Conversation 2.0: Annotated vs. interrupted

Everybody has a smart phone these days, which means that everybody is constantly within hailing distance of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, Settler of Disputes, Furnisher of Backstory, and Destroyer of Conversations.

You start with two people talking over lunch about who played the Riddler on Batman, and the next thing you know, one of them is nose-down, running silent, and plowing the prosy deep. By the time he emerges triumphant with Frank Gorshin in his teeth, the conversation is dead, and poor Frank must float slowly back to the page he came from.

I was in one of these conversations the other night. Long after we determined the length of the Triassic, or whatever it was, my interlocutor was lost in some other dark gallery, bewitched and out of reach. I took the opportunity to order another beer.

The interrupted conversation is a common enough complaint (and likely to get much more common). But there is a pleasant flip-side to the interrupted conversation: the annotated conversation. I was in one of these over lunch earlier this week. We were talking about sociology and cultural concepts of fairness and appropriate behavior. Matt had some good stories, but couldn’t quite remember a key phrase. After lunch, he sent us this email.

FYI, the phrase I was looking for at lunch today was “polite fiction”. This is the passage that I remember reading:

One of my favorite concepts in anthropology is that of the polite fiction. It’s something nobody believes, but we all pretend to because it makes life so much easier. My favorite example was of a Pygmy couple. Pygmy divorce involves quite literally breaking up the home: the couple tears apart their house (it’s easy – the houses are made of leaves) and once it’s down, the union is dissolved. One anthropologist was watching a long-married couple have a fight. It escalated until the wife threatened to leave, and the husband yelled something along the lines of “Fine!” and there was nothing the wife could do but start tearing down the house. She began tearing the roof off, clearly miserable. The husband looked wretched too, but at this point neither could back down without losing face and by now the whole village was watching.

Finally, the husband called out the Pygmy equivalent of “You’re right, honey! The roof is dirty! It’ll look much better once we get those leaves washed!” The two of them started carrying leaves down to the river, soon with the help of the whole village, and then washed and rebuilt the whole roof. When the anthropologist later discreetly asked how often one washes the roof, everyone looked at him like he was a complete doofus.

For the not-work-safe context this came from, see this URL:

Oh, and here’s the parable I tried to tell:

This little note was a real gift. It was a reminder of an interesting conversation, and a resource for future ones (not to mention being blog fodder). And it didn’t interrupt the friendly flow of conversation. Rather, it recalled it after the fact. I love the Annotated Conversation. We’ll be seeing a lot more of those too.

Have you had any?

Meat shooting and Google baiting

If you don’t read the comments here, you may have missed the wonderful thing that Mary Beth did last week. After a brief discussion here about how all knowledge is a web search away once you remember to formulate the question, she went out and researched a topic that had mystified her for many years: the Meat Shoot.

Suppose you see a sign in front of a VFW hall that says “Meat Shoot, March 21st.” Here’s what I want to know: is that effective advertising or not? Is the VFW hall making a fair assumption that anyone who wants to come to a meat shoot already knows what one is? The good news is that it hardly matters anymore, because Mary Beth went and made a Meat Shoot entry in the Wikipedia, thereby making it that much easier for the casual meat shoot passerby to become informed. And just to show how much Google loves Wikipedia, as of this writing (and less than a week after the article was created), Mary Beth’s meat shoot article is in sixth place on the Google search for meat shoot.

Can you feel the Great Brain getting smarter? The synapses at the meat shoot neuron just got a little stronger, and gosh darn it, it makes me proud to be alive.

They’re called “rockdots”

Jon Udell’s Heavy Metal Umlaut video is being passed around a lot these days, and with good reason. He took a quirky page out of Wikipedia, coupled it with some quick and dirty video manipulation from Camtasia, and made a compelling illustration of how the Wikipedia actually works.

Here’s the current Wikipedia entry that initially tickled Udell. This odd little article started out two years ago with this inauspicious note about the spandex and umlaut circuit. Over time it morphed into a richly detailed socialogical digression. But how did that transformation come about? Udell decided to make a movie about that process: here it is.

Udell is on a roll these days, putting new and consistently interesting commentary into his InfoWorld columns and his weblog. In addition, he writes the occasional column for O’Reilly. If you’re so inclined, you can read a detailed account of how he created the umlaut video here.