On Sunday I did a very ordinary, everyday, thing, I went to lunch with Johnnie, Chris, Kevin and Tania, in Johnnie’s local pub in Islington. I had a great time. So good in fact that instead of leaving at three, to give me time to prepare and cook a meal for my family and a friend, the first time I looked at my watch it was already past five.
So what’s the big deal you might ask – I don’t often, if ever, write about my social life here. This is not that kind of blog. So what is prompting me to write about it now.
Well, there were some curious things about this lunch.
I didn’t know Johnnie, Chris, Kevin and Tania. It was the first time I had met any of them.
I don’t know anybody who knows Johnnie, Chris, Kevin and Tania.
We weren’t meeting on business or because we had been thrown together by an event.
So far as I could tell the only two people, who actually knew each other were Kevin and Tania, who I think were husband and wife.
So I guess we met as a group of strangers because we were interested and curious. And why were we interested and curious? Because we had all encountered Johnnie through a variety of of combinations of the web, e-mail, twitter and, in my case, one longish conversation on the phone and something in those interactions had persuaded us that something interesting might happen.
But I don’t think that it was the fact of a bunch of strangers meeting for lunch was what made Johnnie , Kevin and now myself decide to write something about it. I think it was something that was going on in the space between us that in retrospect seems intriguing and maybe valuable.
I didn’t notice it at the time, but what was unusual was that there was almost none of the tentative probing and locating that usually seems to go on when strangers meet. Nobody asked me the question I dread, “And what do you do?” And no small talk. From the first moment I sat down with Johnnie and Chris we were talking about interesting stuff.
There was a tiny bit of probing and locating when Kevin and Tania joined us, because Chris knew some people in an organisation that Tania had worked for and Johnnie had some mutual interests in the kind of work that Kevin was doing, but that only lasted about five minutes max, and then we all plunged back into interesting stuff.
So, somehow, we were all just there. And yes, of course, we did learn something about one another, but in a kind of fleeting tangential way to do with whatever it was we were talking about at the time.
Which leaves me with a couple of thoughts. The first has an easy relevance. This is to a post by Josh Kamier of tinygigantic where he talked about the problem with small talk and how he and his partner Axel Albin had “decided to spend May avoiding shitty small-talk interactions with people. … The point is to have better, richer, more meaningful conversations with people.” Which he concluded they found, “So far, it’s been super hard.”
So what made it so easy for us? I don’t know, but maybe it had something to do with Johnnie’s qualities as a host. Anyway an interesting question to ponder.
My second thought is more puzzling. I sense a strong connection between that Sunday lunch and a monumental hypertext, “A Space Without A Goal”, created by my dear friend, Nick Routledge, back in 1995, but quite what that connection is hasn’t yet become clear to me.
One obvious connection is that Nick was the first good friend I met through the internet. It began with Nick asking me to contribute to another site he curated, World3. In the process e-mails flew between us and continued after the piece was up. When we final met face to face in a similar way to what happened at lunch, we plunged quickly into intense, interesting conversation.
But that still doesn’t explain why A Space Without A Goal, rather than just a connection to Nick. ASWAG had a strange life. It began as a repository for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and then, if I remember right had a number of homes before disappearing for some years until Nick’s friend Jon Van Oast rescued it and gave it a safe home, with most of its fragments intact, at scribble.
While Nick will correct me if I am wrong, I always saw ASWAG as an exploration of the way the web amplified human connectivity. (Though Nick also seemed to have discovered his quirky, tough spirituality through compiling it) Looking through it last night I found a line that seemed to capture something of the connection I sensed, but could not articulate:
“A Space Without A Goal is simply a space that mixes thoughts.”
And maybe that’s all we’d done as bunch of strangers for a pleasant period of time, simply created a space that mixes thoughts. A very simple, ordinary human thing. What is puzzling is why we should have thought for a moment that there was anything about it worth remarking upon.
Anyway, whatever thoughts any of us may have had about it, thanks Johnnie for being a good host, I enjoyed the conversations.