You may ask yourself, say the Talking Heads. What is this thing working from anywhere? Or as Google says, work from right here in the office. As the vaccines roll on out, some of us are just not ready for returning to normal. On this edition of the Gillmor Gang, the office is a state of mind, served up by Zoom and Clubhouse. It sounds like Clownhouse, with unlimited fungible bozos on the menu.
Surely we are binged out, election recalled, floating in a vat of VC alphabet soup. SPACs are everywhere and nowhere, water cooled conversations masquerading as big ticket conferences, right wing looneys seeking blanket pardons. And we’re applying for permission to stay home in our digital workshops? Yes, it will probably work for a hot second, but when will the research measure what has really changed. After a year of living a nightmare, some of us are ready for anything but the rest of our lives.
The other day on Clubhouse, they celebrated the life and times of Hal Willner, a record producer extraordinaire who died suddenly of COVID at 64. My Gang colleague Michael Markman sent me a Clubhouse notification suggesting I might want to listen in, and I did. I knew Hal a little bit, worked with him on several of his projects, and made the mistake we all make too often of assuming he or she would be around for the duration. So I clicked on the link and found myself in a room full of people who knew him a whole lot better. It was cathartic to hear them try and describe the guy, his life’s work, his day job at Saturday Night Live, and his magical series of projects pairing the strangest combinations of artists you could not even imagine. But he did.
So when we start to figure out this new world we’ve been propelled into, the normal we are fashioning out of the hints the virus has left us about what’s important, we all knew Willner and the mischievous glint in his eye just enough to wish for just a little more help in the now. His friends were on surer footing in this crazy clubhouse, chiming in from literally all over the world. Some saw him as a mentor, others as a collaborator, me with the twinge of regret for not being remotely brave enough to appreciate the brief window into this gentle giant for the luck of the encounter. I knew he was special, I knew it didn’t matter how or why we all got there at some time, and here was Clubhouse serving up a human experience only possible because people like Hal seized these moments of the days going by.
Yet it’s easy to say these new constructs are built like a house of cards, that the hype will fade, the economics atrophy, the big get bigger. It may all be true, but what part of the really big idea Clubhouse or Medium or Substack is truly vulnerable? There is where it becomes political posturing as much as anything. Just because the current or pivoted business model is suspect doesn’t mean success isn’t lurking just around the corner. If the world is suddenly toxic, does that preclude the idea that adjusting to the emergency can produce new realities that can improve on the nature of conventional reality?
Take Medium for a second. The writing platform announced a blogging flashback, blogrolls, as a new feature to amplify signals of affection for favorite authors. The Medium analytics are harnessed to project an organically-updating list of favorite follows informed by recent updates by the authors. For the readers, this is a convenient hybrid of social and feeds; for the writers an incentive to gain timely traction in the community of what on Twitter we call the social cloud. It is simple in execution but deep in purpose, as it encourages you to post to Medium. The platform has recently pivoted away from funding original content after pivoting away from eyeball-driven advertising, but this new feature could be a way of letting the existing architecture fund the growth of strategic analytics. The more you deliver signal to the follow notification stream, the more you prime the pump of handclaps and time to click metrics, which increases the strength of the blogroll signal and so it goes.
You may ask yourself, what does this have to do with working from anywhere? Well, the idea you can nurture a self-healing community of co-workers through digital technologies is right at the top of the list of things we want to do to bolster the new economy. While audio is seen as subtractive from video, it is additive in terms of broadening the user base beyond so-called creators to the so-called doers, the folks who move the products and services from place to place. It’s radio, a companion stream of news, music, soap box, ideas, alerts, reminders, and coffee breaks that fuels the day and lights the night. It’s digital mom and pop.