Asimov was right

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny …’

Isaac Asimov

I’m no scientist, much less an Asimov, but I find more than a kernel of truth in his statement.

I was thinking of the dynamic between technology and application, a variation on the dynamic between theory in practice. Because it’s New Year’s Eve, I was thinking in terms of myself, and what I’ve done that I’m pleased about this year. And two of those things had a lot to do with taking a particular “technology” — the blog — and applying it in what seemed to me a non-blog way.

Thing one:

My parents are online, though mostly for receiving mail rather than sending it. (I remind my mother that for women over 87, she’s quite skilled in sending email, but she doesn’t really believe me.) Among the problems they have with the mail they receive:

  • They don’t understand how to file it, or how to find anything they file.
  • They can’t always open attachments (because they don’t have the right application).
  • When they can open an attachment, like a photo, they can’t find it again.

In April it struck me that I could create a blog for which the two of them were the intended audience. So I did. I build the blog, walked them through creating a shortcut on their desktop, password-protected the thing, and gave each of my children author status so they, too, could digitally drop in on their grandparents.

233 posts so far this year, and whenever I talk by phone to my parents, they’ll mention things they read in the “letters” on the computer.

Thing two:

I had tape-recorded a conversation with my parents about what happened when they decided to move from Cape Breton to Detroit. I built a web page to share the stories with my kids. Then I started emailing my cousin Frank, the writer, and we exchanged stories about his dad, my uncle Freddie.That gave rise to Cousin Agam Fhèin, a website for sharing family stories. For a while I thought of it as a non-blog, since the main engine was not the blogger-thought-of-the-day, but the story. I have a loose definition for what type of story I’ll publish there: any story that’s connected to someone connected to my grandparents. The idea is that over time the site will branch off, and people who know someone in the extended family can pull up a chair in this virtual kitchen, have something to eat, and toss in their own story that somehow fits.

For these and other things, I owe a fair amount to Jay Cross and his unworkshop. I’d been following his Internet Time blog, and signed up for an online seminar on Web 2.0 stuff. I’ve now got three blogs of my own; I’ve thought in a more focused way about wikis applied to the workplace, and I’m doing more to network virtually with people too far away to meet for coffee.