Archives For Thinking aloud

Have you ever wanted to browse through the things one person cares about? Now you can.

For the past 17 years, pretty much every day, I’ve taken the things that flow by that are worth remembering and woven them into a giant concept map, using an app called TheBrain. I happen to have been a stop on the company’s first press tour 17 years ago. The moment I saw it, I realized that the way it looked on-screen was the way thoughts looked in my head — more or less.

So I started using TheBrain then, not knowing that this many years later I would be happily weaving more things into that same Brain file. At this point, there are more than a quarter million nodes in my Brain (called Thoughts), linked by more than 440,000 links. All entered by hand, the same way you would add a bookmark to your browser.

ipad-2048x1536-v04Now my Brain data is available as an iOS app, which means it’s portable and convenient. You can find it in the Apple Store here (link will launch iTunes; Android is a couple months away).

It’s an absolute hoot to see your face on an icon on someone’s home screen. It made me reflect also on how the rest of the app icons are inert and abstract: you never get the sense of a person behind them. Here you do, and I love it.

I’ve created a Facebook group for conversations about this Brain; you can read this post for more background. And please be in touch with your reactions and wishes. This is the start of a collaborative web of ideas and relationships that should just get better over time.

Economists and ecologists are often at odds. Why?

In this short video I offer an opinion that gives us a wee glimmer of a possible solution.

Personal vs. personalized

Jerry —  November 5, 2012 — Leave a comment

Are you old enough to remember the first time you received something that was computer-personalized? For me it may have been a cover of Time Magazine with my name printed in it (I forget how; it wasn’t just the address block). Do you also remember how quickly the thrill wore off? Was there even a thrill?

Only four letters separate personal from personalized; the difference might seem semantic. But it’s a world of difference when it comes to service.

I’m all in favor of automated personalization, as long as it’s not manipulative. I love having things customized to my preferences. Dealing with merchants who remember you is far preferable to dealing with those that don’t.

But there’s something palpably inhuman about that automation. It doesn’t have the human, personal touch.

JP has been posting about how “the plural of personal is social,” starting with his fond memories of the stores and restaurants of his youth. His family patronized local small businesses, where they were known and welcomed.

I had similar experiences in my youth, but in Berlin instead of Calcutta. When I was 13, we lived with my grandparents on Uhlandstraße in Berlin (yes, the Wall was up then). Often in the mornings I would follow Omi (my grandmother) as she made her rounds to the baker, the butcher, the dry-goods shop and the fruit and vegetable store. They all greeted her by name (in that formal German way, by last name). They were friendly, though not family.

It’s easy to get stuck in nostalgia or pine for things gone by. After all, big stores are more efficient, have wider selections (don’t they?) and charge less than Mom-and-Pop operations. You can’t do personal at scale, the logic goes.

We miss personal so much that large corporations keep trying to use personalization to emulate it, but that approach doesn’t work. The two are not the same at all.

I’ll dive into the role scale plays in a separate post.

The genesis of my Relationship Economy thesis was a realization, back around 1994 when I was writing Esther Dyson’s monthly tech newsletter Release 1.0, that the word “consumer” made me really uncomfortable.

I followed that energy, and it proved invaluable. Ideas kept unfolding from that initial premise. I began to notice the consumerization of so many spheres of human activity, from how we educate our children to how we elect our governments and how we pray to our Gods. I paid attention to the language of marketing to consumers, to the metaphors and business models that had spun out as a result.

Like the REXcast I posted just before, this is a look at what started me down my current path.

Again, even more gratitude to Jean Russell for the camera work.

Why I do what I do

Jerry —  June 2, 2011 — 6 Comments

Consider this a medium-length answer to Tony Deiffel‘s marvelous question, wdydwyd?

It’s also an opinion on how to handle information overflow.

Throw in a dash of meditation on life, history and where we are now. See for yourself.

In the video, I mention Leibniz, Yin and Yang, Leonard Shlain’s book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess and Big History.

All sorts of gratitude to Jean Russell for the camera work.

Persistence: An Appreciation

Jerry —  October 17, 2010 — 6 Comments

Sometimes a secondary attribute is as important as the first, obvious attribute.

For example, with broadband connections, most everyone focuses on the speed. Ooooo: Megabits! Gigabits! Given a choice between a slower Net and a faster one, faster is definitely nicer, but the element we tend to slide past is that the connection is always available.

Remember the days of dialup, or even of expensive calls to BBSes through mysterious packet networks? Remember how long it would take to get connected and logged in? Those days are pretty much history.

Here I’d like to appreciate a different attribute of our infrastructure, the attribute that makes it different from — and better than — the phone system, the TV networks and other technologies that might seem similar.

That attribute of the Net is that we can leave things in it and they persist. They’re there when we come back, and while we’re away they’re available to others. “They” can be essays, songs, movies, code or other things.

You can’t leave anything in the phone or TV systems. Before I steal any more of my thunder, let me take you to the REXcast:

(And yep, I’ve stopped numbering the REXcasts.)

Nokia has invited a series of geeks and gurus to ask questions as part of its Ideas Project. The questions stay up for a week; this is my week (woo!).

Here’s the question I asked:

How might mobile devices help people know and trust one another more deeply?

What do I mean?

The world of mobile app and device design is full of Pollyanna visions of how the devices will help us set up a date with our beloveds, complete with roses and limos (and fallback plans in case Cats is sold out). This vision was in General Magic‘s launch documents back in 1992.  Nobody’s yet fielded that app, but some are getting close, like Siri (which Apple just bought).

But I’m less interested in those use cases than in the ways our new, magical devices can help us tackle life’s raspier problems — like how we might all get along. Like making peace. That’s where I’m coming from in this question.

This may sound strange, but I’m inspired a bit by the Lovegety. LovegetyRemember it? Kind of a social Tamagotchi, without the high maintenance. You would code your preferences into your Lovegety and when it was close to a compatibly coded Lovegety, both would alert you that you should meet.

Ok, that’s a little weird, but what if our devices, when near each other, could sort out what we had in common? or not so much in common? And what if they could help us address those issues in a reasonable way?

How might we express what we care about?

Over the next days I’ll dive a little deeper into this topic, showing you an example of what I wish my device could declare on my behalf. Meanwhile, though, I invite you to comment on my question at the Ideas Project site (requires registration, but no tissue sample).