We-think wii-think me-thing

An interesting day of many different culture clashes yesterday:

Walking up Fetter Lane (where they are endlessly building breeding pods for lawyers and accountants) there is a glass fronted building that faces the old Rolls Building. If you stop a minute, and the light’s right, you can see the Rolls reflected across its entire surface – a gigantic plasma screen. It’s not a perfect mirror – there are the lines of the window frames and the odd internal light manages to catch a shadow and shines through incongruously. It reminds me of how I want to write – layers of old and new, meanings and symbols inter-twined. It also makes me wonder if a building could have a jacket would it go for the glass or the carved stone. Perhaps there’s something to be read from the fact that glass buildings don’t last – either metaphorically or literally.

And then on to work, where the daily battle to ‘imagine’ takes place. There are days, especially sunny days like yesterday, where the notion that I do not create anything tangible is almost too much to bear. All day, most days, I talk and I think and I type. I manipulate bits of plastic held together by wires to change the sequence of photons on a screen and affect someone’s life in some way at varying degrees of emotional and physical distance. I rarely see the people I am (attempting to) impact on. They do not transact, by and large, with me (I can’t make simple ‘market’ judgements as to whether what I do is worthwhile or not – beyond remaining in employment). I do not hear them laugh, or clap or swear. I cannot step back from my work and take it home, or see it on a shelf or live in it or sit on it or eat off it or indeed, eat it. And I don’t mean this in an emo-sense – it’s just adjusting to living and working with ideas – I guess I had always expected to have a more direct link between my work and artefacts. Although, I guess, this Mac I’m typing on is some form of substitute or derivative of the ideas that I ‘sell’ to my employer, rather than to a publisher.

Ho hum. Humdrum. I hate having ‘it wasn’t supposed to be like this’ conversations. Always so pointless. Particularly when I’m talking with myself. And I’m not good at listening.

Which is why the second half of the day was so interesting. I snuck in at the back for the launch of ‘We-think‘ by Charlie Leadbeater, with a critique / well-mannered bun-fight with Andrew Keen, of ‘Cult of the Amateur’ fame. The latter was splendidly rude about lots of things. And spoke eloquently about among other things, the fetishisation of risk, the decline of state, Rousseau, silicon valley nonsense and the different forms of handcart we’re going to hell in. I don’t think he writes about Arsenal FC in his book, which Charlie does – but more on that later.

I’d already seen Andrew’s arguments by following his online trail over the last couple of days. And it was fun to be in a room full of people who would be twittering and blogging about this event (I counted at least five people whose blogs I’ve read in a work capacity there last night, and at least two were doing some form of live update).

Charlie says (sorry, always wanted to type that) that the web (and web 2.0 in particular) is an opportunity for creating a whole new way of looking at things, for innovation, for thinking of ourselves – ‘we think therefore we are’. On the night there were dissenters claiming that it fell short of ‘grand narrative’ or ‘philosophy’ because it did not address economics (and never have I felt closer to the 18th century than in typing those words) – but as much as I disagree with some of what Charlie says (through self-interest mainly) I think these people missed the point.

If the ‘old’ culture was about material things centred around the individual, then the ‘new’ culture is about ‘shared’ things in the collective. But there are still important ‘economic’ drivers, they are just not monetary ones – these are ‘kudos’, ‘ratings’ and ‘trust’. This is what the digital natives derive value from. Obviously at some point we have to convert that currency into one that buys beer tokens, but that can’t b too far off.

And it set me thinking, about what I want from life. It used to be a row of perfectly bound books with my name on them. And would e-books, or self-published books (I did my first POD project a few weeks ago on blurb.com) be the same? No. Unless, maybe, just maybe, I received a similar kind of satisfaction or substitute – and I don’t just mean sales. Maybe it is simply about having ‘fans’. Maybe it is as simple and basic as people saying ‘I like you’ (enough to comment / buy / send you a Facebook custard pie’).

Which is a bit chastening, in a sense, because I’ve always considered myself very much an island. And yet all I am doing is endlessly re-creating my own episode of Lost. :O)

And anyway, tying it back to earlier, it struck me that this clash of old and new has been re-enacted countless times throughout history, and is perhaps the closest I will get to the occluded front of innovation – if you’ll pardon the meteorogical pun. Because ultimately it’s not about me and my generation any more. It’s about the Wii-generation. Those that would rather play tennis in their living room on a screen, than with a ball in the rain outside. And this makes me wonder about sport, and religion and culture – but more on that another day.

Not so funny when I’m being serious, eh? Or perhaps that should read ‘when I’m taking myself too seriously’. La la la la la. I can’t hear you. Deaf in both headphones. Eat qwerty and hit F4. Smile.

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