Marañando and Information Technology
Sunday, September 20, 2009 11:54:37 AM
I've been busy. That's why I haven't blogged. And I have been travelling, and that's why I haven't updated stuff, and I have been working and that's why my desk at home is a mess, and I have been tired and that's why we went out instead of cooking dinner last night as I planned.
At least, those are the basic excuses. And they all hold some truth, but they are also all to some extent just excuses for the fact that when I set priorities some things I want to do (it is OK to want everything, but you can't have everything) just don't happen.
Last week I got back from an extra-long trip (3 weeks through Uzbekisatn, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and California) and we went immediately to Maraña (in the mountains north of León) for a few days. It's a great place to relax and be away from it all. And I hate to admit it, but it is also a place where I can work - unlike two years ago there is now both telephone coverage and internet access.
Life in Maraña is not like Madrid. Things to do include watering the garden if it doesn't rain, and getting firewood to keep the house warm (there is no other form of heating, and at 1250m it is already important in September). There is a bar, but the nearest shop is about 6km away (in the next village) and the nearest place to use a credit or debit card is only about 30km away. In short, it is a good place to recharge my brain, to walk across unfenced fields among the cows, to watch the fog come over the mountains and blanket the valley like it is closing us in and swallowing us, or sit in the sun shine with a beer on my hand-made (and very rustic) little table while I think a bit longer about some thorny issue. It's a good place to read books, but since we have no printer (the local council might have one, but they only open two days a week for a few hours) it isn't so easy to read my own work stuff without the computer.
I've been thinking about various things over the last few months. A handful of accessibility issues have been occupying my time, and I have been thinking more about social networks, publishing, and knowledge management as a long-term activity.
A while ago I signed up to Twitter, to see how it worked. The short answer is that for me, basically, it doesn't. I don't want to be receiving a constant stream of little bits of information. I talked to a lot of people in Central Asia about it, and they find it very useful. Funnily enough, they are mostly journalists, and they use it for a rapid source of starting points for news. I work on standards - things that are old (at least in twitter terms) before we even begin. Most of the things that it is important for me to read are document-length, not an SMS. I can twitter where I am (like a story I was told of a couple of undercover intelligence agents, who on arriving at their secret destination were smart enough to twitter how nice the weather was in ____!) but generally I have more than enough to do when I am somewhere, and I am always vaguely uneasy about telling the entire universe where I am all the time.
I also looked at my Facebook account for the first time in many many months. I want that half-hour back. I see a value in facebook - it enables people to connect to each other, to find each other. But really, the web enables that too. Facebook made it easy, and in return you give everything to them. It's not Web 2.0, because it is an intranet - in the same way that various systems I use at work are an intranet, not available to anyone outside, and ultimately for the benefit of the company with any benefit accruing to me being merely a fortunate side-effect that encourages me to give more to the system.
Facebook and twitter are big. WML is big, too. But the Web is bigger, and ultimately it offers more. The possibilities for accessibility, for universality, for people being in control of what they use and do, are so much more. Developing tools for the Web at large generally happens more slowly - it's easier to make simple ones, but harder to make sure that really sexy ones have all the value that the web can add. So maybe I should go back to thinking more about creation tools, and how to get them to improve.
And more importantly, I think it makes sense to keep using my blog - a place where I can publish, to the real web, things I have thought about that are more than a couple of lines, things that I think should be available in 2 or 7 years in case they are useful, things that can be indexed and labelled and managed more carefully and intelligently in 5 years than they are now. So I hope I am back to blogging for real.
And Maraña might be a good place to reflect on the issues a bit before I write...