Everything, KS (bookstore)

The (sub-)title of this writeup comes not just from our trip to Powell's City of Books, where we spread out and then reconvened (not for the last time that weekend) into a semi-silent but comfortable and convivial group of readers; it's also about something fuzzy and blue mentioned to me, which Laurel then spotted on a flyer right behind my head in our meeting spot in Powell's. From the flyer:


Ownership of a thriving healthy business.

While Away Books in Roseburg, Oregon could be yours if you submit the winning essay answering this question:
While Away Books is a wonderful store in a wonderful town in a wonderful area full of wonderful people. What qualities, characteristics, experiences and ideas would you bring to While Away Books if you were the next wonderful owner?

Submit your essay of 250 words or less plus the $250.00 entry fee (certified check or money order) AND you could win:

1st Place
Ownership of While Away Books, a thriving bookstore in 2,400-sq ft. of leased space in Roseburg, Oregon. The current lease goes through June 2005 and is renewable for 5 years. Also, you receive three months of transitional orientation by current owner.

2nd through 21st Place
Awarded $5,000 each place for a total of $100,000.

Fuzzy was excited. This would be a way to raise money for E2, or for an eventual shot at Everything, Kansas, or both. It would be like the "general store" my dad's old church used to run, selling donated goods as a year-round fundraiser. 250-word essays are not easy things to make, Fuzzy agreed, but "if we got enough people together, we could kick ass." Others brought up problems - having to learn how to manage a retail store, having to live in Roseburg, Oregon. I don't think the specifics - or the bookstore in particular - matter. I think the discussion resembled, and cast valuable light on, the idea of E2KS that some of us claimed to be there in Portland to discuss.

The Kansas talk kept getting talked about, threatening to happen, balancing on the cusp of happening, and... not happening. Twice, I was in a knot of noders who talked about E2KS while talking about how we really ought to have "the" talk. It struck me that while E2KS, the project, aims to centralize in small measure the decentralized community of E2, we couldn't actually manage to centralize the talk that was on the agenda. We could only spread the ideas through the party, peer-to-peer style.

This made me think: maybe the idea of buying a town, or forming an intentional community, goes against the true nature of an online community (which, I hasten to add, is no reason not to do it). Right now we're decentralized, and we do a sort of ad hoc centralizing of our community, through noder meets. Maybe it's better if we look at Everything, KS as one extreme on a continuum - possibly an asymptote, not something we can ever really achieve - and where we are now as the other. fab's fantasy of an E2-owned bookstore would represent a kind of baby step towards the ideal, an ad hoc making-real of E2. It would serve only a small part of our community but be easily replicable anywhere - like a noder meet, only permanent.

None of this is meant to denigrate the inherent qualities of intentional communities. Those who are into it were into it before E2 and will be into it regardless. This isn't an either-or. However, many of us who've expressed interest in E2KS (and many more who've expressed doubts) are attached to cities. I believe there is a financially and logistically feasible way to bring our community into connection with real-life communities in a way that benefits both, within the context of cities.

I bought two books at Powell's. One was called Celebrating The Third Place, edited by Ray Oldenburg, author of a classic treatise called The Great Good Place. I discovered The Great Good Place through Howard Rheingold - both his early web community at Hotwired and his book The Virtual Community. TGGP defines a third place as the place you go after work that isn't home, that connects you with a community. The classic examples are donut shops, neighborhood bars, and coffee houses, but these are "classic" examples because the phenomenon of actually talking to the people you meet in these places has largely died here in America. The Virtual Community connects the rise of online communities with the fall of public life in realspace. Celebrating The Third Place is full of counter-examples: real places that sparked real communities, as described by people who own or love them.

The Funhouse over Columbus Day weekend was a wonderful third place. The non-stressed nature was what made it work. Partying heartily is a kind of stress. It isn't sustainable. We were frequently not partying at all, but drifting, sometimes reading a book, sometimes noding, sometimes napping, then getting up and finding a conversation again. Part of me wanted to make it a home. What made it a third place, though, was the fact that we weren't staying, it wouldn't last forever, but we would return to something much like it, with slight changes in faces and scenery, soon enough.

Everything2 is a third place. Not everyone will want to make it home as well. Doing so would certainly change it.

My other Powell's purchase was another Howard Rheingold book, a new one that's been teasing me for weeks, being almost there, in the channel, coming real soon. I figured Powell's would be as sure a bet as anything for actually having it in stock and on shelves, and I was right. It's called Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, and in its first chapter, it talks about a Finnish project called Aula.

They are building a "shared urban living space" that combines a physical location, a virtual community, a mobile social network, and a cooperative organization, "an anti-netcafé, where no screens flicker yet technology is present, where doing together and being together is enabled through a unique social setting." [...] There would be a coffee machine and a copier/printer, but the participants would operate the machines themselves: a nonprofit Starbucks crossed with a co-op Kinko's. [...] There would be whiteboards and wireless networks, and the key to get in the door would be an RFID "tag" (an inexpensive microchip with short-range radio broadcast capability) that would allow people to display the social network that connects them to Aula. (17-18)

Sounds an awful lot like a noder compound, doesn't it? Only with levels and layers of access: you might live there, or you might pay a much lower monthly fee to have access to the public spaces, work areas, or just the network. Cooperative spaces on this model exist in all sorts of places. Cell Space in SF is one. Up in Portland we saw films that came out of another.

Such spaces don't happen by themselves, and a space like this one might be as big of a logistical challenge as E2KS. Finding the right real estate for such a collective living room might be even harder. Attempts at spaces like this here in SF have died largely because technology caught up to where people didn't need them anymore - if we already have geek houses and noder compounds, why pay to belong to another? - so it's important to offer diverse benefits to members (art studio spaces, band practice space, who knows). All in all, though, the dream of a permanent noder gathering might be more easily realized by being where the noders are.

At one point on Sunday, I was defending a certain set of beliefs on how to do an E2 print journal - another kind of baby step - against questioning from Jeff, Seamus and dann. I brought this up as a way to raise money and to raise awareness, bringing what we do to more people. The thing about a print journal is it wouldn't be like E2 itself and couldn't possibly be. You couldn't represent pipelinks or softlinks - the latter you could sort of suggest through editorial theming, but E2 also doesn't have that, et cetera. Any kind of owned or leased instantiation of nodermeets isn't going to be like the temporary kind, either. We've got to be ready for that. But this weekend gave me a taste of what's to come.

West Coast meets historically have a kind of inferiority complex relative to East Coast debauches. We're a little more sedate and cerebral (I mean, come on, our aftermath writeups have references and footnotes). The first thing a permanent space does is take the pressure off, freeing you to hang out and relax, even disconnect into a book for a while. It also puts a different kind of pressure on, to contribute the the job of maintaining the space and provisions, because there's no "host." I saw people doing this in the Funhouse and was sorry I didn't accomplish more of it myself. Above all, I felt the kind of comfort you feel amongst a group of people who are used to each other - lots of familiar faces, a surprise appearance or two, a couple of characters who always looked like they were up to something. Walter's new beard, conform's old necklace, Laurel and fuzzy's easy affection with seemingly everyone.

I've started to dream about something. I'll let you know.