I once waited at home all day waiting for a friend of mine to call. He said that he would, and I believed it was my duty to make sure that I was there to pick up when he inevitably did. I watched TV and played on the computer. I fondled the phone and made multiple calls of my own without response. I went through the emotions of rejection to anger. I regretted that I didn’t set up more concrete plans when we saw each other at school. I just wanted him to pick up the phone and dial my number so that we could hang out like we had the previous 10 weekends. Why was this one so different, and why wasn’t he calling? At about 9:00 pm that night, I called and he picked up. He was surprised that I had been waiting. He was surprised that I hadn’t just found something else to do. He was a little sorry about not calling, but he really didn’t see the problem in it. He wasn’t the one who had wasted an entire day by the phone. And he was right about that.
On that day, I realized that I had no way to take the pulse of my friends. I had no way to figure out what they were thinking or where they were going. I couldn’t search for it and certainly I couldn’t see on a FourSquare map the places that they had checked in. I know that the reality of landlines and unreliable brother answering systems made this so, but I don’t think that was really it. I couldn’t take the pulse because I didn’t know what it felt like. I couldn’t feel the pressure rise and fall. I couldn’t see the fluctuations in what mattered and didn’t. Perhaps most of all, I didn’t know that it was good to raise the pulse rate from time to time to make sure everything stayed healthy.
I have gotten better at this, though.
We exist in a world of perpetual search. The status updates that seem to emanate from the air define us and create more content than the world has ever known. The sheer volume of ideas being generated about even the most minute topics is flabbergasting. And we haven’t learned from much of our formerly terrible tools for keeping track of what is going on.
We create Google Alerts and subscribe to RSS feeds. We follow one another on twitter and friend each other on facebook. But we have no way to archive and we have no way to see patterns. Keeping the pulse isn’t just about knowing what is going on now, it is knowing where we are in a cycle and whether what is going on now is important. We need to know when quiet is a good thing. We need to know when noise is terrible. Right now, though, it is as if we are waiting by the computer waiting for our friends and business associates to say the right things for us to take part in the conversation.
Taking the pulse is about determining what should come next. It is about acting to raise expectations and then fulfilling them. It is about exercising our communities to make sure that they are still there for us. And we do this badly.
The communities that exist about indie rock music are just as fractured as the ones about tupperware. The individual places that we inhabit don’t come together in any way we can make sense of. Now, we do not need an aggregator of aggregators just to prove that we have the capacity to keep track of everything. We need to be able to develop the spaces that give us the most concrete information about the conversations we care about. We need to become collectors and people who put together puzzles. There is no stream of data that is worth less than another stream, so we should stop treating Twitter as better than HTML pages. We need to stop acting as if knowing where someone is is more important than the stuff they are doing there. All of the context matters, and we need to be able to take it all in and then parse it all for significance. In other words, we need to be able to make meaning, of all of it.
Let’s make a backup of all of our conversations.
Let’s make the answering machine that actually makes answers.