Well, I’m chilling out in the Esperanto Cafe in NYC while my friend Inga from Free Culture NYU finishes her last final. Daniel Putnam from Swat remarked “that’s a very chic image….working on one’s laptop in a new york coffeehouse”. It’s always nice hanging out in a public space and engaging with random people that you meet.
The first person I talked to was this fellow with an Alienware laptop. This is the first time I’ve seen an Alienware laptop “in the wild”, aside from a family friend who bought one a while back. What attracted my attention was the blinking alien eyes (“Das Blinkenlights!” I said under my breath). I walked over with my Powerbook, to compare, and he told me that the Alienware laptop wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, he was planning to buy a Powerbook next. He said he does graphic design, so he may not represent the average citizen, but I suspect that he may represent a wider cultural trend away from Windows. He actually said that his friends told him to install “Unix” on his laptop since he was having problems with it crashing (I’m assuming they meant Linux), but he didn’t feel that Linux supported enough of the software that he needs yet. I think that this is something that we’re going to have to work on: either convincing traditional software manufacturers to make their software available for Linux, or by making free /open source cross-platform software replacements which work on both Windows and Linux.
The second person I met when he noticed me waving my laptop around, trying to figure out how to get the best wifi signal, and they suggested that I download MacStumbler to aid me in my quest for wireless internet (it’s GPL’ed free software ^_^). We talked for a while about the future of wifi, when we will have free wifi in cities like New York, whether the government should be responsible for producing this wifi, and ultimately whether the government should be responsible for things in general. I think that government solutions make more sense for things such as protecting public goods (like the EPA protecting the environment) or public utilities (like wireless internet) than they do for, say, the FDA protecting you from French cheeses that haven’t been pasteurized. If the French are tough enough to handle French cheese, then I think that Americans should be able to handle it, no? 😉 As a libertarian, I freely admit that libertarian answers are less obviously correct when talking about the environment, but I think that ultimately NGOs and concerned citizens will do a better job with fewer side effects and less corruption. But I wasn’t sure how to handle his arguments… hasn’t the EPA has done a reasonably good job of protecting the environment in the past? Would Greenpeace be able to save the environment without the support from the EPA? On the other hand, he admitted that government corruption was a problem, and he suggested that limiting government officials from taking jobs in the industry after leaving their jobs and similar restrictions could curb it. I’m not convinced, but unfortunately he had to go back to work before we could discuss the topic any further.
I don’t know if the internet will ever quite replicate the sheer coincidence that results in two people meeting in a coffeebar or on the street. Here all we have in common is our physical location (which does mean something, because people tend to self-select their location, but it’s pretty random). On the internet, rather than physical neighbors, you have neighboring ideas. People who are only interested in, say, fishing or basketball, will probably never find my blog no matter how many links they follow (unless of course there is some free culture geek who also happens to like those things). Unless the network is sufficiently rich and diverse in connections, you can follow links between blogs forever and never connect me with this person sitting across the coffeeshop from me. However, with the power of physical coincidence, we can take a shortcut and engage one another without having any connection through the noosphere, the world of ideas.
It’s kinda like D.H. Lawrence had this idea of two people meeting on a road, and instead of just passing and glancing away, they decide to accept what he calls the confrontation between their souls. — Wiley Wiggins, in my favorite scene from Waking Life
UPDATE: In this physical location, a Google News alert came over the wifi, connecting cyberspace and meatspace. Check out today’s article from Alternet’s WireTap magazine about FreeCulture.org, From the Campus to the Commons.
UPDATE #2: I’m testing out the new Livejournal photo integration, tell me what you think: