Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Sharing as soft sociability

My childhood school report cards say that I didn't like to share. And that's mostly true. I didn't want to have to play by other people's rules, so I wouldn't share with them. But as I grew up, I realised that if sharing is understood as "soft" sociability - or ways of interacting with others that don't rely on "hard" rules - I actually like the sense of reciprocity, and even obligation, that comes with it.

Avoiding the "hard" sociability (the structural or totalising aspects) of Mauss' gift economies or game-theory, sharing is a "soft" form of gift-giving or exchange. As a practice, sharing also involves long histories of local and global interaction, and the associated power relations between people, objects, activities and ideas - but it does so in less formal or directed ways.

Most simply, sharing binds us to each other; it is a classic example of intimate sociability.

And so I was thinking about intimacy, soft sociability and technology when I was able to try out Diego Doval's new (beta) file-sharing application CleverCactus Share. I won't pretend to know anything much about the technology behind it (you can read about that here and here) but I can describe why I enjoy using it.

Like Matt Webb's Glancing, Share seems to appreciate the more ambiguous and subtle aspects of sociability. And it has something in common with FilePile (maybe my favourite example of sociable software).

Share is soft and intimate, and quite beautifully communicative. Instead of sending email to certain friends, I have taken to sending them songs and pictures to communicate what I am feeling, or simply to let them know they crossed my mind. We have always liked to share artefacts-of-all-sorts, and every file sent to me is like getting a little surprise, not to mention a sweet challenge to reciprocate. Sometimes we have direct contact - we chat - but I think I may be more comforted by the always sense of indirect connection and playfulness.

Never entirely impressed by social networking sites, I nonetheless appreciate their sense of serendipity - something I see stifled in Share. So I was a bit surprised to find out that I also really like being surrounded only by those people I consider to be friends (whatever that means to me). The setting is informal, I already trust these people, and the software simply allows me to add another layer of communication to our relationships.

How simple, even elegant. This moves much closer to my idea of sociable technology, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.

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