No Sweat: a startup idea

Today I was looking at my pajama pants and thinking about how they were produced. I’ve seen my sister sew fleece pajama pants and it doesn’t look very difficult. So, to make these, someone or some clothing label company decided to product pajamas, they would have the label “Coffee Time” and be distributed through Mervyn’s, and they lined up some factory in China to produce the pants. I haven’t the foggiest idea how that industry works.

However, I have watched from the sidelines as Etsy people got popular and started outsourcing their “DIY” craft work to other crafters and then overseas. I got to thinking suddenly about Ravelry and other social software for crafters. They are extremely robust. Many people have small independent businesses based on DIY web tools.

As I thought of all this I also thought of Kevin Carson’s book The Homebrew Industrial Revolution and his conviction that we can use tech to reinvent mass production.

I do think there is a startup idea in here. Write something like Ravelry that would have a component that allows people to associate themselves in cooperatives to produce stuff. That way there could be some help with buying materials, people could share out the work and fulfill orders, but retain their individual identity as crafters and artists with a particular style and following. But if 1000 people suddenly want to buy crocheted meerkat Doctor Who dolls for christmas presents, and only 2 people are making them, a bunch of other crocheters might temporarily associate to make some money and make a bunch of people happy. It could work well. Not as “mechanical” as Amazon Mechanical Turk, but with a sort of DIY Flash Mob Capitalism vibe – and without the sweatshop. People shouldn’t have to incorporate to work together.

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Free Idea: Use ChaCha’s structure for disaster relief

On the drive up to Seattle a few weeks ago, Cindy and Sarah Dopp and I were playing with ChaCha and wondering how they make money. Around here we all go “What’s your business model” right away… and then snicker.

So I think I might just have figured it out. Do it for free for a bit with your VC money and show how it works. Then, sell “Enterprise ChaCha” or something like it, to a big institution. (I was looking at Indiana University‘s page about it.) You’d sell the structure and the setup, and the institution creates its own number (and password or validation system) and pools its own experts. So, sell it to Exxon or something for its corporate librarians and geologists. Or to the military, obviously. Here is the military’s answer to its perpetual search for AI. “Human assisted search”.

Anyway, this could also work for disaster relief, because it’s ideal for situations that change very rapidly. I was looking at Jon’s empty wiki and thinking, well aside from all the problems with the whole idea of that, which I won’t go into, might a Twitter feed be better? I thought of myself on the 2nd floor of the Astrodome after Katrina, gathering and putting out information that was extremely up to date, and how quickly things changed on the ground. Would I want a wiki for it? (I tried. It is hopeless without a core of people already trained to use one and to work together with one.) Maybe I wouldn’t want one. Maybe a feed would be better. Page back through the “2nd floor astrodome” Twitter feed and see what’s up. Combine many different channels of all the people at various stations in the Astrodome and you’d know who says what is true, right in the moment.

But even better — a private setup for a ChaCha-like thing. You get 100 people together to monitor and answer questions and you would have an instant backup, fit for the general of an army. Or fit for a reporter on the ground in a rough situation. I think of how I combed google news all day long for the Back to Iraq guy back in like 2003 and emailed him updates on whatever was going on or being bombed in the area near him. How much better, if he could have called a phone number like ChaCha’s, and tapped into a network of people like me. Someone would have texted him back the information he wanted within minutes. And if there were sort of a combination of Ning and ChaCha, you’d be able to set up your own information broker network and invite people to join it.

The Red Cross should be using this (okay, maybe in 20 years if they can get it together that fast). But, I offer the idea up to whatever nonprofits or disaster relief workers can use it.

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WordPress plugin idea – blikify

So I was at Recent Changes Camp this weekend talking smack about blikis with some people. And I told anyone who would listen about the plugins for WordPress that help you integrate your blog with Mediawiki or other wikis.

What about a plugin that would just let you designate any page or post as world-editable?

Add Markdown and your WordPress blog could be easily wikified. I could use this for my nascent Hack Ability blog, and it would make me (and readers, and other editors) a lot happier than setting up and maintaining a whole parallel wiki structure to go with the blog.

On #wordpress I was just talking with _ck_ who wrote a Wiki Post plugin for bbPress.

_ck_ also pointed me to this cool and hilarious video of andiacts and Selena discussing when to use Drupal and when to use WordPress:


“It’s so cool! It’s like a new solar system!” That made me laugh so hard.

I have never written a WP Plugin but this seems possibly within the scope of my coding ability. So maybe this summer I’ll give it a shot.

But, if anyone out there wants to write it, go ahead, take the idea and run. Just hat tip me when you do. And, I would be motivated to help and contribute, because it would be handy as hell.

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DIY: Access Hacks project

For the second year in a row, I thought of the wheelchair modification and disability access projects that could and should be at Maker Faire. I’d like to make that happen next year.

At Maker Faire this year, I talked with Miguel Valenzuela, who was showing Lift Assist, a toilet lift device that can be built for $150 out of bits of PVC and junk from a hardware store, powered hydraulically from your own water system. That kind of thing costs thousands of dollars if you buy it as a medical device. If it were a DIY kit, and if it had open source plans and instructions up on the web, it could be useful to thousands of people all over the world.

So I got to thinking. Who would I even hook Miguel up with, to get his plans used? What other projects are spreading disability access devices, open source? Could things like this just be given over to an organization like Engineers Without Borders? How can they be open sourced or copylefted? Who’s collecting that information? Certainly not the U.N. committees on disability – ha!

There are specific projects like Whirlwind Wheelchair International and its design for the Rough Rider chair, developed by Ralf Hotchkiss and students over many years and meant to be distributed to shops or factories or organizations in developing nations. In other words, partnership with actual manufacturers. There’s the Free Wheelchair Mission which has a kit to build wheelchairs for under $50. They seem to take donations and then ship a giant crate of wheelchair kits to somewhere in the world. Those both look great. But neither of them were for a disabled person who might want to build their own stuff.

Then I found some nifty sites like Marty’s Gearability blog, which has a DIY category for “Life with limitations and the gear that makes things work”. She has made dozens of posts on modifications she’s made for her dad, who uses a wheelchair. I especially enjoyed the how-to for a wheelchair cup holder and the elegant, blindingly useful offset hinges to widen doorways.

I’m also somewhat familiar with Adafruit Industries and its projects like SpokePOV. What if assistive devices used something closer to this model? Rather than people patenting, and trying to sell their designs to a medical supply company, which marks it up a million times until disabled people in the U.S. can’t afford them unless they have insurance or can wait 5 years and fight a legal battle with Medicare.

I found organizations like Remap in the UK, that takes applications from individual disabled people, and hooks them up with an engineer who will build them a custom device. This I think exemplifies the well meaning but ill advised attempts to help disabled people through a “charity” model rather than through widespread empowerment. If an engineer is donating time and an invention, why not have them write up and donate the plans for whatever they are building, and post the DIY instructions for free? Then, thousands of people all over the world could build that invention for themselves.

Here’s another data-sucking black hole of information that should be out there on the beautiful, wild, free internet: academia. This paper on bamboo wheelchair designs is probably super great, but who knows? Only the libraries who have the bound copy of the conference proceedings of the 5th international bamboo conference back in 2002. This makes me very, very sad. OneSwitch, on the other hand, has the right idea. It’s a compendium of DIY electronics projects to build assistive devices. Perfect!

Meanwhile, I went looking for the latest news in open source hardware. What’s up with the Open Source Hardware License?

My own inventions for assistive devices have tended towards the creative yet slapdash use of duct tape. For example, my Duct Tape Crutch Pockets, an idea easily adaptable to small pouches for forearm crutches and canes, or to get more storage space onto your wheelchair.

My own canes and crutches that fold (with internal bungee cords) could use simple velcro closure straps to keep them folded up while they’re in my backpack or in the car. There are some ingenious ways, also, to attach canes or crutches to a wheelchair.

I have thought of, but not made, ways to extend storage space further. For example, I think that the lack of pockets in women’s clothing is a political issue. Women’s clothes are mostly designed without pockets, because of cultural pressure to look skinny, so women end up encumbered by bags and purses. If you think about how wheelchairs are made, it is interesting that they are assumed not to need storage space, cup holders, things like that. People hang little backpacks off their chairs. And there are a few custom made pouches for walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs, like this thin armrest pouch. You won’t find them in an actual wheelchair store – and rarely in a drugstore or medical supply house. Why not?

As wheelchair designs continue to evolve, I hope that manufacturers will create customizable backs and sides and seats. Nylon webbing with d-rings, sewn into the backs and under the seats of wheelchairs, would mean that custom pouches and packs could clip onto a chair. Then it would be easy to set up your chair with interchangeable bits. My laptop could go in a pouch under the seat, for example, so that it wouldn’t affect my center of gravity so drastically as it hangs off the seat back in a backpack.

I’d like to see more and more mods for chairs and canes and crutches that are just for fun. The little holes in adjustable-height, hollow metal walking canes — don’t they seem like the perfect size to stick an LED light in there?

Also, meanwhile, I had posted briefly the other day for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008 with a list of ideas for Practical actions that will help, like smoothing out steps into a small business (ie just freaking pour some asphalt in there or build a wooden wedge even if it is not exactly to code; people do nothing, for fear of being sued, rather than spend thousands to do a to-code ramp, and I’d rather they just stuff in a slope and bolt a rail to the wall than do nothing!). After I made the list, I went looking for online instructions on how to do the things I was suggesting. What did I come up with ? Jack shit! Nothing! Nada!

So, here’s what I propose we do:

– Compile free and open source how-tos, plans, designs, etc. on Disapedia. I have made a page for DIY equipment.

– I will go and interview Hotchkiss and his class, and write up more detail on how their open source project works.

– A meeting to share access hacks and start to add to that wiki page on Disapedia.

– I’ll head up an effort to organize a really good disability/accessibility hacking booth for Maker Faire next year.

For the Access Hacks booth, I’d like to pull in:
– craft/sewing people for stuff like mobility device storage and mods with velcro and fabric
– metal working people
– electronics people (like the OneSwitch folks)
– Maybe invite Tech Shop and the Bay Area wheelchair stores to participate
– obviously, disabled crafty/makery people. I thought I could try to pull in GimpGirl and put the word out in other communities
– Flyers on how to open source your hack and make it free – license info, where to post, hook up with places like WikiHow.

This could make a super fantastic real life application for hardware/craft hacks. I would love to just hang out all weekend with a bunch of other people with disabilities and share whatever hacks we’ve already come up with. That in itself would be productive without even doing it at Maker Faire. I’d like an Access Hacks meeting around here and I wonder if people would host them elsewhere and then post tips on Disapedia. (I would like to use them rather than host a new wiki, but I’m willing to make an access hacks wiki if that’s what people would like.)

Please, leave feedback in the comments.

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If babies were all considered disabled

This morning I woke up thinking, “What if babies were treated as the disabled are treated?”

What if infancy was medicalized the way that old age is medicalized?

Pregnancy would be an embarrassing, extended disaster. It would mean a person was about to go down to the very bottom of our economic system. You’d be quarantined in your home by governmental order. In order to go out in public, you’d have to prove you don’t have a dangerous infectious disease that makes your stomach swell up. You’d get doctor’s signatures send in forms to your insurance company and the government to declare you were pregnant, and every couple of weeks you’d have to renew those forms.

Glossing over labor and delivery, let’s consider what happens when you’ve got a baby. It can’t walk! It can’t eat food! It’s disabled, poor thing. It needs special nutritional supplements that can only be prescribed by a doctor. It also needs a special device called a stroller which costs maybe five or ten thousand dollars. You’d apply through Medicare to get one. Maybe they won’t approve one for use outside the home! There’s stroller stores, especially online, but wow, would you buy a Bugaboo stroller that cost $5000 without getting to see it first and whether it would be good for your situation, or would fit in your car or whether you could lift it up? By the time your prescription for the “stroller” had been approved by doctors and you’d proved through several insurance company and social worker home visits that you indeed had a baby, and by the time the stroller arrived, your baby could walk. Oh, you could rent a basic stroller from a medical supply store for 10 bucks a day, but it would be MADE OF LEAD.

In some ways you feel that the doctors and social service agencies have a bit of an attitude that if they delay long enough, the problem will shift, and disappear. Just as they act like older people or people with disabilities are going to die soon anyway, so why are they fussing so much about having this wheelchair, or ventilator, or home health care? If they wait long enough, the problem will disappear.

Instead of this medicalized model of the distribution of goods and services, we have Babies R Us, giant stores full of shelves where you can try and buy all manner of highly specialized products for babies. In fact this industry is fairly new. It was created when companies realized that babies change their requirements and abilities every couple of months and that there were people who would buy all new junk for them. Instead of carrying babies in slings or on our hips and requiring that cars have seatbelts, we have 3 different sizes of car seat and a million varieties of strollers good for differerent ages. We have cribs and playpens and Pack-n-Play and Exersaucers and those bouncy things that go in doorways.

Disabled people, and older people, are a similarly lucrative market. The way the market is utterly sucks. There is no Crips R Us or Spazzmart where I can go browse the shelves of fascinating bright colored crap. INstead, I was at a sort of auto body shop warehouse wheelchair store, with a couple of mechanics who order stuff off the internet for me and who guard the knowledge of how to fix wheelchairs jealously.

You can order wheelchairs off the Internet these days but wheelchair stores haven’t change their model of trying to make a profit. And from what I can tell they are failing to make much of a profit. Or if they are it’s at the top and the store doesn’t reflect it.

Seriously, it’s as if we all bought our cars from the skankiest auto repair shops, and there weren’t really any sorts of customizations or accessories we could put on them. There wouldn’t be any auto parts stores. Right now, I can think of at least 3 big auto parts stores within a mile of my house, and every hardware store, Target, and drugstore has an aisle of junk to bling out your car.

I put my hope in the baby boomers; as they all age, they will expect to be able to cruise the aisles of the CripMart and get flowered cane tips and colostomy bags to coordinate with their power suits.

26 million Americans have a severe disability. 1.6 million people use wheelchairs, and I’d bet my boots that many more people would if they could: if using a wheelchair was shown as useful, cool, empowering, for real, and if old people didn’t have to jump through 20 million hoops to get decent ones that don’t weight a hundred pounds. Instead, older people limit their activities and hide their struggles, ashamed, and scared to let anyone see that they might need help, because our system of “help” is so demeaning, dehumanizing, and awful that they’ll rot in an armchair in front of their televisions for 10 years till they die rather than admit that they might need a walker. It’s not stupid pride. It’s a reasonable fear that they will lose whatever independence and autonomy they still have.

I was talking with people about this who argue that maybe the market is limited, so companies don’t think they can make a profit. But it’s not all that limited. There’s something like 5 million babies born every year, and look at that market in baby stuff. If you look at who’s elderly in the U.S. Census the numbers are completely crazy. And in fact… even if you assume that disabled and elderly people are not going to be able to afford to buy this stuff, they’ll have relatives who might be able to.

Having there be real competition to build and sell this junk will help bring the prices down. In 1984, there was no market for “mountain bikes”. Now there’s shops with them everywhere. Though I couldn’t find how many are sold in the U.S. in a year, I wonder how those numbers compare to the potential wheelchair market? My point is, someone is missing a giant capitalist opportunity.

How hard it was for me in the 90s to get my first wheelchair! On the advice of a social worker, I stole one from the hospital, the one I was in as I sat in her office crying and she told me she couldn’t help me because my diagnosis wasn’t solid. My second wheelchair, that I got from a fellow student: one with good insurance. The way that if you have a nice chair, other disabled people look you up and down and guess, “Car Accident?” because only people with good insurance can have nice wheelchairs, and good medical insurance is so very, very rare, while car insurance companies for some reason are likely to be more decent and pay up for wheelchairs promptly, covering the entire cost. The few decent wheelchairs that exist are passed from hand to hand, often through charitable foundations.

Ruth, at A Different Light writes very well about civil rights, human rights, and disability, for example in A Matter of Life and Death.

Then we have people who say they want to die because they cannot get out of their homes because there have been In Home medical equipment restrictions or they can’t afford medical equipment. Their wheelchair breaks and they can’t get another one so they are immobile. This leads to depression. Perhaps their caregiver is an aging parent who can no longer care for them – or dies. All of these changes make disabled peoples’ lives unmanageable and can make suicide look like a way out.

In the last week or so I read through all of Ruth’s archives on this blog, and through some of them on her other blogs. She makes many good points about the consumer model vs. the medical model: try here in Seeing advocacy as a tool and in On distancing from the disabled. I realized over this past week how the medical and charity models are related — and how wrong they are.

Let people choose for themselves what they want and need!

If you would like to do a useful thought exercise, extend my stroller model to thinking about chairs and cars. People sit in regular chairs: office chairs, kitchen chairs, armchairs. There is no reason that they have to. You might argue if you were from another culture that it would be healthier if we sat on the floor or learned how to squat on our heels. (And they’d generally be right). Likewise, if we just walked places, or ran, or biked, we wouldn’t need cars to get to work. Yet… wanting to sit on a chair or ride in a car does not make a person “disabled”. But even people in dire poverty are often able to scrape up enough money to have a car and certainly to have chairs. If those things were only available to people who have the health insurance of the insanely privileged, our entire societal structure would weaken. I’d extrapolate this to say that if we made it easier for the disabled and elderly to get assistive technology and mobility devices, it would strengthen our entire society.

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A culture of free as in free beer, trust, and ethical payment

The other day I was checking out the developer preview of Songbird‘s music player, and had a few ideas. Right now you can use it like a browser, reading blogs and downloading mp3s from those blogs. In about 5 minutes I had found great music from búscate un novio and fuck me i’m twee (I’ve been listening to a lot of girly pop/punk lately.)

I’d really love to change the whole model of music distribution. Rather than buying the rights to do whatever I like with a song, I’d like to download it and listen to it without feeling like a criminal. I’d like it to be licensed under Creative Commons in some sensible way. And then I’d like my music players to include a tip jar.

If I like a song, I’ll tip the artist, or the consortium of artists, or whoever does their distribution. For example, I’d like a guarantee that the original artist gets a particular percentage of the tip. Even if I knew they would get 50%, that would make me more likely to tip than I’d be if I had zero information.

Skyrocketing downloads, as music consumers felt the confidence that they weren’t doing anything illegal, would fuel the music industry. We’d tip a song, or an artist, more than once. When I made a mix CD for someone and put my favorite song on it, I might tip again. Over the many years of listening to a song, I might tip its creator many times… generating more money for the creator, and for anyone in the middle like Songbird could be, than a simple “pay 99 cents for it” model.

I’d see in my music player that I’d tipped 3 times for a particular song or album. I could sort my music on paid-for or not, which would encourage me to want to pay more artists and feel good about my own habits.

Further, I could earn a reputation as an ethical consumer. My own profile — on Songbird, or on some public site — maybe on a badge I stuck on my blogs — could proclaim that I’ve tipped musical artists 1052 times, or dollars worth of tips, in the last 5 years.

This information could build relationships between consumer and artist, or label or consortium. Kathleen Hanna would know that I’m her loyal fan to the tune of $30 over several years, and might send me announcements, concert information, free stuff, tshirts, or free new music.

This might also avoid the morass of micropayments. Create small payment structures for specific industries, instead of a grand scheme of people passing around the same .001th of a cent whenever they read a web page.

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Fictional layer on social networks

Here’s a fabulous idea! On social network profiles, there will be space for one’s fictional alter egos. In other words, my profile on orkut or friendster or tribe or even LinkedIn should include my past role-playing game character information. One could suck in data from one’s Everquest or World of Warcraft or MUD characters, and manually put in data about tabletop rpgs.
It’s important, because who you like to pretend you are is important. Among role-playing gamers I certainly know people who think about the patterns in their game-playing, and who consciously use the characters to vary their real life persona, to experiment with ways of being, as well as to play to their real life characteristics and strengths.

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Some amusing ideas around Twitter

Part of the fun of Twitter is in making up stupid words with tw*tt- as the prefix. Make up the ludicrous dot-com word and the idea will follow. I am very fond of words that have sprung into being like “multiblogular,” “polyblogular,” “hyperblogulating”, “twitterlibrium“, “computerbating” or “wikibating” and now “twitterbating”. The -bating suffix is particularly interesting because it carries all sorts of associations of feelings and irony around the activity. Perhaps a slight tinge of guilt and discomfort or uncertainty towards the degree to which one is engaging with people (or no people) online rather than “real life” (which of course we must put irony quotes around because talking to people over the net is real life just as much as talking face to face.)

While I was driving to San Jose the other morning I was considering twitterzines – what would they be? I think a way of creating sophisticated “favorites” lists or sets. Twittidors would drag and drop other people’s tweets onto interestingly-themed twitterzines; they might turn out like poems or tiny magazines or scrapbooks made of snippets of other people’s lives. Being able to look at or collect tweets based on keyword would be nice, but then adding in a human editorial function would be nifty. One’s amazing words of wisdom about chicken tacos or the future or toenail-painting at sunset could then be collected by others… and perhaps you get props of some kind for the mention or for being anthologized (twitthologized? ugh!)

The timeline concept could be pushed way further & with tons of possibly pointless data so that you could look at your own or other people’s distributions of twittering – Does one tend to tweet at particular times, like during commute… at dinner… Or what? And with particular keywords associated? Just as various events have been highlighted on Twitter (Macworld, etc – and imagine the mass twitterbating that’s about to happen at SXSWi; it’ll be nuts) We could mark up or tag important moments. Like being able to collect what people were tweeting during the Superbowl. I don’t give a fuck about the Superbowl and in fact don’t know who played or won, but maybe other events would give nifty information to… someone. My mind hovers between thinking of historians and advertisers… but probably it would be the dilettantes who look.

Dragging & dropping would be a nice concept. Rather than batch editing (Okay I’m assuming anyone ever bothers… But they might… ) you could drag and drop your (or someone else’s) twitters onto a tag or into a collection (the twitterzine – which again would be a bit like a Flickr set.)

A probably easy & fun Twitter extension: A mood index or indicator that depended on various factors. On contemplating my own collection of tweets I am heavy on the “fabulous” “Yummy” “yay” and the gazillion exclamation points. Clearly my mood index would tend towards the “Give this woman Ritalin, stat” end of things. The mood index could be as simple as good mood / bad mood but I suspect that more complex would be more fun. The lists of keywords indicating mood, or the connections between word and mood could be built collaboratively, and I think keywords would be a fine way to do it (Unless there is someone out there typing “Yay, I’m fabulously pissed off and want to kill myself, omgponies!!!”) This could be pushed even further into, what’s that test that people get so obsessed with? The one where I’m like ENTJ or something? That thing. You could associate keywords or patterns or data with various of the qualities and then predict.

One could look at patterns of whether groups of friends or followers tend to twitter in clumps. For example, if after Tara Hunt twitters about her day, half her friends obliquely respond by twittering about their day, that could turn out to be interesting information. An algorithm like… the # of followers you have, in relation to how many of them tend to twitter within a certain time period after you twitter. That might be pointless because it would lead to a level of self-consciousness and avoidance of posting immediately in response to someone or else – the other direction – gaming it deliberately. On the other hand that might be amusing as well.

Twitter is lovely for flirting and webstalking – you can see what your crush is up to or obliquely let them know as well without directly communicating or possibly intruding on their day with an IM or email. So what many dating sites haven’t achieved, Twitter does perfectly without intending it. Flirting is all about plausible deniability and Twitter offers that very nicely. I’d like to hear some cool twitter-flirting true confessions from people…

Anyway, I picture this sort of stuff being built on top of Twitter, much like the nifty and addictive little apps people build for LiveJournal. Like LiveJournal, Twitter is *fun*… And people want to play with it and poke and and mess around, which could turn out to be productive in unpredictable ways.

I shouldn’t say this, but given the level of eye-rolling some people exhibit over “those people obsessed with Twitter” with the implications of pointless narcissim & wankeriness… I’m surprised no one has made the obvious tasteless parody: Twatter.

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Trivium, twittering, gregarious behavior


twittering
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Some rambling thoughts on twitteration, or twitteritude:

Twitter is fun. It’s a microblogging site; your entries are strictly limited to just a couple of lines of text. You can friend people and get their twitters on a web page, on IM, or on your cell phone. Sign up, watch the public stream go by, friend people who strike you as interesting.

Now you have 10 imaginary friends, tamagotchi who need feeding, your loneliness is assuaged, and you feel important and hip and cool as you’re standing in line or sitting in a boring meeting and you get texted on your cell. Shallow me! And shallow you if you like it. You must not be very important. You must not be busy enough. Listen to the mean ol’ grinches who love to hate Twitter! Broadcasting the trivium of your day! It’s almost like social conversation, gossip, small talk. It’s almost like the glue that holds relationships and people together. It’s not important enough to blog. It asserts the importants of daily life. It forces the compression of your own evaluation of your life into two lines a day. Are you twittering too much, to people who already have too much of an information feed, and they’ll drop you?

The more in-the-corners and unimportant you are, the more fun and important a twitter or a myspace becomes.

Maybe it isn’t a productivity tool. Or, with more focus, with groups and channels, it could be made into one. Why slam it for being what it is? Why not take the idea and run with it, tinker with it?

I had a strange moment at Writers With Drinks, when I was introduced to a guy named Yoz and realized 10 minutes later why his name sounded familiar, the sort of thing that used to happen from orkut or friendster, a familiar moment to anyone on a social network. It was because he’s the last person on the friends-badge list of a bunch of people I “know” on Twitter.

I appreciate social media’s enabling of fun webstalking, of course.

But that’s not even the interesting part.

It’s the potential for literary forms to evolve with technology. I see particular people who have immense Twitter charisma, who are more interesting in that venue than they are on their blogs or in conversation. Shouldn’t that be okay? If we are abandoning objective standards for quality, then it’s good to look at what’s good in all media. It is pointless to bemoan the fact that people like to do stupid things. Instead, look at the mass of stupid things and pick out the best of, according to the standards of that community and not just according to the standards of dominant culture or dominant literary forms. It is possible that the great internettian novel is being written right now on Twitter, or will be written next year.

Or we’ll get a bunch of poets on there and do renga. No, wait, I forgot, that might interrupt my productivity! Chatting, fun, and art: bad for productivity… of course…

It isn’t useful for some people, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something interesting going on under their radar.

If everyone in a nursing home right now had phones with Twitter, or something twitter-like and the knowhow to use it, think how cool that would be. Loneliness is not to be sneered at. I bet we all know several lonely people who would like some imaginary tamagotchi twitter-friends. Surely, soon, we will have better two-way social networking appliances than phones, laptops, or crackberries, easier to use, easier to type on, marketed towards the senior niche. And then the great internettian novel will be written by a 95 year old former kindergarten art teacher in Modesto.

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