Who we are is what we follow
Posted by shannonclark on March 26, 2008
And I agree with him (though I only follow a fairly carefully selected ~170 people on twitter at the moment, that is growing every week.
But this post is not about that meaning of “follow”, rather I have a theory that is a bit broader, related to a past post of mine about Time & Attention.
This afternoon as I left my apartment and picked up my mail on my way out the door, I had a new issue of the New Yorker magazine waiting for me, as I took it out to take with me I had the thought “now I’m three weeks behind on my New Yorker reading” in short in the unit of time “unread New Yorker magazines” my count went up one to three (or four if you count an issue I “only” haven’t yet read the fiction story. I have been a New Yorker subscriber since college, reading almost every issue cover to cover, skipping only the event listings and for the most part the poems. And yes, that’s a lot of words and a fairly significant amount of time I’ve invested into appreciating the magazine.
Which got me to thinking – there is a group of fellow subscribers and readers of the magazine with whom the unit of measure “how many weeks worth of the New Yorker you haven’t yet read” would be a common bond. A bond of a unit of measure which in turn, is a bond that reflects something important about us – namely one shared aspect of what we pay attention to, what we follow.
At the moment March Madness is in full swing here in the US, a few days ago my friends were buzzing about setting up their “brackets” today my friends at times are complaining about their partner’s obsessions with the games (or about the wins and losses of the teams they selected). In contrast, however, I have paid almost no attention at all to March Madness, I don’t know who is winning or losing, who made it in, who was favored, or what has been happening in the first series of games. Here is a place where I am not following what a large number of my friends are following – either directly or indirectly as a result of their partners (I use partners to be gender neutral here).
But I am deeply aware of the political calendar, in the past few months I’ve been paying active and close attention to each primary election, and likewise a fairly large portion of my circle of friends has been doing the same – some of us working directly for a campaign, some following actively via Huffington Post, some via DailyKos, some like myself via Andrew Sullivan and some by more mainstream news sources. All of us also using various social mediums – twitter, facebook, email, our own blogs and podcasts, to help raise awareness and share stories and bits of news or speculation which we find compelling. In short with the US presidential election there is a strong and common thing many of my friends and I are following. And yes, some of us at least are long time political junkies, we did much the same things the past few election cycles.
For many people in the US and more broadly in the “Western” world this past weekend was Easter and one set of my friends and family was paying attention to that, preparing for the Holy Week celebrations, buying hams for Easter Sunday dinner, painting eggs and hiding them for their children etc.
For another set of my family and friends last week was Purim, a Jewish holiday and occasion for fun and drinking and the baking of Hamentashen.
I’m not religious so I was caught a bit unaware this year by Easter and by Purim. Made aware of Easter in fact by the signs in my neighborhood butchers shop that they would be open on Easter Sunday. Shopping at a local Safeway (large supermarket chain) I also noticed that Safeway had set up as they do each year a section of kosher for Passover products and across the way had their Easter candies and products. So naturally I assumed that Passover was also soon to happen.
In a call last week to my business partner, who is also Jewish but more practicing than I am, he informed me however that Passover this year is not until April due to the once every seven years additional month which is added to the Jewish Calendar to keep the lunar calendar generally in sync with the seasons so major holidays don’t fall in the wrong seasons.
I suspect, however, that someone at Safeway had some fairly simple set of rules for the buyers – when you start putting out the Easter products also start stocking Kosher for Passover items.
Via Twitter, though also via my friends blogs, Facebook statuses, personal emails and other communications I am noting even more acutely what (and at times specifically who) they are following, what Holidays they are celebrating, what conferences they are preparing for, speaking at, planning, what albums they are waiting to be released, what performances musical or otherwise they are attending or at times what they have just bought tickets to in advance. In short I can see the many ways in which what we are paying attention to overlaps and as interestingly more and more I can see some of the multitude of ways in which it does not overlap.
And via tools such as Facebook, Upcoming.org, and yes, Twitter, I can choose to start to follow, start to pay attention to some of the same things as my friends and I can signal out to them what I am following.
My shared stories on Google Reader, I suspect, paint a different picture of me than many people might assume. Via Google Reader for the past year I have, perhaps, mostly been signaling my political views – sharing a lot of stories from Andrew Sullivan, sprinkled with an occasional tech story. I do not, however, share everything that I am paying attention to, for instance, I don’t always share every story about advertising which I am reading and following – those instead I star for my own future reference, those I might share in a more manual fashion with my business partner or some trusted advisors.
At present I am a part of, following and paying attention to many different yet sometimes overlapping worlds. Professionally I am entering into the advertising world, so I am spending more and more time and attention following that world – and I need to find more and richer sources, subscribe to more print magazines and blogs, attend even more industry related events. I continue to be interested in the wider world of the Internet and “Web 2.0″ and that too is a professional as well as personal interest, so I am aware of many of the upcoming conferences, read and subscribe to many related blogs, and frequently attend events. I’m also quite interested in the future of music and more broadly in the future of media and to that end I follow and participate in some industry discussions, attend events, read blogs, etc.
I’m also a science fiction fan of select TV shows, occasional movies but mostly of novels. So I’m also paying some attention to when various authors I like have books published, I attend a small set of science fiction conventions each year, and I am a fan of a few select TV shows (mostly Doctor Who and Torchwood). I am not, however, as tied into this world as many of my friends, friends who subscribe to monthly magazines (which in many cases they also publish and write for), friends who attend not the one or two conferences I attend but far more, friends who aren’t just fans of but are professionally engaged in the world of science fiction and fantasy.
And I could go on, I’m a foodie so I pay some attention to the weekly farmer’s markets, to restaurant openings and closings, to special events related to food, but I don’t follow it as closely as I might like. I missed, for example, that a major restaurant I had been told about a few months ago was finally opening this month in NYC, had I been paying closer attention I would have timed a trip to NYC in time to get to be there for the “friends and family” previews (my sister’s boyfriend is writing a cookbook with the chef so I’m fairly sure had I known to ask I could have gotten in, along with the “VIPs” for as one food blog called it the hottest ticket in town). Now I’ll have to try for a reservation along with everyone else each time I’m in NYC or might be.
My point with this post is to suggest that what and who we follow shapes us, it helps to define us in a very deep and powerful manner. Whether it is the calendar of events of our religion, or the publishing schedule of our favorite magazine, the rhythms of our lives are set by what we follow.
And in turn when our rhythm is in sync with that of another person the chance of our also being friends goes up.
I would prefer, strongly prefer, to date a woman (and if you are reading this via a feed etc, I’m a man and yes, I’m single at the moment) with whom I had many overlapping rhythms. Though as well I would hope that we were not entirely in sync, that she would follow and pay attention to some things which would be new for me, and likewise that I might follow and introduce her to new events and sources. For that, I think, would be ideal – ongoing new discovery and mutual sharing of passions and interests. Over time we likely would overlap more and more – would schedule ourselves to do things together – but hopefully as well we would constantly be discovering the new as well – new people to suggest new ideas to us, new sources of information, even entire new fields of study.