Notes from Bergen 4: the world is less virtual than we think

It’s 8:30am as I begin writing this post.  Just minutes ago Kathi and our son trotted off towards the University of Bergen, where she’ll drop him off for his last day at Nygard Skole — the Norwegian immersion program he’s attended this year — before going to her last day at the University.  My daughter shook a leg in a perpendicular direction to her last day at Rothaugen, where she has been in an immersion class embedded in the local junior high. 

Our adventure is ending: my kids have been in 10 countries in 10 months: USA, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, France, England, Scotland, Denmark, Germany and Italy.  They are closer to being world citizens now, and the travel bug has bitten them.  I wait with fascination to watch them readjust to life in our small town south of Portland after being able to jet off to Rome for a weekend.

Now, I sit on the couch with the kitchen ravages of the morning waiting for me to order them, after which I’ll return to packing, organizing, scanning, pruning and getting ready for our crack-of-dawn departure back to America on Monday. 

Home.  We’re going home, first to visit family and friends in Los Angeles, then up to Portland a few days later.

Already, our 4-story, narrow, weird little 400-year-old house doesn’t look like us.  The books are gone, and a Berens without books is extraterrestrial.  We shipped six boxes yesterday, and this was after I schlepped an extra suitcase and bag of books to New York  with me a few weeks ago on a business trip to UPS westward at lower cost.

Other changes: the quintet resumed being our standard Berens quartet when Jordan, our beloved nanny who also works for me in the business, left on her European walkabout while I was in New York.  The house got a bit quieter. 

We measure in wake-ups: how many more times will we wake up in Bergen?  The answer as of now is three: Saturday, Sunday, Monday wheels up.  Our year-long presence falls from the house fast as an oak shakes off last leaves at autumn’s end… even though Norwegian summer is just starting to peek through the clouds here.

We have so much stuff, even in this pared down year.  We’ll travel to Los Angeles with straining duffles and carryons.  Despite buying digital books and music, being careful about what we acquire, scanning papers and then disposing of the originals… we’re still fleshy beings in a world of plastic, cloth, wood and concrete.  Friends are adopting our houseplants.  We’ve given outgrown clothes to charity.  Still we have to manage things.  Many things.

So the world is a lot less virtual than we think it is, and not just in the sense of “gosh, what a lot of stuff we have.”

When we moved to Bergen back in August I knew I’d be far away, but I thought that with Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Skype and Google Hangouts and email and a Vonage/VOIP phone things would chug along. 

In many ways, they did.  Facebook and Twitter helped me to keep an ambient awareness of what was happening with friends, and vice versa.  Many people have told me how they’ve enjoyed watching our European adventure unfold in picture after picture on Facebook.

But a chasm lies between recent-time Facebook updates and live conversations with family, friends and business associates.  Distance shatters immediacy, and the nine-hour time difference between Bergen and Portland is even harder to bridge than the geography.  Numberless times I’ve had to sacrifice either a meeting with business partners or dinner with the family because 9am in California is 6pm in Norway.  The numbers never added up.

After a while, I got used to the distance and forgot how different live could be.

Then, in May, I went back to Brown University for the first time for my 25th college reunion to renew acquaintance with classmates and campus.  I stayed in the dorms, which are no habitat for middle-aged bodies— each morning, the bleary shuffle from dorm to bathroom by coffee-deprived grownups (myself included) was near-slapstick comedy.  We all wandered the campus in endless combinations, trading lifetimes of anecdotes.  Often, I couldn’t recognize an older friend by looking, but when we walked, when the unchanged voice came from next to me, the years fell away.

After the reunion I went down to New York for a week of conferences.  Handshakes, hugs, smiles, meals shared, beer bottles clinked, knowing expressions traded, walks in the June sunlight: these things change, deepen and amplify interaction more than mere adverbs can capture.    

I shouldn’t be surprised by this: I’ve spent more than a decade programming conferences that exist because real relationships require real presence to start, bloom and mature.  The highest bandwidth signal we have is when we’re sitting across a table from others, feeling their bodies shift the air, hearing the crinkle of their clothes as well as their voices, noticing the new haircut, new age line, new cadence or habitual word choice.  Those things aren’t noise: they compose a richer signal.

The world is a lot less virtual than we think.

The dishes await, as do more boxes.  Tonight, friends visit.  More packing over the weekend, a last trek up Fløyen to say goodbye to the fjord on Sunday. 

You only know it’s an adventure when it’s over.

We’re going home.

From the Archive: Why does “on demand” feel so… demanding?

A kind tweet today from my friend David Daniel reminded me of this post, first published October 1, 2006. A look through my site found it a casualty of a domain transfer, but the always-useful Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive brought it back from the dead. Original version (with original comments) can be found here, and a subsequent story by CNN can be found here.  I don’t remember where I coined the term “TiVo Guilt,” but this at least is where the thinking comes from…

Having the best of the media world at my fingertips via cable VOD, TiVo, DVD, the internet and the metric ton of videotapes still lying around my garage can be a drag.

A couple nights back I cleared out the episodes of “House” piling up in my TiVo because they had ceased to be a special treat that I was saving for myself and started to feel like a homework assignment I’d forgotten to turn in. Similarly, my wife and I have had the many-many-Emmy-winning “Elizabeth I” in TiVo since April– April! We’ll never watch it, but we can’t bear to raise the white flag.

TiVo works best for short delays… watching something 15 minutes after it starts so I can blaze through without commercials,* or later that night, or the next night, but not much after that. I saw the second episode of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” on Tuesday night and loved it… almost as much as if I’d seen it on Monday night when it aired.

A short delay preserves that sense of sobytiinost — the “eventness” or connectedness with other people that I’ve talked about before — but eventness doesn’t last long. Like a delicate radioactive isotope, it has a half-life measured in mere hours.

The longer a piece of media lies around unseen, the more my satisfaction index declines. To be more precise, as a piece of media lies around, I find the prospect of watching it less satisfying. If I actually hurdle the barrier of my lack of desire to watch something once it’s no longer new, then I’ll probably enjoy it, although not, I suspect, as much as if I’d watched it when it was newer or live.

This is not just true of media that I can get in my home. With big, tentpole movies that have had expensive marketing campaigns and been drilled into my consciousness, I’d better see them close to the opening weekend or I’m going to wait for it to surface on HBO. If I’m only dimly aware of a movie — or if I’m seeing just about anything with my daughter who brings to the theater her own eventness — then this dynamic doesn’t happen. And as a corollary, with a sleeper like “Keeping Up with the Steins” the expectation — the sense of being about to be in on something that the unwashed multitude hasn’t heard about — brings its own anticipation.

Late at night, beached on the couch with the dog at my feet while the rest of the family sleeps, the last thing I want to do is make a well-informed, thoughtful, right-thinking decision about how I’m going to spend the next hour. That all sounds like such a commitment: I just want to relax. Dredging something from TiVo’s bowels means that I’ll have to make judgments and decisions: Should I have recorded this? Should I cancel the season pass? Is it more important that I watch this thing than that other thing? It’s supposed to be entertainment for heaven’s sake… not a test of my skill as a TiVo user.

The Year Five data from the Center for the Digital Future found that Americans now log onto the internet with no objective… just to spend time having fun. That’s a key distinction between self improvement and self renewal– between an ought to do and a want to do. If I wait too long, TiVo transmogrifies the former into the latter.

Comments, please?

* To all my brand marketer friends out there… yes, I admit it: I use TiVo to skip the commercials. Sorry, y’all.

Two new posts on Medium.com, plus thoughts on platform proliferation

The past week or so I’ve enjoyed writing on Medium.com. I mentioned a post about Tina Fey’s “Bossypants as Startup Bible” here before, and since then I’ve written two more:

eBay’s Sublime Terror: Staring down the precipice while hunting Babylon 5 DVDs

and

Barnes & Noble’s real problem: In praise of chunky scale

Medium.com is a wonderful, collaborative, clean, well-lighted place to write, and it’s fantastic to have the comments juxtaposed next to particular paragraphs rather than as floppy addenda at the end of a post.

I also love the curation, the community, and was  tickled to be listed in the Editor’s Picks.

On the downside, why can’t it be easier to have what I write there cross-posted over here, to my own website?  Surely it should be easy enough for them to create a “share this post on wordpress” button at the bottom of the page right next to the “share this post on Twitter” and “share this post on Facebook” buttons?

Convergence, the dream of the first wave internet pioneers before the dotpocalypse of 2000, is still just a dream.

Along these lines, I’m taking Rebelmouse for a test drive to see if it’s a good aggregator of my stuff online, as well as, perhaps, a replacement for iGoogle before it goes away in November.