RO stopped by. The night before he had said he hadn’t been over to the co-op since the previous fellow left. When he talks about the previous fellow in residence, he seems a little sad. They became close, or so it sounds. I can make a lot of rash mental extrapolations when he talks about what happened. When RO and his girlfriend broke up, the project said fellow was working on became an strong centerpiece of R’s life. He would go over to the co-op in the early evening and work through until morning. Like a war room or the overnight staff of a newspaper, they worked on something they thought was important, lone soldiers in the trenches of their cause while the rest of the world slept, unawares of what was being created.
On Monday, RO showed up at the co-op. It wasn’t the best time to arrive, and I felt bad about that. After a lazy breakfast–a breakfast like so many projects that started with a rush of excitement and settled into a quiet lull–people dispersed. Two people went to work. Several people crashed out for the day. I knew I had work to get done, and I had plans to go check out the Media Lab.
RO got himself upstairs, though I’m not quite sure how it happened. The door bell was notoriously bad and a key was needed to get into the building. However, he landed himself on the green couch that looked as if someone had made it out of clay and then dropped a book on it.
“Are you on the IRC?” he asked me.
The co-op has an IRC channel. IRCs popularity among geeks is something that has always astounded me. As instant messaging programs have developed into google chat, AIM, Yahoo chat, MSN, and others (my chat client offers no less than eighteen options for messaging services), IRC is still around and still used.
IRC uses a system of channels, which are like chat rooms. Or, to be more accurate, chat rooms are like channels. People connect to these cyber places that are denoted by a name and usually express some sort of share something–interest, geographic location, job. The co-op’s IRC channel seems to be a collection of residents, former residents, and friends. Associates. People who are some how part of this social circle that decided to converge under the name of the co-op. As I write this, there are fifty-three people logged onto the channel. I’ve met at least fourteen of them, including myself.
I told him no. To be honest, I was always a little afraid of IRC. I don’t tell people this. It fell into that land of terminals and connections that you needed to have some sort of secret knowledge of a coded language to connect. Sure, I used some IRC channels when I was in middle school, but I learned those code phrases through memorization rather than understanding of what each part did. Much like usenet groups, it was part of this time–in my mind anyway–of less visual usability. The direct connection aspect, the computer equivalent of a phone switch board, left me feeling intimidated and lost.
Of course I didn’t tell RO this. I wanted him to think I was cool.
I said something that seemed clever to me at the time and laughed off the fact I was not part of this secret IRC club. He insisted it was easy and offered to help me. In less than three minutes of poking around on Pidgin (the chat client I use), I was connected and listening in on a conversation part of me felt I was not cool enough to be hearing.
In working on Signal Boost, I occasionally find myself reexamining what I’m doing. I think it’s difficult to go into a non-fiction writing project, an ethnography project, a journalism project, and know exactly what it is you’re going to be getting out of it. I think it’s hard, and at least for an amateur like myself presumptuous, to say “I am going to write X,” where X is at least a semi-detailed account of your future content.
Because of this, and because I really am at an early point, I worry. I am uncertain and I consider things and play with ideas in hopes that I will, out of my vacuum thinking, derive something great and important. “Laboratory Life,” a book by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, was a groundbreaking text on the sociology of science. In it, they make noises about “sensationalist” science journalism and sociology–the parts that focus on coffee conversations that lead brilliance and dirty lab secrets. I read books like “Methland,” by Nick Reding, that tells these tumbling chronicles of history, ideals, and people that somehow, by the end, create a cohesive something. The sort of books that thrive on educating across a broad spectrum of information and using episodes from the lives of people and places to act as points that the explanations and expositions connect.
I don’t really want to do either of these things.
For me, this is what it’s all about. It’s about RO meeting Mako on the subway. It’s about how RO became involved in the former resident’s project. It’s about how that led RO to the co-op on that Monday and how he connected me to a new part of the internet. It’s about sharing. It’s about enabling others to not just have access to these tools, but to understand how they work so they can use the tools on their own in the future. It’s about RO, teaching me how to log on to IRC using Pidgin, and promising to teach me how to do it from the Terminal some other time.
“Just in case you want to be really cool,” he told me.