I celebrated Valentine’s Day in the middle of a several-hundred-person pillow fight. It was amazing and beautiful and a great outlet for the anti-consumerist singledom disdain I carry for that day. Throughout the battle, I kept my glasses safely in a case in my pocket and lunged face-first at the whump-thwumpers.

Eventually, my neck got tired of being pummelled, and I stepped out of the fray to pick feathers out of my teeth and shirt. I put my glasses back on to get my bearings just before WHACK!, they were smashed off my face by an errant pillowfighter and buried under a groundcover of feathers. Panicked, I grabbed the five closest bystanders and had them hunt for me. One very well-meaning man found my beloved glasses. After he stepped on them.

Once upon a time, I used to wear contacts every day. I took this as a sign that maybe it was time to go back to them, and I carted myself to Lenscrafters the next day to get sized up for them. After a day of dilation-induced disorientation, I was home again. Contacts! Peripheral vision! Freedom!

naked1.jpgBut one major thing has changed since I was a daily contacts wearer: I no longer have hair. So, despite the fact that the contacts feel completely and utterly freeing, I was weirdly disturbed when I looked in the mirror. On days when I don’t wear makeup (which is about 50% of the time), I now look… really naked!

It’s jarring how much comfort we find in having some sort of shield between us and the world. Bangs to hide our worry wrinkles and long hair to curtain our cheeks. Foundation to hide our blushing. Shades to hide our tears. We paint dark lines along the edges of our eyes to remind people to see us directly, and then we shield them with lenses and frame them with angles and curves — thick and thin — to change the shapes of our faces.

When I make all that go away, I look uncomfortable. I look vulnerable. I look scared.

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So it was back to Lenscrafters today, urgently looking for face jewelry. Give me something that will dress me up when I don’t have the motivation to do anything more than put on my glasses. Make me safe again. I’ve got the contacts — I know how to look like myself. Now give me something else!

I went for bigger. I went for quirkier. I went for something that would announce a confident style without any extra input from me.

And I got them.

And they feel weird.

But now I’m safe again. And now can go back to putting effort into appearing transparent. Whew.

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(pillowfight photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid )

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Emma McCreary of Joy Ninja took my Elisa Camahort Page-inspired Venn Diagram about authenticity and transparency and made it more useful:

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(She’s also the one who pointed out that authenticity is a need and transparency is a strategy. I agree — when you boil it down to needs and strategies, this all makes a whole lot more sense.)

Emma redirects this conversation back to the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC):

‘When we can all let each other make our own choices about how we get our needs met, whether the need is for authenticity or privacy or something else, then we’ll stop arguing about the “proper” or “right” way to be doing things, and we’ll all get along better.

‘This is why I love NVC: you see someone’s strategy, and if it bothers you, you then become curious and guess what need they are meeting. Something like this, “OH, so when you choose to not be transparent, you are meeting your need for privacy?”. Then you get to have a conversation where you are curious about where the other person is at and why they are doing what they are doing. Bingo, authentic connection.’

I love it! Thank you, Emma.

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Last weekend I twittered, “I wanna see a Venn Diagram that shows the differences and overlaps between ‘Authenticity’ and ‘Transparency’.”

The thought immediately attracted conflicting (yet brilliant) definitions of the terms.

“‘authenticity’ is about relevance, ‘transparency’ is about defensiveness. the overlap is accidental and uncorrelated.”
— Jenka Gurfinkel, social-creature

“authenticity = what is alive in me, transparency = a conscious choice to disclose that b/c I want to live in that kind of world.”
— Emma McCreary, joy ninja

Understandably confused, I started asking around for more thoughts on the matter. Here are some of the responses that came in…

“I don’t think authenticity means anything more than what is real and true. And I agree that transparency is about how much of what is authentic you choose to give those outside the window in to see. No one said it had to be 100%, by the way. You have choice. That choice is the overlap.”
– Elisa Camahort Page, Worker Bees Blog

Aha! The Venn Diagram!

doppjuice_auth_trans_choice.gif

Beth Kanter continued the conversation over at BlogHer and her own blog, relating the concepts to the nonprofit sector and pulling in some great comments. She also dug up the wikipedia definitions:

  • Authenticity refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions.
  • Tranparency means open, frank or candid.

Mark Resch took the business angle: “authentic means authored by who you think made the thing in question. transparent means that the author made it so that you (or anyone) can see how the relevant parts work—especially the important inputs and outputs.

Meanwhile, another tech industry thinker (who in a completely relevant way asked to remain anonymous) said, “Not being 100% open about everything I know in my professional technical field actually makes me trusted. If people know they can go to you and share information that is yet to be made public and know you are not going to share…. well this makes you trusted. So ‘radical’ transparency is actually not ‘good’ for building trust and relationships. Authenticity is more about how you are sharing and is it ‘true’ and real for you in relationship to others.”

My friend Koan added some pithy thoughts to the pile: “Authentic is what I say about who and what I am – transparent is being open about why I’m saying it. Authenticity is walking the talk – transparency is talking the walk.”

And then Emma threw in another quick summary: “Authenticity is a need — transparency is a strategy. Thus transparency can meet a lot of different needs for different people, authenticity is just one of them.”

George Kelly of allaboutgeorge went for the meat of the definition. “Transparency is an internal choice projected externally, how one acts based on how one desires to live. It’s demonstrated and performed by one person or entity for an other (or others). Authenticity is a valuation, a label, about one’s essential nature, from the outside-in. It accrues to a person or entity and is attached by others (or an other).”

Amy Gahran of Contentious.com put it all into straightforward terms: “I think of “transparency” mainly in terms of disclosure — opening up your process of creation or exploration to examination — not simply selectively displaying the finished, polished product. I think of “authenticity” in terms of being honest (true to yourself and others) about who you are, the role you’re playing in a given context, and your values and identity. This is more of an internal mindset that influences what you end up creating, saying, or doing online or in the real world — whereas transparency is more of an external practice.”

But what about where the green part of the diagram? Whitney Moses tackled that one: “If your true self is very private, then over sharing wouldn’t be very authentic, but it could be transparent. Everyone can tell they’re inauthentic when they’re trying to put up a good front.”

Finally, Melinda Klayman boiled it down to the point: “Authenticity is about meaning what you say. Transparency is about saying what you mean.”

Thank you all for your brilliant thoughts.  I think I get it now.

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Here’s what’s on my desk right now:

Dopp Juice – Maintaining this blog as a platform for self expression (supplemented nicely with Twitter).

Technificant – A tumblelog I started recently for collecting the random beautiful nuggets of “stuff” I find on the web. More fun than a barrel full of del.icio.us and ma.gnolia.com feeds.

Cerado – My favorite. client. ever. I’m handling project management, technical writing, and website development for the brainchildren of mad genius Christopher Carfi. He’s keeping me quite busy these days with brilliant undertakings, and is the reason I’m unavailable for your projects.

The Writ – Leading an initiative this year to migrate the site to a more stable system that better addresses the community’s needs.

Genderfork – A photo-a-day blog that explores the grey areas of gender, which up until recently was handled under a pseudonym.

Poetry Chapbook – I’m compiling some of my more challenging work (which has seen virtually no internet airtime) from the last two years and am going to make it available through Lulu.com soon.

My themes for 2008 are authenticity, identity, and community.

What are you up to? Post me a link to your roster.

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Last night the newly-freewheeling Susan Mernit and I attended the SD Forums meeting on Using the Social Graph / Social Platforms to Enhance Search at the Yahoo campus. The panel included representatives from Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and Chirp, and they grappled with questions about what the Internet is going to do with all of this information about who is connected with whom. Here are a few of my takeaway notes:

  • When we search, we find things we were looking for. When we participate in social networks, we find things we didn’t know we were looking for.
  • To subscribe to someone on Twitter is to use them as a media source.
  • Our public content and our public statements about our social graph are a kind of performance. (Dopp Juice is a kind of performance.) This stuff needs to be treated differently than private conversations (messages, emails, IMs), which are meant to be off-stage.
  • One-way connections (e.g., following someone on twitter) articulates what you’re interested in. Two-way connections (e.g., an email conversation) articulates who you’re interested in.
  • Direct search has been nicely monetizable (see Google’s Massive Empire) because it involves a direct interest, but social search is the new frontier for monetization.
  • Social networks SHOULD NOT ASK PEOPLE FOR THEIR GMAIL AND YAHOO MAIL LOGIN INFO. (i know, we’ve talked about this already, but it was nice to hear it on the panel from the Yahoo rep, too.) His reasons: our email address books include everyone we’ve ever emailed; not just the people we have valuable relationships with. The tactic is spam-producing and relationship-damaging.
  • Facebook’s style of social networking sometimes creates lightweight friendships that obfuscate the value of networks. Knowing who my 20 best friends are is often more valuable than knowing who my 500 best friends are.
  • There is an ongoing tension between privacy and portability. How do we keep our information safe, versus how do we carry our information with us?
  • True portability involves both the ability to extract your information in a way that can be used elsewhere and the ability to delete it from the system so that it’s no longer in the first network’s hands.
  • There can never ever be a privacy surprise. If the user sees you publicly displaying something that they thought was private, you just lost their trust in a very big way.
  • There’s user-generated content and then there’s information about the user’s social graph. These are separate things. To do cool things for fun and profit on this next frontier of social media, you’re gonna want access to both.

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hat1.jpgDear Friends,

There’s a lot that’s missing from this blog. I rarely reference my art, my social network, my adventures, or my grapplings with identity politics. And that’s unfortunate, because these are significant and interesting parts of my life, and I’d like you to know about them. I’ve been keeping them off the radar because it’s been easier to let people make assumptions about my personal life than it has been to try to explain it to them. The downside of this is having to face some really wrong assumptions, all the while knowing that I haven’t done anything to prevent or correct them.

For reasons that continually boggle my mind, a lot of this seems to hinge around my sexual orientation. So let me take a stab at creating some common ground by offering up the label that makes the most sense to me: I’m queer.

This word seems to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, so here’s how it works in my life. First of all, I’m not straight (most people seem to figure this one out). Second, I’m not a lesbian (and I’m pretty damned sure about that, so please don’t challenge it). Third, I’m somewhat androgynous (which, incidentally, is not the same as being butch). I live in the middle ground. I have a high tolerance for ambiguity. I’m queer.

“Queer” is a word with positive connotations in my circles. Unless you’re saying it with a glare and a snarl, it is not an insult. You can use it to describe me.

Another word you can use is “bisexual.” I don’t mind this term (and it’s a lot more appropriate than “straight” or “gay”), but you should know that I rarely use it to describe myself. To me, the term “bisexual” suggests that there are only two genders in the world, and I disagree with that philosophy. We can get into that debate another time. For now, I’d just like you to understand that gender is rarely an important factor when I’m deciding who to date.

I find that many people tend to assume I’m a lesbian, so I don’t think of this post as “coming out of a closet” so much as “submitting a clarification.” If we can get onto the same page about my identity, I think we’ll find we have a lot more to talk about. I hope you’re game.

Love,
Sarah

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I headed out to the Paul McCarthy exhibit opening tonight with co-conspirator Melinda Klayman. While trying to navigate the heavy crowds, we ended up stuck in between two men who were wearing strange sashes.

To make conversation, Melinda asked if the sashes meant they were in a cult. They smirked and looked at each other for confirmation, and then nodded in agreement.

“Well, then, which one of you is the leader?” I asked.

They looked at each other again, and the tallest one said, “The last one standing.

The shorter one slapped him on the back, laughing, and said, “I can’t believe you still remember that! That’s right! That’s how you choose a leader!”

Melinda and I looked confused, and the tallest one explained. “The way to pick a leader is to have everyone in the group stand in a circle. Eventually, people will start sitting down. The last one still standing is the leader.

I visualized a group of determined men standing in a circle for 12 hours on end, hungry and thirsty and wriggling their fatigued legs to keep the blood flowing. I realized they probably had to urinate into the center of the circle, too, and I hoped this was happening in the middle of the woods somewhere. “How long does it usually last?” I asked.

“Oh, about five minutes,” the taller one said.

The shorter one saw the look on my face and explained. “If we’re all standing in a circle, I’m going to make eye contact with you, and with you, and with you, and I’m going to think to myself, ‘Well, I’m not the leader here,’ and I’m going to sit down.”

“What if not everyone sits down?” I asked.

“I don’t know. That’s never happened,” said the shorter one.

The taller one chimed in excitedly. “No! It’s happened! Then there’s the second round! See, we put a time limit on the circle. Say, five minutes. If, at the end of five minutes, two people are still standing, well then they’re both out, and we start the circle over again without them.”

The shorter one nodded sagely. “Right… because if they’re unwilling to capitulate, then we don’t want them as our leader.”

The taller one added, “One time we had to do three or four rounds of this.”

Melinda and I sat back and took this all in. “So how well do these leaders usually work out?” she asked.

“Very well,” both of them men said. “We’ve never had any problems.

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There’s a lot of buzz right know around something called the social graph. This buzz is very geeky, and if you’re not already immersed in geeky conversations about Internet privacy and identity, this buzz might be going over your head. That’s a shame, though, because you probably do care about it.

socialgraphapi.jpgWhat’s a Social Graph?

You have lots of contacts. Some are professional colleagues, some are personal friends, some are both of those, and some are more complicated than that. A social graph is a snapshot of who you’re connected to and how. The specifics are super-geeky, so I’m not gonna go any deeper than that.

What’s Happening Now?

Google just released something called the Social Graph API. This is going to make it easier for social networking websites to share information about who you’re connected to. This opens up a huge can of worms in terms of privacy and identity and security and all that fun stuff that the Internet’s been debating since it was born.

How Does This Affect You?

At the moment, it doesn’t. It’s too new. But it’s pushing the borders on what we need to think about when we use social networking websites, and that’s going to matter to you as soon as it gets to your favorite websites. Looking ahead to the not-so-distant future, you should probably prepare yourself for two things:

1) You’re going to have an easier time sharing your “friends list” between your social networking websites without having to give out your email address book. This also means that signing up for a new social networking website won’t be such a headache.

2) You’re going to have a harder time compartmentalizing and obscuring different parts of your life on the Internet. There will still be a place for pseudonym-based anonymity, but with all of these networks talking to each other, it’s going to be harder to hide. So if you’ve got skeletons in your public MySpace closet and you’ve just figured that nobody’s gonna look behind that door, you might wanna go clear those out now.

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