The Hybrid World

Michelle Obama just gave an excellent speech this afternoon, calling upon the latest crop of graduates to remember that they were lucky, and it is the responsibility of the fortunate to look out for the unfortunate.  So, naturally, like all of you, I thought it was apropos to talk about WordPress and “people” in Guy Fawkes masks.  Oh yes, it’s that tangled a web of flimsy connections, so let’s see if I can unravel it.

So it may seem strange that in listening to the speech I thought about folks looking like goofy late 16th century terrorists from a terribly dull graphic novel, but let’s review a recent statement from the WordPress Dev Blog:

WordPress is an open source project, successful because of the community that both develops and uses it. At the same time, some people find it difficult to become involved in the project, and are unsure of how to engage with the core team and community at large. The channels listed above can be overwhleming to someone just joining the community, and/or frustrating to longtime community members who feel like they used to have more influence. We need to fix this. The WordPress project needs to be welcoming, easy to navigate as a contributor, and provide useful feedback to help grow the expertise of its community members.

And compare that to the First Lady’s statements, putatively directed toward the non-digital world (Putative since there is, I would argue, a pure digital world but I doubt you can find a place on Earth anymore that doesn’t have some connectedness to the connected world) but directed toward that open-source, peer-collaborated project known as “life”:

So, whenever you get ready to give up, think about all of these people and remember that you are blessed. Remember that you are blessed. Remember that in exchange for those blessings, you must give something back. You must reach back and pull someone up. You must bend down and let someone else stand on your shoulders so that they can see a brighter future.

As advocate and activist Marian Wright Edelman says, “Service is the rent we pay for living…it is the true measure, the only measure of our success.”

Maybe the 100º heat addled my brain, but it reminds me of a particular identity crisis that a certain cat-and-anime obsessed web-site went through a little while back.  Reports of the Anonymous anti-Scientology protests stressed their real life nature, in contradiction to the pure digital social power that members of sites such as 4chan and Something Awful represent.  It’s an interesting orthodoxy that develops in these communities–whether it’s in the creation of open source software, peer-production of knowledge, or photoshopped sharks about to ironically eat various persons–and it’s the same orthodoxy of which Michelle Obama was reminding the students of UC Merced:  You didn’t just get your degree because of your hard work, you got it because you were lucky enough to get the opportunity and because the system wasn’t closing its doors to you.  WordPress found itself with a bunch of stuck and locked doors, Wikipedia finds itself with similar problems, 4chan found itself with a whole new wing of the house being built, complete with all new doors that led to places they weren’t sure they wanted to go.

So what does it mean?  I think this is Web 3.0–the Hybrid World–where the pure digital begins to do more than reproduce itself physio-socially in the form of T-Shirts but instead rebounds upon sociological and historical knowledge creating the Community Activist who worries not about access for the poor to a college education but access for the intimidated to the dev-channel of WordPress, or for newbie Wikipedia contributors to be treated as well as 10,000 edit veterans.  And the reverse, already more prevalent, the savvy use of the digital not as a gimmick or addendum but as a true asymmetrical ruleshift.  While everyone’s desperately anticipating RFDwhatever and the end of silos (like the web is really siloed to any meaningful degree–isn’t that just a bit too much hyperbole–I mean, I’m sure you could claim the data doesn’t have any way of interacting, but you’d have to posit the nonexistence of people, in which case I’m glad the World Wide Internets are not, for one, ready to welcome our AI overlords) or really-we-swear-the-Semantic-Web-is-almost-here optimism, there’s a growing permeability between the concept of on-line community and traditional community, and if you think it’s old news than I’d say you’re mistaking the extrinsic for the intrinsic.  There are a lot of orthodoxies on the digital side that will need to be thrown down before it’s complete (Ironically typified by a guy who injected himself into the real but insists that there’s a “firewall in between” real life and internet life).

Two states, grown in isolation, merge slowly and with pain, and with orthodoxy fighting from both sides.  But unification (Re-unification, really, it’s just that our life-in-letters was temporarily replaced with our “Internet Life” and we all pretended that it was a real distinction and not compartmentalization grown ossified) or synthesis, if you prefer the dialectic, is where this is all going.  Cross-pollination continues and I expect to see both creepy and beautiful, fertile hybrids as a result–as well as some useful, but stiff-minded mules.

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