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Bend your mind around Messrs Jones and Freitas

Recently, my colleague Ryan conducted a two-hour IM chat session with Matt Jones. You can read the highlights over in the Adaptive Path blog, but if you have the time, I encourage you to delve into the unexpurgated version available on Ryan’s site.

Their dialogue triggered a few associative notions in my own mind that I thought I’d share.

When Matt talks about Jyri talking about social objects and their genesis in Actor-Network Theory, he cites the photo in Flickr as the canonical social object. I believe the door-closer to be the canonical social object, as described in Jim Johnson’s seminal essay Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer. (Don’t tell anyone, but the PDF is available for download here.) It’s a bizarre essay, not the least because Jim Johnson is a pseudonym for Bruno Latour, who felt that in order for a American audience to care about what he wrote, he needed to write in an American persona.

Jones goes on to (lament? exhort? simply note?) the “gravity well of the iPhone” dominating the UI landscape and making it hard for other innovations to be noticed. One thing that is patently obvious is that about 12 years ago that happened with the Web, and we’re only now just emerging from the haze of desktop-networked-browser-based-environment design to recognize there’s more to the world than point and clicking on form fields. The Web has been a great thing, but it also obscured very real innovative work being done in user experience design over the last decade that only now is coming to light.

Anyone interested in personal informatics needs to read Ryan and Matt’s interview, as it delves into, out of, and across that subject more than I’ve seen in any one place. I was also pleased to be pointed to Rescue Time, a system for visualizing your computer usage. Matt comments about Rescue Time extending off the desktop, as “scary perhaps…” but I think it’s inevitable, and potentially powerful. We leave so many data trails (they also talk about Nike +), that having a personal dashboard that visualizes my quantified self could prove extremely beneficial. (I’ll write an exceedingly long blog post about that one of these days.)

This interchange stopped me…

RF: All of this data is hidden from us, and we’re the one’s generating it… we aren’t equipped, cognitively, to learn anything more than impressions from our own actions. In attempting to gather more complete pictures of our behaviors – and gain better analysis of ourselves – whats our motivation?

MJ: Well – coming back to the social aspect. The overlays of these patterns with those of others are a new kind of feedback we haven’t had at any scale before. And we do flock well…

…I hadn’t thought of it in this way, and I don’t know how purposeful Matt’s use of “flock” was, but this is all about emergent behaviors that arise from the intersection of all these little local behaviors. “Flock” triggered a memory of Mitch Resnick’s Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams wherein he begins the book discussing flocking behavior in birds, and how it is an emergent behavior — there is no “leader” that the others follow… There is a set of rules that individuals follow, and in doing so, what emerges is the group flocks.

And let me say, I’d be the first in line to buy “Who Moved My Siege Engine”.