March 16, 2007

A dream I awoke from.

I am standing in a room, it's kind of bouncy and round, and the walls encircling me are covered with monitors, consoles, keypads, speakers... one screen is of incoming e-mails, a hundred e-mail accounts for a hundred separate identities. Another screen displays whole pages of text flipping past as a program picks up its pertinent information, summarizes and files it. Moments pass and suddenly I glance above me, and am shocked to find a window through which the most bizarre cyborg gazes back at me, eyes slightly concealed beneath small monitors, ears plugged into half a dozen conversations discussing psychology, ethics, geography, pollution, the best deal on a new car, and one with oneself in a public diary on the Internet.

How are we engineering ourselves? What are the crucial digital parts pf the social organism of the future? What are the perils we will come to face? How am I not myself?

March 15, 2007

Aside: Come Together

Last night, I walked into my family living room to find my dad on the couch, listening intently to his cellphone. He looked up at me excitedly and said, "Jenny, listen, your whole family is on the phone!" He pressed speakerphone, and I could hear several of my uncles and aunts speaking to my grandmother, lying in a hospital bed hours away at a holistic care facility. A few weeks ago, my grandmother was terminally diagnosed with cancer. She is mother to 14 children, ten of whom were currently connected to her via conference call. She told us she'd had a rough day, and that she would return home in a week. Starting with the oldest, each of my aunts and uncles told her they loved her and believed in her, that they were praying for her. Tears came to my eyes as the sheer beauty of their collective engagement hit me.

She couldn't talk much, but the rest of my family stayed on the line long after she left to rest. The conversation was lively, though occasionally confusing, and my Uncle Jack took the lead in going through a list of tasks to be independently assigned. Their goal: to recreate the healing environment that had been helping her so much in the past week. They were working in perfect symbiosis: insurance matters handled by Mary (who works in insurance), medicinal supplies questions answered by Joe (who runs a medicinal supplies store), my mother providing medical advice, and Mike discussing the specifics of hiring aides. Faced with the enormous challenge of organizing a schedule for care, I offered to find a calender wiki they could all have access to. "You can do that?" they asked. 'Modern technology can do that," I responded. I wanted badly to offer something, anything to help. They seemed not to realize how potently they had just exemplified the power of technology to bring people closer, to bridge the gaps of time and space and provide a means for communication to flow quickly and easily.

It took me all of ten minutes to find said wiki ( Users can share calendars as well as to-do lists, which are easily viewable either by themselves or integrated onto a virtual desktop (your "Webtop"). However, 30Boxes is still rather individuated, so I did a search for "group calendar wiki" and found that PBWiki had integrated the 30Boxes application- and PBWiki was exactly what I needed. I was able to easily create a wiki-site complete with a calendar, a to-do list, a blog, an address book, and a photo album. It will be interesting to watch the site evolve- who catches on, how many people lose interest, how they use the site. etc;