xoxo fest (link) is a conference for people who work and live online. a handful of people i follow on twitter went in 2018, which sparked my interest in going this year. i am very excited to be surrounded by artists and web developers that generally inspire me.
i often try to think about how we can use computers for good, as in creating positive change for individuals and communities. we know the risks (as showed to us in fictions like “black mirror”) but now we are trying to prevent a dystopian future by creating an open, accessible, and inclusive internet.
for me, i want to know what the future of work looks like. i am sick of 9-5, i am sick of navigating a broken healthcare system, and i am sick of the gaps in public knowledge when it comes to technology and its capabilities. my attendance at xoxo is a step towards a future that i would like to live in, under the banner of tabletop games, youtube videos, and coffee.
this week i’ve released a couple experiments. one is web app, one is a video essay. neither is perfect, and that’s hard for me to deal with. however, i know i have more to lose by agonizing over the quality of my work than by actually sharing it and moving on.
in this video, i challenge some of cory doctorow’s ideas about copyright, based on my amateur understanding of how the internet works. i am fully aware that i am likely wrong on a lot of points here, and if anything this video is my best attempt at putting my interests into words. i hope to get some feedback or to do further research on copyright so that i can speak more eloquently on the subject. but, in the interest of posting videos weekly, i felt compelled to settle and say ‘welp, this is good enough for now’. it exists and it’s not terrible, and i know it can be better.
secondly, this is an app that i made using glitch. it takes data from your most listened to song on spotify and makes guesses at your personality based on that song. it’s funny, not necessarily built out to its fullest, but it works. writing and learning code is hard, and the majority of the effort was figuring out how to get spotify data from individual users (‘authentication’ they call it). i managed to do it, and the app works for most of the people that try it out. i could have made it more expansive, deep, or user friendly, but again i hit the ‘good enough’ point and knew that i needed to move on to the next thing.
as a perfectionist and a performer, i am often uncomfortable with releasing half-baked work. but, i am putting my focus more on the process rather than the product, and i know by continuing to release my experiments into the world, i will get immediate feedback and learn ten times more than if i were to build private projects and theorize in private.
i recently started streaming on twitch. this is a messy platform that reminds me of myspace, since it has a lot of room for interactive customization. in reading about twitch, i learned that there is a quieter side to the platform that is not entirely focused on gaming. some folks knit. others read. some draw. me? i’m seeing if i can collaboratively write a tv script via livestream.
it’s an experiment, and i don’t know how it’s going to pan out. i know i need my schedule to be consistent, and i know i have to work out some logistical problems with sharing what’s on my screen, but i love working on platforms that are still growing and figuring out what they are. because in a sense, so am i.
i’m currently reading “the future of the internet and how to stop it” by harvard law professor jonathan zittrain. the chapter i am currently on defines generative systems, or things that people can build other things with. a lot of tools online are generative, though some or non-generative. jonathan suggests that generative systems push innovation a little bit better, and are more receptive to new ideas.
there are a delightful couple of pages in which zittrain tells us the difference between generative and non-generative products. legos are generative, while a dollhouse is not. a knife is generative, while a potato peeler is not. you get the gist – a generative tool allows for its user to do a lot of creative things with it. currently, i use a generative system called glitch (link). it’s a website that teaches its users how to code. it is full of tools and building blocks intended to build web apps. i’ve made some tiny vr environments, algorithms that write poems, and yesterday i toyed around with maps.
if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a generative situation, i encourage you to play. you’ll innovate and create something new just by having a good time, and by seeing what directions your new tools create.
in joi ito’s book “whiplash”, he states that in a changing world, agility triumphs over strength. today, i am thinking about this maxim in terms of honing in on my ability to develop products and systems more quickly than any competitor.
lady ada at adafruit also speaks to the power of agility. in her conversation with joi ito she tells us how she will share videos weekly of the products she is making. viewers wonder aloud why she would do this – won’t competitors steal her ideas and release the product before her? the answer is no, because lady ada can make the product significantly faster than anyone trying to imitate.
for us, this means experimenting with how quickly we can provide a product or service. another concept that i think about on a regular basis are “ooda loops” (wikipedia). this is a method of strategic thinking that allows someone to make quick decisions in a very powerful way (observe, orient, decide, act). in your sphere, how can you create and ooda loop? and what can you do faster than all other competition, using the tools available to you online and off?
there are some people i trust for recommendations on the internet. since search results are prioritized by how much a person pays, i often trust specific, credible folks on twitter to recommend books, movies, and media for me to consume. joi ito, as i have mentioned in a couple other posts, provides this service: he interviews folks who do things that i am interested in, and because he is the director of the mit media lab, i trust him.
further, my friend lito is a software engineer and an artist. as a result, he is doing a lot of research that overlaps with mine. if i have a concept or idea that i need to figure out, lito is the first person i ask. now, on the internet, credible experts like lito and joi ito become de facto curators. their twitter accounts, and any other content they produce, is informed by stuff that i would like to investigate anyway.
an example: let’s imagine that you are really into gardening. there may be a particular gardener on the internet that you really like and trust. thus, you will click on any link they share, or read any book they recommend, simply because they are doing the kind of work that you find meaningful. what i’m trying to get at is that this kind of curation is happening now, and it possibly works better than googling by yourself. these people serve as internet librarians, curators that know what they’re looking for that can help you navigate a dizzying sea of information.
i am really into joi ito’s book “whiplash”. i mention it to all of my friends, and reference it in a ton of my blog posts. this likely indicates that i should read more books (don’t worry, i’m on it), but there is something about “whiplash” that really excites me: it’s about how to prepare your brain for a world of accelerating change.
if we can expect technology to change our world at an exponential rate, this kind of thinking is essential. we can’t rely on systems to remain the same when computers get exponentially faster and cheaper every two years. so, what does that mean for human beings? joi ito explores this in his book, and with his conversations with colleagues, which he shares online as a free podcast! these conversations serve as further springboards for reading and investigation, and i cannot recommend this content enough.