On the Personal Philosophy of Carl Rogers


A while back, I was delighted to discover the source of one of my favorite quotes:

What is most personal is most general.

The quote is from psychologist Carl Rogers' 1956 essay "'This is Me': The Development of My Professional Thinking and Personal Philosophy", which can be found in the first chapter in his 1961 book, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. I bought the entire book based on this one quote, and its elaborating paragraph. As I anticipated, the book is full of inspiring insights and experiences, far more than can be adequately expressed in a single blog post. I already applied and integrated some of his wisdom in a post on client-centered therapy, student-centered learning and user-centered design. In this post, I will excerpt some sections from his "This is Me" essay.

"This is Me" traces Rogers' personal and professional development, and the insights he gained into himself, his profession and the institutions and disciplines with which he was affiliated. Of particular relevance to me, in my own current professional context as a non-tenure track senior lecturer, is his judgment about the tenure process (based on his own context of having been hired, with tenure, at The Ohio State University):

I have often been grateful that I have never had to live through the frequently degrading competitive process of step-by-step promotion in university faculties, where individuals so frequently learn only one lesson - not to stick their necks out.

However, it is the more personal "significant learnings" that he shares that I find most inspiring (an example, perhaps, of the most personal being the most general). He is very careful to state at the outset that these learnings are true for him, and may or may not be true for others. Throughout the book, he carefully delineates data, feelings, judgments and wants, and he states each of his significant learnings with phrasing that makes the personal nature of his perspective clear. I will include the most direct statements of these learnings (with his emphasis) below, along with a few other excerpts that elaborate the learnings in ways I find personally useful.

  • In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.
  • I find that I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself ... a decidedly imperfect person ... the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.
  • I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person. ... understanding is risky. If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding.
  • I have found it enriching to open channels whereby others can communicate their feelings, their private perceptual worlds, to me.
  • I have found it rewarding when I can accept another person. ... it has come to seem to me that this separateness of individuals, the right o each individual to utilize his experience in his own way and to discover his own meanings in it - this is one of the most priceless potentialities of life.
  • The more I am open to the realities in me and in the other person, the less do I find myself wishing to rush in and "fix things."
  • I can trust my experience. ... when an activity feels as though it is valuable or worth doing, it is worth doing.
  • Evaluation by others is not a guide for me.
  • Experience is, for me, the highest authority.
  • I enjoy the discovering of order in experience. ... Thus I have come to see both scientific research and theory construction as being aimed toward the inward ordering of significant experience. ... I have, at times, carried on research for other reasons - to satisfy others, to convince opponents and sceptics, to get ahead professionally,  to gain prestige, and for other unsavory reasons. These errors in judgment and activity have only served to convince me more deeply that there is only one sound reason for pursuing scientific activities, and that is to satisfy a need for meaning which is in me [an example, perhaps, of irritation-based innovation]
  • The facts are friendly. ... while I still hate to readjust my thinking, still hate to give up old ways of perceiving and conceptualizing, yet at some deeper level I have, to a considerable degree, com to realize that these painful reorganizations are what is known as learning.
  • What is most personal is most general. [full quote below]
    Somewhere here I want to bring in a learning which has been most rewarding, because it makes me feel so deeply akin to others. I can word it this way. What is most personal is most general. There have been times when in talking with students or staff, or in my writing, I have expressed myself in ways so personal that I have felt I was expressing an attitude which it was probable no one else could understand, because it was so uniquely my own…. In these instances I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets as people who have dared to express the unique in themselves.
  • It has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction. ... I have come to feel that the more fully the individual is understood and accepted, the more he tends to drop the false fronts with which he has been meeting life, and the more he tends to move in a direction which is forward.
  • Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed. ... It is always in process of becoming.

I hope this blog, and my personal and professional life will continue to evolve in a positive direction. Meanwhile, I will surely continue to incorporate other of Rogers' insights - implicitly or explicitly - in my future thinking and writing.

Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, Strength and Vulnerability

JoniMitchellWomanOfHeartMind I've always been impressed with the incredible range of Joni Mitchell's music - her voice, guitar virtuosity and the different genres she has explored - but after watching a documentary about her life and work, I have a whole new level of appreciation. In fact, I watched the video - Joni Mitchell, Woman of Heart and Mind: A Life Story - three times in two days ... and see many other parallels with another inspiring video I watched three times in two days: Brene Brown's TEDxHouston talk on wholeheartedness: connection through courage, vulnerability and authenticity.

I've been experiencing a long series of dark nights of the soul recently, and so am perhaps even more drawn toward - and inspired by - expressions of courage, vulnerability and authenticity than I might be under normal conditions ... whatever normal might be (or become) at this point. I don't seem to be able - or willing - to muster the gumption to delve very deeply into my own darkness at the moment, and so will continue hovering near that edge while sharing some notes on others who are more willing to reveal (and release) their shadows.

The documentary offers a rich blend of Joni Mitchell's music along with interviews with her and many of the people who know or knew her at various stages her career. After various contributors provide background information about her - she was born in Maidstone, Saskatchewan, had polio at age 9, wanted to be a painter, attended Alberta College of Art and began to sing in a coffee house in Calgary called the Depression - Joni shares one of many illuminating insights:

Although as a painter I had the need to innovate, as a musician it was just a hobby. I didn't think I had the gift to take it any further than that.

"Just a hobby" - wow!

She goes on to share her some details of her [initial] descent:

I lost my virginity and got pregnant, and entered onto the "bad girls" trail, which was a trail of shame and scandal, and I had to kinda hide myself away ... I was living a lie, and felt like I'd been betrayed ...It was very difficult for me, and so I began to write. I think I started writing just to develop my own private world, and also because I was disturbed ... I feel, every bit of trouble I went through, I'm grateful for ... Bad fortune changed the course of my destiny. I became a musician.

Her willingness to be courageous, vulnerable and authentic in her music - bringing all of who she is to her art - created the connection that so many people have felt. As novelist, journalist and singer Malka Marom puts it:

She sang it so real, so true, as if she was singing for me. She was my voice, you know? She was everybody's voice. She was like a universal voice. ... She lives with a great respect for this mystery, and with an openness, inviting this mystery. This is her great strength. Because I think it requires tremendous strength to really believe in something that you cannot put your finger on.

But this vulnerability comes at a cost, as Joni notes:

During the making of Blue, I was just so thin-skinned and delicate, that if anybody looked at me I'd burst into tears. I was so vulnerable and I felt so naked in my work.

My individual psychological descent coincided, ironically, with my ascent into the public eye. They were putting me on a pedestal and I was wobbling. So I took it upon myself, since I was a public voice, and was subject to this kind of weird worship, that they should know who they were worshiping.

I was demanding of myself a deeper and greater honesty. More and more revelation in my work, in order to give it back to the people, where it nourishes them and changes their direction, and makes light bulbs go off in their head, and makes them feel, and it isn't vague, it strikes against the very nerves of their life. In order to do that, you have to strike against the very nerves of your own.

After delving into the depths in music, she finds release in painting:

Any time I make a record, it's followed by a painting period. It's good crop rotation. I keep the creative juices going by switching from one to the other, so that when the music or the writing dries up, I paint. You rest the ear a while and you rest the inner mind, because poetry takes a lot of plumbing the depths. I mean, the way I write, anyway, it takes a lot of meditation. Without the painting to clear the head, I don't think I could do it.

And then after a painting period, she's ready to plumb the depths in and through music again:

The writing has been an exercise, trying to work my way towards clarity. Get out the pen, and face the beast yourself and what's bothering you and write. Well that's not exactly it. Well OK, let's go a little deeper. Well that's not exactly it. It's very hard, peeling the layers off your own onion. When you get to the truth, well do I want to say that in public?

So you're really doing a tightrope walk to keep your heart alive, to keep your art alive, to keep it vital and useful to others. This is now useful because we've hit upon a human truth.


It's been a very kind of subjective, I guess you'd say, journey. Subjective but, hopefully, universal. That was always my optimism - that if I described my own changes through whatever the decade was throwing at us, that there were others like me. And it turns out that there were.

... and still are.

I highly recommend watching the video, for both the additional commentary by illuminating luminaries who were involved personally and/or professionally with Joni - e.g., Graham Nash, David Crosby and James Taylor - and, of course, for the scenes of Joni performing her incomparable music (many of which can be found in the Video Library on her web site):

  • All I Want (Blue, 1971)
  • Urge for Going (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Little Green (Blue, 1971)
  • Both Sides Now (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Night in the City (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • I Had a King (Song to a Seagull, 1967)
  • Cactus Tree (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Circle Game (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Chelsea Morning (Clouds, 1969)
  • California (Blue, 1971)
  • Just Like Me (?, 1967)
  • Marcie (Song to a Seagull, 1968)
  • Morning Morgantown (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Woodstock (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970)
  • Our House (CSNY, Deja Vu, 1970)
  • Get Together (cover of Jesse Colin Young song, with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Big Sur Celebration, 1969)
  • Blue (Blue, 1971)
  • A Case of You (Blue, 1971)
  • River (Blue, 1971)
  • You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio) (For The Roses, 1972)
  • Raised on Robbery (Court and Spark, 1974)
  • Amelia (Hejira, 1976)
  • Wild Things Run Fast (Wild Things Run Fast, 1982)
  • Underneath the Streetlights (Wild Things Run Fast, 1982)
  • Come in from the Cold (Night Ride Home, 1991)
  • Dog Eat Dog (Dog Eat Dog, 1985)
  • Sex Kills (Turbulent Indigo, 1994)

The "Boopsie Effect": Gender, Sexiness, Intelligence and Competence

TheBeautyBias Last Thursday, I heard segments of a KUOW interview with Deborah Rhode, Stanford law professor and author of The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, in which she spoke of the Boopsie effect, wherein women in upper-level positions in historically male-dominated professions find that "attractiveness suggests less competence and intellectual ability". One of the references she associates with this effect is a study on Evaluations of Sexy Women in Low- and High-Status Jobs, by Peter Glick and his colleagues, in which they segment women's roles into traditional, non-traditional and sexy, and suggest that while attractiveness is often associated with advantages, sexy self-presentation is a disadvantage for women in high-status jobs.

Boopsie I had not heard of the term before, but I presume it refers to the Doonesbury character, Boopsie, who is always drawn with a sexy self-presentation but is rarely portrayed in contexts demonstrating intelligence or competence. I've long been aware of the phenomenon, and believe it is helpful to have an evocative label with which to describe it. A couple of subsequent encounters later in the week with professionals' reactions to being designated "sexiest" prompted me to think (and write) a bit more about this effect. It appears that the effect can also apply to men - who were not studied in Glick's article - and that the negative effect for women may be diminishing, at least in some areas.

MonicaGuzman On Friday, I read that Mónica Guzmán had been voted Seattle's Sexiest Blogger by Seattle Weekly. I've met Mónica, read her writing and seen and heard her speaking, and consider her to be extremely competent and intelligent (and yes, sexy, as well). Although she expressed some awkwardness about receiving the award - given her recent resignation as a blogging reporter at the Seattle PI - her posting of a photo of the award during the ceremony, accompanied by a ":D + *blush* + ;)" caption, suggests that she did not find the award to be a significant diminishment.

SanjayGupta In contrast, on the Saturday NPR news quiz show, Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, host Peter Sagal introduced Sanjay Gupta as "CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, a practicing physician, a teacher of medicine ... and one of the Sexiest Men Alive" (given his having been featured as one of People Magazine's sexiest men). Dr. Gupta reacted negatively to the last part of Sagal's characterization, and said that if anything, he believes his "sexiest" designation tends to undermine his professional credibility. He did not say whether it diminished his standing in the medical community or the media community, but I suspect it applies more to the former than the latter.

After reflecting on Professor Rhode's observation about disadvantage that attractive women experience in historically male-dominated professions, and the different responses by these two professionals, I decided to do a little research:

So Dr. Gupta is operating at the intersection of two male-dominated professions - medicine (72% male) and mainstream media (67% male) - and finds the designation of sexiness to be a detraction from his professional standing. I don't mean to imply that the effect is the same for men and women, but it does appear that the Boopsie effect is not the sole purview of women.

Ms. Guzman has also been operating at the intersection of two professions, one of which is has more women than men (though it may be a stretch to call blogging a "profession"). I don't know the gender breakdown on new media journalists, but suspect the field is considerably less male-dominated than physician journalists, and it certainly doesn't have a long history.

Reflecting further on histories and traditions, it strikes me that one of the elements factoring into the Boopsie effect may be the credentialing process. Fields dominated by those with advanced degrees - MD, JD, PhD - may have a narrower view of what counts as intellectual ability ... and perhaps a stronger, if subconscious, view of what counts against it. Like medicine, Computer Science research is a field dominated by males with advanced degrees. I don't know the specific gender breakdown, but a recent NSF report shows that while over half (50.2%) of Science and Engineering PhD degrees were awarded to women in 2007, only 20.5% of those receiving Computer Science PhDs were women.

I have several female computer science research friends who are both brilliant and very attractive - and, yes, if I have to admit it, sexy ... though I'm keenly aware of feeling awkward even acknowledging this, perhaps further reflecting the negative effects that such designations may impart (which is why I'm intentionally not naming names). I know that they sometimes feel compelled to cloak their attractiveness to minimize physical distractiveness when they are presenting their intellectual insights to their mostly male colleagues. One particularly brilliant and attractive woman friend was explicitly criticized on review forms following a conference presentation for not having dressed more conservatively - to better conceal her attractiveness - during her presentation ... and this was in a subfield within computer science where the gender distribution is among the least skewed of any I've been associated with.

I recently wrote about de-bureaucratization, and described some of the ways that health care, education and science are starting to embrace platform thinking and empower a broader spectrum of stakeholders. I believe that journalism and journalists are at the forefront of de-bureaucratization - perhaps not entirely by choice - and the effective utilization and integration of new media platforms has played an important role in Monica Guzman's success.

BradyForrest Another intelligent and competent champion of platform thinking and doing - in fact, the co-chair of the premier conference on such matters, Web 2.0 Expo (most recent theme: The Power of Platforms) - was recently named the sexiest male among Violet Blue's Top 10 Sexiest Geeks. I'm not sure how Brady Forrest feels about this designation, but I imagine he does not see this as significantly undermining his credibility. I assume this partly due to his easy-going nature but also as a reflection of the stylistic differences between the relatively highly bureaucratized domain of traditional computer science research and the more democratic - or perhaps anarchic - culture of geeks.

As intelligent and competent people in traditionally bureaucratic realms adopt platform thinking - and new media channels - to reveal more of who they are as well as what they do, I'd like to think that the conflict between perceptions of attractiveness - or sexiness - and intelligence will be diminished, for both men and women ... but we shall see.

Giving thanks for my 'speed dial friends'

I am grateful for all of my circles of family and friends, offline and online, but on this day of Thanksgiving, I want to express my special appreciation for a small subset that I often call my speed dial friends: the set of my closest friends whose phone numbers I have programmed into the single-digit speed dial keys of my mobile phone (though now, with my iPhone, they are listed on the "Favorites" menu). These are the friends who I can - and do - regularly reach out to during my highest and lowest moments, who reliably help me regain a more balanced or centered perspective. They are friends who are there for me when all I need is a witness - someone will listen with empathy, and withhold judgment - or when I need an active adviser - someone who will share his or her insights, experience, strength and hope.

In some speed dial friend phone calls, I am able to discover solutions myself, simply through the act of articulating the challenge(s) I am facing, an adult version of a parent's exhortation to a toddler who is acting out to "use your words", or an oral version of the therapeutic value of writing about emotional experiences. Other times I need more active facilitation, and these friends are able to skillfully and compassionately help me elicit the hidden fears and needs that lie beneath the surface problem(s), and to separate out the data, judgments, feelings and wants. Many times, the revelation of the underlying causes of my pain shines a light on a clear path to move forward, but at other times, when the true way remains wholly lost, they are able to offer additional guidance toward the right path, or at least a path with heart.

My speed dial friends are diverse in some ways - the set includes both men and women, whose work spans different professions, and who live in different places - but most are close to my own age and socio-economic class. Many of my speed dial friends have gone through various forms of spiritual training, and all have experienced significant physical, emotional and/or spiritual crises. I suppose many people my age have experienced significant life challenges; what separates my speed dial friends may be the way they have worked through these challenges, and the wisdom they have gained through the process.

450px-Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs In fact, one of the common characteristics of all my speed dial friends is that they are uncommonly wise. Having recently revisited and reviewed some material on Maslow's hierarchy of needs (for my last post about Starbucks and community), I believe each of them is self-transcendent, e.g., they each "perceive unitively or sacrally" and are "much more consciously and deliberately metamotivated" and "more holistic about the world" than most of the people I encounter. I hope some of their wisdom is transmitted to me through each of our interactions.

I like to think of myself as being authentic, open and vulnerable in my face-to-face interactions as well as my online interactions with many people. I have worked out many issues simply through blogging about them, often aided by comments posted by others, and I sometimes find myself unexpectedly working out my issues while posting comments on others' blogs - a theme I blogged about in a post inspired by Don Miguel Ruiz's second agreement, don't take anything personally: commenting on commenting. I can't say, however, that I've worked out any significant issues via Twitter ... the 140-character limitation doesn't seem to allow for sufficient depth.

Speaking of depth, I feel like I've been going off the deep end on several of my recent posts, so I'm going to end this one here ... which may be a relief, and perhaps even a cause for giving thanks, for anyone who takes the time to read my blog posts. I'll note, with some sense of irony, that as far as I know, while all of my speed dial friends have mobile phones - in fact, I think nearly all of them now have iPhones - and computers, most of them don't read my blog with much regularity. So, on this day of Thanksgiving, I also want to extend my thanks to anyone who does take the time to read my posts, with special thanks to those who take the additional time to share their wisdom, insights, experience, strength and/or hope in comments on - or tweets about - the posts.

More Better Design[ers] at Strands Labs Seattle

We're delighted to be joined by two designers at Strands Labs Seattle: Josh Lind and Daniel Norman. Although all of the other members of the team have some knowledge of and experience with design, none of us has been trained as designers, or see that as our primary skill set. With the arrival of Josh and Dan, we have considerably increased our general and specific design capabilities.

DoubleJosh Josh Lind, a local web designer/developer and co-founder of ReadyDone, a talent agency for design, web development and business services, joined Strands Labs Seattle a few weeks ago as a contractor. Josh is a friend of Shelly's, and designed the logo for Swaggle (shown below right), one of the applications created by the company Shelly co-founded, Waggle Labs, and has done some user interface design and development for YourSports, another local startup company that used to be located across the street.

Swaggle-logo Josh brings considerable skills in web design and development, a keen sense of social computing, and [I was pleasantly surprised to discover] a prior awareness and appreciation of some earlier incarnations of proactive displays - large computer displays that can sense people nearby and show content related to those people and their activities in a shared physical space. We're delighted to have him working with us on designing and developing our next generation proactive displays

Danthinking Dan Norman is a graphics designer with experience in both print media and motion graphics (as well as other areas) who recently graduated from Cornish College of the Arts. I discovered Dan via an announcement of the Cornish BFA Art & Design Exposition, showcasing the work of graduating seniors, that I saw on some online event listing site (perhaps After perusing every project on the page, Dan's project, (ad)infinitum, really stood out. It is a dynamic - and dramatic - large screen visualization of pictures from magazine advertisements and tags that people have associated with those pictures. The visualization is very closely related to what we hope to do in our next generation proactive displays.

Dan-thesisShow Delving into Dan's design notebook for his project (a photo of the installation is shown right) - in which he delves deeply into interesting and relevant areas such as semiotics, psychology and linguistics, and their application to advertising - provided further confirmation that our project would benefit a great deal from his involvement. One of the things that resonated most deeply with me was his observation that "the viewer is a co-author", which I believe applies much more broadly than the world of advertising (and I believe Dan believes this, too). Proactive Displays are, in many ways, a vehicle for co-authorship: layering people's personal interests - represented by their online media - in the physical spaces they share with others, actively invites co-authorship among the inhabitants of those spaces ... and our new generation of proactive displays will offer even more ways for people to co-author the content that shows up on a community display. We are delighted that he accepted our offer to join us ... and to do so early enough to help smooth the transition of responsibility for the new dynamic visualization that Sameer has designed and developed for us during his [nearly completed] summer internship with us.

We will be sharing the fruits of all these labors very soon.

Richie Hazlewood joins Strands Labs Seattle for the summer

Whazlewo_lRichie Hazlewood arrived a few weeks ago from the School of Informatics at Indiana University to work with us on our next generation proactive display applications this summer. Richie has been working with Yvonne Rogers, Kay Connelly and others at Indiana on a variety of interesting and relevant projects involving ambient information displays, data mining, information visualization, and using handheld devices for collaborating with people and interacting with physical artifacts.

Twitterspace-300x187 Most recently - and relevantly - he has been working on Twitterspaces, an ambient display application that offers a dynamic visualization of "tweets" posted by the Informatics group - though it can be easily customized for any group - on Twitter. Tweets, and thumbnail images of their authors, scroll horizontally, and the vertical access represents hours of the day. I'm including a screenshot to the right (a real-time view can be found by clicking on the image).

In addition to his own work, he is co-organizing the Second Workshop on Ambient Information Systems (which is still accepting submissions thru July 11) to be held at UbiComp 2008 - he was also a co-organizer of the First Ambient Information Systems Workshop at Pervasive 2007 - and [thus] brings a broad range of awareness and interactions about designing and using ambient displays to promote awareness and interactions.

We're delighted to welcome Richie, who helps fill key gaps in the team - and team space - as we move forward on our new applications, about which I'll write more in the near future. Meanwhile, I'll include a couple of recent photos of our space, after Richie's arrival.

Richie joins Strands Labs Seattle Our growing team (and filling space)

New Faces at Strands Labs Seattle

Yogi and I have recently been joined by some wonderful new people at Strands Labs Seattle, and our new office space has some new surfaces that make it increasingly habitable.

SameerAhuja Sameer Ahuja, a graduate student intern from Virginia Tech, arrived May 12, and will be spending the summer with us. Sameer has been working with the Digital Government Research Group under Dr. Manuel A. Pérez-Quiñones and Dr. Andrea Kavanaugh, where they have been researching and developing social software, visualization tools, and content aggregation tools with the purpose of enhancing citizen awareness and promoting greater participation. We are delighted to have him participate in our efforts to research and develop new tools for enhancing awareness and promoting interactions in other contexts.

ShellyFarnham Shelly Farnham, co-founder and Social Architect at Waggle Labs, joined us as a part-time consultant on May 15. Shelly brings a wealth of experience in prototyping, deploying and evaluating social technologies designed to enhance communication, community, social networks, identity, knowledge sharing, and social coordination. Before co-founding Waggle Labs, Shelly was a Researcher with the Social Computing, Community Technologies, and Virtual Worlds Groups at Microsoft Research. She is also an accomplished artist. I've known Shelly - and admired her work - for over 5 years now, and I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to work directly with her.

Frank Kemery, principal at PPM Wireless, LLC, also joined us as a part-time consultant on May 15. Frank brings deep and broad expertise in identifying new market opportunities, strategic planning, business development, alliance building, product planning, development and management in startup and mature environments. Earlier chapters of his career include senior positions at Real Networks, InfoSpace, and Activate (which was acquired by Loudeye (which was acquired by Nokia)). Frank is our point man in addressing one of the principles outlined in our innovation manifesto for Strands Labs Seattle: aligning innovative social technologies with viable business models.

StrandsLabsSeattleSE StrandsLabsSeattleNE StrandsLabsSeattleDeck

In addition to the new people faces, the lab itself also has a new face. The front area, facing University Way, has fresh paint, new carpeting and a new deck overlooking "the Ave". We are still sitting at temporary folding tables, using chairs that will eventually be moved to a conference room, and using 8' x 4' laminated melamine boards propped up against the walls as temporary whiteboards. The main thing, though, is that we have a nice open area with big windows with lots of light ... an increasingly conducive space in which our growing team can effectively collaborate on designing and developing new social technologies that bridge the gap between people - and the places we inhabit - by bridging the gaps between our online life streams and the physical spaces we share with others.

[BTW, speaking of life streams, Strands has a new feed (or lifestream) aggregator in private beta that will likely play a significant role in our projects in Seattle. I'll write more about that once it is publicly available. Meanwhile, as with nearly all major developments in our company, more information can be found on our corporate blog; ReadWriteWeb also has a review ... and a private beta invitation code to give away.]

Yogi Patel joins MyStrands Labs, Seattle, as Innovationeer

Yogi I'm delighted to announce that Yogi Patel has joined MyStrands Labs, Seattle, as Innovationeer! Yogi's arrival doubles the size - and probably quadruples the productive capacity - of our new innovation team. He brings 5 years of development and program management experience, most recently in the area of wearable computing, contributing to the U.S. Army's Land Warrior system. As an example of walking the talk, Yogi was actually a land warrior himself - an infantryman (rifle and anti-tank leader) with the U.S. Army. In addition to his talents with non-traditional designs and deployments of technology, Yogi brings a passion for social media and using technology to help people connect in new ways. He has also inspired - or perhaps inadvertently instigated - two recent blog posts, on The Paradox of Choice and Dark Nights of the Soul.

I met Yogi during a guest lecture on proactive displays I gave at Ankur Teredesai's class on Social Networks at University of Washington, Tacoma, in February. I was immediately impressed with his curiosity and knowledge of both the social and technological issues involved in some of the proactive display applications I presented ... insights that would typically only arise through actually working on such systems. We continued the conversation after class, and I found myself thinking how great it would be for him to be actually working on such systems (with me) ... and I'm really happy we are now continuing the conversation into our planning for the next generation of proactive displays.

We discussed a number of prospective titles (as a self-titled principal instigator, I enjoy interesting titles). Yogi's official title is Innovation Engineer, but we both rather like the mashed up version of Innovationeer.

As I'd noted in my initial announcement of the new lab, I'm hoping to avoid writing job descriptions, but from our planning so far, it's clear that we will need one or more people with keen design skills who can help engineer ambient but engaging user interfaces for our new proactive display applications. We welcome opportunities to expand the conversation with other talented and passionate parties!

Everyone's a Nerd About Something: The Network Effects of Social Mobile Media

Marc Davis, Social Media Guru at Yahoo!, gave a far ranging presentation on "Mobile Media: Connecting Context, Content and Community" at the Stanford Mobile Computing Seminar this week. Marc started out highlighting the imbalance between the proportion of people who currently consume and produce text and consume other types of digital media (music, photos, videos), and those who produce non-text digital media. and claimed that one of the core problems behind this imbalance is the relatively ineffective provisioning of metadata for these richer types of digital media (in comparison to text). Marc went on to present a series of research projects -- and products -- that use context and community to help fill in some of the gaps for this often missing content.

Marc posited the "4 W's" of social media metadata -- where, when, who, what -- and claimed that knowing 3 of them gives you a pretty good idea on the 4th. He presented results from experiments showing that using contextual information alone (where, when, who) can outperform deeper content-based computer vision techniques for analyzing images. [Links to papers he and his colleagues have published on much of the work he talked about are available on Marc's web site.]

Marc observed that with respect to the predictability of human behavior, the two ends of the spectrum might be denoted "prisoner" and "lunatic" ... and sugested that most people -- or at least those who work for a living or go to school -- tend to dwell closer to the "prisoner" end of that spectrum with respect to the periodicity of their patterns.

Another observation, giving rise to the title of this post, was that everyone is a nerd about something, i.e., everyone has at least one thing about which they are passionate and knowledgable. Thus, even though only a small segment of the population may be cameraphone nerds -- having the latest technology such as mobile cameraphones with Bluetooth and GPS, and/or manually specifying meticulous tags for their photos -- the actions of such people can be pooled with larger communities to enable others to benefit. This exemplifies a theme Marc mentioned several times during the seminar -- [with respect to [mobile] digital media], stop thinking so much about individual users and start thinking more about the network -- and brings to mind a variation on one of my favorite quotes (by Margaret Mead):

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed nerds can tag the world.

Toward the end, Marc showed a great slide depicting the four quadrants of media and metadata, distinguishing producers and consumers of media on one axis, and the creation of implicit and explicit metadata on the other, with some suggestions about how the interactions among these groups may, in fact, change the digital media world. [If I can get a copy, I'll post it here.]

Johathan Keats on Art, Science and Religion

Jonathan Keats gave a curiously engaging presentation on "Extraterrestrial Aesthetics, Divine Genetics, and Other Thought Experiments" at the Art, Technology and Culture Colloquium of UC Berkeley's Center for New Media Monday night. Jonathan noted that both art and science are too inwardly focused, so he uses art to tease out nuances in science, and science to tease out nuances in art, with a style of conceptual art that was introduced as a "purposeful rejection of pragmatism."

Among the projects he covered was the quest to pass a law that couldn't be broken (collecting petition signatures in Berkeley for Aristotle's law of identity), the creation of a futures market for neurons in his brain (a new type of brain trust), the founding of the International Association for Divine Taxonomy (an attempt to genetically engineer God) and the buying and selling of real estate in the extradimensionalities identified through string theory.

Jonathan has raised some interesting questions in each of the projects he has undertaken. What I found most interesting, though, were the more general insights Jonathan shared about art, science and religion. His observation that art is interesting for its ambiguity, its open-endedness and the questions it raises contrasts with the goals of science, which are more focused on certainty, decisiveness and the questions it answers.

These distinctions reminded me of themes raised by James Carse in his book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, in which the author notes that

A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continiuing the play ... Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries ... Finite players are serious; infinite players are playful.

At first, I pondered how science might be considered a finite game, and art might be considered an infinite game. But upon further reflection, this distinction breaks down. While much of science might be described as incremental -- filling in the details within boundaries (previously defined by other scientists) -- some scientific advances represent paradigm shifts where boundaries are shifted in signficant ways. And although the many notable works of art also stretch boundaries, I believe that much art is rather incremental as well.

Curiosity is a trait that Jonathan emphasized several times during his talk, a trait that is shared by both artists and scientists. The differences may lie more in the way that curiosity is channeled, and in the perspectives that people adopt in facing the unknown(s).

Jonathan's observations about openness and embrace of ambiguity suggest that the distinctions are largely attitudinal -- how one goes about creating art or science ... or religion, which seems much more closely aligned with science, and its quest for certainty, decisiveness and answering questions, differing primarily on what constitutes a basis for declaring victory ... the kind of declaration that is absent from art and other infinite games.