Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 27 Apr 12 11:29
I saw an article that Mary Eisenhart wrote, I think, in a local computer newspaper (Computer Currents?) and joined in August, 1985, about four months after it started. Kevin Kelly, then editor of Whole Earth Review, found me on the WELL and kept trying to get me to write articles, but as I was trying to make a living as a writer, I couldn't afford to spend days writing an article for $250, which is what WER paid. He would come by my house -- I live about 5 minutes from the old Whole Earth offices -- and provoke some kind of argument, then he would say "write down what you just said and I'll pay you $250." That's where the "virtual communities" article (Winter 1987) came from. I did a guest editor engagement with Terence McKenna. When Kevin took a leave from WER to write his book, "Out of Control," he invited me to take over for him temporarily. But one year turned into four.
david gault (dgault) Fri 27 Apr 12 11:39
Hi Howard! I never knew that you were associated with IONS. Was that the house on Washington St that housed SF/Moscow teleport? Someone there told me they'd saved Gorbachev during the 1991 coup by allowing him to get his email while he was house arrested. Pretty heady stuff.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 27 Apr 12 12:53
The house on Washington St was one of Joe Alioto's son's houses that IONS rented for a time. Boy that's a whole nother story. Willis Harman was a trip. Yes, they were involved with the whole Esalen-Gorbachev thing that was a precursor to Glasnost and Perestroika that led to the collapse of the USSR. Henry Dakin also hosted several Russian psychics. I learned Wordstart at Henry's place on California Street. He put me in a room with a woman who spoke no English, but hey, she was psychic! We had a stapled-together Wordstar manual. The machine was a Morrow Designs job with eight-inch floppy disks. They also had an acoustic-coupled modem at about 200 baud that connected to EIES, which is where Stewart Brand met Kevin and got the idea for what became the WELL.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 27 Apr 12 12:54
Gee, I guess nobody thinks while they are doing it that fun stuff like messing around with a CP/M machine in an empty hot tub will become a geezer story 30 years later.
david gault (dgault) Fri 27 Apr 12 13:29
Ah, thanks for the clarification. The teleport deal was on Sacramento St, now that I've got my bearings dialled in.
david gault (dgault) Fri 27 Apr 12 14:28
Howard, I'm glad you mentioned the story of Doug Englebart in the palm thatched radar hut, reading Vannevar Bush during WWII. I've been a bit perturbed recently thinking about the policy in Yemen that allows "signature" strikes by drones against human targets. "Signature" in this case means that targets are identified by patterns of behavior rather than an identification of a known individual. We're handing a lot of control and trust to machines with this decision, but that isn't out of character for us. So, I'm hopeful that somewhere a UAV tech will read your book, and look at her panel of screens and think "if we can use this tech for blowing up a guy at a desert crossroads based on everything we know, we could also use it for..."
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 27 Apr 12 14:43
I suppose it's off topic, but could you say more about the Esalen/Gorbachev/IONS connection? Were you involved?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Fri 27 Apr 12 16:01
I was not involved in that except for learning Wordstar with the Russian psychic. IONS was doing work about extended human potential and Michael Murphy, Esalen founder, was part of that. Henry Dakin, who had the Sacramento Street place (in the same building as the old Apple Multimedia Lab). By making connections with social networks of psychic researchers and others who were working on extending human potential, the Esalen folks connected with Gorbachev and other reformers long before he came to power. That group came out for meetings at Esalen. That's what I know about.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Fri 27 Apr 12 22:38
henry dakin was -such- a lovely man (i met him and worked with him when i was doing all that stopthespray environmental advocacy).
Roland Legrand (roland) Sat 28 Apr 12 00:43
Howard, could you tell something more about the influence of Zen Buddhism on your thinking and on culture in and around Silicon Valley? Who were the major people "spreading the word", and is the influence important & lasting, or rather a fad?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sat 28 Apr 12 08:44
I've been more influenced by mindfulness meditation of the Theravada tradition -- the kind taught by Thich Naht Hanh. Especially the business about awareness of the breath as a tool for developing mindfulness. I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and before there was PBS there was "the educational station" that was run by Arizona State University. I remember turning the dial (before remote controls) and coming across this really un-television-like scene of an older American man in a kimono sitting in a completely empty room,not moving. THen he slowly and carefully reached for a cup of tea. It was Alan Watts. I went to the bookstore the next day and bought one of his books. On the same shelf was the Tao te Ching, which has been a cherished book ever since. When laying out the Millennium Whole Earth Catalog, I put several translations of the Tao te Ching on the next page. I really don't know a lot about the influence of Zen on culture in Silicon Valley. There was some talk of Zen in Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. But Buddhist practice is so pervasive and multifaceted in this area that it certainly can't be seen as a fad.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Sat 28 Apr 12 13:42
>I couldn't afford to spend days writing an article for $250, which is what WER paid. How times have changed. That's about $250 more than the Huffington Post pays.
bobby (bobby) Sat 28 Apr 12 15:51
Interesting parallel to Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice Howard, you mentioned in #12 >>Focus for 20-30 minutes on one task, and then switch to multitasking. >>>There are instances in which multi-tasking gives us a systems view, a way of perceiving connections, that focused attention does not provide. Many people think of meditation as some kind of tuning out of sensory phenomena, like a meditation on deep space. In the Tibetan Buddhism I study, we are taught that there are two types of meditation concentrative and analytical. Shamatha and Vipassana. Both are important and essential. Reflecting on insights or teachings on the nature of reality is a form of analytical meditation. Thinking about things, perhaps ruminating, opening interesting links, seeing patterns and correspondences. This would correspond to systemic view or multitasking. The Tibetan teachings say that once we find a suitable object of focus, we apply our mind to that object, we move into focus or concentration. These are good ways to use the power of the mind realized by meditators for many centuries. They are fully relevant today in our modern culture. Through training our minds we get used to these ways of thinking. The Tibetan word for meditation is "Gom"; translated meaning "getting used to it".
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 28 Apr 12 20:50
There is a theme from all the early pioneers in their disappointment that the Web has not developed as they had envisioned and/or hoped. You have always had a positive approach to making headway in the medium. Do you think there is something unique in social media (networking, collaboration, cooperation) that may allow small numbers of net smart people to make greater gains toward those early visions; and perhaps even new ones?
Gary Gach (ggg) Sun 29 Apr 12 08:07
... just now tuning in <27> yes. ±. (i can relate the story, another time.) <35> i imagine thich nhat hanh's apt neologism for an otherwise tech-sounding phrase in buddhism might have served a good influence : interbeing. i recall just before i first crossed the internet thresh hold [ funny how we use spatial metaphors ], my having read two seminal quotes :  attributed to the buddha, comparing the nature of reality to a web or net *, and  your saying ± that when i'd go online it would be as if i'd be plugging my hard dive up to to all the other hard drives plugged in to the net. ______________________________________ * As a net is made up of a series of ties, so everything in this world is connected by a series of ties. If anyone thinks that the mesh of a net is an independent, isolated thing, he or she is mistaken. It is called "a net" because it is made up of a series of interconnected meshes ----- and each mesh has its place and responsibility in relation to all the other meshes. btw, thich nhat hanh's updated his motto 'breathe, you are alive': breathe, you are online .:.
Roland Legrand (roland) Sun 29 Apr 12 09:40
Which makes me wonder: does the net - I mean the internet - lead us to new forms of spirituality, of awareness? Ted Newcomb asks, referring to the visions of the early net pioneers <39>: "Do you think there is something unique in social media (networking, collaboration, cooperation) that may allow small numbers of net smart people to make greater gains toward those early visions; and perhaps even new ones?" In Natural Born Cyborgs Andy Clark says: "We cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as natures very own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space radically different from those of our biological forbears." (http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/clark/clark_index.html) Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine (and an expert in not only digital but also Asian culture), talks about the technium to designate the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us. The issues raised by Ted, Andy and Kevin make me wonder whether there is an implicit consciousness, spirituality, awareness (not sure how to call it) in the making which is related to the emergent net technologies - eventually a hybrid form derived from (much) older religions and philosophies.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 29 Apr 12 12:18
I think we have seen renaissance after renaissance in collaborative tools, practices, and norms, Ted. Literacy of cooperation is a closely related issue. I touch on it in Net Smart, but most of my work with an interdisciplinary study of cooperation was done with Institute for the Future. We compiled resources at http://cooperationcommons.com Thanks for that net analogy, Gary.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 29 Apr 12 13:32
While we're talking about the Bay Area as an incubator of digital culture, a couple other aspects of that scene come to mind, wondering to what extent you've touched them, or been touched by them. One is Donna Haraway's cyborg theory. Another is Mondo 2000 and the interesting scene that emerged around that publication - combining high fasion, emerging technology, and "high frontiers." Then there's the game and VR scene - I assume you have at least some connection with gaming via our friend Justin Hall. Were any of these part of your scene?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 29 Apr 12 16:34
Well, I hung out at the Mondo house a couple of times when R.U. and Allison were throwing parties, and I published in Mondo 2000. Wired was the next step after Whole Earth and Mondo -- Fred Turner's book, "From Counterculture to Cyberculture" does a good job describing that. I did not deal with cyborg theory in Net Smart, but I am writing a short book for TED, which plans to come out with short e-books, about cyborg literacy -- about what we need to know to not just thrive, but to use digital media to make ourselves smarter. It's more of an Engelbart augmentation approach than a Kurzweil transhumanist approach. I contend that we are human precisely because we co-evolve with our technologies, in particular with our communication media, and that the bioevolutionary and cultural evolutionary benefit is enhanced scope and lower barriers to collective action of all kinds. I'm not much of a gamer, but Justin shows me the state of the art once in a while. I played Bioshock very briefly -- truly games have definitely become an artistic genre.
It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Sun 29 Apr 12 17:31
Howard, just to bring back a question from your book-- there's a lot of media chatter and talk (esp. among marketing types and academics) about the digital native-- ie, kids born into the age of social media and hte iphone) My son, for example, age 3.5, is a little surprised when he can't see his grandmother on the phone (via facetime or skype) vs. regular audio phone. Meanwhile, my 96 year old grandfather in law, who checks his facebook everyday, can't seem to understand that the conversations on my wall are not all directed to him, even though he can read them. As I read your book, I think I hear you saying that the digital native has a disadvantage vs. a digital immigrant (ie, the older set) because its harder for them to think outside of the box. The technology comes easier, but the critical thinking comes harder. Do I have that right? And what can we do to level the playing field?
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Sun 29 Apr 12 18:30
First, I would suggest that generational cohort is a less powerful dimension to generalize about than we've been led to believe. The educational level of parents, for example, has a strong correlation with the probability that a young person will know how to do elementary credibility checking on information they find online. In my experience with college students, there are always 1 or 2 in every class who know more than I do -- I've learned to identify them and talk to them before the course starts, so I can incorporate what I learn from them -- but that a surprising number of young people don't know much about blogging. Some of them have blogs but don't understand wiki collaboration. Few of them have heard of RSS. So there seems to be a range of literacies in regard how to use digital media. They Facebook a lot. Some of them are gamers or participate in interest-based communities. Most of them can compose a text message with one hand without looking. But this doesn't mean they all know how to use a blog to advocate, a wiki to organize, a persistent search to track a topic. Think about alphabetic literacy. Why not just cut students loose as soon as they can read and write? It turns out that mastery of grammar, rhetoric, composition can require years more learning. Critical thinking comes hard because it's not culturally reinforced. I don't know at all how to break through cultural resistance, but questioning authority used to be reserved for people who were willing to be singled out as pains in the ass or subversives. Online, knowledge of how to question the authority of claims and claimants is a survival skill. Along with others, I maintain a wiki of resources for teaching critical thinking: http://critical-thinking.iste.wikispaces.net/
It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Sun 29 Apr 12 19:25
Hmmm... I'm not sure I know how to use a wiki to organize! (I mean I know how to contribute to wikipedia, and have started a couple of wikis, but have always found them pretty cumbersome, compared to other tools (Google doc spreadsheet, collaborative blog, email group via Yahoo or google, or just plain dropbox are my tools of collaborative choice) What do you find so compelling about the wiki as a tool? Which leads me to my next question... There's an old saying that when you are a carpenter, every problem looks like a nail. Ie, you use the tools you have to both solve and perceive the problems you have. In the digital world, it seems like new tools are being invented every day. Some, like facebook, or twitter, or wordpress, seem like they will be with us for a while. Some are getting obsolete, (sliderules anyone?) and some are yet to be discovered. And even the ones we have are getting radically different or complicated and tough to keep up with (facebook's timeline) What should we be looking for when we evaluate digital tools?
. (wickett) Sun 29 Apr 12 20:27
This discussion is so valuable to me. I tutor mostly middle schoolers and the most important issues I address are critical thinking and organization. The tools born in one's hands are easiest to use thoughtlessly, as once again became clear during a discussion about yeast for bread and beer and also yogurt culture. I buy both and don't know a thing about them. Most of my students don't have much curiosity about how information comes to their hand nor how to evaluate it, but they are insatiable for it.
Howard Rheingold (hlr) Mon 30 Apr 12 09:47
Commoncraft does a good job explaining how wikis work for organizing -- they use a group of friends organizing a camping trip, but it would work for a political demonstration: http://www.commoncraft.com/video/wikis Wikis are extraordinarily easy to use -- that's why they were invented. But I've found that my students face a kind of mental hurdle -- they are reluctant to edit each other's work. Once they get past that, they understand the power of self election -- if everyone picks some small part of the task that they want to work on, without going through some managerial process to assign tasks, then a lot can get done. We're using a wiki for the peeragogy project -- a group of people from around the world who didn't know each other before are self-organizing a handbook for self-learners: http://socialmediaclassroom.com/host/peeragogy The ability to edit a page, check versions against each other, view revision histories, revert to previous versions, instantly create new linked web pages on the fly makes wikis a good tool for emergent organization with ageographically distributed groups. For dealing with middle schoolers, take a look at the video I posted above. Going through some of the bogus websites that are available these days is a good start. I have a larger collection of bogus sites and crap detection information, tools, at http://delicious.com/hrheingold/￼crap_detection A very good question about evaluating digital tools. I suppose the first question to ask is whether this tool does something uniquely well that other tools don't do. Is it easy to use? Is it generative -- can users create a wide variety of new objects? Does it enhance social connection?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 30 Apr 12 10:43
I used wikis for organizing various groups for a few years, and I found that in every group there were one or more persons who just couldn't adapt to the wiki environment. I came to understand the reason for this: the wiki environment is relatively unstructured, and the users have to structure it and maintain that structure. Many people can accept the lack of structure and get that they have to build it as they go, but a few just can't handle initially-flat architecture. They want a form, not a blank page. I started calling this wiki syndrome. It could be a show-stopper if you couldn't get someone crucial to the work to adapt. I don't think it's the blankness that was the problem so much as the blankness in context. The same people who might have a problem using a wiki can handle a Google doc, because the blank page in a word processing framework makes sense to them - they have some experience creating a structure within that context. In fact the reason I don't use wikis much anymore is that we can do much the same sort of collaborative editing within Google Docs; also, we use Basecamp a lot, and Basecamp has Writeboards, which are based on wikis. I was the first beta tester for SocialText, which created a wiki-based system for enterprise collaboration, and I noted that as their project evolved it became more structured and less wiki-like.
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