The gift makes the slave as the whip makes the dog

Like most computer people I spend most of my days reading and writing off a computer screen not producing a large product but doing my work (which in total is a large product). As a researcher I use most of my reading time to read books which are either necessary or helpful for my work. But the best imput comes from reading works written by people in other fields, written for different reasons and intended for different audiences. And yet I all too often find myself reading books filled with ideas that are either similar to others’ I have read earlier or ideas with which I will predictably agree with.

It’s not much of a comfort to say that the statement above applies to most of my colleagues.

Right now I am sitting on the train to Stockholm happily reading a book which breaks this trend “Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The riddles of culture” written by the anthropologist Marvin Harris. I came across this marvelous eskimo proverb:

The gift makes the slave as the whip makes the dog

So cool. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Reciprocity is everything.

Technology and Sharing

Take a look at the Jörgen Skågeby’s recent PhD thesis “Gifting Technologies: Ethnographic Studies of End-users and Social Media Sharing” where he has studied the phenomenon of file sharing (to simplify everything a tad!)

In his thesis Jörgen Skågeby has studied the classical questions posed in gift theory: why gifts are given? what gifts are given? To whom are gifts given? How are gifts given? in relation to file sharing.

File sharing was earlier seen as a way for young people to recieve free media however Jörgen thesis argues that there is a growing social interaction developing which replaces the download focused view of file sharing with a focus on sharing. Contrary to popular views Jörgen argues that on the Internet it is clear to see who are friends and who are not – much more so than in the offline world.

from the abstract:

This thesis explores what dimensions that can be used to describe and compare the sociotechnical practice of content contribution in online sharing networks… Gift-giving was used as an applied theoretical framework and the data was analyzed by theory-informed thematic analysis. The results of the analysis recount four interrelated themes: what kind of content is given; to whom is it given; how is it given; and why is it given? … A general methodological contribution is the utilization of sociotechnical conflicts as units of analysis. These conflicts prove helpful in predicting, postulating and researching end-user innovation and conflict coordination. It is suggested that the conflicts also provide potent ways for interaction design and systems development to take end-user concerns and intentions on board.

The Kindness of Strangers

In Tennessee Williams‘ “A Streetcar Named Desire” the tragic figure of Blanche Dubois has the great line: Whoever you are— I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. While this is an apt line for Blanche it is not really a seniment I share. This attitude may be cynical but it makes the moment when I experience the kindness of strangers all the more important.

Today when I got to the office a brown envelope was waiting for me. The address was printed on a computer, the stamps were Swedish but otherwise no identifying marks. Inside the envelope was a copy of Elias Canetti’s The Voices of Marrakesh.

I have no idea who sent me the book, it is a new copy without any identifying marks or inscriptions. Very mysterious and what a wonderful gesture. I have not read it and I am looking forward to begining on it later this evening – thank you!