The power of staying home

After reading about Halley’s and Liz’s reception in Seattle for Search Champs, and in particular the lovely goodies they’ve received and the receptions they’re attending, I had some wistful regrets that I declined my invitation. It would have been nice to be pampered and treated as a respected guest by a software giant like Microsoft. It would also be nice to get a free copy of the Window’s software, as I can’t afford to buy it.

However, in the end, I am not unhappy that I stayed home. This week I’ve been inspired in my own work on Wordform, and also in my writing and though I’ve been recently sidetracked into a discussion that I now regret, for the most part I am content with how I am spending my time. I have a possible job interview tomorrow, I have finished another book proposal to start shopping around, and I think I’ll go out looking for dogwoods later today. Or clean the house, and this act has its own rewards.

I have never been much for traveling to events such as Search Champs. I have been to events at Microsoft in the past, but these were more meeting with a small group of techs and maybe going out for pizza afterwards — their treat. I can understand Microsoft inviting people to see their products, provide feedback, and hopefully both sides benefit from the experience. But for me, in this circumstance, I can contribute just as effectively from home.

It’s somewhat the same for wanting to meet people. There are some folks who I have ‘met’ in weblogging who I want to meet in person someday because they, personally, have become very interesting to me; I would be unhappy at not having the chance to meet with them at least once. Consider it a form of beer truck test, but for meeting people rather than project management: I would regret not having the opportunity to meet these folks before the proverbial and preferred vehicle of blame does its dastardly deed.

(The only reason why I’m not out now on a frenzied world tour is that I am convinced of my own immortality. Still, I’m not sanguine about the continued existence of any of you.)

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to meet people just because they are webloggers, or popular webloggers, or even because we have shared either passion or acrimony on a specific subject. In fact I would find that rather than enrich our shared experiences, personally meeting with those who I have exchanged strong views could actually detract from the exchange.

For instance, I have a strong interest in the lowercase semantic web and folksonomies and have written about Clay Shirky’s work many a time in the past–almost universally in disagreement. However, I have no particular interest in meeting him, and though I wouldn’t run from a meet, I wouldn’t actively seek one out, either.

Some might think this is a mistake, and say perhaps we would be less critical (or indifferent or antagonistic) toward each other if we were to meet. I can’t speak for Mr. Shirky, but I find that my personal detachment from him actually enables me to write, as I will, on a particular subject without worrying about the possible consequences to a ‘relationship’. More importantly though, our detached and somewhat adversarial position with regards to each other forces me to consider every word and every concept I put down in opposition. I know that any slip, incomplete thought, or fuzzy brain storm I put into written word is going to be subject to the intense, and most likely, scathing review; if not by Mr. Shirky, by others who are his supporters.

Some of my best writing has been in disagreement with Mr. Shirky and other supporters of folksonomies and RDF-less semanic web activity; not necessarily because they inspire me to write, but because they inspire me to write well–with a great deal of caution and careful consideration.

The same can be said for attending technology conferences and the like. Though I would enjoy meeting with my peers, and understand the critical need to network at times, not doing so does not negatively impact on my technical creativity; nor does it inhibit my exchange of ideas and concepts with others. (Especially since the better organized conferences provide the presentation material and even audio and video recordings of some, or all, of the sessions.)

I do miss presenting at conferences, as this is something I enjoy. However, I don’t need to present at, or attend conferences or other formal groups, in order to have a rich existence; or to achieve respect for my work, or to feel respect for the work of others. As long as I have access to their work, they have access to mine, and we share an active form of communication, I am content.

The power of the internet is that it gives me the power of staying home.

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