The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Next Thing

Beyond the Meat World

Last week I got the following email from Valley Free Radio star Mary Serreze:

hey there mr. tommy devine

mike kirby and i are hosting an informal bloggers' summit this monday, april 28, 7pm, at the packard's library. probably mostly relevant for those who cover local news and politics......but i thought i'd let you know in case you wanted to make an appearance. (cuz you do cover news and politics, tho not exclusively...and you are somewhat famous)

we wanted to 1. provide a chance for people to meet each other, laugh, have a beer, trade war stories and 2. explore possibilities for collaborating/specializing/promotion/research etc--

maybe there are ways in which northampton bloggers can collaborate, and maybe not (independent cusses that we are....) but no harm done by putting a bunch of interesting people in a room together. so far i have confirmation from kirby, shanahan, roessler, saulmon, cohen, lafleur. so if you feel like stopping by please do.

mary serreze

Usually I respond to such invitations with that old Groucho Marx line about not wanting to belong to any group that would have me as a member. However, I found myself responding in the affirmative primarily out of curiousity. I didn't recognize all the names mentioned of the bloggers attending, but I knew that they were primarily Northampton or North Valley writers. In any case I thought it couldn't hurt to meet some of the Northampton bloggers. At the very least I might be able to get a photo of the North Valley bloggers to match the historic South Valley blogger photo captured by Victor Davila earlier this year in Springfield.

The meeting was held in what is called "Packard's Library" located within the famous Northampton bar Packard's. I've been going to Packard's for decades, playing pool, getting drunk and picking up sex partners, but I was totally unaware of any part of the building that could be called a library. Yet there is such a room hidden away off in the back. Here's a picture I took.

Of course it isn't really a library, it is a drinking room with some shelves with books on them that look like someone got then at a tag sale. But it does make for a dignified setting and a calming decor.

Unfortunately I couldn't get there for the start of the proceedings as we have meetings at the drug half-way house where I live until after seven. Because I arrived about an hour late, I never did get properly introduced to everyone nor put every face with a name. But here are a couple pictures I took of some of the participants. Match them with their blogs if you can!

The first thing I realized when I finally got there was that those assembled were smarter than me, at least about Northampton politics. They were discussing the questions asked by those truly in the know: Is Mayor Clare Higgins too pro-business? Will the new landfill cause ecological damage? Who are the leading contenders for mayor? I really couldn't participate in these discussions without appearing uninformed. When it got to be my turn to speak I had to pretty much beg off by saying I'm primarily an Amherst and Springfield dude and that my Northampton coverage consists mostly of pictures I take as I poke around town. I didn't use the word "shallow" to describe my coverage but maybe I should have.

Actually, there was a time in the 1990's, around when Tony Long ran for mayor of Hamp, that I could have held my own in a discussion of Northampton politics. Later I wondered, "When did my blog begin drifting away from politics?" Of course there is and always will be political posts on my blog. But why has a bunch of other stuff emerged as equal to politics in the subject matter I write about?

I think it began when I read an interesting factoid somewhere claiming that more than a third of American children under fifteen have a blog. Doubtless that percentage is constantly increasing. Thinking about that fact made me wish that I could have had a blog at 15 and to wonder what it would be like to have such a chronicle of one's life across several decades. More interestingly, what would it be like to have an audience over your whole lifetime who followed you via your blog? What would be the nature of that relationship?

The children who are starting blogs today will find out the answer to those questions. Living your life on a cyberstage certainly raises a lot of existential questions. For example, what is the meaning of privacy in such an existence where everything you do is pretty much public? Will the children of today who have blogs have the same notions of privacy that we take for granted? Orwell imagined a world where everything was observed by the government. What he didn't foresee however is a culture where the observers are the general public and a relationship develops between the observers and those being observed. Surely Orwell could not have foreseen that the person being observed would be presenting themselves for observation voluntarily.

Everyone has people they know in person, people who they can see in their field of vision, who they can touch, smell and hear. But as the blogosphere blossoms our world is becoming filled with people who we don't see or touch or smell. Yet through the blogosphere we feel we get to know them, what they are like, what they do, what they think. We get to see their friends and their families, what they wear the places they live and the things they think about.

Yet those doing the observing are mostly unknown to those being observed. They are just statistics telling them how many hits they got that day. But behind each hit is a flesh and blood person. A fan who thinks they know who it is they observe.

In any given week thousands of people read my website and find out all kinds of things about me. That knowledge about me accumulates over time and deepens in intimacy. Less than a hundred people see me in the flesh per week, and many of them know less about me than the readers of my blog. So when you say "Tom Devine" who do you mean?

The Tom Devine dozens see in the flesh, or the Tom Devine known by thousands who have never met me? It's a strange new world indeed.

And it intrigues me. Increasingly I keep expanding the realms of my life that I am willing to make public. I'm trying to break down as many walls as I can between the flesh me, in the "meat world" as the cybergeeks say, and merge that with the version of me in the blogosphere where I exist only as zeroes and ones.

This is the new frontier, the first inklings of what our lives are going to be like, what our children's lives are going to be like. Each of us will have two personnas, a private one where we interact with one another physically and sexually and in real time and space, and another personna that is computer generated by thousands of individual choices we will make throughout our lifetime about what to reveal, how to reveal it and through what medium (words or images or both) and that will be taking place before an audience, the majority of which will be strangers to us.

I see my blog as a prototype of this new form. This is the new frontier - Cyberlife. I ache to move beyond my own time. I ache to leave the Meat World behind.

After the meeting I went out for coffee at the Haymarket with Local Buzzlings Bill Peters and Greg Saulmon.

They are hip to New Media to a degree I don't see in anyone else in local media. They are currently working way too hard for too little money for people who don't recognize the significance of what they are doing. But that will change.

The other day I noticed this neat skeleton of a geodesic dome being used as an exercise structure at the Bridge Street School in Northampton.

Today was Founder's Day at the University of Massachusetts.

Happy 145th Birthday UMass!

There's a new trend in v-blogging called "flash vids" that attempt to capture something of significance in a very short time frame. It can't just be short, it has to show something worth seeing. Here are some very short but cool videos from last winter that I missed somehow. In the first one Northampton resident Sean Kinlan set up a camera in his backyard last winter and made the following fascinating video condensing five hours of a snowstorm into eight seconds. Dig how the trees droop.

This is a moody 22 second glimpse of Amherst College.

When life sends you lemons and you can't make lemonade - squirt lemon juice into the eyes of your enemies.


Author said...

hey tommy, i did not threaten to move to nyc, i declared that i was.

also, who is that dude in the first photo without his shirt on?!


seaking said...

Hey, Tom. I'm glad you like the snow video. It's making the rounds more than I thought it would.

The silly thing is that I've been doing video professionally for many years now, and that's the only video I've managed to put on YouTube. At some point there will be more...

Dagny said...

i came to your blog while searching for UMass.

Nice blog!

Tommy said...

"Author" you are too much. Seaking I look forward to your videos and Dagney I like your blog.