Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “communication”

Between mountains

Between MountainsBetween Mountains by Maggie Helwig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At one level this is a love story. Daniel is a journalist who has been reporting on the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession. He meets Ljilja, who is an interpreter at the war crimes tribunal at the Hague. One of her professional obligations is confidentiality, she should not speak to journalists about anything she hears. And Daniel’s obligation as a journalist is to report what happens, while protecting his sources. They are attracted to each other, but their professional obligations are in conflict.

Once a month a small group of us meet at a cafe for informal discussions of Christianity and literature and when we met last week my wife Val mentioned this book, which she had just finished reading. I’ve already mentioned some of the things that struck her in a report on that gathering here Neoinklings: alienation and otherness | Khanya. One of the bits she read out at the gathering was about the Orthodox monks at Decani in Kosovo, who gave asylum to those fleeing from the violence, and urging people to talk instead of fighting.

And that is really what the book is about — the inability to communicate, which breaks down into violence.

One of the things that struck me, and which is alluded to in the book in passing, is that at the very time when South Africa was turning from violent confrontation to talking, and abandoning apartheid, much of Eastern Europe was going in the opposite direction. I’ve also dealt with this more fully in this article Nationalism, violence and reconciliation, which I think also gives some of the background story for this novel. And so the book rings true.

I recall a member of our church, a school teacher who originally came from Dubrovnik, whose father was an Orthodox priest, saying that people she had grown up with and gone to school with, whom she had regarded as friends and neighbours, would no longer talk to her, no longer answer her letters, because of the hatred being fostered between different ethnic groups.

And the descriptions of those rising ethnic barriers captured for me the essence of the spirit of apartheid. Yugoslavia was entering a nightmare that we were just leaving. One of the characters, accused of war crimes and awaiting trial…

He had felt the cold clear satisfaction of a job done well, the decisive pleasure of colours shifting on a map, the weight of a gun at his waist. But only because it had to happen, there was a force of history behind him, if it had not been him it would have been someone else, anyone else, history would have its way.

And I could picture the apartheid apparatchik in his office in Pretoria, looking at his map with satisfaction on receiving a report of these people moved from that area, those people moved to this place, as the territory and its population changed to conform to the Platonic ideal of a map in his office.

And again the same character in the novel, echoing the same faceless bureaucrat in Pretoria:

To be able to say, I will draw this line here, and these people will be on the other side of it. Apart from us. So that we can be alone, and pure and safe, and these people will be the darkness of the other side. No one who has not had this chance could understand the sweep of it. The exaltation.

And there it is again, the essence of the unclean spirit of apartheid, exorcised from South Africa, moving to the Balkans, but not excluding the possibility of returning. No, not at all.

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Twitter, antisocial media, and the zombie apocalypse

Yesterday Twitter said it was going to send me more “relevant” stuff, and said I could go to me “Settings” page and change it, but without much explanation.

I looked at the settings and clicked on “Disable All”, and got warned that I would be seeing less “relevant” tweets and ads. They also claimed that enabling it would give me “more control” over what I saw on Twitter — a bit disingenuous, that, because as far as I can see, it gives me less control, and completes Twitter’s exodus from the social media fold; it has now become an antisocial medium, because enabling those options means that they get to choose what they will show you.

In the old Twitter, you could choose who to follow and who not to follow. If you followed someone, you would see their tweets, and if you unfollowed them you would no longer see their tweets. That’s maximum control in your hands, and that is the essence of social media — interacting with other people.

The new Twitter, however, limits social interaction. You become an isolated individual, and they feed you what they want you to see, based on what web sites you visit, and other things that indicate your preferences. That means that Twitter becomes a kind of narcissistic ego trip, reinforcing your prejudices, isolating you from people who think differently from you, and thus reinforcing the trend for the Internet to lose whatever potential it had for being a global village, and isolating you in a kind of cyber-ghetto where you never have to move out of your comfort zone.

It also makes it rather pointless to post stuff on Twitter, because you can’t assume that your followers will be able to see it. Twitter might not find it “relevant” enough for them. It might be outside their comfort zone. So if you interact on Twitter, you’ll end up talking to yourself. And Twitter will then have completed the transition from a social medium to an antisocial medium, isolating us in little cocoons. You’ve heard of the “nanny state”, welcome to the Nanny Internet..

As it is, when I go to Twitter, I see if there are any notifications. If there are, I read my Twitter feed, but if there are not, I don’t bother, and go to another site, and look for stuff that I find relevant, and not stuff that Twitter has chosen for me. Because if there are no notifications, it means that no one has been reading anything I’ve posted, so why bother?

Now comes the test: if my tweet announcing this post gets at least 10 retweets on Twitter (that’s 0,86% of my Twitter followers), I’ll know that there’s still life on Twitter, and that there’s still some hope for it as a social medium. And if it gets no retweets, then the zombie apocalypse has already overtaken us, because Twitter will have turned us all into zombies.

Social networking and social media

Over the last 30 years or so we’ve seen a tremendous increase in electronic communication by computer networking. Thirty years ago I mainly communicated with distant friends and family by snail mail. Now I mainly use email, if I have their email address. And there are social networking web sites like Facebook and Twitter where you can find friends and family even if you’ve lost touch with them.

But though the internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, make communication easier, the owners of the sites seem to go to great lengths to place obstacles in the way, so that the potential of the internet for communication is never fully realised. One of the most notorious examples was when Facebook, without telling its users, changed every user’s email address in its directory to a Facebook address, and hid mail sent to that address in a place where no one could find it.

I’d like to make some suggestions for improving the utility of social networking to the users. They probably won’t be tried, because there is a huge clash of interests, so Facebook is perpetually fighting its users in order to manipulate them and sell them, offering them the minimum of what they want in order to keep stringing them along.

Other social networking sites have been less successful at this. They start offering something that people find useful, and gain a lot of users. They then sell the site to a big company that announces that they are going to improve the site, and remove the very thing that attracted users in the first place. Yahoo! was notorious for buying up such sites and killing them — for example Geocities, BlogLog and WebRing.

When BlogLog went, there was another similar site called BlogCatalog, but they tried making “improvements” that crippled the main thing that attracted users.

Yet another was Technorati, which was a very useful tool for finding blog posts on similar subjects by means of tags. It also showed a list of trending topics in blog posts, some of which I did not understand at all, but curiosity made me investigate some of them, and so I leant something about popular culture, and the meaning of words like Beyonce, Pokemon and Paris Hilton (no, not the hotel, the daughter of its owner). And one of the things that trended was Twitter. I didn’t see much point in Twitter at first, but when Technorati abandoned its main function, Twitter became a less satisfactory substitute.

friendsWhenever I link to a new blog from one of my WordPress blogs, there is a kind of social networking questionnaire. It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time, and I’ve filled in the information in the hope that someone will find a use for it one day. It’s called XFN, or the XHTML friends network, and you can read more about it here.

The rationale behind XFN’s categories of relationship is given here. While I don’t agree with all their decisions and categories, I think that it is a pretty good starting point, and that social networking sites like Facebook would be immensely improved if they instituted something like that.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously "met". But otherwise, from left to right -- (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously “met”. But otherwise, from left to right — (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

The only thing I would add for a site like Facebook would be the time dimension — the “met” category can mean last week or 40 years ago. I find Facebook most useful for contacting old friends and far-away friends.

But the use of categories like the XFN ones could enable Facebook to improve their algorithms of what they show to users. At the moment Facebook shows me lots of stuff from some people in the “contact” category, people I have never met.

Allowing users to categorise posts would also help. Some categories might be family news, general news, professional news, humour, trivia, etc. And possibly an importance rating — I don’t want to learn of a death in the family after the funeral has taken place (as happened in a couple of cases recently), while a new bird seen in the garden might be of less importance.

Does anyone else think any of this would be useful if implemented by Facebook or some other social networking sites?

It’s a good thing that no one is reading this

… so why do I bother to write it?

Pointless, my favourite TV show

Pointless, my favourite TV show

It seems that when I post a link to a blog post on Facebook lots of people comment on Facebook (never on the blog itself) and haven’t read the post anyway. It sometimes worried me and made me think sometimes that blogging was a pointless activity.

Here was I taking all this trouble to write something, but nobody was reading it. And anyway the people whose opinions I was seeking never responded because Facebook never showed it to them. Facebook’s algorithms seem pretty pointless too. I have something like 470 friends on FB, and Facebook only shows me stuff from about 15 of them. I become friends with someone on FB, and Facebook shows me their posts for 3 days and then stops. So what’s the point?

But then I read this (from a link from Twitter), and thought I’d better stop worrying about it Why it’s a very good sign that people don’t read your content:

When I started out as a blogger, I had no idea what I was doing. I was working so hard, and creating content that was pretty darn good. And yet, nobody was reading my posts, commenting, or sharing. I was frustrated.

Pointless-3But if it’s all pointless anyway, what does it matter?

As that article points (oops!) out, it doesn’t matter whether people read it or not, so why bother to try to write anything coherent when no one is going to read it anyway just random stream of consciousness stuff will do and writing a blog post will be like a dog scratching itself to get rid of flees but why is my doing still scratching himself when I just put Frontline tick stuff on him three days ago? Ah, Frontline there’s a brand, and brands are the most important thing nowadays. Content is nothing, brands are all. I’ve seen web sites that ask you what you’re interested in and one of the important things to be interested in is brands not brands of anything — cars, shampoo, antitick stuff for dogs it doesn’t matter the important thing is brands. Not art literature books or anything just brands.

TelkomQuotaActually I haven’t been reading many links on Facebook myself lately either. I “like” it or not based on the headline, because if I go to the article itself this will happen –>

And waiting for web pages to load becomes like watching paint dry. Telkom does have a thing where you can buy more bandwidth and speed it up again, but it hasn’t been working for a week now, which makes Telkom Internet pretty pointless too.

So I’m not reading your content and you’re not reading my content, but that’s a good thing, according to the quoted article, which I bet you haven’t read either.

And so life is reduced to pointless click bait.


97% of you have not danced

Sometimes I feel like that generation.

And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept (Luke 7:31-32).

I sometimes feel like that, especially when I look at Facebook and similar web sites, and the kind of communication they promote.

LoveMom2When people repost (“share” in Facebook-speak) something second-hand, trite and derivative, it gets lots of shares. Turn a worn-out cliche into a graphic, and say “97% of you won’t share this” and a lot more than 3% will.

I love my mother, and I love my daughter and I love my sons, and I love my cousins (even if they don’t all love me), and I don’t need to click on some mawkish graphic to prove it. Yet a huge proportion of Facebook “communication” is made up of just such trite trivialities.

Of course quite a lot of these are scams — people set up such a thing to get lots of “likes” for a page or site, and then sell it to the highest bidder. That’s why they say that on web sites like Facebook you are the product that they are selling.

But I have noticed in the last couple of weeks that when I share things that other people have posted, they get a lot more “likes” than actual personal stuff. And even if those things are not just tarted up cliches, I find that rather sad. It might be a news item, or comment that I think is worth thinking about, even if I don’t entirely agree with it. And sometimes people comment on such things too.

97percentBut when I posted something of my own, as opposed to something derivative and second hand, like this, for example, Tuesday 4 August 1914 | Khanya, it got precisely one “like” and one “share”, and no comments, either on the blog itself, or even on Facebook. It’s not that I go soliciting “likes” and “shares”, and I’m not posting this to urge my friends to “like” stuff that they dislike, or that they don’t give a damn about. I am rather noting that Facebook as a medium seems to favour and promote communication in the second-hand and derivative. Much of it seems calculated to appeal to those who are more amenable to our blackmail than our message — like the appeal to mother love above, or the ones that begin “97% of you won’t repost this”.

So I’m not asking people to “like” things that they don’t like, or “share” things that they don’t agree with, though I really do wonder what people are thinking when they imply that I am among the 97% of their friends who love cancer, and just hate their spouses, parents, children and other relatives.

LikeFacebookWhat I would like to solicit, however, is comments — preferably on the blog post itself, but on Facebook if you must. You can comment on something even if you don’t “like” it, and even if you don’t actually like it. You can disagree and say why you disagree. In that way sites like Facebook can facilitate communication between people, rather than just endlessly recycling sentimental cliches. Having said that, if by any chance you do actually like this (or any other post on my blog) there’s a button down at the bottom where you can click to “like” it on Facebook.

97percent2After observing these things, I think I’ll be trying to cut down on the number of second-hand things I recycle on Facebook. I’ll still “like” things that my friends post that are theirs — their photos, their articles, their blog posts. But I’ll try to resist the temptation to repost fancy illustrated slogans, no matter how witty they may be. It’s not that I think they should not be there at all. It’s just the proportions are all wrong. It seems to be 10% personal and 90% derivative. It should be the other way round.

Of course this post is 99% whinge, complaining that “We have piped for you and 97% of you have not danced.”

That’s enough whinging for now, so let there be an end to it.

Dead phones and the power of Twitter

Our phone is working again after being dead for 12 days.

We reported the fault to Telkom as soon as we noticed that the phone wasn’t working, and when it hadn’t been repaired within a day, I posted a message on Twitter & Facebook (via cellphone) to let people that we had problems, so they would understand that we would not be able to respond immediately to e-mail messages and such things. Something similar had happened about 6 months ago, when the phone line was down for a similar period, and when the service was restored I found lots of messages saying “Did you get my previous message?”

Occasionally the ASDL Internet connection worked, even when the voice line was dead, It worked for an hour or so, perhaps once every 3-4 days, and then would die again.

On the Twitter messge I used the #hashtag #Telkom, and was interested to see that it was picked up by @TelkomBusiness, who asked for the phone number, and then followed up with the technical department, and after we had been without the phone for 10 days asked them to “escalate” our fault. Whther as a result of that or something else, the phone started working again today, and with it the Internet connection. So thanks to @TelkomBusiness for the role they played in that. It just goes to show that someone out there keeps an eye on the hashtags, and picked up the #Telkom one, and followed it up. It also shows the power of Twitter. Thanks to the people at @TelkomBusiness for their readiness to help.

It will take some time to deal with all the accumulated mail: when I downloaded it in the brief windows when the ADSL was working I would sort it into various “To Reply” folders, sometimes with a quick note that I would deal with it when the line was working again, and delete the spam. Apologies for the notes that were perhaps curt and abrupt, or full of typos. I was typing fast to try to get it off before the connection died again.

Gideon Iileka, Steve Hayes, Thomas Ruhozo, at Kamanjab, Namibia, 5 October 1971And here’s a picture that shows the bloke who was sending the notes; that’s me, in the middle.

The picture is over 40 years old, but then some of the people I send e-mail to I haven’t seen for 40 years, and so they will be more likely to remember me looking like that. And the two other blokes in the picture I haven’t seen for 40 years either. But I like the picture, and I’d like to see them again, and perhaps take a follow-up picture.

There’s one other thing to add.

I posted this to let people know that our phone line is working again, and over the next few days I’ll be working to deal with the accumulated mail. But when I tried to write this, I couldn’t. WordPress would not let me.  The WordPress editor simply would not let me type the text. So I thought I’d try to write the message on my Tumblr bloglet, Marginalia, but that wouldn’t let me edit it either. So eventually I tried loading Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, and that seemed to do the trick. So it looks like the current edition of Firefox is broken, and needs an update.


Yahoogroups just got harder to use

Yahoo! have just informed me that  they have made changes to my YahooGroups “experience”.

They just made YahooGroups a lot harder to use.

So the YahooGroups “experience” is frustration.

Yahoo! seem to like shooting themselves in the foot.

They started as a search engine, and Google produced a better one.

They introduced webmail, which was quite cool to start with, but then they made it harder to use and reduced its functionality so that it is now unusable.

They took over other successful services, like Geocities, Webrings and MyBlogLog, and destroyed the very things that had made them successful, and then closed them because people stopped using them and they were losing money on them.

They took over the eGroups public mailing list server, and there, for a change, they made some improvements. It worked well, and they added some useful services.

But it seems that they still haven’t learnt the important lesson: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

So now they’ve made the one decent thing they still had harder to use, and people will start moving away from it, and they will start losing money on it and close it down.

I recently invited some people to join some of the YahooGroups I moderate, and they couldn’t do so. And when I looked at what Yahoo! had done to it, I wasn’t surprised. There seems to be no way to join. But they have made it easier to create a new group. But it’s impossible for people to join an existing group.

And now there doesn’t seem to be a way to invite them either.

Does anyone know of a good, free public listserver that works?

Will someone take back eGroups, as they took back Webring?






Internet entropy

A couple of days ago our ADSL router was fried by lightning and we were offline for a couple of days until we could get and configure a new one. I wondered if we might be missing something important, but it turned out that we weren’t. What had piled up in our absence was not important communications, but a huge pile of “notifications” about utterly trivial things that were hardly communication at all.

There were notifications that several people had tweeted on Twitter, or that someone I didn’t know was following me on Twitter, or wanted to be my “friend” on Facebook. Eventually I’ll probably start getting notifications about notifications. Well actually they are already are, because Twitter itself is a notification.  This morning I deleted 144 spam comments on my other blogs most of them from something called “lista de emails”. There may have been some false positives there, but it’s too time-consuming even to scan the headings to see.

Web sites that were useful a few years ago have become less so. One of these is Technorati. It used to be useful for finding out what was going on in the blogosphere, and what people were blogging about. But no more. I already blogged about that about a year ago, see here Search Results Technorati | Notes from underground:

Back then it had stuff that interested me as a blogger. I could go there to find blogs and blog posts I was interested in. There used to be “Technorati tags”, and one could click on them to find who was blogging on what topics. If I was going to blog on a subject, I’d look up tags related to that subject, and if those blogs said anything interesting on the topic, I’d link to them.

Now, however, you can’t find stuff that you find interesting on Technorati. If you look at their tags page, for example, you can’t search for tags. They only show you the currently popular tags for the last month. Do not expect Technorati to give you what you like. You WILL like what Technorati gives you and tells you to like. There is a kind of arrogant authoritarian flavour to it.

I noticed that Technorati’s stats on some of my blogs had not been updated, including this one, so I checked to see why. It turned out that I didn’t have a full RSS feed turned on. In the interests of saving bandwidth, I had a partial feed, so that people could see the heading and first couple of paragraphs of of blog post. If they were interested, they could click on it and read the full thing. But Technorati wanted the full feed, even if no one reads it. So I turned it on. They responded with ” This site does not appear to be a blog or news site. Technorati does not support claiming of forums, product catalogs, and the like.”.

Well that’s nice to know. But I doubt that anyone is reading this non-blog anyway, so why am I writing this? No one will read it. No one will comment, except, perhaps, “lista de emails”

I looked at a friend’s Posterous blog the other day, and it had apparently been hijacked by someone posting fluff and incomprehensible garbage. Link-farms stuff.That’s why, when I moved this blog from Blogger, I did not delete the old one, and I disabled comments on it. Spammers love to post comments on abandoned blogs. Tip: If you get tired of an old blog, don’t delete it! If you delete it, the link farm people will move in and take over, enjoying all the traffic from old links, providing yet more junk to clog up the Internet.

I tried to post on my own Posterous blog, and it didn’t work. So I’ll probably abandon it. It has been taken over by Twitter, and lots of stuff doesn’t seem to work any more. My Tumblr blog used to provide an aggregate of my other blogs so it could be a place I could refer friends to who wanted to keep in touch. It also doesn’t work any more.

When Geocities stopped working, I moved my static web pages to Bravenet. But they’ve stopped working too. Go to one of my pages there and they just say that “This website is currently expired. If you have any questions, please contact technical support.” But there is no way of contacting “technical support”. None whatsoever.

So as a result there are a few thousand (or million) more dead links out on the Internet, where people say more and more about less and less. And actually it is not people saying it at all in most cases. It’s bots. The dormant predecessor of this blog at Blogspot still gets more readers than this one, though I ghaven’t updated it for months. And one of the biggest sources of traffic was a bot that told people how to get bots to write blog posts for them, so that they could make money from the web. I think that’s what may have happened with my friend’s Posterous blog. Snake oil, anyone?

The death of conversation?

In the last four days I’ve spent quite a lot of time writing a couple of blog posts on topics that I thought were important, here and here.

As I usually do, I announced them on Twitter and Facebook.

Nobody bothered to retweet them, nobody on Facebook bothered to even “like” them, much less click on the link and read them.In fact I doubt if Facebook even bothered to show them to my friends. Facebook, after all, is concerned to show us only the really important stuff, like “X sent you are request in Hidden Chronicles” and “Y sent you a request in Slotomania”., which collects and organises Twitter tweets with links and shows them in a readable form, didn’t show the first one of them either (I’m going to retweet it every day until it does).

So when I saw this link, shown in and Twitter, I retweeted it. Now everyone is connected, is this the death of conversation? | Simon Jenkins | Comment is free | The Guardian:

As our meeting places fall silent, save for tapping on screens, it seems we have mistaken ubiquitous connection for the real thing.

And I think it’s worse than that. Simon Jenkins is talking about viva voce conversations, actual face-to-face, voice to ear ones.But it’s reached the online conversations as well.

Twenty years ago we used BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems). They used amateur networks run by volunteers, computers with monochrome screens and no graphics, dial-up lines where 1200 bits per second was considered normal, 2400 fast, 9600 leading edge and 14400 out of this world. But we had real conversations, and talked about real things. And we managed to talk to people on the other side of the world, whom we could never hope to meet face-to-face, (though we did sometimes contrive to meet some of them — I had lunch with three online friends in a Chinese restaurant somewhere in New Jersey in 1995, and met a couple of others in Moscow a week earlier. I still see them on Facebook, but we have much less to say for each other, because Facebook doesn’t encourage real conversations like the BBS networks used to.

The BBS software, again, mostly written by amateurs, got the transmission of real conversations down to a fine art, and was way better for the purpose than anything you see on the Internet. It was “obsoleted” by Windows 95, which made it more difficult to connect to a modem by hiding its communication program several layers deep, and not installing it as a default. But it was not really obsolete, it was just far in advance of anything you see today, and sidelined because it was run for pleasure and not for profit.

And the point of this rant is, that as someone once said, we live in a world of communication without community. Well, he said it about 20 years ago, and now it is worse, because we live in a world of connectivity without communication. We have all these marvellous tools for communication, and we no longer have anything to say to each other.

I sometimes look at my blog stats to see what brings people to look at my blogs, and there is a clear pattern, trivial nonsense is much more attractive and popular than anything that tries to say anything. I once had a firewall called ZoneAlarm, and it kept telling me that “Google Installer is trying to access the Internet” I had no idea what Google installer was, or why it was trying to access the Internet, but I felt that if it was trying to access the Internet from my computer it should at least have the courtesy to tell me that it was doing so, and tell me why. So I wrote a blog post about this, asking if anyone knew (nobody did). Now everyone wants to read that post, which I wrote in a couple of minutes, but nobody wants to read anything I took real trouble over. .

I read a Tweet from a friend that says, “

Loading Tweets seems to be taking a while.

Twitter may be over capacity or experiencing a momentary hiccup.”

Oh well, if Twitter gets over its hiccups before I finish writing this post, then I’ll tell you what he said. But my reply was ‘What the heck are “community stations” and “independent ports”? Is MetroRail going at last?’

His Tweet mentioned “community stations” and “independent ports” but I didn’t have a clue what they were. We used to have the SAR&H (South African Railways and Harbours) about 25 years ago, but it was privatised, and  split up into Transnet, with subsidiaries Spoornet and MetroRail and PortNet and a few others..

MetroRail was the suburban train services, so “community stations” sounded as though they were turning all the stations into independent stations run by the local community — a nice socialist idea. And “independent ports” sounded like they were dropping the “net” from PortNet, and making each port independent. But in a tweet without a link, it really isn’t possible to tell. (In joke: at about the time this privatisation was happening someone suggested that they were going to privatise the Dutch Reformed Church and call it GloNet — which is Afrikaans for “only believe”).

So tweet something trivial, and everyone will retweet it. Post a link to something important, and no one will. Post a platitude on Facebook and everyone will “like” and “share” it. Post something that is important to you, and no one will, because Facebook won’t even show it to them.

And no, my only request in Slotmania and Hidden Chronicles as that people please stop sending me requests. 

Who is Raymond A. Foss?

Who is Raymond A. Foss — or, What is “community”?

Whenever I look at the social blogrolling site MyBlogLog, I see the footprint of Raymond A. Foss, who seems to be a member of the “community” of every single Christian blog registered with MyBlogLog.

If you look at his profile page you can see that he is in fact a member of 2487 “communities” on MyBlogLog, and that he has 5629 family, friends and contacts.

But when I visit the blogs whose “communities” I am a member of, I hardly ever see Raymond A. Foss among the “Recent Visitors” to those blogs.

A few months ago my wife was watching a TV programme, I think on the BBC, called The human footprint, which was about the effect that the average human being has on their environment over their lifetime, and one of the things they noted was that the average inhabitant of the British Isles knew about 1750 people in the course of their life.

I decided to try to make a list of all the people I’ve known — family, friends, colleagues at work, casual acquaintances. I include people I’ve met and that I remember having had conversations with, even if I’ve only met them once or twice. I’ve got nearly 700 listed for far. I don’t do this all the time, just in odd moments while waiting the kettle to boil for coffee and times like that.

The idea of someone having 5269 friends and contacts just boggles the mind. And especially since Ramond A. Foss never seems to interact most of the people that he has listed in this way, or with the blog “communities” he has joined.

Raymond A. Foss is not the only one, however.

Another one who joined a lot of Christian blog communities and then rarely or never visited them is Called2Bless.

I mention these two because I keep seeing their pictures (avatars) every day, in the “communities” they have joined, but rarely if ever interact with.

And things like this make me wonder what is community, and what do people think it means?

It’s not confined to MyBlogLog, but can be found on every social networking site. Several times a week I get e-mails from people who claim to have seen my profile, and say that they want to be my friend, and ask me to send a photo. I usually just delete them unread. If they really wanted to be my friend, they would read my blogs, and write intelligent comments on some of the articles, and it would become clear that we have at least some common interests, something to talk about.

Over the last 20 years I have had several “friends” I have made through electronic networking, through BBSs, and later Usenet and the Internet. Some of them I have never met in the flesh, but have kept in touch with them for 10, 15 or 20 years. In some cases I have met them, and we’ve continued our electronic conversations face to face. In that way there is a community, a network of friends and relationships, because there is interaction between people. And its those kinds of relationships that social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are designed to foster and facilitate. But some people seem to want to call “friends” people they have never met and show no desire to communicate with.

Another example of this false “community” and false “friendship”, where people claim friendship with not communication or interaction comes from another social blogrolling site, BlogCatalog.

BlogCatalog has an equivalent of MyBlogLog’s “communities”, which it calls “favorites” (and used to call “neighbourhoods”). These are blogs that you want to mark for return visits.

But it also has “groups”, for people who share common interests.

I recently started a group there for Orthodox Christian bloggers, because I looked for such a group and didn’t find one, and thought it might make it easier to maintain contact with people who share a common interest. Soon after it started shamirdevnath joined. Shamir Devnath does not appear to be an Orthodox Christian, and his blog did not appear to have any recent posts on Orthodox Christianity, so I rejected his membership. Three days later he joined again, so I banned him. Shamir Devnath belongs to 1217 groups on BlogCatalog. I’ve no idea what the average size of a group on BlogCatalog is, but the Orthodox Christian bloggers group has 10 members so far, though it is fairly new, so more may join. But if all those 1217 groups had an average of 10 people, that’s 12170 people. How can someone like Shamirdevnath relate to so many people? As far as I can see, it’s impossible. So why is he (and again, there are many others like him) so keen to join groups in which he clearly has no interest, and has no desire to interact with?

Also on BlogCatalog I get e-mails several times a week telling me that so-and-so has added me as their friend. Half of them are people I have never heard of, never interacted with. According to the BlogCatalog widget, they’ve never even looked at any of my blogs, much less commented on the posts. Why on earth do they want to add me as their “friend”, when I don’t know them, and they don’t know me, and apparently don’t even want to know me. If they wanted to know me, at least they could read my blog.

Back to MyBlogLog: soon after I joined, they introduced a new feature — that members could send a message to all the members of the community of their blog.

There was an outcry from some people, who complained that they would be inundated by “spam”. The loudest squeals came from someone who had joined over 9000 “communities”, but if they didn’t want communication from them, why did they join them in the first place?

Don’t get me wrong — I like social blogrolling sites like BlogCatalog and MyBlogLog. I wish all the blogs I am interested in would join them, because it would make it easier to keep track of ones that deal with topics I am interested in. But when people join communities they have no interest in, it dilutes the usefulness. If everyone joins everything, there is no point in anyone joining anything.

What kind of world do we live in, where people want to join groups that they have no interest in, where they want to call people their “friends”, but have no communication with them?

The kinds of things I have mentioned above indicate to me that we live in a seriously dysfunctional society, and this dysfuction is not confined to one country or one group of countries, or one culture, but seems spread throughout the world.

Nearly twenty years ago someone wrote “The Rushdie affair showed how dangerous is the present stage of global development – a stage of communication without community” (Anderson, Walter Truett. 1990. Reality isn’t what it used to be. San Francisco: Harper. p. 241).

That was a book about postmodernity.

But now we seem to have reached post-postmodernity, where we have reached an even more dangerous stage — a stage of community without communication.

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