A pile of pebbles and web pros and cons
Am thoroughly enjoying Clay Shirky’s HERE COMES EVERYBODY – only half way thru still as I got interrupted by a number of other more urgent reading assignments. Will definitely be posting more on it when done.
But this little excerpt definitely struck a chord with my relentless battle with the inbox. In a section examining the nature of fame (which he neatly sums up as “an imbalance between inbound and outbound attention, more arrows pointing in than out”, p91), he sees obvious parallels with those online who gain notoriety and even fame. He analyses the impossibility of the ‘famous’ relating to all the people who relate to them – and notes this:
A version of this is happening with e-mail – because it is easier to ask a question than to answer it, we get the curious effect of a group of people all able to overwhelm one another by asking, cumulatively, more questions than they can cumulatively answer. As Merlin Mann, a software usability expert, describes the pattern:
Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What ‘pile’? It’s just a pebble!” (Here Comes Everybody, p94)
Horribly true – at times, the inbox feels like a river in spate, swelled by the melting of the winter snows, such is the accumulating pile of pebbles!
But in a separate event this last week, I experienced something that could ONLY have happened in a web-linked world.
Some of you are aware that for 6 months last year, I was working on an historical guide to All Souls Langham Place for tourists and others. The idea was to have something for the hundreds of people who wander in mid-week through the year (the church is next to the BBC and so is included in a number of books like Rough Guide and Lonely Planet). We wanted to make it as glossy and attractive as a Dorling Kindersley guide, which meant that one of the biggest jobs was to find good images.
So naturally, I hunted around in Flickr for a bit – and came across this wonderful early evening shot – looking down on the All Souls Spire and BBC broadcasting house, from the St George’s Heights hotel. I contacted the photographer and asked if we could use it in the book – in exchange for a free copy! He very graciously agreed. It seems that he lives abroad but works occasionally for the BBC, which is why he had taken the pic.
As we were having a reception to launch it formally last Friday, I invited him to come on the offchance, without really expecting him to be able to. But as it happens, he could – and did, and we were able to have a nice but brief chat in real time and space.
Extraordinary. Only by the power of the web. Such a thing would have been barely possible even 5 years ago.