Is Everything Miscellaneous? It often feels that way

Do you have a hard time fitting your life into categories? Is it hard to separate work from play, office from home, partying from networking, the obviously relevant from the maybe someday relevant? If so, fear not, apparently you are not alone. For a start, there's me. I'm with you. For several years now it has been getting harder for me to categorize things. At first I thought it was a lack of mental discipline, or laziness, or maybe even the onset of old age.
(Quick, before I forget, an aside about old age and forgetfulness: I recently told my mother that I was concerned because, since I turned fifty, I seem to be forgetting more things. My mother, who is nearly eighty, replied: "Don't be silly, I used to forget loads of things when I was only twenty.)
But this category problem, this blurring of the lines, turns out to be a trend, a sign of the times, as described and discussed is the book Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger, one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto and a Harvard professor with a doctorate in philosophy (but a cheerful way of writing very accessible prose nonetheless). Here's some of the blurb from the book:
Human beings are information omnivores: we are constantly collecting, labeling, and organizing data. But today, the shift from the physical to the digital is mixing, burning, and ripping our lives apart. In the past, everything had its one place--the physical world demanded it--but now everything has its places: multiple categories, multiple shelves. Simply put, everything is suddenly miscellaneous.
And everything includes us. Or at least me. Think about it like this: Try answering the following three questions with a single word:

1. Where are you from?
2. What do you do?
3. Where do you work?

Some people can, but many cannot. My Dad could: Coventry/Engineer/Dunlop. I cannot. As regards question one: I was born and raised in England, but that included a spell in Canada and I have now lived in America for longer than I lived in England. I live in Florida now but also spend quite a bit of time in New York. I lived for more than five years in Scotland (which is different from England) and another five years in San Francisco (which is different from everywhere).

Question two: What I do is information security consulting, and privacy consulting, and film producing, and real estate development, but mainly what I do is write.

Question three: Where I do this stuff is all over. Mainly my office at home but sometimes at a client's office and basically anywhere there is power and bandwidth, which includes planes and trains and automobiles, which are not anywhere but somewhere between two wheres.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying my life is cooler than my Dad's. And I'm exaggerating a little to make my case. My Dad led a very interesting life, having served as an engineer in the Royal Navy during and after World War Two. He worked in Canada and 'the States' for several years before settling in at Dunlop in Coventry (but always as an engineer). And he was exploring new options (in engineering) when his life was tragically cut short at 50. However, I think you get my point. And his father could easily have supplied one word answers, as could my maternal grandfather.

But wait a minute, is this 'personal miscellanitude' merely or solely a result of things going digital? What about increased educational opportunities, fewer borders, greater social and physical mobility, cheap air fares? These have all played a part, as have changes in the workplace ethos, like big companies undermining job security and some of them screwing employees out of pensions (my mother still gets a widow's pension check every month from Dunlop but I know a number of people my age who have already lost pensions).

What I think is happening is that forces at play in the physical world are complementing the effect of digitalization. Infinite varieties of order, individualization of world view, these are possible in the digital world and they are reflected in the real world. If this sounds vaguely familiar from philosophy classes, think Hegel and his use of the term 'reflection.' The digital world initially reflects the physical but evolves according to its own internal reason. And the physical world takes on aspects of the digital, at least in our perception of the physical. It is at least worth considering that we are "being digital" when we feel like previously unrelated things in fact go well together or previously related things have no compelling reason to stay that way.

About Brad Pitt and You: Search engine trick barks up wrong tree

Pursuing my obsession with search engines [and myself] led me to enter my name into dogpile, self-described as "all the best search engines piled into one." In other words a so-called meta-search engine that pulls results from other search engines. What I found was quite interesting and applies to everyone, so you might want to try it. Go to and search for your exact name plus any other person, like Brad Pitt, or a place, or a thing. As an example, I put this in the search box:

"Fred Whassaname" gold

The first result from that search is a sponsored one. The second result from that search or any other search that follows the name/gold pattern, is a page at that is headed "Gold Jewelry - How to Buy Gold Jewelry." The URL of this result is:

When you go to this page via the above search you will not find any mention of Fred in the text of the page, but if you search the source code of the page you will see an interesting trick at the bottom, an html IMG SCR tag that points to page at the New York Times, a page with the name in it:

In other words, the New York Times, which owns, makes up pages on the fly, just to meet your search criteria. Making things up is not what one would expect from the New York Times, not after it got rid of those plagiarizing journalists. And one consequence of this nasty little search hack is that you can enter your name together with that of your favorite movie star and get a bunch of hits that appear to link you with that person. But it also means you can get a bunch of hits off:

"Fred Whassaname" felon

This raises the possibility that someone could conclude, if they just go by the number of hits, that poor Fred is a felon. There's no basis for this and somehow it just feels wrong.

Storm Over Missing White House Email: But will anyone be held accountable

A White House spokesman had stated that only a handful of people were using Republican Party email accounts to conduct government business, but the number has now risen to 88.
Over 50 [of these 88] have no email records at all and there are only 130 emails from Karl Rove during President Bush's first term and none before November 2003 [even though] the Presidential Records Act requires the recording of any communication used in governing [but Bush White House] officials bypassed this by using email accounts set up and run by the Republican Party.
So much for an "open society" any time soon.

In Corporations We Trust ? Not!

An interesting piece by Paul Brown in the New York Times today suggests that "maybe senior executives really do not have a clue." He reports that a study in the McKinsey Quarterly, the business journal of McKinsey & Company, found “a trust gap between consumers and global corporations, as well as a lack of understanding among business leaders about what consumers really expect from companies.”

As an example he cites the finding that, while 68 percent of executives said that large corporations made a “generally” or “somewhat” positive contribution to the public good, fewer than half (48 percent) of consumers worldwide agreed. The number was just 40 percent in the United States.

The study also found--no surprise here as far as I'm concerned--that executives were out of touch with people. For example, when asked what three concerns would be most important to them over the next five years, “Executives predicted consumers would put job losses and offshoring first, followed by privacy and data security, and the environment...[whereas]...almost half of the consumers picked environmental issues, followed by pension and other retirement benefits, and health care.”

I wonder how the average annual compensation of the 4,000 global business executives interviewed for the survey compared to that of the 4,000 consumers they failed to understand. So, when asked to rank different institutions in terms of being trusted to act in the best interest of society, consumers not surprisingly placed large global corporations below all the other choices, including nongovernmental organizations, small regional companies, the United Nations, labor unions, the media.

I bet those global corporate executives are crying all the way to the bank [off-shore no doubt, in the corporate Gulfstream probably].