See-sawing up and down moods

Work by yourself, or work with others, which can be inspiring or draining?

Do you like working just by yourself and for yourself? The time when I remember liking that was during my PhD. Sure, it was in an open lab where there was interaction with others, but the work was just my own, a classic self-directed PhD project. After I finished, I (metaphorically) looked around, and who did I see? No one at all. I couldn't find a single researcher who was really interested in the line of research that I had developed. I felt I had reached the practical limits of what I could do just by myself. (I know that even that kind of work isn't just ‘by myself’, but the decisions were.)

Ever since then I've been looking for collaborators. If anything, my sense of wanting collaboration has grown, not diminished, over the years. The reason why I haven't developed the CHOICE is, psychologically, simply that I haven't found anyone who actually wants to work with me on building it. (By the way, I'm currently wide open to offers!)

So yesterday I was delighted to have two conversations relevant to my recent focus on knowledge commons and suitable wikis, where I could feel the common ground and the potential for collaboration. Indeed, spending time in conversation about it is the first step towards potential deeper collaboration. Robert names his interest as ‘learning commons’ rather than my ‘knowledge commons’, but we discovered that the great majority of our interests are common. He reminded me of the relevant work of Douglas Engelbart, and I gave him some leads about heutagogy among other things. Robert is very familiar with fedwiki. I was also talking with him about my idea of See-Saw Development, and I'm encouraged to promote that a bit more.

Then I talked more with John, with whom I've talked quite a lot now about wiki software. John is also familiar with Fedwiki, and DokuWiki, and others. We continued to talk about the pros and cons of different systems, and related matters.

One of the many things I appreciate about folks like this is that, while they are certainly talented, we share being not well-known; not being particularly ‘successful’ in society's terms. So we still have time for each other. We do not have public personas to live up to. There is no pretension. Increasingly, I am sensing that the real moves forward will be from people like us, as we collectively get ourselves together, gently and informally lending each other a helping hand where it is called for.

What a contrast with today. Very nice, successful people in this consortium that I am participating in, but this was a huge Zoom meeting (over 160 people) with a carefully structured programme. However, no break-out rooms, so the only personal contact was through private chat messages. I was trying to focus on the content, but kept slipping away onto other thoughts. I ended up feeling quite low – though I can't be sure how much the meeting contributed to that – and was mentioning this to Helen, noting that these days I respond to people, not to abstract projects. She understood.

Another side of my feeling down today is due to thinking more about what is needed to create a wiki that really can do what it needs to do, in order to host an effective, easy-to-use knowledge commons. I added another one to the features I think would be useful: commenting and suggesting, like you can do in Google Docs. Commenting seems not much of a challenge in principle, just identifying the people who commented. But suggesting – how is that held as data, actually? How could it be? Fedwiki works with the granularity of a paragraph-like unit. Does that mean that for correcting a spelling mistake, the whole paragraph needs to be held? What happens when the original passage is changed again by the original author? Fedwiki gives paragraphs their own persistent ID. Can one reliably identify a particular word, or a sentence? With thoughts like this, I start to imagine how it is actually quite difficult to do well. If I had the services of a really good software engineer, how long would this take to fix? Add another item to the list of difficult things that someone could do some day…

I'm saying that I can easily start to feel weighed down by concerns like this. It can all feel too heavy to hold by myself. And when I get the sense that I'm doing this for someone else who also genuinely cares, it is all bearable. (By the way, this is one reason why I would never advise people to try bringing up children on their own, if they have a choice.) But then, having just one other person is rather risky. What happens if that other loses interest, or disappears? Much better, in so many ways, to have more than two people on the case.

Which brings me back to Collective Presencing, for which we had another little hosting team meeting of three of us yesterday. (In the Art of Hosting, it is routinely said, “never host alone”.) In any environment which feels supportive, and has healing potential, you will always find people in need who gravitate there, like birds flocking to some newly provided food on the ground. It's vital to provide support for members of any group who are exploring deeply; but then, where does the actual work come in? How do we hold the work and care in balance? To me, this is a key question for creating working commons. And we need a knowledge commons around workable answers.

I still choose company over working alone.

Topics: Commons and collaboration; Complex psychology; Wiki software

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