I’ve been up for an hour. In that time I’ve updated my Facebook status and dismissed various invitations to become a Zombie or share virtual fish or garden plants, sent a few Tweets, looked through the various blog postings that Bloglines has picked up from the RSS feeds I subscribe to, added new services to Friendfeed and replied to a dozen emails.
I’ve been far too busy to do any work, massaging my online presence, keeping up to date with the chatter and making my modest – fewer than 140 characters on Twitter – contributions to online discussions,
And in the midst of this hard work I remembered one of my favourite essays, written in 1759 by Samuel Johnson and published in ‘The Idler’.
The Higgs field is what gives particles their mass. Go into orbit and try to push a 1 tonne satellite – you can’t. It weighs nothing but its mass is unchanged by being in free fall or even in deep space, and so the force needed to change its momentum is still too great for a mere astronaut.
Without the Higgs field there would be no mass and no matter, because mass is what distorts space-time and creates the effects we interpret as the ‘force’ of gravity. Without the Higgs field there would none of this world, none of us, nothing to be conscious or conscious of.
One way of imagining what the Higgs field does it that it makes space-time exert a drag on objects, like walking through water. It’s a tiny effect, which is one reason why gravity is so weak compared to electromagnetism or the strong and weak nuclear forces, but it adds up. With enough particles you can build atoms and planets and stars and galaxies. A whole observable universe, even.
And Twitter is doing something similar in the virtual world.
It’s late on Sunday evening and I’ve just finished writing a column for Ariel, the BBC’s inhouse newspaper. I’m tired, but thought I’d spend five minutes installing Growl, the fabulous tool that tells you about what your Mac’s up to, on my new iMac.
And I came across a discussion thread on the Growl google group that included this fabulous aside from Brian Ganninger
Meta: Each discussion should be unto itself, bringing baggage in only leads to additional problems. We are in a neutral medium that doesn’t provide implicit contexts – your emotions, your tenses or speaking patterns, your anything else – and lends itself to exactly what is in front of the viewer.
Which is, of course, true. And is also what we want our social networks to make untrue.
My friend Giles at Proboscis kindly invited me to suggest the material for one of their really cool eBooks, and being that kind of hack I chose three essays by Johnson, the man to whom all journalists are beholden.
The eBooks are part of their Diffusion project to create a platform for public authoring and cultures of listening by creating and sharing knowledge, stories, ideas and information. As they put it:
The Diffusion Shareables (eBooks & StoryCubes) are playful hybrid digital/material publications combining the tactile pleasures of tangible objects with the ease of sharing via digital media.
And they are also fun. You can get mine from their website – it’s a PDF which you print, fold and cut into a very nice little book/booklet.
I wrote and published this on my blog in September 2003, over three years ago, and came across it while rebuilding my home page today. I think it is even more relevant now.
In February I wrote a column for BBCi’s News Online in which I called for the creation of ‘OfSearch’, a UK government agency charged with the regulation of Web search engines.
This proposal generated considerable online debate, much of it from US correspondents and little of it positive. As so often in the past, I was chastised for my interventionist socialist proposals and criticised roundly for believing that government and regulation can solve any of the world’s problems.