Chris Gammell's Analog Life

Analog electronics and everything else between 1 and 0

Page 2 of 61

Internet Denizenry

I’m rounding out a stint of travel to Serbia, Germany, the UK and am now back in the states. It has been a wonderful experience, even if I am ready for a bit of quiet at home for a while.

One thing that strikes me as I travel to these foreign destinations and meet new people and experience new things: work stays the same.

This is the effect of spending a large percentage of time in front of a screen. No matter what the surrounding environment, with a wifi connection, a laptop and possibly a VPN, I can access the exact same setup as anywhere else. No surprise to most people, why should work ever change for an internet worker?

It’s actually the effect of having that consistency of experience that intrigues me. Very few other professions (that aren’t primarily screen based) would have the same effect. A doctor in a different country would need to learn the local trends and traditions. A construction worker would need to figure out how the building codes are different. An accountant would need to learn the local tax rules. With the internet, it really starts to normalize.

This combines with the cultural homogenization I observed. I’m not saying that all of the places I visited are converging towards the suburban Ohio experience that I’m accustomed to (thank goodness). But there is a sneaking suspicion that advertisers are following me from country to country as they attempt to penetrate new markets. Life is not a series of advertisements (I hope) but the availability of comforts and fashion across the globe has me questioning daily experience in another country.

On a broader level, this starts to make me question the idea of location and citizenship at all. Hopefully I don’t sound ungrateful for the comforts a US passport and background affords me. But now that I start to experience similar daily experience in and out of work and an overall convergent culture and I start to wonder what differentiates one country over another. On the surface it seems like:

  • Currency
  • Power standards (plugs, voltages)
  • Language (though I benefit from the world moving towards an English standard)
  • Tax structures, bureaucratic struggles and the services the pay for, such as healthcare.

Yes, this is a drastic oversimplification. But calling out these things as some of the large differentiating points, I really wonder what a “internet” passport and citizenship would look like, some kind of new world order simplified across all the willing participants of the web. Not just a tax haven and a lack of regulation (looking at you SeaLand), but an actual society of people that are living and working online. A government run by hackers and makers, optimized for low overhead and allowing maximum flexibility between the various geographies of the world. It would probably be a mess, but allows for an interesting thought experiment. Where would move people choose to live in the real world? How would that further impact culture? What defines citizenship in the first place?

Ultimately, I am grateful for the opportunity to work from a variety of locations and bring my work with me. I continue to be an American and likely would choose that again if given the opportunity. Perhaps I’ll start working from more varied locations though.

 

Language Barriers

Despite my love of words, I have never actually picked up another language. I have “studied” both French and Japanese in school for multiple years, but neither of those stuck past a few phrases and vague recognition. While the courses are often emphasized in education, actual long term proficiency (or really long term practice) is never a priority. Thus, American kids don’t normally speak two languages unless a second one is learned at home.

I’m currently in Germany and headed to Serbia soon. I have been in both of these countries once before and rather enjoy the sounds of both languages (obviously I glean a couple of “freebie” words in German, so I’m a bit more partial to that). For both languages/places, I feel super awkward about my linguistic cluelessness. Something I pride myself on is my proficiency of communicating with other humans (ie. explaining an engineering concept to a non-engineer); but in other languages, that skill is completely worthless. It’s like I’ve lost a portion of my brain. It’s like I’m helpless.

I have friends who have started picking up languages by daily practice with tools like Duolingo (a really great app in it’s own right); but the successful ones are those who are immersing themselves in some way. It seems that the key piece is not just grammar or vocabulary, but being ok with working on your skills. Perhaps the most key skill is dealing with the imminent awkwardness of learning a new tongue.

I’m not sure when I will have time to pick up a new language, but I might try to put myself into a situation where I don’t have a choice.

Thanks to Laura for the awkward photo

Modes Of Communication

I have been working on a new mode of connecting with others in the engineering community. It’s been a slog to get people to try it out and use it regularly, but I totally get it. I have so many modes of communication these days:

  • Email (multiple email addresses)
  • Text (multiple phone numbers)
  • gChat (tied to multiple email addresses)
  • Slack (multiple “rooms”)
  • Twitter DM (multiple Twitter accounts)
  • Facebook messenger
  • Skype
  • LinkedIn messages
  • IRC
  • Forums (I run one of my own, though I hardly have time to visit it)
  • SupplyFX (the new site I’m working on)

It really feels like a popularity contest. Any platform is only as good as the one with all the important people on it. This is called a “network effect“. Getting to that point is the hard part. Convincing enough people that it is worthwhile to spend time in one platform vs another.

Aside from thinking about how to get more people to adopt another platform, I feel quite a bit of stress about the range of platforms that I’m already on. What if I’m missing a message? What if someone I’m trying to get ahold of missed my message? Do I try other channels? What if it’s a conscious act (ignoring me)? What if there’s a platform I should be on that I’m not?

It feels like a set of social groups that you can bounce between; sometimes it’s just talking to an individual…sometimes it’s talking to a group. There is definitely a FOMO feeling in there as well (without the accompanying torschlusspanik).

The worst part is also the best solution. Picking one or two methods and sticking to them. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. Our brains can only handle so much stimulation and input, and we really should spend time talking to others in person or working on interesting things. A lot of these modes of communication can be used as escapes instead of connection platforms (people on forums all day arguing about making something instead of making things, posting random nonsense to IRC channels, etc). The downside to this is the assumption that if someone really needs to get ahold of you, they will jump to the platform you have chosen, even if just to grab your attention for a bit. That’s depressing if no one actually jumps over. Sure, it’s ego, but limiting myself to one platform could throw into sharp relief that I’m not really needed for much.

I’m going to keep trying a variety of these platforms and will probably even try out new ones as they pop up. As I have written about recently, I’m most interested in increasing my in-person connections, because those will be the most meaningful (even if the cost is highest for those). I’m planning to reduce communication platforms in the future, but for now….I’m pretty easy to find.

« Older posts Newer posts »