matter what the names of the guilty, our technology still keeps pushing at this problem of how to get the most valuable the quickest.

Notice I say valuable, not entertaining, not disruptive, not enterprise grade, not actionable, not even useful. Valuable to who? Someone whose judgment I respect, most often. Whether by force of words, or by element of surprise, or wit, or poetry, somehow the value cuts through the clutter more often than not. Over time, we build up confidence in these people, streams, and services. No wonder we take it so personally when they break.

Our language betrays our fear that this is all worthless, this pursuit of technology at all costs. We deride these tools as toys, not meant for real work or study. We talk of playing with this program, that service. We create lists to assign ranking and therefore credibility to these ephemeral “products”, argue about business models to justify the time and attention paid as though we better hurry up before the teacher gets back and grades us. In a world of options, we complain about violations of rules that haven’t been set yet.

Scoble’s genius is in letting us see ourselves in him. An entertainer in the purest sense of the word, he is brave enough to make mistakes as fast as he possibly can, so that we can synthesize that experience without having to admit we don’t know what we’re doing either. He asks the stupid questions for us. What happens to this thing when you have 2,000 friends. OK, 20,000. OK, 200,000. But for each us, he is one friend we can count on.

Of course, FriendFeed often feels more like Ex-FriendFeed as we struggle to find our bearings in this week’s model. Voices we’ve come to respect suddenly sour with competitive bile, others we long ago discounted suddenly start making sense again. We can explain away this volatility as the cost of the ease of entry to the conversation, the loss of the comfort of gatekeepers, the endowing of tenure as a member of the real media. It’s tough keeping a scorecard when we don’t even know what game we’re playing.

But over time the true spirits emerge. During the combat, we assign attributes to our opponents that reflect what we want to think about ourselves. Arrogant? We want ourselves to be fair, open to criticism, relaxed in our respect for others. Elitist? Obsessive? Dismissive? Intellectual? Stupid? You do the math.

Once the battle is done, we like to sit around the campfire and tell stories on ourselves, remembering this slight and that slip on this or that banana. All the serious anger and desperate struggle fades and is replaced by the recognition of our pettiness in others’ actions. Can we do better the next time? Chuckling, we doubt it, but somehow we grow up a little more each time.

A year ago, Scoble said this: “Anyway, I still like Twitter the best. Why?” Lightweight, the first thing on his cell phone, does only one thing. Today, it’s FriendFeed and Twitter “where the audience that I really care about is hanging out.” And he won’t be hanging out on line for the new iPhone: “But, waiting in line for an Apple product is glorious, even if it is idiotic. It’s certainly one way to get on Techmeme without writing a blog.” Plus ça change!

  • http://www.1938media.com Loren Feldman

    Great post.

  • http://www.1938media.com Loren Feldman

    Great post.

  • Roger J

    does the 4th of july weekend really “bracket the summer months?” or are you specifically talking about memorial day and labor day?

  • Roger J

    does the 4th of july weekend really “bracket the summer months?” or are you specifically talking about memorial day and labor day?

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com loïc

    excellent post Steve! You did not talk about xmpp though

  • http://www.loiclemeur.com loïc

    excellent post Steve! You did not talk about xmpp though

  • http://approaching40.typepad.com Paul Roe

    Can’t help but think of the Rush song ‘Circumstances’ when anyone writes ‘plus ca change’, though I am aware that it was not penned by them, but by a classic french writer!

    Otherwise, I still find myself using Twitter as well, but I am not sure if I like it the best because I have not tested out all the clones yet.

  • http://approaching40.typepad.com Paul Roe

    Can’t help but think of the Rush song ‘Circumstances’ when anyone writes ‘plus ca change’, though I am aware that it was not penned by them, but by a classic french writer!

    Otherwise, I still find myself using Twitter as well, but I am not sure if I like it the best because I have not tested out all the clones yet.

  • Liz

    A really interesting post and I mean that in the best way possible. Very reflective.

    I think that there is a tiny subset of readers who are preoccupied with the in-fighting and the cult of personality but, I’m guessing, for most of us, that borders on egotistical self-preoccupation. We go where we can get the news, the most intelligent commentary, we go to where our friends are at or where we can be entertained. When bloggers start talking about their “fans” or their “community of readers”, they are letting their readership numbers inflate their sense of self-importance.

    Humility and a sense of humor & of perspective about oneself are more important to me than a blogger having the latest technological toys to experiment with. Experience and intelligence are important but once the writer becomes more important than the topic they are commenting on, I’m gone. A certain level of self-preoccupation is fine for a personal blog but not one that acts as if it is an authoritative source of knowledge and information.

    There should really be a technological equivalent of the E! Channel for these web celebrities where they can have True Silicon Valley Stories chronicle their epic rise and inevitable fall. Call it the T! Channel….Doritos for the mind.

  • Liz

    A really interesting post and I mean that in the best way possible. Very reflective.

    I think that there is a tiny subset of readers who are preoccupied with the in-fighting and the cult of personality but, I’m guessing, for most of us, that borders on egotistical self-preoccupation. We go where we can get the news, the most intelligent commentary, we go to where our friends are at or where we can be entertained. When bloggers start talking about their “fans” or their “community of readers”, they are letting their readership numbers inflate their sense of self-importance.

    Humility and a sense of humor & of perspective about oneself are more important to me than a blogger having the latest technological toys to experiment with. Experience and intelligence are important but once the writer becomes more important than the topic they are commenting on, I’m gone. A certain level of self-preoccupation is fine for a personal blog but not one that acts as if it is an authoritative source of knowledge and information.

    There should really be a technological equivalent of the E! Channel for these web celebrities where they can have True Silicon Valley Stories chronicle their epic rise and inevitable fall. Call it the T! Channel….Doritos for the mind.

  • http://chrisolszewski.com Chris

    I’m only reading TC on the weekends from now on.

  • http://chrisolszewski.com Chris

    I’m only reading TC on the weekends from now on.

  • http://www.ratdiary.com Sprague D

    Really well-written. Kudos.

  • http://www.ratdiary.com Sprague D

    Really well-written. Kudos.

  • jason

    oh.. twitter.. again

  • jason

    oh.. twitter.. again

  • gregory

    nice thinking ..

    “It’s tough keeping a scorecard when we don’t even know what game we’re playing.”

    we do know what the game is .. it is the external building of what nature already is, totally connected, unified, One … this is all technology is doing, and you can measure everything that comes along in those terms, and know if it will be useful, or not

    the vast bulk of internet stuff is merely maintenance stuff, but if you look at the leading edge people, they are ALL interested in where this is going, and they KNOW

    (i will use seesmic as example, since he already commented here … his work is all about connection, it is adding to the flow towards unity)

    nice writing, thanks

  • gregory

    nice thinking ..

    “It’s tough keeping a scorecard when we don’t even know what game we’re playing.”

    we do know what the game is .. it is the external building of what nature already is, totally connected, unified, One … this is all technology is doing, and you can measure everything that comes along in those terms, and know if it will be useful, or not

    the vast bulk of internet stuff is merely maintenance stuff, but if you look at the leading edge people, they are ALL interested in where this is going, and they KNOW

    (i will use seesmic as example, since he already commented here … his work is all about connection, it is adding to the flow towards unity)

    nice writing, thanks

  • http://blogs.opml.org/amyloo Amyloo

    Nice one, Steve.

    “No wonder we take it so personally when they break.” And go so far as to lovingly make derivative art about the failure — the whole fail whale thing is cracking me up.

  • http://blogs.opml.org/amyloo Amyloo

    Nice one, Steve.

    “No wonder we take it so personally when they break.” And go so far as to lovingly make derivative art about the failure — the whole fail whale thing is cracking me up.

  • gregory

    “It’s tough keeping a scorecard when we don’t even know what game we’re playing.”

    we DO know what the game is .. it is the external building of what nature already is, totally connected, unified, One … this is all technology is doing, and you can measure everything that comes along in those terms, and know if it will be useful, or not

  • gregory

    “It’s tough keeping a scorecard when we don’t even know what game we’re playing.”

    we DO know what the game is .. it is the external building of what nature already is, totally connected, unified, One … this is all technology is doing, and you can measure everything that comes along in those terms, and know if it will be useful, or not

  • Aronski

    “Whether by force of words, or by element of surprise, or wit, or poetry, somehow the value cuts through the clutter more often than not.”

    What words we choose make all the difference. Poetry transcends poems and can be found in music, sculpture dance, computer code and gestures.

    Thank you for your word choices, great post.

  • Aronski

    “Whether by force of words, or by element of surprise, or wit, or poetry, somehow the value cuts through the clutter more often than not.”

    What words we choose make all the difference. Poetry transcends poems and can be found in music, sculpture dance, computer code and gestures.

    Thank you for your word choices, great post.

  • http://blueroot.com Jamie Stephens

    Nice post, Steve. Appreciated the two Rush references too.

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