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Becoming Real by Adam Greenfield Part 1

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I'd like to keep it really casual tonight in part of it of what I see as this very humble theme that we're approaching I want us to be really humble before the act of creation, I want us to really reflect on how amazing it is every single time somebody is able to take on an idea from their mental stage, from a pure concept, into the real world, into the light of day Every single time something gets made whether that’s a book or a building or an event, or a piece of music Every single time that happens is as close to a miracle as I think you will ever witness on earth. It is the most everyday of things and it is the most inspiring of things. So really, that's what tonight's talk is about. How do we improve the chances of taking the ideas that we have and bringing them into existence, into actuality, in the real world. And I mean, using words like “real” and “things” in some very special senses, which I hope will become apparent as we get into the topic. I’m using them in some technical senses that are associated with the words of some particular thinkers It shouldn’t present a problem because I’ll go into all that and tell you how I’m using those words. But again, if there’s at any point anyone who doesn’t understand anything, or if you think that I should be clarifying something, please stop me and raise your hand, feel fearless about that, and ask for clarification and I’ll stop right there and deal with it. I think it’s fair to say a little bit about who I am. I’m very honored that people came out to see me tonight. The strength of hopefully AQ's representation but knowing very very little, really, about who I am. As it happens, I’m not a stranger to Tokyo. I used to live here about ten years ago, between 2001 to 2003, actually. I worked originally for a company called Dentsu marchFIRST, which was an early Internet strategic consultancy, which failed. And after the failure of that company, I joined another company across town called Razorfish. I worked at Razorfish, in Hiroo, for about two years as their lead information architect. And in the period of time that I was in Japan, I probably developed beween 20 and 30 enterprise websites for Japanese clients. So I have some experience in this market and hopefully in this culture as well. I moved back to the United States after that. I went out on my own as a freelancer. I found that fairly difficult, I'd become an independent information architect. Information architects are more generally involved in corporate web development teams or web design teams. So being an independent information architect was unusual, and took a lot of energy. And so by 2008, after I’ve been hustling, and trying to do this for quite a while, for quite a few years. After I’ve written a book, after I had really tried to get going on my own for quite a few years I was about ready when Nokia called me up and said, "Would you like to come to Finland and work for us as our head of design direction." and I said yes to that. I was ready to just be a salary man for a while and take a salary and to see what happened. So my wife and I went to Finland and I spent two years in Nokia as head of design direction. And so I think you’ve begun to have a sense though of what my career’s looked like for the last twelve years that I've been involved in technology And I have to confess to you that that I don’t think I’ve been particularly successful. In all the twelve years I’ve been working in the technology sector, I could count three, maybe four things that I feel like I have launched, that I feel like I have created in this entire time. In certain truth, I have been involved in the design and the development of websites that have been gone on by hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people. But I've never particularly felt that these things were tangible and as a matter of fact, to this day, I can’t show you many of them. If I had a web connection right now, I couldn’t show you any of the websites that I spent all of that time and energy developing, because with a single exception, they’re all gone or they’ve all changed or been redesigned. The single exception is a French consultancy that I believe as of this day that the web design and development work that we did for them is still alive. But that’s not a lot to show for all the energy I’ve put into things. These are the only things I’ve been involved in the last twelve years that really have become real in the sense that I mean it here. In 2005-2006 there was my first book, Everyware, the Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing I was a very, very, proud first time author, as a matter of fact, I’ve always thought that the one thing I wanted to achieve in this life is to publish a book. It was my fate to be born in a time when for both publishing and the book, the meaning of these things were changing radically. So it remains to be seen whether or not I fulfilled that ambition never the less, I was very, very proud when in 2006, my first book was published. It didn’t look exactly the way I wanted to and in some respects, it was a great disappointment to me and we'll come back to why that is, and what it means Nevertheless, for a book of its kind, it continues to sell fairly well and I’m fairly happy with it. So much so I suppose that it was translated into French in 2007. So this is the second thing. It's very interesting to me that this book has only ever been translated into French formally, and illegally in China. It's been translated into Simplified Chinese. But those are the only two translations that has been received. But the French edition continues to do well. It sells proportionally for the French market, it sells better than the English edition does. And I feel awesome with that. In 2007 also, I co-authored with Mark Shepard a book called "Urban Computing and Its Discontents." This is a pamphlet. This is a book that's about that thin that you can download for free. And it's a very lightweight book. It's not a particularly complicated thing at all. It's 40 pages at most. But that too was a successful project. From beginning to end, that project may have taken a couple of months. We released it, it exists. And finally the thing that probably I'm proudest of. My wife and I started a little design and publishing platform called Do Projects and together we published a book of her work called Tokyo Blues. She had taken a series of photographs of the use of the blue plastic constructions parts in Tokyo and had shown this in museums and galleries around the world and so we thought it would be nice if we did a book on it. We did a very small edition, a limited edition of 500 copies of Tokyo Blues and this book is the thing that I'm proudest of. It comes the closest looking the way we think something ought to look It has the most of us in it and yet it still isn't exactly right. It doesn't really satisfy all of our criteria. However, these are the projects that I've been involved in for the last 12 years that have moved from idea through the project stage, to the object stage, to the state of objective value. They're now Real. They're out there in the real world. We can speak about them. You might like them them, you might dislike them. You might be critical of them, you might think that they're awesome and amazing. Because they're Real, because they exist, we can have opinions about them. We can speak easily of them. It's very difficult to speak of something that does not yet exist. That does not yet exist or no longer exists. It is very, very difficult for us collectively to speak critically, for example of the websites that I've developed over the years 2002, 2003, 2004. Because those are no longer launched, we can't really say anything useful or interesting about them. You can't reach out and touch them. As a matter of fact, you couldn't reach out and touch them when they were live but at least there was something there that we could agree or disagree about. When something becomes real or becomes an object, it becomes objective. It enters the world. It takes on its own independent history. It leads a life of its own. To my mind, that is what we want. We want something to leave the grasp of our hands. We want to no longer be able to control them. We want it to grow and evolve out there in the world. To have a history of existence independent of us as creators. That to me is a baseline criteria for success. You've noticed that I've used the word "project" a couple of times I want to define that. When I say project, I mean it in a very special sense. I mean, any complex plan, and by complex I mean something with multiple parts multiple functional roles associated with it so craft in this sense, in this particular technical sense is not a project. If I sit down, and I'm a sculptor If I sit down with my clay and my wheel and I sculpt something that's not a project in this sense because it's just me and my clay. We're in dialogue, there's something that is becoming Real in a sense but it's not a project. It is simply an interaction between myself and the substance. So a complex plan of collaborative action that unfolds over time. That is the definition of project that I'm talking about here. And it just happens that this sort of definition is potentially applicable to a great many areas and endeavors. A great many things can be a complex plan, a collaborative action that unfolds over time In a sense, bringing all of you into this room at this time, and on this day to do this talk, was precisely a project. It involved the cooperation of multiple parties. We had to have a venue, we had to have people do the event planning We had to have people do the catering We had to put up a site. In these days, it's obviously a lot simpler because we were able to simply put up a Facebook page. But all these different people had to come together to plan something, collaboratively, that is complicated and it unfolded over time. It was a project. The fact that we're here, the fact that we're having this talk right now means that in some small sense, we've succeeded. But as it happens, I've mostly worked in technology. And in technology, in the development of technology, projects typically have a narrower definition. As a matter of fact, there is an almost universal term that is used to talk about the development of a project in technology terms. Different companies have different names for these phases. Everyone will talk about "our method", "our special method, "our special sauce" but it comes down to this, really. It comes down to the inception of an idea, the development of that idea and eventually the deployment of that idea. A corporate design and development organization will have you believe that all three of these phases have an equal amount of weight to them. But I don't necessarily believe that's true. And in this, I was tutored by a very, very, worldly, wise gentleman by reading the works of a guy named Bruno Latour Bruno Latour is a French sociologist He is a leader at the Institute of Mines, in Paris and he has written extensively in the sociology of science and technology. All the language that I'm using is very much reflected by this particular flavor of thinking. Very much Latour. So Latour looked at these three phases and he would say that they are not at all equal. As a matter of fact, there's a Great Divide that separates them. These two are Not Real. Again, just like we'd spoken about they were made embryonic There's not really a lot that can be said about things in those two phases. It is only once we get to the stage of deployment that something can be said that can be Real and in that sense exists and in that sense, important. And here is what we're going to call the project regime. Let's introduce some graphic conventions that we're going to be using throughout the rest of the talk. Very simple graphic conventions, they shouldn't scare anybody. We're going to use an exclamation point to represent an idea and I'm going to use the cube to represent something that's real and I'm going to use a red border to indicate something that is not yet Real and a white border to indicate something that is Real And there's one other convention that you'll pick up as we go through the talk So, everything that happens between the inception of an idea and its objectification is a project. How to go about starting one? We have an idea, we've got this great idea that we think would make a great product, or a great book We've got that symphony in our mind we'd like to see it performed How do we take that, and how do we go about making it Real? The first step is something that Latour called "recruitment". If it's a complex and collaborative thing as we've defined projects to be, you can't really, except under very limited circumstances do these things yourself. You're going to need help. Recruitment applies every where. If you're publishing a book, where you first need to find a publisher who's willing to underwrite the financial costs of actually producing the book. You need to find an editor who's willing to edit your words and a designer who's going to give graphic form to it. It applies as well in building a house where you first must find an architect that you can work with and you have to recruit the city, the bureaucracy, the law to go along with your vision. You also need to recruit a contractor to build it. And the same applies when you're launching a website. You have the information architect to design the structure of the website, the designer that again gives graphic form to it and the coder, who writes it in HTML or another language. So, if recruitment is such a common practice, for things to become actual, I think it might be helpful if we understood it just a little bit better. Recruitment, every single time you are able to negotiate someone to help you make something happen to make something real, as Latour says and he's absolutely right about this, He calls it Translation. We can see here, that these exclamation points are not the same. They've changed just a little bit. Every single time you recruit a new party to help you with something, your original conception is modified a little bit. It gets modified from those constraints that those other actors bring to your idea. They might be financial constraints. They might be material constraints. They might be constraints of taste or willingness to work together. Every single time you bring some new party to the table to help you take this thing along on its way to becoming Real, things change, just a little bit. Maybe, overtime, depending on how many parties are involved things change a lot. We'll get into that later on. But the important point here is that translation always involves some change to the core conception of an idea. As you can see here, the bottom of the exclamation point stays the same and the flat part changes or vice versa. It doesn't really matter because as long as there are multiple functional elements of the thing that you're working on, I can guarantee you that every time an actor joins your network, every time you're able to recruit somebody to that network to produce this thing, one of those elements will change.

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 44 seconds
Country: Japan
Language: English
Producer: AQ
Director: Ian Lynam
Views: 135
Posted by: tsasaki on Nov 6, 2010

In Adam's words: "'Becoming Real: The Art of Making Things Happen'" starts in my own frustration with how few of the projects I've been involved with in the course of my career ever actually shipped, launched, or otherwise saw the light of day." / This talk was given on October 29th, 2010 in Tokyo for an event organized by AQ.

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