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May 02, 2006


John C

I like the concept of the 'chat escalator'. I remember carrying out ethnographic research along with Simon on the Fat Pipes Report on Broadband at the isociety. It was great replacing the then popular broadband pitch of 'speed' with one of 'time'. Here, we were suggesting that technology would have to fit into current social norms, in the household for example, to have the 'take off' it needed. At the time the discourse was around "you could be always on". Now look how quickly "being on all the time" has been naturalised within the norm.

The Guardian interview brings up some important points. But I was interested in your last point:

"My plea is simply that we should give serious and sustained thought to what types of cultural norms are going to be needed to make ours a civil and decent society which can respect the norms of public space, without being locked into private forms of entertainment and quasi-socialising."

Two points came up while I was on the P4 bus from Lewisham to Brixton.

1) I am not sure how we consciously respect the norms of public space.

2)Surely private forms of entertainment and quasi-socialising in public spaces have been around long before the ipod or the mobile text

Anyway, my thinking pattern was short lived on the P4 when youths at the back of the bus decided to all play their mp3 mobile phones without headphones at the same time. Kanye West, 50 pence and Sean Paul all stumbled out of rather pathetic mobile phone speakers (tinny not bassy).....I wonder what that is all about?

Will Davies

One way of thinking about this is that most of us clearly don't want to be "always on all the time", but that we only discover this when something comes along to interupt that. Either we lose our phone, or we sit on an aeroplane for several hours, and suddenly we discover that there is a freedom from being disconnected occasionally. This doesn't mean we don't feverishly try and get reconnected at the earliest available opportunity (hence those people you see whipping their Blackberries out as soon as a plane lands), only that our urges/desires don't seem to correspond very well with what we find relaxing and valuable.

So in answer to your first point, I agree that it is difficult to consciously create public norms, harder still to win respect for them - I am not suggesting that we enforce new etiquette through asbos or something. But until we openly admit that we need a new set of norms to defend us in certain respects, they are unlikely to ever emerge. I am simply trying to push forward this recognition (i.e. I am acting in my capacity as a blogger/amateur commentator who has views, rather than policy wonk who makes government recommendations).

On your second point, yes, true. But don't current technologies transcend different spaces to an unprecedented and increasing degree? You can't read a book while walking through a bustling high street.

As for your final example, maybe this just flips everything back out again - the re-publicisation of the private sphere?! It's similar to the phenomenon of people putting flowers up in public spaces to mark private tragedies.

David Lee

On the youths on the bus/mp3 phenomena, isn't this activity also a way of asserting a territorial agenda on public space through the cultural form of urban music? Is this rather anti-social form of 're-publicisation of the private sphere' a 'good thing'? Certainly i would have thought in that sense it was radically different from the flowers at the side of the road phenomenon.

John C

I agree, the flowers allow others to become part of the community. When you look at other countries the markers of remembrance on the side of the road is for all to take stock of their own personal lives and this is usally spiritual. Therefore, there is a triage between the private, public and spiritual that is acted out.

I agree about the music. The worst thing is that there is not enough bass on the speakers making the music tinny sounding. However, I think you are right, there is something about youth culture stamping an identity of the ettiqute of the norm by challenging it. This has always been the case, but the mp3 offers a new genre to the social (or anti-social) act.

The thing I forgot to say was that at one stop a bloke in his early twenties got on the bus. He (forgive the stereotype) looked like a art student with pink hair skateboard cap, baggy jeans with chain and ipod. This was fine, the thing that really made me laugh was that he got on the bus wiith a bowl of cornflakes. Kinda "i am cool - breakfast on the go", bringin the private into the public. I thought that this might work in Hoxton, but outside the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill was taking the piss - mp3 youths anyday....What did he do with the bowl and spoon afterwards?

Phil at work

Would it be snarky if I said I'm looking forward to the book?

The path interests me. In my freelance days I went from Lobster to Tribune to New Statesman & Society to the Independent - and from socialist to Red Pepper to channel4.co.uk to BBCi to GMTV - almost entirely on the strength of who I knew and who they knew. (It's not, as they say, what you know.) These days I seem to be back below the radar, apart from the odd review in the Indie.

Another semi-rhetorical question - was that just a long-winded way of saying I'm jealous of you getting in the Guardian?

Good work, anyway - I think it's a debate well worth having.

Will Davies

Phil, I don't think I know what 'snarky' means!

Danny Bloom

I never liked the LONG TAIL term. Chat escalator sounds perfect. Saw the Guardian interview in Taipei Times in Taiwan today, good interview. Yes, TIME to write a book titled (drum roll), DIGITAL EXUBERANCE, based on that interview. YES YES YES!

Do it.

danny bloom

"The term that Davies has come up with for the downside of universal web connection is "digital exuberance". It has a strong whiff of Alan Greenspan's straitlaced thinking about how to manage the American economy. Is Davies, I ask him, a digital conservative?"

Write the book. One thing I want to add, Mr Davies, is that it seems that all these gadgets have not added one iota of intelligence to the world. I mean, sure a person can have a cellphone, a PDA, a laptop, a computer at work, great search engines and etc, blogs and whatnot, but has anyone really become any more intelligent? I fear not. The world remains the same dumb place of ignorance fear and superstition is has been for over 10,000 years and more.....the technology just makes it easier and more comfortable to be stupid, to be dumb, to be numbed by it all. I protest!

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