This post is more than two years old. As a result, it may contain information that's out of date or that I no longer agree with.
Posted 06 Jan 2022

The Well is having their annual “State of the World” conversation. It’s always an interesting way to orient my thoughts about current social and technological changes and see what patterns other people are noticing. The site and community is over 20 years old, which often provides a different perspective than you might see in other tech contexts.

Bruce Sterling is one of the hosts. In his opening comments he said:

I’ve been combing the databanks for some early indicators – commonly we do that here in State of World, “well, here’s this new cool thing which might differentiate this year from the last one” – yet I’m coming up pretty dry.

If you search for the usual blue-sky brags from the customary innovators, there’s a lot of “Despite Covid We.” They trot out their few and paltry advances, and they half-apologize about having so little novelty to offer.

It’s like when you’re watching Napoleon’s army frozen in mud, and they’re singing “Despite the Freezing Mud We.” Okay, Soldiers of France: you’re marching, but you’re not marching out with that footloose ease with which you marched in.

Why does MMXXII feel like this? Some of it’s clearly grief, or shell-shock, or people being sick, but I’m thinking that I underestimated the creative fertility of big, messy, public events. Just, going out to rub elbows at close quarters with a crowd of big five or ten thousand. Because that’s not around.

People know what they oughta do and want to do, and they can conspire about it on Discord or Zoom, but some element of intellectual contagion has gone missing along with the quarantines.

I was glad to see this called out because it’s a kind of loss I’ve been thinking about over the past few months. This isn’t just the lack of novelty or social events – although that matters too. There’s a kind of creative food I get from those big chaotic events. Even the ones that are ridiculous and over the top and messy. Especially those, maybe – I make friends with other cranky people and our combined perspectives give me ideas for my own work.

I don’t have an answer for what can replace those kinds of environments (Twitter is absolutely not it). But earlier today I was thinking about how we’re going into our third year of this pandemic, and as awful and tragic as that is, we’ve learned so many things about how to get by. As we continue to work to survive, I hope that maybe year 3 is also when our efforts to support and sustain communities in this era really start to shine.

Past | Future | Random