Last week I went to two very different conferences – what joyful transliteracy! First, Towards a Social Science of Web 2.0 at York on Wednesday and Thursday, where Bruce Mason and I presented some early findings from our folksonomy project Tags Networks Narrative. Keynote speaker Charles Leadbeater presented an upbeat history of the early development of Web 2.0 ideas via early West Coast radical communities such as the Well and the Homebrew computer club etc. Then Andrew Keen berated the very same communities as they are embodied today in Web 2.0 culture by individuals like Tim O'Reilly et al. Keen scorned their 'hippy' ideologies – although my own sense of personhood was destroyed during question-time when I laid claim to my ageing hippiness only to be informed by him that I 'don't look like a hippy'. Who am I then? My ego is shattered. Anyway, for two days I listened to social scientists discuss the principles of Web 2.0 from various levels of familiarity, and I had a good time.
Then I spent Friday and Saturday at the Lapidus conference on creative writing, health and well-being – a very different kettle of fish indeed, and much pervaded by the kind of hippiness that so upsets Keen. I participated in two writing workshops – one where we chose a piece of cloth to write about our childhoods, and one where we walked in the nearby Leicester Botanic Gardens and wrote about our responses to that somewhat barren landscape. I enjoyed both sessions very much. My own talk was about nature and cyberspace and involved some wandering around LambdaMOO and the story of when I went to Esalen to do bronze-casting high on the cliffs of Big Sur. I had expected most of my audience to be somewhat antagonistic to my enthusiasm for computers, but in the event they were very receptive and we found many meeting places between the twin sublimes of nature and virtuality.
So where was the transliteracy? I guess in terms of social network analysis, it bloomed somewhere on the train between York and Leicester, in the space I travelled through between those two very different groups of people, across what Ronald Burt would call a structural hole. And in spiritual terms? Well, at the Lapidus event Satish Kumar talked about connectedness and community in a very social networking transliterate kind of way.
At both events, no matter how far apart they were in culture and ideology, the themes were the same – collaboration, connectedness, working together and building a future. I’m hoping that when we finally get to organise some transliteracy conferences we will be able to bring those people together in the same room, even if just for a few hours.
All in all, a very invigorating few days. And next, Howard Rheingold is just back from Burning Man and visiting us in Leicester as our IOCT Visiting Professor. No doubt he will arrive imbued with a renewed sense of hippiness 😉