Who herded the cats?

In the early hours of this morning the lovely Jonty Wareing (@jonty) tweeted this:

The Present is colliding with The Future slightly faster than I’m comfortable with.

I am not entirely sure what context he had in mind but I know that for me it is something that has been tickling the back of my mind for the last week or so.

A few years ago there began a seismic change in all things digital, with special focus on communication and technical delivery. Many things occurred to make this happen, and each of these have been charted by many a blog, news article and twitter stream – so thankfully I don’t need to rehash that little piece of history.

The utterly excellent Steph Gray mentioned often that working in the public sector at that time was like herding cats: a busy, sometimes apparently impossible and sometimes seemingly pointless task. However it does feel as if said felines have been ringfenced, for now.

Yes it is chaotic, there is much unrest and feeling of loss of control because there are very few who seem utterly, uncompromisingly confident in the immediate future. For this reason, I believe, all the people who a few years ago were considered the futurologists of note, those whom people would pay to hear talk, would read their blog posts avidly and follow their twitter stream with reverence – with almost daily revelations affecting and reinforcing the behaviour of those in the field (whichever field that may have been) – have been gripped on to, employed, drafted onto boards.

To some extent, the very beauty of twitter’s snappy communication has synergised with this increasing lack of time and could be held accountable for the death of the big, mind-changing blog posts. Those thought leaders, now so busy nurturing change, choosing to tweet their glances forward rather than writing blog posts (this is a generalisation – but notable).

I look about and there is a dearth of people mucking about at the edges of reality. Everyone to whom I looked for guidance and inspiration, those who fashioned my thoughts for sure and focused my attention when the future seemed such a vast and exciting morass of possibility – are really flipping busy. They are busy back with those cats, encouraging, teaching, guiding, assuaging fears and – when they have time – glancing quickly to the future to make sure they were still going the right way. This is natural – I am sure someone has a formula for this behaviour after a big change has occurred.

The problem is that the future is catching up with us, and we need to free the thinkers again. A collective deep breath needs to be taken and we all need to be a little bit more brave and trust in our own abilities, despite the occasional hissing and spitting, and free up some time for those we respect. Of course there is a mammoth amount of work to do and people who still need help working through everything that has changed, but this needs to become part of the day job for everyone now.

And so what Jonty said this morning is so right: The Future is rapidly catching up with The Present, it is uncomfortable because we are all gripping the hands of those who we need to set free. My own teensy little offering to supporting this, is to blog more myself as – hopefully – the thought leaders I value who sometimes do comment here, will still have time to comment: commenting is not as time-consuming as blogging and perhaps will spin-off into other much bigger discussions, hopefully mapping together lots of little discussions (as so often happens).

I have often used my blog to scribble down things that have occurred to me, long before I have thought about them too hard, as I learn so much more by conversation and community debate than navel-gazing. So for a week I am going to:

  • write a little every day about those things that have been tickling my brain, it may work, it may be pointless, but I am going to give it a try (I would really appreciate comments and discussions)
  • try to let go of the hands I cling to, set them free and strap on a pair
  • look for groups of people saying interesting things. Matt McAlister says the cryptologists are having good discussions and we all know that I am partial to a coder – but who else is fascinating you?

I don’t usually ask for things here, but I would love to know who you are getting your inspiration from – point me to their blogs and tell me when they are speaking. And if you are mindful that you too may be gripping the hand of someone who needs to have some time to gather their thoughts – please let them go a bit. We need those future-casters out there.

The cats are OK.

14 responses

  1. hi emma,

    I know that there is much burgeoning in the field of cyptology but most of this is well over my head. I usually go to Thinking Digital to get an insight into the future but for things that are less ‘commercial’ and are more theoretical I usually go for books and blogs.

    One good book I picked up recently was this one Distraction [the art of living] Damon Young – but as an arts critic from sweden mentioned to me (on twitter) freedom from distraction is often over-rated. I suppose some of the books in this series could be described as pompous – this look at philosophy and technology I found interesting.

    I suppose more generally I am interested in fashions and obsessions with trends and how these in the short term can be seen as forward thinking are so often a repetition of the past.

    It’s good to look out of the fish bowl at other professions and cultures and their take on the modernity that we are living through.

    Happy thinking.

    kate🙂

  2. Thanks Kate, that is exactly what I am talking about. Communication through the eyes of the coin designers, for example – the Geekyoto types. Thank you for the book ref, will check it out.

  3. Nope.

    Working with public sector officials is like stuffing live jellied eels into holes in the riverbank, whilst standing in the river.

    Sometimes the river runs fast and it is difficult to stand up.
    Sometimes the river runs slow and smells stagnant.
    Sometimes you take a look at the river and wish you were on holiday.

    Herding cats is easy in comparison, you get a big broom, two welsh border collies and a Jack Russell. Push them towards the nearest tree or bush and they will shoot up it…Job done, trapped feline.

    No wait, I got that wrong, herding coalition ministers is easy, you get a big blue broom, two welsh border collies and a Jack Russell. Push them towards the nearest tree or bush and they will shoot up it.

  4. I just read this post which follows on from the book that I read recently:

    The Battle for Control — What People Who Worry About the Internet Are Really Worried About

    http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2011/03/02/the-battle-for-control-what-people-who-worry-about-the-internet-are-really-worried-about/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+ScholarlyKitchen+(The+Scholarly+Kitchen)

    I hope you get a few more view point on your blog post – it is an interesting topic.

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  6. What matters at the edge is very, very important – since in networks, edges are more vital and valuable than centres. However, we have to bear in mind that many people around us (the people we would like to think need us, and would welcome us with open arms if only they understood us) still think and work in hierarchies, and wonder why we’re wasting our time hanging out at the edge when we could be climbing up a ladder.

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