Quaker Meeting meet Google Glass

It had to happen, and it did–someone finally showed up at my Quaker Meeting wearing Google Glass.Image

My first in-person encounter with Google Glass was at an In-n-Out Burger a few years ago. A guy standing in line getting ready to order but he had this extra gleam to himself while wearing them; as people around him (including the cashier) tried not to stare, someone finally asked him what it was and he was happy to explain it.

Since then, here in San Francisco, it’s been an item about town and held in some regard as well as in some caustic disrepute for being an epitomizer of the gentrification of large tech company workers displacing locals. It’s not news that wearable computing has been on the horizon for years and getting closer by the day. Lots of opinions about its actual marketabilitysocial consequences, and form factor. But it seems a few companies have made it work, including Nike’s Nike+ (now Fuel).

I’ll admit–I’m psyched about it. Not the cool-factor way but in a way that says, “take the phone from my hand and make it easier to use all the functionality” way. I really would appreciate not looking away from where I’m going or the person I’m with while I check something. The only way I could think that might be better is to have an eye-implant or make Google Glass invisible.

So, when I saw it at my Meeting for Worship on a new attender recently, it was kind of a downer. It made my Quaker-self meet up my real-world self, and realize that a) Glass was probably the most distracting object I’ve ever experienced during Meeting, b) it made me paranoid (who was watching through the video camera? was I being recorded? was the person going to stand?), and c) it was the dawn of a new world. Should Quakers ask attenders to turn off and remove these types of devices before Meeting begins?

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Quakers have a keen desire for plainness, for reducing the clutter to our senses, in order to turn our attention toward God, or the Light that exists within humankind and the world. Quakerism has also had the flexibility to move and grow within the times; progress has not been an impediment but rather a slow revealing of the greater good that lies beyond our senses. So why does Google Glass worry me?

Introducing a tool with a lens connected to the Internet in front of our gaze, along with a camera pointed ahead to capture our surroundings, connected to one of the largest data companies in the world, during a time of silent worship feels wrong. This feels even more wrong than having a cell phone ring, someone snapping a picture of the Meeting in worship, or someone taking notes while someone is giving vocal ministry (I have experienced being in Meetings where each of these has happened).

Quakers have set up worship spaces in Second Life and I have been part of Meeting for Worship over Skype. What will help guide us through the time of Google Glass? Perhaps, as one person noted, “Then you will come to tweet cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every user.”

Internet Archive visit

Internet Archive glass     I’ve been wanting to take a trip to visit a Friday lunch at the Internet Archive for years since I heard about them. If you haven’t heard of or used it, it might be a shock to learn about its existence–since 1996, they’ve been “capturing” the Internet onto permanent, indexed, searchable hard drives on behalf of the public. The Wayback Machine is probably the most famous arm of this project, and one that I use to reference works I wrote way back when I was a music journalist for the online-only publication, Buzznet.

A year and a half ago, they moved from their old digs in the Presidio to their new digs in the former Christian Scientist building on Funston (at Clement) and done some renovating (along with their logo which now features the Roman columns on the building). It’s a beautiful space, and one that fits many “wings” of the organization that they’ve branched into collecting–sound, video, and, along with Google, a book digitization project which includes open access and a lending library, called Open Library. They are even suggesting the MegaReader app for iPhone/iPad users to access the collection.

Digital desk

Digital desk

As part of the lunch, each person had to describe why they were visiting or, if you work there, interesting progress or events from your project you are working on.  I was visiting for several purposes with one being that my library receives unique items which are often Quaker-related and can be rare. I was particularly interested in seeing how their digitization works after realizing they have quite an amazing collection of Quaker documents already in their library for free viewing (482 as of this writing). One of the key findings, for me, is how this work is being done and shared as a research tool for Quakers, especially those not living near a library that would stock such items. Unfortunately, the cost is around $.10/page to have your document scanned, unless you donate the item to them, so this will most likely be cost-prohibitive at this point but it does bring hope that, should someone have a large bequest, they could probably pay for the scanning of many Quaker documents and have them housed, potentially, forever on open servers and open to the public. Better than a physical library in many ways!

I was particularly engaged by the Director of this project, Richard, who came from a commercial background and now works for this non-profit. He’s a great

Internet Archive server rack

A slice of the Internet

person to head this project as he definitely had a feel for why and how the Open Library will deal with the Googlization of everything in a non-commercial way.

The Open Library project is working toward offering books in many formats compatible with many e-readers out there, and have built their own web-reader which makes it available in this future-compatible format. And, since this past holiday season, it’s getting easier and easier to have access to e-readers. I’ve been an ebook fan/reader since back in 2000 when I started library school using my HP Journada 540 with a black-and-white screen.

While I’m not sure the Internet Archive will truly ever compete with the commercial world, it will continue its efforts to bring free books to the public in many formats and continue the fight for bringing books to people free of charge, so hooray for that. I’m happy to see that this is another answer for libraries as opposed to complicated DRM files and outsourcing to paid-vendors like OverDrive.

A movable feast: Quakers in a mobile society

The network of Friends meetings is still limited.  Based on this map, (and this one) Quaker meetings are mainly in North and South America and Africa, followed by fewer in Europe, Asia, the Middle East.  According to a Friends General Conference map from 2002, even Friends in the U.S. are spread out, leaving a lot of room between meetings for Friends to live.

In this modern world, as people begin to marry and move due to work or calling, I find it compelling to look at how Quakerism is working with those less geographically rooted members in terms of membership to local meetings; members who join a local meeting but find a calling beyond the geographic reach of either their local meeting or even the reach of Friends meetings currently serving local communities around the world.  These are the Quaker middle-ground: neither fully participatory in the life of the meeting, nor missionaries for the spread of Quaker community.

mobile phones

However, as Quakers find themselves more and more mobile, it seems that Meetings are still central to their lives–friendships, spiritual affinity, and participation in the life of the Meeting remain an important part of being members of Quaker communities. I would posit that as this group of mobile Quakers joins meetings and then spend more time away from them than in them there is a certain strain on the meeting.  More members mean more care is needed by the localized Quaker community with mobile Quakers now being a part.

In my limited knowledge of Quaker history, it seems that in the past, when Quakers moved beyond their local meetings, they would set up a similar system at their new location–meetings based on locality–which drew in new members.  A new localized community of Quakers would grow up.  However, today, Quakers may live half the year in another part of the country, with another meeting, or even live abroad for several years, with no local meeting, before returning to their home meeting.  Setting up a new meeting is a long endeavor and, with mobile Quakers being mobile, probably twice as challenging due to the geographic restlessness they are a part of.

Personally, I’m feeling the strain of a Friends community which is localized and in need of care, while committee membership dwindles, and those members who are beyond the immediate community who need support for their callings and leadings.  I’m sure this is not uncommon in today’s world–many demands are placed on us for service to our communities and others.  But how should we, as Quakers, respond to these changes?  I offer some queries:

  • What roles do meetings play for the more mobile Quakers?  What does membership mean to them?  What does their membership mean to the Quaker community they are joining?
  • What roles to Quakers who are more mobile play in their home meetings?  What are the responsibilities they can hold?
  • What are a meeting’s responsibility to maintain community with members who do not live in their geographic area?  How can meetings support their members living abroad for an indefinite time if there are no Quaker meetings available to them?
  • How do new technologies promote community among disparate members of Friends meetings?
  • How does the new global economy impact local membership in Friends meetings?  How can meetings respond to this change by supporting members who are mobile, while maintaining responsibilities to localized members?

Facebook and Twitter: Quaker 2.0 technologies

Today’s Times article on Facebook captures a lot a great insight into the connundrum of web 2.0 and it’s meaning to social networks of the future.  Covering the connective and disruptive power of uniting social groups under one public communication tool, journalist Brad Stone brings the wonderousness of reuniting families who have been long separated or estranged with the tragedy of a exec who Facebooked his way to being fired after he criticized a co-worker.

Quaker plain speech, as translated into our 21st century world, offers itself as a strong way to move between all social networking groups.  Characterized as simple and democratic speech, plain speech doesn’t depend on who you are talking to, but offer something to everyone who hears it.  The simplicity of the message can bring unity between people and remind us that something that is said online should match with what is said in public.  Aren’t they one and the same in today’s interconnected world?

Of course, privacy settings, visibility status, multiple/fake accounts, and development of niche social networking sites can continue our sectionalized online life where speech can remain segregated between groups.  However, interconnections can now be built between disparate areas of online speech via RSS, cross-posting, and other push-technologies (a la “your Twitter is in my Facebook” one-post-to-many-sources solutions) where there were previously fixed separations.  Web 2.0 technologies giveth and they can taketh-away,

Now, more than ever, “let your yea be yea and your nay be nay” (Matthew 5:37) brings bearing to an ever-connecting world.  Quaker plain speech, simple and caring, can bring light where conflict arises, take away the power of “truthiness,” and help build a stronger connection between the inner and outer self.

Headphoneless: connecting to community

As part of a conference on Convergent Friends I went to a few weekends ago, I realized that one of my urban tools, headphones, were getting in the way of my connection to my community.

One of my previous posts mentioned my love, fascination, and complex relationship I have with my noise-canceling headphones.  I fell in love with them and their blessed ability to remove noise, creating a better BART ride, lower the volume on my iPod, and promote a calmer traveling experience.  What I didn’t count on was my disconnection from the world.

Public transit’s great, but I do miss the solitude of the car–listening to the radio or my own mix was a great way to pass the time and educate myself when I was growing up traveling those long Maine-distances between towns on the country roads.  Nowadays, I plug in, walk out my door and have a 30-minute walk/transit to work and do the same thing with headphones and iPod.  But what’s missing?  Why do I continue to isolate myself from others, the same as in a car, while being in community with my fellow travelers?

This idea came to me when we discussed the concept of “Quaker plain”–how early Quakers, in their quest to be closer to God avoided distractions in the physical world.  Clothing became functional, avoiding frills (even shirt collars and belts were forgone for collarless shirts and suspenders), speech became more direct, and other moves toward a simple life so as to give more attention to God.  I realized that my headphones were not creating silence, but creating a distraction from the world, an ability to trade a personal, inward growth and satisfaction over the challenges and beauty the world offers.

One idea that developed from that discussion was having an Internet Sabbath, a day free of digital connection.  I could hear groans in the room.  These days, this is pretty challenging for many young Friends.  But this, in truth, is another distraction.  Yes, a useful tool, but not a necessary one–like a collar.  I’m noticing, however, that there is something developing among young Friends called “New Plain” which this might fit into.