January 17th, 2016
|04:33 pm - [One Day The Technical Details Will Be Worked Out.]|
The world is connected online but are disconnected offline. People can have hundreds of Facebook friends and Instagram followers but feel incredibly lonely and isolated at the same time. People ‘like’ our posts but they don’t know us well enough to truly like us, let alone care about us in a meaningful way.
My Dead Friend Jake
People you know will die. People you count as friends may die suddenly. And when they do die, suddenly or otherwise, you’ll probably feel crummy and wish you’d spent more time with them.
On June 21, 2010 my buddy Jake was found dead in the backyard of his Tucson apartment. He was 29 years old and it was heartbreaking to everyone that knew him. It still is heartbreaking.
A few days later there was a memorial held at the Rialto Theater and I could barely stand being there. Mainly due to the heartache of it all but it also made me feel incredibly lonely in a whole lot of ways.
I knew everyone there and everyone there knew me and Tucson is just a really small town in that way. Everyone knew everyone but for the most part nobody hung out or spent much time with each other. It seemed like mostly nobody was very close at all.
This was all the more upsetting to me as Jake basically drank himself to death. He was a severe alcoholic and while we all knew he drank I don’t think anyone had a clue about just how much. [I never had the heart to let anyone tell me the full details but as I understand it he basically he died from a combination of alcohol poisoning and exposure. He lay passed out in his backyard all night and the desert sun didn’t wake him. That’s how it was/is in my head at least and that’s fine because it’s more of a motivator to prevent similar things from happening to people I know.]
How to Fight the Loneliness
So I wanted to do something about that sense of loneliness I imagine he felt and that we all felt. [And even still feel.]
I did my best to connect with the people i counted as friends and I think I did a really good job of that. I’m not externally shy and I don’t mind looking like an insane person for being too forward or open or weird for taking most every chance I get at making some meaningful connection with someone.
I found that even with people I knew well and were friends with thought it was weird to just give them gifts or write them some letter for no reason or offer to help them move. People don’t expect this normally and it’s understandable that they’d be slightly curious about some underlying motive or reasoning. So I wanted to create some way for people that were already friends or that may or may not even know one another to genuinely connect in some important and meaningful way.
To do it as some sort of limited social experiment/art project that afforded the people involved some comfort that stems from the structures of a group. I figured I’d work out the larger details with a smaller group of people that got the idea and could sort of be beta testers in some proof of concept experiment and then see how it went.
Friends and Family Plan
Consider your group of friends. Think of, for example, all of the people that you’re Facebook Friends with. Or that you follow on Twitter or have in some Google+ circle. Or that you know from some book club or shared hobby group or whatever. There are a lot of people in our lives that we know in some way but that we don’t know at all. And they don’t know us at all.
How often do you hang out with those people on a regular basis? How often do you spend time with just them? And when you do have occasion to spend time one-on-one how often does it feel awkward? How well do you really know them and what is it that you know about them? [And vice versa.]
I’d wager that the things we found to be the most important things a person could know about us are never really brought up or discussed. That sucks and it’s a shame and the reason why so many people hurt and live in loneliness and die alone are caused by a lack of connection to others.
The Vonnegut Solution
In an interview Kurt Vonnegut is quoted as saying, “Well, I am used to the rootlessness that goes with my profession. But I would like people to be able to stay in one community for a lifetime, to travel away from it to see the world, but always to come home again,...Until recent times, you know, human beings usually had a permanent community of relatives. They had dozens of homes to go to. So when a married couple had a fight, one or the other could go to a house three doors down and stay with a close relative until he was feeling tender again. Or if a kid was so fed up with his parents that he couldn't stand it, he could march over his uncle's for a while. And this is no longer possible. Each family is locked into its little box. The neighbors aren't relatives. There aren't other houses where people can go and be cared for.”
Vonnegut also spoke of how he felt Alcoholics Anonymous worked for so many people because it capitalized on the idea of an extended family. He argues that the modern family is simply too small, leaving too much room for loneliness and boredom, and advises: “I recommend that everybody here join all sorts of organizations, no matter how ridiculous, simply to get more people in his or her life. It does not matter much if all the other members are morons. Quantities of relatives of any sort are what we need.” Such counsel seems, in hindsight, particularly at odds with something else he proclaimed when he stood before the women of Agnes Scott College in 1999:
Computers are no more your friends, and no more increasers of your brainpower, than slot machines… Only well-informed, warm-hearted people can teach others things they’ll always remember and love. Computers and TV don’t do that. A computer teaches a child what a computer can become. An educated human being teaches a child what a child can become.
And if Vonnegut says it then it’s probably true.
Vonnegut’s solution assigns everyone in the country a new middle name. The first part of this name is an animal, vegetable, or a mineral followed by a number from one to 20. If the first part of your new name matches someone else's, you are cousins. If your new middle name is an exact match, you are siblings. In this manner everyone immediately gains 190,000 cousins and 10,000 brothers and sisters. These new artificial families replace traditional households and must look out for one another. People start saying that if you know of a relative involved in questionable behavior, don't call the police, call 20 more clan members.
Your New Name
Initially the beta testing group would be assigned one of just a few different names but the idea is that participants would create an account for, say, a PHP Bulletin Board Forum that would auto-assign them a random Noun/Number combination. Sub-forums for each name would be created.
[The technical specifics would be figured at some point.]
Get Closer and Make Connections
Once there was some defined group of extended family members that you were a part of there would be prompts and ‘missions’ generated and shared to everyone. These could be simple scenarios like going to get a coffee with someone.
Project Mayhem in Reverse
Assignments would be given to all the participants on a regular basis. Every week as a Giraffe you’d have to go to the movies with another Giraffe. The next assignment would be that you had to write a letter to someone else in your group. Exchange mix-cds, rent their favorite movie, read their favorite book. These assignments are really just opportunities for connection. Some are small and others are large and the number and type of assignments are unlimited.
This way people that knew each other could get to know one another better.
The movie assignment/mission might require that the two people have their phones be in range of one another for a certain amount of time.
These assignments would be like Missions in a video game. They serve simply as a writing prompt might be useful to a writer. Give them something to focus on doing together to prevent them from focusing too much on the possible weirdness of the interaction.
Much of what I am imagining is inspired indirectly and directly by the work that Niantic is doing with their location-based ARG called Ingress and the potential uses of their work as inspiration for a project like this. In Ingress the players receive medals for completing a series of tasks that comprise the specific Mission. These Missions/tasks are user created and some are easier than others.
Using a similar structure to the one set up by Niantic for Ingress would allow for this to be turned into some sort of game.
The Dungeon Master [or Game Master] in Dungeons & Dragons games is another example. Participants would be given challenges and presented with new information.
Points would be awarded for each interaction/activity completed. Higher points are awarded for the more time-consuming activities. Participants can suggest activities and attach points to them.
Proof of Concept
Start with a small group from an existing circle of friends and treat it as you would some Secret Santa thing.
Project Notes + Tasks
Make a mix CD of at least 10 songs that had a large effect on you for whatever reason.
Write a diary entry every day for a week.
Pretend you can communicate who you are as a person only by showing someone a movie. What movies would you choose? Pick three at least.
What books were most important and/or meaningful to you?
Create MyBBS Forum for project home [smartwentcrazy.com]
Membership and Registration
Each should at least require some small time commitment of, say, an hour? Maybe that’s too long. But maybe more points are awarded for more time spent? As long an album or mixtape might last. Sharing favorite songs with others is a great example of a mission.
Who would be the equivalent of the DM? Maybe utilize something like Twitter to send out new missions/tasks?
Nervousness.org was a perfect example
Show and Tell
Exchange favorite movies
Maps as Missions: A basic map of a person's life can be made/followed flowchart style
Meetup, OkCupid, Costco Soulmate Trading Outlet and others where people are looking for connections in meaningful ways. Participants create some profile.
Facebook is horrible in too many ways to mention and only proves the desire for people to connect is there
“Shared experience is one of those central building blocks of community and something that we feel compelled to seek out. In new social situations, it gives us a quick way to feel connected. Often, when you meet someone for the first time, you look for experiences you have in common. That feeling is what drives the popularity of book clubs. Shared experience powers these gatherings and has allowed them to persist despite the troubles of the publishing business. “
Low-tech flyers like The Jejune Institute
Jai Tanju and his postcard project
Beta participants should add one another to their Google Location Sharing?
Glympse Group? Jink app?
Links + Related Reading
Theory of the Dérive https://docs.google.com/document/d/1l-eZpyQpn7khcUwqHpEwyt99CiVdPfXD1B6Dj91kHVY/edit?usp=sharing
Current Location: Silicon Valley