A Neutral Mask in Pongo, by me.
The future is wearing a neutral mask.
If I were to characterize the world right now, the operative word would be liminal — not quite here anymore and not quite there just yet. We exist in a threshold hurtling through space, in a future in the past tense world in which the present never seems to catch up to itself.
Sometime between 1948 and 1956 Jacques Lecoq, the influential French acting instructor created the neutral mask in collaboration with the Italian sculptor Amleto Sartori. By putting on the neutral mask, an actor could enter into liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”), a transitional state of in-betweenness in which identity is ambiguous and meaning must be gleaned from context and movement.
I bring this up because as I was sitting in a conference room last week, listening to a panel of experienced, well-informed and well-spoken people trying to explain the social media to a business audience, I was doodling in 3-dimensions with a hunk of white plasticine modeling clay. My best stuff comes out when I stop thinking and let my fingers take over. I realized that I had made a sort of neutral mask, shown above.
Well, of course it would be… The panel discussed issues, alternately hailed as panaceas or condemned as mirages, such as the contradiction between the desire for online popularity and that for privacy, the ethical issues raised when public-facing brands use Facebook or Twitter profiles and the growing power of the people formerly known as the audience. But from the exchanges during the Q&A, it became clear that different people were experiencing these concepts each in their own way.
Check it out, check it in.
Once upon a time, the verb to check-in was something that you did at a hotel or an airport, and only at a hotel or an airport. Not any more. Popularized by foursquare, the check-in is becoming a standard gesture, one that will be baked in to many social applications, to indicate your physical presence at a specific location. And, OY, the once innocent verb, like, is now poised to take over the civilized the world!
So maybe grammar is a helpful framework to think about the future of this device-mediated social future of ours. We will follow, like, dislike, share, bookmark, invite, post, buy, listen to, broadcast, check-in, read, create, delete, favorite, join, leave, gift, friend, play, connect, tag, save and tummel around issues, articles, lists, photos, videos, music, people, groups, applications, events, discounts, games and more. And we will do some of these things online and publicly, and others privately with physical tools or else in an endless variety of combinations.
Jyri Engeström has been talking about building services around social objects and the verbs we use to animate them for quite some time. I’ve recently started to follow the work of the activitystrea.ms group, another instance of the object/verb approach for describing and standardizing the evolution of online behavior as observed in the wild.
Yet despite all the observing and describing, many ambiguities remain. Remember, on the Internet nobody knows if you’re wearing a mask.
That will bring us back to Do-Re-Mi.
Is the pace of change going to remain so frenetic as to create a state of permanent liminality? Will we always be betwixt and between?