This makes twice now that people I knew as a kid have found me online. To some extent, that's my fault: I made a conscious decision to own a domain under my own name, and to post here under my real name, so I'm easy to find even without resorting to Facebook or other social networks. The first time around, someone from my elementary school in Kentucky googled me, and the second time it was a classmate from Indiana.
But since I have a remarkably poor memory for names and faces--not to mention names and faces from more than a decade ago, and at least two changes in geographic location--it amazes me that someone would remember me, and then bother to actually look me up.
Finding people, even across time periods, has long been a killer application for the Internet: personal ads, find-a-classmate services, creepy stalker websites, etc. Like most of the Internet's services, these aren't new experiences. There were personal ads, reunions, and stalkers long before DARPA. But the Internet is a universal accelerant. All those things happen faster now, and I'm not entirely sure about the etiquette for them.
Once I get past the "hello, how are you, this is what I've been up to, nice to hear from you" stage of correspondence with a long-lost acquaintance, where is it supposed to go? I was a substantially different person in fifth grade, after all--shorter, at the very least. A lot weirder, people tell me. For that matter, I don't even really remember the fifth grade. I barely remember high school! Sometimes I forget last week! There's no good way to tell someone that you don't remember who they are.
Once the introductions are out of the way, I feel like there's an expectation that something will be produced from the correspondence. It feels owed. I don't mean this in an unpleasant way--it is a nice surprise to get a letter, and I appreciate it. I'm just unclear on how to move past a state of initial awkwardness.
The Internet, being a medium familiar with awkwardness, comes to the rescue with lots of shallow signifiers for friendship. So you can send a Facebook request and consider the transaction basically completed. Look!--we say.--I have a line of text that says we're friends, and we can see each other's photographs! I'm so glad we caught up with each other!
And there's nothing wrong with that either. It just feels a bit too instant-gratification to relieve my vague unease with the whole process. I've made real friends online--but it tends to be a slow, rhetorical function, one that requires the same maintenance as a conventional friendship. My once-forgotten correspondents occupy a limbo zone between the two: I knew him, Horatio, but that was a long time ago. Where be your gibes now, indeed? Crossing the gap between these ages is something I am still trying to navigate.
These Louis Theroux documentaries from the BBC are fascinating.
The Most Hated Family in America
Louis and the Nazis
It's like a video version of Jon Ronson's Them. Theroux visits fringe groups in the US (in these cases, the Phelps family and a community of skinheads) and lives with them for a short time. The contrast between the domesticity of these families and the extremism of their beliefs is something he highlights, and it is a little bit unnerving--obviously, nazis have to make sandwiches for their kids too, but it's not usually what comes to mind.
A scene from the Barnes & Noble parking lot:
Old woman: Excuse me? Sir?It's funny: as long as you're on their own terms, they think your time is theirs to waste. But the moment you bring up a few issues of theodicy, they've got somewhere else to be.
Old woman: Have you ever studied the bible?
Myself: I've read from it a time or two.
Old woman: Are you a Christian?
Myself: Not as such, no.
Old woman: (confused) Oh.
Young woman: (catching up to the party) Have you ever thought about Bible prophecy?
Myself: Not really.
Young woman: Well, I don't know if you know this, but many theologians--even the ones who aren't religious--admit that the Bible's prophecies have all come true.
Myself: All of them?
Young woman: Oh, yes.
Myself: That's impressive. Even the ones from John in Revelations, where he sees the seven-headed beast and all that? You'd think I'd remember a seven-headed beast.
Young woman: Well, see, when you learn to read with the eye of prophecy--
Myself: (interrupting) Here's what I don't get: why do I have to learn the eye of whatever? If God's omnipotent, why can't he just write what he means? Wouldn't it be a lot easier to get people to convert that way? Then everyone could go to heaven. That'd be nice.
Young woman: Ah, but God doesn't want everyone in heaven. He has a chosen few.
Myself: Your God's kind of a creep then, isn't he? I mean, if I acted that way, being all exclusive with my power, you'd think I was a jerk. Don't you think you deserve better?
Young woman: Who are we to question his almighty plan?
Myself: Decent human beings, I should hope.
Young woman: We're getting off the subject. About the bible--
Myself: Now I'm certainly not going to believe the bible on anything by itself.
Young woman: Why not?
Myself: Well, you believe it because it's the word of God. But if I don't believe it's the word of God, then it's got no authority.
Young woman: Yes, but in the Book of Isaiah--
Myself: Which is in the bible.
Young woman: Right.
Myself: You can't use something from inside the bible to testify for its own authenticity. That's a circular argument.
Young woman: So you don't want to talk about the bible at all?
Myself: Not unless you've got something else to back it up.
Young woman: Well then, I guess we'll be going.
I'll say this: I'm not a big fan of Mormonism, but at least those Elder kids in Centreville stuck around to talk about it. I think I've still got the book they gave me, too.
Well, here we are in Chicago.
We've here through Friday. Suggestions welcomed.
From the Television Without Pity Top Chef recaps, and filed under "so disgusting, it might just be delicious," I give you the Meatcake.
If it weren't for the fact that I would have to eat it all myself, I would try this tomorrow.
I find this Rolling Stone article on Second Life's founder disturbing, to say the least. The man sounds like a classic charismatic leader, and Linden Lab comes across as more than a little cult-like. The genesis of the project in Burning Man, nationally-renowned festival for annoying neo-hippies and technophiles, also leaves me queasy.
One of these days I'm going to have to re-download the client and go digging around Second Life again. Until then, Warren Ellis continues to produce good, critical coverage of it for Reuters.
So what exactly is the protocol when another musician you've contacted through Myspace sends your significant other a friend request, but doesn't send one to you?
Inquiring minds want to know.
And the results of the Great Nutella Blind Taste Test are:
Only three people out of six guessed correctly when asked to identify American and Belgian Nutella by their country of origin. Thus proving that, in this limited sample at least, people who claim that they prefer the European version either actually prefer the American or just can't tell the difference.
Extra points go to snobs who insist that the Romanian product is way better than the Belgian, especially after failing the test.
So: about Belgium.
The conference was a success. We got a quarter of a million hits on the site in five days, maxed out the streaming server, and had visits from the President of Liberia and the King of Belgium. Since the video stream could only handle 300 users at once, we ended up turning to audio downloads of the speeches, meaning that my writing and recordings became the main feature of the site. I hope that'll look good as I keep prospecting for jobs.
Brussels itself reminds me of the older parts of Paris, although I'm sure that's partly because they're both French-speaking (the Dutch contingent is a distinct minority). The city's style itself also reminds me of France, particularly older cities like Avignon, although a few team members who had lived there assured me that most of Brussels has been destroyed and rebuilt at least once over the years. Regardless, it's a very walkable city, with lots of cobblestone streets. I didn't get to stroll around very much of it, being busy with the conference, but I did get to see some.
This church outside of the hotel was being remodeled. I like that the scaffolding has a finished image of the church on it, almost as if someone thought they could fool passers-by.
La Grand Place at night. This is one of the big landmarks of Brussels. It's one of those city squares that's surrounded on all sides by these incredibly beautiful buildings, covered in intricate carvings.
Here's the other side of the square.
And of course, a picture of me looking jetlagged in front of the other side.
Walk past La Grand Place a little ways, as I did with a few team members, and you come to this old shopping district. Slightly farther is a famous bar that was once a landmark for the local bohemians, which shares its name with its house brew: "Sudden Death." Very encouraging.
Many of the buildings in Brussels have a very art deco feel to them, like this museum building. It used to be an insurance agency, according to a sign outside the entrance.
When we first got there, the staff were actually still putting the building together. They have a lot to do even now. Once you stepped outside of this conference room, there were missing carpets, too many doors, confusing exit signs--all the best parts of great planning.
But with that said, the conference room looked really good with 400 people inside. This picture is taken from when the heads of the development agencies first walked in, hence the photographers in the middle. The moderator, Nik Gowling, stood in the middle--a decision meant to encourage participants to talk to each other, and let him react dynamically to the proceedings.
But with all the technology there, the one thing that nobody had was a microphone stand, and I didn't pack one--I had enough trouble with security already. I had to improvise. Classy.