so much depends upon

I’ve been doing some preliminary musing on user experience research that I’m involved in over at Mobile Muse, and I thought this might be the appropriate space to expand on my interpretations of mobile phone use in ways that attach more directly to the issues I talk about in this blog. Sort of a conversation between my bored-to-tears musician/blog self and my more serious inquisitive/scientific/work self, if you will, or if you even care about such self-indulgent self-characterizations.

OK, whatever. I don’t get to write things like the above paragraph in school or at Mobile Muse, so there you go. Here the boundaries of acceptable text are pretty much what I say they are, within reason…I mean – linking to my work blog places some automatic limitations on what I write. There are deeper, snarkier thoughts buried at a more personal layer in the continuum of public and private technologies I use to make text and other artifacts, but this Nose Click space is right about in the middle. Here you get the kind of talk I try to use when I have conversations with people I don’t know all that well. But such conversations are always much clumsier, as I never feel like I’m as prepared as the people I talk to. Here, I’m somewhat more prepared.

I’m taking a while getting to my point, and what it has to do with mobile phones. But bear with me. There is, in fact, a point. The point is? The privacy and publicity of personal communication.

Ten years ago I used to scribble in notebooks all the time. I would furiously write down dreams, emotionally harrowing experiences, poetry, song lyrics, todo lists, storyboards, plans, schemes, dramatic monologues, you name it. I even composed early drafts of college essays there – sometimes even final drafts. My first year of college was in 1993, which was the very last year any profs at my college accepted any final papers submitted in handwriting.

All of this was, of course, private writing (though slightly less so were the final college papers). You can’t see it until it’s finished. And while academically most profs demanded that you show your work in mathematics or that you make a proposal or early draft prior to submitting a final draft, my training has been oriented toward an intensity of private writing. I still barely contribute at all to wikis (even though I somewhat hypocritically champion them), as it just feels like I’m debasing my thoughts by throwing them out there naked.

I used to also always already be making 4 track recordings of music, on cassette tapes. Demo tapes. Essentially everything creative I did involved early private drafts and the tools that were most appropriate for the draft or sketch.

Tools and techniques are no longer so clearly demarcated. I compose music directly into Cubase, so the demo sketch of a song and its final draft coexist in the same continuum or project window. Scary times. However, it’s still a private affair until I rip the mp3, burn the CD, or even have the vinyl pressed (yes, the band made a record this year).

But let’s keep to text-only modes of communication for now. Wikis and other public communication media present writers wishing to explore them with a crisis of identity as an author. When my words are your words and your words are my words the more we get together the happier we’ll be. But when you add that “edit” tab to the tops of webpages, they’re no longer sites of publication/presentation. They become sites of production. Or production and presentation get mixed up. And if we slip down (or up, depending on how you view it) this slope, what happens to a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens?

So much depends upon it.

And I have an inkling that my suspicion of dissolution of private writing and early drafts (like this post) is akin to the suspicion some people feel about their mobile phones. Here we have a tool for gossip, a tool for intimate friendships, a technology around which we’ve built other supplemental technologies (voice mail, call waiting, call forwarding, caller ID, SMS, MMS, and so on) to manage our intimate affairs, to inscribe rules of privacy, and to draw lines around our private technological lives. Could mobile phones be an important new site of informal early drafts? And if so, does this mean that we’ve come to accept that the new early draft, or private writing, is acceptably done via voice, SMS, or mobile email among our closest friends, the ones we allow into our little mobile contacts list? I could be out to lunch here, but that’s exactly what happens with early drafts…

It might work for encyclopedias and other forms of expression that work just as well when collectivized, but I guess I’m having doubts as to whether it works for artists. Maybe it’s my cultural training, or maybe it’s a mild form of romantic megalomania, but I’m very attached to the idea of individuation in creativity. My words aren’t your words.

And what happens if I throw this up against the idea of the “walled garden”? (e.g., my words aren’t Motorola’s). It gets white hot.

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