My web presence II: what’s my problem?

I realized my web presence was all wrong. This was the first step: recognizing imbalance.

I’ve already explained what I mean by web presence.

One day, I realized that my web presence was slowing me down. And then I thought I must be an idiot for not having noticed before, because I also realized that my general frustration with syncing my web presence with my self had been going on for some time.

Why hadn’t I noticed sooner?

I think there’s two reasons. First, though my conscious mind hadn’t noticed any deep problems, my subconscious ming had. This is just how the brain works. A huge amount of cognitive computation is done unconsciously. Indeed, it seems that parts of the nervous system like the retina, the optic nerve, and the spinal cord are not just cabling trunks that transmit stuff to and from the brain, but are in fact essential processing units. Consciousness only lives in the cortex; we’re just not aware of all the “thinking” that the rest of the nervous system does.

So, part of my brain recognized the problem, but had nothing to “report to management” as it were – nothing to pass up to my conscious mind. In the meantime, my conscious mind, living in blissful ignorance of what the rest of my brain was thinking, kept on doing business as usual, convinced that it was doing the right thing.

But the brain is not a serious of compartments; it’s just one big thing, and there’s bleed-over (like dreams) between it’s elements. So my subconscious mind kept niggling my conscious mind that something was wrong, and my conscious mind kept telling it to shut up.

And that’s what my frustration was: the mismatch between what the conscious and the subconscious parts of my mind wanted me to do.

The second reason that it took me so long to recognize that I was doing something wrong was that I was unaware of all the possible tools I could use to create and manage my web presence.

I’m an old-school UNIX geek: in my day, if you needed some software to do something, you wrote it yourself. I know that must sound terribly parochial today, but that’s how I was growed up. So it never even occurred to me to look for software that did what I needed. And even if it had, I wouldn’t have known what keywords to give Google to look for it. It was only dumb luck that I came across some of the software, and, over time, studied more of it. Eventually, the amount of stuff I learnt reached a critical mass. And then it all made sense.

I’d found all kinds of services on the web, each providing a certain kind of functionality. What I needed to do was match up my needs with specific tools. DUH! (Yes, it’s embarrassing to admit I fouled up like such a newbie.) Once I did that, everything started falling into place.

So what are my needs?

Create a Body of Knowledge about Designing. This is my windmill against which I tilt, and probably will for the rest of my life. There is a huge amount of information about designing, but it’s not yet been integrated into a sensible body of knowledge. So I need a way to create suitable content for this.

Collect Bits of Information. Some things interest me. Bits of information about those things are scattered around, in assorted web pages and especially blogs, all over the world. This isn’t just trivia. It’s useful information that I find forms the subtext of things I think about, write about, and do in my research. When I find these bits, it’s important to save them because I can’t be sure I’ll ever remember where they were. So I need a way to capture and organize those bits of information.

Keep Current on Certain Topics. Besides the bits of knowledge floating out there in the ether, there’s also a good amount of information on current events. As a designer, it’s important to understand the context of design problems and solutions. I get the context by keeping up with current events. This comes through blogs (at least, the good stuff does). So I need a way to organize how I read blogs.

Share What I Find. Besides the pragmatic concern of making good information available to my students, I tend to want to share what I know and learn. This means that whatever bits of information I do gather, I want to make public. This also affects the way I present it – I would want such information to be arranged in a way that (as far as I can tell) will be usable to others.

Share What I Think. The information I gather informs my thinking. Sometimes this results in “research,” other times in opinion. Pure research I save for official publications in journals and at conferences. The opinions, however, can also be quite useful. Having to explain one’s thoughts to others is an excellent way of clarifying those thoughts to oneself; as they say, the best way to learn something is to have to teach it. So I need a way to communicate that’s more than just passing along bits of information.

What’s important to note here is that even my identification of these needs emerged only as I struggled to create a solution. Looking for the solution helped me understand the problem. Some designerly folks call this co-evolution (the problem and solution evolve together).

So how did I get to the point of understanding what the problem really was? That’s what my next post will be about.

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