The Relationship Bubble – 8 – A Guidebook to Internet Use Self-Assessment

I briefly introduced a device – “The Relationship Bubble” – in the introduction to this series of essays. I did this immediately after discussing what it MIGHT have been like as a baby inside your mother’s womb. At that point, that was your life. You had few if any needs that weren’t automatically satisfied. You could interact with the world, but only in very limited ways. At certain points along your journey as a fetus, you began to sense things. You began to touch, taste, hear, and probably smell. You interacted with your mother in various ways, including how you moved, what you touched/pushed/prodded/kicked, etc. You were developing your first relationship, and for the more sensitive families your mother was probably helping you develop other relationships as she described your actions – either real, imagined, or created by her.

In this context, you could say your mother’s womb was your first relationship bubble – fairly literally in fact. That said, even as early as this, your family and perhaps others were likely creating a more figurative but no less important relationship bubble for you. This relationship bubble is made up of things like your family relationships with the rest of the world, your family background, aspirations, limitations, etc., etc. These castles in the sky that others create about you (intentially or otherwise) become what I’m planning to term your relationship bubble. Over time and as you begin to be more adept at communications through your own actions, you adopt more and more of your own bubble and then over time you begin to control more significant portions of it. You are never in complete control of your relationship bubble, and it lives on even after you die.

Your relationship bubble is bounded by the things that any other individual is exposed to about you that influences their beliefs about you. It starts out with a life of its own – since it is initially created in the context of our situations – and then we have opportunities to influence it until we die and then it lives on in people’s heads and evolves as others want it to evolve until what is left is largely what you and others recorded about it and what others choose to record about it posthumously. I choose not to for purposes of these essays, but you might call this bubble your identity. It is really how others perceive you, and how they choose to influence how others perceive you – which becomes a part of your bubble just as much as, and sometimes more than your own actions.

Comprehending the concept of a relationship bubble and attempting to exercise some level of control over it is highly significant and challenging. Please take a moment to read the story about “Blind Men and an Elephant.”  Now consider that, while not something the observer can touch (unless you are in physical contact with the observer – totally unnecessary to the development of perceptions about you), the part of your relationship bubble that is exposed to any given observer is dependent upon their frame of reference, the information that is made available about you from any source, etc. This will be different – sometimes dramatically different – from one observer to the next. It might even be useful for you to consider your relationship bubble to be separate for different people and/or constituencies in your life.

Some people manage their relationship bubble carefully and extensively. Others pretend that it doesn’t exist. The rest of us are on a continuum between these extremes. The essence of this series of essays is to discuss how internet use influences the management of our relationship bubbles.

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Designated Family Historian

We sold our house in Garland earlier in 2010 after about 7 months on the market.  The experience of downsizing our belongings was painful to say the least!  I could – and may well at some point – go on and on about the experience, but I wanted to note some fairly specific observations at this point.  We ended up at the end of the day with over 10 boxes of photos and other family records that Julie has accumulated from quite a number of sources.  She had all sorts of stuff handed down from various estates – either from the estates themselves or from others who simply didn’t know what to do with the materials.  My Mother still had a couple of suitcases full of photographs from her parents and my dad’s parents estates, and she says she shared the photos from her parents’ estate with her brother.  Some of our own stuff was likely mixed in with the collection, but our own extended well beyond those 10 boxes.

Julie has been pursuing family history for about as long as she can remember, and the bug has really taken hold as all of the latest internet tools have really started gaining traction – ancestry.com, familysearch.com, etc.  She really started trying to use computers for the task in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s when she published a 2 volume set on the Berven family.  She used the Personal Ancestral File program at the time to help organize the documentation, and the Berven descendants enthusiastically supported the effort.  We had a couple of family reunions in the Estherville area, and Julie even needle-pointed a 4 generation family tree that’s currently hanging at my Mother’s house.  Life interrupted these efforts for quite a while, and I managed to lose that particular PAF file for her in attempts to back up the system she was using (which is ironic and disturbing, but that also is another story).  We have the entire text of the book in several forms electronically, and several copies of the book, but given all the special Norwegian characters used in the book, it would have been a real time-saver to be able to convert the files to gedcom and upload them.  Water under the bridge…

Julie is slowly but surely getting the Berven Family History rebuilt on ancestry.com.  It is now a history of all branches of our children’s family tree – Prentis, Tennant, Main, Stephens, Watts, Needham, Hansen, Berven and related families.  As far as we can tell (and we’re in the business), she’s using most of the best that the Internet currently has on offer for the task.  She has varying levels of collaboration ongoing with large numbers of people.  I’m biased in my belief, but others have told her that her tree is a fine work.  She’s done it all out of the goodness of her heart (and it’s mighty good).  She helps others selflessly, and others help her almost without exception on the same generous terms.

Aside from tooting Julie’s horn, my goal here is to openly wonder a bit about the pursuit of family history in general.  She spends a great deal of her time at this – searching, communicating, collaborating, investigating, sleuthing, etc., etc.  She has over 41,000 people in her main tree, and the main lines in the tree are well researched and documented.  There are over 5000 photos – including tombstones, documents, people, etc.  I believe this pursuit is and has pretty much always been a highly specialized pursuit and the folks that do it tend to become a “designated family historian.”  Other family members send information their way when they learn something, but other than that many probably don’t get involved in the heavy lifting.  I suspect that as more and more tools become available, the problem of involvement is becoming more acute.

The biggest question in my mind centers around how the barrier to involvement might be lowered to get more people involved in the process?

Is the problem of low involvement centered around difficulty, lack in interest, lack of time, …?

So far, the television series put together by ancestry.com – “Who Do You Think You Are?” – is excellent and seems well targeted.  Hopefully with repetition, it will start to address any lack of interest that exists, and then it will be up to industry participants – ancestry.com included – to “seal the deal” with potential new participants and create some more designated family historians!

A Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

A picure?  A thousand words?  I’m afraid I’d have to say yes – give or take – most (many?) photos deserve to have a story told about them.  I recently read on a web site that there are estimated to be 3-5 trillion photo prints out there – many languishing in basements, garages, attics, and probably libraries, historical societies, etc.  If the number is even remotely close, then someone better get busy.  If those prints are going to mean anything to future generations, there are 3-5 quadrillion (yes, I’m sorry to say that I had to look that one up) words that could be recorded about them – give or take.  Don’t get too hung up on exact numbers – that’s like discussing infinity.  The point is that there is a very large number of prints out there that, without documentation, will be largely useless to future generations.

Well, at least we’re good-to-go now – since “they” invented digital photography – at least we don’t have to worry about those photos that are stored electronically – do we?  Hold a print up next to a digital photo displayed on your computer screen.  Now consider that 150 years from now (give or take), if there are no written words or other system used to pass down the lore about either photo (print or digital), then neither is more useful though either could arguably outlast the other.  Given the literally explosive growth in photography now taking place – man, are we ever in trouble!

Depending upon the goal of the photo (Art shots excepted at least), I make the argument that for a picture to have worth, it needs to have a thousand words recorded about it.  Perhaps I should change the title of this post to “A Picture Needs to have a Thousand Words Written About It to have Lasting Worth.”

How many photo prints do you have in your family photo collections?

Are your photo prints well documented?

Good or Bad? – 7 – A Guidebook to Internet Use Self-Assessment

I hope you will accept that human beings are social.  Unless you are totally self-sufficient you depend upon interaction with other humans (1). Going out on a limb just a bit, I submit to you that all of the good things and all of the bad things in this world happen to us because we are social.  Our goal in life is to maximize the good things and minimize the bad things that happen to us.  Unless you like bad things.  But then doesn’t that make them good things to you?    I think “there is the rub.”  An example of this going on in the world might be one person making light of the prophet of another person’s religion – it’s free speech, right?  Then the person with the Prophet threatens the person making light – it’s blasphemy, right?  Each person is attacking something fundamental to the other and each is very likely willing to defend their position.  Which is good and which is bad?  It depends upon your social group.  This example is pretty “out there” but also quite real.  Versions of this scenario – hopefully much milder – happen all the time within and between social groups.  This book is not about identifying the good good and the bad good and the good bad and the bad bad.  It is about recognizing what is going on around you and self-assessing your part in it.

(1) I’m not quite sure how total self-sufficiency would be accomplished now-a-days, but it seems at least possible and I hear some people try – which is quite interesting in itself if you really think about it since if they are actually self-sufficient then why do they feel the need to tell someone about it?!  Maybe they didn’t mean THAT kind of self-sufficient.  Also, if they are THAT kind of self-sufficient, then you would never hear about it so I guess we don’t know, do we?  Okay, I’ll stop – for now.

Why Relationships? – 6 – A Guidebook to Internet Use Self-Assessment

Hopefully my brief introduction to the topic of relationships was enough to pique your interest to stay with me through the communication section.  Communication is near-and-dear to my heart and I find it intriguing, but then I made it through an Electrical Engineering degree and when I look back on it I think it might have been fun too… Communication is basically why the Internet (and a lot of other things) was initially so successful (and perhaps why it was invented, but I won’t try to apply limits to or impute motives to these brilliant people).  Making information available quickly, simply and widely made the Internet explode and continues to be a major source of attraction.

There are elements of the Internet now that were either there early on and took a while to notice or have been developing and have been adding dimensions that weren’t really there at first – for most people anyway.  Email was there to tell people things.  It was better than snail mail but was modeled more along those lines – writing letters and sending them electronically vs. ink/paper/stamp/envelope/post office.  This did make the process faster/easier/…  It changed some things regarding interpersonal communication, but not profoundly (at least relative to things that have happened since and seem to be happening at an accelerating pace).

Many moons ago when my son was much younger I successfully passed the geek virus along to him by helping him build his own IBM compatible computer (the infection process started sooner, but I think we agree that this is when it really TOOK).  One of the things he found and started to successfully use with his friends while they were collectively learning (read squandering huge amounts of their time in non-geek social circles) were IRC chat channels.  These were the precursors to what we call instant messaging today.  They were sort of like a party line telephone, and they could hop like a party sometimes.  I don’t actually know who started the familiarization process and won’t offend any of his friends by trying to speculate (and also won’t suggest that it started with his group of friends), but I view this as the beginning (arguable I imagine) of the social phenomenon that is – yes I’ll say it – “sweeping the Internet.”

IRC – Internet Relay Chat – was a program that ran on a central computer connected to the internet to which you could then connect (through your telephone modem – yes, you remember) using a program that you installed on your computer and then painfully set up.  You could set up your own channel and tell your friends about it, and then assign each other names/handles (10-4 good buddy) and then they could all send comments to be included in a stream-of-consciousness chat among your friends.  The administrators had options for rules of interaction.  I’m sure they used it to help each other through disasters, work through problems, arrange other entertainment, and arrange/discuss all sorts of shenanigans.  Our phone lines would have been busy anyway, so…

From my perspective, this was the beginning of something BIG.  It showed the promise that the Internet was not just about providing more/better/faster information, but it could change the way people interact in dramatic fashion – at least it seemed pretty dramatic at the time.  Things have changed a lot since then.  Every new twist and turn reinforces the fact that we are implementing and then experiencing a revolution in the options people have and the way in which people relate to each other.

That’s why.

Communication Wrap Up – 5 – A Guidebook to Internet Use Self-Assessment

I could go on and on about the history of communications (some would say I already have).  There are a few other things I’m going to mention before moving on.

Art deserves a prominent place in any discussion of communication.  It pre-dates writing (and it seems reasonable that in some form it pre-dated language) and was likely the key mechanism for transmitting culture from generation to generation until writing became rich enough and could be preserved long enough to be useful for this purpose and then they both became tools to this end.    Each of Art’s many forms (and sub-forms) seems to be a language, and hopefully you have some Art forms that speak to you.  It is an important and powerful mode of communication.

Control and the practice of writing was likely (invented and) quickly consolidated with those who had the necessary resources.  It would have been difficult and time consuming and therefore expensive.  The invention of simpler writing instruments and better quality “paper” makes the process simpler, but still very time consuming and expensive.  The invention of printing processes started to dilute the concentration of control of writing from the ruling and religious classes to the somewhat less wealthy and the business classes.  More and more people started learning how to read, and the ensuing intellectual development has tended to decentralize power to varying degrees over time.  Once enough people learned how to read, Newspapers, pamphlets and books afforded the opportunity for more people to gain increasing levels of knowledge.  Electronic communications – telegraph, telephone, radio, television – provided a progression of new ways to reach people quickly.  What we call progress seems to accelerate with the introduction of each new communication technology.  These are a few of the many major shifts that I will only mention as we get ready to move on to relationships.

Writing Beginnings – 4 – A Guidebook to Internet Use Self-Assessment

We’ve covered a lot of ground with regard to communications.  Most of it has been inherently transitory.  You speak a word and it is gone from the world in an instant.  It lives on in the minds of the hearers and the speaker, but making that word live on for others takes a great deal of effort and only the most important can then be carried forward from generation to generation.  A large amount of information can be carried forward, but there are certainly limits.  There are also many things in the world that aren’t transitory – the human form, the landscapes, the sky/stars/sun/moon, etc.  Ideas, stories of our rulers and ancestors, etc. didn’t persist unless we made them persist.  Since persistence is good…

If we consider what written language probably started out like, it is most likely with people trying to draw objects in the sand/dirt to help them get their message across regarding something that needed to be accomplished or a narrative that someone needed or wanted to convey.  “I can’t seem to make a sound or gesture that gets my point across – wait, there’s a shape in the sand that looks kind-of like where I’m trying to go.  Let me just round out that corner and add/delete this detail and voila!”  And then “Wait, I could just start from a smooth plot of sand and draw my own!”  And.  The.  Rest.  Is.  History.  That said, though, what we’re discussing was all by definition before what we call recorded history so we can’t really know what transpired with any high degree of certainty.  The development of writing could have and probably did take many paths (and I suppose you could say it still does).

People – Steven Pinker comes to mind due to the currency of his writings – have written volumes on the subject of language.  Speaking or writing about language at length seems a bit odd when I think about it.  It’s a bit like standing in between two mirrors and adjusting those mirrors until you start to see yourself repeated again and again to what looks like infinity.  It is not infinity primarily because you can’t see that far, but it really is similar to trying to see back to the beginnings of language and writing (in part because you also can’t see that far).  I guess that showcases some of the versatility of language and writing.  The idea that you and I  or you and Steven Pinker can be somewhere “together” separated by who knows how much time and space considering this or any other topic is a truly amazing idea.  Honestly, I think it is every bit as if not more profound than the internet, but it is certainly not as timely – which is why we are sitting down together “here” to discuss the internet and not writing.  The spoken word is up there too, but writing is what really kicked language and many other things into high gear – over time at least.