I love sending postcards, and it's time to plan for a vacation or two. If you're reading this and would like to get a postcard some time, send your postal address to firstname.lastname@example.org .
A few highlights, not the whole talk.
My notes for the talk were the four words: novelty, reciprocity, frequency, mobility.
For novelty I spoke to the notion that people are on a perpetual search for the next new thing, and that any solution to any problem has to be revisited periodically in the light of this.
Reciprocity is the notion that people will respond in kind if you act generously to them, and I spoke to how this plays out in social media with "friends" and "followers" and "likes" as the actions often reciprocated.
Regarding frequency, the notion is that communications media have a natural rhythm, and that you need to be aware of how often you post or comment so that you don't either overrun the medium or be so quiet as to be unnoticed.
Finally mobility is the observation that more and more people are coming to the net primarily through mobile devices and if you want to serve them you need to have a solution for your web and net presence that looks good on the small screen.
I was greeted with a fair degree of skepticism about the value of social media for business, especially from someone who cancelled his Facebook account and never has been on Twitter. There was good discussion of how hard it is to simultaneously be brand-conscious and be aware of a professional persona vs. sharing details of a personal life. I think it's harder for people in an agency role whose job it is to make the client look good but who don't have to have a personal public identity in order to do their work.
Some day when I retire I'll give up on social media entirely and just send postcards to people – they are novel compared to the communciations that people mostly get, they're quite portable and mobile, no one expects a frequency of a postcard more than once in a long while, and if you send postcards you're likely to get postcards in return.
There are a lot of images on Flickr that I'd love to be able to have a mailable postcard of, printed in small quantities so that I can send a postcard to someone's fridge or to reach people who are not online.
What's the best way to print a postcard from Flickr?
Steve Cisler once sent me a postcard that was just a regular drugstore print with a message and a stamp written on the back. I'm pretty sure it was legally mailable, though it got a little bit crumpled along the way.
Kodak made real-photo postcards between 1902 and 1910, which is roughly the technology I'm after.
UPDATE 11/15/2005: Flickr support says that none of their partners print postcards.
Nano sent me a postcard on the occasion of my last birthday with this clipping from the New York Times:
People with cohesive social networks, whether offices, cliques, or industires, tend to think and act the same. In the long run, this homogeneity deadens creativity. As [Ron Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago] has repeatedly shown, people who reach outside their social network not only are often the first to learn about new and useful information, but they are also able to see how different kinds of groups solve similar problems.
This was Nano in so many ways. (And for her to clip the article on 5/22 and mail it on 12/8, with a Buckminster Fuller stamp, was her way too.)
I'll miss getting postcards from Nano, and I'll miss her effortless grace in being part of so many parts of the world I live in.
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One of the challenges posed by structured procrastination is accumulating an list of marginally useful things to do at any point, so that if you are putting off that urgent and important (not really) top task you can chip away at a large library of actually socially useful activities.
From a getting things done perspective, this could be thought of as having a wide range of tasks and goals and actions ready in mind for when you don't have the right level of focus or attention to take on the top of the stack. This hopefully leaves a little time for pursuing great weird ideas at the same time that your energy and attention is not completely stuck on some grinding task.
We have time at home every night at dinner time, and I've taken to always having a piece of paper and a pen handy at the table so that I can write down the usually short list of household chores that come up during the day that I can do at a quiet time at night. It's remarkably useful to have a short check-in daily about what's going on, how was your day – now I would love to be able to do the same thing at breakfast-time before Saul goes to school but I'm low-functioning in the mornings and usually don't have the diurnal rhythms synced right to be alert at 7:30am when he's bouncing out of bed.
In a house with two young boys and especially with all of the baggage that baby Jonathan brings with him, plus the utter mess that older brother Saul can manage to create in not too long, the thing that always comes to mind when nothing else makes sense is to clean up. When in doubt, clean. There's always something to tidy or put away, it makes the place brighter, and it's work that Deb doesn't have to do. The big advantage of cleaning is that it is never a task that goes away, and the more you do it the more you see there is to do.
I have started to keep a simple "todo.txt" style todo list, this has started to accumulate over time and I now have a few scripts that make it easy to create tasks from the command line, delete out the ones already done, search for related tasks and most importantly generate a random thing to do. Like all approaches to randomness, you don't want to shuffle your entire life, but it's quite helpful to get something plucked out of the middle of the list at an odd 15 minutes when you're not concentrating anyway and wipe out something you're been meaning to do for a long time.
The key then is generating tasks that are actually attainable, not so huge that they can't be done in a 15 minute attention span because of course you might not get more than a few of those during the day, and that are tagged appropriately so that you can easily winnow out the "coffee shop" tasks when you're at a coffee shop and wipe out one or two of those handy enough. For instance, I have a standing coffee shop task to take a picture of the bulletin board and post it somewhere online – e.g to the What's on the bulletin board at Cafe Ambrosia? weblog – not that in any sense is that small photographic essay a huge contribution to anything, but it picks up a tiny bit of marginal use to one or two or three people, just enough to keep someone in particular in mind.
Another of the marginally useful things I am keeping up with is remembering birthdays. How do you keep track of birthdays? I've been squirreling away dates as I hear them, putting them into iCal with the help of iCal birthday shifter, and then routinely making phone calls to people on their day to keep a little bit better track of where they are in their lives. It's almost a bit of a hobby now collecting those dates, and people are generally pretty happy to get a call or a note on their birthday (mine is Dec. 8 if you're keeping score).
When faced with the choice of sending a note to someone who I'm trying to keep in mind, I think about how much email people get and how many people are buried in it and spend their online time deleting it. This prompts me to realize that I have a well-practiced marginally useful habit to send a postcard when I'm travelling to everyone who I've seen along the course of a day, and it makes me wonder whether I shouldn't extend that courtesy to the routine interactions with people I see in town over the course of a day. Compare for instance the reaction you'd get from people if they knew that every time they saw you they'd get a personal notecard reminding them of the day with a cool picture on the back, that much better than a dry hastily composed email. Postcards are so marginal that a good exercise of using them has to be a great hack compared to grinding out so many email messages.
UPDATE 5/7/2013: Fix link to "structured procrastination", which now goes to http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/.