Over the last week I have been making connections on various social networking sites. I've been slowly building up contacts on LinkedIn to see how useful that might be, plus I've been invited in to various Ning networks, as well as thinking about setting up one of my own for Twinfield. Last week I attended the London OpenCoffee Meetup, and decided I would start to connect to my various friends and acquaintances on there. Some of the events I'm attending are on the rival Upcoming service, rather than Meetup, so I've started to make connections there too. The same is happening on my Flickr account. It occurred to me what a "cat's cradle" of a network I was creating, and I wondered if there might be some future technology that could consolidate all of these connections in one place. The ideal service would automatically create links to people I'm already networked with on my other services when I subscribe to a new service . With a little Googling I discover that some people have already started to try and create things like that. Loopster crawls all over your LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Livejournal and Blogger accounts. I don't know what else is in their roadmap, but they've only just started. Over on TechCrunch I saw this post on the topic, which also references Profilactic (yes , that really is a product name, and they describe their product as barely 1.0) and ProfileLinker. However, I've signed up but Loopster doesn't seem to work, and I can't see this style of product being successful in any case. Each social network has it's own advertising reach to their particular community, so there will be no motivation to cooperate with some form of aggregation service to make our lives easier. They all have their own business model to fulfil. Consequently, I believe these services are doomed to failure, though they'd be really useful.
Although those thoughts were fruitless, it reminded me that I hadn't written about the sad death, this month, of one of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Vonnegut was part of the voice of counter culture in the 60s and 70s, though he was less well known over here in the UK. I discovered him in my teens, and his 1963 Cat's Cradle is probably my favourite novel of his, along with Breakfast Of Champions from 1973. The anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five is probably his best known work. Apparently, the publisher of Vonnegut's first novel, Player Piano, told him he was a science fiction writer. This probably means that less people have come to know him, or taken his work as seriously as they should have. In his own words from the New York Times Book Review:
"I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled "Science Fiction" ... and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."
Cat's Cradle is a superb satire exploring science, technology, religion and the arms race. Just as valid today as 40 years ago. It is packed with ideas, insight and humour about the human condition. Most of his work is like that, along with containing a healthy dose of new words that he invented. Part of the book takes place on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, where the natives follow the religion of Bokonism, which comes complete with some great vocabulary. In the preface to his 1974 collection of writings (that has the same title as this post) he says:
"Dear Reader: The title of this book is composed of three words from my novel Cat's Cradle. A wampeter is an object around which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve. The Holy Grail would be a case in point. Foma are harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls. An example: "Prosperity is just around the corner." A granfalloon is a proud and meaningless association of human beings. Taken together, the words form as good an umbrella as any for this collection of some of the reviews and essays I've written, a few of the speeches I made. "
So can we call the Internet a wampeter? I'm hoping that the networks I've just joined aren't granfalloons, and I'm always on the look out for foma. If you are my age you might not have read Mr Vonnegut for quite some time. I'm certainly going to dust him off and remind myself how brilliant he was. It's a great shame he is not going to be around to give us his wisdom on the current state of technology, religion or the environment. We need it, but so it goes.
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