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BlogWalk: Space, Speed and Scale

Taking Bohemianism to be a mindset more than a (forced or chosen) lifestyle, as described in the previous BlogWalk posting, I’ll now have a look at the things I took out of the meeting.
Speed, Space and Scale were the three words that sum BlogWalk up for me.

Space is about physical, temporal and psychological space.
In the physical sense it is interesting to see the ways in which traditional offices are left behind as working places. To be not only replaced by parks, coffee bars, and homes, but also by new office concepts. Such as the Queen Street Commons on Prince Edward Island, or the WorkSpace in Vancouver, and the idea Thomas kicked around of having a coffee bar with a few meeting spaces and office materials. People working in these spaces are not looking for permanent places, but for spots with the right infrastructure.
In the same way they create their own infrastructure such as FON in stead of office LANs, and Plazes, IM and YASNs in stead of water coolers.
A second aspect to physical space is the felt need to travel. Social networks span the globe, not as a replacement but as a widening of more local networks. Travel becomes a must, because more social contacts generate more face to face meetings. Going abroad for meet-ups, be them Reboot(s), BlogWalks, BlogTalks, BarCamps or the odd day off or other, is less luxury than necessity, and a natural side-effect of the ever widening virtual networks. This brings new priorities to budgets and leads to new evaluations of decisions.
In the temporal sense space is about creating the time to focus in the midst of the constant and immense stream of (presence) information that is so easy to get absorbed by. (This relates to speed as well: space is created by slowing down at the right moments)
Psychological space to me is about balancing inside out and outside in perspectives, your social networks, periods of divergence and convergence, and being able to not worry about things that require attention but may have slipped your mind. Creating new information strategies befitting the new world of information abundance fall in this category, as well as things like Getting Things Done, and 43 Things.
In all these three areas we see new routines and tools popping up.

Speed refers to both slow and fast. I enjoyed the book Tyranny of the Moment by Eriksen a lot, and Digital Bohemiens seem to be experimenting their way to routines in dealing with the effects of speed.
The fact that life is speeding up is to me the unavoidable side-effect of the increase in the number of connections between people, as made possible by the internet. Roman roads, railroads, global shipping, telegraph, they all had the same effect: speeding up life, by the additional dynamics and transactions these new connections caused. The internet does this on an unprecedented level, as it potentially connects each human with each other human at the speed of light.
For a Digital Bohemien this slow and fast phases are highly pronounced. All the communication and social interaction is at high speed. The e-mail, the IM, the YASNs, the Twitterin, blogging and continuous sharing of micro-formatted information. If you aren’t careful your whole day is consumed by this constant stream of unlimited interaction. So again the challenge is to balance this with enough slow time to create results and be productive outside of your communicative tasks. Slow time to focus, to reflect, to prioritize, to write, to create. Mind you, focussing is not a solitary task by definition.
Scale actually impacts both Space and Speed. The term came up in the afternoon discussion. Because scaling ultimately never is only a question of increasing quantity. At a certain level the quantity creates a qualitative shift. Information when scaled to the level of abundance as it is now, requires not just more of the same information processes we are used to, but new information strategies that take this scale into acount. A qualitative shift.
For the Digital Bohemiens this is true for their infrastructure (building new ones with different design principles like modularity, openness, interexchangeability.), travel (from incidental travel to a travelling existence with a city as local anchor point), social networks (global span, 24/7), and the balance between dynamics and more slow time (where dynamics isn’t the incident but the norm, and focussed prioritized time requires switching of). All these signify qualitative shifts that have quantitative origins, where Digital Bohemiens are experimenting and groping towards new rhythms and routines. This is the way the change of self leads to societal change.

BlogWalk: Digital Bohemiens, Part I

Speed Space and Scale are the three words that summarize the things that inspired me at BlogWalk in Amsterdam last week. But first some thoughts about the theme Digital Bohemiens.
The theme of this BlogWalk was Digital Bohemiens. In Germany a book (Wir nennen es Arbeit, We Call it Work) has been published that describes the large group of creatives in Berlin that work independently, free-lancing, and see the city’s caf├ęs and parks as their offices which they inhabit with their laptops. Romantic as this may sound, it is good to note that this behaviour is at least partly the result of structural problems on the German labour market for new members of the work force.
To me it seemed a useful theme as it creates images in your mind easily about what type of person you are talking about. To me the theme merely served that role, and the part of the group discussion that tried to come up with definitions of a Digital Bohemien was not for me. Looking deeper into the behaviour of the, let’s say, avant garde of internet users is for me a way to create a notion of the type of behaviour that will become mainstream. The bohemian, outsider’s part of it all is therefore perhaps romantic, but not my main concern. Especially since the outsider’s part has rough edges that are often frustrating and hard to escape. Ana-Despina Tudor words this well, almost poetic, and Bicyclemark said as much during the day itself.

That is why I ridiculed the notion of Bohemianism somewhat last Friday, typefying Bohemians wearing floppy hats and Howard Rheingold shoes (mind you: Howard is a worthwile rolemodel in this digital age, the pun is about his shoes, not him). And why I came up with the idea of creating a bumper sticker “Ex Bohemian” to stick on your SUV.
I concur with Gabriela Avram, who formulates digital bohemianism as a mindset more. Looking at that mindset we can look at how that manifests itself in behaviour. Manifests itself in Speed, Space and Scope. I’ll leave that for the next posting.

(both photos by Elmine)

BlogWalk: Thoughts on the Format

(photo by James Burke)
After each BlogWalk, in looking back, I not only feel the need to reflect on the theme and the conversations, but also on the format.
All BlogWalk sessions are in a free format for most of the day, with a walk around town after lunch.
To be able to keep the format as open as possible we need to arrange a number of things up front, so that the space we create during the session itself feels ‘safe’ and comfortable to move around in.
The first prerequisite is making sure everybody can know who is coming to the session. Therefore BlogWalks are by invitation only.
Another important part is the dinner on the evening before. It allows people to already get to know eachother a bit better, to establish context and a notion of shared understanding and language.
For those that missed the welcoming dinner it takes a bit more time to get an overview of the group during the day itself. Lilia felt this I think when she proposed an introduction round at the start of the morning, where I thought that would only keep us from diving into the ‘real thing’ immediately.

Morning session (photo by Elmine)
The expectations participants bring with them are important too. Some are not used to a meeting with no predefined agenda or desired outcome, though I think most immediately take to it. It only becomes a problem if participants do not really feel that it is their own responsibility to make the day worthwile for themselves.
I as an organizer don’t feel responsible for the success of the session itself (whatever the shape or form success has for each participant). I do feel responsibility being host to the event, and in making sure all is set for the social part of the event. So that participants may feel at home quickly. Getting something out of the day, and helping others to do the same is not my task as a facilitator, but it is part of my role as a participant.

Lunch: long tables (photo by Elmine)
Riina in her reflections on the BlogWalk session mentioned that she did not care much for the seating arrangement during lunch, and for the length of the group discussion in the afternoon.
She, like me, I think prefers 1 on 1 conversation to group sessions. At the same time I have seen in previous BlogWalks people generally feel the need to do a group discussion in the afternoon. Might be they implicitly think that that is the only way to make sure you don’t miss anything from the conversations, or it may be it is needed as part of the group-forming process. Another, simple explanation, is that people simply want to sit for a while after the walk through town, and need some time to rest.
However it is up to Riina and me as participants to change the situation if we feel it is not useful for us anymore. Which begs the question why Riina and I did not end up in a private conversation in a corner of the room e.g. Were we not attuned enough to the other(s)?
Also talking about the long benches which were difficult to get out of, my first reaction is that it’s ones’own responsibility to break out of situations you do not feel comfortable in. I moved around quite a bit during lunch. As an organizer, the lesson I take from this, is that next time I will discuss seating arrangements (multiple tables, easy to move) with the places we go to. The same was true for the dinner on Friday night.

Afternoon group discussion (photo by Elmine)
My general conclusion, based on suggestions Johnnie Moore gave, and discussion afterwards with Sebastian, is to fiercely resist the urge to add more structure during the day itself. I think we need to do less in terms of structure and guidance during the day. We do need to do more up front and afterwards, in managing expectations, helping people get acquainted quickly, setting the scope of the theme, and offering a space to continue the exchanges after the event. Because this time around we had, in contrast with the first BlogWalk sessions, a number of participants with no fitting on-line space available to do that for themselves. So we need to play host to the group of participants longer than the session itself.
So my list for next time:

  • Manage expectations and self-responsibility better
  • Keep a steady communication going in the weeks before the session, feeding info piece-meal and building energy
  • Invite everybody to explore the theme up front and write about it, as well as exporing the on-line spaces of other participants
  • Try to get as many participants as possible to the pre-BlogWalk dinner on the night before
  • Add a conversational space to the BlogWalk.eu platform in which closed group conversation can take place before and after the event
  • Do less structure during the day itself
  • Take physical surroundings for meals and during the session in to account
  • Build a rough template/script for all this

Continueing conversations on the tram (photo by Elmine)
Summary: Create the open space (physical, mental and timewise) for BlogWalk by adding more structure to the preparations, and taking structure out of the day itself.

BlogWalk: Appreciation and On-line Traces

Right from the very first BlogWalk in 2004, I have always been amazed about the effort in time, travel and money people are willing to make to attend a BlogWalk session. It was no different for me at BlogWalk Eleven, in Amsterdam last Friday.
With people coming in this time from such diverse directions as Ireland, Paris, Brussels, London, Copenhagen, Estonia and Bucharest, as well as from all over the Netherlands, mostly just for the one day, I cannot but feel humbled.

Johnnie Moore and Thomas Madsen-Mygdal in conversation (photo: Elmine)
Not that I think all these people are making that effort just for Sebastian, Lilia and me. They are making that effort because they trust themselves to be able to turn meeting 25 interesting people into a day full of worthwile conversations. That we three can be host to those conversations is already enough to feel humbled.

group conversation (photo: Elmine)
So my thanks go out to those that attended the dinner on Thursday, the day long session and/or the dinner on Friday night. Of course the first impressions can be found on-line already. Both Gabriela Avram, as well as Riina Vuorikari have published their impressions of BlogWalk. Bernie DeKoven created an interesting posting based on the Twitter-messages his colleague Gerrit Visser sent from the venue. And then there are the numerous pictures on Flickr. I could not take any pictures myself due to a problem with my camera (no, it wasn’t the batteries).

Bicyclemark (with cap) giving a guided tour. (photo: Elmine)
I also want to publicly thank again Peter Kaptein for providing us with the space in his building at Instant Interfaces, and Mark, better known as Bicyclemark, for the guided walk through the back streets of Amsterdam.
This morning I transcribed the text of all the post-its that were created from the discussion and conversations. They can be found in the BlogWalk wiki. I hope they can be triggers for further interaction.

Filling the windows with post-its (aka the WindowsWiki) (photo: Sebastian)
In the coming two posts I will add some thoughts on the way the format of the session worked this time, and of course talk about my own take-aways from last Friday.

Mark Wubben, Alper Cugun, Carla Hoekstra and Riina Vuorikari walking in conversation (photo: Elmine)

BlogWalk Eleven: Amsterdam, May 18th

After a long hiatus, it is my tremendous pleasure to announce BlogWalk Eleven for May 18th 2007 in Amsterdam!
The focus will be Digital Bohemiens.
Digital Bohemiens are (relatively) young people, fully adapted to the digital lifestyle. They see a city as their home, and are connected in European and global networks. They flock to conferences as their meeting places.
If we look at this (somewhat exaggerated) portrait of the avant garde of internet users, what can we say about things like:
the tools they use
how they learn and develop themselves
how they support a highly mobile life style
the organisational models and business models that fit these networked individuals
As you see this is a broad subject that allows for enough space for wide ranging but deep conversations and dialogue.
With this BlogWalk the series will undergo some changes. Having toured Europe, North America, and Australia with BlogWalk in the previous years we are partly consolidating the format. We have decided to do two fixed BlogWalk sessions per year, one of which will be in Amsterdam in the spring, the other in southern Germany in the fall. Next to those two fixed sessions there will be room for one or max. two ‘ travelling events’ for which suggestions are welcome.
Otherwise we will keep the sessions as they used to be, bringing twenty-odd thinkers and practitioners together for face to face conversations around a social software related theme. Using free or sponsored venues, an after-lunch walk through town, and generally keeping to a zero-budget. As always in the end participants will decide on the spot how the event takes shape, facilitated and moderated by Lilia Efimova, Sebastian Fiedler and/or me. As in the previous BlogWalk events, participation will be by invitation only. But remember, invitations are not meant to make things exclusive, but to make sure everybody knows up-front who is coming. So make yourself known if you want to be there.
For now suffice to say:
BlogWalk Eleven is taking place May 18th in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Feel free to add your thoughts and suggestions, here in the comments, or in the newly styled blog and workspace where all BlogWalk related information can be found. The first wave of invitations has been sent. Look at the wiki for a list of invited and confirmed participants. If you are interested in attending please get in touch. BlogWalks are by invitation only, but that is primarily to ensure that we know who is coming.
Sebastian, Lilia and I are looking forward to meeting you in Amsterdam next May!